IRCE 2012 – BoldChat from LogMeIn (review from Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition tradeshow)
Another review from what I discovered at IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) tradeshow in Chicago, IL.
One of the more interesting solutions I found for eCommerce sites was from one of my favorite SaaS providers – LogMeIn. They have been providing great remote access for my remote support needs, as well as for many clients. LogMeIn is an easy solution to implement – a quick client based program, and you have the ability to access your (or your clients) computer from any current browser. It handles multiple monitors and has multiple layers of security. They have different levels of product from Free (really free) to enterprise.
LogMeIn has introduced BoldChat (they may well rename or at least redo the logo which looks like 3 different words) as a low cost chat solution, a midrange solution and an enterprise solution to go up against LivePerson.
The low cost option is Free – http://boldchat.com/free-live-chat-software.asp. Can’t beat that cost, the limitations seem to be reasonable. The biggest limitations are how many chats per month, and how many concurrent sessions are running. This is enough to get most small ecommerce sites up and going, allow them to build those FAQ answers, and design how to organize your resources for prompt response. By the time the number of chats (750 per month) is becomes limiting, the next level should be a no brainer for your organization to fund at less then a fast food lunch is these days.
The basic level is $99 per seat per year or $9 per month. So for less then a Vonnage account, or RingCentral or any other telephony solutions (well maybe Skype can be less) you have a great way to be able to have chat. Complete with a self documenting solution for building your business into a repeatable solution.
The enterprise level has more features, and does cost less then your typical rent for the desk space and share of a break room for your agent. This level will integrate into SalesForce.com, have predictive messaging, better integration across team members and more reporting. At the enterprise level the mindset is to work more collaboratively as a team across your chat team.
Chat is quickly becoming the expected norm in ecommerce to assist in providing excellent quality service to visitors who want to learn about your product. If you don’t provide enough service on the site, they will take there business elsewhere with the click of a mouse or often with a quick jump in the car. Chat is also an opportunity to see into the customers real needs and questions, rather then having to guess what they are looking for. This tools allows you to collect real questions (in the way real visitors ask them, not how you think they ask them), and allow you to sculpt your most appropriate answers for re-use.
If you are planning on having relationships with your clients and will be using the Internet, plan on experimenting and testing with chat as soon as possible. It’s useful not just in answering a few questions while juggling another voice call, but also in having a self documenting way to collect answers for your next agents, and sales team members. These can be collected and put into a FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions (a whole other post). That is one of the easier ways to implement the systems approach of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited of working ON your business, rather then IN your business.
Are you trying to develop your site’s SEO because your new business is growing? Are you getting ready to move to the next level with your start-up?
I am constantly trying to see what tools are available to ease my work, and my clients efforts (especially after I set them up for success). I run across a variety of sites that are successful in short-cutting the learning curve. Instead of having to read 2 books, or sit through 5 months of classes or pay $10,000 in consulting fees, there are a plethora of solutions to help you get at least a cursory education on a variety of challenges for start-ups.
Here is another website that I found it has a great deal of wisdom in short nuggets. It is GUST.com, a website that matches investors and start-ups in one place, creating a clearinghouse for entrepreneurs to look for angel investors in a single location. But the nugget that I found that was really valuable was the hundreds of videos that they have as short 1 to 3 minute nuggets of wisdom from those that have been through the trenches before.
These are investors that most often have sat on the entrepreneur side of the table. They have learned the lessons of start-ups. Most often they learned the hard way. They are often boiled down in the way investors talking to many perspective start-ups can grasp most quickly from practice and repetition. The repitition of dealing with many pitches throughout the day, giving the same advice over and over. Their wisdom tends to be in short little nuggets that you can walk away from with your mind clearer and more focused then the cup of coffee you sipped while watching. These might even be good nuggets to put around your management tables to start out at different meetings. It might also be an interesting way to kind of go through and bring in an outside person to lend some advice to some of your conversations/arguments that you and your management team are having as to how to solve a problem. Certainly, they’re not the absolute perfect answer to everything, but I do find some thought-provoking ideas in there that can be helpful in trying to map out your course, and stay on path to growing your start-up.
I know what you think about gust.com, and the idea of looking at short videos for gaining wisdom and keeping your energy level up as you go through the challenging days of marketing your business to the world through search engine optimization.
Do you understand specifically what your website visitors are looking for or do you only have a generic idea? If you understand what they are specifically looking for to meet their needs, you have a much greater chance of true engagement. When you have true engagement, your odds of a sale increase dramatically, if not today, then on the next visit.
But if you don’t understand how to look at the trends and numbers, you will have a challenging time understanding what your visitors are really looking for.
That’s why retailers count how many people are coming in and how many people are coming out there also counting how many of them are actually purchasing. I have worked with over 100 different retail chains from single store retailer to office supply big box stores. They are counting by the month, day of the week, hour of the day (I know, I installed the counters that go back to the corporate databases with these body counts). They are counting how many of purchasing customers are actually signing up for the e-mail list. They’re counting how many of purchasers are return customers from previous orders. There also counting what is the average amount of each visitor’s spending. Retail stores count the numbers in so many ways you would be amazed. Just like you need to on your website. Your website is not a black box. You need to be paying attention to what’s happening.
If these types of customer engagement don’t make absolute clear sense to you, then I would suggest you go and spend some time and with brick and mortar retailers. Consider even working as a retailer. Learn how retailers convert the looky loo’s into true engagements. Yes we have all been shopping, but look at how retailers work with other customers not just yourself. Learn how retailers try to customize to the needs of each person, not a one size fits all. It is important that you learn how to look through a store or website through the eyes of a customer. It is important that you understand that the customer is always right in their perspective, and how they are looking at the world. And if you don’t understand their perspective, it will be very hard to understand why they’re not buying from you. If that same attitude of understanding is what a potential customer or visitor is looking at when they see a store and their perspective also becomes very useful.
This attitude of looking at your website comes into play in how you design your SEO and SEM. Did you need to present the right kind of signage from the street to get the customer to pull into the parking lot? Once they get inside the store, they need to see what the sign promised is fulfilled. SEO and SEM is about creating it signage from the street. You can fake a man once or twice, but once you do, they will ignore your sign for the rest of their life, because you made them cut across left-hand lane and pull into your parking lot. And they will tell their friends to ignore you or worse. You need to create a good ‘sign’ in your SEO/SEM to attract your visitors into your store. But you also need the sign to be a good indicator of what is in the store.
Just as stores don’t (at least those that survive long term) have the same layout year after year, websites also must evolve and continue to improve based on what works and what does not. This should be done as measured experiments. You can follow the models used in Lean Start-up (Eric Ries) and E-Myth Revisited (Micheal Gerber). Those experiments need tools like Google Analytics and other tools like ChartBeat. Topics of other blog posts.
Oh, not selling products on your site? I would place heavy odds that you are selling your ideas – be they the idea that your service is better then someone elses, or your idea is more important then the next bloggers. Remember to look at the website through your visitor’s eyes in the path they took to get to your website, and your pages.
There are a whole variety of purposes for a website. Some are for vanity, others to build community, some just for venting. But more then a few are about trying to build a business. Especially those website builders that are interested in search engine optimization, building a business is a very common site objective. With that in mind, I am often asked where to go to for resources on getting started.
I often start a discussion about ‘How do I start a website?’ with an exploration of what the objectives and priorities are of a website, before going into the how to.
But assuming supporting your business is your primary objective, here are a few key resources I would recommend:
- High level business plan suggestion –
MS Word Business Plan Template from Guy Kawasaki.
If you don’t know who Guy is, you should. He is a thought leader in how business should be done in this millennium. Guy started his success at Apple Computer, but along the way has become a successful venture capitalist, and therefore has sat through many many business presentations good and bad.
I am listening to Guy’s Reality Check (not Reality Bites the movie by Ben Stiller), and the book is a collection of Guy’s blog posts over the years. These blog posts and his book echo so much the experiences of many who have been successful in growing a business and getting capital investment. He has learned what works from the perspective of what it will get someone to write a check and do a deal.
This blog post is actually a collection of resources for a Pitch (to ask for investment funding) framework, business model spreadsheet and business plan tempate. They are templates and suggestions on how to structure your communication with brevity and clarity. The key takeaway I keep sharing is: most people want to know you know your stuff, and then prove that you know by being able to communicate it with succinctness and in format that tells a story to your audience. Fail to speak to your audience and you will fail to get your objectives met.
His ALLTOP.com is also an interesting tool for trying to keep up on the information firehose in a manageable fashion. I have set it as my homepage.
- I have mentioned Seth Godin a few times. His writing is light and breezy. His insights are disturbing if you have spent too much time in school. His attitude is sacastic or worse. His effectiveness is stunning. Having proven his ability to practice what he preaches (just read or listen to the stories of his writing and how it has paid his bills very well over the years), he has great authority among many in the know. His YouTubes are fun to watch as well. But the library or AddAll.com is worth a stop for reading some of his books as well. I particularly recommend Linchpin
In spite of his light and fun writing style, I think his ideas are pretty fundamental to the way the new world is. You need to be the best or plan for painful mediocrity needing to adjust to everyone else’s desires not yours. Linchpin tells the story that trying to be 2nd best or worse is hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning. Be the best – 2 ways:
- Be ‘fortunate’ enough to be the best in a ‘standard’ area of pursuit.
- Be creative enough to define your niche of being best. The key is you should be able to introduce your self as ‘the best ………’ in a way that everyone you meet knows it is the truth. That may be by geography, or creating a new market segment or reframing an existing segment. It may seem like cheating but it is not it is focusing and niching yourself. If you need to keep slicing your area of pursuit then keep slicing, but be the best.
- Here is the story of the marketing and passionate niche I was telling a few clients about. http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelellsberg/2012/01/11/the-tim-ferriss-effect/ It demonstrates how the world of broadcast over narrow-casting has passed from an idea to theory finally as absolute law. Our markets are large enough (over 303million in US alone) and flat enough (ship most anywhere in the US 2 day for under 2 pounds, but so much is the speed of Internet) and segmented enough (how many Yahoo groups are there today, how many Meetup groups are there today in your area) that you need to look at business differently. So many business owners keep trying to get the ‘big’ publicity hit and fail to understand that most success comes from targeting the key people you want to connect with. That success from connection individually rather then exposure of many. There are other lessons, and some ideas that will not apply to you (he gets specific so they don’t match everyone everytime) but concepts are important to understand the direction the world is taking.
- Explore your business using the Business Model Canvas. I have worked with many different start-ups.
Along the way, I have built a variety of questionnaires that I found very helpful for all to understand and clarify what the real objective and strategy. I would create long documents as outlines for information gathering and initial interviews. In trying to find the secret sauce of each organization was an effort. What made them unique over the ‘next guy’. Business Model Generation changed my approach after decades. Having recently found this 1 page tool, I find it naturally replaces my flat mini-book of questions with a single sheet that is far more action oriented, less overwhelming to all involved and more action oriented.
An online tool for creating similar business model canvas is at Lean Canvas
And of course, there is the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. This is what I (as well as many other authors and thought leaders) consider the bible to entrepreneurial strategy. This book has literally fundamentally changed many business owners lives. But also positively changed the many employees and team members working for the those businesses for the better. It has helped many employees from continually beating their heads against the wall, making everyone’s life better. Understanding why so many businesses fail can be very helpful in creating a strategy to avoid the issue yourself.
Michael has created a few empires, and a whole series of books based on his E Myth model. I have read most of them (more coming out almost monthly now targeted into specific industries), but I still recommend reading this easy and targeted parable first before an industry specific volume to anchor the story, concepts and framework the deepest. I usually recommend audio format if you are short on time for most business books, but I still have not found an audio version that is as good as his written version.
What are your favorite business resources? Do you find books the correct format for learning new business models? Join the conversation below with a your comments and help a fellow business grow.
The cost to start-up a business these days is lower then ever. As the needs for technology and communication sophistication keep increasing, the cost for these tools keeps dropping. At least to get started and prove your concept. Voice phone calls, and voice mail is free (once you pay for Internet access) with Google Voice and many other VOIP solutions. Video conferencing is free, with a little technical know how, using Skype and other services. The list goes on (I keep trying to keep an updated list, but the best in breed and abilities of each low cost service change so frequently).
One of the ways of determining some of the best of breed is to look at the many (many, many) end of year “best of” lists. These often consolidate and update the author’s finds from throughout the year.
Here are some cool types of tools for businesses looking for low cost (free on up) solutions to business communication and learning challenges. Cloud solutions are going mainstream. Even the GSA (goverment Services Administration) is using the cloud (they choose Google Apps and will save 50% of email costs in 5 years).
From the Mashable site http://insr.us/SeoDamian5Essential
The point is there are an incredible amount of tools available for free if you are a small business. Their objective is to follow the same strategy that Apple followed a generation or two ago. Sell for free or cheap when you really can not afford a solution. In exchange, let you be beta testers – you find the issues, you complain about the user interface imperfections, you come up with creative ways to use it then was envisioned. Then when you become the one in a hundred larger company and need more control and services as a larger organization or enterprise, then turn on the billing. In exchange, the software company does not have to deal with small invoices, small shipping, small customer service, small loss on each transaction. Only bill for a large enough amount that is profitable. That also means it is good enough to be valuable to pay for the services.
Comment on what are your favorite tools that you could not live without. Let us know what tools have you discovered this past year that you are keeping in your tool box for 2011.