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By Beth J. Bates, New Media Special Correspondent

If you are one of the coveted few who received Google Wave invitations and you still don’t get it – you’re not alone. I recently received my invitation and gleefully logged in, ready to roll. Once I logged in I thought… huh? On first glance, Google Wave looks like a new type of email client. But it’s much more.

Google Wave provides a collaborative environment where teams can collaborate on documents in real-time. More important, they can collaborate on the same version of the document without the worry of multiple versions floating around via email.

Google Wave is most effective when you have several connections that can contribute to your wave. So, if you are part of the small beta group of testers, you may not have other connections to collaborate on your wave.

Confused yet?

In a nutshell, Google Wave is a real-time collaborative tool that:

  • In most instances, enables you to see what someone else is typing in real-time.
  • Enables developers to build apps and widgets, so its functionality is pretty extensible.
  • Can be embedded on any blog or website.
  • Allows files to be shared via drag and drop.

While we all muddle through this new tool, we need to understand that Wave wasn’t meant to be understood instantly. Expect to take some time to familiarize yourself with the tool, its use and others that you might connect with.

The good news? There are many professionals paving the way to help us better understand Google Wave:

Is Google Wave going to transform your business? Not in the short term. But it’s a tool with enough potential that it could change the way groups collaborate in the future. For this reason, it’s worth investigating sooner than later.

Beth J. Bates consults with Hinge on social media tool selection and strategy and helps its clients find effective ways to leverage these new mediums to meet business goals.

Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D.

“Cloak yourself in credibility.” That’s the advice Arun Gupta offered to start-up companies trying to gain traction with Venture Capital firms when he participated on a panel at the annual Venture Capital Outlook conference presented by Potomac Tech Wire last week. A partner in Columbia Capital and a very active player in the tech and services arena, Arun knows a thing or two about venture capital. And his comment is obviously right on point for firms seeking venture funding.

What struck me about his advice is how relevant it is to all professional services firms. You see, venture firms are betting on entrepreneurs to solve difficult problems. The same could be said of professional services buyers and the firms they hire. Credibility is the coin of the realm in both cases.

Arun had two additional comments that rang true. First, he emphasized the absolute importance of knowing and tracking the cost of acquiring a new customer. Far too few firms have any idea what it takes. If you don’t measure what it costs to acquire a new client, you will have a difficult time improving your closing rate. When you are armed with this information, you are in a position to accelerate investment when you discover a technique that works exceptionally well. For example, today I was talking with a client who was evaluating a lead generation program with a cost per lead of around $50. When I asked him what the value of a lead was, we calculated it to be about $5000 (average contract size multiplied by closing percentage). Who wouldn’t be interested in buying $5000 bills for $50?

Arun’s final point was to stop focusing on what’s hot today. If it’s hot today it’s too late. Your firm needs to be focused on what will be in demand in 2-3 years. How do you do that? Start by understanding trends that will shape the industry you serve. Then get in front of them. Easy? Not really. Can it be done? Absolutely. And the rewards for getting it right are very great indeed.

By Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D.

As you may know, Hinge conducts regular research on professional services firms and their clients. We are just finishing data collection on a national study aimed at identifying professional services firms that are growing fast, even in this challenging economic environment. The good news is that there are some impressive performers.

Today, I’d like to highlight one such company, a technology firm called Invizion. They operate in the GovCon space and are focusing on the security market.

Their top management team includes founders Steve Johnson, George Washington and COO Lauren White. Consistent with many top performing firms, these folks are experienced players with solid track records and experience.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Invizion is a client of ours. I confess that I admire this company, and I believe they would be successful even without our help. Why? We’ve researched professional services firms across North America. And based on our profile of the most successful professional services firms, Invizion does a lot of things right. Let me give you three good examples:

  1. They have brought on very high quality people, both employees and business partners. They spend senior management time and money to develop and maintain a carefully conceived corporate culture. This is very important for a company with a widely dispersed, culturally diverse workforce — a characteristic shared with many government contractors.
  2. They understand that their brand has to reflect their strategic focus. Like many high performing firms, they are clear about how they want to be perceived — and they do what it takes to support that perception. From website to office space to choice of teaming partners, they push for consistency. It’s not easy to refocus a high growth firm, but a well-calibrated brand helps keep high performance firms at the front of the pack.
  3. They are willing to take calculated risks and innovate. These initiatives build on core strengths and reinforce their brand positioning. Many companies are content to play it safe in an uncertain economy. But playing it safe comes with its own risks. Do all of their initiatives pay off? Of course not; that’s why they are called risks. But when risks work out, they can open up tremendous opportunities.

Invizion expects to continue growing this coming year. We’ll be right there with them, watching and learning.

By Beth J. Bates, New Media Special Correspondent

Everyone loves a good story, especially when it’s about them. Stories are full of life and fuel the imagination. They enable your company to connect with its customers on a personal level. That’s how connections are made.

Corporate storytelling is becoming a popular and effective way to share what a company, its employees and its customers are doing. Done right, it can build emotional interest and trust.

There are a number of ways to present your corporate story. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Identity stories connect your customers with your brand. They like to know why a company came to be or how you were able to grow a company from a small kitchen-run business to a large corporation.
  • Customer stories enable the people who use your service of buy your product to share their experiences. Stories might include how your product changed their life or how they used your service to better their community. People like to share good news and empowering them to connect helps build validity in your brand.
  • Product stories explain how your product came to be. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but customers like to know why a product came from and who made it happen. It puts a human face on your product, and customers like to connect with people.
  • Internal stories are a great way to share your company’s greatest assets — your employees — with the rest of the world. Many of your employees, for instance, are probably doing great things within the community. They are volunteering and helping folks who are less fortunate. That can be a great story.

So, encourage your people and your customers to tell their stories … and you just may live happily ever after.

Beth J. Bates consults with Hinge on social media tool selection and strategy and helps its clients find effective ways to leverage these new mediums to meet business goals.

By Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D.

As business leaders, we’re supposed to know all about strategy. After all we’re typically responsible for setting the strategic direction of our firms. But it’s a widely misunderstood topic. So it’s a real joy to encounter someone who can put the topic in perspective.

Recently, I attended a workshop on the topic of execution conducted by Patrick Thean of the Gazelles organization. In my experience, strategy and execution are closely related, and a point Thean made only deepened this conviction. Thean was emphasizing how important it was that tracking performance indicators support your business strategy. That’s when he said it:

“Strategy is not about being better, it’s about being different.”

Now think about that for a minute. How much time do professional services firms spend trying to be better than the competition? We’re forever trying to be faster, more agile, smarter, have better people, use a better process, and walk on water. This is not a strategy. It’s not much of a competitive advantage either.

Let’s reflect on being different for a moment. If everyone else emphasizes low cost, you emphasize ultra-high quality. Now you are talking strategy! Your competitors emphasize customer service; you go for the self-service niche. That could work. What will not work, however, is trying to be “competitive” — i.e., doing what everyone else does, only better.

It is true. Being different just to be different isn’t very smart either. The only differences that really give you an advantage are those that are meaningful and beneficial to your target customers. Nail that one and you have a strategy that will put your professional services firm at the top of the list.

By Beth J. Bates, New Media Special Correspondent

Let’s face it. With social media usage on the rise, news travels fast. And bad news travels even faster. In the past, if you had a bad experience with a company you might write a letter to the CEO or tell your friends face-to-face. But today, a viral complaint is just a click away.

Social media, however, can be used to turn a disgruntled client’s frown upside down. Companies like Comcast, Century Link and Ning use Twitter to monitor customer issues — and they take rapid action. Their quick response gives customers a sense of priority and their professionalism builds loyalty. With the economy still weak but on the mend, happy customers can keep a company afloat.

When I have a positive experience with a company, however small, I like to tell people about it — in person and online. That’s the power of customer service, and it spreads quickly.

On the flip side, many companies never monitor their social media streams. So when a customer complains and gets no response, the damage is multiplied (remember, it’s a public forum). Poor service like this can be detrimental to a brand.

Social media is a powerful tool for managing your customers needs in real-time. It gives you the chance to intervene before a problem spins out of control. When managed properly, it gives you the ability to demonstrate your company’s responsiveness and strengthen your brand.

Beth J. Bates consults with Hinge on social media tool selection and strategy and helps its clients find effective ways to leverage these new mediums to meet business goals.