Ignoring Innovation Means Getting Left Behind

February 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

According to this week’s blog post from member company Social SafeGuard, in today’s highly competitive marketplace, innovation is what ultimately sets a company apart from the rest of the market. Innovation is an essential part of any business that does not want to be left behind, and it can come in many forms when it comes to how a company communicates with its customer base.


Social media is currently the most powerful and effective communications tool available. Twenty five years ago the concept of a globally available, user-generated content platform didn’t exist. Today, the utilization of this platform is a key to success for any business. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, innovation is what ultimately sets a company apart from the rest of the market; it is an essential part of any business that does not want to be left behind. Innovation can come in many forms when it comes to how a company communicates with its customer base.

free_social_media_icons_image_ubersocialmediaIn order for a company to effectively satisfy their customer’s wants and needs, they must constantly communicate and listen to them; furthermore, companies must use the findings of this communication to adapt their product or service accordingly. 72 percent of adult internet users in the U.S. are now active on at least one social network, up from 67 percent in 2012 and just 8 percent in 2005. It is obvious that social media is the most effective way to reach and engage with today’s consumer. History is littered with companies that were once dominant players within their industry, but failed to effectively engage and listen to their customers, which eventually led to their demise. Two prime examples of this are Kodak and Blockbuster.

1. The Last Kodak Moment: Kodak was the primary player in the camera industry for almost a century. Kodak was the American technology company known for inventing color film, the handheld movie camera, and the first digital camera. In the late 1990s, Kodak began to struggle financially due to its sluggish transition to digital photography, regardless of the fact that they invented the core technology used in current digital cameras. After 132 years of business, Kodak officially filed for bankruptcy in 2012 due to their inability to adapt to the changing camera industry. All Kodak had to do was communicate with their customers to discover that preferences were changing, but instead they chose to stick with what they had always done, which resulted in a loss of competitive advantage and economic failure.

2. Blockbuster: For many years, Blockbuster was the dominant player in the movie rental industry. Once Netflix, Redbox, and On Demand Cable Services entered the market, trends quickly changed to customers wanting videos instantly and conveniently. Blockbuster chose not to adapt to the changing marketplace until it was too late. In 2010, the company filed for bankruptcy after 25 years of business and the majority of their stores closed shortly thereafter. While Blockbuster still attempts to mimic their competitors in an effort to regain any possible market share, they are now chasing the industry instead of leading it.

Every company must adapt and embrace social media if they do not want to become the Kodak or Blockbuster of their industry. Social media allows people to create, share, or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Unlike traditional communication tools, social media has unmatched reach, frequency, and usability. Social media is the medium in which today’s consumer chooses to communicate. It would be foolish for any company to not adopt a platform that provides a free flow of information with a global reach, where all of their current and potential customers are present, and openly telling the companies exactly what they want.

If Blockbuster would have been proactive and engaged their customers, it is possible they would now have 57 million subscribers streaming videos in over 50 countries, and Netflix would be nothing but a failed startup.

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This week on NVTC’s Blog, Host in Ireland’s President and Founder Garry Connolly discusses Safe Harbor, a policy agreement that regulated the way that U.S. companies export and handle the personal data of European citizens.


 In Nov. 2000, the United States Department of Commerce and the European Union established Safe Harbour, a policy agreement established between that regulated the way that U.S. companies export and handle the personal data of European citizens. This enabled American technology companies to compile data generated by their European clients in web searches, social media posts and other activities online.

In 2015, a major issue with the agreement is the collection of personal data that people create when they post something on Facebook or other social media, when they conduct searches on Google, or when they order products or buy movies from Amazon or Apple. Such data is invaluable to companies, which use the information for a broad range of commercial purposes, including tailoring advertisements to individuals and promoting products or services based on users’ online activities.

Safe Harbour, regarding data transfer, does not apply solely to tech companies or online retail, however. It also affects any organization with international operations, such as when a company has employees in more than one country and needs to transfer payroll information, or allow workers to manage their employee health benefits online.

So how did we get from data concerning your preference for wool socks over cotton or your interest in purchasing season four of “Game of Thrones” to controversial issues concerning Europeans’ privacy rights and U.S. national security interests?

As Helen Dixon, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, pointed out in a statement issued by her Office, the issues dealt with in the decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) to invalidate the “Safe Harbour” system, under which companies transfer customer data from Europe to the United States, are “complex.” She elaborated, saying that the issues “will require careful consideration” and “what is immediately clear is that the Court has reiterated the fundamental importance attaching to the right of individuals to the protection of their personal data. That is very much to be welcomed.”

The ruling by the ECJ found that the Safe Harbour agreement is flawed because it allowed American government authorities to gain access to Europeans’ online information. The court said leaks from Edward J. Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), made it clear that American intelligence agencies had access to the data, infringing on Europeans’ rights to privacy.

The issue came to head when Max Schrems, a 27-year-old graduate student living in Austria, argued that Europeans’ online data was misused by Facebook because it cooperated with the NSA’s Prism program. Prism, in part, involved the U.S. Federal government’s collection of information on Europeans, gathered from the world’s largest Internet companies, in search of national security threats. An interesting side note is that Schrems originally filed his complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, since it is the privacy regulator for Facebook outside the U.S. because the Company’s European headquarters are located in Dublin. He eventually took his case to the Irish High Court, which referred it to the ECJ in July of last year. Following the ECJ judgment, the Irish court is expected to rule that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner must investigate his complaint properly and decide whether to suspend such data transfers.

As many large American tech companies have set up their overseas headquarters in Ireland, the Irish government has been supportive of Safe Harbour. However, Helen Dixon has begun discussions with her data protection counterparts in other European Union member countries to best determine how the ECJ’s judgment can be “implemented in practice, quickly and effectively” as it impacts European to U.S. data transfers, Host in Ireland is confident that procedures can be established that continue to support the thriving digital economy, respects individuals’ right to privacy, and ensures the safety and protection of our global community, both home and abroad.


 Interested in learning more about data protection? Join NVTC, Host in Ireland, and Helen Dixon for an event on April 7, 2016 at the National Conference Center. Please email marketing@hostinireland.com for details.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle three: protect your customer data.


Here is the third of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

There are few hotter topics these days than cybersecurity. Sadly, the state of affairs will probably not significantly improve in the foreseeable future. Estimates are that two new malwares proliferate every second. Even the best intrusion protection software cannot keep up with that. The reality is that no organizations are infallible, and despite your best efforts, you can and probably will get hacked.

Still, organizations must proactively do everything they possibly can to protect customer data. With new breaches in the news (and notifications in our mailboxes) so frequently, people are rightly very concerned about the security of their data. Organizations who are thought to not have taken adequate security measures become the target of lawsuits. For example, Anthem is facing multiple suits after admitting a massive breach last February.

While setting up digital protections is the realm of IT, there are many other sources of risk to customer data – such as employee negligence, being careless with physical documents, not securing file cabinets, not destroying data that is no longer needed, leaving unsecured computers accessible, malicious insiders and just plain old mistakes. An organizational culture of mindfulness about practices that may seem innocuous can go a long way toward keeping data secure. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

Our study respondents had many other data protection concerns as well: Hide my identity; don’t track (or reveal) my location – this is a particular concern for women who may face stalking threats; don’t use facial recognition to identify me in crowd scenes; don’t harm me or enable harm to me by sharing my data with others who discriminate or apply bias; don’t track health-related data and search queries; don’t share sensitive medical and financial information. Unfortunately technologies are rapidly proliferating to do all of these things, and faster.

Just one example – at a conference last week, I heard the Chief Privacy Officer for Acxiom say that their data analytics capabilities are advanced to where they can identify by name a large percentage of the U.S. male population who were likely to have a certain health condition that, let’s say, most would not want revealed. She had to call foul and was able to stop the general availability of these lists for purchase.

Clearly there are many facets to data concerns and data protection. Get your own house in order. Ingrain this into the culture. And be as transparent and reassuring as you can with your customers about how seriously your organization takes this. But then there’s beyond your organization, which will be addressed in my next post.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Research and Communications introduces her 8 part series of principles for responsible data stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust.


An Introduction.

At what may be the dawn of a radical new era of technologically-driven marketing capability, I have been wondering – is enough ever going to be enough for the people being marketed to? People love their apps. They love online shopping. They love free stuff. They love connecting digitally to their friends and family 24-7. Even the growing stream of data breaches doesn’t seem to have much of a behavior-changing effect.

But the game is accelerating. Predictive intent, always the brass ring of marketing, is becoming ever-more precise, thanks to unprecedented analytics capabilities, Big Data, and soon-to-be connected everything. We may be heading toward something like on-demand lizard-brain manipulation — with marketing suggesting what people are going to want to buy before they are consciously aware of it themselves — with greater and greater accuracy on the timing of when a desire will manifest. That’s a future vision I don’t think many people understand.

So I thought I’d pose a simple question. Dialog recently conducted a study in which respondents were asked how they’d like marketers to behave in a predictive analytics world, mining data from the places the respondents digitally engage – willingly or not, knowingly or not. Respondents ranged in age from 30 to late 60s. They were male and female. They were all Americans, except for one subject of Her Majesty. Most have a college degree, a few have a Master’s, and a few work (or worked) in marketing-related jobs. They all willingly and regularly participate in the digital economy. And they all sense a lack of control over data about themselves.

One of the things that most struck me was that people have a general, vague awareness that ‘they’ are tracking everything about us. But less clear is who ‘they’ are or what’s being done with the data. Although I asked for gut reactions, what I got instead from the great majority were thoughtful, detailed and impassioned responses. Clearly this topic pushes a button. There is a growing undercurrent of discomfort. A general discomfort will get quickly channeled to any particular brand that pushes too far. Several respondents expressed (unprompted) anger at particular brands they felt disrespect their relationship. Given the huge investment required to build positive brand reputation, active customer anger should be every marketer’s (and CEO’s) nightmare.

The patterns that emerged from all of the respondents’ feedback were clear. It’s time to change behaviors. A lot of them. In the interest of something actionable, Dialog will offer NVTC members over the next few weeks a series of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust. I request and welcome thoughts and feedback to further this important discussion.

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Building Relationships: Developing the Relationship

April 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the four of a five part series on “Building Relationships,” Matthew Falls of BusinessUSA shares his insights on maintaining relationships with customers.


You’ve done whatever follow-up resulted from your conversation and it’s time to make the follow up call, or set the meeting. Again, prepare: research beyond the web site, set the agenda and focus beforehand with your contact. This is very important – it moves the conversation forward, lays the stage for the expected action items and demonstrates respect for the other person in that you are prepared for the call and do not intend to waste their time.

Dig deeper – look behind what’s in front of you – talk to multiple people – find out the real story, not just what’s on the web site. Look for ways to bring more value to meetings. Think beyond the meeting to your ultimate goals for this relationship. Focus on the person that you’re speaking with, the action item and how you can help this person.

If you are focusing on the other person and their needs, you can be patient and let the conversation progress naturally. trustSharpen your customer conversation skills. Ask about their interests, what’s important to them. It’s very important to cultivate the human side of relationships to get beyond the standard speech.

You can find out what they are willing to do and capable of doing, by listening to throwaway comments or venting, especially those made in frustration, they exhibit true feelings not stated. Cultivating the human side of relationships develops the trust that makes your contact feel comfortable enough to reveal such information, indicating pain points that your solution can solve.

Your goal is to come away from this first call with points of pain. It’s important to be aware of where you are in the process versus where you want to be and figure out how to advance to next stage – bring in an idea that adds value to them. Each conversation should build on the previous conversation; if you are having the same conversation, they are not ready.

There may not be any apparent points of pain. That’s ok. Keep the conversation going with contacts by looking at them and their business as a whole and send them information, interesting items, bits of news. Become a resource to them. Over time they may introduce you to opportunities, or pain points may be revealed. Your relationships should also give you intelligence about upcoming opportunities.

If you are a federal contractor or sub-contractor, bringing business to the prime obviously will make them see you as a resource and an ideal teaming partner. With contracting trends indicating that 1 of 4 contracts are multiple award vehicles, teaming decisions are often made before the Statement of Work is issued, so developing and expanding teaming relationships become critical to the success of the company.

Many contracts result from being on a team. Not just any team though, the right team. You also want to make your company desirable to the right team. A strategic advisor focused on generating revenue can assess your company, help you determine your core competencies, develop strategies to get on the right team and negotiate a teaming agreement that brings value to all team members.

All of this great research and preparation won’t deliver results if you can’t deliver the message to the customer. Take the time to practice so that you will be more confident in the moment. Anticipate how the call will play out and do some role playing.

Use the seasons analogy to guide the building of your relationships – plant the seed – introduce yourself – nurture the relationship – become a resource to them, send information, make introductions, etc. – harvest the seeds – if you have nurtured the relationship, the harvest time becomes apparent – enjoy the fruits – take the time to enjoy your success – start to think about new opportunities.


Matthew Falls works for the federal initiative BusinessUSA, focusing on outreach to the state and local partners and the business community.  He collaborates with state and local economic development organizations to feature their program content on BusinessUSA and to introduce BusinessUSA as a resource to small businesses. 

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the third of a five part series on “Building Relationships,” Matthew Falls of BusinessUSA shares his insights on utilizing your research to connect with potential customers.


You’ve identified the companies, agencies and program offices that are most likely to use your product or service. You have read their most recent press releases and blog entries. You also know the names of the leadership team, program managers and contracting officers for those programs. You’ve connected with them on social media networks. You also know those companies most likely to fit with your core competencies.

If you don’t know this information, you probably have not done enough research and it is best to find out this information. It will provide the basis for starting your matthewseries3relationship with a company, program office, or a prime contractor.

There’s an event next week. Perhaps it’s an Industry Day, a program office is giving a seminar, there’s a networking event sponsored by a trade association or economic development agency, or perhaps you’ve identified a key contact and you want to set up a meeting. Maybe you are attending a trade show or industry event.

Do some research. Who is sponsoring? What programs or panel discussions are being offered? Can you contribute? Call the organization and ask how you can help with the event. Your research on the organization can tell you what programs they like to offer, what its membership does. Think about putting on a program for them in the future. This will better connect you to the organization and they will see you as a resource. Becoming a resource to them gives the organization the confidence to introduce you to an opportunity.

Focus on your goals for this event. Do you want leads, an introduction to someone, or just to build your brand? You’re not going to close a sale, so relax. You can take the time to nurture a relationship. Set performance metrics, i.e., I expect to have x substantial conversations that lead to an opportunity, I expect to collect x business cards, etc. Setting metrics allows you to objectively evaluate your performance and the usefulness of the event. Evaluating each event provides the information needed to make the most of your time, to focus on those events and organizations that provide the most value for you.

The SWOT analysis you did earlier has given you the information and strategic focus needed to craft a statement about your organization, what it does best and why the listener should care. People will want to know what you or your organization does and you need to have a clear vision that ties into your goals for this event.

When you meet that first person, pay attention to them. Look them in the eye, shake hands firmly and show an interest in their business card and what their position is in the organization. Figure out what concerns the person you’re speaking with; have a genuine interest in what they are doing. Ask about recent press releases, new initiatives they may be engaged in, talk about what they hope to get out of this event.

Make the focus on them. Don’t forget the human element of relationships. It is very important to understand what is possible and what the person that you are speaking with is capable of doing; if not, you’re wasting your time. The more you focus on the other person, the faster you will have the information to make a determination about this person.

The other person will ask about your business. Because you spent the time focusing on the other person in this conversation, you now have the information needed to craft your response around how your company’s product or service can be a benefit to the company. Talk about next steps. Leave the conversation with an action item. Write it on the back of their business card when you get a chance. Tell them that you will respond to them the next day.

If you get so lucky as to uncover a potential need and opportunity, try to learn who will influence the solution and the decision-making process. People connect to their colleagues on LinkedIn and some of them will be influential in the requirements development and selection process. Visit each of those buying influence’s LinkedIn profiles and pay close attention to whether they are linked to any of your competitors. If so, then that’s a red flag.

Sometimes there really is no connection to the person; you cannot provide what they need. Ask for a referral, do they know anyone who has a need for your product or service? If so, ask for a specific email introduction to their contact referencing the point of interest as an action item for this conversation. Write the contact’s name and point of interest on the back of the business card.

The event is over and you have a handful of business cards. Hopefully you wrote the action items on the back of the cards. Review the event. How did you perform against your goals? Be objective about the event. Perhaps you didn’t get many cards because you didn’t do the research versus the event not being a good fit for you. Maybe you didn’t get enough cards because you took too much time with a person. That’s good if it leads to a concrete opportunity, or a substantial conversation that moves the relationship forward. Keeping performance metrics allows to objectively evaluate the event, your preparation and your pitch.

Add the cards, points of interest and action items into your contact database and assign tasks for follow up. Always follow up when you say you will. It goes to your credibility, reliability and reputation for being able to deliver. These are some of the most important aspects in a good relationship and to gain the confidence of people who might be able to help you in the future.

At this point you have a few people who are connected to the opportunities that you’ve highlighted in your SWOT analysis. It’s time to cultivate these relationships, bring value to your contacts, assuring that they see you and your company as a valuable resource in their network.

Perhaps you don’t have a business development staff to make these contacts or your company is not located in Washington, DC if you sell to the federal government. Maybe you want to penetrate a different industry sector, line of business or another agency to win larger chunks of business.

Consider forming an advisory board comprised of very high-profile individuals who will open doors and act as advocates for your company. A properly constructed advisory board, whose sole purpose is to drive revenue, can turbo-charge your business development and harvest the value in your company.


Matthew Falls works for the federal initiative BusinessUSA, focusing on outreach to the state and local partners and the business community.  He collaborates with state and local economic development organizations to feature their program content on BusinessUSA and to introduce BusinessUSA as a resource to small businesses. 

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