The Sound of Business – Part I

Breaking The Liquid Crystal Barrier

The Web is an emotionally remote hinterland delivered to us through an
impenetrable liquid crystal barrier. How then, can you as a business
owner, entrepreneur, or marketing executive connect to a target
audience that requires emotional reassurance in order to do business?

Willy Loman is Dead

Gone are the days when we sent out phalanxes of sales representatives
pounding the pavement, beating the bushes, and generally getting in
the face of prospects. Too expensive, way too expensive, have you seen
the price of gas? Enough said.

Hot Shots Are Us

So you hire some hot shot Web designer who isn’t as old as the shoes
you’re wearing. If you spent some money on your site, and you didn’t fall
into the trap of having your brother-in-law’s cousin design the thing, you
probably got a technically proficient website. Unfortunately, when they
teach these ‘wunderkind’ the ways of the Web at the local community
college, they don’t teach them anything about business, especially
anything about marketing.

Now if you’re one of those people who think websites are IT projects
then good luck, have a nice life, stop reading, because the rest of what I
have to say will mean nothing to you. On the other hand, if you believe
websites are about marketing, let’s talk.

A Manifesto for the Web

A bunch of guys a whole lot smarter than me wrote a neat little screed
called the ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ – very clever stuff. What they said
was ‘markets are conversations consisting of human beings, and the
Internet enables these conversations.’ Now here’s the critical part,
‘conversations among human beings sound human. They are
conducted in a human voice.’ Now does that sound like the Web you
know? Does your website speak with a human voice? Does your
website connect in a human way to your customers? I think not.

So what does this really mean, this so called conversation? Well we are
all aware of Email, Blogs, RSS, and the Instant Messenger technologies
that have enabled this conversation to take place. But with these
informal conversations comes a danger – sloppy thinking and
misunderstood intent.

Someone sends you an email, and you quickly respond dashing off an
email reply without carefully thinking about how, or what, you are
saying. Even if the basic intent and content is what you wanted to say,
have you really said it in a way that your conversation partner will
understand, or will they misconstrue your meaning?

How many one line, short-form emails have you received in response to
a complex initial correspondence, and if you’re anything like me, you
looked at it and thought to yourself, ‘what the hell is this suppose to
mean.’ We’ve got a conversation going all right, but have we really
attained communication.

The Meaning of Life or At Least Web Conversation

Now here’s the interesting thing. I never actually read ‘The Cluetrain
Manifesto’, but I did hear it. Knowing that I would be laid-up for a few
days, bored to death, with nothing to do, but too comatose to really
concentrate on reading a book, I purchased one of those audiocassette
books at the local mall. I had no idea what I was buying, but it sounded
interesting, after all the cover said ‘the end of business as usual’ which
really appealed to my unconventional, contrary nature.

So I bought it, and it was a revelation, an epiphany. Not that I agreed
with everything Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David
Weinberger had to say, but still their voices stayed with me, and are still
locked away somewhere in my head.

Breaking the Liquid Crystal Barrier

And that my friend is the message, the sound of the human voice is
powerful, and it connects to the listener on a whole different level. It
speaks the truth and connects emotionally to the listener on a very
human plane. It breaks through that liquid crystal barrier, and says,
listen to me, I’m here, I’m human, and I have something real to talk to you
about. Wow, this is good stuff. So tell me why don’t you have that human
connection imbedded in your website, delivering your message, your
story.

Forget about all the crap you’ve heard and read about bandwidth and
search engine optimization. When someone takes the trouble to visit
your website, don’t waste the opportunity. Don’t screw it up. Don’t be
afraid to say what needs to be said, in a way that will be heard. If you do
it right, your website visitors will remember what you have to say, and
that liquid crystal barrier will be broken.

On-Demand CRM – Integration Hub for the Small Business or Enterprise Department

There is an interesting phenomenon happening in the small and medium business segment. The widespread adoption of on-demand or software as a service (saas) CRM, led by Salesforce.com, and followed by companies such as NetSuite and RightNow Technologies.

Well, that’s not really new.

What is new is the expanded use of saas CRM software within these mini-enterprises, whether independent businesses or smaller divisions or departments of larger corporations, as their principal business platform. Since saas CRM manages the lifeblood of the business, sales and customers, and is increasingly more user friendly and flexible, it is becoming the preferred method for companies to manage their business.

As a result, it is also becoming the de facto integration hub, or SOA enabler, for the smaller enterprise.

A case in point is the experience of a well-known educational products sales company. It’s parent company sells educational toys through retailers. However, it launched a division that sells education-oriented items to schools and school districts, such as a handheld screen-based interactive tool that uses story narratives to teach English proficiency to non-native English speakers. This newer division established a territory sales model, with geographically-based sales executives selling to school districts in their area.

The main corporate entity has only a handful of account managers who sell to large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Toys’r’Us. Whereas it is geared towards a retail sales model and related B2B IT infrastructure, the newer division had the infrastructure needs of a territory-based direct sales model. They required a CRM application to track leads, opportunities, and closed sales, and because of the reduced bandwidth of this smaller business unit, they required the efficiency gains of an automated commission calculating application.

With no dedicated IT resources (IT resources are tied to corporate and are available “on-loan” to the new division), and a need to ramp-up quickly, the division chose to bring the CRM and commission calculation functionality of the on-demand model. They chose Salesforce.com and Xactly Corporation, respectively, to fulfill these functions. The one on-premise application they had access to was Oracle Financials for accounting.

The missing piece was to integrate these applications together. They chose to go with a packaged integration platform, adopting their subscription-based pricing model and on-premise software.

In addition to being the CRM platform for the new division, Salesforce.com is also serving as the de facto “enterprise service bus” to incorporate the accounting functionality of Oracle Financials, and to trigger Xactly to do it’s job of calculating sales commissions.

This use of Salesforce.com as a de facto on-demand ESB platform was noted in an August 2007 white paper entitled “Busting Myths of On-Demand Integration,” by Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research.

“On-demand platforms exhibit the growing capability to provide a foundation for integration,” he said, citing a May 2007 announcement of the Salesforce.com SOA technology that enables the exposure and consumption of web services.

In the same paragraph he notes:

“This is not to say, however, that a move to a Web services protocol strategy (such as that of using a saas application such as Salesforce.com) is a prerequisite for on-demand integration…there are options available for use with the salesforce.com platform” such as custom coding or a third party integration platform.

In other words, on-demand applications, Salesforce.com being the most prominent, are quickly establishing themselves as integration hubs the way ESB providers such as Sonic Software, IBM’s Websphere, and BEA’s Weblogic were formulated to be.

These SOA solutions, however, are cost-prohibitive for smaller companies, divisions or departments, and are often managed by enterprise IT staffs who are unresponsive to the needs of the department. These smaller enterprises have to fend for themselves, and are adopting on-demand applications that require little to no IT involvement.

IT typically has to get involved when it comes to integration, according to Coffee. Such was the case with the educational products company. Their IT department provided the input that the newer division needed to give the technical “thumbs-up” to the integration solution. But due to human bandwidth issues they decided to go with a fully delivered integration solution as opposed to the traditional toolset that is typically sold to IT departments.

Tying together Salesforce.com, Oracle Financials and Xactly Corporation was done in the span of four months and cost less than $50,000. Why did it take that long? Because they had to take a breather between deciding on an integration vendor and a commission calculation vendor.

Compare that with enterprise application integration projects which typically take nine months or more and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you can see why Salesforce.com, together with fully configured integration solutions, are quickly becoming the “integration hubs” or systems of record for the smaller enterprise.

A Sonic Drive In Restaurants Franchise Review

The concept of Sonic Drive In Restaurants stands apart with a difference in experience of service the busy customers would love to enjoy. It is service poles apart from the customary belief that every customer wants to sit in cozy restaurants waiting for the order to be served. Sonic simply offers a break away from the belief and values convenience of the customers. Many would want to finish off eating without alighting from their cars.

It is a huge convenience for the customers’ craving for time to order in a drive-through line without a need to park the car and walk in. The Drive In Restaurants of Sonic have shades to stay under and enjoy their quick served hot and fresh meals.

A Successful Concept

The unprecedented growth of franchisees has proven the success of today’s customers. It is the unique value for their time to spend in doing something better than waiting for orders to be served in fanciful time consuming formal ways. The franchisees having got convinced with this concept, work with mental attitude attuned to the convenience of customers. There are a number of successful franchisees of Sonic Drive In restaurants since the time, the company started selling out franchises in 1959. It is the great success earned out of serving everyday known hamburgers and fries in the cars ordered from intercom.

Expansion For Franchise Base

Sonic Drive In Restaurants shows a consistent growth over the years adding about 500 franchises in just 3 years, from 2,493 in 2006 to 3,055 in 2009. They have now geared themselves up for opening up new franchises in about 30 states in the United States. The open offer includes franchising for exclusive territories.

Franchise Terms

Sonic is very particular about ensuring success of all of its units wherever it may be. That is the reason for company’s firm stand about an experience in running restaurants. If an interested franchisee does not have such an experience, there must be an operating equity partner. There is involvement of investment in equipment, inventory, startup expenses, staffing and the franchise fee. As such, the liquid cash requirement is pegged at $1,000,000 with equal figure as the net worth of the individual entrepreneurs. With these parameters of qualification, a franchise should be prepared for a total capital outlay of $710,000 to $3 million. The figures of investment are for setting up traditional Drive In restaurants. However, the investments are much on the lower side for non-traditional places like mall food courts, campus dining facilities, airports, hospital food courts and alike public places.

The franchise fee charged is $45,000 for a renewable agreement for 20 years, plus an extension of 10 years. They charge normal royalty fees between 4 to 5 percent, plus 5.9 percent towards advertisement.

Support Extended To The Franchises

The corporate management of Sonic Drive In Restaurants believes in comprehensive training of the franchises. They provide a 12-week training program comprising of 8 weeks for restaurant training and 3 weeks allocated to the store openings process. In the remaining one week, the training covers all aspects of general management skills and business development.

The company offers regional and national cable advertising. Exclusive ad and promotional supports come from specially designed radio and TV commercials, and promotional coupons for individual franchise.