Saturday, 24 March 2007

The BlackBerry Threat

Recently took delivery of a Blackberry 8707v and it truly is a marvellous mobile email device. I do use it as a phone, for which it seems less well suited, dropping calls, sound quality can be poor, etc. It is also a great device for SMS and has given us some great ideas for the upcoming new release of our Web SMS application. The BlackBerry success story has always been raised by investors and colleagues as one of the key threats to our business at Esendex. "If everyone has a BlackBerry", they would say "then who needs SMS?". While on the face of it, BlackBerry, and mobile email in general, is a threat to SMS there are a number of reasons why mobile email will never replace SMS, in my opinion. Firstly, the raw numbers, there are 6.2 million BlackBerry accounts worldwide1. Compare that to over 40 million mobile phones in the UK alone. Mobile penetration is now over 100% 13 of the 17 countries in Europe. In the GSM world, just about every phone can send SMS as well as receive. If you want to send or receive a text message from your customers, employees or colleagues chances are they haven't all got mobile email devices, but they almost certainly have a mobile phone. People buy mobile phones and devices for a vast set of reasons. Just peruse the replica phones at your local mobile phone retailer to see the plethora of features and styles and you'll see not everyone wants a Blackberry. Secondly, email isn't necessarily always the best method for a given communication exchange. Each of the three forms of text based communication commonly used by businesses today have different styles and presence requirements, described in the table below.
Communication StylePresence
EmailVerbose often with attachmentsNo presence required or necessarily expected
SMSShort, to the point, often informativeExpectation that the recipient will be available within a short time period
Instant MessagingConversational, 2 way, question and answerRecipient must be available to start communication, expectation that they will respond almost immediately
When someone initiates a communication exchange they choose the medium based on these critiera. Do they want a response, how quickly, how much information are they sharing. For example:
  • A monthly sales report may work best as an email. The reader is likely to need time to digest the content and consider a response.
  • The monthly sales figures update is probably best as an SMS sent to all interested parties. Doing this from a virtual mobile number allows the recipients to reply with congratulatory messages, or otherwise
  • For the sales manager wanting to clarify the terms of a deal being reported in the sales report with one of his team, IM could be a great route.
So it's all about messaging that's fit for purpose. I believe, all will continue, all will coexist. SMS is a key requirement of any mobile device. Take a look at the Apple iPhone. Revolutionary user interface, ultra-cool styling and the SMS function is in the most prominent position of it's menu system. BlackBerries are great mobile email and SMS devices and my life is better for having one. Or are these the ramblings or a delusional crackberry addict ;)
  1. Research In Motion interim results, September 2006

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Power is the currency

We host our SMS Service applications in one of the Global Switch hosting facilities in London. These facilities are super-secure, highly available and historically were priced based on the space you occupied. Times have changed, we are at contract renewal time and the currency is now the amp. The processing power of servers has got denser and denser, ie more work can be done in a smaller volume. The introduction of blade servers now provides units that are 7U deep and can hold 20 dual core processors, and 20 drives, giving awesome computing power but also awesome power consumption and heat output. This gives the data centre operators a real issue, when before 12 amps was enough for a rack and the temperature management system was more than adequate to cope, it is very easy to be pulling 20 amps per rack with a standard set of servers. This creates power density and heat dissipation problems that the original setup wasn;t designed for. There is a vervent amount of upgrading of environmental systems at these facilities but with that comes a very different price tag. But the flipside is cramming servers into racks is no longer an issue, the chance of finding one that will take the load is remote/v.expensive. So what does that mean for us? Our SMS server applications are based on a multi-component, distributed architecture enabling us to scale out by just adding more servers. We're currently refreshing our current set of application servers and the original plan was to go for blade arrays to keep the space utlitisation down. This change in rules as meant we can look at good old fashioned pizza box servers like the Dell PowerEdge 860. It's cheap (relatively), powerful (can have quad-core processors) and best of all doesn't draw much power. We can also space them out in the racks quite nicely to keep them running cool and optimal.

Fun with the Salesforce API and custom fields

One of our marketing approaches is to offer a sms service trial of our Business SMS Service. This enables prospects to fully test the two-way SMS service before committing to one of our reasonably priced ;-) monthly plans.

We have recently adopted to improve our CRM and Sales processes and wanted to push all new trials into salesforce so our sales teams could follow them up.

We put together a simple application that utilises the salesforce web servce API to create Lead objects in salesforce and assign them to appropriate queues based on the prospects country. This was very simple and we were very quickly up and running but hit a stumbling block when we came to custom fields.

We've customised the Lead definition in our salesforce implementation to include URL fields that can link directly into our account management system. Making it very easy for the sales teams to manage the service features and promote the SMS service account when a customer decides to sign up.

The code samples for C# were a little sketchy when it came to custom fields. We spent a long time looking at blogs and forums trying to workout how to get these values pushed in. Then the lightbulb finally lit up.

Salesforce seems to have a generic datastore with loose descriptions of objects that contain collections of fields. The web service proxies that were supplied as part of the sample kit also all inheritied from sObject as below:

[System.Xml.Serialization.XmlTypeAttribute(Namespace="")] public class Lead : sObject {

Upon further inspection, we discovered that XML serialisation attributes had been set on all fields in the Lead class, eg:

[System.Xml.Serialization.XmlElementAttribute(IsNullable=true)] public string Company;

Eureka! We just had to add additional fields for our custom fields and it worked, eg:

[System.Xml.Serialization.XmlElementAttribute(IsNullable = true)] public string AMS_Account_URL__c;

Note the field name is the API version of the field name. From within salesforce go to Setup > App Setup > Customize > Leads (or whichever object definition you want) > Fields and then click on the appropriate field to find this out.

So now whenever someone registers for a free trial of our Business SMS Service, salesforce is updated and we can assist them straight away.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Marketing, what do I know about marketing?

I was asked by a friend recently to give a marketing presentation to a group of Sixth Formers, though I understand they're now referred to as Year 12. Today was the day, and a little nervously I put myself in front of these eager young minds hoping I was going to provide them with some real-life insight.

I'm not a formal marketeer. My mind goes wandering when people start insisting we must segment and define messages, and position products. However we haven't got to having 2,500 active customers without understanding how to market our service.

I gave the following presentation, talked about our experiences and realised how far we'd come in the last few years with our marketing. From our tentative first steps with Google PPC and SEO we've got a system that is driving growth in 5 countries around the world.

The key message I drove home was measurement. Does it add up? Can the business make money? Online marketing is eminently measurable. Couple that with the rapid change and refinement capabilities and you end up with a evolving, iterative approach that forces you to segment without even perhaps realising that you are.

What is marketing for?

  • Acquisition marketing
  • Making people want to do business with a company
  • Includes
    • Branding
    • Message
    • Product positioning
    • Product targeting

Measure, measure, measure

  • Marketing costs money
  • Easy to get blinded by something lovely
  • What does it cost per acquisition?
  • Can the company make money?
    • ROI – Return On Investment
    • Does the cost of acquiring the customer exceed the profit from the customer?


  • Prospects who don’t know they have a need
  • Channels
    • Advertising
    • PR
    • Outbound telesales
  • Requires
    • Well known product or service
    • Well known brand
    • Something very innovative


  • Prospects who have identified they have a need
  • Channels
    • Search engines
    • Directories
  • Requires
    • Answering the prospects requirement
    • Differentiation

What do we do?

  • Internet Marketing
  • 95% of new business from web
  • PPC – Pay Per Click advertising
  • SEO – Search Engine Optimisation
  • Web PR

PPC – Pay Per Click advertising

  • Right hand side of Google
  • We pay every time someone clicks on the ad
  • Closed auction system
    • Highest bid gets position
  • 70% click on first 2 ads
  • CTR – Click Through Rate

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

  • Left hand side of search results
  • No cost for click through
  • First 3 pages are key
  • Search engines love change
    • Blogs
    • News

Web PR

  • Links are gold
  • Got to be relevant
  • People like relevance
  • Search engines like relevance
  • Good places
    • Client/Supplier web sites
    • Directories
    • Blogs


  • Get them to your site, what next?
  • First impressions count
  • Landing page
    • Reinforce the message
    • Give them what they want
  • Call to action
    • Tell them what you want them to do
  • Measure the process
    • Does it add up?
    • ROI

Retention Marketing

  • Paid a lot for a customer now keep them
  • Regular communication
    • Newsletters
    • Product announcements
  • Up sell
    • Existing customers