When The Machines Run Your Technology Run For The Hills

I have had this recurring story I tell people, where I have been in situations where the battle is between “How” the current technology works and “How” it should work.  What I am saying is that the computer systems were built in a way that ends up producing a usability issue down the road.  Maybe early on a quick solution was put in place, or perhaps the world shifted and the technology needed to be updated.

It eventually happens that I run into a situation where technology becomes the barrier to change and dictates how things are being done.  When I hear people say that’s the way it works and we can’t change that, I always joke, “The machines are running the show then”.

You Can Change That!

The real question is whether we, as humans, will control modern technology and direct the technology to do what we want it to do, or will we give in and just accept the way it is and let the technology rule.  When we had not so Smart Phones back about 3 years ago, we just accepted the technology the way it works.  I also tell people that consumers don’t know what they don’t know.  Since you and I and your mother doesn’t know something that is coming down the road that will make life a lot easier, doesn’t mean the current technology is broken.  It’s just that technology is evolutionary, not always revolutionary.

The real question here is can you change things.  Well, when I was a technology manager I did try to change things.  People are the barrier in the end, and quite often companies have reasons why they can’t change things.

Case In Point, Pricing.

I was working for a hosting company and I noticed the pricing for their hosting plans were like $9.92, $18.34 and $26.72 for their monthly service plans.  That did not sound right.  I did a little research and found out the problem was the back-end systems would not allow a typical pricing like $9.95 and $19.95, the kind of prices we expect to see.  This was due to the fact the back-end took in a yearly price and divided up monthly. So, what did I do.  I of course set out to change this.  It was a herculean task, especially since there was no inertia to fix it.  When the employees have no motivation to fix things, mainly because they are not really feeling that improvements change things for themselves, there is a major problem.  To me this was the biggest problem I could see at the company.  If you introduce friction in the sales process, what else is more important?

Technology In Business Comes Down To People, Not Technology

Another process that got my goat at this job was the checkout process.  This hoster required people, after adding hosting to their cart, to add a domain name.  It was not an option, it was a requirement.  This was completely deranged.  Why, because the system required it.  That meant that you just added a hosting plan, and now you need a domain. What if you don’t know it yet?  Well, in fact, people would leave.  They would go off and ask a buddy, search on Godaddy.com and work a thesaurus (haven’t seen a real thesaurus book in a while).  What this meant is they often would not come back.   So, how do you get these fixes in place.  You have to go back up the chain of command find out who is in charge and the process of getting it fixed.

Data Is Your Friend

Starting with 10 years of web analytics makes me an unusual kind of web manager (of developers).  What I need is information.  With information, like the funnel accurately assessing these friction points in the checkout, you are prepared to go to battle.  You would think, who needs to go to battle to get things done correctly?  Well, that’s the way of the world.  Most people don’t want to change what they are doing, especially in management.  And they are least likely to listen to their peers.  In most minds in needs to come from the top.  You can work from the top down, but then they hate your guts.  Who are you to make a pronouncement on what happens in “my” area.  Quite honestly, I tried to listen to fellow managers with recommendations.  Just be prepared for the war, by preparing for the battle early with raw information that can not be contested.  The protectors of the machines are many and out there, because the status quo is the easiest way out in life.

A Few Good Men

I am reminded of a case where a fellow manager did listen to my recommendation and did take a piece of code and move it across from one server to another and it had a big impact.  The site was Whois.net.  I asked a program manager to move international domain search technology from his area to this site, and he listened and wanted to get something done.  It was a win-win.  A rare moment as we human unite against the machines for a short moment in time.

 

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Working With The Infusionsoft API

In this article I am just going to cover the basic concepts for the Infusionsoft API, if you need to review the documentation, you can find it here:  http://help.infusionsoft.com/developers/api-basics.

Over the past 2 years my company project Take It National has been integrated tightly with Infusionsoft.  We are planning on adding more integrations to the new Take It National software, when it is ready for the Infusionsoft Market Place.  Basically as a software developer I had a few challenges integrating Infusionsoft with my product.  The docs have gotten better over the past 2 years, but originally it was a difficult road.   The big question is why all the integration.

Why Content?

What I have come to realize about any email or CRM company and any company that is Saas, is that there is often a missing component.  In the case of Take It National, the component that we take care of are events, content, geography and people management.  This means that we allow users to create events or content, mainly in the form of event data, but it could be other data, and that gets populated into the Infusionsoft outgoing emails.  What is so important about content?  Well, first off if you were going to send out an email about 10 different cities and you wanted specialized or personalized data for each person, you would have to create 10 separate templates for emails in Infusionsoft. There is a lot of copying and pasting.  Now try 75 separate cities you are trying to email each week from within Infusionsoft.  Stop Now!  It’s not that it can’t be done, the question is how to automate it all!

Geography and Segments

So, we started by integrating our emails from Take It National to Infusionsoft.  That task meant simply working with the provided Infusionsoft SDK or sample PHP code and making sure we ran the right API call for the right transactions.  Right now we send to over 70 cities with specialty emails through a two click process.  Our power users in Take It National look over the event content and make sure it’s right and then send.  So we are simply broadcasting and sending through the Infusionsoft Send API.

First Things First

So the first place we run an Infusionsoft API is when people fill out our forms on our websites.  We use a two step process where users typically will fill out a short form when runs a check to see if they are in Infusionsoft through their query API:

$contactinfo = $Infusion->dsQuery(“Contact”,10,0,$query,$returnFields);

Once we know they are not in the Infusionsoft contact list, we then run an addCon() function:

$conID=$Infusion->addCon($contact);

So this function puts them into the database.  The next thing is asking them questions.

Multiple Businesses And Custom Fields

So we have multiple businesses, lines or entities in our business.  One secret to using Infusionsoft for this purpose is using a Custom Field to manage something like this.  If  you had multiple divisions, this would make sense, or methods people come through your CRM.  So, we also check in our system to make sure that the person is in the right system by checking on the custom field.  All customer fields need to be prefaced for Infusionsoft with an underscore, so if you needed to create a custom field in Infusionsoft called Division, it would be called “_Division”.

Autoresponder

The first time people get on the list for Take It National they are shipped an auto-responder.  We actually house the email that gets sent in Take It National not within Infusionsoft.  This could be done either way.  What we do use is this function:

$sent_status = $Infusion->sendEmail($clist,”$company_name <$events_email>”,”~Contact.FirstName~ <~Contact.Email~>”,””,””,”HTML”,”$fname: $company_name Notification Email Confirmation”,”$email_content”,”$email_content_text”);

If you are a programmer, notice that you can send both HTML and Text through this simple API command send out an email.  We send a copy of our HTML from Take It National’s content system with tagging.

Tag Em And Bag Em

Finally, once we have put the new contact record into the system we tag our records with nice segmented interests.  The call for this starts with checking to see if the record is in the system, through a query of Infusionsoft contact list:

$ContactID = $Infusion->GetContactID($fname,$lname,$email);

And we assign tags to each record using grpAssign:

$result = $app->grpAssign($contactId, $groupId);

There is a lot more to it than just this, but hopefully you get the point that we are tightly integrated with Infusionsoft and using the API and it works well.

Let me know if you have any questions.  They say that you can get all the answers through the Infusionsoft API Forum, but I have had to figure a lot of this out on my own over the past 2 years, so let me know if you have any questions.

Dan

Our Infusionsoft Journey

A few years ago, I had to be convinced to switch our email provider to Infusionsoft.  It was a pricey service compared with other services on the market.  Being a software guy, I always think about just doing it myself.  But we were having big issues with email at the time, and I was tired of being in the email business.  Our site was sending thousands of emails a day, much of it manually sent, and we were looking to automate those processes so that we could easily send out segmented or city based email to 50 to 100 different markets.  This was no easy task, and Infusionsoft was not exactly going to solve much for me other than the white listing issue.  The biggest issue was getting the right data with the right message to the right market.  While Infusionsoft does send well and now has Infusionsoft CRM and other great tools like Infusionsoft Ecommerce, it still would mean that we had to build 75 separate pieces of content and send it to 75 separate lists.

Why Such Personalized Email?

Well, our business is events.  We send event notification emails to many many markets and each market has different events.  This kind of information can only be generated through a content management system, and that’s why we created Take It National, a Localization Content Management System.  And then within some of those cities we needed to send to specific groups occasionally that were Catholic, Jewish, African American and other segments. The end result is we need to be very specialized in what we send.

How We Made Infusionsoft Work?

So, if you think about it, the email CRM providers only provide the sending mechanism.  Yes, there may be a place for content like contact information or product information within Infusionsoft, but most companies need to copy and paste their core business content into these Saas packages like Infusionsoft.  That means that there are a lot of copy and paste writers out there prepping data for Infusionsoft.  In the case of “one city” or “one time” events, which often use Constant Contact or Eventbrite this is a relatively easy thing to manage.  You throw many users into the mix and combine that with both multi-city, multi-segment information and you will need more than just Infusionsoft to get your emails out the door.  So, how did we make it work.  We used the Infusionsoft API and wrote a connector between Infusionsoft and Take It National.  Now the two systems talk the same language.  Our local coordinators in up to 100 cities log in to Take It National and create all the content, and the content gets sent out automatically through Infusionsoft.

So Why Is Infusionsoft Just Better

If you talk with Infusionsoft, they will give you all kinds of reasons why they are really better, like the way their Sequences work, Opportunities, and things that do what they are supposed to do, when people click.  Their sequences are killer.  The way the system works is really amazing.  Infusionsoft added Infusionsoft CRM and Infusionsoft Ecommerce, and all of that is terrific. The bottom line is our emails go through to our customers better than any provider we worked with on the market.  That is why we ended up using Infusionsoft and while it did cost more, in the end it cost us less as we grew and grew.  Our business now uses Infusionsoft and we are back as the top provider of Speed Dating in the US.

You will probably notice that this blog article is really pushing Infusionsoft, and that’s because I am not just a user of their service, I am a partner and affiliate and if you use one of the links in this blog to purchase an Infusionsoft license I will get credit.  If you are thinking about signing up and want to find a person who has been through all the things necessary to connect content to Infusionsoft, you should come and knock on my door and fill out the contact info form on this website.    To learn more about Infusionsoft, just follow any of the links on this page and let me know if works out for you.

How To Respond To New Ideas?

Recently I had to remind my long-term speed dating partner Vince (Pre-Dating.com), after covering a new concept that my team wants to try, that we are “old” guys and that we really may not know much of anything when it comes to deciding what is a good idea or bad idea.  Let me first preface the word “idea”.  When I refer to an “idea” in the Internet space we are mainly referring to a new business, a new website, a new mobile app, hardware, a new start-up company, or a new conceptual technology thingy that actually does something.  Actually the words he used were “But I know what I like”.  And those words to me don’t mean anything because what we like or think we like may only lead us to a big mistake.  Trust me, what we like will not exactly work for everybody, or even a small group of the mass market.

What WE Like May Not Mean Anything

To work with entrepreneurs with new ideas, you have to leave your ego at the door and be an open book.  So, when a few weeks earlier a young entrepreneur with a new concept wanted to sit with me and discuss his new Web & Mobile App, after hearing his pitch I  sat thinking to myself, “Wow, this is a dumb idea, this marketing plan won’t work, and this logo and business name does not work for me.”  So what did I do?  I sat there and just bit my tongue.  Just because I think it is bad or wrong, does not mean I am correct.  I may be right, but it may not matter.  The question is how to dish out the mentoring and get them to a point that you are helping and not being a jerk.

The Weekly Meetup & Mentoring

At least once a week an entrepreneur or a person I meet at Caffeine Spaces wants to sit with me and discuss their app.  It may be just a concept not yet on paper, or a full blown application especially if it is in the Dating space, Social Networking, Education Space or areas I have been exposed to.  I always take the meeting.  And I have to force myself to sit and listen.  This is not easy, because those who know me, know that I typically cut people off when they are talking and just start saying my own ideas.  I have to cut that out and buckle down to get the gist of what they are trying to get across.  Listening is really mentoring.  Giving some rational tactical advice on Next Steps is the answer.  Everybody is in a certain stage of development.  If they don’t have their one page Exec Summary or a Pitch Deck, that is where they need to go next, especially if they want to raise capital or just bring on partners or customers.

Small Steady Improvements

I also had to remind Vince that an idea is just an idea.  Conceptually any idea can be developed into a lasting entity or business, especially if the concept is tested.  Vince had this one business venture we talked about where he had failed to gain critical mass, and we discussed a little bit of why it failed.  He felt his “vision” had not been accepted by the market.  Basically it was a $400 bootcamp about how to start-up a company.  It was in fact a $20,000 value over 2 days, like getting an MBA shoved in your head.  He had lost a lot of time developing this concept creating the materials and felt people were not willing to pay for the whole shebang.  Well, the issue was simpler.  He did not have to spend 6 months on creating a monolith and start-up people don’t want to spend $400, they have a hard time parting with a $1.  So he should have tested the concept and broken it down into small pieces and gotten a web page up and running and just made small improvements finding his way towards success.  That is how you have to approach this business.

“Investing in the Internet is similar in a way to investing in a farm”

Read this great quote by Technology Pioneer Yossi Vardi.  Essentially you have to look at Internet related ventures like you do farming.  I have to remind all the people I meet with new ideas to think like this and to sell themselves this way.  90% of the results of our Internet ventures will take 3-5 years to show results.  And of that amount, many may fail, but many will start to come to their own if we continue to make those improvements and pivot and correct the mistakes we made at first.  It will always take time.  The start-ups that were overnight successes showed some progress, but event those are on a 3 to 10 year time frame till profitability and success.

South Florida Venture (Improbabilities)

There is a disconnect in South Florida between venture capital and new start-up ideas, that are not experienced in larger cities around the country with a great Start-up community.  And event he angel/venture guys around are not willing to wait.  They need to show results now, and always want results to be on the table.  Real dollars, real traffic and real databases are how we speak and work in South Florida, and that means there will never be a Tumblr, a Twitter or a Google produced out of South Florida.  You need the patience and the capital up front.  We are forced to make immediate decisions on how our businesses are built in order to bootstrap everything, and when you get some financing it is a dribble if you are lucky.  This is hopefully changing.  My answer to a lot of young guys are great idea, maybe you should move to New York or San Francisco.  Would love to change that, and things are changing, but not soon enough.

Schema.org and Rich Snippets

What Are Rich Snippets?

About 2 years ago we (I mean my speed dating company partners) became aware of Rich Snippets. Still, a year later, I am explaining to people what they are and how to deploy them. I can give you a good example of how we are using them, and a couple really cool resources.

Rich Snippets are simply the reformatting of information within search engine results, like Google. You will notice for instance that occasionally an image, a video, a recipe, review stars or event listings show up reformatted under your search results. An good example of this can be seen when you search on Google for “Speed Dating Seattle”. You will see our Pre-Dating.com Seattle events show up nicely under the Google Results.

In our Speed Dating business we used to think of ourselves as cutting edge (at least on the tech side). On the design side we are way behind, but things like Rich Snippets are showing us that we still have a long way to go to get up to date on current technology. In fact, you will never be up to date. You have to keep on learning and trying new things out. The point of this blog post is that there is a way to format your Google results. In fact, in this WordPress post I am using the Rich Snippet Plugin. What I am trying to accomplish with this Plugin, is getting the “Person” Rich Snippet implemented, as listed under Schema.org.

Schema.org

If you go to Schema.org you will be able to look up the mark up language that is required to set up your Rich Snippets for a particular type of entity or thing you are indexing on the search engines. This is where it goes from being a marketer to a developer. For the events Rich Snippets I did the edits in my PHP code. For a WordPress site like this, I was looking for a better, quicker solution, and that is when I ran into Rich Snippets Plugin, which should take care of my needs. My need is to have my picture show up right next to my blog listing, when I post this entry. Not sure if that is going to work. If it doesn’t I will have a follow-up entry which attempts to do it again.

Rich Snippet Plugin

You can get the Rich Snippet Plugin here. 

I am trying out the All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets Plugin, and will find out in the next 24 hours if this technique will work properly.  In the end you should be search on a bit of text from this post, like grab “For the events Rich Snippets I did the edits in my PHP code. For a WordPress site” and find the Google Listing.  If everything has worked correctly, you should see a different view of this Blog Post, where the image should be my personal image.  That is the Rich Snippet I was aiming for or you need some assistance.  In my next Blog Post about Rich Snippets I will give my overall assessment of All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets Plugin.

Email me if you have any questions about this at dgudema AT gmail DOT com