One Tool to Level Out the Peaks and Valleys in Your Marketing, Selling & Production Activities

Peaks and valleys happen in all businesses for a variety of reasons from down economic times to going crazy times. There are numerous ways to overcome this part of doing business. What I have recently discovered is the best way is the use of a marketing calendar.

Now to effectively use this strategy does require for you to know your peaks and valleys specific to revenue and productivity (think sales). In some cases, increase sales may follow productivity by anywhere from 30 days to 2 years depending upon your products or services. The goal here is to keep your people busy with productive work that generates sales while reducing errors and complaints.

First, create an excel file with the following labels for these columns in row one:

  • A – Date
  • B – Action
  • C – January
  • D – February
  • E – March
  • F – April
  • G – May
  • H – June
  • I – July
  • J – August
  • K – September
  • L – October
  • M – November
  • N – December

Next leave rows two through 6 blank for daily activities such as posting on Tweeter or Facebook, changing Linked In Profile, blogging or article marketing.

Beginning with row seven label it with the number 1 and then continue to row 37 ending with the number 31 for the days of the month.

Now start plugging in all of your current marketing activities. This might include:

  • Monthly Ezine
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Direct Mail Pieces
  • Press releases
  • Networking events

Each worksheet within the excel file then becomes a year.

The next step is even more time consuming. Start plotting in your revenue highs and lows along with your productivity based upon historical experience. What should happen is you will see where there are gaps between your marketing actions and your increase sales. Sales Training Coaching Tip: Use a different color to indicate sales lows and highs along with production lows and highs.

A marketing calendar is a stop gap measure that recognizes your potential customers and existing customers having short memories. As a small business owner, entrepreneur, independent sales professional such as a realtor, insurance agent or financial advisor, you need to create top of mind awareness or TOMA. To do this requires touching them 33 times a year according to marketing research. What I suggest is 3 touches per month between email, direct mail, phone calls and personal meetings.

By having a calendar that clearly shows your actions in a very clear and concise manner helps you to keep your arms around marketing. Of course you must also continue to track the results of your marketing that being your revenue and productivity to truly realize the value of this instrumental tool.

Digital Product Sales and the Virtual Shopping Cart

If you want to sell your own digital download products online, you will, at some point need to invest in a virtual or digital shopping cart. Rather than creating “buy now” buttons one at a time, digital shopping cart software empowers you to manage and sell an entire inventory of digital – and physical – products for sale over the Web. You can even connect them to a drop-ship or print-on-demand vendor, thus automating the physical sales process.

At first, when you only have one or two downloadable products, it can work just fine to create individual “buy now” buttons through a service such as PayPal. But, as your business evolves and grows, and your catalog of products expands, you’ll actually shoot yourself in the foot if you continue to do this.

Why? Let me give you some reasons.

  • It will become more and more difficult to manage your inventory and update pricing.
  • You’ll lose sales when customers get frustrated with having to go through the sales process several times when they want to purchase several products.
  • You’ll limit your back-end marketing opportunities and leave money on the table.

So, if you want to increase your digital product sales, you’ll want to invest in a shopping cart system of some kind. And there are two basic types: hosted and self-hosted.

In most cases a hosted virtual shopping cart requires a monthly maintenance fee. They many even offer a tiered payment system where the more transactions (or customers) you have per month, the more you pay per month. This gives you the opportunity to start small and grow. But, you always need to keep in mind the monthly fee when you think about operating costs.

With a self-hosted digital shopping cart, you usually pay a one-time fee and then upload the software to your server. Sometimes the software will come with ongoing technical support, sometime not. Sometimes technical support is included as a part of your license fee, sometimes you’ll need to pay for this service on an annual or monthly basis.

The pros of going with a hosted option are that you don’t really need to think about maintenance … that is all taken care of. You just need to learn how to use the system and there you go. However, the cons include reduced branding ability in some systems, and the monthly fees can get quite high.

The pros of going with a self-hosted option are that you usually have a lot more flexibility in creating the look and feel of the cart, thus branding the customer experience. The cons are that you may need (or want) to pay for future upgrades and, sometimes, technical support.

You should look at all the features and benefits of each option and choose the one that works best for you business model. Also keep in mind the flexibility of changing your business model in the future. Will the virtual shopping cart you choose change with you?

Considering Product Activation? You Need to Think About These 10 Issues

Product activation is a popular approach for securing software licenses. However, software developers need to consider all the requirements for a capable activation system, from the license models they’ll need to support to how they’ll deal with the corner-case customer environments.

The basic activation process is typically as follows. Upon purchase the software vendor sends a unique product serial number to the user. When the user installs the application they are prompted to enter their product serial number. Their application connects to the vendor’s hosted license server over the Internet to confirm that this product serial number is valid and has not already been used to activate a license. It also obtains from the license server the license limits that apply to that user’s license, such as a time limit or enabling of product features. Finally it locks the license to the user’s system by reading certain machine parameters, such as the MAC address or hard disk ID, and encrypts the license limit and locking information in a file which is saved on the user’s system. Once activated the application interrogates that local encrypted file to perform its license check, so continues working on that user’s specific machine within the defined license limits with no further communication required with the vendor’s systems.

Sounds simple enough… but here are the ten areas you need to consider as you select a product activation system.

License models

What are the license models you wish to offer across your target markets? Are there other models Marketing might want to offer next year? Here are some possibilities:

* Time-limited licenses, for trials or subscription licensing
* Feature-enabling, to offer different price points or to package your product for different verticals e.g. a customer’s license might have Feature A to be OFF, Feature B at the Pro level, Feature C at level 5, Feature D on a 30-day trial and so on.
* Usage-based licensing. This could be metered (where the usage is tracked for subsequent reporting and billing, but not limited) or debiting (where the user purchases a usage quota which is depleted as the application is used).
* Custom licensing. Maybe you need to communicate some licensing parameters to your application, such as the Terabytes of data to address, number of communication channels to support, number of pages open at any one time and so forth.
* Some combination of the above e.g. enabling each feature with its own usage and time limit.

Disconnected systems

Not all computers have an Internet connection, so you need to consider how you will support your users who are on isolated corporate networks, or just can’t get a network connection from their laptop. The whole point of product activation is automation and convenience – you don’t want to have to set up phone support (during working hours, 24×7?, multi-lingual?) to help people without a network connection. Luckily, there are some solutions… if you pick the right system. For example:

* User self-service activation. Does the activation system provide a way for users to activate licenses on disconnected systems? A common approach is for the licensing software, when it finds it can’t connect to the hosted license, to encrypt the locking and product serial number information in a file, which the user then hand-carries to any web browser for upload to the vendor’s self-service web page. The vendor’s system accepts the file, checks it, and returns the encrypted file needed to enable the license. This file exchange can also be done by email, or even snail mail.
* Proxy server support. In many sectors such finance, mil/aero and government, users’ systems don’t have a direct connection to the Internet but can access it via an HTTP proxy server. Can your applications access your hosted license server via an existing HTTP proxy server?
* Install your own proxy server. If there isn’t a suitable HTTP proxy server available, does the activation solution include its own proxy server for installation on the customer’s network?

Security

The idea is to protect your applications from hacking and ‘honest abuse’ (over-subscription by legitimate customers), so you need robust security. Here are some questions to consider:

* If you issue time-limited licenses for trials or subscriptions, is there protection against users who try to extend their license by turning back their system clock?
* Is there protection against users who try to hack or spoof the licensing library built into your application?
* Is the communication between the licensed application and the license server secure against man-in-the-middle attacks, replay attacks, and counterfeit attacks?
* If you are tracking license limit data locally for each user, are these records secure against hacking and rollback to prior versions?
* Can no-one else set up a license server and issue licenses for your product?

Node-locking

The general approach to preventing a license from simply being copied onto another system is to lock each license to your desired parameters of the target system, such as the MAC address, host ID, hard disk ID and so on.

So far so good, but here are some node-locking questions to ask:

* Is the node-locking mechanism flexible and extensible, so you can lock to the parameters you wish?
* Does the node-locking mechanism follow generally-accepted computer science principles, and not do such tricks as bypassing the operating system, with all its unforeseeable consequences (such as breaking just because the user installed a boot manager, or upgraded their operating system)?
* Can you secure licenses on virtualized systems (e.g. VMWare), where the hardware parameters can legitimately change for a licensed user? How about supporting users who run Windows on a Mac?
* If you want, can the node-locking mechanism provide resiliency against small changes, so not inconveniencing users who make a minor system upgrade?
* Can you specify a set of locking parameters, with the license working if any one of them is matched? For example, perhaps your user wants to be able to run their license in one of any four machines – can you accommodate this?
* If some users really prefer dongle-based licensing, can you lock to a dongle as well?
* If you sell a system with your own custom hardware in it, can you lock the license to, say, the serial number in your custom hardware?
* How do you deal with the inevitable ‘My machine crashed – how do I restore my license?’ user inquiry?

License Relocation

The fact of life is that users often want to move their license to a different system, months or maybe years after it is first activated. This appears straightforward, but there are some issues to consider:

* Maybe you don’t want to offer this facility to everyone. Can you control which users are allowed to relocate their licenses?
* For users who are allowed to relocate their license, can you control how often they can do so? You may not want them doing so every day (that sounds like they’re sharing the license with others).
* Is there are any intervention required on your part during a license relocation, or does the product activation system take care of it? Is it secure?
* Can licenses be deactivated on disconnected systems?
* Your application may well have some settings your users adjust as they work with it, so your application runs exactly as they like it. Do they have to set these up again on the new installation (that would be annoying), or can you transfer them automatically?
* Does the product activation system track license relocations, so you know what your users are doing? Could it alert you when a relocation is done?

License Revocation

Maybe you don’t fully trust your customers, or perhaps you sell your product on credit, or on a monthly subscription, so might need to revoke a user’s license if they didn’t pay up or re-subscribe.

* Can your activation system revoke a user’s license?

Reseller sales

Perhaps you sell via resellers or OEMs now, or plan to do so. Maybe your sales department is looking for resellers overseas, or has it in their strategic plan? In that case, you’d better be ready to deal with the basic issue: how do you delegate order fulfillment (if desired) to your reseller, while still keeping track of the licenses they issue?

* Can your activation system allow resellers to issue licenses?
* If it does, can you restrict the range of licenses they can issue? For example, can you prevent them enabling certain features that aren’t part of their agreement with you, can you limit the number of licenses they issue, or set a maximum time limit on the licenses they issue?
* Can you generate a report on the licenses they’ve issued? Can they?
* Can you receive an alert when they issue a license?

Extensibility

While you may think that all your customers’ needs will be met with a product activation approach, what if that isn’t the case? Perhaps some users will not want any information to go out of their organization at all (often the case with some government and financial institutions).

* Can your activation system also support, say, dongle-based or floating licensing over your customers internal network, with no outside communication required at all?
* If you do need to support floating licensing or dongle-based licensing, does engineering have to re-do the licensing integration, or does the existing licensing system they integrated for product activation support it without needing any modification or replacement?

Platform support

Of course you need to protect your application on all the computer platforms you support.

* Does the activation system provide a client library for all your current platforms?
* How about platforms in your product roadmap?
* How about 64-bit platforms?
* What if a major customer requires support for a non-standard platform – can you readily obtain it?
* If your application is in Java, and you take advantage of Java’s platform independence, is the licensing library actually multi-platform, or are you introducing platform dependency?

Back-office integration and infrastructure

If your business involves a large number of licenses, or you expect it to, you may want to automate license fulfillment.

* Can you automate fulfillment from your back-office/CRM system, say via Web Services?
* Can you automate management tasks, such as backup, archival and reporting for the licensing system?
* Maybe you don’t want to host the license server at all. Is there a 3rd-party managed service available?

Clearly not all of these questions will apply to all software vendors, however they hopefully provide food for thought, and suggest areas you should consider to ensure your product activation deployment is successful.

3 Fun And Productive Activities For Your Teenager This Summer

It is summer time and your teen has been waiting for this holiday season! For most girls, hanging out with their friends and having sleepovers is what they really cannot wait for. While the boys are all about “doing their thing”, which in most cases is never a good thing. You need your teen to always follow the right path, even if you are not around and below are some ideas that will do that and more, as he enjoys this summer time.

· Sports

If your teenager is a couch potato, things are about to change! Their bodies are most active at this age and so are their minds. If you as a parent do not get involved in your kids growth, you might miss on a lot, which is the current problem parents are having. Your teen will only end up being a social misfit and this could greatly affect him in future. A sport is not only about being physically fit, but it also teaches them on discipline, perseverance, respecting one another and teamwork.

· Charity events

If there is a good way to teach your teen about thanksgiving and being appreciative, it is through charity events. Charity work is not for old people, in fact, most of them are for needy kids and teens. The good thing with such events is that they are very involving, with various activities and competitions which a teen should have no reason not to participate in. What better time to grow their confidence and also learn to communicate with new people? At the end of the day someone else will gain and your teen will learn so much as well; something he could never learn at home watching video games.

· Teen retreats

This could go in either one of two ways; your teen may actually learn something valuable or it might be a learning experience in the wrong way. The bad thing about it is that you are not going to be there as a parent (unless you feel the urge to follow them and snoop around), but the good thing is they are supervised. There are different kinds of retreats; religious, high school retreats, holidays like summer retreats etc. Your teen has a variety to choose from and he/she can team up with friends to make it an even better and worthwhile experience. You never know; your teen who is a loner, might actually make a friend or even better, two.