Friday, February 18, 2011

Can India lead the mobile-Internet revolution? - McKinsey Article

The country could become the world’s first truly mobile digital society. But grasping the opportunity requires unprecedented cooperation between the private and public sectors.

Almost 1,500 years ago, Indian mathematicians, including Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, and Pingala, transformed mathematics by conceiving the rules of the binary numeral system. While those rules today lie at the heart of the code powering the Internet, India has relatively few Internet users: just 7 percent of its population is connected to the Web, compared with 32 percent in China and 77 percent in the United States.
Yet India has an opportunity to lead the world once again by becoming the first truly mobile digital society. All the elements are in place: the cost of network access and handsets is going down, wireless networks are going up, and Indian consumers already display an insatiable appetite for digital services. In addition, bypassing the personal computer—moving straight to widespread mobile access—simply makes sense. It would sidestep a host of hurdles associated with delivering affordable Internet services to a population that is geographically dispersed and relatively poor, in a country where infrastructure development can be problematic.
Can India actually transform itself from an Internet laggard into a world leader? The trail the country would blaze could serve as a model for other developing markets. But much depends on whether India can rediscover its revolutionary spirit and garner unprecedented cooperation and commitment from both the private and public sectors.
The Indian digital consumer
India’s base of 81 million Internet users is the world’s fourth largest.1 Yet this figure is a function of sheer population, not deep adoption: just 20 percent of India’s urban citizens are connected to the Internet, compared with 60 percent in China. And while China has 233 million mobile-Internet users, or 18 percent of its total population, India has just 17 million, or less than 1 percent.
Even though typical Indian consumers have no Internet access, they have a remarkable appetite for digital content. In fact, they consume an average of 4.5 hours of it daily across offline channels such as television, DVDs, and CDs. And while they use mobile phones predominantly for voice services, a whole segment of business has grown around retailers essentially operating as physical iTunes stores, charging fees to load music and other content onto mobile devices. The net result is that while India is a relatively poor country, more than 70 percent of its urban consumers already spend about $1 a month on content and services through offline, unorganized retail channels—a market estimated to be worth more than $4 billion annually.
The mobile Internet could deliver the personalized entertainment that Indian consumers crave. If India’s latent demand is unleashed, McKinsey research forecasts that the total number of Internet users will increase more than fivefold, to 450 million, by 2015 (exhibit). Total digital-content consumption will double, to as much as $9.5 billion. Including access charges, revenues from total digital consumption could rise fourfold, to $20 billion—twice the expected growth rate of China.
Development roadblocks
Realizing India’s potential won’t be easy. The country faces well-known challenges: the cost and ease of access to Internet services, infrastructure development, and the availability of relevant and local-language content. However, these challenges are less worrisome than commonly thought—particularly since the leap to mobile connectivity would allow India to sidestep some of them.
There’s enough development in devices, networks, operating systems, and operator strategies to suggest that India is on track to resolving the challenge of affordable, easy Internet access. The average price of smart phones that deliver much richer content, including video, is falling rapidly—already nearing $125, significantly less than the cost of PCs. Mobile devices also are inherently easier to operate than PCs, and the ability to access Web sites with a single touch or a voice command (critical given India’s high illiteracy rate) is becoming a reality. Finally, Indian operators are starting to offer innovative rate plans for mobile data use, addressing criticisms of the prices of data plans and their perceived opaqueness. Cheaper, easier access for all is on the cards.
It’s no secret that infrastructure development in India is a real challenge. McKinsey research on the country’s 11th five-year economic plan2 suggests that while the government has spent what it intended to, infrastructure (such as electricity connections and road building) is significantly behind schedule. More troubling is the reason: beyond the frequently mentioned issue of land ownership, delays in building “hard” infrastructure often stem from a lack of “soft” infrastructure, such as educated, skilled workers with project-management capabilities. These delays should encourage the leap to mobile-Internet access, perhaps delivered by the private sector. Mobile operators are aggressively rolling out networks across the country, including an impending 3G network, following recent auctions in which companies spent almost $30 billion acquiring telecommunications spectrum.
The government also is making large investments to overcome other hurdles. In particular, it is sponsoring efforts to give citizens unique identification numbers that will, for instance, allow identities to be authenticated with mobile devices. That will facilitate wireless banking and other services, such as e-health care. In addition, the ability to identify all citizens means that subsidies and incentives can be delivered to them efficiently. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Authority, for example, is supposed to distribute $8.5 billion to citizens in 2011. In the past, significant portions of such funds have failed to reach the recipients. The digital opportunity may substantially eliminate this problem, and citizens spurred by the prospect of finally getting what’s due to them should make the leap to mobile-Internet services such as e-commerce. Additionally, our research on e-payments has uncovered significant opportunities to drive down costs.
Embracing the digital opportunity
The most formidable hurdle to the realization of India’s digital promise is finding a sustainable way to deliver attractive returns for content companies at affordable prices for consumers. India differs from other Asian mobile-Internet leaders, such as Japan and even China, where access charges generate enough revenue for operators to finance the ongoing creation of value-added services. India’s telecom industry structure and poorer population are putting pressure on access revenue, and it’s unclear whether telecommunications companies will be able to extract sufficient profits from their mobile value-added services and entertainment or from their nascent local-advertising-driven networks to warrant continued large investments. To overcome this issue, private and public companies, as well as India’s government, must address two priorities.
Mobile content and services
The first step toward generating more profits from content and services is the creation of offerings that are compelling and easy to access and use, much like iPhone applications. That will require companies to raise their game in editing, visual merchandising, and marketing. More local-language content also is required, and it should be presented in new ways: voice and single-touch mobile-Internet access are essential, particularly to overcome illiteracy and a lack of familiarity with the Internet.
Making money from content
Financial institutions and regulators must promote the next phase of payment systems, a critical enabler that will affect the pace of development of revenue streams beyond consumer access and services. Selling regional and local advertising on mobile devices is essential: it’s the fastest-growing form of advertising in India, and there’s a desperate need for local content, given the country’s 23 official languages. Meanwhile, content providers should think about new ways of making money from the Internet—for example, by balancing free and priced material to reflect the value of content delivered in real time and in specific contexts, such as shopping coupons received by mobile devices as consumers pass certain stores.
All participants—public and private—have a role in unleashing the digital revolution’s true potential. Governments can promote access, undertake thoughtful regulation and oversight, and deliver public services such as information, health care, subsidies, and incentives. Banks and financial-services companies can enhance their online presence to build real-time, personalized relationships with customers. Insurance companies can address their high-cost, multilayered business systems and examine opportunities—for example, using the Internet to deliver product information and training more effectively. Advertising agencies can adopt new approaches to developing concepts, pricing, and measurements of effectiveness. And marketers can better address the way consumers now make purchasing decisions, finding new analytical approaches to the allocation of spending and the management of “buzz” and word of mouth.
Binary mathematics lies behind the technology that underpins the Internet. After more than 1,500 years, India could again lead the world in a technological revolution. The consumer demand exists. The opportunity is real. Is India up to the challenge?
About the Author
Laxman Narasimhan is a director in McKinsey’s Delhi office.

The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Vikash Daga, Nal Gollagunta, and Nimal Manuel, who co-led the research that underpins this article.

Five Marketing Blunders you must avoid!

Marketing is one of most treacherous of all the business disciplines I know.
Check out 5 of the most dangerous marketing blunders businessmen and entrepreneurs make:
Blunder 1 – Believing that ‘Advertising is marketing’!
In the year 2000, I was running an ‘adver-gaming’ Company called and was sitting in the Nestle office in Delhi, waiting to meet the Kit Kat (wafer chocolate) marketing manager. I could see through the glass doors that he was being subjected to a rather animated presentation by a group of well-groomed and fashionably dressed team of young people.
Post the exit of the fashion brigade, Mr. Kit Kat beckoned me in and was looking very glum.
‘What bothers you?’ I asked him.
‘Alok!’, he replied, ‘these pretty young things who just walked out have shattered me. They are from and they presented me their current year’s advertising budget and marketing plans. What unnerved me is that this unheard of website’s advertising budget is larger than my Kit Kat revenue in India!! Is the world now only going to browse the web and stop eating chocolates?’ he glumly asked me.
I was stunned but not surprised. In the year 2000, a tsunami of websites had unleashed themselves in the world, and with massive Venture Capital funding they were on a brand-building (read advertising) spending splurge like never ever seen before.
They had fallen into the classic trap of believing that ‘Advertising is marketing’. for instance was funded by Rupert Murdoch and had created history by buying a fully branded ‘skin’ on Times of India – India’s largest newspaper, for its Sunday edition. They had paid a criminal price to just get noticed. Also, they had TV ads, hoardings and the works. The tragedy of this campaign is that drivers, housemaids and vegetable sellers began asking when was releasing – they thought it was a movie; being illiterate and never having heard of the Internet before.
Mistakes have a habit of being punished. The year 2001 was the year of dot com funerals. 99% of dot coms went bust because their so called ‘marketing’ had burnt out their start up funds without creating any revenues streams for their business. Their P&L statement had only costs and no revenues! Some Venture capitalists who backed these over zealous entrepreneurs went bust themselves – all burnt by believing that marketing was as easy as just buying some hoardings!
Now, consider 2011. Think of all the big dot coms we all are addicted to – facebook, twitter, foursquare, linkedin – have you seen hoardings or TV spots or full page newspaper ads of these brands inviting you to visit their sites?
These new age Internet giants are basking in the success of a very simple yet often ignored fact – that your product is your marketing! And on the Internet, a good product not just gets repeat consumers but also spreads like wild fire by viral word of mouth, making your consumers your marketing managers.
There are some people who ask me – Yahoo grew without advertising. But why does it advertise now? Simple – to grow the Internet category – to capture what is not ‘naturally’ or generically coming to them. To explain, in India, for instance, in a country of 1 billion people and only 40 million users, (a jobs portal) needs to educate Indians to use the Internet so as to then visit!
So, the big boys actually grow the category of the Internet while also trying to drive traffic to their site. Remember however, that their P&L can support such expensive customer acquisition – a luxury that start ups don’t enjoy!
Let me sum this up by what I heard the CEO of Moshi Monsters (a very large virtual world for kids) say: ‘Marketing is that highly inflammable fuel you pour over a burning fire to really make it larger. It is has no use when you haven’t even started your fire. In fact it can prevent a fire from starting.’
Shop Window of a premium European Home Store - In Marketing, everything goes!

Shop Window of a Premium European Home Store – In Marketing, everything goes!

Blunder 2 – Misunderstanding the power of PR
Imagine you enter a party and as you soon as you approach a large group, your friend arrives and very admirably introduces you as the hot new entrepreneur with loads of ideas and a person to watch out for. You begin dimly blushing and deflecting his praise.
Now imagine you enter the party and approach the same large group. You begin to speak very loudly, thump your chest, probably take off your shirt, make all kinds of noises and announce that you are so great that even God is feeling envious of you.
The first instance is PR, the second instance is advertising. Imagine the ‘marketing’ impact of either case.
In the business world, journalists and impact writers need to be your ‘friend’ by believing you and your business before they write about you – praising you in front of their friends or readers.
In my opinion, a strong PR position takes at least 3 years to build up after which you are on a roll.
However, most entrepreneurs either expect PR to work the next day (maybe they are used to buying ads that appear when you want them to) or just refuse to engage in this very time consuming and slow to perform marketing practice.
I subtly tell people whom I meet for the first time to ‘google me’. I know what pops out is 12 years of sincere PR effort.
Blunder 3 – Being lazy to do ‘Piggyback Marketing’.
When I launched, I really got lucky. I managed to convince MTV’s VJs in India to scream ‘log onto to win x and y prizes’ on the MTV channel all day long. MTV was keen to create online contests – I swapped my service for free mentions on TV.
I was piggy back riding them to a trip to the moon!
Piggyback marketing is hard work. It involves pavement pounding to find a gigantic and huge partner (compared to your size) who gifts you a winning lottery ticket in exchange for your unique product or service.
Why would anyone do so?
It’ a cross hair between circumstances and immediacy. Discovery Kids (USA), for instance, is keen to partner with high quality kids’ content providers and even share revenue on that content being hosted on that site. Now, buying ad space on Discovery media properties can drive start ups broke. But if you have content and they like it, you are on one massive piggyback! (I say this with experience – our kids’ property features on Discovery and Viacom USA).
Foursquare has leveraged large brand relationships and has received massive & complimentary media promotions thanks to their unique offering of real time, location based service that just delights brands!
Work hard to find partners who can lift your Company’s profile and visibility via partnerships. Break your back to make the deal work. If, you finally do manage to get associated with them, that will be a ‘real marketing’ victory.
Blunder 4 – Just not attempting ‘Hijack Marketing’.
Do you have the guts to go to an industry conference or convention, sit in the back rows and then announce your name and Company and ask a question (intelligent please) in every session?
You will be effectively ‘hijacking’ a high profile industry event and getting quickly noticed amongst trade, press and potential customers.
Last year, at the flash gaming conference in San Francisco (organized every year by Mochi Media), there was an entire panel dedicated to ‘high quality games’. At the end of the session, I stood up and said ‘I am a successful games company that makes medium quality games, in large quantities. I believe in the Cartoons model of decent quality with lots of content vs. the Hollywood model of few movies that cost trillions. I don’t believe your hypothesis. And I have comScore numbers to back me’. The panelists broke into a fight with me, but the silver lining was that for the entire week, wherever I went (it was game developers week), I would meet people who said ‘Hmm…you’re the dude who questioned quality vs. quantity…. Good question’…
It’s not about being disruptive. It’s about going to events and conferences where the center of gravity of your business is and making your self get noticed.
I believe that this is high impact, albeit non-scalable marketing that has its own unique role to play.
Blunder 5 – Forgetting ‘personal’ marketing.
Just look at Richard Branson and how he clowns himself personally to create awareness of the various businesses he launches. In India, no one has perfected this better than Narayan Murthy of Infosys. Tales about how he believes in simple living, wears ordinary clothes, gives his driver millions of dollars of Infosys shares, etc. etc. are now folklore. But they all finally reflect on his Company – Infosys. All the successful Presidents of the USA have had massive personalities – all cultivated and projected for the benefit of their Country!
Individuals can take a much larger and direct role in communicating messages than a ‘non living’ Company. Use your personal charisma, intelligence and passion to communicate what your business and Company stand for. So many CEOs I know don’t blog or tweet or update their facebook and linkedin profile. New age, start-up entrepreneurs are lazy and defend lack of social marketing for being busy with ‘too much work’. That’s really being naive.
Marketing is a lot of hard work that involves lots of creativity, attentiveness, ears to the rails, personal intervention and backbreaking business development. The last thing involved is buying some expensive, ineffective ads.

'Woo Your Prospects, Make Them Fall In Love With Your Solution'

'Woo Your Prospects, Make Them Fall In Love With Your Solution'

Valentine's day is round the corner and the season of expressing love is right here. Everyone wants to be loved, you, me, brands, companies, employees, buyers, vendors, just about anyone and everyone you can think of. But the point is can you make someone fall in love with you, your brand, your product, your services?

Of course, as a marketer, I can share a hundred ideas with you, which I believe will make almost anyone fall in love with anything you want…but lets keep that aside for another day! Today, I just want to share some thoughts on the psychology behind love and how you can use the same to make your prospects fall in love with your offerings.

Psychologist M.Farouk Radwan wrote an interesting book sometime back, How to Make Someone Fall in Love With You. According to his website, he has sold more than 500,000 copies, that is a lot of people looking for innovative ideas to woo :)

Recently a friend shared an article on FB by Radwan, based on the book where he talks of 6 methods and ways that can help in making someone fall in love with you.

While I am not sure, how successful his 500,000 readers have been with wooing their object of love, I was thrilled with his suggestions, because to my surprise or not really… I found the same logic works for finding love in business too..check out for yourself.

"I have what you need" - Yes, that is the first step towards being loved. Send out a clear message to your prospects 'I have what you need'. To do that, you need to clearly figure out and communicate the problem your offering is trying to solve and how your solution is different from what your competitors are offering. When looking for love, people are just trying to fill a void in their current state, it is the same with prospects too, when they start looking out for a vendor, it is to fill a gap or solve a problem within their area of functioning.

"Meeting Criteria" - Radwan states in his book, "Inside the mind of every one of us is a quick list of basic criteria that must be met before we even consider loving a person. Although meeting these criteria does not neccessarily mean that we will love the person, not meeting any of them makes it certain that we will never love him."

Your prospects are no different, most have a basic criteria for vendors, it could be anything from - the size of the company, client portfolio, service contract period etc. It will help your efforts, if you are aware of all such preset criterion, to ensure you tweak and customize your proposal when approaching a prospect. This exercise may not exactly get you the deal but it will definitely improve your chances.

"Does Trying Harder Work?" - According to Radwan, it surely does in matters of the heart. In business too it makes a lot of sense. It does not matter if your prospect already has a vendor or is pursuing your competitor, it is never too late to try and make a genuine and attractive offer. Of course you have to evaluate how much is the risk involved, but if having a company on your client list is absolutely necessary and it is going to increase your credibility and visibility in the market….you should definitely try harder and harder.

"Program his Subconscious Mind" - Radwan asks his readers to tame the subconscious mind of their love interest, he says, "The subconscious mind can be made to accept something by continious repetition. Chasing the subconscious mind requires no more than staying in sight, and letting him/her see you a lot. Even if you hardly talk, just staying in his/her sight is enough to enforce your position."

In pure business terms, Drip marketingLead nurturing etc. are some of the activities which will help you remain in sight of your prospect and help in programming their subconscious mind. The more your prospect knows about you, the higher your chances of impressing them.

"More Subconscious Mind Programming" - Radwan suggests, "If you have mutual friends then you are even more lucky, since the subconscious mind is programmed much easier by trusted sources. The more your friends talk to him/her about how great you are (something you'll probably have to arrange) the better your chances of having a place in his/her subconscious mind."

Now does that ring a bell? Understand why your marketing keeps asking for customer testimonials, case studies and customer referrals - it is all for programming the subconscious mind of your prospects. Now go one step ahead, ask your happy customers to endorse you, promote you on social forums like Twitter, Linkedin etc. Find a common connect between you and your prospect and use them to put forward your offerings. Nothing beats a reference from a known source, it is a sure way of making to the top of the list without much effort.

"Position yourself well"- You have always known that one, in business the law of attraction works completely on the basis of how you position your company. Your positioning is how prospects perceive and relate to your brand. Also like I mentioned in the post earlier, your positioning should also help you differentiate your offerings from your competitors.

Radwan specifies, "What is the first word that comes to people's minds when they hear your name mentioned? Do they think of the word "strong","confident" or "loser"? Positioning is simply associating yourself with a certian image that is printed in people's minds."

It is imperative for every company to have a positioning statement, which clearly defines there stand in the crowd. You can position yourself as a 'market leader', 'innovator' or 'reliable partner' anything that goes with the way you intend to project your company in the market.

Companies and brands are made of people and by people and people react usually the same way to Laws of attraction. But many a times as marketers we fail to see our prospects and customers as individuals, in our minds we see them has huge office buildings with super logos or as news headlines and numbers on Fortune magazine lists, maybe that is why we fail to woo them.

Happy Valentine's Day!
Happy Wooing!

Customer references and solutions marketing: Building blocks for business impact

B2B marketers focused on high value solutions know that customer evidence is like gold. Great products may sell themselves based on features or price. But when you're asking business buyers to invest serious money in a complex solution, typically involving a customized mix of products and services, they need to know you've done it before and that other customers have derived real business benefits.

Not surprisingly, sales people selling solutions say that customer references are their most valuable tool. ITSMA has found this repeatedly in sales studies. Similarly, a recent internal study by a very large technology solutions provider found that their sales people said customer references were absolutely essential for selling new strategic solutions.

The growth of formalized reference programs in recent years reflects a growing understanding that documenting and promoting customer evidence is too important to leave to ad hoc initiatives in PR or sales. The success of theCustomer Reference Forum in building a broad-based community of reference managers is another sign of a maturing discipline.

Too often, though, reference programs remain short-staffed, disconnected from other key marketing programs, and overly reliant on the kindness of individual sales people to provide access to satisfied customers. Indeed, many formal reference programs continue to vie for marketing and sales attention with the parallel existence of informal, fragmented reference initiatives across the organization.

As a result, many reference programs remain stuck in tactical, reactive mode. They crank out case studies and testimonials to support marketing launches and events but have relatively little impact in accelerating strategic sales or deepening loyalty with the most important customers.

Benchmarking the Best

Over the past six months I've had the opportunity to work with several large B2B firms to improve their customer reference programs. Along the way, I've been able to review a number other programs with companies widely acknowledged as reference management leaders while also review industry data and talking with a batch of vendors, consultants, and program managers.
Comparing the best with the rest, six programmatic building blocks are particularly important for programs that provide substantial business impact.

Strategic Alignment: The best programs are tightly wired into the company's growth strategy and priorities to make sure they focus on developing the references and success story content that matter most to the rest of marketing and sales. Often this means having a broad-based leadership board or council to help set program direction and to make sure that the rest of marketing and sales understand the strategic value of the program. It also means having a senior-enough program director with the experience and clout to work on an equal footing with the heads of other key groups.

Team Integration: Reference programs rely heavily on support from other groups to identify the right customers, document the right information, and make the best use of the resulting references and content. The best programs have formalized team integration with a three-tiered approach to staffing and support:

  • A central team, typically within corporate marketing, responsible for program leadership, cross-organizational collaboration, and global systems, processes, tools, and metrics
  • Field-based staff, reporting to the central team but working on a daily basis with field marketing and sales on customer reference acquisition, activities, and relationships
  • An "extended team" of designated representatives from other marketing and sales teams, not reporting to the central team but with defined responsibilities for helping coordinate reference needs and activities, reaching out to customers, documenting success information, and championing program resources and guidelines

Comprehensive Approach: Many reference programs focus on producing a few types of success story content, such as case studies, testimonial videos, and profile slides. These certainly can be useful but they represent only a fraction of the ways that customer evidence can support solutions marketing and sales throughout the customer lifecycle. The best programs take a comprehensive approach with strong emphasis on three types of program activities:

  • Live references, including customer-to-customer discussions, event presentations, media interviews, analyst briefings, and advisory group meetings
  • Success story content, including not only case studies, videos, and profiles but, increasingly, social media content, in-depth ROI presentations, internal "how we got the win" selling stories, and integration into thought leadership publications
  • Relationship development, including focused efforts to support and provide real value to customer advocates through market visibility, executive access, peer networking, customer community, and other special programs (this is where tight integration with sales and other customer relationship programs is especially important)

Information Management: Improving information systems is a priority for many programs and the best programs take a broad view of effective information management. Whether they build their own system or contract with an outside vendor the best programs emphasize:

  • Maintenance of an authoritative, comprehensive and regularly updated repository of reference data, content, and activity
  • Easy, self-service access and usability for other parts of marketing and sales
  • Tracking and reporting on reference activity and content usage
  • Integration with other essential marketing and sales systems, such as CRM and web content management

Program Communication and Education: Many program teams are stretched so thin that simply keeping up with basic production leaves little or no time to help make sure the customer spokespeople or content are actually used. The best programs invest substantial time and energy communicating the value and the assets of the program as well as training other teams on how to support the program and use the system and tools. Having an extended team in place, as noted above, provides an especially helpful group for developing and implementing the necessary communication and education.
Business Accountability: As with many marketing programs, measuring the actual business value delivered by reference programs is not easy. Indeed, many programs struggle even to measure usage of their assets, relying instead on the most basic measures of output, such as how many case studies and testimonials they have produced each year. The best programs zero in on business impact around marketing and sales priorities. Specific measure typically involve around revenue contribution in strategic growth areas, sales pipeline acceleration, and satisfaction and loyalty of participating customers.

Constructing the six building blocks is no simple matter. Talk to the heads of the best programs and you'll hear about years of work, substantial investment, and constant attention to internal as well as customer relationships. But you'll also hear about serious business benefits like direct contribution to $ millions (or hundreds of $ millions) in revenue, critical support for new solution offerings, and measurable improvements in key customer relationships. The investments, in short, are well worth it.

Active use of compelling customer evidence is far from the only determinant of solutions marketing success. But having a well developed program that provides a steady stream of customer advocates and credible content certainly makes it easier. If you're looking for ways to create a stronger foundation for customer evidence-based marketing and a more effective reference program, the six building blocks are a great place to start.

Do you agree with the list? What's working and what's most challenging for your program?

Courtesy: (Reproduced with permission)

How to Unlock New Business Opportunities

Imagine you have a customer. You believe you could be doing a lot more business together but you do not see the customer giving you any new opportunities.  Getting new customers is getting tougher. So what do you do?

Here are a few things you can try.

What is your customer’s wish list?

Do you know what your customer’s dreams are? Very often your customer might have a dream but may not know what to do to get there. Have a no agenda meeting with your customer and approach this subject. It could open a new opportunity if you listen carefully and look at where you can help based on your strengths, knowledge, connections etc. Too often we do not do this because we are fire fighting and are busy fulfilling current orders.

What is bugging him? What is his bug list?

I believe one man’s bug is another man’s business. Collect his bug list over a couple of conversations. See what you can do to help, using your strengths, experience, knowledge and connections. This is a very effective new business opportunity source, because you could sometimes be solving a major problem for your customer.

What are his competitors doing?

It is possible that your customer is too busy running his business and he may not notice some of the new things his competition might be doing in the market. Be his eyes and ears and bring such new developments to his notice. Every customer is keen to protect his business and grow it. You could be looking at a new opportunity in the process.

Locate the inefficiencies in the customers processes and systems. What are his customers complaining most about?

The idea is not to point a finger but suggest improvements. This could result in saving time and money for your customer. Some times this may not lead to new business for you but you are on your customer’s radar screen as some one with new ideas. This is a wonderful position to be in.

Understand your customer’s priorities for the next twelve months.

Constantly look for ideas that can help your customer meet his priority objectives. When you meet him with a new idea for his business which is a priority for him, he will at least listen to you.

What are some of the problems that your customer has but refuses to acknowledge as a problem?

Very often people tend to wish away issues because they seem too big to tackle and they have no solutions in site. It does not even occur to them to ask for help in such cases. You could score a point with ideas that can solve his problems. This might sometimes require more patience and take more time. You may have to play consultant. However the results will be rewarding.

Improve his current products.

Apply SCAMPER to his existing products. What do you find? A better product? A less expensive product? Something easier to handle?

Here again his attitude could be why fix something, which is not broke?  Perseverance  pays.

Be a trend spotter

Many customers are blind to changing trends around us. If you have an inclination to study trends, be the customer’s trend spotter. There are interesting websites like and Go back to your customer with ideas based on these trends.

Be a market scout

If you travel often, be your customer’s scout. Pick up samples, interesting leaflets, brochures, price lists etc. If you attend an exhibition be sure to look for what might help your customers.

Make suggestions, not recommendations

Finally handle your ideas gently. Depending on your relationship with the customer make suggestions rather than firm recommendations. A customer may be able to build on your suggestion and make it more powerful. With recommendations customers seem to think that their only option is to say yes or no.

These ideas have worked well for me while I was with Ogilvy & Mather. It works with my current clients too - helps build customers’ business and yours as well.

But if you were to ask me - Does it work ALL THE TIME? Probably not. It might work one out of ten times. But the underlying fact remains that your customer thinks of you as some one who cares for his business - a trusted advisor and not just a mere vendor.

This exclusive guest post was written by Sridhar. R, a sought after Innovation Coach at IDEAS-RS, a professional service firm specializing in Corporate Innovation. For more information, you can visit his website