GoogleBook Convinced Me to Buy

Google transformed the web by helping users to wade through volumes of information. We embraced Google’s web search because it made a difference to our search. But its book search has encountered some criticism.

As someone who produces copyrighted material every day, I understand and appreciate those who want to protect their data and potential income sources. However, I think that some of the criticism is unfair. Today I was searching through Amazon for a book I wanted to buy. I stumbled across a different book by a different author on the same topic.  Books on this topic are a dime a dozen (and of varying quality) so I wouldn’t just buy it because Amazon presented it. I viewed the table of contents but that didn’t help. So I jumped over to Google Book Search. I found the book, jumped to a section in the book that I was most interested in and skimmed 25 pages.

… and then I bought the book.

Skimming  the pertinent section of the book was enough for me to know. I realize that part of the concern by publishers and authors is that I’ll know the “secret recipe” and won’t need to buy the book. That is a danger (but I think it puts the onus on the author to deliver high quality content consistently through the book).

Note to publishers: Readers don’t buy books based on the cover. (Okay, some do but they shouldn’t). The people who will become your most satisfied customers will buy a book becasue they read part of it and wanted to read all of it. Or, because they read it and want to read it again at their convenience. The table of contents is helpful, but not always sufficient. You will always have readers who read your book and don’t buy it (which is why I can never find a chair at Chapters) but many people will read a book and still buy it anyway. In other words, you are selling information but you’re also selling convenience and accessibility that is available only in a paper book.

The power of the pen

It was Edward Bulwer-Lytton who said it best: “the pen is mightier than the sword“.

That’s why I love language — letters, words, sentences, and grammar — it’s more than just a career for me; it’s a true passion. And, like a musician that practices as often as possible, I am constantly reading and writing to develop my skill. There is so much power in effective communication!

Yesterday, my wife and I were out with some friends, one of whom had just returned from a workshop about effective writing in the workplace. He referenced a 2006 lawsuit between communication companies Rogers and Aliant based on the placement of a single comma in their agreement.

The agreement in question went like this: “[…This Agreement] shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.

There are three clauses in this sentence (separated by commas) and the issue is whether the final clause “unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party” referred to the first clause or the second. If the final clause referred to the first clause, Aliant could back out of its agreement within one year as long as it gave written notice. If the final clause referred to the second clause, Rogers felt that it had a “locked-in” agreement for the first 5 years. 

That reminded me of something I read in the New York Times a couple of months ago. The Times was reporting on a US Supreme Court decision regarding the Second Amendment in the US Constitution. The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Once again, it’s the commas that are causing confusion. The issue at hand is whether or not the amendment is intended to support the importance of maintaining a militia or the importance of citizens to bear arms. Obviously, the second reading is the most common but the article points out that there are several versions of this amendment — with varying comma usage of 2, 3, and 4 commas — and those commas completely change the meaning. Read the full story here.

Exacting grammar is not essential in all cases.  Stephen King is a very engaging author and ignores many rules of grammar in a way that is very effective. I believe some business writing such as sales or marketing writing) is another avenue where the rules of language can be bent as necessary to achieve a purpose. But the two stories mentioned above show just how powerful language can be.

Worst customer service questionnaire ever

I use an online service for some communication support in my business. They’re okay. They don’t wow me but I haven’t found anything better at this point. I’ve had some minor technical issues and I’ve made some suggestions on their feedback site, but it’s all been fruitless.

Today I was given this survey when I logged in. It promised to ask me only 4 questions. Actually, they asked 5 questions but since one of those questions was a demographics question and the other 4 questions were about the service, I guess it’s a technical truth.

Here are the questions, copied and pasted from the survey:

  1. Based on today’s visit, how would you rate your site experience overall?
  2. Which of the following best describes the primary purpose of your visit?
  3. Were you able to complete the purpose of your visit today?
  4. What do you value most about the [name withheld] website?
  5. [demographic question? Which of the following best describes how often you visit this website?]

Questions 1 through 3 are okay, although they seem like a waste of questions if you’re only going to ask 4 questions. But I can live with that. It’s question 4 that bugs me the most. “What do you value most about the website?”

What do I value most? How about asking me “How can we improve?” or “What challenges is your business facing right now that we can solve for you?” Those questions are WAY more relevant than “What do you value most?”. The “value most” question is a stroking question to make the owners feel good about themselves… and totally avoids the more difficult question of “What can we do for you?”.

I just wrote my own answer in the text box anyway. It’s the same thing I’ve been telling them for a while in their feedback. Sadly, nothing will come of it and I’ll eventually move the service to another provider when I find a better one.

Sales cycles and offerings

So, I’ve been working with a client on his business and he asked a very good question and my response became long winded and rambly and now I’m summarizing it here.

Basically, the client is torn between two options:Offering a lot of free content on his site, or, offering a wealth of information but only after a prospect signs up.

The first option results in no customer loyalty (customers get free information from him and go elsewhere). The second option doesn’t get a lot of prospects signing up, but when they do, they stick and tend to convert. The first option, in many cases, is the most popular one today because a lot of information is freely available. I told my client that if the information he was offering was freely available elsewhere, then he should offer it for free. However, my advice was to offer some kind of unique, differentiating information and require a prospect to sign up.

Normally I might not suggest this for a lot of sites but once his prospects sign up, his conversion process is successful. He’s staying with that model and we are going to work on some ideas that will enable him to convince more prospects to sign up.On its own, that’s an interesting conversation, but it led into a far more interesting conversation and one that is relevant to nearly all of my clients. We talked about the sales cycle and the steps in a sales process.

And above all else, each step that you require a prospect to take in the process to become a customers should be a little, tiny step. In other words, you want to nudge your prospect along the sales process with baby steps so that each contact they have with you they are just slightly more invested than the last time until suddenly they discover that they are so completely bought into you that the next obvious choice is to give you their money.

Lots of companies have a sales process that is extremely basic: “we do this to turn a lead into a prospect and we do this to turn a prospect into a customer”. That might work fine. But it will work better if the process goes more like this: “we do this then this then this then this to turn a lead into a prospect and we do this then this then this then this to turn a prospect into a customer”.

Check out your sales cycle. Do you try to capture 5 pieces of information from your leads before they become prospects? Maybe that shouldn’t be one step but 5 steps. Yes, there are more times to potentially lose them, but I think the net result is actually positive: more people will be scared off by leaving 5 pieces of information than they will if they have to leave 1 piece of information each of 5 times.