Creative Marketing Ploys

I can’t imagine how difficult it is for people that sell IT services and goods to reach the people that would buy from them. Every organization has a different org structure and we are all inundated with requests for our time and attention. Many attempts to get our attention are complete failures, such failing to explain precisely what it is that you are selling. I have read complete press releases or magazine advertisements without understanding what is being sold. So, I have an appreciation for those that are able to craft a clear, efficient pitch. Some go the route of being very creative and I thought it would be fun to share some of those.

CommVault marketing

Today I got this in the mail. Not only does it include an innovative give-away (a bottle of BBQ sauce), but I really appreciated the attached letter. It starts…”Blah, blah, blah, blah, CommVault Simpana, blah, blah, blah, modern protection, blah, backup and recovery.”

They really understand how busy people read their marketing materials. They satirize those traditional materials and still communicate the most important message – what they are selling. If I were someone that was currently seeking that type of solution I would be inclined to look a little closer.

I think I am comfortable accepting a $2 bottle of BBQ sauce. But anything more valuable than that would strike me as crossing the line from attention-getter to an actual gift which is subject to several additional policies. Ministry has a policy that dictates gifts from suppliers which includes the following guidance:

  • Decisions made by Ministry Associates in the course of their duties must be objective and based solely on the best interest of the Organization. Decisions should never be influenced by any considerations of personal gain or gain to any personal associate of a Ministry Associate (such as a friend or relative). Purchasing and other decisions are made solely on the basis of the Supplier/Business Associate who offers the best value for the goods and services required.
  • Ministry Associates must avoid doing anything that could give the appearance or suggestion that a purchasing decision may be influenced by any irrelevant or improper consideration, whether illegal (such as a kickback or bribe) or technically legal (such as personal friendship, favors, or Gifts). Ministry Associates shall carry out their interactions with Suppliers/Business Associates in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Corporate Integrity Program.

I am much more comfortable with things I can share in the office than something I would take home.

Lastly, I am NOT a fan of the ploy where the supplier will give me a gift if I sit through a sales pitch. Typically those enter into the realm of the gifting policy. It is important that I do not create an impression that I am deciding how to spend my time based upon personal gain.



Proactive Customer PC Monitoring

We are users of a cool product from Aternity for application monitoring. The Aternity app runs in the background on our PCs and monitors the end user experience. When a customer says “the system is running slow” we have a wealth of data that can confirm that is the case, quantify how slow, and correlate the slowness with a myriad of other factors (PC model, network segment, OS patches installed, etc.). There are other solutions in this space, including one from Compuware. But, we have been happy with our Aternity investment (a 6 figure expense).

There is a fair amount of setup required to train Aternity how to monitor each application. So, it is not completely magic.

To date we had used this tool to respond to customer complaints and to review monthly performance of our more troublesome applications. But recently our use of application monitoring was taken to the next level by our Field Services group (they support the technologies that our customers touch).

That group is using Aternity as a proactive monitoring tool. They are monitoring three parameters to that serve as an indicator of PC health:

  1. Boot time
  2. Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)
  3. Application launch

When a device encounters a Blue Screen or exceeds a threshold for boot time or application launch it appears on a list. Then, the Field Services team from the appropriate region will replace the device and take the old one back to the device for troubleshooting and re-imaging or disposal.

By being proactive and showing up to replace a device before an incident is reported our Field Services team is creating a “wow” experience for our customers.


Customer Communications During an Outage

There are a few keys that I have found when communicating with customers about outages and service interruptions:

  • Our customers can accept bad news, they cannot accept no news.
  • Getting the team out into the patient care areas, communicating face-to-face buys a lot of goodwill.
  • Don’t use generic email addresses, send genuinely worded emails from a real person, ideally someone that shows the level of attention the problem is receiving (like the CIO). It is easier to be mad at a department than a person who is trying their hardest.
  • Empathize, don’t apologize. Say something like: “We understand that this is disruptive to your work and patient care. This is important to us and we will work day and night until things return to normal. Thank you for your patience and support.”
  • When closing the outage, make sure your customers know that there will be a full Root Cause Analysis and systemic changes will be put in place to avoid a recurrence.

The Project Management Office Air Travel Analogy

Most people think that the role of the Project Management Office (PMO) is similar to that of an airplane pilot. It is their job to make sure that the plane gets to its destination without crashing into the ground.

While that’s true, and a critical role of a Project Management Office, it may not be their most important function. The PMO also plays the role of air traffic controller. That is, they need to prevent projects from colliding with other projects.

At Ministry Health Care we typically have 100 IT projects in flight at any time. All of these projects are competing for the same IT resources. If each of these projects are planned in a vacuum inevitably there will be midair collisions as different projects try and grab the same resources during the same time period. By tracking resource assignments on each project, the PMO can stack all of the projects on top of each other and make sure that no one resource is over allocated during a time period. This allows us to launch more projects, more quickly in the same period of time. Just like an air traffic controllers make it possible land planes more frequently using the same number of runways.

Running IT Like a Business

Recently, somebody challenged me to describe what it means to run IT like a business. This is what I came up with:

  1. Businesses have customers (not users).
  2. Businesses thrive by providing their customers with goods and services that their customers want at a cost those customers consider a value.

Sometimes we find ourselves providing services that our customers don’t want. That could mean we got ahead of ourselves and started providing a solution without first providing the consulting service that creates the desire to receive the service.

I Hate Pronouns

Misunderstandings, even small ones, can result in thousands of hours of wasted work. It is really important in our field that we clearly communicate. One common source of misunderstanding is the pronoun. I would encourage you to listen to how often people use “it”, “that and “them”. I have made it a habit to ask my direct reports not to use pronouns, to explicitly state by name the people, places and things to which or whom they are referring.

Pronouns recently got the President in trouble. Trying to borrow a page from the Elizabeth Warren playbook the President recently said:

“Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Many conservatives believe that “that” is referring to the “your business” as in “You didn’t build your business. Somebody else made your business happen.

Supporters of the President are saying that the “that” is referring to the “roads and bridges that the business benefits from” as in “You didn’t build the roads and bridges that support your business. Somebody else made the roads and bridges happen.”

I am NOT going to engage in a political debate, so don’t even bother leaving a comment about the political context. I am just saying that this was an ambiguous statement. The type of ambiguous statement that can result in a failed project or political campaign. Clarity is important. It is important to craft  messages carefully and clearly to get the desired result.

For now, it is iPhone over Android

I currently carry a Samsung Infuse  Android phone. It is an AT&T phone that I have had for about a year. I am ready to replace it and I have been wrestling between the new Samsung Galaxy SIII and an iPhone.

The reviews of the SIII are tempting. The specs are impressive (quad core graphics, super high resolution screen). I want to love the Android platform, because I am predominately a user of the Google platform and I like setting up my phone with a single login. But, I think I am going to join the rest of my family in carrying an iPhone. My Infuse has been buggy (screen lockups, slow response to screen touches), although I am not convinced that a year-old iPhone would be better. Here is why I am going to the iPhone:

  • Apple forces the carriers to behave. I did not get one upgrade for my Infuse. They are available, but AT&T won’t push out the updates. Forget Ice Cream Sandwich, I just want to go from 2.2 to 2.3. Sheesh.
  • There are too many Android phones to make sure everything is universally compatible. Today I went to download the Microsoft Lync app and the Google Play Store told me that it was not compatible with my year old device. With an iPhone that would never happen where the number of devices are limited and the iOS upgrades are backwards compatible for at least 2 years back. I have had apps that would not install on an iOS device, but the device was more than 3 years old.

By the way, we are rolling out Good as a way for smartphone users to connect to our Exchange Server. This was a good move, no pun intended. I can’t see a future where BlackBerry thrives. I am just one customer – but for us that ship appears to have sailed.