Monday, July 25, 2005

Giving Customer Quotations over Internet


In complex business purchases, a price quote contains more than the basic price. It contains the delivery schedule, engineering details, manufacturing process details, legal terms & conditions, quality assurance details, contingency plans, risk mitigation plans etc. The quote has to answer all the questions asked by the customer and also answer all the potential or possible questions that will be asked by the customer.

The readers of the quote will be many and from different backgrounds. The VP or director of Engineering will be interested in the engineering details and schedule. The program manager will be interested in the overall price, schedule the engineering details, CFO will be interested in the pricing details, pricing terms & conditions, Company legal department will be interested in the legal terms & conditions, contingency clauses etc. Thus a quote will be read by many members of the customer organization and each member may give greater importance to a particular section of the quote.

Delivering a Quote
Usually, the customer firm will allocate a single individual to issue the Request For Quotation (RFQ) and that person will be receiving the quote. The common practice of delivering a quote is very formal. The quotation is printed on the company letter head, signed by a senior manager and hand delivered to the customer or customer representative by the concerned salesman.
The main advantage of hand delivering the quote is that one can learn the customer’s response through their body language and through the small chat at the point of delivering the quote.

Human interaction during handing over the quote also builds an interpersonal relationship which will be of immense value in the future. However, this formal delivery of quote has certain disadvantages: Firstly, the customer has to make copies of the quote for other members of his organization to read, a soft copy of the quote has to be emailed to and often printed by all the concerned parties. Secondly, and most importantly, the firm which delivered the quote may fail to learn about the customer’s preference. Salesman may fail to transfer his experience, insights and knowledge gained from that interaction to his colleagues and others in the firm. The firm has no knowledge of any progress or developments once the quote is delivered.

To overcome some of the disadvantages, one can turn to Internet. Delivering a quote over the Internet along with a printed copy will give great advantage to the firm. The possible uses & advantages of delivering a quote on Internet will be described in detail later in this blog.

Benefit from Internet Quote Delivery

Internet is a great tool. The usefulness of Internet need not be reiterated, but the usefulness depends a great deal on how it is used. Giving a soft copy over Internet will have the following benefits to the customer:

  • Customer now has the freedom to read the quote at his leisure
  • Easy distribution of quote - many people can read the quote at once.

The real big advantage will to the firm delivering the quote. Some of the common advantages are:

  1. By having a user ID & password to access the quote online, the company can track who is reading the quote, how many times it was read & when it was read or accessed.

  2. By splitting the quote into multiple pages, the company can track who is reading which section of the quote. Depending on the time spent on that particular page, one can estimate the level of customer interest in that section of the quote.

  3. By having the sales person create a customer access area to the quote and making the sales person enter his experince/opinion of the interaction while delivering the quote - the company can capture that information for use by rest of the company.

  4. Collecting statistics of the online quote usage, a statistical model of customer behavior can be built once a sufficient number of samples are collected.

    Statistics should be collected regarding the frequency of web visits, frequency of any data collection or capture, and the dates of access.

    Tracking the dates will help us build statistical models in future as to how much time it takes from submitting to access to purchase order

Architecture for Online Quote delivery system

The customer portal must be created by the concerned sales person - A standard template & processes can exist, but the salesman creates a customized customer portal which contains the quote details. Salesman creates a user ID & Password for the customer and gives that to customer. He also has to input the contact person in customer company, a customer champion (if any), winning strategy for that account, customer’s pain point as perceived by him/firm, his opinion/confidence on winning the account, and his experience when meeting the customer.

The quote as such will be displayed in a series of web pages. The quote should not be available as a single downloadable document online. Each web page of the online quote will be copy protected, and user can download that single page. This will enable the firm to tack who is reading which page, how much time is spent on each page and how many times its downloaded.

A separate section for customer’s question in each page or a comprehensive customer feedback/question page must be provided to enable customer to clarify his/her doubts. The question page can be linked to cell phone or pager of the sales person responsible for that account and it will alert the salesman when ever the customer sends a question.
All the customer to firm interactions over this web page and all the statistical data collected from that web page will be collected and stored in a database for future analysis.

Web based quote system will have the following section:

Admin Section: For Sales person to create a quote portal for the customer

User Section: For customer to log-in and see the quote. Customer needs to login with a password to see the quote.

Super Admin section: To create the quote template, data capture features and database integration.

Analyst Section: For Sales/Marketing department to collect & analyse data.

The quote will be presented in multiple web pages, each page dedicated for a particular information:

  • Project details
  • Manufacturing/Engineering details
  • Schedule/Effort required
  • Pricing
  • Payment terms & conditions
  • Legal disclaimers, terms & conditions Etc..

Each page will be copy protected. But an option can be given for customer to download that section of the quote in PDF form. This will allow the firm to track the web page visits & downloads.

Each web page will have a question section, where a customer can enter any doubts or questions regarding the quote. This page is linked to email &/or cellphone of the sales person - who is alerted of the customer’s question as it arrives. An query escalation system can be built if necessary.

Data Analysis

Basic use of data capture will help the firm to know if the quote is being accessed & how often. Over a period of time, a whole range of data can be collected for analysis and the system, quote, quote delivery can be further improved based on the analysis.

Data in the quote and customer segmental information can also be captured by this system. This will help the firm to detailed analysis regarding their market segment, process details, schedule improvements, pricing information etc. This will be of immense value for management & Board to improve the business process.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Self Service Technologies - Enable customers to provide their own service

One of the major recent changes in consumer behavior is the growing tendency to interact with technology to create services instead of interacting with a live service personnel. Self Service Technologies (SST) is a set of customer interface technology that allows customers to produce their own service instead of interacting with a service providing employee. A classic example is an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). ATM allows bank customers to serve themselves with most of the commonly needed banking service.

Today, the list of services customers provide themselves are huge: Airline booking, Banking, self service gas stations, travel planning, package tracking, tax filing etc. These services can be classified in three categories:
  1. Customer Transactions
  2. Customer Service
  3. Customer Self-Help

The reason for such massive proliferation of customer self-service can be attributed to:

  • Customers are technology savvy: Customers understand how to use the technology & know how they can serve themself better.
  • SST works: When SST works as they are supposed to, customers are delighted.
  • SSTs are better than the human alternative: SSTs can save time, costs and offer more flexibility than the human counterpart. Internet & telephone based SSTs allows customers to choose the time when they need the service. The quality of serivice through SST is always at an assured standard - unlike a human interface, where quality of service varies with the person who is providing the service.
  • SSTs help customers in difficult situation: At times of crisis or difficult situations, customers want reliable service fast. SSTs emables the customer to provide the much needed service themselves.

The practice of self servicing has grown from consumer domain to Industrial business domain. This is natural, People who are used to self service in their personal life also want the same in they work life. Corporate banking such as Demand Orders, LoC etc can be done online.

A classic example of SST in Business domain is Cisco’s customer service. Cisco provides routers and networking devices which are critical to keep businesses running soomthly. If these devices fail, customers want that problem to be solved immediately.

To address this, Cisco turned to Internet. It built a world class model of customer service using the internet. The Internet based customer service system has set Cisco apart in its industry and helped to build customer loyalty in a highly competitive environment.

Essentially, Cisco put customers in charge of their own service through Internet. In most cases, customers can solve their serice problems with no intervention of Cisco personnel. Access to the solution is immediate, and solutions are customized for the individual customer. Called as "Cisco Connection Online" - It has helped Cisco improve its customer relations, reduce service errors, and win customer loyality.

Currently, more than 80% of customer problems care handled via "Cisco Connection Online" . Customer satisfaction has improved tremendously and has become a differentiating factor for Cisco. This is truly a win-win situation for Cisco and its customers.

A note of caution

SSTs can destory customer relationship and hence customer value if there are problems. Companies that deploy SSTs must be aware of the fact that their technology can be prone to failures, glitches or misuse.

Customers hate the service providing firm when they face problems with SSTs. Common problems with SSTs are:

  • SSTs fail: Technology is always prone to failure. An ATM may not work due to power failure, Internet connection failure, Machine malfunction etc. When this happens, customers do not blame the ATM but they blame the bank!
  • Customer Interface is poorly designed: Poorly designed technologies that are difficult to use or understand annoys customers. A poorly designed webpage will make turnoff the customer from buying and will avoid using that website in future.
  • Customer messes up: Not all customers will be technology savvy. Some customers need more hand holding, more training to use the SSTs. When customer messes up, they usually blame the technology, the company which used the SST.
  • There is no service recovery: When technology or process fails, customer is left high & dry. SSTs cannot provide ways to recover on the spot. Customers are forced to call or visit the company, and that was what they wanted to avoid by using SSTs. For example, if the ATM fails and gobbles up the ATM card, customer must call the bank to get his card back.


It is evident that as technology innovation increases & societies become more technology savvy, customers will like to serve themselves if SSTs are useful to them. To make SSTs useful and successful, it must be fail proof, easy to use and have recovery system in place when they fail.
An example of service recovery in ATM can be: When ATM fails, it should shut down the user interface screen or display a clear error message, alert the bank of the failure & the bank must respond quickly to rectify it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Cutting Edge R&D in India

An increasing trend of companies setting up R&D centers in India.

India has amply proven in IT and software development service over the last decade and a half. However, these services involved executing well defined and understood tasks using an able and trained manpower. Such tasks were either non-critical ones that the organisation did not want to retain as part of the company or those that required the additional capacity provided by the outsourcing partner. These activities included IT infrastructure management, business software applications and customer service applications and processes.

However, outsourcing of core technology Research and Development activity to India has not been a trend so far. Leading organizations around the world spend a significant portion of their revenues in R&D. However, few firms had setup Research & Development center in India.

Challenges in product development efforts are faced by companies.

Any technology company has to invest heavily in R&D activities to remain competitive in business. R&D in any field by its very nature poses many challenges, the most important of them being that, more often than not, it is a speculative effort and an investment in multiple ideas, only a few of which may click. Also, one needs the best of the breed man-power and domain experts to work on it, the more ideas one wants to try, the wider man-power pool is required.

The inherent nature of R&D, these "speculative" investments must be made irrespective of prevailing market conditions. It cannot be curtailed just because the trends in economy are recessionary and common sense logic demands holding onto the cash instead on investing in "speculative" activities. This primarily is an activity that is less oblivious to market forces.

A new trend that emerged from firms settingup R&D centers in India has been outsourcing of R&D to contract firms. Also known as Knowledge Process Outsourcing or "KPO". Increasingly, a large number of global firms are contracting their R&D work to firms in India. Global pharmacy firms started with outsourcing of clinical study, molecular analysis etc.

Companies in India getting into contract R&D in core technology areas, for the following reasons:
  • Contract R&D involves higher level of co-ordination between the customer and vendor as well as cutting-edge engineering capability availability with the vendor. To begin with, Indian companies have mastered and proven the art of global delivery and of working together with customers in complex and large outsourced projects.
  • The eco-system for undertaking such activities is emerging. Talented and experienced manpower who have been involved in R&D either in parent companies abroad or captive MNC centers in India are available.
  • Fundamental research that is happening in Indian academic institutes and universities now are much closer to cutting-edge industry practices.
  • Growing interaction between industry and academia/research institutions.
    Development of local market for high end technologies with growing integration of local economy with global economy.
  • India still being a "reasonable cost" geography, the organisation that out sources R&D here gets more ROI on R&D spend and is able to smoothen the impact on R&D budgets during "bad" or recessionary periods.

In fact, early success stories in outsourced R&D are already well known in India, in the area of life sciences, automobile components, semiconductor and software industry. For example, Sasken is working with a large American giant with interest in semiconductors, to develop design tools to support its innovative manufacturing technology. These tools will play a key role in popularizing this technology, and the project is a very research intensive one.

Though there are operational challenges to make the concept of contract R&D work, it is the IP related issues that play a significant role in the minds of many an organisation while contemplating outsourcing their R&D. A strong track record and enforcement of laws in IP protection in India will go a long way in assuaging these fears.

The other operational issues include technology transfer at the end of the project to the customer and research capability demonstration to new prospects, since most of the previous projects done by the company would be confidential in nature. Business issues include estimation, pricing, scheduling and the Business models for sharing the revenues and risk involved in the R&D effort.

The ideal organisation that provides such services needs to be structured differently than the regular services vendor. The key value add the vendor provides is knowledge and IP. New age paradigms of management such as a "knowledge intensive" culture needs to be instituted within the organisation so that revenue growth and knowledge base growth of the organisation are hand-in-hand.

The twin objectives of knowledge base growth and revenue growth may be contradicting each other in the short run and might need to be managed to achieve a balance. However, in the long term, increase in knowledge base can only lead to increase in profitability and thus both goals in fact, may be complementary.

Culture of learning that exists in the organisation is of paramount importance to achieve this goal. Any organisation which does R&D must have a strong, institutionalised learning culture.

Business context of R&D outsourcing, the specific problems that the company will work on are typically the problems for which no known solutions are available. This is mainly due to the fact that these problems are related to cutting edge and upcoming technologies. In order to service these requirements, it is imperative for the contract R&D services vendor to be a "learning organization", whereby they are abreast with the developments in their technology domain and are in a position to respond to any technology challenges swiftly.

to be contd...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Are White Papers Just for Technical Marketers?

As marketing professionals, it is our job to stimulate demand for a company's goods and services with one of two outcomes: increasing sales volume or increasing price. When it comes to selling big-ticket items or complex services, increasing sales volume is often not an option. Few customers require these specialized solutions. But those that do require them tend to purchase only once, or—at best—infrequently.

Low sales volumes are not the only reason that companies look to marketers to generate higher prices for big-ticket items and complex solutions. These sales are also more expensive to conduct and close. Customers, anticipating that the purchase will have a significant impact on their businesses, usually require several levels of approval before they decide to buy, and sales cycles stretch out.

So, how do marketers get the price premiums they need?

First, marketers tap into prospective customers' most pressing needs and raise awareness of the "pain" prospects will experience if they fail to buy. Then, they develop a compelling value proposition that demonstrates how their solution is superior to that of the competition. The only caveat is that "superior" means different things to different people. Nowhere is this more apparent than when selling technology.

Like their peers in other industries that sell complex solutions, high-tech marketers employ a variety of tools to create value, depending on where the prospective customer is in the buying process and the departments that they need to win over. Brochures describe the benefits that users will experience, such as higher quality outcomes or increased ease of use. ROI calculators help financial buyers evaluate the return on investment the solution will deliver. Case studies help decision makers vicariously experience the results and benefits that others have derived from the product or service.

Technology marketers, however, face yet another hurdle. Whether the technology is a minimally invasive device for a teaching hospital or an automated enterprise-wide auditing system that assures compliance with Sarbanes Oxley, few of their sales close without the recommendation of a specialist whose job it is to compare technologies and determine whether each vendor's solution will perform as promised.

Technical Marketing's Secret Weapon

When selling to technical personnel, high-tech marketers turn to "white papers." Like other marketing aids, white papers position the product as superior to the competition's by highlighting differences that create unique value. They...
  1. Create A fear around a particular problem
  2. Stir up doubt or uncertainty about existing solutions
  3. Create demand for the new solution
  4. Support a price premium for that solution

White papers may not be as slick and glossy as other marketing collateral, but they are essential to technical personnel. Before recommending a particular solution, technical personnel often need to understand how the product solves the problem. One key advantage that white papers have is that they can motivate technical experts to demand a particular technology rather than just a solution to the problem.

White papers are an excellent forum for explaining not only how the underlying technology works but also why it's the best way to solve a particular problem. Without this information, technical evaluators often stall in their decision-making process. By highlighting the shortcomings of the current technology and demonstrating how the new solution overcomes these obstacles, white papers do more than merely help companies differentiate their products. Since the prevailing solution has a known value, white papers help peg the worth of the new technology at a higher price.

White Papers That Work

White papers target the technical evaluator, but they are available to everyone. Since multiple audiences may reference these materials, white papers must do double duty and also speak to the needs of business and operations personnel.

Effective white papers often pull in less technical readers by starting with anecdotes that illustrate the problem. Then, they describe the current or competing solution and outline its shortcomings. Finally, they present the "desirable" solution and explain technically how the solution addresses and overcomes the issues just raised. Often, white papers include supporting diagrams illustrating the "before" and "after" scenarios.

To ensure success, many companies team a marketing writer with a technical expert. Together, the marketer and technical expert determine what benefits they want to convey and how they will convey them. The technical expert's job is to demonstrate the clear superiority of the company's solution by comparing the strengths and weaknesses of competing technologies. The marketing writer's role is to capture attention by clearly articulating the product's benefits and ensuring that the technical information is presented in such a way that non-technicians can understand it.

Advancing the Sales Process

White papers serve multiple purposes in advancing the sales process. Effective uses include the following:

Lead capture: Pique interest by offering white papers to prospective customers as a fulfillment piece for an email or direct mail campaign. When prospective customers respond to the offer, marketers can obtain lead information and begin to build a platform for future discussions.

Lead refinement: Provide an incentive for the "right" people to self-identify by posting an "ad" for the white paper on the company's Web site. By requiring interested parties to fill out a registration form before accessing the white paper, the company can filter out requests from competitors.

"Bait" for search engines: Deliver viewers to the company's Web site. White papers are dense with words that pertain to the company's technology. Search engines will direct viewers who specify relevant key words to the company's Web site.

Effective follow-up: Stay on prospects' radar screens. White papers give presenters at trade shows and conferences a way of continuing conversations with prospects by offering more substantial information about a solution than the information presented in product data sheets or on Web sites.

If your company sells complex products or services, you may want to take a page from the high-tech marketers' book. Continue to use conventional collateral to differentiate your solution and demonstrate value. Then, see if you can create independent demand for your unique methodology or business processes. If so, you can then use white papers to capture buyers' attention, generate qualified leads, shorten the sales cycle and justify a price premium. After all, if you can sell your product for more, then why sell it for less?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Virtual Scale - Alliances for Leverage

How Small companies like Open-Silicon can compete with industry giants by pooling resources with carefully chosen partners.

Only a few companies — giants such as Dell, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, and Toyota — are in the enviable position of being able to leverage their size into operational scale that consistently drives down per-unit costs and increases efficiency, creating sustainable competitive advantages. And as these companies enhance their lead, the rest of the pack faces a disturbing prospect: Lacking a dominant market position or funds to acquire other businesses, smaller companies are finding that achieving the level of scale required to catch up to industry behemoths is fast becoming a futile pursuit. To make matters worse, "predators" are coming from all sides — that is, predators are now not just traditional competitors in the same industry, but also customers and suppliers, who are dead set on taking a bigger bite out of the margins earned by manufacturers.

It sounds dire, but it needn’t be. There’s a strategy that could solve this dilemma. Through carefully structured alliances, organizations can combine mutual assets and capabilities to gain the benefits of scale that they would be unable to achieve alone. For instance, a open foundary that operate at much less than capacity could share its fabs with a number of ASIC aggregators or fabless semiconductor companies. Manufacturing and labor costs per unit would be reduced for both the open foundry and the companies using its facilities.

The same concept can be used for product distribution. And more frequent full truckloads carrying products from all of the manufacturers involved in this arrangement — instead of separate shipments from each of these companies — translates into less expensive and more efficient operations.

Call this "Virtual Scale" — a customer-centric pooling of resources that is mutually beneficial, and a paradigm shift that goes beyond simple transactional relationships to build long-term capabilities through alliances that drive corporate growth and value. Besides manufacturing and logistics, Virtual Scale can be applied to such areas as procurement, research and development, marketing, promotion, and even media buying. A initial estimate indicated that companies adopting Virtual Scale partnerships can increase annual revenues by as much as 14 percent and cut costs by as much as 7 percent — a performance improvement that will allow midsized companies to punch well above their weight class and compete more effectively with their largest rivals.

To implement Virtual Scale, begin by identifying where scale matters the most within the organization. Some companies in highly innovative fields need to leverage R&D; shared research networks or modular designs that could be used by many enterprises might be a solution. Other companies seek to cut procurement or marketing costs; co-locating suppliers or cosponsoring focus groups could be the best options.

Often, a Virtual Scale arrangement is most beneficial when an organization is making a significant organizational change or capital investment, such as building a new design center or manufacturing facility. Partnering will allow Open-SIlicon to fill the additional capacity of the manufacturing partner and reduce the cost of manufacturing operations and leveraging third-party operators, the combined alliance can reduce operating costs by 10 to 20 percent and significantly improve the return on the capital invested by all participants.

Keep in mind, though, that pursuit of scale without a clear understanding of immediate and future corporate strategies can lead to oblivion rather than dominance. Placing the wrong bet can lock your company into long-term obligations that destroy rather than create value. For these reasons, it’s important to balance complexity and value by assessing the trade-offs between the added costs associated with multiple partners — such as more complicated operations management — and the strategic advantages that these partnerships bring.

After determining the specific ways that Virtual Scale can benefit your company, compile a list of potential partners from organizations involved in businesses that in some fashion overlap the areas where scale is most needed. Some companies can be quickly eliminated; among them should be large organizations that already enjoy significant operational scale and small companies lacking enough volume to create any appreciable scale even in a partnership.

Whether to ally with a competitor is a trickier question. Companies need to make a clearheaded identification of their real hard-bitten predators and exclude them from Virtual Scale relationships. But at the same time, it’s essential to take a fluid approach to alliances. For example, it may make good business sense — and pose almost no risk — to share with a direct rival high-volume procurement of a commodity part when the component has no bearing on differentiating one product from another. The failure to realistically analyze the competition and determine which companies are truly a threat to your business strategies and business model and which are prospective partners can significantly narrow the potential value from Virtual Scale.

Next, evaluate the relative merits of each potential partner by answering these questions:

  1. What is the value in partnering? Will there be benefits in terms of improved margins and market share, increased return on investments, and enhanced capabilities?
  2. Why is my company interested in forming this alliance?
  3. What would be the other company’s gain from this alliance and what would the company bring to the partnership?
  4. Can these two companies work together successfully? Is there a cultural and regional fit?
    What other external factors need to be considered, including safety, regulatory, environmental, and sociopolitical issues?

The final step involves negotiating the Virtual Scale partnership. Before contacting potential allies, companies should prepare draft contracts that include specific rules of engagement and working joint-venture guidelines, including production prioritization, intellectual capital usage, and performance targets.

Considering that Virtual Scale offers the hope of turning companies that are under competitive pressure into virtual giants, it’s surprising that more companies have not yet adopted this strategy. The hesitance seems to stem from the fear of losing control in an alliance. Small companies sharing trucks with midmarket ones, for instance, might be concerned that large retailers would blame them — and even cancel their orders — if a shipment were late, even though the small companies would have had little sway over the distribution center. Or a midsized company might be wary that confidential marketing data could be leaked to a competitor by its smaller partner.

These are certainly legitimate worries, but they imply that strategies like Virtual Scale require abdication of good business judgment. Issues of control, supervision, and oversight should be covered in detail in the working agreement, and none of the partners in a Virtual Scale arrangement should relinquish their responsibility to closely manage activities, including joint ventures that could affect the future of their organizations.

The larger reality is that before long, Virtual Scale may not be simply an option; it may be a requirement. Without it, many companies could fall further and further behind their larger scaled competitors — and risk being swallowed up by them. Indeed, for these companies, Virtual Scale’s true value could be as the sole criterion for prejudging the success of alliances. Those ventures that are specifically designed to close the distance between a midsized company and its larger competition will be the only ones that are strategically worth undertaking.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Build a Multilingual Web Site to cater to your Global Customers

German Chancellor Willy Brandt once said, "If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying from you, dann müssen Sie in meiner Sprache sprechen." (Translation: then you must speak my language.)

Web globalization is making a major comeback, driven by a rebounding global economy, emerging markets and a stronger appreciation for the value of multilingual Web sites.
In addition, Internet users who do not speak English now outnumber users who do. Companies in search of growth are looking outside of the US, to emerging markets such as China, Brazil and Eastern Europe. According to market-research firm IDC, Western Europe and Japan lead e-commerce growth.

Consider Google. Google offers 97 language interfaces, making it one of the most multilingual Web sites on the planet. All those languages have paid off. Today, more than half of all Google's traffic is generated by non-US Web users.

However, even companies that are not pursuing international markets are discovering the need for multilingual Web sites. There are now more than 30 million Spanish speakers in the US, and their collective buying power has caught the attention of corporate America. While these markets represent huge revenue opportunities for many companies, it can be a mistake to rush into Web globalization without proper budgeting and preparation, or without fully understanding the costs of managing those sites once they go live.

There are two terms you need to understand before you get started:
  • Internationalization
  • Localization

Internationalization is the process of designing a Web site so that it can be easily localized. Your site should be internationalized to handle multiple languages and cultural conventions, such as different time and date formats, double-byte characters, support for international currencies, etc. For example, German text is 20-25% larger horizontally than English text. This will mean that your menu system must be able to accommodate text expansion. Make sure your IT department is on board and that it understands the technical challenges involved.

Localiztion stage involves much more than translation. Localization adapts products to local markets by considering factors such as cultural and linguistic nuances, appearance of graphics, colors, icons and images, culturally relevant examples, etc.

Consider the following points while building a Multilingual web site.

  1. Web globalization requires a significant financial commitment. Those corporations that offer the most in-depth multilingual Web sites have investments of more than .1 percent of revenues on their sites, translating into between $1 million and $2 million in Web globalization spending for every $1 billion in company revenue. This expense should be seen as a way to deliver competitive advantage.
  2. If your company has a decentralized model for managing local web sites. Then make sure that there is a local QA process and personnel who follow the global quality standards.
  3. A multilingual web site must be supported locally by various divisions/groups who are benefited by having the local language website.
  4. A global co-ordination is necessary for local web pages to ensure that your web page looks, feels the same in all languages. Most importantly, all the local web pages must convey the same global message while it can vary in delivering the local messages.
  5. Web globalization planning should be done alongside product planning, so that all localized deliverables are budgeted for, such as documentation, marketing collateral and Web sites. Successful companies offer end-to-end localization; that is, marketing materials for a product should be localized along with their customer support and product support content.
  6. Marketing and sales drive Web globalization spending, which translates into what languages and locales are selected. The languages selected for localization tend to reflect the markets in which a company wants to succeed rather than markets in which the company is already successful.
  7. Multilingual content must be written for the local audience, but it must adhere to the global standards. Ideally one must use a global template to standardize the look & feel of the web site. A well designed global template will provide plenty of room for localization.
  8. Consider the quality of internet connection in that local country while designing local web pages. A "light" web page would be preferrable if the country lacks broadband Internet.
  9. Design your website such that people with disabilities can also access them (Adher to US 508 Compliance - even when the site is not for US audience)

Some of the best practices for a multilingual web site are:

  1. Develop a global template. The best sites apply a global template across countries and languages, thereby enhancing brand consistency and facilitating ease of update. For example see the similarity between, and
  2. Assume that your multilingual visitors will be using a dial-up connection and build your home page accordingly; it should load within a few seconds.
  3. Build a global gateway. Most customers will enter through your ".com" front door. Make it easy to navigate to the local language websites. For example, the link to your German site should be labeled "Deutsch" not "German."
  4. Serve your international markets properly. Provide the same amount/level of information in local languages as your main web site.
  5. Learn from the best. Take a look at Intel, Google, microsoft, etc., and see how they have approached developing multilingual Web sites. You can learn a lot by taking a look at the industry leaders.
  6. Leverage any existing translations. If you have translated any material previously, translation memories will exist. Leverage these to cut your costs and speed up translation time.
  7. Translate your meta-data. Help your international audience to find you by translating the meta-data on each page of your multilingual site. If you're using paid-search engine marketing, create ads for each language your site is in.

If you are considering going global, here's what to avoid:

  • Choosing the wrong vendor. Be sure to find a localization vendor skilled at Web globalization. Ask to see its previous work and speak to its customers.
  • Difficult navigation. A first step is to ensure your customers can find your Web site in their language. You may have to go back to the drawing board and make some changes to your Web site layout.
  • Confusing brand image. If you don't have control of your global Web site at a central location, you may loose brand consistency. Watch for colors, numbers and names: colors and numbers can have different meanings in different countries.

Thousands of companies—from Amazon to Wal-Mart, Intel, Google, Microsoft, GM—are adapting their sites to communicate with multilingual customers both in the domestic market and across the globe. If you are selling internationally, then you must have a multilingual website.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

White Papers Make a Great Marketing Collateral

A long lasting paradigm of marketing on Internet has been that "Content" is the key to attract the stream of visitors and retain existing customers. In high tech business, white papers is a standard way to "sell" the company's capabilities.

In my view, good white papers serve to generate awareness about a product or service and the organization, and more importantly white papers help customers to inquire and potentially buy the product or the service in question.

There are some obvious advantages to creating and using high-quality white papers as part of a company's marketing mix:

  • Additional content on the company's Web site: White papers helps to keep a web site fresh with some new content. Here, white papers can add a bit of depth and variety to your Web site content.
  • Ease of Distribution: White papers can be easily distributed for almost no cost to the organization. Readers of white papers are more likely to pass along the document to their colleagues or friends. How often does one hear of regular ads or other marketing collateral being circulated?

The format of preparing a white paper should be fairly simple, and therefore the turnaround time can be much faster. Typically, white papers don't go through numerous cycles of "I think that picture should be moved to this corner" and "the brand is not prominently displayed" kind of critical review sessions. With most other collateral, brevity is another constraint that one has to contend with.

There is a perception that white papers are absolutely objective and factual, almost like scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals. A certain academic weight and bent is placed on a white paper, and specifically for that reason white papers should be used for marketing sparingly and intelligently.

A white paper is treated as content and not advertising. Editors are most likely to include quotes from white papers; you can bet they don't write about advertisments.

The White Paper Don'ts

Once you decide to produce white papers, some basic cautionary steps need to be exercised to ensure that their effectiveness is not diluted:

  • Don't overuse white papers, or they will lose their value. The same rule applies to press releases—or, for that matter, pretty much anything in the marketing mix or life!
  • Don't make the paper a multi-page text ad. That is, don't attempt a hard sell with a white paper. Present the facts, and don't make claims like ads do. You might be better off paying for a good ad made rather than doing a white paper that attempts to be an ad with out its attention-grabbing flair.
  • Don't ignore the external environment. The white paper shouldn't be all about a company, product or service; it has to be set in a much broader context. A white paper has to analytical and seen to be informative and educative.

White paper attributes

When getting down to actually creating the white paper consider two aspects of the white paper, "physical" and "intellectual."

Physical Attributes

Aim to keep the length of the paper to less than 20 pages, though some others recommend not more than 10 or 12. (The figure 20 is not based on a scientific study, but purely on anecdotal evidence and observation.) While the length has to be determined by the extent of detail you feel is necessary to successfully communicate the message of the paper, remember that with each page the challenge to keep the reader engaged mounts.

Graphics: Relevant visuals, schematic diagrams or graphs and charts have to be mixed with the text. However, do not overdo it with estoric visuals which the readers may not understand.

Weight: The file size is another key factor, which is of course dependent on the two factors mentioned above. Keep it light, as a heavy file could potentially kill one of the key advantages of white papers—the distribution. People don't want to be receiving and risk sending too heavy a file.

Intellectual Attributes

The content of the white paper, which I call the "intellectual" attributes, ultimately dictates its success in meeting your objectives.

At a very broad level, a white paper is a document about a phenomenon change, from a problem state in the present to the problem-less state in the future, and therefore it can be structured as follows:

  • What is the prevalent problem that is being attempted to be solved?
  • What are the common solutions that have been attempted and why have those not yielded the desired results? (Note that the objective should not be to do a competitive comparison, but instead to reiterate to the audience the gap between what is and what ought to have been.)
  • What is the technology/product/service/phenomenon that closes the gap and solves the problem? Statistical or visual or other strong evidence will be the key to driving home your message here. While proving it beyond reasonable doubt may be a tough ask, one approach is to think through the solution being presented in an FAQ mode.


A well done white paper is a very valuable marketing tool. Technology companies can use white papers to indirectly influence the customer if the white papers are intellectually rich, unbiased, and presents factual information.