Monthly Archives: July 2016

Repeat Customer to Negative Reviewer


I’m not a sales guru by any stretch but this is about a sales technique that I wouldn’t recommend.

We all value reviews on services and products from our friends, the general public and experts, especially in this connected world. I’ve never been one to provide negative reviews but this is a quick story of how I went from a potential repeat customer to a negative reviewer very quickly.

I’m sure a few have been in similar situations and hopefully someone can learn from it. No one likes to be treated like a fool especially when you are the one holding the cheque.
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I was after some shutters on a number of windows at home. I called a company I had used many years earlier at my previous house so I was a repeat customer. Their salesperson came out to do his measurements then worked out some pricing before we sat down to look at the numbers.

The very first thing he did was write down a number on a piece of paper, told me this is the retail price then crossed it out and wrote another number down because “he wasn’t going to stuff me around”. Really? I pushed him a little and very quickly we were at about 44% of the retail price.
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The caveat he had on the price was that he “believed” scaffolding would be required to complete the job. The next time I spoke to the salesperson was to tell me the cost of the scaffolding required which added up to a 40% increase on the price he quoted – so we were practically back to the retail price remarkably enough!

“But you are still getting a 44% discount on the shutters, it is the size of the house that requires this level of scaffolding”, he told me. Really? Does this sales tactic really work on anyone?
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I wasn’t just not going to use their service, I was pissed and I called/emailed the company to get a comment back. Nothing was forthcoming so I wrote a review on productreview.com.au and gave them 1 star out of 5 (the minimum). I must admit it felt good. I showed them!

It’s amazing how quick you can turn someone from a potential repeat customer to a negative reviewer so quickly and in today’s online world, why would you take the risk?

Footnote: I got a great job on the shutters for less than the 44% off the retail price I was initially quoted with no scaffolding required.


4 Auto Classified SEM Products


We all know that Google is an amazing business. One of the things that amazes me with Google is the fact that it is created two new business fields in their own right in SEO and SEM.

Companies, professionals, agencies, experts all specializing in these two Google created fields. These two fields are about being found in a search engine with SEO the science of ensuring you are at the top of “generic” listings and SEM in the paid listings. The search engine doesn’t have to mean Google (although it is the most common) and it doesn’t have to be a generic search engine like Google.

A classifieds site is also a search engine enabling a consumer to search through hundreds of thousands or millions of listings and SEO and SEM applies to them too.
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I’ve talked about the SEO key components before (photos, comments & comments) so here’s 4 SEM products that are available on carsales and should be available on all good auto classified sites:

1. Top Spot – Not only will your car be at the top of the search results (the car must still meet the the search criteria), it will also have the biggest photo in the search results ensuring the consumer cannot miss it. Guaranteed to deliver more search result views than any other product.

2. Showcase – The next best thing after Top Spot. Showcase cars will appear on the first page (Google has taught us we must be on page 1!) and will have a larger photo in the search results than standard listings, ensuring it is seen.
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3. CarFacts Getting a CarFacts report generated and displaying the report with the car for sale in the search results makes the car more attractive to view than a car that hasn’t got one. A CarFacts report gives the buyer piece of mind in knowing if the car has been written off, isn’t finance encumbered, stolen, etc.
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4. Redbook Inspect Report – Similar to the CarFacts report, getting your car inspected by Redbook Inspect and having the report listed in the search results with the car yells out to a buyer to “view me” then the report detail says “buy me”.
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Just like SEM on Google works, SEM products in auto classified sites are selling tools; they help to sell and they work. Try them the next time you are selling a car. Not using them is a false economy.

NB All opinions are my own.


A Key Component of an Acquisition


I’m a firm believer that in general, “people do business with people they like“. I know there are exceptions but as a rule I stand by this.

In order to like someone in a business sense does not mean you need to be mates; there needs to be a mutual respect between each other that business will be conducted in a manner that you both expect.

When carsales looks at an international acquisition target, local management is a key component of the decision making process. Very early on in the process I like to understand what the local management structure is going to look like and ascertain if there will be issues from day 1 after closing.

People do business with people they like” takes on an extra meaning when the management you are relying on to run the day to day operations of a business you have invested in is on the other side of the world. A true mutual respect as people first is important in this.
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This is why dealing with and forging close relationships with local management is a key component as a strategic investor. The structure of our partners in our 4 international acquisitions (Webmotors.com.br in Brazil, Encar.com in South Korea, Soloautos.mx in Mexico & Chileautos.cl in Chile) are somewhat different but the relationships we have/are building are very similar. In each business we are very close to the executive management; talking on an almost daily basis and sharing more than just business.

When we started Digital Motorworks, very early on we did some business with News Limited’s then new digital arm called News Interactive (News Digital Media) for their online jobs platform Careerone. We saw our personal relationships (we didn’t know them beforehand) as important and worked hard on it. Our work with Careerone expanded (and then exploded) and before we knew we were performing the same services to The Times of London (News International) which then spread by recommendation to TES Education and Emap (also both in the UK). When News were looking at starting an online automotive platform they came to DMi first.
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Yes DMi had some nice technology that served their needs but I have no doubt the relationships we formed within News Interactive were the driving force behind establishing our brand within their business.

Even internally, it is hard having a workable business relationship with someone you simply do not like, trust and/or respect.

People do business with people they like” can take on a number of meanings. It may be “just business” but business involves people and where people are concerned, it is better to like people than not.


3 Lessons From Getting Served


When your former employer serves you with a legal notice there has to be a lesson or three in there. Here’s mine.

Let’s get this picture right. It is a typical Melbourne June night, dark and cold with my wife at home with our 2 year old son and 5 months pregnant with our second child while I am in the US on business with my business partner. There is a knock on the door and my wife answers it. A man in a motorcycle helmet asks for me and isn’t convinced and/or happy that I’m not there. No explanations, just annoyance. My wive is worried and scared. Who is this guy and why is he asking for me?

Eventually he hands something to my wife and says “make sure he gets this”. My wife calls me frantically and reads the letter to me. I was in the US with my business partner who had just received a similar phone call and story from his wife in Adelaide. We had just been served by our former employer.
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The previous two months had seen the two of us leave our jobs to start our own business. We had seen a gap in the market that we thought we could fill and one that our employer didn’t want to pursue. The long and short of was that we ended up starting Digital Motorworks (DMi) in Australia leveraging the DMi technology from Austin, Texas as the basis.

This didn’t go down well with our previous employer who were using some of the DMi technology (totally separate technology and goals to what we were planning) to kick start their Internet initiatives and hence the legal notice to “cease and desist”. When I arrived back in Australia I met a solicitor to draft a reply and a meeting was setup between myself and my previous employer “without prejudice” in a neutral location. There was a lot of “puff and wind” as I remember; it was a good experience.

The reality was that there no basis to the claims, it was designed to give us a scare and hopefully stop whatever we were trying to do. It was just business and another learning curve in my business journey. Well that was the way I looked at it. My business partner was a lot more prescriptive than I was and I would say held on to the experience in a different way.
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I learnt 3 lessons from getting served:

1) Keep your nose clean. I knew that what we were looking to do was a path my previous employer was not taking. I understood why they wanted to stop what we were doing which is why it was important that we stuck to the path and didn’t go near their direction.

2) Don’t burn bridges. Unfortunately in business you can’t please everyone all the time. You can, however, ensure that you conduct yourself in a way that keeps the door open to conduct business with everyone a second and third time (refer lesson 1).

3) It is just business. Sometimes it is hard to understand or push through but sometimes to succeed where others haven’t is understanding that “it is just business” and move on. I have employed and been in business with family and friends for over 15 years now which for the most part has been a great experience but sometimes a “just business” decision is required.

This is not to be misconstrued with my belief that “people do business with people they like” as there is always the personal element to this but even at this level, business decisions need to be made.

I am confident that these three learnings are part of the reason I am once again working alongside the directors of my previous employer which I have done for 18 of the past 28 years – with the other 10 years being with DMi!


Balancing Work and YOU


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I read a good post recently from Jason Wyatt, Managing Director at Marketplacer, titled “Being an entrepreneur is tough work, so look after yourself“.

His first paragraph reads: “There’s no way around it: as an entrepreneur, you need to put in the hard yards to make your business a success. Getting a venture off the ground takes enormous effort and focus.

He is right and guess what, it’s not only entrepreneurs who this applies to, it is everyone. The majority of people I know and associate with are multi-faceted in that they work (paid or unpaid, ie housework), are husbands/wives, fathers/mothers, involved in school stuff, junior club stuff, etc. Combining all of this “takes enormous effort and focus”.

Make no mistake, generally speaking to make everything work is “tough work”.

The work part of it is almost the easy bit be it running a business, housework, working in a large corporate, a small business, tradie, white-collar worker, anything. It is juggling the next 4-5 things on your to-dos that can leave you gasping for air let alone making the time to keep active.

This is why you need to look after yourself, mentally and physically. Looking after yourself can and does mean different things to different people but at the core you need to ensure you are happy and healthy.
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I am one that likes to exercise. It is important to my state of mind and body so I do prioritise it which means the very first part of my week-day before work is exercise time. Sometimes I get a good long session in, sometimes a short quick session and sometimes I just can’t make it work. When I travel I make sure I stay in a hotel with a gym so that I can keep moving. For me it is as much about my mental state as my physical state.

Not everyone likes to exercise, granted. Looking after yourself doesn’t have to be about exercise; just look after yourself in all aspects to be your best at all facets in your life.

Remember, YOU are at the top of the triangle (3 Points to Win).


2 Pieces Of Career Advice


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I found a great article recently through a LinkedIn post titled “Is My CareerOn Track At Age 30” which had some significance for me.

When I was in my 20’s the age 30 held something for me. My first goal was a financial one where I was determined to be earning a dollar amount as my base salary by the time I was 30. This was a benchmark for me for whatever reason (I have no idea or good reason for it other than that’s what it was). My second goal was to run my own business.

As I got closer to 30 and not closer to my goals I started to look at what I had to do to get there and beyond.

My father had given me a couple of pieces of advice when I started work:

1) be loyal, work hard and you will be looked after; and

2) if you want to get somewhere you need to do it yourself, take charge
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So it was with hitting 30 and the second piece of my father’s advice that I left my 10.5 year secure employment (where I believe I had been very loyal and hard working) to take the chance on a start-up even though I had to re-mortgage my house with our second child on the way. I am fairly risk adverse and to this day unsure how I managed to take the jump!

As it turned out, within 1 year of starting my business I had achieved the salary level I had set at age 30. I was happy with myself that I had taken affirmative action to achieve both goals.

Fast forward to when I was approaching 40. I had sold my shares in the business I had started and was running the same company for a US based company. Whilst the previous 6 years as CEO had seen good growth with CAGR for Revenue at 31% and EBITDA 24%, I could see the writing on the wall for a decline as our legacy services were being replaced and the investment started we required to reinvent ourselves was drying up.
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I didn’t want to be running a business that wasn’t growing so it was time to be in charge of my own destiny again and start the next chapter of my career. Was it coincidence that this was at 40 when I then joined carsales.com? I don’t think it is a coincidence either that my boss at carsales was my boss for the time I was with Reynolds & Reynolds (see the first piece of advice my father gave me).

Does this mean that over the next few years I need to start looking at my next career change? You never say never and I do have new goals and expectations but given the passion I have for role and the company and given the short, medium & long term goals we have in place, I don’t think so.

I think the two pieces of advice dad gave me are applicable to most; and they can be interpreted in different ways. At the end of the day attitude and aptitude overrides skills and for me, these two things are the essence of what the advice means.


1 Massive Difference From The 90’s


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Who’s more annoying for the product & technology team in a tech/online company like carsales.com – a member of the executive team who knows little to nothing about developing product or one that knows something about it (or thinks they do)?

I’m in the latter group of this question having started as a software developer at the end of 1988 moving into the 90’s. I look at changes we need to make and get impatient on delivery times. I can’t help it. I think back to when I was developing and if I had something in front of me that could make a difference in the product, we just seemed to make it happen, “from go to whoa“.

The software life cycle for me went like this as I would:
— Scope the product;
— Develop the product;
— Test it;
— Document (in the code and for users, sometimes);
— Deploy the product into the release cycle; and
— Then support it (when a software release was made available).
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I was in total control. We had over a dozen developers all with the same life cycle for changes big and small. We would do a new software release containing hundreds of changes twice a year. The end product was used by hundreds of dealers and thousands of users around Australia.

There are quite a few differences from the 90’s to now in software development but the number 1 difference has to be plainly and simply 1 thing:

The Internet

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The rate of change, always available and number of users make the processes of the 90’s obsolete. Like today, we had thousands of features as well as integrations and dependencies throughout many products but 3 things we didn’t have to factor in were:

1. Code being pushed live multiple times per day – the quarterly release schedule that regularly got pushed to half yearly is long gone

2. 99.9% plus availability for users – we always had windows where we could bring the system down for a number of hours to fix or upgrade something

3. Having a scalable and reliable system and code base to handle millions of users and millions of actions per second not to mention hosting in “the cloud” – this adds complexity and cost, especially for disaster recovery which has to be a staple

We all take the Internet for granted and the change it has had on our lives.

Oh for the good old days of software development….