Thursday, 10 December 2009

Selling 'mobile' to the chiefs

How do you sell mobile after years of overpromise and under-delivery? It's a great question and one that was discussed in depth today with some great mobile folks (if you're interested it was organised by these guys). And it was rather good...

The forum was under Chattam House rules, so I certainly won't go into too much detail about other attendees. But suffice to say there was a good mix of people representing companies who've been both early and late (with a fair few in the middle) to the medium of 'mobile'.

The last phrase in itself undergoes yearly re-definitions, and I don't intend to go into what 'mobile' is here.

The purpose of today's meeting was remarkably refreshing: the development of best practice guidelines around how best to pitch any mobile spend to your Board members. What follows are simply my views, and it's worth noting that this is definitely not an attempt to deliver a 'how best to pitch as a start-up to VCs' post. Instead, I'm concentrating solely on medium to large companies.

Ok Jon - so - how do you pitch mobile?

-Start with a realistic but ambitious long-term vision
We know mobile has overpromised and underdelivered. But you simply HAVE to start by selling the big story. Be an evangelist - because you're effectively pitching a start-up idea. We all know that the opportunities in mobile are significant over the long term. That 'longer-term' got significantly compacted when Apple released the iPhone and is closer every day. But it still may not be here yet. If you have to - talk 10 years ahead. Take geniune time to think and consider trends - and make your vision real. At this point they'll think they've heard it all before but what happens next will change their view - entirely.

-Use evidence-based decision making
Use good metrics, from varying suppliers, and give them a pragmatic vision of what the future could be over the long-term. Then tell them you're wrong, because you're absolutely bound to be wrong and the figures you've quoted are most certainly wrong. But explain that you've done you're research and this is the polar opposite of a 'me too' approach (grrrr - don't get me started). This is a vision that takes into account numerous trends and the long-term business objectives. And then tell them you're not asking for the earth - simply to try and test whether you're right or wrong.

-Don't overpromise

I've really covered this above. But DO NOT overpromise. The mobile landscape is littered with the corpses of people and companies who thought spending millions on mobile in 2001 was a great idea, because, you know, ITS THE NEXT BIG THING! Beware - keep expectations under control.

-Iterate slowly
Ask for a small sum of money to test your theory that a new market or revenue stream can be achieved. These days there is simply no excuse for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds or dollars before realising you're wrong. Ensure you explain - up front - that one of the benefits of mobile is the amazing way(s) you can now understand user engagement (or lack of it). Tell them what metrics you're testing and explain what the objectives are. And admit that you don't know if you're going to succeed or fail. But you will give it everything you've got and - good or bad - come back and present the findings.

-The 'experts' don't have a clue
One of the continuing issues I have with the tech industry are the plethora of 'experts' only too willing to sell 'the next big thing'. Ignore them - most are really selling their own consultancies and many will know less than you. Beware of sleek presentation and the 'award-winning, book-writing, evangelistic presenter' selling you a vision. (Does he own another consultancy perchance? Is he selling ads on his blog?). Instead, listen to people who have delivered real value or who have great experience of delivering innovation that's resulted in something (be it success or failure). In tough economic times you HAVE to marry ambition with pragmatism (unless you're a start-up when the 'start-small, think big and move quickly' theory obviously looks smarter than ever).

-Invest wisely to prove a market exists
I've covered this - but I'll say it again anway - DO NOT ask for the earth. Chances are you won't get it anyway. And if you do and don't succeed (and there's every chance you won't) you'll never be able to go hunting for seed money again!

- Don't get caught in the 'web v's app' debate
Do both - you need a strong portfolio. Not all of it will work. But some of it might. If you've followed the 'invest wisely' path then you won't be going back to your board having lost millions of dollars. And you'll be telling them that you haven't a clue whether the browser or 'app' will win - so you're going to invest wisely in both (if that's right for you) and do everything you can through free marketing channels and social media to increase the profile of what you've created.

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