Award Dinners – Don’t Get Me Started!

Is it just me or is the award dinner industry running away with itself? Open any business magazine these days and you’re faced with page upon page of glossy articles and ‘grip and grin’ pictures of award dinners, ‘awardees’ and their so-called ‘awards’.

Another chunk of the same magazine will be taken up with details of dinners you could attend and urgent entreaties to vote for someone or push your own company or self forward, blinking, into the limelight as a winner of some spurious award – most green, most innovative, fastest growing, best or smartest or youngest or most entrepreneurial man/woman/child, best use of a plastic bag in the pursuit of carbon reduction…. and on and on. If it’s not magazines, it’s emails or websites. All pushing the same ‘awards’ agenda.

Who benefits? The hotel? Most certainly. “That’s a table of 10 at £100 a head, excellent sir and would you like to pre-select from our over-priced wine list?” The award ‘hosts’? I’d like to think they do it out of the goodness of their hearts; but really? Usually it’s a bank rewarding their loyal, but barely solvent, clients; a magazine rewarding their subscribers; a software company rewarding their biggest (and not necessarily best) resellers; or a recruitment agency rewarding anyone they can persuade to come along on the flimsiest of pretexts (see ‘plastic bag’).

I worked for a software company once. We won an award. We all trooped off to the USA, to Fargo, North Dakota (now there’s a BIG clue for some of you) and stood on stage, a few thousand pounds the poorer for the journey, and grasped our award proudly. When we returned in triumph, the company owner, who was paying for all of this, was unimpressed. “Awards are all very well”, he said “but they don’t jingle”.  

So, if anyone out there thinks we deserve an award, just stick it in the post. If it adds anything to our status in the world , we’ll tell people about it and perch it on a shelf in reception – honest. But don’t force us to come to a dinner somewhere (unless you’re picking up the tab!).

The 3 Marketing Rules that made Apple Computer such a success

I‘m about 12% (that’s the Kindle for you!) through Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It makes for fascinating reading particularly as I’m at the chapter on the birth of the Apple II, the first micro I ever sold commercially (yes, I am that old).

What really caught my attention and led to me re-read a section was a piece that described the early marketing philosophy of Apple Computers. Written by their first ‘proper’ marketing man, Mike Markkula, it was a one-page summary of their marketing principles and applies just as much TODAY and to ANY business as it did back then.

The 3 principles are:

Empathy: This concerns having an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer. As Markkula wrote “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.” Who would argue that Apple won out more often than not by getting the product absolutely right, even when technically better and cheaper products existed?

Focus:“In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” Steve Jobs was possibly one of the most focussed, driven men on the planet. His turnaround of Apple when he returned was testament to this trait.

Impute: This emphasised that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. As Markkula explained to a youthful Steve Jobs, “People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”

These 3 became known collectively as “The Apple Marketing Philosophy”. It worked pretty well for Apple so should be well worth considering for your own organisation

Support or Die

Microsoft recently posted some stats that broke down the average business software system costs. The most interesting stat was that the actual purchase of the software represented about 5% of the overall system cost and expenditure on hardware was roughly the same. That probably comes as a bit of a surprise to many but, if you examine the figures, it’s actually pretty self-evident.

A business purchasing a new ERP system will expect to get somewhere between 6 and 10 years out of their new software. We have many customers who have been on Navision with us for at least as long as that, and a number who have been with us since the 90’s so we concur with Microsoft’s findings.

Over that period, the majority of the expenditure will be on annual support charges and people costs – installation, training, ongoing development and so forth. So, extrapolate the numbers over the life of the system, and the initial costs of buying the software and hardware quickly drop to a fraction of the total expenditure.

Software companies who understand this should also understand that if they fail to provide good levels of support or be perceived as not providing value for money, then all of the good work done in winning the initial sale will be for nothing. Microsoft also revealed that the average time to win a new software site was 6 months. That could be 6 months hard work wasted if someone else picks up the ongoing revenues.

Looking after customers and constantly monitoring feedback of our services is a fundamental element of our business plan. It has served us well bringing us well over 100 Navision sites and the income from those is set against the cost of a dedicated support department and support systems to ensure we maintain satisfaction levels and customer numbers.

The result is a strong and loyal customer base and a regular stream of defections from competitors. Someone somewhere spent 6 months winning those customers but then passed on the revenue stream to us. Not good business and certainly not sustainable.