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Revisiting the Tortoise and the Hare
When I was a little grokling, I always used to hear a fable about a race between two creatures, in which it seems laughably obvious that one is going to absolutely cream the other. But, surprise, surprise Ö the underdog prevails. You wouldn't know the creatures in my fable, but you have a tale just like it: The Tortoise and the Hare. And the moral is the same: slow and steady wins the race. Focus on the task at hand, single-mindedly see it through, and the gold can be yours!

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See the GROK at the e-commerce summit in Italy 10/03/2001 - 10/05/2001


Great moral, yet traditional businesses have had to learn it over and over again. Now, with so many ďfirst moversĒ biting the dust, I think itís time for those of us in this brave new world of e-commerce to finally absorb the lesson those other businesses, following in the footsteps of that cocky rabbit, had to swallow.

Humans seem to value being really fast and getting there first, even though neither one guarantees long-term success. In an article that had me clapping, Jim Collins writes,

I recently met with the CEO of a hot Internet company who described his concept for competing on the Web: "It's a big land rush," he explained. "It's all about being the first to build critical mass and create a brand name." Then, in a bizarre twist, he admitted that his company's Web site didn't work all that well and that customers might be disappointed by their early experiences. Ö His strategy hinged on one simplistic idea: be there fast, be there first, and you win.1

People think of Internet time as a kind of speed-of-light game; if you can't get it together in the next 15 minutes (better to have got it together yesterday), you are dead in the water. Someone else will get there first, faster. So, the illogic goes, someone else will win. If you think youíre lost because somebody got there first, wouldnít you love to hear me say, ďIt ain't soĒ? Well, "It ain't so."

Being fast and first is all too often its own liability. There are lots of others out there, biding their time, learning from your mistakes, and making plans to do the job even better. You know how to recognize the pioneers, donít you? Theyíre the ones with all the arrows in their backs. Collins's article is full of great examples from the archives of business history. VisiCalc, the first computer spreadsheet, lost out to Lotus, which lost out to Excel Ö and the company that developed VisiCalc doesn't even exist anymore. The first PCís came from Sol, and Altair and a dozen other names now long-forgotten. The first portable computers came from companies like Osborne Computer (also extinct). Apple had one of the first handheld personal computers (the now ubiquitous Personal Digital Assistant), but who remembers the Newton? Today, everyone calls them "palm pilots" the way they call tissues "Kleenex" (in case youíve been visiting me on Mars, Palm Pilotô is 3Com's PDA).

IBM wasn't first in the computer market (remember Univac?). Boeing wasn't first in commercial aviation (remember De Haviland's Comet?) And Hewlett-Packard's Personal Computer Group took 17 years to top the PC market. Are you getting the idea? "It doesn't really matter who gets there first, so long as you figure out a way to produce a better solution, doggedly persist in bringing that solution to the world, and continually improve," concludes Collins.

Contrary to naysayers, the "land rush" in e-commerce isn't all that different, despite our concept of Internet time in the world of clicking. The bottom line is the same: customers wonít accept lengthy downloads, confusing sites, hidden charges, obnoxious policies or lousy service. How is it possible so many dot-coms missed that, and still do? Yes, there is one important difference thanks to the Internet: it puts the customer in the driver's seat even more than before. Your customers have an unprecedented range of choices available to them. Your competitors are just a click away. If you donít listen to what your customers value and want, then deliver brilliantly, being first to market will only mean being first to fail. To succeed out there, you need learn from everybody and work at being best.

So, go on. Dare to be different. Dare to be the tortoise. See you at the finish line!

1. "Being the best beats being first." Jim Collins, CNBC and The Wall Street Journal.Business on MSNBC.com. <http://www.msnbc.com/news/449953.asp>

click here for a printable version of this whole article

Halloween Redux - Myths That Scare Away Sales
Call them the equivalent of urban legends, old wives' tales or plain-and-simple myths -- the e-waves abound with utterly erroneous pronouncements on the nature of Internet commerce. But theyíre presented with the voice of authority and often, mistakenly, are awarded further credibility by the cold, hard fact that dot-coms are going belly up at a rapid rate.

The real truth, when it comes to the problems in e-commerce these days and the myths that surround them, is that websites are doing a terrible job of selling. Sure, they are trying to sell, but they are not performing the systematic activities an expert human salesperson would in the real world. To put it bluntly, most e-commerce sites actually discourage sales. Unfortunately, instead of solving that real and fundamental problem, most e-businesses prefer to hide behind myths. .And those myths get in the way of even looking for, much less finding, solutions that work even though there are solutions that work, and work really well.

I'd like to encourage you to opt-out on some of these myths. So let's play True-or-False. If you've been paying attention to the stuff Iíve been saying lately, I'll bet you'll get 'em all right!

"We can't actually sell on our website, we can only hope customers will buy."

False! Of course, it is true you can't sell anything if your website isn't focused on sales. If all you are about is marketing, it isn't surprising you aren't doing much selling. But that isn't to say sales can't happen. Amazon sells like crazy. Build your site to sell, and sales will come. Don't think that just improving your site's usability or customer experience is going to take you all the way. You've got to do that, of course, but to maximize current as well as repeat sales, youíve actually got to employ the art and science of selling.

"If we increase traffic to our site, we'll increase our closing ratio."

False! Increase traffic and youíll get more visitors Ö maybe. If you are driving them to a dead end, consider yourself lucky if your closing ratio continues to tread water. No amount of marketing is going to boost your closing ratio if your site doesn't sell your customers. And the more people you drive to a bad shopping experience with you, the more people you lose forever (along with everyone in their address books).

"People don't want to be sold."

False! People love to buy, and they come to your site primed with a "propensity to buy." They want to be sold. They just don't want to be pushed. And they don't want to have to figure out confusing graphical interfaces or cope with a site that forces them to navigate around forever or wait ages for pages to load. They donít want to be smacked with hidden charges or absurd shipping costs. They donít want their private information shared. Is that complicated? So, wanna disprove this myth? Redesign your website so it leads your customers through a delightful sales process just as an expert salesperson would in the real world, and watch your sales explode.

"Shoppers want to be entertained, so we need to invest in lots of fancy design gizmos."

False! Shoppers want to shop; ultimately they want to buy. Cute and clever is not on their shopping list. Neither is slow. Thatís not just a Grokian opinion; it is supported by every single shopper survey ever done. Why website developers donít read that essential information is beyond me, and sales figures suffer as a direct result. Most shoppers out there do not want to be distracted by flashing this and pirouetting that, however novel and inspired you or your developers might find it. When it comes to sales, it's only designers and programmers who get excited by this stuff. Customers arenít even neutral; they donít want it. (Can you say Boo.com?)

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

False! There is a power in the word to take hold of your customer's imagination and place him or her firmly into the ambiance you are trying to create and sell that no picture can accomplish. When you look at a picture, you stay outside it; you put yourself right inside the images created by great words. Words excite the emotions in a very singular way. And that is one of your biggest sales tasks: to speak to the needs your customers feel.

And by the way, a picture that takes forever to download is far more likely to encourage your customers to bail rather than buy. In which case, even a thousand great words won't bring 'em back!

"We simply gotta have a search engine."

False! More often than not, an in-site search engine is a bad idea and a big waste of money. Hard research has proved it can be twice as bad as not having one at all! Instead of thinking more technology is going to save you, think how to shape the design of your site through a well-designed series of links, so it effectively can lead your customers to what they are looking for. Improving your Information Architecture will help your sales much more than a search tool will.

"Big name developers, designers, programmers and marketers understand how the Internet works, so we need to do it their way."

Super Falso!!! The big names have taken millions of dollars to build some of the worst sites. They may look cool, but they canít sell to save their lives, literally. Graphic designers understand graphic design. Programmers understand programming. Marketers understand marketing. They do not understand sales! So how can they design, program or market for sales? They canít. The only way you should "do it" is in the way that makes your customers happy and gets them buying. Only then will you get the Internet working for you. Remember that other myth, the one that said the Internet has changed everything? How much red ink do you need before you toss that out with the others? Online, just like offline, the customer is still the same wonderful and quirky human she always was, and she rules.

Get the idea? Good. So dump those myths in the trash where they belong, get out there and start selling!

click here for a printable version of this whole article 

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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