Automation is disrupting our lives. You and I see it every day.
Only a decade ago, we waited in line to check out of grocery stores and pharmacies. We were forced to deal with an agent before getting our boarding pass for a plane or checking in at a hotel. We exchanged dollar bills with the taxi driver, signed receipts at the restaurant’s cash register, and called up tech support whenever we had a computer problem. In our businesses, we “called” in payroll to our outside service, mailed in tax returns, and waited for endless minutes for a customer service rep to pick up the phone. Sure, all of these things are still available today. But they’re rapidly changing. Now we have more options. We can do these things on our own: we can scan, swipe, insert, click, tap, and research without anyone’s help. As a result, we find ourselves doing things faster and we feel more productive.
Smart businesses are realizing this and investing in technologies to automate their customers’ buying experiences. It’s what we want.
For the most part, automation has been focused on the consumer – the buyer of groceries, the traveler, the diner. But more and more companies are now focusing on ways to help their business customers realize the benefits of automation. Staples, the office supply retailer that serves millions of businesses – small and large – knows this. Which is why they’re investing in self-service technologies, particularly for their print and copy services. The results are paying off.
“The growth of traditional services like printing and copying has exceeded our expectations and new services like scanning and emailing are growing at a surprising clip,” Joes Bernal, the company’s vice president of Production and Operations, recently said in this online article. As a business owner and long-time customer of the company, I’m not surprised. In fact, I’m elated.
Last year, the retailer teamed up with Xerox Corporation to install more than 3,000 state-of-the-art, self-service printers at its stores across the country. The Do-It-Yourself printers pretty much accomplish everything, from printing, scanning and copying, to faxing. They have a user-friendly and familiar Android-based interface connected to a tablet so that penny-pinching business customers like me can quickly order and pay right there and then – and even take advantage of our customer loyalty cards and coupons. Most importantly, at least to me, is that the machines can access my documents in the cloud from popular storage services (or I can email the documents). This way I don’t need to worry about hard copies, flash drives, or storage disks.
For my business, the benefits have been enormous. I can do large print jobs more professionally than on my low-cost printer in the office. I have more printing, paper, and presentation choices available to me in their stores. Because my company’s business applications are all cloud based, we store our documents on the same services that Staples uses – DropBox and Google Drive – so I can access and print these documents wherever I am, even if I’m out of town. I’ve completely eliminated paying the exorbitant fees that hotels charge me to print documents. I store important documents (i.e. my passport and driver’s license) on DropBox and can print high-quality, color renditions when I travel (I had to do this once when I lost my carry-on bag).
Most importantly, I do this all very, very fast. I don’t wait in line, and I don’t need to deal with a store associate because I know what I want and can just do it and move on. When you’re in business, any amount of time saved is valuable—smart companies like Staples realize this and understand the value of self-service technologies. They also understand that by making things quicker they are helping their business customers make more money. Partners that help other partners succeed remain partners for a long, long time.
Let’s face it: our companies are selling some pretty boring stuff.
My company sells database software. I have a client that sells paper and film products. My friend sells metal piping. Your company sells industrial equipment, rubberized fasteners, corrugated containers, plastic moldings. ZZZZ. Sorry, did I just fall asleep while writing this? Yeah, it’s all pretty mundane. But this boring stuff is critical to the economy.
Now I’ve done a fair amount of research, and the words “copy” and “paper” have never been used together in a pick-up line at a bar, a Kanye West song or in any of the Star Wars movies. Copy paper is not very exciting, but that hasn’t stopped Quill.com, an online office products marketplace, from trying to make their copy paper one of a kind. Quill.com launched a campaign to sell more copy paper – and they’ve successfully figured out how, using those same Star Wars movies, to take a very, very ordinary product…and make it much less ordinary.
The company is selling copy paper – each ream individually wrapped in a special, eye-catching, Star Wars design and packaged in a reusable Star Wars themed box featuring characters from Episode IV: A New Hope that can be turned into a collector’s item or poster. Why? Because it’s not boring. It’s fun. It’s eye-catching. It adds just a little spark of life to our offices, and who doesn’t love Star Wars?
But this isn’t about copy paper. It’s really about how to successfully sell an otherwise everyday product, like copy paper…or whatever basic item your company sells. Quill.com has figured out how to do it. What’s their secret? It’s connecting it to something that’s fun and relevant in today’s society.
Star Wars is fun, popular and exciting. The movies have attracted millions of fans and generated enormous amounts of attention. The marketers at Quill.com have sought to capitalize on this exposure. They could have picked another pop-culture phenomenon. Or linked their product to a celebrity, a news story, a holiday or a sporting event. It doesn’t matter. They’ve taken something fun (a Star Wars movie) and connected it to something ordinary (copy paper) on the correct assumption that every office has employees who love Star Wars and who will get a little pleasure from seeing their heroes every time they make another copy of that week’s TPS report. Given the choice, why not buy something that’s a little more fun?
“We’re excited to be bringing Star Wars to homes and offices through our quality copy paper, Paul Bessinger, Quill.com’s director of product innovation said in a press release. “Every home or office has a Star Wars enthusiast, so this is the perfect purchase to surprise your favorite fan.”
Looking for a good way to sell your everyday essential? Connect it to something popular (psst – make sure you have permission). Have fun. And do it long term as part of an ongoing strategy and not just for a few short, forgettable weeks. This way you can differentiate your ordinary product from your competitor’s equally ordinary products and build a brand. Assuming quality and pricing are superior, you won’t need Yoda to tell you which buying experience will be better for your customers.
I’m hosting a webinar with Xero on how to utilize CRM to grown your business. Whether you have a CRM program or not, are expertly acquainted with it or not, or just want to learn innovative ways to increase sales, I’ll be offering something for everyone during this discussion!
I’ve found that although business owners are familiar with CRM applications such as Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Batchbook as a concept, about only 20 percent of the businesses I work with are fully benefiting from their CRM systems. It’s our goal during this webinar to help you join that 20 percent. This 30-minute webinar will cover what to look for when shopping for a CRM application and how to fully leverage it to grow your business – and more! Plus, if there are any questions you have feel free to leave them here in the comments and I’ll try to address them on the webinar.
Hope to “see” you there!
(This post originally appeared on The Philly Post)
So SEPTA needs money. Lots of it. In fact, a recent report said that unless SEPTA gets more money, the system “… will be forced to gradually truncate its system and eliminate services … .”
The problem is that most taxpayers, like me, aren’t thrilled about giving these losers more of our money. Ever since I took my first ride on the Chestnut Hill Local more than 40 years ago, SEPTA has always been cash-strapped and on the brink of bankruptcy. As a student, I suffered through numerous shutdowns, strikes and fare increases. And unfortunately the problems haven’t gone away. SEPTA is still the same old bureaucratic mess it’s always been.
That’s because SEPTA doesn’t just need more money. SEPTA needs Sir Richard Branson. As he did with the rail system in England, Branson should buy SEPTA, privatize it and make our transit system effective.
Branson is the kind of person this city needs: a self-made billionaire not afraid to take risks. He flies in balloons and tries to break world records on water. He runs healthcare companies, and at the same time, sells cola and vodka. That’s the kind of money-making attitude this city needs!
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
Like many small business owners, my whole life is about being wrong. Not a day goes by that my mistakes aren’t pointed out by an employee, a customer or–most often and gleefully–one of my teenage kids.
Fifteen years ago I was as wrong as Mitt Romney. Back then I was doing a lot of the client service work for my growing technology company. One client, a small manufacturer, asked me to prepare a special spreadsheet analysis of gross profit per product line from a software system we had installed. Yes, it sounds very boring and it was. But it was important for his business. And so I worked on it for days and submitted it to him. Thinking I was through with the job, I moved on to the next. Until my client called me about a week later. Some of the numbers didn’t make sense to him. Some of the columns didn’t seem to add up correctly. He wasn’t angry. He just wanted to clear it up and correct it.