Buying & Selling Time

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Time is a resource that everyone values - we all have the same 24 hours every day. By delivering convenience (saving time) the new, connected economy yields significant improvements. Companies that can offer those improvements generate growth and success.

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Check out, January 2004

You know the old saying, “Time is Money”. Indeed money was invented to save time (bartering took too long and common currency was a convenience). Millennia later, the credit card was invented, again saving time and changing the financial landscape. Banks introduced Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) for just one purpose – to save their customers time.

Good, cheap and fast

Remember when new products took 3 years to develop? Well, that was the last century - we have now arrived in the Internet age where Time is critical and clearly a competitive weapon. Today, with accelerating technology, some products are obsolete within months. Move fast, or become history.

I recall a fundamental tenet that was preached in the past by a technical guru I respected. His axiom was: Products can be developed good, cheap and fast - pick any two. In today’s competitive environment, the prizes go to those who can deliver all three, without compromise.

Now, there is no trick to what I am pointing out – just plain, Internet age common sense. Let me relate a real-life example: Kodak recognized back in ‘96 that they had better come up with a good digital camera fast, or risk losing market share to Casio, Sony and a hundred others. The central development group was asked long it would take to develop a new digital camera and they said 3 years – quite reasonable in a conventional sense.

Recognizing the problem, the job was given to a rookie – who came up with a new digital camera in 6 months and put it into high-volume production to be available on the shelves by Christmas ’97. Today Kodak is still a player in the burgeoning digital camera business. Without that first high-speed development, it would be toast.

How was this done? The results came through round-the-clock, internet-based project management and product development teams at several Kodak development centers and alliance partners around the world. While some slept, others were working and handing off results to others in the chain. Modern technology and new concepts of marketing alliances provided the answers.

Marketing & Selling Time

How long does it take your customers to compare the specifications for products they need and then find out price and delivery? And does your printed catalog really help? Or do they still need to track down the local Sales Rep, or call the factory? And when they do call, do they wait patiently, on hold? Or, do they leave a message and wait for someone to call back?

Do you still print 30,000 catalogs at $5 a piece and bulk mail them with postage of at least a couple of bucks each? How quaint…. Today, it is clear that, in the couple of months that it takes to prepare and print a product catalog, or a new price list, these items are already obsolete.

I can’t count how many times I’ve visited customers who have a complete library of catalogs, neatly filed alphabetically, and most of them years out of date. And then, they dig out the price lists, which are likely not current – so they have to call to find out the latest pricing anyway. And then, when they are ready to buy, they have to call again to find out the latest delivery schedules.

It’s clear that going online dramatically cuts the cost of searching for and selecting products in ways that were simply not available before. Companies that deliver products with the greatest convenience (the least friction, the minimum time) are the ones that will prosper.

Of course, there are some people who are still not e-connected (technology laggards, in marketing lingo) who need a catalog. It is a matter of marketing judgment whether serving the laggard provides the best cost versus benefit for the time and money spent. It may be preferable to leave them to be served by competitors.

B-to-B e-commerce ingredients

Your B-to-B online store should be ready to provide any information your customer might need, with clarity and intuitive ease, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This should include not just your standard on-line data-sheets, prices and deliveries; it must also provide applications information, answer question on standard or custom products, provide details regarding servicing and maintenance. All this must be easily accessed, to save the customer the time it takes to dig it out.

Most reasonable customers will want to compare your product with other competitive offerings. So, it is best to offer the comparisons yourself, to save the customer time. Good presentation methods should give your customer the impression that you offer more bells and whistles than any competitor in the universe. And they must feel that your amazing applications engineers are always available when needed, to answer questions and save time. All the steps to purchase should be easy, with a minimal investment of time.

Email speeds up business

I’m not quite sure why some people still dispute the value of email and complain about all the emails they receive. These are probably the same people who didn't need a fax machine and now think it is all they need.

Email does not replace other means of communication – it complements them. Of course a fax is useful, if you need a hard copy and a signature; but it still costs a telephone call (typically long-distance) and may get lost in a pile at the other end. Email arrives directly on the recipient's computer just seconds after you send it and it waits patiently to be answered when the receiver is ready. And it's basically free.

Email is certainly one of the most important means of one-to-one business communication today! I happily receive more than 100 emails a day and spend less time on the junk-mail than I do opening my daily snail-mail junk – I just click them into the trash.

There are a few I save for reading later when I have time and some that I answer immediately. “Hey, Jim! Are you in today? When can I call you?” And my equally brief reply, “I’m in now - call me.” Or, “I’ll be in at 2:00 p.m. today and I'll call you.” I have just saved my business colleagues and myself several minutes, or even hours, of voice mails and wait-on-hold frustration.

Fast response is magic

Here is one of my pet peeves – emails that go unanswered for days or even weeks, just as if they were snail-mail. When I e-contact someone who doesn’t respond within a couple of days, I write them off pretty quickly. Hey, if they are out on a business trip, or are on vacation, and haven’t discovered the automatic out-of-office reply on their computer, they probably aren’t worth knowing anyway.

There are CEOs and VPs of some of the biggest companies (I won’t mention their names – you’ll think I’m name-dropping) who I can always depend on to answer their email the same day, no matter what. They appreciate fast and effective communications and our relationship is built on that mutual value.

The e-water-cooler

People have often asked me how I get all the industry news and insight I write about. My answer is simple: email. I have a network of e-moles who keep me abreast of what's happening, who's hiring and firing, opinions regarding possible mergers, and so on. I'm not implying that these people are disloyal to the companies they work for, or that they are telling me anything that is confidential. They are simply exchanging knowledge and information at the Internet equivalent of the office water-cooler.

Just imagine how long it takes for news to surface otherwise. By the time a press release is generated and the story printed, it may be days, weeks of months. An instant email release of company news is a sign of a good company that is conscious of the value of time.

The Infomediaries will win

The successful companies of tomorrow are not simply providers of traditional goods and services. Electronically linked networks of supplier alliances, sales reps and distributors - the "infomediaries" – are rendering traditional manufacturing and marketing obsolete. The winners are those who create innovative new transactions for their customers and make them come back to a “sticky” business portal. Those that deliver the best total package will prosper. Companies succeed (become leaders) by creating and structuring their own markets. This means offering their customers innovative new ways to receive value. E-commerce provides only the technological means, the delivery mechanism – the good marketer must use it creatively, in ways that will generate new value for all the parties involved. And the significant "new" competitive value today is Time.

Related links:

Click Development speed in the Internet age

Click Marketing Speed In the Internet Age

Click The Cluetrain Manifesto - the end of Business as Usual

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Copyright 2003 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA