Blog

Technology

Viewing posts from the Technology category

Appsbar Offers SMBs an Answer to Keep Customers ‘App-Happy’

Appsbar mobile application developmentIf you have a smartphone or tablet, I’m sure you’ve downloaded your share of mobile applications. Businesses have certainly gotten wise to this trend, and know this is a great way to promote customer stickiness and engagement. But what about the small business or entrepreneur?

Let’s face it, mobile device users are “app-happy”, and it’s a rapidly growing market. According to Mobilewalla, about 100 movies and 250 books are released worldwide each week. When compared to the approximate 15,000 mobile applications released each week, mobile app development dwarfs traditional media. In mid-December, the New York Times reported the one millionth app went to market.If you’ve had thoughts how you might go about increasing your customer-touch, Appsbar might be worth a look for you.

A few weeks ago, I got an opportunity to sit down with Scott Hirsch, CEO and Founder of Appsbar. Appsbar has a very unique concept: They want to be the easiest way to have your own app built. In Appsbar’s case, they lowered the cost to free.

I was a bit skeptical of this at first, and naturally wondered what the catch was. While my first take is that Appsbar will eventually monetize their business through in-app advertising, Scott was quick to offer his guiding principal: “Build a loyal community and the money will come.”

As it turns out, Scott has built several successful online businesses. Naturally, he’s learned a few things along the way. After initially being frustrated with initial estimates to develop one of his own apps, Scott saw a unique opportunity to help other businesses by eliminating many of the technical and cost barriers.

In April 2011, Appsbar launched its beta release with a goal of 1,000 users. By the end of 2011, Appsbar counted over 40,000 users in their community, and in May counted over 90,000 users.

How does it work?

The premise is fairly simple. After creating your profile, you are greeted with a whimsical Appsbar wizard (reminiscent of Microsoft’s Office Assistant, Clippy). Provided you have a decent idea of what you want your mobile app to do, you can create a very rough app in a short amount of time. I managed to flesh out four screens of an app in about an hour.

Once you submit your app to be published, the Appsbar team of developers step into action.

Is this right for you?

When I asked Scott this question, his reassuring response was, “If the app is your business, hire a developer. But if you want an app for your business, then use Appsbar. You can always graduate to a paid app later if this works for you.”

Many of the businesses I’ve work with get scared away when they can’t make heads or tails of the tech-specs and sales-speak. Even worse, companies spend precious money on something without really understanding why they needed it in the first place.

My belief is that apps are quickly becoming requisite in today’s business environment, much like corporate websites are today.

What are the practical applications for an Appsbar app?

Beyond creating a simple vanity app telling all your loyal fans about where you’ll be at 8:00pm tonight, one of the immediate opportunities that caught my eye was the opportunity to leverage a “Groupon-style” app to send coupons to your customers. Scott quickly pointed out this was a great way to increase the value to your existing customers without the customary fee you’d pay one of these social coupon sites.

Another keen idea that caught my attention was that Appsbar plans on launching a commerce module by the end of 2012. I can’t tell you how many times I’m out running errands and decide I want take out. It’d be great to have my favorite local Greek/Italian restaurant pulled up, scroll through my favorite menu items and place the order for pickup in 15 minutes.

What else?

While it appears that Appsbar is predominantly focused on the Android app market, they do submit your app to the Apple Appstore as well. Just be mindful that both Google and Apple reserve the right to refuse your app, but it appears the Appsbar team has a fairly successful track record with over 10,000 apps reportedly published.

Most importantly, you’ll need to ensure you plan on marketing your app to promote adoption. After all, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of over a million apps. Be sure you account for how your customers will find out about your great new offering.

In conclusion, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons around mobile app development. Appsbar pleasantly surprised me. If you are of a mind that you want an app for your business, I’d certainly recommend you take Appsbar for a spin.

Your Software Demo is Killing Me!

your software demo is killing meI’m on the other end of another software presentation about a software product I’m halfway interested in – and I’m dying here!

How many software demos have you been through that really spurred a reaction? Well, what I mean is a reaction other than you wanting to be on the other side of this demo and wishing the sales rep well)?

Let’s see if I can map out the typical formula: First, history of the company in three slides followed by a slide with all their customers’ logos. Next, we dive into some ‘feature-benefit’ statements and some number of network diagrams (complete with little fluffy clouds and lightning bolts). How am I doing so far?

Then comes the coup de grace — the software demo, itself! As if the anti-climactic slide build didn’t put your brain on idle, the software demo is suppose to be some explosive finale!

Do these software companies have a standard playbook for software sales?

Are You In or Out?

At this point, perhaps you think I’m being too harsh. Perhaps, but in my years of buying, supporting and selling software it seems that almost everyone jumps straight to the demo as the de facto means of closing for the sale. What if I don’t need a software demo? What if I didn’t ask to see your software? What if you didn’t really stir enough desire in differentiating your offering or eliciting my unique pain points well enough?

In the grander scheme of things, it’s not enough to simply pursue activity. Let me be the first to tell you that it feels great to be doing ‘stuff’; I love feeling productive, but the one lesson I’m still being schooled on is there is a huge difference between activity and productivity.

A few months back, I was looking for some analytics software for SMBs, and happened across a company website that was very informative and drew me in to find out more. Aside from the delay in response during the holiday season, the sales professional proceeded to identify whether I was a qualified prospect. While she would’ve been happy to open up a trial version of the software platform for me to use for 30 days, she wanted to understand my intentions and needs.

This forced me to be honest with myself (and with her), because I simply wanted to take a peak under the hood, to smell the leather interiors. I had no real intention of actually buying the software. I was simply curious.

On one hand, some might say this was a lost sale, but in my book there wasn’t really a sale to begin with. So this sales professional was kind and professional about the exchange, letting me know that she would be happy to talk with me should I reconsider my position. However, she was efficient with her time.

Take the Demo Challenge

Once you have a qualified candidate, when do you spring the demo? I might argue never, but I know selling things site-unseen can be challenging. So let’s start with a challenge I’ll issue to you if you are in software sales (or any sales for that matter):

  1. I challenge you to say everything you need to in  5 – 8 slides (about 15-20 minutes of talking).
  2. Feel free to keep your “about me” stuff, but tell me everything about your company in 1 slide and why I should care about you. (Hint: Unless you are IBM or some huge brand, chances are you need to help me understand how you are going to be part of my story – not the other way around.)
  3. Don’t give a software demo in the initial presentation: Just like your presentation, too many presenters use this as a crutch to sell.
  4. Make the demo interactive: Given that most software presentations are remote, I concede that it’s useful to leverage software demos to create more conversation. However, most demos are very one-sided, so be sure you have uncovered the points of interest the prospect would like to have answered.
  5. Have fun with it! Don’t push dull and dry demos with step-by-step how-to’s; that’s what training is for! Instead, test ways to make the demo creative and you may even play with 2-5 minute video shorts your customer can watch at their leisure.
I understand your development team spent a ton of time, energy and money developing your software, and that everyone is eager to show off their cool stuff. However, your goal is to shorten the time to sell and remove objections to the transition from prospect to paying customer. That being the case, the more time you spend talking the less time you spend listening and understanding the needs of your customers. In my years, the best software I’ve purchased have had the least amount of time looking at the actual software and more time spent in dialogue about how it will meet my needs.

Skype, Can I Get Some Love?

Sales support gone wrong“It’s all about who you talk to,” is evidently Skype’s new tag line!

When you match a product and service that fits a need (Skype) and a customer that has a need and budget (me) the rest should be pretty easy, right? Not so fast.

I’m a big believer in customer experience during the buying process; most of that is simply shortening the distance to your sale. So you can imagine my dismay when over a week ago, what was supposed to be a simple purchase from a self-service system created a recipe for disaster.

Skype, now part of Microsoft, has to be one of the most well known voice, video and chat business tools in the world. Not only is it great for SOHO professionals like myself, it’s wonderfully flexible for businesses of just about any size. I moved to the for-pay version a little over 12 months ago as it offered some wonderful leverage points for conference calls and recording interviews for later playback.

Without much fanfare, I began the process of renewing my service this year. However, after about an hour of wrestling with the payment system, I finally gave up and moved on. After a few hours, I checked back in and sure enough my service had been purchased. But it didn’t apply my $20.00 credit.

So off I go, through the maze of websites and some abysmal form of Twitter-based tech support. After a week of scattered tweets and a few emails from someone I’ll call John, I finally receive a call back. John began his onslaught of “teaching” me the way Skype did things: No refunds, no upgrades, no tech support, and you should’ve called me first. I was even told that Skype purposely made it hard for customers to purchase things because of past fraud in the system.

What happened to shortening the distance to your sale?

Needless to say, I was rather frustrated – and had become the worst kind of irate customer you want: A crusader casting aside money for ‘the cause’. I no longer cared about credit or how much I’d spent!

But then John did something that saved the day. He forwarded me one, simple link that saved Skype’s reputation in my book — a link to Frank. In less than the time it takes me to dial a phone number, Frank had refunded my full amount and told me exactly what I needed to do in order to utilize my credit and even upgrade my account.

Was this a case of ‘bad cop’ and ‘good cop’? Maybe, but all I know is that Frank gave me some love – and now I’m happy to say that Skype account support is solid. Unfortunately, I found out there’s a twilight zone between ‘free-mium’ and Skype’s ‘premium’ subscription that you have to watch out for though!

My recommendation to Skype? Make it easier for customers who want to spend money with you; help them upgrade, downgrade and even receive refunds. Don’t hide your contact links; just do a better job of explaining what a customer has to do in order to talk, chat or email you.

Update: After successfully negotiating my refund, I was happy to return as a Premium customer. That is until I learned that I can no longer apply my $20.00 credit towards the purchase of the 12-month premium account. Once again, Skype has found a way to create distance between their customer and a sale. Simply amazing!

For Help: For anyone needing to contact a person via Skype’s live chat function, at the time of this writing you can follow this link.

Is MNS a ‘Hotty’ or a ‘Notty’? 10 Questions to Ask Your Consultant.

The cyclical nature of trends in the imaging industry never ceases to {amaze} amuse me. There’s fresh buzz beginning to sprout that “MPS is dead and MNS is what’s hot!” So the question is whether MNS (managed network services) or ITS (IT services) is a ‘hotty’ or a ‘notty’?

I can’t believe how many emails I’m seeing informing me of new MNS programs I just have to buy! Like moths to a flame, some “consultants” are hot on the trail of this new buzz — quickly turning their marketing engines to full volume in order to hock their ‘solutions’ for your problem du jour. It seems to me this is a similar craze that swept the industry when I was first recruited to join an independent office technology dealer, Kearns Business Solutions, in 2003.

You remember when everything began moving from analog to digital and hitting the wire for the first time, right? At the time, the so-called “expert consultants” were predicting that if you didn’t start or acquire an IT company you’d be out of business in [X] years.

Counter to the trend, we launched a longer term strategy to increase our focus on process-driven excellence as our engine, but fueled the engine with customer-centric passion. Over the course of five years, we invested significant capital in building infrastructure, expanding internal capabilities and sharpening the story we told our customers. During this time, I was amazed and humbled by the caliber of the team I worked with. We didn’t just want to help customers with their tech-problems, we made their lives better and more enjoyable.

While it’s true the dealers of the day needed to increase their ability to actually hold a conversation with the propeller-heads their customers had hired as IT managers, that decision scared a lot of dealers into over-spending. While I believe MNS and ITS are key components to any managed service providers arsenal, I would be willing to bet you that simply adding a “solution in a box” isn’t going to address your key motivators. More specifically, you are going to get drug through the mud if you aren’t careful about who you listen to for advice.

Here are a few questions you should be asking about your prospective MNS or ITS consultant:

  1. Has your consultant actually built and/or managed an IT-centered practice?
  2. Can your consultant carry on a conversation with a CIO or CTO about the day-to-day business and long term strategies?
  3. Does your consultant actively participate in any reputable, IT-centric associations (CompTIA, HDI, AIIM, AITP)? If so, how many?
  4. Take a quick look at their LinkedIn profile; are they part of an IT-related groups?
  5. Does your consultant understand the jargon (ERP, PSA, RMM, per-seat billing, infrastructure, architecture, cloud, etc.)?
  6. Does your consultant actually read any of IT-related media (CIO, InformationWeek, MSPMentor.net)?
  7. Does your consultant think a helpdesk technician is nothing more than a service tech without a truck (instead of an ambassador of customer goodwill and dealer profitability)?
  8. Does your consultant understand that IT has many sub-disciplines that require varying degrees of expertise?
  9. Is your consultant selling you a packaged program or shedding light on how your unique needs can be met?
  10. Is your consultant telling you more about what they’ve done for other people than what they will do for you?
Of course there are many ways to approach a go-to-market strategy for MNS or ITS. But before you spend a small fortune on costly consultants, here are my three recommendations that could save you a ton of money:
  1. Scout out and join an IT association’s local chapter: By doing this, you can sit quietly in the back and watch everything that’s going on. Pick out a few strong participants and offer to buy them all the coffee they can drink if you can pick their brain.
  2. Reach out to some of the software companies in the industry: I’ve been very impressed with some of the quick-start webinars these companies provide. Sure they are trying to sell you their software, but sitting through a few of these webinar series will give you an entirely new appreciation for what you are planning on stepping into.
  3. Understand the business model: While you may be thinking you are hiring a consultant to show you what you don’t know, don’t let them make a fool of you either:
    • Is it profitable or a distraction? Do your homework and understand where you expect to make money?
    • Who’s buying this? Where’s your market opportunity?
    • How will you support this in scale? Will you build or partner?
There are some great consultants to work with out there, and there are some snake-oil salesmen. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but after 15 years helping guide companies in their alignment of people, process and technology I hate seeing good people getting bad advice. Look hard and choose wisely. Meanwhile, I’ll be here working to shine a light into those dark places.

Are You Scared of the Boogeyman? HP Study Cites 50 Percent Increase in Cyber Attacks

Inject a little tech into your day.Tech Injection: Inject a little tech in your day.

Are you scared of the boogeyman?

Just in time for Halloween, new cybercrime statistics published by HP reveal that the cost of cyber attacks has risen more than 50% since last year. Stu Sjouwerman (pronounced “shower-man”), CEO of IT security firm KnowBe4, cautions that the number is likely to grow.

According to the Second Annual Cost of Cyber Crime Study, which was sponsored by ArcSight (an HP company) and conducted by the Ponemon Institute, survey respondents reported losses between $1.5 million and $36.5 million per year due to cyber attacks. What’s worse is that the study found a single attack now takes an average of 18 days and $416,000 to correct!

So what can you do to protect you and your company?

To educate you on the evolution of cybercrime – and help you better understand what you’re up against today – KnowBe4 provides an overview of the “Five Generations of Cybercrime” on its website.

“While the first generation of hackers were more interested in notoriety than financial gain, today’s cybercriminals – Generation Five – are more likely to be operating within organized crime syndicates and profiting handsomely from their schemes,” Sjouwerman explained. “Coding skills are no longer required. Tools and malware are readily available through a thriving underground market, so even a relative novice could quickly get in on the action.”

Read the full press release at KnowBe4′s website.

Do you have a tech story you’d like featured on ChangeForge? Send your story to blog [at] changeforge.com or Connect with me here.

Recommetiquette: How to Ask for Recommendations Using LinkedIn

View Ken Stewart on LinkedInNothing feels better than a pat on the back, and LinkedIn makes no exception to this rule! For those not familiar with LinkedIn, it is a professional social platform to share opportunities, ideas and information. Millions of professionals subscribe, and some might coin the service as Facebook for business professionals.

Many have made valuable connections using this service, and I’m sure some have even landed a job from using LinkedIn. It is a great way to stay connected with clients and business colleagues alike.

In this fast-moving world, keeping up with changing e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and the who-knows-who game can be daunting. LinkedIn seeks to make that easier. While most everyone knows LinkedIn for its powerful connections features, I was surprised how few know or use the the recommendation feature – or worse – are intimidated to ask for a recommendation.

Recommetiquette:

Let’s look at some LinkedIn recommendation etiquette. Quite simply put, if you feel you are worth a recommendation, ask for it. Don’t wait for someone to think of it for you. Trust me, they are thinking about a million other things than you.

This doesn’t mean that a warm and friendly request by you will receive a response, but generally people you are connected with respect you. So ask. The worst that could happen is that you don’t get the recommendation, and the best case is you get a glowing review from a respecting colleague or client.

Lastly, always change the generic message to something more personal (but not too familiar, mind you). More on this later.

Recommendations in a nutshell:

LinkedIn makes recommendations extremely simple once you make a connection. By simply clicking on Recommendations under the Profile heading, you are presented with the option to choose which job title for which you would like to seek recommendations.

As you can see in the example above, I have a few recommendations for two of my positions. The “thumbs-up” icon to the left indicates I have at least one recommendation, and I can choose to manage or ask to be endorsed.When asking to be endorsed, it is a simple 3 step process (see below).

  1. Step 1 is confirming the position you wish to be recommended for.
  2. In step 2, you must decide who you’ll ask.
  3. To complete the process, simply create your message. You can choose to leave the default subject and body of the message intact, but I strongly recommend you make this more personal. (Tip: It’s always great to include something personal, e.g. “It was great to see you at the last lunch n’ learn.”).
  4. (Optional): Wring your hands as you wait by your computer for a response.

What goes around comes around:

Once your colleague or client completes the recommendation, you will receive a message in your inbox inviting you to approve or decline the recommendation. This is a great way to ensure the recommendation meets with your high standards, right?

Perhaps the best feature about this recommendation process, in my humble opinion, is the fact that LinkedIn really believes in returning the favor. As such, you are immediately taken to a screen that asks you to write up a recommendation, in kind.

For those of you who understand sales principles, generally the best time to ask for a recommendation is immediately following the completion of a successful engagement. It’s genuinely the best opportunity you will ever have to ask for a flattering recommendation, as opposed to waiting until you are looking for a job or customer.

So, if you receive a request for a recommendation – make sure you take a little time and pay it forward. You never know, the very next e-mail in your inbox might just be that recommendation you have been waiting for coming right back to you… and there’s no better time than a recession to get that feel-good you get from a pat on the back, like a LinkedIn recommendation.

Who knows, maybe that will lead you to a great job-opportunity to boot!

Note: I originally posted this as a contributing author for Louis Gray.

3 Time Management Tools to Stay Focused

Between professional and personal responsibilities, it’s no wonder you are having a hard time staying focused. It seems distractions are everywhere, and a lot of them can make you think you are doing important work.

The one question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I on plan?”

It’s a clarifying question, and when you know the plan for that new product launch, customer deadline or even your upcoming family picnic it distills your decisions and helps you stay focused. But from time to time, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds, right?

Over the years, I’ve found a time management tools that really help me stay focused. Since this is a site dedicated to helping professionals like you stay focused and motivated, I thought I would share 3 of my favorite tools to help me manage my time most productively.

Read more on destroy | Distraction…

Did You Make My List? My 10 Twitter Lists

Are you experiencing information overload? Are you using new media, especially social media like Twitter, as effectively as you can?

Everyone enjoys being on the in-crowd, in the know and on top of things. With all of the information floating around, it’s become a necessity to have a great filter to look through. In 2008, Clay Shirky gamed Alvin Tofler’s famous phrase ‘information overload’ by saying, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

Indeed, the answer you seek clearly sits hidden in plain site. It is up to your filters (friends, experiences and media channels) to help you connect your desires and needs to the context of data relevant to that very end.

I decided to circle around and update my lists on Twitter. Why’d I do this?

I’ve been pretty slack on interaction over the past few months, and I realized that I’m not getting as much useful information out because I’m not using the filters to enhance the relevancy to me. I know you always share the most choice content on Twitter, but there is a lot chatter from everyone else!

Here’s the deal:

I want to listen to you more closely and find out what’s relevant to me today (and what will be relevant to me tomorrow)! To that end Twitter has a great option to create lists, or groupings centered around an interest topic, like music, love, or Bob Dylan.

You can add people to multiple lists, or an individual list. Others can then follow your list if they find the content useful (and you are now a curator).

Did you make my list?

I’ve created several lists around areas that I focus on. In other words, I’ve created little media channels to watch as well as engage with. I encourage you to check these out, and if you think you should be on here, follow me on Twitter and let me know. I’ll get you added in after reviewing your Twitter stream for some relevance and context to what I or my followers might find useful.

  1. Humor: Funny stuff and/or funny people. You take your pick…
  2. Business-Sales: Things relating to business and sales.
  3. Financial Times: Financial news and other little tidbits relating to money.
  4. Quotables: Folks who often offer quotes and things I like to RT.
  5. Marketing: Folks I enjoy reading on the topics of marketing, SEO and so on…
  6. Time Management Tools: Time management tools and techniques. Things to help you stay productive.
  7. Friends: Pretty self-explanatory, but this is the one list that I don’t just add anyone. I actually have to know you, and be friends with you.
  8. Tech Injection: All things tech…
  9. MPS-MDS: Managed print services (MPS) and managed document services (MDS)
  10. News-makers: Tweeters making or breaking the news.

The lists have been great so far, giving me the ability to digest chunks of my followers traffic. From their I can refine results by more customized searches. Oh, and the great upside to applying this simple method to help me be more productive and share better content, my followers have increased by close to 15% in the past week.

Hmmm… it’s pretty amazing that when you listen more, people enjoy listening back!

If like the content you read here, think about following me on Twitter.

Stargazers Wanted!

In years past, many travelers used the night sky to navigate uncharted oceans and unclaimed lands. They looked into the deep, black sky filled with the stars of legend and the like. Orion, Leo, Pisces and Crux — all constellations standing upon centuries of lore. But most could not read their stories, making way for a special breed to spin their long tales — the stargazers.

Many would listen as a talented few told these stories spanning across time. The past and present were often fair game, but most curious of all was the futures they held. Proclaimed as heresy by some, and discounted by many more, these stargazers told stories lost on most. But a fortunate few heard the future whispered in the wind. By listening closely and seeing the unseen, a way was revealed as if from a dream.

These stargazers were often proven true, able to find their way when others were lost and steering weary travelers safely to shore.

Most travelers fix their sights upon the horizon, always fixated on the setting sun. But a fortunate few of us discover a latent gift; looking up into that deep, black sky, we pluck our choice of stars by hand. Carefully choosing each stitch, we weave our own constellation to throw back for all to see.

– But only a few see the convergence ahead. Are you ready?