A story about marketing, sales and service in a time of accelerating change

Let me tell you a story about marketing, sales and service in a time of accelerating change. It’s illustrative and informative if you make, market or sell anything.

One way to stay on top of the tsunami of news and information available today is by using an RSS aggregator — though I know that I’m in a minority since ~2% of households use RSS). Daily I skim roughly 75 blogs and dozens of news and information (and thoroughly read a handful) in order to stay on top of my game in the Internet, Web and applications space. Since most of the good stuff, in my opinion, comes from blogs, an aggregator is the most efficient means of reading so many of them. Speed is an imperative as is a pleasant look-n-feel since I spend so much time with my face turned toward my aggregator.

When starting off using an aggregator a couple of years ago, my choice was the popular Bloglines. It was fast and free…but the user interface design I found awful (though 80% of the people that read MY blog through RSS use Bloglines so alot of folks must like it!). I migrated to Newsgator (also with a free option) mainly since it looked better and had a few more options.

I should mention that I was REALLY FOCUSED on using an online vs. offline news aggregator since I use multiple devices to access my news aggregation (a laptop, desktop machine, and a Treo) and I really need to be able to pick up reading where I leave off for maximum flexibility. So I chose options that I thought were the best balance of speed, look and capabilities to meet those needs.

My news and information life started to get harder…until a new solution appeared (by accident!) that changed my paradigm of reading through an aggregator.

Over the last six months Newsgator became increasingly slow and again, speed is extremely important so I switched to Google Reader since it was REALLY fast. While out at the Web 2.0 Summit a couple of weeks ago, I happened to tell this to a man from Newsgator standing by a booth. He listened and asked, “Since you use Mac’s, have you tried NetNewsWire?” I hadn’t since I assumed that downloading to a single machine was how it operated and thus wouldn’t meet my need to use multiple ones. He provided me with enough reason to try it and I downloaded it that afternoon.

For the last week I’ve been using NetNewsWire (NNW) exclusively. It’s changed the paradigm for me on reading news in an aggregator! It’s faster than a browser, sync’s so I can use any device as well (I use NNW on a laptop and desktop, Newsgator in a browser from a PC at the office, and the mobile version on my Treo) and looks great to boot.

Here’s the punchline on this story: how many people out there are like me and wouldn’t take the time to figure out a different Newsgator solution or have the luxury of talking with an expert? I just assumed Newsgator couldn’t handle the bandwidth of lots of users so I just changed to Google Reader without investigating any other Newsgator solution (though I did interact with tech support via email with unsatisfying results).

People like me are a difficult cross-sell and upsell problem that Newsgator — and most Web 2.0 hosted application providers — have as an issue. Since exporting an OPML file let me easily change from Bloglines-to-Newsgator-to-Google Reader, the switching costs were negligible. This is an accelerating trend (allowing people to own their data, export it and import it into another providers’ online application) so making certain that a customer truly understands what you offer (and could offer that might not be instantly apparent to a customer — like I was with NNW from Newsgator) is going to be more important than ever as the Web becomes increasingly central to our lives.

This is also a problem that is only going to accelerate as more and more people do their homework online BEFORE shopping and attempt to discover the features and benefits of an offering prior to buying. If they can’t figure out the value proposition quickly — or instantly discover what else might be available to make their life easier — they’ll just switch. As value propositions from online companies become more complex and attempt to hit multiple target markets with what is offered — and provide little-or-no way for a customer to talk to a human about their specific needs — it’s going to be tough to get and maintain any kind of competitive advantage and keep current customers…or attract new ones.

So think about how you’re going to engage and converse with your online customers in a time of lots of choice, easy switching, diverse needs, and short attention spans. If you can figure out a model that works for what you make, market and sell in this time of accelerating change, then you AND your customers will win.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.