Why being all touchy-feely about data is important to your business

Over recent months I have been working with Mark Gray at Real Print Management (www.realprintmanagement.co.uk). Based in Swindon, RPM specialise in the provision of both off-line and on-line web-to-print managed services for corporate clients across the UK.

This renewed relationship is thanks to a ‘people you may know’ feature on a well-known social media network – a lesson to me to review the list and take the initiative to make contact as Mark did.

My work to date with RPM involved me looking across their business – understanding where they are now, reviewing the systems and importantly talking to the people involved – from here, building a business plan, setting immediate objectives and those that will steer the business in the future.

Looking ahead, managing data will be key – it’s just a piece of the ‘business systems’ jigsaw but often under estimated, misunderstood and not maintained – the result being missed opportunity.

RPM already have a great ethos and working practice on this part of the jigsaw – our shared view on the ‘importance of good quality data’ is what led me to seek permission to publish a recent blog written by Mark Gray of Real Print Management as the content for this month.

It’s an in depth look at the role of data – a good starting point for you to review your practices. I couldn’t have put it better myself!


Why being all touchy-feely about data is important to your business

Many organisations are beginning to realise the importance of data as a key component to delivering successful marketing campaigns. Traditionally, data has been viewed as something of a tail-ender in the batting order of marketing milestones, with the creative work almost always consuming the most amount of time, energy and resource in a project timeline. The provision of data is often left to the end as a task that just needs to be done. I’ve lost count of the creative meetings where the stakeholders in a project have little or no control over the sourcing of data, often stating: “I’ve left it with someone in IT to sort out.”

Thankfully, this detached view of where data sits in the grand scheme of things is changing. Marketers realise that delivering the message to the target audience is just as important as any clever creative concept, after all, nobody wants to see their work fall on deaf ears.

So, the next questions are: how do I acquire data and what are the best methods of reaching my target group?

Let’s deal with data acquisition first. There are two main strands to successful data acquisition: Management Information Systems (MIS) and company culture. The best data is almost always your own, organically grown information borne out of your daily business transactions, but this data needs to reside somewhere and preferably not in a shoebox. MIS and particularly those with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module are pivotal in providing marketing teams with access to data that can be segmented, exported and manipulated to suit the requirements of each campaign.

However, good data from MIS depends largely on the employees who use the system and this is where company culture plays its part. Users need to know that their input is much more than just a means to an end e.g. entering the minimal amount of data to raise a receipt. Employees need to understand that modern-day MIS is based around something called a ‘relational database’ and that the input of a singular set of data can have wider implications than just completing the task in hand. This same set of data could be accessed by other groups wishing to use it in the next sales campaign, but if the quality of data is flawed then this could have a negative impact on the success of the campaign.

Updating MIS with new or amended data is not something to be done at the end of a period, it has to take place ‘as it happens’ and within reason make sure that your team share information verbally too. There is a common misconception that there is little or no movement in the labour market during times of recession with people preferring to hold down their current job. In fact the converse is true, organisations are constantly restructuring, divisions and departments are being reorganised as business looks to realign itself with an ever-changing market. This has a direct effect on the employees who work for the company who may be re-deployed in another sector or their job role may be re-defined. How to keep pace with this rate of change is a challenge in itself, but subscribing to business media sites such as LinkedIn and UK publication Insider Media is a good way of keeping tabs on the movers and shakers in the labour market, not forgetting the companies they work for, too.

Here’s a mini MIS and employee checklist for you to consider.

Ensure that:

  • your MIS can export data to .csv or other leading file formats
  •  the top tier for defining an organisation in your MIS is ‘Company’ and that Customer, Lapsed Customer, Supplier, Prospect are all sub-groups and that a company can belong to more than one sub-group
  • your MIS has fields for Market, Product Type, Area, Annual Expenditure etc… to help you segment data into specific groups
  • contact details have fields for Job Title, Division, Communication details, including telephone, facsimile, mobile, email, website and even Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts
  • you can make a contact inactive if they leave an organisation or if they choose to opt out of a specific communication type
  • above all, your team are fanatical about capturing data

Now we can move on how to best to reach your target audience. The explosion in new and social media means that you are no longer restricted to just print as the only viable means of communication. Each media channel has its own merits and it’s not necessarily a case of ‘either/or’. In fact, you will often find the more experienced and advanced marketing teams using cross media (where one media channel connects with another) as the route to customer engagement.

For example, many printed items now contain a QR code (Quick Response) where users can scan the code and receive additional information through their Smartphone device. Often, in these cases, the marketer has been both tactical and strategic in their approach. It’s generally accepted that in the first instance that printed communication is the most appropriate approach to gaining customer opt-in, but both print and postage does come at a cost. QR codes and personalised URLs help keep the cost of print and post to a minimum, as these are merely links to a web page where an infinite amount of information, including variable, real-time information can be hosted and so in this instance, the printed item is merely a conduit to encourage the recipient to engage with the campaign online.

Here, the business savvy marketer has used multiple media channels to good effect, but will probably only do so knowing that their contact and address data is in good order. Using an unqualified list would simply be too big a risk to take when conducting a cross media campaign. Once the prospect has engaged with the campaign online, assuming you have included the appropriate permissions, you can continue to engage with this audience group using the lower cost base of online communication. To summarise, the more costly channel of print and postage has been used to ATTRACT the prospect, but the lower cost base of online has been used to CONVERT and subsequent online activity will be used to RETAIN the customer.

But what if you are just starting out or if your database has not been used for some time? Well, in this instance, email marketing is both cost-effective and will give you an instant response in terms of deliverability. You’ll know in a flash just how good or bad your data is, but don’t be surprised if your unused data has a failure rate of 30% or more. Emails that have failed to arrive will show up in your ‘Bounce’ reports, usually divided into ‘Hard’ reserved for domain name server failure and ‘Soft’ which may eventually arrive due to current status of mailbox full or maybe your email has been marked as spam. You will need to allocate resources to investigate and correct all bounces as this is the means by which you improve the deliverability of future campaigns.

The golden rule with all email marketing is to ensure that you have audience opt-in. Sending unsolicited emails is a huge turn off and a sure fire way to alienate potential customers from you and your business. Therefore, brief your Sales and Account Management team to ask prospects and clients for permission to send tailored and content relevant emails on a periodic basis. Most people will say ‘yes’ if asked nicely. Ensure that your company touch points; website and email footers have eye-catching subscriber forms that encourage readers to receive content electronically.

Business solutions experts, such as CreditsafeUK cite that business data decays at over 30% per year – this is the rate of change to a set of business data that is left unaltered for a period of 12 months. That’s a sobering statistic and proof that putting off using your prospect/customer database is not a sensible option and that regular client contact with relevant content is the route to success.

The analogy that I use for maintaining a good database is similar to that of tending to a flowerbed. Sowing or planting the seeds can be likened to capturing data. ‘Thinning’ once the seeds have germinated is akin to segmenting your data. Weeding or hoeing draws parallels with removing invalid or obsolete data. Feeding or nurturing is synonymous with warming your leads and good customer relations. Follow these steps in managing your data and you should see your marketing efforts blossom in 2013.

Link to original post from Real Print Management: Why being all touchy-feely about data is important to your business

Have you a challenging management team?

This is the type of question I am sure will raise a mixed reaction – from managers who instantly picture a particular employee, who is a ‘challenge’ to manage to those that feel their time is taken up by having to manage a ‘challenging’ team.

But the question I am asking is – do you have a team that will positively challenge, a business idea or direction?  I suspect that for many the mere thought would be something to discourage – but I challenge you to read on and think again.

Firstly, don’t think of ‘challenge’ in an aggressive, confrontational sense – relate to one of the lesser used definitions; A demand for explanation or justification; a calling into question: a challenge to a theory.  Suddenly it seems more positive.

Direction and strategy come from the top, the board and directors – however delivery comes from the next layer of management and their respective teams.  At the level of delivery there is a need to work through the detail of the strategy and a series of questions need to be posed and answered. How will it be delivered, by whom – which areas of the business, through what processes and by when?

This is the point where I am often engaged by an organisation, to work with the management team on the delivery. A business can’t come to stand still whilst the ‘how’ is agreed – the manager needs to be able to balance the day to day and look ahead, an area we explored in an earlier blog.

It’s in the balancing act I often find that a manager could take the easier, less time consuming route – the route that presents the answers to the questions in a manner that the ‘team’ will say ‘yes’ – no room for ‘challenge’, only agreement and move on.

Now I’m not advocating the thumping of fists on a meeting room table, raised voices and bad feeling  – but I do encourage you to open up the process and build in the time to make it two way and invite your team to discuss, debate and agree. You have a team of experts – let them work together to use their knowledge and experience to shape the best solution.

So, challenge is positive when put into context – a team that sits round the table and challenges new ideas – collectively explores the opportunity ahead. A manager that encourages their team to ‘challenge’ will have a team who are bought into a strategy and more willing to deliver with belief.

Start your new year with a challenge ‘ing’ team.

Are you a Production or Customer Service led Business?

Depending where you sit within an organisation will dictate your instant response to this question, for those at the cutting edge of technology and focused on print and packaging production ‘the end product’ is the goal – so production takes the lead. However those working in sales, operations and after sales are led by a number of factors. Every part of a business is key – but success comes from the whole working together rather than the ‘sum of the parts’.

When I am working with a business I have the fortune, indeed need, to understand the processes across a business, the focus and objectives of each ‘part’ and how those ‘parts’ come together. Often I find a great deal of passion and desire to deliver at each part of the process – equally I will uncover a lack of understanding or focus on delivering the service – customer service across the business.

Print and packaging technology, production process and the right Management Information Systems, may deliver a perfect product – but when the product is dispatched, the value of these areas can fade. Customer service continues the relationship – after sales, reviewing and working in partnership.

Customer Service must lead a business – it is the area that builds the relationships, trust and reputation – this will build the foundations for repeat business.

We have all been a customer, it may have been the innovation; design; functionality; price or availability that led us to choose a brand or supplier – but ultimately it will be the service – the ease of ordering, the delivery and the customer service – good or bad, that we remember.

So, no matter where you sit in an organisation the right answer to the question is ‘Customer Service led’.

The customer is King – as ultimately they rule your order book…

The sharpest exit is one you’ve been planning for years

A crucial part of any business plan is the exit strategy. While being in business is an exciting chapter of life, no matter how wrapped up in it you are now, there will come a stage when you want to move on – or retire. The value you realise from your business is important in ensuring personal financial security and the comfortable lifestyle you deserve.

If you haven’t included an exit strategy in your start-up business plan, or you’ve taken over the running of a company, now is the time to make arrangements. You should also review and revise your exit plan on an annual basis.

If you are planning to sell or float your business, you will need to establish its value. This is a tricky equation and there’s no doubt that factors beyond your control (the economy and your specific markets) and an element of luck (a buyer or buyers coming forward wielding a decent sum) will play their part.

Elements to consider in this valuation – and available from your annual budget plan – should include the company’s forecast profits minus any exceptional costs following the sale of the business, the current sale value of any assets, growth prospects, supply and demand, and risk.

Achieving the best sales value, therefore, means planning ahead. Make sure your company is in a strong position by having in place robust management information systems. Reduce risk by diversifying your customer base and providing skilled members of staff with incentives to stay on board. Consider offering the business with a package that involves you staying on in a managerial or advisory capacity for a set period to maintain stability and direction. Finally, take a look at the economy and consider whether now really is a good time to sell.

You may not plan to sell your business, but to instead hand it on to a family member or another successor. If this is the case, involve them in the strategic, day-to-day running at the earliest opportunity. If there’s time, it may also be worth them spending time working within a similar business to broaden their experience and bring additional insight into the company. If you are handing on the company to someone you know, seek the advice of a third party, such as a business advisor, to ensure your perspective isn’t skewed by emotional connections.

Whatever you do, don’t put off making an exit plan because you are ‘too busy’ in the running of the company or don’t intend to leave for years. You never know what opportunities and changes – personal or work-orientated – might be around the next corner. Having an exit plan allows you the freedom to choose how you deal with these.

Sales commission – Turnover, value-added or contribution?

Knowing how to motivate and reward staff for the benefit of the company as a whole comes down to recognising three key factors: turnover, value added (profit) and contribution.

Many companies use sales incentives based purely on the business their representatives bring in. For example, Sales Rep A brings in £10,000 of business within a set period and is rewarded with 5% commission – or £500. It’s easy to calculate, and easy for Sales Rep A to recognise that attracting new business leads to reward. But this simplicity can be commercially damaging. Sales Rep A might take the view that nothing else matters except making a sale, pressurising customers into a deal that’s not right for them, harming customer retention and long-term prospects. Furthermore, if that new business creates only £500 profit for your company, you’ve just given all of it away.

Another formula for commission is based on the value added figure. Once all deductions have been made and the profit of the newly won business has been worked out, Sales Rep B might receive a 10% share of this profit. Basing the share on the contribution to the profitability of your company takes into account the ‘bigger picture’, but it does have pitfalls. Sales Rep B may feel they are only rewarded with a fraction of their hard-won business – while you take the lion’s share. And because it’s virtually impossible for Sales Rep B to calculate whether they’ll receive £1 or £1,000 during the vital stages of negotiation, they may not push so hard to wrap up the deal.

Commissioning schemes based on ‘contribution’ tend to be a fairer and commercially sensible option, taking into account business targets and key performance indicators. The ‘contribution’ Sales Rep C makes might include the value added by their new business, customer satisfaction based on a scorecard survey, or repeat business generated through the new lead. While the quality and retention of this incoming business tends to be higher, a similar issue can arise as before: Sales Rep C may struggle to identify the level of their bonus at the time it matters, and therefore lack the drive to secure the deal.

So what is the best way to reward and motivate staff? There’s no doubt that any scheme should put your business first by being based on profit, not turnover. And ‘contribution’ factors should also be taken into account.

In my experience, the best and most cost-effective way to overcome the motivation hurdle is to use good, old-fashioned, heart-felt praise. Underused sentiments such as ‘thank you’ can be worth a fortune to your business in terms of motivation and staff retention. Gratitude can be verbal, or in the form of a written note or letter sent to the employee’s home. Sales Rep D might not have been able to work out exactly how much their latest negotiation was earning them at the time. But knowing that they were winning your admiration was just as likely to have clinched the deal.

Implementing MIS change

Planning the implementation of a new Management Information System (MIS) within an operational business sounds, on the face of it, like a one-way ticket to sleepless nights. While the end result – the smooth-running flow of quality information, accessible at the touch of a button – is crucial to improving business, getting to this point can seem fraught with anxiety.

Don’t let these fears hold back business.

By planning properly for MIS change, you’ll foresee hurdles before they happen, avoid IT glitches, and have a team that’s enthused by the prospect of working with a new system.
The first step is to prepare your team by involving them in a needs analysis of what the new MIS system should provide. Appoint a project champion to communicate with each arm of the business, create an inventory of existing MIS, and collate feedback from those using it.

The information gathered should include long-term goals and expectations to guide the design of a bespoke MIS package, or inform the selection of an ‘off the shelf’ product. As well as company-specific goals, keep in mind the more general needs of business: increased information accuracy, increased speed of operations, increased productivity, and your budget for the project.

Once the MIS is chosen, there should be time set aside to draw up procedural manuals so that employees at all levels can add, process and retrieve data. These should be created as formal documents that can be picked up and used by new people joining the company. But they should also be flexible; easily updated by the project champion to reflect changes realised after implementation. Providing manuals via the company intranet is one way to ensure they are universal to the team, and flexible.

The installation of MIS should be carried out during company ‘downtime’ to minimise the number of productive hours lost. Consider installation over a weekend – and, if possible, during the least busy business period of the year (usually August). In the first week or weeks, allocate time for the project champion to sit down with individuals or small teams to go through the way the system works. You might also inform key clients that you are investing in your business to make it more efficient for them in the long term – and warn them that this may mean some short-term delays.

Finally, make sure that the MIS you implement has a robust back up and maintenance plan for the future, and carry out regular audits of how it is used in each operation. This will give employees the opportunity to highlight areas they may be struggling with, iron out ‘teething troubles’, and suggest updates to further your company’s technological foundations.

Don’t MISunderstand the power of MIS

One of the main stumbling blocks to better business is underperforming management information systems (MIS).

It’s not that companies necessarily lack investment in IT. To survive and grow, most have purchased a system and upgraded it at strategic intervals so that it continues to handle a fluid and developing workflow.

But does your company really understand the power of first-rate MIS? Does your system deliver the right information to the right people, in the right form, at the right time, every time?

Fully integrated, top-notch MIS is an absolute boon to business, and small and medium firms must wake up to the time, cost and materials savings that an end-to-end workflow solution provides.

To take an example from the print business, JDF (Job Definition Format) enables more job definition elements to be prescribed than any other format – from materials, dimensions and ink settings through to deadlines. It eliminates time-consuming re-entry of information as it passes along the production chain, and reduces the potential for errors to be introduced. Meanwhile, real-time progress and feedback is tracked by the MIS system through JMF (Job Messaging Format). This puts automation into the hands of small and medium-sized packaging companies – and automation is the gold standard in this line of business.

In any business, there is no question that spot-on accuracy and quality in processes saves money. Long term, it can save a fortune. It never fails to astound me how frequently companies are left footing the bill for mistakes and missed opportunities, often caused as information passes along the chain. And this is the issue. It doesn’t matter whether it is the client’s dodgy brief or the supplier’s handling of it that is at the root of the problem. When a problem occurs, it is you, the supplier, who invariably loses out. The choice is to hold up your hands and write off time and materials for an incorrect job, or fight your corner and risk an unhappy client.

The answer lies in having the right information available from the outset to the end of a job. And the only way to achieve this is through the power of high-performing MIS.
Next month’s blog: Implementing MIS

Is your management team performing?

It’s important to recruit the right people to your business and we all spend a great deal of time, effort and resources on building a strong team.

But if you’ve ticked all the boxes during the recruitment process, and yet still feel your team is underperforming, then it may be time to review the roles they perform and the positions they are in.

Analysing and rebuilding what people are doing is a big part of my work. Assessing the effectiveness of individuals – and teams – means being able to stand back and set out the objectives of each role, and the various elements of work required to achieve these.

To give an example, a small packaging firm with ambitions to grow recruited a farsighted sales director who kept up with trends in the national retail sector, and set to work picking up new business from larger clients.

The production team was expanded to take care of the increased output demand. In doing this, the production director – respected for being a ‘hands on’ person – spent more time managing, organising and maintaining, to keep on top of the work flow.

Proven process methods continued to be used, with more employees and overtime making up for the increased demand on production. Profits as a percentage of turnover fell, and for all the sales manager’s fine work, the finance manager returned somewhat disappointing figures.

So where were they going wrong?

With an increase in work, it’s tempting to take an ‘all hands to the deck’ approach. But while people are being busy and productive on the day-to-day needs of the business, are they still being innovative and finding ways to improve processes and efficiencies?

Top performing managers work hard on the tasks in hand, while also guiding the future direction of the business. Organisation, management and maintenance needs to go hand-in-hand with innovation, development and strategy. If your managers can’t do both for your business, you need to ask yourself: ‘are they in the right role?’

For more information on management team assessment or a free initial consultation, contact Phil Cox at Positive Business Development.

Make company finances crystal clear

Financial transparency in business isn’t only important in the eyes of the law.
Employees, too, should share in the fortunes of a company, with the opportunity to understand the flow of cash that shapes the industry they serve.

Some business leaders fear that too much information could lead to resentment and demands for higher pay, particularly in ‘the good times’.

But, if the financial position of a company is delivered fairly, diplomatically and with clarity, the opposite effect is true.

Openness about outlay on materials and machinery makes employees aware of their value, reduce waste and take better care of the tools of their trade.
Transparency over company income makes employees aware of the value clients and customers bring to the business. This awareness should enhance customer service and retention.

Finally, transparency over profits, budgets and financial forecasts helps to make employees feel part of a team working together, with each individual playing a role in delivering success.

So how should you deliver these messages? Transparency doesn’t mean information overload. Most employees won’t want to wade through figures and financial packs, although in the interests of openness, these should be made available. Headline figures and year-on-year trends – delivered honestly and without any ‘spin’ – is the most appropriate approach.

If the business needs to plough year-end profits into next year’s capital investment, explain the reasons why. If it makes good business sense, employees won’t be left wondering why your profits didn’t reach their wage packet. But also reward shared success financially. If employees see that their efforts pay off, they will further buy in to your business success. 

Coaching is an investment opportunity

We live in a changing world in which customer demands constantly advance.

Keeping up with these changes means investing in IT and machinery – and so new equipment, software upgrades and regular servicing should be the norm.

But how much, and how often, do you invest in your staff?

Even the most experienced employees get ‘rusty’ in certain skills areas, and without some form of coaching may become set in their ways and under perform.

Coaching and mentoring can be as simple as sitting down regularly with a member of staff to identify new skills that would help them, and assigning time in their work schedule to learn from a colleague or specialist trainer.

With individual attention, and time set aside to achieve the goals you have agreed, most people will welcome the opportunity to develop within the workplace. This sort of investment doesn’t cost the earth but can pay big dividends to a business.

Most of those who work for you will value the opportunity to advance their career as well as the attention to their personal development that your mentoring offers.

Setting mutually agreed goals – and offering relevant training and rewards to achieve them – is vital to taking a business forward. It helps staff to stay motivated and gives a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

It empowers people to take ownership of their activities, and take extra pride in the work they do.

In turn, all these factors add value and efficiency to the services you offer customers. And what can be better for business growth than happy customers?