One Year and Counting

Doug and Julie

Today my blog is not about telecom for the first time, but something more important. Today is my first wedding anniversary and that’s really all I care to talk about today. I am nearly sixty years old and still it feels really good to be having a first anniversary.

I just feel very lucky to have found a woman who completely belongs in my life. Every day with her is a good day. Everybody who has known me for a while says that I am happier than they have ever seen me, and they can tell that from the outside. I know this to be true from the inside.

This blog is due to my wife. She has inspired me to renew my vigor in working and she suggested that I do this blog to share some of the accumulated knowledge I have gained from being a consultant for many years. Being with her has given me a renewed zest for everything I do, be that gardening, work or life in general.

Before I met her I was having the thoughts that anybody my age starts to have, asking myself when I should think about retiring. But being with Julie has given me new energy and I am really enjoying work again. I have started new product lines at CCG and am looking to start more. I now look forward to the each day and to the future and wonder if I will ever retire. Work is fun again and I will keep doing this as long as it is.

And this is all due to my wife Julie. It’s great to have somebody in your life who gets you. We fit together so well that people who meet us assume we have been together a long time. We give off that very relaxed and satisfied vibe, I guess.

So today I want to thank my wife Julie for being in my life. She has made me happy in a way that I don’t think I have ever been. I think it goes to show you that it’s never too late in life to find that perfect partner. I have found mine and I could not be happier with her or with life.

So Julie, happy anniversary! I hope we have many more.

The FCC’s Data Collection Effort

Character for children of FCC"Broadband"

Character for children of FCC”Broadband” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The FCC just changed the way that they are going to gather data from carriers about voice and data usage in the US. To some degree they seem to be throwing in the towel and just giving up.

I have blogged before about the massive inadequacies of the National Broadband Map. This is an FCC-sponsored effort to show the availability of broadband on a geographic basis. This sounds like a laudable goal, but the carriers decide what information they want to supply to the mapping process, and so the map is full of what can only be described as major lies from the largest carriers. They claim to have broadband where they don’t and at speeds far greater than they actually deliver.

The FCC announced new rules for their data collection process that is done using FCC Form 477. This revised effort by the FCC is going to make their data gathering more like the process that is used to collect data for the National Broadband Map. They are no longer going to try to collect actual data speeds in tiers, but instead will be collecting only advertised speeds for data – the fastest advertised speed for landline providers and the slowest advertised speeds for wireless providers. For the life of me I can’t imagine how this data can be of the slightest use to anybody.

I just recently worked with a client in a small town in Oregon. The incumbent providers there are the biggest telephone company and cable company in the state. In both cases, they advertise the same speeds in this small town that they advertise in Portland. But in this town, as in most or rural America, the actual speeds delivered are far slower. They think the fastest cable modem speeds in the town are from 3 – 5 Mbps download and the fastest DSL is not much over 1.5 Mbps. And yet both carriers advertise products at many times those speeds.

This would just be a big annoyance if it wasn’t for the fact that the FCC and others use the data gathered to talk about what a great job the carriers are doing in this country to supply broadband. I recently saw an announcement that 98% of households now have broadband availability. And since the FCC’s definition of broadband is now a download speed of 4 Mbps and an upload speed of 1 Mbps, this makes it sound like the country’s broadband problems are being solved. But announcements of this sort are based upon lies and exaggerations by the carriers.

And since the whole point of this data gathering effort is to formulate policies to spur the carriers to do better, letting the carriers self-report whatever they want is like asking the fox to go count the eggs in the henhouse every morning. There is no practical penalty against a carrier advertising any speed they want or reporting falsely to the FCC. And it’s a lot easier, as it is with the Oregon example, for the incumbent providers to gear all of their advertising in a state around the urban markets. I have no idea if those incumbents in Oregon can actually deliver the advertised speeds in Portland, but I know for a fact that they do not do so outside of Portland.

The FCC is also changing the way that they gather information about VoIP lines. But I think the day for them to be able to gather any meaningful data about business phones in the country is over. There is such a proliferation of IP Centrex and other VoIP technologies that the carriers don’t even know what is being delivered. Consider this:

  • It’s now possible to use one number for a thousand lines in a call center or instead to give a thousand numbers to one phone.
  • There is a proliferation of resellers in the market who buy numbers and 911 from larger carriers so that they don’t have to become a CLEC. And these resellers can then deliver a wide variety of business voice services over anybody’s data connection. These carriers will not be reporting what they are doing to the FCC because most of them are not certified as carriers but rely on the certification of the CLEC that gave them numbers.  Nobody in the FCC reporting chain is going to know about or report these kinds of customers and lines. And it gets worse because I know of many cases now of resellers of these resellers. Literally almost anybody can become a carrier overnight reselling these services. It’s back to the wild west days we used to see with long distance resale. I’m expecting to go to a telecom convention soon and see the shark-skin suits again.

How Good Should Your Customer Service Be?

This is the hardest question I have asked as a blog title, because there just is no easy answer. Before I try to answer the question at all, let me set some parameters. I am talking about smaller companies and not those that operate large call centers. There are dozens of consultants who specialize in software and metrics for large call centers. But most of my clients do not operate call centers and they have a more intimate relationship with customers. So let’s look at this question in terms of smaller companies.

One glib answer I could offer is that your customer service has to be at least good enough to make your customers happy. And there is certainly some truth in that, but that sounds a bit like consultant speak. So let me dig a little deeper and ask: what ought to be the goals for a smaller customer service group? Here are some of the traits a small customer service group needs to have to produce the best results. I have learned these over the years by having worked with literally hundreds of small customer service groups:

  • Friendliness. One of the advantages that small companies have over large ones is that your employees can get to know your customers and form bonds with many of them. This should be encouraged because when somebody knows the person they are talking to on the phone the whole transaction is more likely to go well. So encourage your customer service reps to get to know your customers.
  • Accuracy. Accuracy means just what it says. It means making sure every order you take is accurate so that the customer gets what they asked for. It means giving customers the right answer when they ask a question. It means perfect directory listings. And to be accurate requires training, but more importantly it requires that your reps are graded for paying attention to details.
  • Prompt Responses. Customers love it when a customer service rep has the information they are looking for right at their fingertips. If they call with a billing question they don’t want to be put on hold for five minutes while your rep tries to find the answer to their question. The way to make this happen is to have a good OSS/BSS system. If you want your reps to do a great job you must have great tools. Companies often get very comfortable with a software system and never consider changing. I visit many clients and see them using outdated systems that make it hard for their employees to do a great job. There is no excuse for that these days. There are a number of quality vendors and you should not be afraid to change if your current software is not doing what you need. I always ask the question – who is more important to you, your customers or your vendor? Do not get wedded to a vendor just because you have used them for many years. If they can’t and won’t keep their software current to fit your needs, look for somebody that will.
  • Knowledge. Your customer service reps ought to be able to answer most questions about your products and prices without having to look up basic facts each time. Make knowledge a priority in how you grade their performance each year. They ought to know how your most common features work and should be able to walk a customer through using them. They ought to know the basic troubleshooting steps needed to fix basic problems when they get a trouble call. If they can take care of a problem without having to refer it to a technician, then you will have saved money and have a happier customer.
  • Empowerment. Your customer service reps should be empowered to fix customer’s problems on the spot. Some companies have policies like always requiring higher approval before giving a credit to a customer. Empower your employees to make decisions and take care of customer problems on the spot. You can always review credits that are given out and if you don’t like the way they were done you have a teaching opportunity to do it better the next time. But don’t be afraid to empower your employees to take care of customers so that the customer can get a problem resolved on one phone call, talking to one person.
  • Not Scripted. I don’t know of a person who doesn’t feel marginalized and unimportant when a customer service rep is clearly reading something to them off of a screen instead of talking to them person-to-person. This is something that many large call centers foster, and sometimes calling customer service feels like talking to a robot. I don’t think this works well for large companies and is one of the reasons that people hate large telco and cable company customer service. So don’t fall into this trap and try to put pre-packaged words into your reps mouths. Make sure they know what they need to know and then just let them talk to customers like a person.
  • The Right Policies. Your reps need to be working with policies that are customer friendly, and this is all up to you. I often find policies that make me shake my head. For example, I have one client who required a money order or cash for a customer to reconnect service for non-pay. Of course, this leads to customers just deciding to not come back. The policies you have in place in dealing with customers need to all have the same underlying premise – they must be customer-friendly and they must make it easy for customers to use you as their vendor.

Should You Be Peering?

Google 貼牌冰箱(Google Refrigerator)

Google 貼牌冰箱(Google Refrigerator) (Photo credit: Aray Chen)

No, this is not an invitation for you to become peeping toms, dear readers. By peering I am talking about the process of trading Internet traffic directly with other networks to avoid paying to transport all of your Internet traffic to the major Internet POPs.

Peering didn’t always make a lot of sense, but there has been a major consolidation of web traffic to a few major players that has changed the game. In 2004 there were no major players on the web and internet traffic was distributed among tens of thousands of websites. By 2007 about 15,000 networks accounted for about half of all of the traffic on the Internet. But by 2009 Google took off and it was estimated that they accounted for about 6% of the web that year.

And Google has continued to grow. There were a number of industry experts that estimated at the beginning of this year that Google carried 25% to 30% of all of the traffic on the web. But on August 16 Google went down for about 5 minutes and we got a look at the real picture. A company called GoSquared Engineering tracks traffic on the web worldwide and when Google went down they saw an instant 40% drop in overall web traffic as evidenced by this graph: Google’s downtime caused a 40% drop in global traffic

And so, when Google went dead for a few minutes, they seem to have been carrying about 40% of the web traffic at the time. Of course, the percentage carried by Google varies by country and by time of day. For example, in the US a company called Sandvine that sells Internet tracking systems, estimates that NetFlix uses about 1/3 of the US Internet bandwidth between 9 P.M. and midnight in each time zone.

Regardless of the exact percentages, it is clear that a few networks have grabbed enormous amounts of web traffic. And this leads me to ask my clients if they should be peering? Should they be trying to hand traffic directly to Google, NetFlix or others to save money?

Most carriers have two major cost components to deliver their Internet traffic – transport and Internet port charges. Transport is just that, a fee that if often mileage based that pays for getting across somebody else’s fiber network to get to the Internet. The port charges are the fees that are charged at the Internet POP to deliver traffic into and out of the Internet. For smaller ISPs these two costs might be blended together in the price you pay to connect to the Internet. So the answer to the question is, anything that can produce a net lowering of one or both  of these charges is worth considering.

Following is a short list of ways that I see clients take advantage of peering arrangements to save money:

  • Peer to Yourself. This is almost too simple to mention, but not everybody does this. You should not be paying to send traffic to the Internet that goes between two of your own customers. This is sometimes a fairly significant amount of traffic, particularly if you are carrying a lot of gaming or have large businesses with multiple branches in your community.
  • Peer With Neighbors. It also makes sense sometime to peer with neighbors. These would be your competitors or somebody else who operates a large network in your community like a university. Again, there is often a lot of traffic generated locally because of local commerce. And the amount of traffic between students and a university can be significant.
  • Peering with the Big Data Users. And finally is the question of whether you should try to peer with Google, Netflix or other large users you can identify. There are several ways to peer with these types of companies:
    • Find a POP they are at. You might be able to find a Google POP or a data center somewhere that is closer than your Internet POP. You have to do the math to see if buying transport to Google or somebody else costs less than sending it on the usual path.
    • Peer at the Internet POP. The other way to peer is to go ahead and carry the traffic to the Internet POP, but once there, split your traffic and take traffic to somebody like Google directly to them rather than pay to send it through the Internet port. If Google is really 40% of your traffic, then this would reduce your port charges by as much as 40% and that would be offset by whatever charges there are to split and route the traffic to Google at the POP.

I don’t think you have to be a giant ISP any more to take advantage of peering. Certainly make sure you are peeling off traffic between your own customers and investigate local peering if you have a significant amount of local traffic. It just takes some investigation to see if you can do the more formal peering with companies like Google. It’s going to be mostly a matter of math if peering will save you money, but I know of a number of carriers who are making peering work to their advantage. So do the math.

At Least We are Not Europe

Europe Simulator

Europe Simulator (Photo credit: wigu)

In this country the FCC has undertaken various policy initiatives to promote broadband. However, except for some universal service funding that will bring broadband for the first time to tribal areas and very rural places, these initiatives come with no federal money. And so the real broadband policy in the country is to wait for the private sector to build the infrastructure. The FCC may make proclamations about creating gigabit cities, but it’s completely up to the private sector to make it happen.

And we all know how that is working out. We have a checkerboard of broadband coverage. At one end of the spectrum are the fiber networks – Google and a few others bringing gigabit fiber, Verizon with FiOS, and many smaller communities with fiber built by municipalities or independent telephone companies. In the middle most metropolitan areas are served by decently fast cable modem service and ADSL2 DSL. And then there are a lot of smaller cities and rural communities where the DSL and the cable modems are a generation or more old and which deliver far less bandwidth than advertised. And we have many rural areas still with no broadband.

But what we have, by and large, is still better than what has been happening in Europe. And this is because our regulatory policy for last-mile connectivity is mostly hands-off while the European markets are heavily regulated. After the European Union was formed the European regulators went for a solution that promoted low prices. They have required that all large networks be unbundled for the benefit of multiple service providers. This has turned out to be a short-term boon for consumers because it has brought down prices in every market where multiple providers are competing.

But there is a big catch and the European policy is not going to work out well in the long-run. Over the last five years the per capita spending on new telecom infrastructure in Europe is less than half of what it is in the US, and this is directly due to the unbundling policy. Network owners have no particular incentive to build new networks or upgrade existing ones because it brings their competitors the same advantages they get.

In the long-run, Europe is going to fall far behind everybody else in fiber deployment because nobody wants to invest in fiber to connect to homes and businesses. There have been several major fiber initiatives in recent years in Europe, but these have largely been driven by large cities who are spending the money on the fiber infrastructure, much as is happening with some cities here. But the normal kinds of companies that ought to be investing in last-mile fiber in Europe, the cable companies and the telcos, are not doing so.

We tried something similar here for a few years. When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted, one of the major provisions was that the RBOCs (Bell companies) had to unbundle their networks, much as is being done in Europe. This was to spur competition by allowing new competitors to get a start in the business without having to invest in a new network. And this brought short-term benefits to consumers for a while. Companies were leasing RBOC unbundled loops and providing voice and data (DSL at the time) to businesses and residences all over the country.

But the FCC didn’t go the whole way like they did in Europe or else they would have also unbundled the large cable networks in this country. The unbundled telecom network business plans broke apart after cable modem service began winning the bandwidth war. And of course, there was the telecom crash that killed the larger new competitors. There are still a few companies out there pursuing this unbundled business model, but for the most part it didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work is that it is a form of arbitrage. The business plan only worked because federal regulators made the RBOCs unbundle their networks and then state regulators set the prices for the network elements low to spur competition. But the services the competitors were able to offer were no better than what the RBOCs could offer on the same networks.

It’s always been clear to me that you can’t build a solid business on arbitrage. A smart provider can take advantage of temporarily low prices to make a quick profit when they find arbitrage, but they must be ready to ditch the business and run when the regulatory rules that created the opportunity change.

And Europe is currently engaged in one gigantic arbitrage situation. There are multiple service providers who are benefitting by low network costs, but with no burden to make capital investments. Customers there are winning today due to the lower prices due to competition. But in the long run nobody wins. The same rules that are making prices low today are ensuring that nobody makes any serious investment in building new fiber networks. So the competitors will fight it out on older networks until one day when the arbitrage opportunity dies, the competitors will all vanish like the wind. We know it will happen because it happened here. The CLECs in this country had tens of millions of customers, and they disappeared from the market and stranded those customers in a very short period of time.

The only policy that is really going to benefit consumers here, or in Europe, is one that fosters the building of state-of-the-art networks. The commercial providers have not stepped up nearly enough in this country and there is still not a lot of fiber built to residences. But in Europe it’s even worse. So, as much as I read about people criticizing the broadband policies in the US, I have to remind myself – at least we are not Europe.

Google and the NFL

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google has announced that it is interested in buying the Sunday package from the NFL to stream over the web. For those of you who are not sports fans, this means every regular Sunday football game (just not the Sunday or Monday night games or the mid-week game).

The Sunday package today is available today only on DirectTV. A sports fan must buy a DirectTV regular programming package in order to buy what DirectTV markets as the Sunday ticket. DirectTV simulcasts all Sunday games, so there are a number of games playing at one time.  DirectTV owns the rights through the end of the 2014 season and the package comes up for bid again.

The football programming currently costs DirectTV $1 billion per year, and one has to imagine the price is going to go up in a bidding war. But obviously Google can afford this.

I would think that losing football would be devastating to DirectTV. As a serious sports fan, I know of a lot of sports fans who subscribe to DirectTV just for the right to buy the football package. If that goes away, DirectTV is going to see a number of subscribers melt away over the first year.

The whole idea of Google buying the NFL package raises all sorts of different issues:

  • This would give major legitimacy to OTT programming and could form the core of a Google on-line TV offering with some teeth. One has to think that Google is going to bundle this with other programming to get enough revenue to pay for the package. This could turn Google into a serious player in the content provider war.
  • One has to wonder if Google understands the lack of bandwidth in much of the country. DirectTV delivers football in high definition, and most fans routinely watch multiple games at the same time or want to quickly flip between games. This country is divided into a lot of broadband haves and have-nots. Certainly customers on fiber like Verizon FiOS will love football on the web. But there are still a significant number of rural households who can’t get real broadband. And even more importantly, there are a whole lot of towns that don’t get enough broadband to watch multiple football games in HD.
  • Interestingly, the FCC has been tracking the availability of broadband by letting the service providers tell the FCC what they offer where. And everybody knows this process is highly flawed and that a lot of the reporting is very far from reality. Moving football to the web is going to more effective than any broadband map at showing who has and does not have adequate broadband. All we need to do to track where broadband is inadequate is to follow the complaints about Google football.
  • On the other hand, Google would be opening up the Sunday football package to a lot of new households. There are a lot of people today that can’t get DirectTV, either due to a clear look at the right part of the sky or else from living in a place, like a high-rise that doesn’t allow satellite TV.
  • And Google football is really perfect for somebody like me who is not always in the same place every Sunday. I would assume that if I am a subscriber that I am going to be able to watch as long as I can find a good broadband connection. I think there will quickly be web boards that track which hotels have good or poor internet and business travelers will be going to the good ones and avoiding the poor ones.

Sports programming is the one wild card in the programming world for which there is no substitute. To any sports fan there is the NFL and then there is everything else.

It has also been reported that ESPN is considering a web-package that they would only sell to web-providers who bundle it with a larger programming line-up. And one has to think that if ESPN works out this kind of deal that the college football networks will follow suit. If NFL football, college football and ESPN become available on the web, then landline cable TV is going to have lost its grip on a lot of households. This has to be a concern for the big cable companies.

Branding and How a Customer Views Your Company

Etsy engineers and customer service at work

Etsy engineers and customer service at work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here occasionally. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at 314 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

I watch a lot of old movies and sometimes I find myself thinking back to the 1940’s and 1950’s. The world was not only pretty straight forward; it was also black and white. Have you ever thought that?  Be honest!  Think of where we are now. How different our marketing world has become in the past few years.

Marketing has become so multi-dimensional!

This marketing evolution is good for everyone.  Good for businesses, good for marketers and very, very good for customers.

So my question is: how is your business looking in this multi-dimensional world? Let’s start by listing a few of the places you are seen and then I will explain the importance of each one:

  1. Your office or headquarters
  2. Online
    1. Website
    2. Social media outlets
  3. Your customer service efforts
  4. Your employees – on and off the job
  5. Public Relations

These are the questions I ask myself as I walk into an office for the first time:

  1. How would this office look to a customer? Is it exciting or cluttered?
  2. How does it match or build on my advertising?  Is it an extension?  It should be. Are we saying we are a high-tech company?  The office should reflect that.
  3. Is the office clean?
  4. Is there adequate parking?
  5. Is it efficient at handling lines?
  6. Are the marketing/promotional materials current?

Does/Is the Website:

  1. Reflect the brand well?
  2. Organized?
  3. Optimized?
  4. User-friendly, with obvious access to information?
  5. Allow a user to find the pricing for the services offered?
  6. Modern? An archaic web presence is a poor reflection on your business.

On Social Media, are you:

  1. Transparent? Are you answering critical posts quickly and resolving the problem publicly? Do people trust the information you’re providing? Are you resolving problems publicly and respectfully?
  2. Using it for customer service? If yes: are you answering customers’ questions and concerns quickly?
  3. Creating a useful environment for the entertainment industry?

Customer Service, do you:

  1. Train and empower customer service representatives?
  2. Offer transparency in customer service?
  3. Be sure the customer service reps have all information about offers and promotions before the customer does?
  4. Remember customer service employees are an extension of your company?

Other (company branded vehicles, employees, community efforts or in the customer’s home):

  1. What happens when an employee is at the grocery store and a question comes up? Do they respond in a positive manner? What do they do when no one is looking?
  2. How do the trucks look? Banged up?  Well branded and identified? The cable companies whom you compete against never seem to get this right. The trucks have stickers on the side or are branded from the last acquisition.  This is an opportunity to look clean, neat and high-tech.
  3. What is the process as employees enter customer’s homes? Do they track mud or wear clean booties over their work boots? Do they leave each area a little bit better than they found it?

For Public Relations, you should:

  1. Find places to speak and then get out on the circuit!  Tell your story.  What is new in your business? Your story is anything from hiring a new person to launching a new platform.
  2. Join business clubs such as: Rotary or Kiwanis and tell your story and meet other business people, figure out if they need your service.
  3. Send the stories of significance to the local paper.  Many papers love the extra content.
  4. Identify key employees to help you in community ambassador roles.

The items discussed above go to branding. Branding helps your company build loyalty and confidence with customers and potential customers. Remember, each time a customer comes in contact with your company it is either a positive contact or a negative one. Therefore, examine each touch point carefully.

Is it Possible to do a Valid Phone Survey?

Telephone surveys have always been a staple of doing research in the business and political arenas. Surveys have been given to random samples of households to find out how the public as a whole feels about various topics. And surveys have been effective. The whole point of a survey is to sample a relatively small number of people and have good faith that the results of the survey represent the opinions of the public as a whole.

But there has been such a large drop in the number of households with landlines that one has to ask if it is possible to any longer do a valid telephone survey. The percentage of households with landlines has declined greatly and nationwide it is estimated to now be below 60%. We recently heard of a community in Colorado that has less than 45% of households with landlines.

The whole point of doing a survey is so that you can rely on the results to tell you something meaningful about the whole population. And there are several aspects to conducting a survey that are mandatory if the results are to be believable. In order to be valid, a survey must be delivered randomly to a sufficient proportion of the universe being sampled.

And therein lies the problem. I think it’s a valid question to ask if households who still use landlines are representative of the universe of all households. I think there is a lot of evidence that they are not representative. Telecom carriers everywhere are reporting that households that drop landlines are younger, more tech savvy and more innovative than households that keep landlines.

And so, in statistical terms, one must ask the hard question if a survey given only to households with landlines is any longer representative of the whole population. And the answer might be sometimes, based upon what is being asked. But for most of the purposes I see surveys used for, my gut tells me that landline households are no longer the same as all households.

For example, say that you wanted to ask how many people in a City wanted to get a gigabit of bandwidth. If you survey households with landlines you are most likely mostly talking to older households and households with kids. You are probably not going to be talking to younger households and tech savvy households who have a lifestyle that eschews landlines. And I think you are going to get a skewed answer that you cannot believe. One would think that a larger percentage of the landline houses would not be interested in gigabit speeds while you didn’t talk to many of the households who would be interested. And so, when you summarize your survey results you are not going to have a believable estimate of the number of people who would be interested in the gigabit speeds – which was the whole point of doing the survey.

There might be a way around this, but it is hard to pull off. If you can find a way to randomly call households in the town that includes landline and cellphone households, then you are again sampling the real universe of households. But this is a problem for several reasons:

  • If you are already in business you are allowed to call any or all of your own customers. But as soon as you try to call in an area of people who are not your customers you must follow the Do Not Call rules, which says that it is illegal to call people who have registered to not get junk calls. You can obtain lists of such people, but it adds expense and cost to the survey.
  • Then you must have access to a database that has a telephone number for everybody, and these rarely exist. Maybe some local government or utility might have such a list, but they can’t share these lists with anybody else due to privacy issues.
  • Even if you have this kind of list it is against FCC rules to call cell phones to conduct a survey. The problem is that there are still plenty of customers on fixed-minute cellular plans and a lot of surveys require 20 minutes or more. If you are going to call cell phones you are strictly breaking the rules, so the first thing you should do is to tell cell phone users they can opt out of the call. But if enough cell phone callers refuse to take the survey, then you are back to having an invalid sample.
  • You can’t solicit cell phone households to give their phone numbers for purposes of conducting a survey. As soon as you do that the sample is not random and we are back to square one.

A non-statistician might think, “As long as the results are close, I am okay with the survey not being entirely valid”. And they would be wrong. If a survey isn’t done properly, then there is no validity to the results. You do not want to make any important business decision based upon an invalid assumption. There are enough ways to fail in business and you shouldn’t add the sin of relying on false assumptions to the list of reasons why your business plan didn’t succeed.

There are other ways to do surveys such as going door-to-door, but other kinds of surveys are usually costlier and they have their own potential pitfalls. We might be soon be approaching the day when surveys are going to disappear from our lexicon of useful business tools.

Sometimes You Need Sales

Customers

Customers (Photo credit: Vinqui)

Most clients I talk to have a marketing plan of some type. Some of them have a really great one and others just do the same thing year after year. But often when they talk to me about the issues they are having, it turns out that what they really need is a sales plan.

Sales is when you go out, look the customer in the eye, and explain to them why they should buy from you. There certainly can be some marketing aspect of sales, such as having door hangers to let people know you are coming, but there are some times in the life of a company when you don’t need marketing and you need sales.

So when is it appropriate to do direct selling and when should you use marketing? Here are some of the times when direct selling is going to give you better results:

  • When you extend your network into a new neighborhood. This might be new houses built in your existing service area or somewhere you have extended your network. In these circumstances you need to knock on the doors and make your pitch.
  • When you introduce a major new product and you want to get a lot of customers. If you are launching cable TV for the first time or getting into the cellular business, then knocking on every door in your service area is going to get you the most new customers the fastest.
  • When you haven’t talked face-to-face with your customers in a long time. I talk to clients all of the time who have never knocked on a door and talked to a customer in a cold calling situation. A company who doesn’t know what their customers won’t be selling the right thing. So if you have never had a door-knocking campaign or haven’t done one for a long time, then get out and talk to your customers. You will get some up-sales, but you will also get a lot of feedback on what customers would like to buy from you.
  • Any time you sell to a business. You should never use passive marketing campaigns to sell to business customers. It just doesn’t work. Every business thinks they are unique and the way to make them a loyal customers is to learn about their business and their communications needs and to then find them a solution.

So who in your company should sell? If this is something that is going to be needed only periodically, then you and your existing staff should be the salespeople. Nobody knows your company better than the people who work there. Remember that it doesn’t take a slick sales person or polished sales presentation to sell something that people want. It takes knowledge. And when I say you, I am talking directly to the owners and general managers of smaller companies. Get out and go door-to-door. There is no faster way to find out what the public expects from you and to find out what you are doing wrong and doing right.

If you are always expanding your network, or are always selling to business customers, then you need a full-time salesperson. There is a long list of issues to consider when setting up a full-time sales position and I won’t try to cover them in this blog. But there is definitely a right and a wrong way to operate a sales staff.

And finally, here are a few sales tips.

  • Be organized. If you are going to knock on every door in an area, make sure you talk to somebody at every house. This means keeping notes on who was not at home and making multiple visits. It may mean calling to set up appointments with people who are hard to catch at home. Don’t make one sweep through a neighborhood on a weekday afternoon and think that you have done a good job.
  • Take good notes. These will come in valuable later. It’s just as important to make notes about why somebody is not buying your service as it is to note the ones who do. If you are going to sell a lot there are good sales tools on the market that make it easy to organize notes. But if this is an occasional effort, then takes notes in whatever way works best for you but then transcribe them into a spreadsheet or database for future reference.

The Future of TV – The Viewer

The Twilight Saga (film series)

The Twilight Saga (film series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probably the biggest change in the TV landscape is that viewers are changing, or at least their expectations for the viewing experience. For the first time in the history of the industry, the consumer is in the driver’s seat by their ability to collectively determine which content is popular. This must be driving the executives at cable companies and media production companies crazy.

For most of the history of the industry, the content providers were in charge. For most of the history of TV the studios or cable networks would choose the content and determine when it would be seen. And the process was a huge chess match trying to get the most eyes to product hits. New content that was scheduled opposite an existing hit show were dead on arrival.

Not all consumers fit well with the process of having to watch shows at pre-set times. I am an admitted space cadet and I have never been able to watch a TV show regularly at a pre-set time. And so, when TV shows started showing up on tape and then DVDs, I scrapped television and would just buy the series I was interested in to watch at my leisure. I saved money by not having cable TV, but buying DVDs for shows was expensive and so I would watch only a few old series per year. And I bought movies. Lots and lots of movies. But I was in the minority and I was an early cord cutter due to my personal spacey habits and my willingness to pay a premium price for alternate content.

But then along came new technologies that let people drop out of the treadmill of watching shows at pre-determined times. First came TIVO followed by video-on-demand that let people record and watch shows later. And more lately has come OTT programming on the web. So now, people have an immense amount of content that they can watch at any time. Both my wife and I are the kind of people who like to watch a whole TV series back-to-back and so OTT programming satisfies us for the most part.

And if that is all there was to the change in the industry the cable companies and content providers would not be worried. They would continue to monetize the ability for people to watch their content whenever they wanted to, and in the end their finances would not change too drastically.

But that is not the end game. If you want to see the end game, spend a few days watching how 14-year olds watch video. The way they watch content is the future:

  • They rarely watch just one thing at a time, at least for very long. They may watch something on a TV screen, but they will watch their tablet and smart phone at the same time.
  • They don’t have long attention spans, regardless of the content and getting them to watch a movie the whole way through is difficult.
  • They like to watch content made by themselves and their friends as much as they like professional content.
  • They don’t want to watch something end-to-end. They will not go back and watch a Twilight movie they have already seen. Instead they will watch compilations of their favorite scenes from the Twilight movies that they or somebody else has strung together on YouTube.
  • They love the 7-second clip content on Vine. No adult can handle Vine for more than a short time. Vine produces memes more than content, but kids find this entertaining.
  • They love watching together with other teenagers, be that live together or virtually together.
  • They don’t even need cable for the news. Take the example of the Boston marathon bombing. There were hundreds of people in the area going live on the web talking about what was going on there.
  • And they don’t want to pay for content. Not so much because they are 14, but because they believe that content ought to be free.

It is the 14-year old girls that are scaring the industry because they presage a new way of interacting with content. These kids are not going to grow up and buy traditional cable subscriptions. They are not even that likely to buy the alternates like Hulu or NetFlix. They are largely happy with free content or short clips of industry content. The cable companies are hoping to snag boys with ESPN and sports content, but they don’t know what in the hell to do with the girls.