Communications in mergers: The glue that holds everything together

January 31, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments

McKinsey Insights & Publications
Wed, 30 Jan 2019
Structured communications are vital to clarify what comes next in a merger, separate fact from fiction, and forge success for newly combined organizations.
Wed, 30 Jan 2019
The deep transformation of healthcare company Anthem presented unique challenges. Here’s how the company set up its strategy to meet them.


Confessions of an Entrepreneur: Brian Ouellette

January 31, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments
Confessions of an Entrepreneur: Brian Ouellette
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0800

Brian Ouellette had an epiphany, thanks to Sports Illustrated – professional athletes were in need of professional financial advisers. This light bulb moment, as he calls it, lead to the creation of Pro Athlete Direct, an education-based marketing system designed to help financial advisors and realtors reach professional athletes. Ouellette's company heavily relies on technology to reach and train members.

Q: What devices do you use daily?

A: Like most entrepreneurs, Ouellette relies on his mobile phone – a Google Pixel 2 XL – and his laptop. But he has gone a slightly different route when it comes to both hardware and software. "Several years ago," Ouellette explains, "I moved over to Google for just about everything, including our business email, docs, spreadsheets, browser, etc. The security is bulletproof. The Chromebooks run quick, smooth and, for me, just became preferred after having so many issues with Windows."

Q: What technology do you use to stay ahead of your competition?

A: With a reliance on technology tools, Ouellette has several applications that are core to what Pro Athlete Direct does. "I have some pretty cool services we use on a daily basis," he says. Many, like Screencastify, Awesome Screenshot, Fleeq, and WebinarJam help with the core business of educating members. Others, like Diigo, GMass, RingCentral, and Leadpages are for operations and marketing. "We have others," Ouellette says, "but we need to be careful about giving out too many of our special powers." Many of the tools used are web-based, making them accessible to Ouellette from anywhere, at any time.

Q: Is technology a significant enabler for your business?

A: Like other trailblazing entrepreneurs, Ouellette provides an emphatic yes to this question. "I can adapt pretty quickly when a great tool becomes available or improved. We are always on the lookout for the best gadgets that accelerate results for ourselves, members and prospects. But," Ouellette adds, "It is a bit of a Catch-22 (in a big way), because it's really easy to take your eye off the ball chasing all the latest gadgets and goodies."

Q: Has social media influenced your business at all, from internal employee policies to how you promote your company?

A: While Ouellette and Pro Athlete Direct use social media, he admits it's a moving target. "If you think about it, it didn't really exist more than 15 years ago," Ouellette says. "All the users, experts, specialists have learned on the fly. I have to remind myself of this when I grow frustrated with the learning curve."

To stay up-to-date, Ouellette turns to certain individuals whom he knows and trusts. "I have built up a network of experts I follow and listen to in this realm, and feel it helps me be most efficient with our social media endeavors while allowing me to not recreate the wheel each time."

Q: Have you had to adapt your business because of security concerns brought about by the increased use of technology?

A: "Security is an important piece of the pie chart that often gets overlooked until there is an issue," says Ouellette. One of the ways that he manages security loops back to his choice in equipment and services. "To be honest," says Ouellette, "a big reason for the move to Chromebooks over the last five years had to do with security. Google manages all updates automatically and, as of now, it is believed the Chromebook is one of the most secure laptops available."

3 Tips to Leverage the Gig Workforce for Exponential Growth
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 -0800

Call them gig workers, remote workers, telecommuters, and sometimes freelancers and contractors. The're all part of the gig economy, and it means that more of your “staff” will be people working remotely, often with flexible hours, and they may or may not be full-time employees.

The gig workforce, as a turn of phrase, may sound trendy, but don’t let that fool you. It is a transformative trend that is changing the way we do work in the Western hemisphere (and elsewhere around the globe).

Back in the 1990s, when the internet first became a force in the world, people often talked about how the future was “telecommuting.” We could cut down on traffic and save the environment by working from home through our computers. Resistance from bosses as well as some employees made the telecommuting dream far from reality at the time.

Tech companies were the first to start embracing remote work – until the very public banning of telecommuting at Yahoo! by new CEO Marissa Mayer when she was first hired in 2013. Her decision was universally lambasted, especially by the working mothers at Yahoo!, who were resentful that Mayer, the privileged CEO, was building a nursery right next to her office for her soon-to-be-arriving baby.

Mayer was wrong about remote work, and in some respects, her very unpopular decision probably did more to help make work from home (WFH for short) finally gain some traction. Contrary to fears set by managers, work from home staff are not only productive but have actually proven to be more productive, provided they are managed properly. WFH also makes employees happier and helps attract more top talent. This is in part why remote workers increased 80 percent from 2005 to 2012, and since then, the popularity of WFH went up to 80 percent.

It’s clear that the upsides to your company relaxing bans on remote work is far greater than the alternative. Don’t strictly adhere to old fashioned ideas that working in person is better. Younger members of the workforce are increasingly demanding the option to work from home. Get on board or risk losing some of your best talent, like Yahoo! did.

3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Gig Workforce 1. Use Technology to Coordinate Schedules and Workflows

Technology has really enabled companies to rely on a remote workforce. While you can get by with internet-connected computers and email, that’s really “roughing it” when it comes to managing a remote team. Fortunately, many cloud-based software tools are available to help manage your gig workers.

One of the biggest concerns from managers about leading remote teams is accountability. By using project management software that can handle advanced resource scheduling and allocation, these concerns should quickly fade away.

2. Make Your Remote Team Feel Like Part of the Team

Just because a team is in different parts of the country or globe, it doesn’t mean they can’t be encouraged to gel as a team. Face-to-face conferences, as well as the occasional in-person retreats to a fun, relaxing location can help inspire a feeling of unity.

Incentivize your team with bonuses and positive reinforcement. You can run your remote team by constantly threatening them with punishment for not doing the job right, but you are likely to get a lot of turnover instead of loyal team members who stick around for the long haul.

3. Get Feedback from Employees and Freelancers

Your gig workers may seem “remote” but they are still often on the front lines when it comes to dealing with the issues and challenges facing your business. Get their feedback on how to improve things – it is free for you, gives them a voice, and may help you overcome some blind spots.

Remote Teams Are the Future of Work

Whether you like it or not, the gig workforce is here to stay and the 2020s will see even more remote working. On the positive, it can make for productive, happy, employees and loyal freelancers, who get the benefits of a job while being able to avoid stressful commutes and fluorescent-lit offices. By leveraging this gig workforce, your company can grow exponentially much more easily.

9 Tips for Building a Customer-Driven Company in 2019
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 07:00:00 -0800

The world is evolving quickly, and customers are now in control. Customers want to shop how and when they choose, 24 hours a day. These rising customer anticipations can pose a challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers who are expected to extend the hours the business operates. It also affects both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce businesses, as they’re expected to monitor social accounts to keep pace with customer demands. 

Businesses are reacting in various ways. Develop a strategy focused on benefitting your customers and identify how technology is able to support the delivery of a distinct customer experience. If you’re ready to build a customer-driven business, take a look at these nine tips that can take you there. 

Develop a solid and clear brand promise.

In recent years, the customers’ loyalty to and trust in brands has dropped. This makes it more important than ever to align the marketing message with the actuality of the experience if you want customers to trust you. The customer experience is key – develop a strong, clear description of exactly what your business can deliver to the customer. This evokes emotion and inspires people to feel more connected to your business. Brand refers to the image people have of your product or company – it’s who people think that you are. A brand promise will help you to solidify the relationship you have with your customers and your brand. 

Keep learning and growing.

One key to success is to realize that everything evolves, so you and your business have to continue to improve and make changes, too. Customers anticipate you’ll be able to offer them the most current offerings and if you don’t, you can lose them to a more relevant business. Any business you choose to launch and run requires focus, patience and involves providing high quality customer service and products. 

Engage customers.

A few of the major factors that drive high levels of customer satisfaction include running a business that people trust, maintaining transparency and openness, the ability and willingness to hold conversations via the phone and the way your business handles complaints. Get employees involved early and seek their input on improvements and changes that can make a difference for the customers so they can best support and develop the new and improved experience. 

Focus on the most profitable customers.

While all customers need to be treated the same, they are not actually created equally. By studying your loyal customers, your business can identify the factors that drive the buying behavior of customers. One of many ways to boost your traffic in 2019 is to identify the loyalty drivers among your customer base to drastically improve customer satisfaction. 

Ensure customer access is seamless and simple across channels.

Customers want to contact businesses anytime and in any manner they prefer – and they anticipate a seamless experience. Customers do not want to wait on hold, not hear back from a business, or repeat their story numerous times before their issue is resolved. 

When you make it easy for your customers to make purchases, use your products, reach sales support, complain, and exchange or return an item, your customers will be more satisfied. Focus on minimizing effort and maximizing the customer experience. 

Build solid relationships with customers through data.

Businesses now have the ability to build a personal relationship with customers by leveraging techniques such as predictive analytics to understand customer preferences and life stages and patterns of customers. When you understand how to provide your customers with real value and engage with them directly, you’ll be able to grasp what they expect from their relationship with your brand. This is when you can truly bond with your customers. 

Shift from products to enhanced experiences.

Companies like Disney and Ikea recognize that creating experiences builds brand commitment. Yes, the products you offer are important but the way you offer things and the experience that surrounds them is what creates emotional memories for the customers. Take the steps you can to personalize your services. These emotional connections are what leads to the strongest customer loyalty possible. Keep in mind that the customer experience impacts all areas of your business from increased customer satisfaction to more customer referrals to reduced customer turnover and ultimately, increased sales and revenue. 

Increase urgency and speed.

Speed is a critical part of building customer loyalty. According to Forrester, 66 percent of adults feel that proving you value their time is the most important thing a business can do to provide them an excellent online customer experience. Make sure you’re available and empathetic and your team will shine and win your customers over. View every interaction with your customer as an opportunity to learn something new and to show them that you value their business. Time is precious – show your customers you recognize how valuable their time is and boost their loyalty instantly. 

Measure what is important to your customer.

An excellent customer experience is more important than ever -  this is why businesses have adopted the metrics that can help with the success of their customer service efforts. Aim to continually improve; create a feedback system that enables customers to offer their opinions on what is working well and what areas of your business and/or products and services need improvement. Utilize this data in efforts to revamp your current strategies and develop new strategies while taking the feedback into consideration. 

The most common barrier to customer centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. In order to successfully implement a customer-centric strategy, your business must have a culture that aligns with leaders who choose to deliberately cultivate the mindset and values in their team. As a business leader, recognize that culture and strategy go hand in hand. Put these suggestions into action and your customers will see that you prioritize running a business that values its customers.

5 Ways to Empower your Employees in 2019
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 09:00:00 -0800

Too often we hear friends and family complaining about their jobs and how much they hate coming into work every day. No one likes working for a company that only cares about revenue, doesn’t listen to employees, and refuses to recognize hard work. This creates a negative, uninviting atmosphere where stress is high and the need to get out is even higher.

When your employees feel empowered at their job, they’re more likely to want to succeed and take on tasks with confidence. According to research by Aberdeen Group, companies with an engaged employee program see a spike in customer loyalty and a 26 percent annual increase in revenue. When your employees feel important, quality results will trail behind them.

If you’re looking for new ways to empower your employees in 2019, here are five essential tips to get you started.

1. Communicate expectations

It’s impossible for your team to meet your expectations if you don’t tell them what they are. By defining clear boundaries for them to work in, you’re able to properly communicate what you want while giving your employees free reign to work as they please. This promotes emotional intelligence and will prevent you from micromanaging their work or getting frustrated in the future when they don’t do something you expected of them. By stating what you want from employees directly, there’s no room for confusion, less room for error, and more room for growth.

2. Be flexible

Above all else, your employees are human. There are going to be times when life happens and they need to take some time off work or would prefer work from home options. More companies are realizing that, the more flexible they are with their employees, the more productive and refreshed they are to work. According to a survey by Flexjobs,

Eighty-two percent of employees say they’d be more loyal to their employers if flexible work options were provided. Giving workers options based on how they’d like to work and taking it seriously will show them you trust their work ethic.

3. Encourage feedback and ideas

Some of the best ideas have the ability to come from your hard working employees who strive to grow your business every day. When was the last time you asked them their serious opinion on something related to the company, perhaps on how to improve? Harvard Business Review found that 71 percent of executives rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success, therefore asking for their input shows them that what they say matters and empowers them to be honest about their opinions.

4. Delegate important tasks

It isn’t enough to tell employees you trust their decision-making skills and their wit to be able to problem solve and get work done. You have to show them, and the best way to do this is to delegate different -- yet important -- tasks to them. Doing the same things day in and day out gets boring. According to ReportLinker, 83 percent of employees with opportunities to take on new challenges are more likely to stay with that company. By giving them something else to work on, not only is it a breath of fresh air, it keeps them motivated to work hard and shows them they’re trusted to take on bigger tasks.

5. Praise their accomplishments

When your employees do something that exceeds your expectations or take five minutes out of their day to help someone else out, they should be recognized for it. In a survey by Reward Gateway, 70 percent of employees said that workplace motivation and morale would improve if managers recognized hard work and said thank you more. A little bit of praise goes a long way and vocalizing someone’s good deeds and hard work will set them on track to continue their stellar work.

What’s next?

It’s not easy being in charge of an entire team of employees to manage. But with the intent to do well and help your team reach their goals, you can lead them to a path where they don’t loathe coming into work every day and might actually look forward to it. Be upfront about your expectations so you’re on the same page, listen to what they have to say, trust them to do their job without being micromanaged, and praise them for all they do. By doing so, your company will soon reap the benefits and your workplace culture will remain happy and productive.

The technology is coming, but it’s going to be expensive.


It shouldn’t be just on the patient.

MIT Sloan Management Review
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 15:46:08 +0000

Business leaders are increasingly inundated with information about how emerging, connected technologies such as cloud computing, internet of things, AI, blockchain, and others can transform their businesses. The potential resulting haste to adopt new technology and harness transformative change can lead organizations to treat these emerging technologies in the same manner as other, more traditional IT investments — as something explored in isolation and disconnected from the broader technological needs of the organization. In the end, those projects can eventually stall or be written off, leaving in their wake skepticism about the usefulness of emerging technologies.

The main struggle generally stems from the fact that IT is often regarded as a separate, siloed monolith and managed as such within the organization. But that isolated approach to thinking about, and investing in, technology may no longer be sufficient. We should no longer look at this range of popular, emerging technologies in the same way we have always looked at new IT advancements.

These new technologies are beginning to converge, and this convergence enables them to yield a much greater value. Moreover, once converged, these technologies form a new industrial infrastructure, transforming how and where organizations can operate and the ways in which they compete. Augmenting these trends is a third factor: the blending of the cyber and the physical into a connected ecosystem, which marks a major shift that could enable organizations to generate more information about their processes and drive more informed decisions.

Let’s explore this concept of convergence and the new infrastructure a bit further.

The New Infrastructure: What It Is and What to Do About It

As we think about the ways convergence affects how organizations operate, leverage technology, and compete, it is important to identify the emerging technologies that form the core infrastructure. The new industrial infrastructure comprises three specific capabilities that each fulfill critical business functions: connectivity, computing, and transacting. Together, they facilitate and manage information flows — generation, storage and processing, and secure exchange — creating a foundation upon which business and commerce can operate. While rooted in the digital realm, this infrastructure is every bit as real as the glass, concrete, and steel that offices or factories are made of — and every bit as critical.

As we think about these three capabilities, it’s also important to note three important technologies that make them possible:

Connect: Wi-Fi and other connectivity enablers. Wi-Fi enables perhaps the most critical part of a connected technology infrastructure: the connectivity itself. It is also a key piece of blending the digital and the physical across geographies and uses. Wi-Fi and related technologies, such as low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), allow for cable-free connection to the internet almost anywhere. Wi-Fi and other connectivity and communications technologies (such as 5G) and standards connect a wide range of devices, from laptops to IoT sensors, across locations and pave the way for the extension of a digital-physical layer across a broader range of physical locations. This proliferation of connectivity allows organizations to expand their connectivity to new markets and geographies more easily. Within organizations, this could provide the opportunity for transmitting and sharing information across multiple assets and locations, creating a more connected and transparent enterprise.

Store, analyze, and manage: cloud computing. The cloud has revolutionized how many organizations distribute critical storage and computing functions. Just as Wi-Fi can free users’ access to the internet across geographies, the cloud can free individuals and organizations from relying on nearby physical servers. The virtualization inherent in cloud, supplemented by closer-to-the-source edge computing, can serve as a key element of the next wave of technologies blending the digital and physical. With all of the digital data companies now produce, the ability to store, maintain, and analyze that data can be critical for providing a holistic view of operations and enabling intelligent decision-making. Put simply, the cloud offers a place to store critical data and the necessary infrastructure for companies to manage it.

Exchange and transact: blockchain. If cloud allows for nonlocal storage and computing of data — and thus the addition or extraction of value via the leveraging of that data — blockchain supports the exchange of that value (typically via relevant metadata markers). As a mechanism for value or asset exchange that executes in both a virtualized and distributed environment, blockchain allows for the secure transacting of valuable data anywhere in the world a node or other transactor is located. Blockchain appears poised to become an industrial and commercial transaction fabric, uniting sensor data, stakeholders, and systems.

Each of these technologies is fairly new for consumers and organizations, with the earliest seeing wide adoption in the last 15 years — and some of these technologies, such as blockchain, are still in earlier phases of the adoption cycle.

While the path of this new infrastructure is still taking shape, it is not entirely untrod. One example of the virtuous effect of combining existing technologies to forge a new industrial advantage is something we know quite well: our global positioning system (GPS).

Combining Technologies to Drive Greater Value

Sensors can provide valuable information about a variety of conditions for various physical devices and assets. For example, the sensor in a GPS device receives radio signals that contain data from three or more (usually four) satellites. It captures that data, processes it to understand a real-world condition or state, and renders the output digitally. That sensor-produced data can then be transmitted over radio waves, Wi-Fi, or a similar mechanism to relay that location data for further use. That information can be aggregated with information from other GPS devices and sensors throughout the ecosystem to better understand the environment: where people are, how quickly they are moving, what obstacles may be in the way, what weather conditions might be occurring, and a whole host of other data points.

This aggregated data tells a much bigger story than any one individual data point can on its own. Once it is transmitted to the cloud, basic software programs, machine learning algorithms, and eventually AI applications can analyze the pool of information to discover linkages between data points, draw out patterns, and extract valuable insights for making more informed decisions. Different insights show the range of use cases, for example, where slowdowns are occurring to prompt automatic rerouting of truck deliveries, where and how population (and thus potential demand) tends to cluster, which conditions tend to lead to breakdowns (and thus how to proactively avoid them), or what coupons to digitally push to a potential customer who may be approaching your store based on location and buying history.

New Geographies, Lowered Barriers to Market Entry, and Capability Extension

Looking beyond the simpler example of GPS, convergence and the new industrial infrastructure built on the foundation of connectivity, computing, and transacting offer profound value for organizations. With the ability to connect via Wi-Fi, leverage cloud computing and storage, and securely transact around the world via blockchain, businesses can scale an initial idea or product to have global reach with increasing ease. Using this infrastructure, organizations can link data across locations, aggregate it, extract insights, and manage a wealth of information with a relatively small physical footprint — even in the absence of traditional facilities, servers, or other large capital assets.

This can enable organizations to extend a capability or service to new locations with fewer barriers to entry. The competitive landscape will also continue to shift as these technologies allow disruptors to enter the scene with less friction.

Further, as more data is captured, transactions that may not have existed before could become possible — creating new opportunities for revenue growth and innovation. We see the beginnings of what the new infrastructure could offer in terms of capability extension in the wake of natural disasters. Humanitarian aid, often administered in areas where traditional infrastructure is destroyed or degraded, provides a window into what the new infrastructure might look like in practice as organizations find novel, deployable ways to extend service provision that are increasingly reliant on nonlocal elements of infrastructure.

In some cases, organizations and areas that are the least developed with respect to existing technological infrastructure may be the best positioned to adopt this new, holistic approach to technology investment and application. They simply have less traditional infrastructure in place to stifle such a shift. While organizations with entrenched technological processes and systems in place would be required to rethink how they adopt, connect to, and deploy their assets (physical, native digital, IP, and more), those with little in place face fewer hurdles.

Getting Started With the New Infrastructure

The new industrial infrastructure can transform both business processes and business models, realigning how organizations operate in an increasingly connected world. Many organizations likely already leverage one or more of the core technologies of the new infrastructure as part of their processes. In the future, we can expect that choosing to plug into the new industrial infrastructure can allow organizations to realize even greater benefits and expand into new business areas and new geographies.

As a crucial first step, organizations and leaders should invest the time to understand these core technologies. Disruption is inevitable, but it’s too simplistic to look at these shifts as technology “taking over” or “upending” specific industries or businesses. By moving away from the idea that information technology exists in its own silo, leaders can and should adopt a wider vantage point and recognize that digital transformation is an organization- or ecosystem-wide proposition. With this in mind, it’s important to move beyond discussions solely focused on IT to more holistic conversations about digital transformation more broadly. For example, leaders can begin by looking at their current roster of discrete technology innovations and challenging themselves to find ways to converge them into a more comprehensive, connected approach.

From this broader vantage point, leaders can then start small with incubated prototypes and proofs-of-concept that unite technologies within limited use cases before scaling up to broader enterprise adoption. These discussions should focus on business operations for the whole of an organization first and foremost, rather than simply “tech strategy,” and have support from the entire C-suite, not just the CIO. Organizations can then explore the opportunities created by convergence — from lower barriers to moving into new geographies or sectors, to greater ease in developing and scaling new offerings and capabilities — and build the next generation of business upon the new industrial infrastructure it creates.


How to Unlock Your Team’s Creativity

January 31, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments

Encourage a growth mindset.


Taking on airlines’ toughest challenges

January 30, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments

McKinsey Insights & Publications
Tue, 29 Jan 2019
Aviation is still an enormously demanding industry. This speech from a procurement summit touches on airline profitability, new approaches to cost cutting, and treating procurement as a valued partner.
Tue, 29 Jan 2019
Will the micromobility market boom or bust? With billions already invested, here’s an assessment of its potential.
Tue, 29 Jan 2019
Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, discusses the potential for agricultural industrialization, energy inclusion, and infrastructure upgrade to drive prosperity growth.
Tue, 29 Jan 2019
On-demand mobility, ridesharing, and electric vehicles are becoming commonplace. But does that mean transportation is smart? Three experts respond.
Tue, 29 Jan 2019
Put an end to the costly workplace isolation experienced by many women by clustering them on teams and improving the promotion process.


The Two Ways for Startups and Corporations to Partner

January 30, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments

And when each one makes sense.


A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t good for patients.


A former YouTube executive on building apps without knowing how to code.


Youngme, Felix, and Mihir debate two of the dramatic and controversial tax ideas being proposed by Democrats (a 70% marginal income tax rate and a 2% wealth tax), before discussing the trend among brands like Gillette, Nike, and Pepsi to launch “woke” advertising campaigns. They also offer their After Hours picks for the week.
Does Your Business Ever Need an 11 x 17 Printer?
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0800

When starting or running a business, entrepreneurs and business owners tend to think mostly of the core aspects of their operation. A restaurant owner considers the food they'll serve and the atmosphere they'll create, while a marketing firm considers the type of services it will provide its clients. While daydreaming about your business normally makes you think of the more glamorous portions of your business, it's important to consider the everyday tasks and smaller functions that make your business hum.

For example, your business may need office space, office supplies, a payroll service and an HR platform. One of the frequently forgotten business tools is a printer. If you're hoping to print documents or even larger banners or marketing materials, purchasing a printer can make life much easier than using printing services every time you need a document printed.

With some small businesses relying on physical marketing materials like banners and posters, wide-format printers become essential. According to a 2018 survey released by FedEx Office, 4 out of 5 small business owners said professional printing services could help their businesses stand out from the competition. Additionally, 85 percent of consumers said they were more likely to shop with a small business that had custom/professionally printed materials. It made not be discussed frequently, but printed materials matter, especially for smaller businesses.

Editor's note: Looking for an even larger printer? We can help you choose the wide-format printer that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

Since printing matters, does it make sense for your business purchase a wide-format printer like an 11 x 17 version or should you use printing services? We look at several factors to determine what your small business should consider when making that decision.
It depends on the industry

If you're a marketing firm, you may print materials on 11 x 17 paper, in which case a wide-format printer may be a vital purchase. For less obvious cases, it's important to weigh the costs and benefits of buying a wide-format printer. Although an 11 x 17-inch printer doesn't print drastically larger materials than standard 8 x 11-inch printers, those extra few inches can be crucial in a few industries.

According to Dino Demitri, sales manager at Printer Showcase, a few industries stand out as those most likely to use an 11 x 17 printer. Here were a few of the industries Demitri mentioned:

Architecture Design Construction Advertising agencies Restaurants Retail 

The uses vary, but Demitri felt a few products stood out as those most commonly made using 11 x 17 printers.

Engineering drawings Art reproduction Retail signage display Brochures and sales collateral Menus Packaging mock-up Spreadsheets

There's clearly diversity among the different uses of the printer, and the value of an 11 x 17 printer varies by industry and individual businesses.

If you run a restaurant, your initial focus likely goes to your food and customer base, but it's important to consider seemingly minor tasks like menu design. Printing a larger menu on 11 x 17 paper may allow for more creativity with design as well as a larger font size, which can benefit customers.

There's no perfect case for or against buying an 11 x 17 printer, but the industry you're in will certainly affect the legitimacy of purchasing the printer. [Interested in wide-format printers for your business? Check out our best picks.]

Is it worth the cost?

Much like any other purchase a small business makes, it's important to consider the cost. Whether you're using a printing service or buying an 11 x 17 printer for your business, you need to weigh the costs and benefits. If you're considering purchasing the printer, do you print 11 x 17 materials enough to justify the purchase? If you're opting for a printing service, is that cost worth the added size of printing your materials on 11 x 17 paper?

The idea of buying a printer with exciting capabilities can be enticing, but you shouldn't jump at the chance to buy something just because it has fancy features. If you don't think you'd use the printer frequently, put the money into other areas of your business. The specific pricing of 11 x 17 printers varies greatly depending on the model and capabilities of each printer. You can go from spending as little as $200 to well over $1,000. Be sure to also note the cost of errors that will arise if you purchase a printer. According to Xerox, printer-related issues can account for thousands of dollars of IT work.

It is, however, worth noting additional positive capabilities of an 11 x 17-inch printer during your purchasing process.  

"All 11 by 17 capable printers can also print letter-sized paper, and, in fact, many already have multiple feeders to accommodate more than one size or type of paper so that you can print whichever size you need on demand," said Demitri. 

"It is fair, however, to say that 11 x 17-capable lasers do have a larger footprint and are generally larger and heavier," he added. 

If your business will benefit from the ability to print 11 x 17 documents, in addition to the standard letter-sized paper, then it may be worth considering purchasing a printer. If you feel your use of wide-format printers will be limited, the purchase might not make sense for your business.  

Focus on your business

You know your business better than anybody. Don't rush into a purchasing decision you don't need to make. Consider the costs and benefits of purchasing a printer while keeping your business's needs in mind.

"If they need [an 11 x 17 printer], they already know it," said Demitri.

3 Proven Customer Retention Tactics You’re Likely Not Using
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 05:00:00 -0800

According to recent research, 80 percent of small and midsize business owners are optimistic about their businesses’ performance in 2019. These owners cite a variety of factors behind this optimism, including the strength of their teams as well as well as the quality of their marketing and sales plans. However, 51 percent point to one major factor: the value of their existing customer base.

Yet most companies focus far more on new customer acquisition than they do on customer retention, a concerning fact given the value of customer retention. Research has shown that improving customer retention by 5 percent can increase profits by 25 to 95 percent. At the same time, customer acquisition costs have gone up by 50 percent over the last five years, making getting new customers that much more expensive.  

For organizations looking to frugally build their bottom line, retention tactics can play a major role. Businesses looking to build out their customer retention efforts should consider at least one of the following three activities. They’re cost-effective, informative and can go a long way to helping you keep your best customers.

1. Ask for feedback proactively

No news is not necessarily good news. Most customers won’t tell you if they are dissatisfied with your business. They’ll simply stop paying. As a result, taking the first step to ask about a customer’s experience with you is an ideal way to gauge their satisfaction.

A frequently-used approach is Net Promoter Score (NPS), a single-question survey that probes on a customer’s likelihood to recommend your product or service to a friend or colleague. As a widely-used tool, NPS lets a business easily benchmark their NPS scores against industry averages. It lets organizations see how they stack up and assess if they have customer satisfaction issues that could result in attrition.

While universally-used, NPS can be limiting because it doesn’t offer much feedback about a customer’s experience. That is why another valuable approach is to ask a small number of high-level questions every six to twelve months to understand customer expectations versus actual experience. Consider these three questions:

What motivated you to look for something like our product or service?

What have you enjoyed about our product or service?

What could we do to offer you a better experience?

Taking the time to ask simple yet well-rounded questions can provide a lot of insight into what customers wanted from your business relative to what they are actually receiving. Any negative gaps between the two measures is a signal that it’s time to focus more on retention.

2. Track product or service usage

Do you know when the last time was that a customer used your product or service, or when they last walked through your door? Lack of product usage, or infrequency of usage, can be signals of a customer being likely to quit your business. Measuring the last time a customer used your service and comparing that to the average span between usage can help isolate lapsed customers who you may be at risk of losing.

This is one area where customer relationship management (CRM) tools can be incredibly helpful. Rather than having you manually record and compare this information, these systems can automate tracking and collecting for you. They’ll often automatically send email alerts if your customer’s haven’t used your services within a predetermined amount of time, allowing you to proactively reach out and ask why. [View's reviews and best picks for CRM software.]

3. Promote “sticky” product features

Companies are always excited to talk about their newest products and services. However, new features aren’t always the most compelling, nor are they necessarily the features your customers can’t live without.

These must-have features or services are frequently called “sticky features.” That is, features your customers find so valuable that they’ll happily continue using your services even if you make no further improvements. When customers aren’t using your sticky features, there’s a far higher likelihood that they’ll churn.

To determine which features are the stickiest, you can certainly ask directly. Or, you can track it digitally with tools like Google Analytics’ Events Tracking or Matomo. You’ll usually find that sticky features are the features that reduce the need for recurring or manual activities, drastically decrease the time associated with regular tasks or reduce the human error or business risks that come with everyday business responsibilities.

Once you know which features classify as sticky, make sure they’re getting used by leveraging product marketing. Create blog posts, shareable collateral and videos that not only show how to use these sticky features but explicitly shows the value your customers will get from using them.

Never stop with retention tactics

No matter which approach you choose, the key to a strong retention plan is to never stop. Satisfying customer needs in one year has no bearing on driving customer satisfaction in the subsequent year. Making it an organizational norm to put customer retention front-and-center will go a long way to delighting customers, keeping them satisfied and making sure they stick with you in the long haul.

The Future of Tech Outsourcing Partnerships
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 07:00:00 -0800

Businesses around the world are embracing the digital transformation. According to the 2018 Digital Transformation Index, over 40 percent of companies said they had a dedicated digital transformation team in place. But what about the other 60% of companies?

Many organizations are turning to IT outsourcing partners to adapt to the rapid pace of technological change and remain competitive. However, relationships between businesses and their outsourcing partners are changing from the traditional output-based approaches to more integrated and specialized arrangements. The need for IT partners that can deliver the latest technical expertise through more flexible contract models is growing. Here’s a look at how IT outsourcing partnerships are evolving to meet the digital transformation demands of today.

Demand for specialized technology partners

The digital skills gap is one of the biggest roadblocks to digital transformation for businesses. Outsourcing firms that provide deep expertise in artificial intelligence, for example, or technologies like blockchain, are in high demand. A report from MIT Sloan found that 85 percent of respondents believe AI will play a significant role in their ability to stay competitive in the coming years. The number of blockchain-related LinkedIn job postings more than tripled in 2017. Businesses are increasingly seeking out specialized partners to meet their innovation goals, and as a result, many are opting to outsource to multiple, specialized vendors.

By working with multiple vendors, businesses can mitigate some risk. What’s more, they’re able to strengthen their competitive advantages by partnering with the most relevant and experienced technical teams. However, outsourcing to multiple vendors can be complex and lead to quality and delivery issues if not managed properly. Outsourcing firms that are capable of maintaining a wide range of specialized expertise under one roof may have an advantage so long as they can ensure high-quality customer support and meet promised delivery times.

Security-focused partnerships

Cybersecurity is now a primary concern for businesses of all sizes and in all industries. Nevertheless, staffing a security team is a daunting task due to the lack of talent. There are approximately 200,000 unfilled security positions in the United States alone, and an estimated one million open positions globally.

Beyond the need to fill internal cybersecurity roles, many organizations are also demanding security be a part of their digital transformations. Trust is now a leading factor when it comes to selecting the outsourcing partners businesses choose to work with and who they allow accessing their data. Businesses are spending more time vetting their outsourcing partners, and opting to work with those that have a proven track record of following data and cybersecurity best practices.

Making room for automation

According to Gartner, intelligent automation is set to transform business outsourcing completely. Intelligent automation allows businesses to automate laborious tasks, including some IT tasks, in order to streamline their operations and allow their human staff to focus on more high-value work. According to Software Testing and Big Data Hadoop, approximately 10 to 20 percent of human work hours are spent on repetitive computer tasks. Researchers estimate that IT departments spend around 30 percent of their time on low-level basic tasks which could be automated easily.

Intelligent automation will lead to significant changes in outsourcing partnerships. On one hand, it may lead to a reduction in the number of staff required to complete IT projects. On the other hand, it’s more likely to increase the demand for partners that can provide intelligent automation support in the short term. Businesses are starting to realize AI’s potential to help them achieve their digital transformation goals and outsourcing firms that can provide affordable front and back office solutions may be able to leverage this demand for many years to come.

The evolution of contract models

“As-a-service” delivery models are revolutionizing the business services industry. Many organizations are turning to on-demand partnerships that allow them to access only the services or resources they need from the vast pool of IT service providers. This approach offers businesses more flexibility, often at a lower cost. That said, due to the on-demand nature of this model, faster delivery times do not always mean quality work. For now, traditional contract models are still used heavily for larger, more long-term projects, with on-demand models being used to cover more immediate, short-term development needs.

In addition to “as-a-service” models, outcome-based contract models are also changing traditional outsourcing partnerships. One of the biggest challenges for IT leaders is quantifying services. Therefore, contracts are shifting to be based on outcomes rather than outputs.

Outcome-based models are often more value-driven because they are based on measuring real metrics and results. This idea requires a strong relationship between the business and the service provider to truly deliver value and meet expectations. For instance, outcome-based models require a significant amount of strategic planning before starting a project, strong communication between both parties, and completely fluid exchange of information. Trust and transparency are key for an outcome-based model to work, resulting in a more reliable and consistent partnership that is often more rewarding for both parties.

A new age of outsourcing partnerships

While affordability will always be a factor when selecting an IT outsourcing partner, businesses are increasingly looking for partnerships that are security-driven, trustworthy and flexible. Only when a partnership meets all of these requirements can businesses free up more time to focus on their core business activities and meeting their digital transformation goals.

Struggling to Innovate? Office Politics Is Probably Getting In the Way
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 09:00:00 -0800

Innovation is never easy, but it can be made even more difficult when an organization is rife with internal politics. Just two members on a team with conflicting agendas can lead a project astray and leave the rest of the team confused, frustrated and disengaged.

Office politics on their own can do some serious damage to a company. Given enough time, they can even become a part of the culture, affecting relationships and creating bottlenecks at every level, which is especially troubling in small businesses with only a handful of workers. In fact, turf wars, politics, and lack of alignment topped the list of common obstacles to innovation, with 55 percent of surveyed leaders citing internal squabbling as the worst offender.

No Quick Fix

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to office politics, especially when they relate to innovation. The only real solution comes from the top. It requires strong leadership and a clear communication strategy that instills the idea that both innovation and collaboration are requirements of every person’s job.

This will certainly become a balancing act on your part. You can’t very well stop team-wide initiatives until things are resolved. But you also can’t barrel ahead without addressing the issue at hand. The goal here is to move forward with innovation while ensuring that all team members recognize the faith and trust you have in everyone involved.

This isn’t to say people won’t feel as if another employee is encroaching on their territory. Forrester found that 43 percent of businesses experience internal battles over ownership. That’s why communication is so important to innovation — and keeping internal politics at bay, I should add.

As a small business leader, it’s up to you to explain and define each team member’s role and responsibility in the initiative. You want to be as transparent as possible about the project from the very start, and the following should help in creating a team equipped for innovation:

1. Keep it real. 

A team, no matter its size, can solve almost any problem when approaching it as a united front. But that’s not possible until everyone grasps the current state. Don’t gloss over the situation. Instead, be upfront and honest about what you hope to accomplish and why you hope to accomplish it — not to mention any potential hurdles along the way. If you present people the whole truth, they will feel your trust and rise to the occasion.

2. Relinquish control. 

You’ve no doubt developed some semblance of a plan. And like the truth, this should also be shared. Once you reveal the objectives and parameters, give your team members the freedom to make decisions on their own. If you allow people to take ownership of a problem, the desire to arrive at a solution is, naturally, greater. In turn, your team will likely achieve the goals at a much faster rate — and within the set parameters, no less.

3. Listen. 

People will always be your greatest resource. Each member of your team brings a unique perspective to a situation — if they feel comfortable sharing it. Establish an environment where everyone feels heard. Encourage team members to share their thoughts on the challenges facing business. You’ll be amazed by many of the solutions brought to the table.

4. Get buy-in. 

Skepticism is inevitable, even with directives coming from the business owner or the boss. Again, this goes back to the environment you’re trying to create, so it’s important to be sensitive to people’s concerns. Set aside some time for a one-on-one conversation. Make sure the naysayer feels heard by considering their perspective. At the same time, however, reiterate your expectations for participation. Innovation in all its forms should be a team effort.

If you're leading up an innovation effort within your team, understand that the only true means of resolving a process issue or challenge is to become an integrated team. The goal is to work together to produce a meaningful and innovative solution. Otherwise, the effort won’t provide the anticipated results.

MIT Sloan Management Review
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 15:56:26 +0000

Smart devices, once relegated to science fiction and our imaginations, are now ubiquitous. Today, there’s a market for everything from a Wi-Fi connected refrigerator to a voice-operated speaker that doubles as a personal assistant. The internet of things (IoT) — the software-operated network of physical devices, appliances, vehicles — grows day by day as these devices become part of our daily lives. A March 2018 survey found that 22% of Americans used IoT appliances in their homes, and this trend is widespread across the globe. Amazon recently announced a plan to expand Amazon Echo services to Italy and Spain.

For consumers, the concept of easily operated, highly adaptable products is great. Smart devices are convenient, useful, and fun. However, many people remain skeptical or anxious about this level of connectivity. News of products leaking private information or being remotely hacked has led customers to fear for their personal safety and reconsider hooking up physical appliances to vulnerable networks.

Considering the relative infancy of many IoT markets and the growing demand for cheap and accessible IoT products, this is a critical stage for IoT businesses. Manufacturers will have to make decisions about how to best deal with cybersecurity. For some IoT developers, that may mean choosing between product usability and product security.

Prioritizing Product Security

Businesses frequently fail to consider that the incentive for product security can have more to do with marketability than integrity. Just look at the saga of the My Friend Cayla doll. Developed by the U.S.-based manufacturer Genesis, this children’s toy used speech-recognition technology to engage in personalized conversations with kids. The doll experienced high demand in 2015 and 2016 — until the public discovered that My Friend Cayla offered a prime target for hackers.

Germany’s Federal Network Agency found that an unsecured Bluetooth device in the doll, which collected and transmitted all audio to a U.S.-based voice-recognition company, exposed the doll’s data. Independent and possibly malicious hackers could not only access private voice data, but also potentially speak to children through the doll.

The My Friend Cayla doll was officially banned in Germany in early 2017, and officials advised parents to trash the doll and destroy its internal microphone. In the U.S., consumer watchdog groups and legislators demanded that the dolls be pulled from shelves for violating laws protecting child privacy. Sales promptly fizzled. Today, the My Friend Cayla doll is no longer carried by major U.S. retailers. Similar events have occurred in various markets. As a whole, the IoT includes a wide range of devices with unique vulnerabilities. Inconsistent security protocols and physical safety risks of IoT technologies are their primary weaknesses.

Potential adopters of IoT technologies range from individuals to massive organizations. If a new product experiences a publicized cyber incident, it may never get off the ground, even if the security issue gets resolved. This is a prime example of why IoT developers cannot simply focus on marketing and innovation. Security needs to be addressed proactively, even if it requires a considerable investment of resources in earlier stages.

In fact, investing resources in cybersecurity is probably the most business-savvy thing that IoT product manufacturers can do. At Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan (CAMS), we studied how security risks of IoT products can shape the future marketplace. In a recent study, we found that while there are a number of variables at play, investing early in cybersecurity capabilities — even for a company or startup with limited resources — is ultimately the method most likely to bring market success in the long run.

Appealing to Users

One of the biggest selling points of IoT products is their convenience and reliability. A good product must be simple enough to attract customers, yet secure enough to reduce the likelihood of cyber incidents.

Consider our iceberg model (See “Iceberg Model for IoT Products”), which maps the growth of IoT products. It includes several feedback loops that explain how changes in a product can affect its sales. The first feedback loop (R) is obvious to most IoT product designers: The more beneficial or attractive a product, the more its use and sales increase. With the increase of sales and market size of IoT, designers use research to improve their product, and so more people will want to purchase the product.

Iceberg Model for IoT Products

Cyber risk exposure is part of a customer’s perception of security and reliability, and this affects the relative advantage of IoT products.

Iceberg Model for IoT Products

However, that mechanism is only the tip of the iceberg. Data security concerns create a second, less obvious feedback loop (B) affecting the marketability of IoT products. This important but hidden part of the model works like this: As a product’s adoption increases, it becomes more attractive to hackers, and some cyberattacks may succeed. If customers learn about attacks on the product, they’ll doubt its security and reliability. Eventually, potential adopters may decide that the cyber risk is too great to justify any number of benefits or novel features.

Our research, which included studying a large electronics company that produces an IoT lighting product, provides us with a narrative for how cybersecurity-related variables may impact the introduction and adoption of new products in the market. We interviewed employees from a number of departments within the electronics organization — including security, production, marketing, and sales — and consulted potential users of the product and outside industry experts.

Interviewees could easily describe many potential benefits of their product — from connected light bulbs that could reduce inefficiency in unoccupied conference rooms to IT systems that could use motion sensor-equipped lighting to direct employees to open desks when they enter the building. The chief benefit of using IoT, in this case, is not the lighting technology itself, but the data collection around productivity and efficiency it can provide.

However, these benefits often aren’t easy to perceive for consumers, and several factors may make customers doubt the security of a connected lighting system. The many bulbs and systems involved offer many potential targets for hacking. This lighting system doesn’t feel safe to some building managers. In this case, the risk seems to outweigh the reward for most consumers who might consider installing a connected lighting system. Very few buildings have adopted connected lighting. This leaves much room for the IoT developer to not only enhance their cybersecurity capabilities but also ensure that the risk and benefits are clearly communicated to potential consumers.

How IoT Businesses Can Reduce the Impact of Cyber Risks

Investing in cybersecurity capabilities for IoT products is essential, but it can be expensive and this requires additional resources. In the long run, however, strong cybersecurity measures can improve consumers’ perception of how secure and reliable a product is, which helps chances of adoption.

IoT developers simply can’t wait until their product gets a noticeable market share to invest in cybersecurity policies. Management must take responsibility for security along the entire technology supply chain. To increase the adoption of the IoT, organizations that develop this technology must measure and monitor the risk-reward ratio of products.

A particular dilemma for IoT developers is the lack of widely accepted standards for this market. On the one hand, the lack of established protocols around IoT security can be a strategic advantage for entrants into the market, and we’ve seen this with early innovators and startups already, such as the case of My Friend Cayla. On the other hand, without standards, vendors have difficulty articulating to potential customers — especially in large organizations — how to handle cyber risks.

The benefits of smart devices are wide-ranging: The IoT-powered communication and analytics have the potential to do more than just add convenience to our daily lives — they could actually radically improve the way we work and live.

However, if consumers perceive that a product puts important personal or company data at risk, that fear will continue to outweigh the benefits. By carefully considering and fighting against cyber risks, IoT innovators can ensure the growth of their market and the growth of IoT benefits in society as a whole. This requires IoT developers to make early investments in cybersecurity capabilities, beyond a sole focus on product design and sale.


If You’re About to Take a New Job, Should You Consider Your Boss’s Counteroffer?

January 30, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments

It’s usually — but not always — a bad idea.


Use Your Money to Buy Happier Time

January 29, 2019 Tampa Business Management 0 Comments

Ashley Whillans, professor at Harvard Business School, researches time-money trade-offs. She argues more people would be happier if they spent more of their hard-earned money to buy themselves out of negative experiences. Her research shows that paying to outsource housework or to enjoy a shorter commute can have an outsized impact on happiness and relationships. Whillans is the author of the HBR article “Time for Happiness.”


The uncertainty is affecting every industry.


For digital companies, it’s an essential part of operations.
5 Tips to Use Facebook Retargeting for Brand Growth
Tue, 29 Jan 2019 06:00:00 -0800

As the world's biggest social media platform, Facebook offers countless opportunities for brand growth, ranging from Facebook Groups to highly targeted Lead Ads.

Of course, as with any other type of marketing, there's no guarantee that a potential customer's first exposure to your brand will result in a sale. This is where Facebook has a distinct advantage with its retargeting options. Retargeting has consistently proven to be one of the most effective digital marketing tools available, with retargeted visitors being 70 percent more likely to convert into sales or leads.

Needless to say, those numbers can represent significant growth for your brand. Here's how you can better use Facebook's retargeting tools to achieve stellar results.

1. Use different retargeting campaigns for different groups.

There are many different ways that a potential customer could initially encounter your brand – and you can use Facebook retargeting to reach all of these groups. You can use a wide variety of metrics to build a custom audience for your retargeting campaign.

While many marketers start with the broad option of retargeting all website visitors, you can fine-tune your targeting by creating campaigns focused on those who have downloaded free content from your site, installed your company's app or visited a specific landing page.

Establish a conversion goal for each retargeted group. Whether you want to re-engage with former customers or turn a free trial into a paid subscription, these campaign goals will ultimately guide the entire Facebook ad campaign.


Editor's note: Looking for help with your social media marketing? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.



2. Fine-tune your messaging.

Not all retargeting groups are created equal. After all, there's a big difference between someone who has made a purchase from your online store in the past and someone who merely browsed your landing page without taking any additional actions.

Each of these groups is at a different stage of the marketing funnel, and the content of your Facebook ads should be adjusted accordingly. After determining the metrics for your retargeted group, you'll want to carefully consider what messaging will be most relevant to them.

For example, someone who has signed up for a free trial could benefit from ads that remind them about the end of their trial period and encourage them to sign up for a paid subscription. Former customers, on the other hand, could benefit from ads detailing new features for your service or a newly launched product. Engaging content is always key to success.

3. Retarget social media users, not just website visitors.

Retargeting campaigns tend to focus exclusively on people who have visited your website – this certainly tends to be the case in SEO campaigns. But Facebook offers a completely separate channel of brand interactions. As such, you should also consider retargeting campaigns based on past social media experiences.

Facebook allows businesses to build custom audiences based on previous engagement on the platform. You could set up a campaign to retarget individuals who have messaged your page, watched a recent video or only partially completed a form on a Lead Ad. As with other retargeting efforts, adapting your messaging to each customer's location on the buyer's journey will be key to landing new conversions.

4. Use the Facebook pixel.

Measuring the effectiveness of current social media campaigns and making necessary adjustments has become easier than ever thanks to Facebook's pixel tool. By embedding the pixel in your website code, you can more accurately track on-site actions that occur after someone clicks on one of your Facebook ads.

This process doesn't just make it easier to build custom audiences for future retargeting campaigns – it also gives you key insights into your website. As you come to understand the actions people are taking (or not taking) once they arrive at your site, you can implement changes to enhance the user experience and improve conversion rates.

A quality website is just as important as an engaging Facebook ad. By eliminating roadblocks in the user experience, you can optimize everything from your landing page to the checkout process.

5. Scale growth with look-alike audiences.

After you've identified retargeted groups that are converting at a high rate with the help of your pixel, you'll naturally want to expand your efforts to new audiences who haven't interacted with your brand before. This is where Facebook's audience insights can prove even more beneficial.

Using pixel data from your past successful campaigns, you can more easily identify commonalities among the demographics or interests of your top customers. Facebook's Lookalike Audience tool can then use this "source audience" to target individuals who are most similar to those who converted from your retargeting campaign.

Because these "look-alike" individuals have much in common with your best customers, they are also more likely to be interested in your product or service. The result is a greater return on investment for your other Facebook advertising campaigns so you can enjoy even better growth.

It's time to grow through retargeting.

Building a successful Facebook retargeting campaign may require a bit more work than simply creating an ad campaign with a target audience of your choosing. But going the extra mile can ensure far better results for your brand as you reach high-converting groups with messages that are most relevant to them.

Leverage retargeting today to start achieving more conversions.

Resource Burn: 4 Things That Are Wasting Your Team's Time
Tue, 29 Jan 2019 07:00:00 -0800

“Overhead” is a fact of life for any business, regardless of size. Every aspect of operating a business has a cost—monetary or otherwise—that generally can’t be avoided, but sometimes companies add costs that they don’t need for reasons that are unclear.

It’s easy to pile up these expenses, as they can start off as part of other overheads. Even so, when left unchecked, these once small costs can quickly balloon and result in major setbacks that can impact every aspect of your business.

For IT managers and business owners, reducing these types of resource waste is vital for ensuring the continued success and longevity of their companies. While they may be borne out of necessary activities, it’s important to recognize when you have gratuitous waste on your hands, and to find ways to stem the tide.

Here are four of the biggest resource wasters, and ways you can rapidly overcome them.

1. Falling into social media black holes

Social media is a staple of marketing—both for B2C and B2B audiences—and having a presence on multiple channels is no longer optional for businesses. Even so, some would have you believe that you need to be on every platform and every channel to form a successful strategy. Moreover, it’s become common practice by many marketers to advocate simply buying audiences and engagement—paying for likes, post boosting, and new followers.

Additionally, as companies try to maintain an “edge” over their competitors, every new trend feels like a must-have. The reality, however, is that this bandwagon effect is far from useful. While having a presence on multiple channels is important, not every platform gives you a direct benefit. Companies that deal in industrial solvents or SaaS products don’t necessary need Snapchat or Instagram accounts, for example, but may benefit from a presence on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Spreading your resources out too thin to stay active where your audience doesn’t really spend any time can quickly kill your marketing budget and hurt your business.

How you fix it – The easiest solution to social media creep is to turn to data to give you real answers. One of the few trends that should be adopted by pretty much every business is social media analytics. Understanding your real impact, as well as which channels are best suited for your presences, is vital for ensuring you’re not overspending, but rather allocating your dollars to the most effective destinations.

2. Using too many tools

This is another area where many executives assume that more is always better. The ease with which companies can add new tools thanks to the SaaS model lets companies quickly onboard new services on demand.

However, the model falls apart when those making decisions aren’t the ones dealing with the big picture. IT managers and CIOs understand a company’s tech needs, but they’re not always empowered to make those choices.

The addition of more tools and applications creates logistical and management nightmares that are hard to resolve. For one, even though then monthly fees for individual tools are often low, once you have subscriptions to dozens upon dozens of tools running at once, they can grow costly quickly. Furthermore, having that many tools means some of them are probably not getting used to their full potential. Managing permissions, people coming and leaving the company, and overseeing accounts can waste your IT team’s time that might be spent more valuably elsewhere.

How you fix it – A jumbled approach to SaaS integrations can be bad if managed improperly, but creating a more efficient and centralized management system for your tools can deliver real results. Pipedrive, a software company with over 400 team members, recently started using a platform to map and centralize all their app administration in a single location, and they found that this change alone saves their IT team about 1.5 hours per offboarded employee.

3. Meetings about meetings

Meetings are a hallmark of corporate life, and even new businesses are prone to schedule meetings about anything and everything. Bosses feel the need to have direct communication with their teams or individual employees, different teams need to huddle for coordinating on ongoing projects, and weekly company-wide meetings are standard.

However, these meetings can have a decidedly negative impact on productivity. The worst part is that more than simply impairing productivity, they actually hurt your bottom line.

Besides, it’s not like people view these meetings as productive, or even worthwhile. A 2014 study by Bain & Company found that a weekly meeting of executives at a company took up 7,000 hours a year, while the total meetings had wasted 300,000 of total worker hours. All told, a penchant for meetings can emerge as one of the biggest drains on productivity, and therefore, your profit-generating capacity.

How you fix it – The obvious answer is to be more discerning about what meetings you schedule and for how long. Most meetings are not necessary and can be replaced by emails, chat channels and other instant communication methods. More importantly, find the right channels to reduce the need for face-to-face meetings. Project management tools and messaging applications can supplant them while simultaneously reducing the need to stop working in order to communicate.

4. Over-reliance on the gig economy

Outsourcing is by far one of the most game-changing trends of the past decade, as companies find it easier to ship out smaller, menial tasks to contractors. Done right, outsourcing can reduce costs, free up your team for the right tasks, and lower your need for more workers. However, when overdone, it can have the opposite effect.

Leaning too heavily on outsourced work can result in your overall product quality decreasing (in many cases, you get what you pay for), and can force you to spend the time fixing work that could have been done by a paid worker for less resources. What’s more, shoddy work not only results in you squandering current resources, but consequently future revenue potential as a function of your reputation being tarnished.

Finally, outsourcing requires you to manage the process, and have a clear strategy—something many companies don’t factor directly into their costs.

How you fix it – Instead of being your go-to strategy, outsourcing should be used more as a scalpel than a knife. That is, use outsourcing when it is necessary and makes sense, instead as your first option. In many cases, focus your resources on completing work in-house, and find outsourcing services with a record of superb quality to ensure you’re not double spending on every outsourced contract.

Reducing waste is a conscious choice

Cutting down on waste is far from impossible but requires a conscious effort. Identifying areas where you’re not performing well may be difficult but taking actions to resolve them will start paying off immediately.

Focus on those aspects of your business that don’t necessarily deliver the intended results, and find ways to replace wasteful processes with more efficient solutions.

Tricks of Trade: Angel Investor Shares Secrets for Landing a Deal
Tue, 29 Jan 2019 08:00:00 -0800

There comes a time for entrepreneurs when an influx of money, guidance or both is needed to take their business to the next level. It's in these times that many business owners turn to an investor for help. 

Whether this is before a startup is even up and running, or after it's established and trying to scale, taking on an investor can be critical to the lasting success of many businesses. 

While there is a range of venture capitalists and angel investors willing to put money into small businesses, actually selling them on your venture, and its promise, is no easy task. 

As an angel investor and CEO of the telecommunications company Amobee, Kim Perrell knows what it takes for businesses to secure an investment deal. Over her career, Perrell has invested in more than 70 startups, 14 of which have successfully been acquired. 

We recently spoke with Perrell about approaching an investor and what entrepreneurs should expect from the process. In addition, we asked her several rapid-fire questions about technology, her career and advice she has received over the years. 

Q: How do you know if you are ready to take on an investor? 

A: When taking on an investor, it's very important to have a solid business plan and financial model of how you will turn your idea into a viable, lucrative business. You will need to be able to clearly articulate the market size and potential market demand for your product or service. You also need to show how you will use the potential investment proceeds. Investors want to know you have a plan. 

It is also important to acknowledge that it will take a significant amount of your time to raise investment. Raising money is a full-time job and also comes with expectations. 

As soon as you raise capital, you will be working with investors who will want to know performance and progress. There are also many different types of investors – angel investors, friends and family, crowdfunding – and each will require a different level of preparedness and savviness. 

Q: What are the three most important things investors want to hear during a pitch? 

A: A polished, confident elevator pitch: It's important to have a quick, easy-to-understand version of your pitch that you can deliver in less time than it takes to ride an elevator. You should be able to explain your idea to anyone, any time. Staying concise matters during the real deal too – your first meeting with investors will not be long. Your pitch should also have a solid pitch deck

Accountability: Your pitch needs to address every question an investor could have. What is the market need, and who is demanding it? How does your idea solve that need? How will your idea make both revenue and profit? You need to really sell your investors. What have other companies in the space sold for? How much capital will you need, and how will you use it? Investors want to know what they will get out of their contribution, so calculate your request by estimating double the time and cost you expect. Plan for the worst-case scenario. 

Confidence: Your biggest challenge is convincing investors to believe in your ability to execute, so tell them your story. What have you done that proves you can make this happen? Businesses may change and trends may pivot – investors need to be confident that you can pivot too. Surround yourself with a team that supplements any perceived weaknesses and convey both realism and passion so potential investors can see that you will persevere, no matter what it takes. Investors don't expect you to be perfect or know everything (in fact, it is concerning if someone is), they expect you to have the wherewithal to be resourceful and resilient when you encounter challenges. 

Q: What should you avoid doing or saying during a pitch meeting? 

A: Never go in unprepared. You often have only a few minutes to make a good impression. Investors hear hundreds and hundreds of pitches, and their time is valuable. Make it count. Make sure you have practiced and gathered great feedback before you go in for your first pitch meeting. Investors are looking for evidence, not just ideas. They will want to see proof of concept or a minimum viable product. 

Never say that you don't have any competitors or there is no competition. This is a red flag to investors and generally shows that an entrepreneur is naive and has a lack of understanding of the market. Competitors aren't bad; they help you define your market opportunity and uniqueness. It's very important to identify what you are competing with and how you are different. 

Don't try to answer something you don't know. If you are unable to answer something, note that you will get back to them and then follow up later. For example, you can say "I don't have access to that data, but I'll provide it in my follow-up," or "You raise an excellent point, or I hadn't considered that. Let me look more into it and I'll follow up with you on that." 

Don't ramble. Stay direct and to the point. Speak clearly and concisely. Hit upon what is key to investors. If you say too much, it will distract from what's important and can cause confusion and doubt for investors. If it is going well, quit while you are ahead and don't inadvertently throw a wrench in a meeting. 

Q: What are some strategies to ensure your pitch is tailored to each investor? 

A: Do your research. Understand what is important to your investor, what they have historically invested in and what sectors they are familiar with. Why would that investor add value to you? Most investors invest not only because they can provide financing but also strategic guidance. How could the investor you are pitching be of value to you and your opportunity? It's important to take the time to do due diligence. Investors ultimately should be able to add value beyond merely financing, whether that is in their network, area of expertise or their particular sector or experience (i.e., they are marketing experts, have successfully run manufacturing companies or invest in tech startups). 

Use the time you have not just to pitch but also to build relationships. Success in business and life is all about relationships. Seek to build an authentic relationship with a potential investor long term – even if they don't invest at the time, perhaps they invest in a later date/round. They can often help you build valuable connections. Some investors are not suited to a particular investment but know someone who is. 

Be genuinely interested in learning about the investor. Ask how the investor evaluates an investment and how involved they are in their portfolio Ask for honest feedback. What could I have done better in my pitch? I know you have seen one thousand pitches, what feedback have you given for mine? What are the things you think I need to address? This is one of the most valuable audiences you will have the opportunity to meet with, so be thoughtful and prepare wisely. 

Q: What questions should entrepreneurs be prepared for from the investors? 

A: Entrepreneurs should be prepared to share and clearly articulate the following: 

Your background and the company history: Clearly articulate who you are. Investors bet on people even more so than the idea which will often change or pivot Size of the opportunity/market Product/technology patents/barriers to entry: Show a minimal viable product and evidence of success. Competitive environment: What is the competition and others in the space? How are you different? What sets you apart? Marketing/sales/partnerships: How will you make money? What is the business model? How will you get new customers? Demonstrate the need for investment and what you want to do with the investment: What is the overall capital you need? Who are you trying to raise it from? How are you going to raise the capital? Other factors for success: This could be things like great early customer feedback or technology development 

Q: Should you expect a definite yes or no answer from an investor during your pitch meeting? If not, how should you follow up? 

A: No, you should generally not expect a direct yes or no during your pitch. Almost all pitches consist of a series of questions the investor will ask. 

I recommend following up immediately, stating how much you appreciated their time and outlining the follow-up for the next steps, including additional questions. 

You can then request for a secondary follow-up with information that may take more time to gather. Again, your follow-up helps demonstrate to the investor you can execute.

Rapid-fire questions

Q: What piece of technology could you not live without? 

A: I am on the road for work constantly, and my cell phone gives me the ability to work from anywhere. 

Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given? 

A: The best advice I received as an entrepreneur starting my first company was to follow the two by two rule, which explains that it is going to take twice as long to achieve whatever I want and it's going to cost twice as much, and I am not the exception. 

To this day, I continually remind myself of this in whatever I'm doing financially, professionally and personally. Whether I'm going to remodel a house, it's going to cost me twice as much and will take twice as long. If I'm going to buy a business, it's going to likely take me twice as long and there will be unexpected costs. 

As an angel investor, with the entrepreneurs I invest in, I tell them this too. It's going to take you twice as long and cost twice as much as you think. Just knowing that it will cost more and take more time than anticipated helps create both the financial framework as well as the mindset and mental preparation to ensure success despite the inevitable roadblocks ahead. 

Q: What's the best book or blog you've recently read? 

A: I love reading and read as much as possible. I just finished Extreme Ownership over the holidays. It was a great read, and the Navy Seal stories translate well into lessons for business and life. It was a good reminder that a true leader must be ready to take responsibility when things fail, regardless of circumstance. 

I have to say my favorite book of 2018 was my own. I spent a lifetime writing it, and it has truly a dream come true. My first book, The Execution Factor, The One Skill that Drives, is designed to help others achieve success in business and life. I highly recommend it. 

Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off? 

A: The biggest professional risk I've taken was starting my own business at 23. After getting laid off from my first job out of college, I ended up starting my first company from my kitchen table, asking my grandmother for a $10,000 loan – which was the only funding I took. 

Working all day and night for three years, I tirelessly grew the business. Eventually, the online advertising market grew and proved to be a great growth opportunity for digital companies like mine. I sold the company in 2008 and then sold my last company for $235 million in 2014. 

To pay it forward, I love investing in aspiring entrepreneurs and helping them succeed, and I've angel invested in more than 70 companies, 14 of which were successfully acquired. I believe my success is due to my ability to execute, and that is what I look for in the people I hire and invest in.

Email Etiquette: 5 Ways to Respect Your Customers' Time
Tue, 29 Jan 2019 08:00:00 -0800

When it comes to digital marketing, it’s hard to beat the raw power of email to connect with customers and get a lot of value out of your marketing dollars. With that said, no one likes to get rude, tone-deaf or inconsiderate emails. We’ve all been known to hit the unsubscribe button on more than one occasion!

So how do you prevent your customers from doing the same to you? You'll want to practice proper email etiquette and be considerate of your customers’ preferences, time and attention. Aside from following any spam laws, there are more subtle dos and don’ts for business emails, especially when you’re trying to connect with customers. Here’s what you need to know about email etiquette and why it’s so important to think before you hit that send button. 

Editor's note: Need an email marketing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

Reread Your Emails

This might sound obvious, but the first principle of email etiquette is to reread your emails before you send them. This isn’t just about preventing typos (though those errors can be embarrassing and send the wrong message!) it’s also about clarity and politeness. Sometimes, we write something that is perceived as rude by others when that wasn’t the intent at all.

This isn’t just important for when you’re emailing customers, it’s also important for internal communications as well. Misunderstandings and even bullying and harassment in the workplace are all too common, and can take place over email. Keeping the office a safe and friendly place is absolutely crucial, and everyone needs to be aware of how their emails may be perceived by colleagues. 

Understand Your Audience

Etiquette changes depending on who you’re speaking to. Different audiences have their own preferences and perceptions. For example, cultural differences can have a huge impact on what is considered rude and what isn’t. Age plays a role as well.

What’s considered professional will change quite a bit depending on who you’re trying to reach. If your business has a fun and sassy brand voice, then that’s what’s expected from your email communications to customers. When you’re emailing the CFO of that same company? Clear and professional is the way to go. Think of it this way—it’s not rude to be very informal to a good friend of yours. But it would be inappropriate to communicate the same way with an executive you don’t know or a police officer. Know your audience when you’re speaking, and when you’re writing. 

Train New Employees

The ways we communicate are changing, and while learning on the job is important for some skills, communication is so crucial that all new employees should be trained on proper email etiquette. This is especially important for younger employees who may have mostly communicated via text message in the past, rather than email. There are lots of guides available for improving business communications, and just about everyone can benefit from brushing up on these concepts. There will always be some missteps along the way, but taking the time to prevent as many of them as possible can be very beneficial. 

Don’t Write Emails When You’re Upset

We’ve all had moments of anger when we’ve wanted to say exactly what was on our mind right then and there. While it can be cathartic to write emails when you’re upset, resist the urge to send them. If you really can’t wait to cool down before typing out your feelings, write them in a document that’s not attached to your email. You can blow off some steam and calm down before you write the email you’re actually going to send. This method can prevent you from sending something you’ll regret that could ultimately tarnish your company’s or your own reputation.

Remember: Email is Powerful

Out of all the types of digital marketing and in-office communications, email is the most intimate. It is powerful and can contain a lot of nuance whether we want it to or not. It’s so important to think about how your messages will be perceived. If you’re not sure, think about how you’d feel if you received the email. Would you be annoyed? Offended? Hurt? If you’re still not sure if a message is appropriate, asking someone else for their opinion can be very helpful. Email etiquette is deceptively simple. But it’s a difficult skill to master — and one that everyone should learn for smooth, effective and respectful communication in the workplace.


MIT Sloan Management Review
Tue, 29 Jan 2019 19:03:47 +0000

In 2019, businesses will pour a massive $1.5 trillion of their IT spend on “communications services” technologies, Gartner predicts. Across all kinds of organizations, managers are looking to add new platforms to expand their reach with customers and increase internal productivity.

Unfortunately, much of that money will be wasted.

After more than a decade of working with businesses of all sizes on their communications challenges, both external and internal, I am observing a growing number of problems that companies are facing with regard to how they engage their customers. Chief among them is how fractured this engagement has become.

Era of the Consumer

We’re experiencing a golden age for the customer. With tech giants like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon using algorithms and machine learning to tailor experiences to customer tastes, buyers have come to expect this kind of personalization.

They expect to be in the driver’s seat, determining when and how they use any channel for communicating with a business — from phone and email to online chats and forums, SMS, and various social media platforms and apps. A report by Microsoft found that 66% of consumers actively use at least three different communication channels to contact businesses.

Customers are well ahead of most businesses in this respect, using new tools more quickly than the businesses can adopt them and get their customer service teams up to speed. But even when companies do adopt these technologies in hopes of serving their customers, they often fail to use the tools harmoniously.

Managers all too often have no functional system for collecting customer information into a single repository. At every point of contact, consumers provide the business with valuable information. Businesses are getting inundated with data, but that data isn’t being gathered in a holistic way that provides managers with knowledge about the customer.

As a result, managers and businesses struggle to keep track of what customers are communicating across different platforms, which negatively affects the customer relationship.

Staying in the Loop With Your Customers’ Journeys

The last thing customers want is to have to re-explain something they’ve already discussed. They feel like strangers to the company. A business that lacks this knowledge about their customers sends the signal that they don’t really value them.

It’s just as frustrating an experience for managers, particularly customer service managers, who keep finding that they don’t have important information about the prospective and existing customer journeys at their fingertips.

A survey by our company, Nextiva, found that 63% of business professionals experience communications-related issues with their customers, colleagues, or team that stop them from achieving business goals at least once a week. One-quarter of those surveyed said communication issues have led to lost customers for their business.

A survey by The Northridge Group found that one-third of consumers say customer service personnel rarely or never know about their accounts. Half say the personnel rarely or never know their history with the company. And even more (54%) say customer service representatives rarely or never know previous reasons they’ve contacted the company.

Ernst & Young, meanwhile, drilled down on how this problem affects a single industry, insurance, in which customer dissatisfaction is very high. According to an EY study, only 14% of consumers report being very satisfied with communications, and the authors note the customers’ needs in this industry, saying, “Insurance consumers want more frequent, clearer, and more personalized communications from their insurers.”

The study further noted that by adopting a holistic, customer-centric approach, insurers develop a clear and more compelling business case. The benefits here are many — from reduced call center volume to reduced customer churn and reduction of operational spend. Over time, this reduction in costs and improved operational efficiency can prove to be a competitive advantage for businesses.

How Organizations Can Step Up

To be successful in today’s environment, businesses need to focus less on how customers contact them and more on how the information those consumers provide at every touch point is collected and used. The value for modern businesses lies in providing real-time and actionable information to everyone in their organizations, from front-line employees all the way up to the CEO.

MIT Sloan senior research scientist Peter Weill, chair of the Center for Information Systems Research, has said that “to dramatically increase the quality of the customer experience using digitization usually does require fairly radical organizational surgery.” I couldn’t agree more.

When it comes to communication, the first form of “surgery” businesses need is not an enhancement. It’s a fix to get all parts of the organization’s body working together. Customer information should be in the blood of an organization, constantly pumped out to all parts of the body. Technologies that do this can help equip organizations to strengthen their all-important customer engagement — and build toward a stronger digital future.