Process Makes Perfect

flowchart“Sir, I wonder if you might expand a bit on the topic you discussed this past Friday,” I requested, kicking off another Monday talk.

“You mean picking software, Watson?” The Effective Detective asked.

“Actually, I was more intrigued by the passing comment about process, sir,” I replied.

The Detective gave me one of his sidelong glances indicating slight annoyance, but he answered. “Passing comment, Watson? That was actually the most important point of the whole bloody discussion!”

“Exactly, sir,” I recovered, ” which is why I am asking about it today.”

The Detective looked at me briefly, then, evidently deciding he would rather lecture me than chastise me, he started in.

“Defining a process before selecting software can be the only thing that ensures you don’t make a bloody mess out of the whole thing, Watson. However, the word process can sometimes elicit visions of massive flow diagrams and tables showing decision points and critical path, and other mumbo jumbo that project managers are sometimes so in love with.

“In fact defining a process can be no more than writing a list of a tasks on a piece of paper. The real trick is that it is on the piece of paper, or extremely well thought out in your head. A process is merely a set of steps that you follow to accomplish something.”

“But what if you are unfamiliar with the object of the process. Say, like email marketing?” I objected.

“Well Watson, the obvious thing would be to contract out or hire someone who does understand how to develop and implement a process, but failing that you can still develop a process using concepts that you do know,” The Detective answered, then immediately continued, giving me no chance to interrupt again.

“Let us take your email marketing example. Imagine if you meet someone at a networking event. Next imagine you are holding, oh,  say an interesting photograph. The person you are talking to shows an interest in photography and comments on the photograph you are holding. You offer it to him, if he will give you his address. He agrees, hands you his card, you thank him and shake his hand, hand him the picture and you both go off to meet someone else. When you get home, you pull out this person’s card, along with other cards you collected that night, send them all thank you notes, and let them know you will be sending out regular updates on photography and  other opportunities to get interesting photographs from you.

“You have just designed a process for staying in touch with prospects, providing them information, and the occasional offer. Just replace physical addresses with email addresses and hard copy letters with emails, and suddenly you have an email marketing campaign designed. You simply need to find the features in a software system that matches each part of your process. If the software doesn’t do all of them, then you either need to redefine your process, or find a different software product,” The Detective concluded and looked at me expectantly.

“That simple sir?” I asked raising one eyebrow.

“That simple, Watson. Of course there may be more steps involved, even some decision points that need to be inserted, but in the end, it all comes down to steps on paper. Once you have that, the rest is easy, or you can hand it off to someone else for implementation. Let us move on Watson,” The Detective finished, signalling it was time to take on a new subject.

“As you wish, sir. As you wish.”

More Than Just a Piece of the Pie

pie_chart“Sir, why is it that you don’t sign up as an affiliate for some of the software we discuss?” I launched our discussion quickly, feeling rushed since we had not met on yesterday’s holiday.

“By affiliate, I assume you mean promoting and selling someone else’s product for some percentage of the sales price as compensation, Watson,” The Detective replied.

“”Quite so, sir. It strikes me that it could be quite profitable.”

“You might be correct in your impressions Watson, and I must admit it is sometimes tempting. In fact, I would say in general if someone believes in the product, and has the marketing wherewithal to properly promote and sell such a product, affiliate marketing does have distinct advantages over trying to write your own product,” The Detective replied.

“I am confused sir. If there are advantages for these arrangements, then why are we not pursuing them?” I asked.

“Ah Watson, an excellent question. Let’s look at some of those advantages,” The Detective began, indicating he was warming up to the subject, and I should probably just sit back and go for the ride.

“The big advantage of course is that you do not need specific domain knowledge, you can utilize the knowledge of the author of the product. This also means (often) that you do not need to be concerned about support. Of course the big thing is you don’t have to create the product. That can be a ton of work.

“That said, you still need to be pretty skillful at copy-writing, since you need to interest people, and you need to know as many traffic drawing tricks as possible. However, if you have the skill, there can be a decent source of income in affiliate programs.

“But, the copy and the traffic aren’t the things that concern me,” The Detective paused, and gave me his customary look to ensure I was paying attention.

“So what does concern you sir?” I asked, reassuring him that I was indeed paying attention.

“Elementary my dear Watson. There is an appearance and a commodity that I must always be aware of: lack of bias, and time.

“Bias is something that most likely few others need to worry about. However when you are in the business of coming up with solutions  that sometimes involve using software, having a profit bias to one software package or another could be, let us say, a  limiting factor in your ability to propose the most effective solution for a particular problem. You know what they say Watson, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

“I could look past that issue, since often the feature sets of various software packages are quite similar, and with proper procedures most operational glitches can be worked around.

“There is an issue I cannot ignore though, and that is time. Any decent marketing campaign must be conceived, written, tested, measured, and tweaked. I cannot afford to take time away from the work I perform for my clients, and my own marketing, to do the requisite work to make an affiliate program truly successful. It is difficult to just dip your toe into a marketing campaign. Either you are looking to win, or you are just dabbling.

“Being an affiliate marketer can be quite lucrative, and if your joy is in the marketing of things rather than the creation of said things, then by all means, take that challenge on. But as one of my mentors once said to me you cannot be both fish and fowl. Are you an affiliate marketer, or are you a life coach, a personal trainer, a marketing detective, or whatever your passion is?”

“So we keep the options open for our clients, so they can choose what best suits their needs.” I offered.

“And the same for ourselves. Quite so Watson, quite so.”

A Matter of Context

firstplaceI began today’s discussion with a simple, direct question to The Effective Detective.

“Sir, what is the best software to manage your list?”

The Detective studied me for a moment, and gave a simple, direct response.

“You are asking the wrong question, Watson.”

“What could be wrong about such a question, sir? It is a simple inquiry as to what to use to solve a problem,” I replied, perhaps a tad indignantly.

“Elementary my dear Watson. The question you ask lacks context, which makes it impossible to answer, hence it must be the wrong question,” The Detective replied; cryptically, in my estimation.

“Begging your pardon sir, but where is this lack of context? The question is quite specific,” I tried again.

“Yes, Watson, the question is quite specific, and it is the type of question that most people would ask when making an inquiry regarding software. In fact, it is the type of question that most people ask regarding any product or service – what is the best?

“Specificity aside, the question still lacks context,” the Detective stopped for his normal pause here. Unable to help myself, I gave him his opening.

“Just what would this missing context be, sir?:

“Now you are asking the correct type of question Watson!” The Detective exclaimed with a smile.

“The missing context is the answer to a simple question: What are you trying to accomplish?” The Detective stated, warming to the subject.

“You see Watson, without an answer to the ‘what are you trying to accomplish’ question, you could go chasing down any number of rabbit holes in an attempt to answer the original question. In a sales situation, it could result in buying something that simply does not answer your needs, or getting confused and not buying anything at all. Without context, an answer to the ‘what is the best’ question is just a random guess at your intentions.

“This is why I ignore software reviews. ‘The Best’ for one person is not necessarily the best and may even be the worst, for another. Reviews reward comprehensive feature lists that in the opinion of the review author match the needs of some mythical group called ‘most users’. How the membership of that group is determined is beyond me. Now if you knew that certain features were actually relevant to your usage of the product, then knowing whether the software implements those features effectively might be useful,” The Detective paused again, looking at me expectantly, perhaps hoping for an interjection. I decided to oblige.

“So the question isn’t really what is the best, but rather what fits my needs the best.”

“Precisely Watson!”

“But what if you are not sure what you need?” I asked.

“That Watson, is the trick, and is a discussion for another time,” The Detective said, closing out this discussion.