What Do You Need To Do Right As A Knowledge Worker?


Wednesday, 9.43pm

Sheffield, U.K.

information is the primary basis of value in knowledge work, and it must flow to the right person in the right form at the right time at the lowest cost with the highest quality possible. – Matthew May

I’ve been thinking about the challenges we have as individuals and as managers in organisations when it comes to knowledge work.

Work based on knowledge has really only been a thing for a few decades or so.

And before that, you have to remember that work based on manual effort is also a relatively recent thing.

Yes, people toiled, in fields or for others or as soldiers, but modern manual work is a relatively recent thing in human history.

What makes this kind of work different is that it’s industrialised, professional and treats workers better than they were treated in the past.

That’s the kind of work a lot of people did after the Second World War, as the productivity of each worker increased massively.

Because the methods that made manual workers were so successful, they have seeped into our consciousness as the “right way” to do things.

And so we use the principles developed to do manual work better to try and manage knowledge work as well – and find that it just doesn’t seem to do the job.

Why is that and what should we be doing differently?

To answer that question a paper by Peter Drucker called Knowledge-Worker productivity: The biggest challenge is worth a read.

The first thing that’s interesting is that Drucker argues that there was a period Before Taylor and a period After Taylor.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was the guy who studied how work was done and broke it into a sequence of simple, repeatable steps and effectively put in place the foundations of all “developed” economies.

What’s slightly startling is that Drucker says that all methods since then including Deming’s work and the Toyota Production System build on the system of thinking – the principles – that Taylor put in place.

Taylor said that you should look at the task and break it down into its components.

Get rid of stuff that isn’t needed, reorder steps so that they are simple and easy to follow – create a job that can be done again and again – and then redesign your tools to make it even simpler and faster to do the job well.

Manual work is all about how to do the job – and how to do it better and faster with less effort.

So, we apply this approach to knowledge work as well – we tell programmers how to set up their frameworks, we create processes for administrators to follow.

But in knowledge work the main issues is often figuring out what the task is in the first place.

And that requires a different set of skills – it’s more about listening and exploring than about doing and organising.

When it comes to actually doing the work, manual work is about meeting standards.

If you make a cup you want each cup you make to be about the same.

If you’re making steering wheels, every one that you make has to be within a certain tolerance if you want it to fit.

With knowledge work, on the other hand, you want the best quality you can get.

You don’t want an OK surgeon – you want someone who is very good at what they do.

The same goes for teachers and programmers and managers.

Quality in manufacturing can be measured while quality in knowledge work is often only seen through the experience of the customer.

Finally, when you’re looking at manual work you see it as a cost.

Ideally, you’d like to do three times the work, with half the people being paid twice as much – because people in this situation are costs that you need to reduce.

Knowledge workers, on the other hand, produce more the more they know, and are more valuable the better they get.

Having the best professors or the best surgeons on your team lets you raise your prices and get the best customers.

The thing with manual work is that an organisation has to take responsibility for developing its workers – managers have to work on the system to help them do their best work.

With knowledge work it’s perhaps more dependent on the worker to learn and develop – the company can give them projects and training but they have to really want to become the best they can be.

Companies that support this well become places knowledge workers want to work at – and that gives those companies a competitive advantage over those who think of them in the same way as they do manual workers.

When it comes down to it knowledge is about using information to create value.

And we’re all in the business of doing that these days.


Karthik Suresh

How To Think About Training Plans In Your Business


Tuesday, 9.07pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Training is a loop, a two-way communication in which an event at one end of the loop changes events at the other, exactly like a cybernetic feedback system; yet many psychologists treat their work as something they do to a subject, not with the subject. – Karen Pryor, Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training

What approach do you take to develop capability in your business?

For example, let’s say you want to expand into a new area or a customer asks if you can help with a task what’s your approach to resourcing that kind of project?

One approach is to hire the expertise – go out and find someone who has a track record in that area and can help you build your practice.

You could give it to your best member of staff – the one that is able to do things without being told how to do things.

Both these approaches have problems.

You often don’t know whether an expert will deliver until after you’ve set them on the task.

And if you use up your best resources then you’ll have less time left to work with other clients – maybe even existing ones.

In knowledge businesses this is a major problem – the costs of hiring expertise are high and so you’ll never be able to carry them without the revenue stream also being in place.

At the same time if you don’t have the capability then you won’t be able to pick up jobs when they come available on the market.

Unless you get better at training your people.

There will always be a shortage of experts when you most need them.

There will always be a surplus of people entering the job market looking for internships and training.

And quite often if you find someone with the personality and attitude that comes with a willingness to learn you will be able to train them to do the work.

As long as you know how and what to train them on.

Which is where a model from Professor John Seddon is quite useful to keep in mind.

Training in your business is very different from teaching or learning in school or university – and not everyone gets that.

In formal education you start at the beginning and go through to the end.

How many training programmes have you sat in where the leader goes through a hundred slides, taking you from start to finish through a process.

And how often have you listened?

Seddon, on the other hand, suggests that you should focus on training that gets people productive quickly.

What difference would it make if you could get someone working in hours or days rather than weeks or months?

Quite a lot – it turns out that speed wins.

The faster you are at something the easier it is to outpace others.

For example, lets say you run a graphic design agency and you have a new starter.

Would you give her the software manual and ask her to read it from start to finish?

Some people might.

A better approach would be to look at the tasks that you do quite often – what are the elements of graphic design that need doing?

For example, perhaps you need to lay out flyers or white papers – maybe that’s something that your set of clients use quite a lot in their process.

So, the skill set that’s required a lot is the ability to lay out pages in a professional and attractive way.

So, that’s a high frequency task.

If your clients ask for flyers quite a lot – perhaps a certain number a month – you might be able to predict how many jobs of that type come through by looking at your order book.

That’s predictable.

Finally, there’s demand.

One kind of demand is people calling you up and complaining that the layout doesn’t work for them and you need to do some work to fix things.

It’s work – but it’s bad work.

It’s rework, fixes, apologies.

Value demand is work that makes the client happy and that’s the kind of work you want to do as much of as possible.

In this situation, you need someone skilled in the art of laying out a flyer in a way that clients will like – that’s the high frequency, predictable, value demand tasks that you have.

So, train for that.

You could probably get your new starter doing that on their own in a couple of hours.

They will need support – but that’s what you’re there for.

When you know that, at the end of training, you will have someone working on work that matters and makes money, it’s easier for you to make the time to train them properly.

Because here’s the thing.

Your ability to develop your staff is as much of a competitive advantage as having experienced staff or software assets.

In fact, it’s probably an even better asset.

Anyone can buy software.

In many businesses when the experts walk out the knowledge and clients walk with them.

If you’re a training business – a learning one – then that problem doesn’t arise because you’re always developing the next batch of experts.

And they’ll stay with you because there is more to learn.


Karthik Suresh

Why It’s Really Hard To Figure Out Winners And Losers These Days


Monday, 8.56pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Costs do not exist to be calculated. Costs exist to be reduced – Taiichi Ohno

I learned about something called Baumol’s cost disease recently and it got me thinking about how rare it for organisations to really understand the impact costs have on their customers.

Warren Buffet is famous for avoiding technology businesses – which is strange considering how technology businesses seem to dominate the world these days.

We are fooled, however, by thinking that because Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix appear to be doing so well that’s the way of all technology businesses.

Except these are the rarities – the ones that succeeded, for which the stars aligned.

For every one of these, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of technology businesses have gone bust.

And that’s because they don’t understand a simple principle that Buffett articulated a long time back.

Most tech businesses come and tell you that they’re going to cut costs – they’re going to make you lean and quick and reduce the cost of doing business.

That’s almost always the sales pitch – if you use us you will save money and improve margins.

They’re right about the first part – you might save money.

But these tech businesses will sell their tech to you and to every one of your competitors – so you’ll all be able to save money.

And when you’ve got those margins someone will blink – and offer lower prices to customers – and then you’ll all have to follow suit or lose business.

So, the only people who benefit from your investment in technology are your customers – who get lower costs.

Now, it might seem like a vicious circle – one you can’t get away from.

After all, would you still be holding onto typewriters rather than buying computers for your staff?

But the important point is that the advantage of technology is actually not that much of an advantage – you don’t often lose if you want and buy later rather than being the first mover.

In fact, waiting can be an advantage, because you then buy cheaper, better tested product rather than new, untried stuff.

While tech businesses promise to cut costs other industries just seem to see costs increase without any corresponding increase in productivity.

People in public service are paid more for not doing much more than they were doing a decade ago, for example.

Salaries have to rise, apparently, to keep people who would otherwise move to better paid jobs in other sectors.

So, even though people aren’t producing more they’re paid more – which inevitably works its way through to lower margins for the business – because few industries can pass through all their increases in costs to customers without being asked some rather awkward questions.

Which means people in these roles get comfortable and happy without having to do much more.

Now, in the middle of a healthcare crisis, it’s probably wrong to question whether the public sector is doing all it can – but is it?

Is it systemically ready to do things without mistakes – to do them at the lowest cost?

It’s pretty unlikely, if only because you have a system full of highly paid, very experienced people who have spent their careers working in a system that is complex and almost certainly full of problems.

There is probably very little they can do to change things – and while they might do the best job they can – it’s probably not that different to what they were doing a decade or so ago.

It does seem that tech by itself or people by themselves don’t really add much value.

But, I also learned recently, the combination of tech and human might actually be surprisingly effective.

In my experience most people struggle with the technology they have to use.

It’s not their friend.

The example I was given was how an AI program and a doctor are much more effective working together at diagnosis than either working alone.

But if you use a computer then you’re in a similar situation – do you rail at the software you have or do you enjoy working on your computer?

People who have to use proprietary programs probably have very different views to those who use a free system like GNU/Linux.

I certainly do.

If I had to write these posts using the WordPress tools or anything from Microsoft then I probably wouldn’t create anything.

I suppose the point I’m making is this.

It’s tempting to think that because your technology cuts costs or because you work really hard that you’re adding value and are a winner.

But there are too many businesses and too many jobs that are failing the employee and the market.

The goal is to do something that challenges you – something you enjoy.

And you win if someone is willing to pay you to do it.

And that’s enough for me.


Karthik Suresh

How To Do Customer Development For Complex Consultancy Businesses


Sunday, 7.37pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something. – Thomas A. Edison

I’ve started seeing more threads on Twitter these days and they’re making me think.

A typical thread has twenty or thirty points.

Some are effectively essays as the points build on and reinforce arguments the writer is making.

Others are nuggets of information, packaged together and delivered – held together by the thread.

And then you have lists – 25 of these and 30 of that.

One of these, for example, had to do with 25 facilitation methods – the kinds of things you might do to run meetings.

Now, when you look at a group of things like that what’s missing is really how you would use them in practice.

For example, if you were a Roman soldier, you would have a set of kit – a throwing spear, a thrusting spear, a short sword, a shield – and you’d use each of these in combat at the right point.

You’d be far more effective as a soldier if you knew how to use that set of kit than if you walked around carrying a whole lot of stuff pulled together at random.

So, I thought, if I were to describe how I currently think about the way in which sales works for me what would that look like?

My focus is usually on complex sales – the kind of thing where customers don’t quite know what they need yet and need to work through that before they are ready to buy.

It’s the opposite of transactional sales where the customer knows exactly what they want and the main thing they want to do is figure out who is offering the best deal.

A complex sale means that you need to understand a complex situation – one where there is a lot going on.

If you do this properly what you will end up doing is understanding what value means in customer terms – you’ll be able to define value in words the customer would have used.

But get to this point you have to do a few things first.

You have to start by studying the situation – building a picture of what is going on through interviews and going to where the work is done.

You’ll have to see what’s going on – trying to listen to the voice of the process.

For example, if you are working with an organisation that fixes things, then value probably has something to do with getting things fixed when the customer wants them fixed – and the measure that tells you what is going in is the number of days it takes for a fix to get done – which is the voice of the process.

Now, as you listen to people you’ll start to build a picture of how they see the world and when you put this down as a model it’s called a holon – a construct that describes their particular perspective.

These three things – listening to people, trying to look at things from their point of view and taking the trouble to look at measures that let you see what is going on helps you gain an understanding of the situation.

Once you have that you can start to shape an intervention – perhaps come up with a flowchart of how to do things differently.

And to explain to others why this process works you’ll come up with stories, with presentations that seek to explain and persuade.

But because your stories are founded on a deep understanding of the situation, you’ll be able to get people to listen more closely and focus on your points rather than trying to find holes in your argument.

I find that these tools are the ones I use most of the time in my process – and what they help me do is follow the platinum rule.

The golden rule, as you are aware, is to do to others the way you would have them do unto you.

The platinum rule says do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Now, when I think about this approach – one that works for me – I don’t see it as an unconnected set of tools or tactics.

I see them as part of a systemic approach, one where the elements work together to create a better customer development process that is focused on understanding what value looks like before trying to deliver it.

And it seems to me that however you do your process it cannot but help if you give your customer the value that they want and need.


Karthik Suresh

What Do We Do When We Can No Longer Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants?


Saturday, 8.43pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton

For many Saturdays now I have taken a walk, doing a round of the charity shops close to me, accompanied by a small person and we both look for books.

Today, I stood and gazed at a shelf of books and wondered what I thought about them.

There was a selection of marketing textbooks – like a student had just dropped off four year’s worth of material.

A year ago I would have convinced myself to get pretty much everything on the shelf but today I was unconvinced – turning more to the children’s sections and books on drawing and doodling.

The reason for this, I think, is that I’m finding that theories about marketing and management are actually of very little use in day to day marketing and management.

Let me explain.

Isaac Newton’s saying that starts this post is one we all know – and clearly we have to learn from the lessons of the past if we are to avoid repeating them and if we want to build on them.

This approach works very well in the physical sciences – you don’t want to be in a position where you never learn that the earth is not flat, or the things that now are the basis of modern medicine.

But the same approach seems to run into problems when we approach the world of human society.

Science is very good at breaking down things and understanding the parts.

In doing that we come up with theories of why things are the way they are – and we use those theories to predict what else might be.

And science is so good at that it now seems that that way of thinking should be the basis of everything we do.

In marketing an early application of this way of thinking was Claude Hopkin’s famous book which was called, after all, “Scientific advertising”.

Anyone who wants to claim that their method works tries to use science – even if the scientific method has to be tortured a bit to make it seem like its producing valid results.

So you have a science of surveys and response analysis and statistics – all of which are used to come up with insights and theories such as those in the best-selling “Influence: The psychology of persuasion” by Robert Cialdini.

So, if you’re creating a new product or trying to connect with a market or sell something to a prospect – it makes sense to go out and pick up some books – the kind of books that I was looking at on that shelf perhaps.

But I’m realising that actually the scientific method is not everything – and it’s not really appropriate for everything that we do.

And actually, if we go back to before the scientific method there are ways of working we should not forget.

The first has to do with technology.

Technology is something that actually predates science – it comes before it.

We made tools and pottery and hot baths well before there was anything like a science of metals or minerals or state transition.

Nowadays technology is often based on scientific discoveries – which is why it might seem like it’s something that comes after.

But technology is fundamentally about tools used by people – and tools like the Internet and online commerce are really only a decade or a couple of decades old for much of humanity.

For example, I had to try and fix a leaking tap today – and constructing a new kitchen wasn’t really something that was a feasible option – even if it will happen in the long-term.

The tap is old, however.

But Ebay had one of the valves that I needed – and it’s on its way to me now.

And a YouTube video told me how to take the tap apart and how to search Ebay in the right way to find what I needed.

That’s technology to the rescue, not science.

Now, when you’re creating marketing for technology it seems to me that science will just get in the way.

That whole standing on the shoulders of giants things keeps you a little too far away from what matters.

What matters is what’s happening on the ground.

The people who succeed in online commerce are the ones who best understand what value looks like from the point of view of the customer.

The people who created a video that explained what I needed to do and the people who created an Ebay page where I could measure and check that what I was buying was what I needed were able to create the conditions where they delivered value and I paid a price.

And I don’t think that stack of books would have helped any of the people in that transaction do things better.

It might have even gotten in the way.

The more I think about this the more I am convinced that starting from the reality on the ground is the way when you’re trying to improve the way in which you carry out management or do marketing.

It’s coming up with approaches and strategies and tactics that are rooted in a clear understanding of the people you’re trying to serve and what value looks like from their point of view.

It’s grounded theory.

Which means, you have to get off those shoulders and get on the ground if you want to succeed here.

Which brings us to the second method.

Talk to your customers, listen to them and give them what they need.

And it might just be as simple as that.


Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Working Model Makes You Most Productive?


Friday, 7.53pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I like working with people. I believe change can only come through collaboration. – Alain de Botton

Quite by coincidence I’ve been watching the series “The last man in the world” at about the same time as hysteria sweeps the world about the Coronavirus.

The story, in case you aren’t familiar, is about how there is one man left on earth after a virus strikes and… well, the story goes from there.

There interesting thing about this particular virus is not that it’s spreading, but that the information about it is spreading faster than any virus before it.

We are all so connected that once the news started spreading everyone became aware and then started changing behaviour – probably hoarding and stockpiling.

In fact, the supermarkets shelves are showing gaps – and it really looks like people are panicking a little and laying down supplies.

When thing look like they’re going bad we start preparing for the inevitable fallout and all out conflict.

The fact that we regress so quickly to such behaviour tells us that flight or fight is an accurate depiction of our underlying humanity and one or brain’s biggest tasks is to override our evolutionary conditioning.

And it’s hard.

Take collaboration, for example.

You would probably agree that it’s the best way to work with someone else – to find a way to be open and honest and create value for each other.

The reality of work, however, is far from that.

All too often we have misunderstandings and power struggles, politicking and whinging.

While our brains have developed the ability to be rational when we’re in a safe space we still are some way from having the tools we need to help us work better together.

Although you could argue we’ve had them all the time – our ability to listen and talk and draw.

Collaboration is something that has to come from the lack of fear.

If you go into a meeting afraid you’re going to lose your job, afraid you’re going to lose the sale or afraid that you’re going to lose something you have then that fear will permeate everything – and it will make the other person uneasy as well.

It’s like the high pressure salesperson – you can tell desperation and it’s not nice.

When I look at collaboration these days I think you need to get better at doing three things.

First you have to listen.

Whether it’s your kids or coworkers, whether it’s your boss or a customer, the essential skill to develop is the ability to listen.

When you listen you start to get a feeling for the shape of someone else’s thoughts – how they see the world.

To understand them better you ask questions.

Questions help you find the gaps, discover connections and see possibilities.

And then, when you’ve done those two things you can offer suggestions – possibilities for what you could do together.

And you will, in turn, hopefully be listened to and asked questions.

Just like that you’re collaborating.

Simple. Yes.

Easy. No.

But essential.


Karthik Suresh

What’s The One Thing You Have To Do To Succeed?


Thursday, 8.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

String theory is an attempt at a deeper description of nature by thinking of an elementary particle not as a little point but as a little loop of vibrating string. – Edward Witten

I know nothing about string theory but this Witten quote makes perfect sense when it comes to the basic nature of everything we do.

Think of some of the people you’ve worked with, some of the people you know.

They might be old or young, experienced or new to the world of work, different genders, races, backgrounds.

Now, what kind of impression do you get about the way in which they seem to operate?

Some might be dots or spots – contained patches of ink that encapsulate what they are.

Perhaps they’re artists or lawyers or doctors or police or firefighters – defined roles that you see in children’s books of what jobs people have.

Perhaps they see themselves the same way, as people with a singular passion or focus – either one that really does fill them up or one that they have adopted because it works for their business.

If you do a search starting with the string “I’m passionate about” you get a bunch of results that tell you how to answer that question in the context of an interview.

And that’s because when you’re really passionate about something you don’t talk about it – you just do it and talk about it – and people see how passionate you are.

So, if passion is a dot what might a line be?

A line, I think, is someone that has a job – someone that does a certain task.

They might process things, file things, analyse thing – but generally they start at one point and traverse a line and end at another point.

And a lot of people see this as a thing – if you do process maps or flows this is the kind of way you represent what’s going on – starting here and ending there.

With spots and lines you’ve probably captured the ways in which most people think about work.

But, when they actually start doing work the lines no longer seem quite that straight.

Actually where you end up seems to be related to where you started – and so you find yourself turning back and heading to where you were at the start.

For example, if you are in charge of a project and you send an email requesting information then in the world of lines you’ve done your job.

If you don’t get a response, however, you’re starting to look back at that email you sent and wondering what to do next.

Many people think that they’ve done their job – they’ve sent that email and that’s it.

If they’re asked later why things went wrong they can always say, “Well, I did my part!”

That gap – that failure to close the loop between starting something and making sure it’s finished makes the difference between success and failure in most situations I’ve seen.

You go out and meet someone and fail to connect in some way so you can follow up your discussion.

That’s often my big problem.

A bigger one, though, has to do with all those tasks where you should really chase and follow up but you just don’t.

When people succeed it seems to be because they make the effort to close that gap, to make sure they close the loop and them move on.

Now you might not do this with everything but if you do it with the important stuff then you start to create little success circles – closed loops that mean stuff gets done.

And then, if you decide that string theory is for you – you can think of those success circles as the elements of business, the elements of what you do.

Instead of seeing them as static, once done and then forgotten things, you can see them as vibrating string loops – with the energy and passion you have emerging from that work you’re doing.

And really when you get the fundamental building blocks of reality on your side is there anything you can’t achieve?


Karthik Suresh

What Is The Real Message Of Minimalism?


Tuesday, 9.46pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Whereas a lot of Buddhism concerns itself with stages of enlightenment, various precepts and moral codes, and even power structures and hierarchies, Zen is just like, ‘Shut up, sit down, and observe your thoughts – oh, and by the way, what you perceive as you’ doesn’t actually exist.’ I loved the minimalist approach of it. – Mark Manson

I’ve been thinking a little bit about the things that matter recently – and it caused me to take another look at minimalism.

There are people for whom material things are very important – they are a symbol of status and achievement and power, or they are just things that they like to have and believe they deserve because they’ve worked hard for them.

The thing with stuff is that it weighs you down in a way that other things don’t.

Take learning the guitar, for example.

Once you’ve learned how to play the guitar that’s something you take with you – and you will always be one of those people that can sit strumming the instrument with a circle of people listening to you.

The things you learn, the skills you develop have no weight at all – they stay with you as long as you have your faculties.

So while there is no limit to what you can learn and how you can develop yourself – that’s not the case with stuff.

The more you have, more it has you – you have to deal with it and move it and clean it and maintain it and upgrade it and suddenly you spend all your time being a servant to your stuff.

Or maybe not.

So I went back online to see what people were saying and not much had changed.

One set of voices link minimalism with having less stuff – to the point where you have 100 things or less, 50 things or less.

Or you have less but better or some variation on that theme.

But it comes down to quantity and volume and generally just spending your time counting.

The other side of this coin is that you keep things that make you happy – things that spark joy according to Marie Kondo.

Which is a nice term and obvious to some and airy-fairy to others.

But you’ve got to remember that minimalism as a term probably originated in the art world – as artists tried to strip things down to the essentials – keeping only what mattered and creating sparse works.

Or, if you wanted to be more prescriptive about it limiting themselves to simple shapes and geometric patterns.

In the midst of all this you have a few furious Guardian columnists who denounce all this as a fad for the rich.

And they have a point.

There does seem to be a tendency among people to turn everything good into some kind of competition or formula.

They focus on the act rather than the intent and in doing so what they end up making are empty gestures.

And this leaves them open to accusations of being stereotypes.

For example, minimalism is a thing that men do because women are the ones that like fluffy stuff – how many men go out and buy throw cushions or whatever those things are called that litter every surface you want to sit or lie on.

It’s a form of shaming – isn’t it?

And it’s also something only rich people can choose to do – you can live without money only if you have enough.

When you don’t, life is too hard.

And all these are valid criticisms but I felt they missed the point.

Which is what?

Well… it seems to me that the only reason you would get stuff or get rid of stuff is to become free?

Free from what?

The Buddha probably got it right there.

Freedom from Suffering.

The actual word is “Duhkha” – and it’s not suffering in the sense of a wound or a sore, but the opposite of happiness or comfort.

It’s the opposite of what Pirsig terms “Peace of mind” in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

Wikipedia says the word originated as an axle hole that isn’t in the centre, and so the cart bumps along giving you an uncomfortable ride.

And how do you solve this?

By becoming more aware of yourself and what you really need.

Because that understanding is what matters – and it may or may not lead to a more minimalist lifestyle.

But it may lead to one with more “Sukha”, or happiness.


Karthik Suresh

5 Things You Have To Get Right To Be Successful In E-Commerce


Monday, 9.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Retail is a customer business. You’re trying to take care of the customer – solve something for the customer. And there’s no way to learn that in the classroom or in the corner office, or away from the customer. You’ve got to be in front of the customer. – Erik Nordstrom, President, Nordstrom Direct

I was invited to go to the Retail Without Borders conference recently where I learned much that I didn’t know about the world of e-commerce.

Or, at least, I had my eyes opened to how hard it is to do the simple stuff well.

For example, the five points in the image above are a mix of points made by different speakers – and if you are in e-commerce it’s worth checking how many of these you get right.

First, you have to start with enriched content.

That means going beyond having basic listings with text – the more useful detail you put on there the more people trust what you are selling.

Pictures help, as do videos – the trick is making sure you have as many as needed.

Then you have to make sure how have the highest retail standards possible.

This means getting your stuff out to the customer as quickly as possible – promising three days and getting it there in two, for example.

If you’re big enough then same day delivery or next day delivery helps you stand out.

Before you do that, however, you have to get payment services that work for the customer.

That means giving them options to pay – using methods like Paypal and credit cards – but also others that work in the regions you’re service.

More on that in a bit.

Now, you’ve also got to make sure that you’ve got inventory under control.

There’s few things that make customers more unhappy than finding what they’ve ordered isn’t in stock or that they have to wait twice as long.

And while we’re talking about customers make sure you have an engagement plan for them – how you talk to them and build a community of customers.

Now, if you live in a developed economy – especially the UK or US – all this seems obvious to you.

These countries lead the way when it comes to digital commerce and the services are pretty slick on each of these points.

In fact, you’ll find it hard to compete if you don’t have all these things sorted for customers in these regions.

Take payments, for example.

If you offer Paypal and credit cards then you have 100% – that’s right – the entire target population pretty much covered.

But once you go further afield it gets more complicated.

People in many countries still prefer to pay cash on delivery – COD.

They don’t trust cards or aren’t allowed to make international payments with the cards they have.

The logistics of shipping to different countries can get frighteningly complex very quickly.

Your goods can be stopped or lost at customs and there’s no way of getting them back.

And if you’re looking at non-English speaking markets then you need to think hard about localisation issues.

Are you using the language that people use – are you using the right dialect.

You can lose a lot of sales if you use only one language.

To some extent this checklist is for product sales but it works pretty much the same way for services – with the exception perhaps that your logistics gets easier if you have no inventory and can email your product.

The basic principles still apply.

But all this is really just about hygiene – about getting the basics really really right.

The thing that really matters is whether you’re giving the customer something of value.

This list helps you deliver it better.


Karthik Suresh

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