The Internet Empowers Small Business

At the Longworth Ventures conference today and there is a panel about empowering small business, something near and dear to me for reasons that will be further revealed next week.

On the panel are Jana Eggers from Intuit Innovation Labs, Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, and Robert Keane, the CEO of VistaPrint.

Jana gets the first question about lessons learned from small businesses. Predictably she talks about ease of use, but surprisingly she refers to smaller companies being more aggressive about technology. Actually her comments about ease of use should not be so quickly dismissed because what she talks about is the “good enough for me” user experience as opposed to easy to use. I like that.

Robert from VistaPrint is up next and the question is specific to the ease of use. One of the really interesting comments he makes is about how they measure conversion and dropoff rates across every page on their site, incidentally, a 6% conversion rate is what he considers outstanding. Wow, only 6 people out of a 100 actually buy something… or maybe that’s high and something to be held up as a benchmark. Either way, you can’t argue with their success.

Gail makes some really good comments about the establishing the culture and mechanisms for actually listening to customers.

Following on the comments about listening, Jana comments that Intuit doesn’t do focus groups (I guess they don’t do them anymore because I actually participated in one many years ago). They do individual customer interviews and get down to small and specific points.

The moderator talks about “freemium” offerings as evidenced by VistaPrint, which has over 2 billion free business cards in circulation. Robert gives a quick lesson on product economics in print, which the net is simply that VistaPrint produces in massive quantities as opposed to batch jobs. Nonetheless, they still have actual costs of manufacturing and their strategy lies in finding the statistical differences between A/B production runs in order to make small improvements that incent customers to upgrade to a premium option. Interesting.

Gail referred to trial lengths as an important psychological barrier to customer acquisition, with 30 days being too short. She also made an interesting comment about human touch being important to improving conversion rates, which is entirely sensible.

Okay, so we’re onto the mythical “departmental sell” and Jana is talking about Quickbase (love it). Nothing new here… departmental users behave like consumers, yada, yada, yada. Actually, from my perspective, departmental users behave like people who are actually using the service or software, and that’s a big difference from IT people and, most certainly, the CIO.

There is a question about how the Internet is being leveraged by these companies, but quite honestly I’m not finding this part of the discussion very stimulating.

Jana talked a little about demographics versus psychographics. This is something that I find very interesting, and it dovetails very nicely with some work that Steve Mann did at SAP in understanding what the buying behaviors were of different market groups. In other words, instead of describing what they looked like, Steve described how they behaved and what would stimulate them to invest in SAP. In many ways this is what people are intuitively doing when they talk about market segmentation or demographics, especially in technology.

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