Friday, 21 March 2014

Good Roll Out Processes Come to Those Who Wait...

In my last post I highlighted that I have had some ideas in the past that I felt had merit but were not necessarily heard and would like to detail some of these ideas in today's post. Before I do I would like to highlight the three main reasons that these ideas have not been taken forward;

1) Looking for "Product-Market Fit"

I have been looking for ideas that have the potential to be winners - that will fulfil a need and be fit for purpose. 

“Product-market fit is being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market” Marc Andreessen

In my EdTech report I detail how MIT's Bill Aulet and the Sensable Technology team spent 6 months looking for the best niche market for their product (See Appendix 1 on P33). In my case this is the other way round... I don't know what the product is but, for personal reasons, I know that the right sector for me is Further Education. But I realise that achieving "Product Market Fit" takes time and this is definitely a case of "Prior preparation prevents poor performance." 

I could easily roll something that looks like a good idea, only to find that you end up questioning how fit for purpose the idea was after you're working with 50-60 colleges, but you find that your roll out plans have ground to a halt because the service doesn't live up to your or your customers' expectations.

At this point not only has lot of time and money been invested... But it will be harder to backtrack once you've got paying customers; but its also difficult to grow as these customers will be disappointed with the results, compared with what they were expecting. This makes roll out through referrals and word of mouth all but impossible (See P37 Appendix 3 - "Danger of Not finding Product Market Fit").

2) Finding the right customers 
Finding the right customers in early
sage is crucial... but can be hard to reach
I have worked on projects where everything about the service has been the same - the product, customer support and account management etc - but have had completely different results at different colleges.The only explanation I could come up with was that the product was being managed by people at the college who either didn't have the time to explore the service or they were working with the service at the wrong time in the product's development and roll out phase. 

3) Roll out process 

The 2 points above highlight to me that the roll out process in FE at the moment isn't ideal. Under the current model you could easily spend a year+ trying to work with 40-60 colleges with traditional sales methods... Personally I feel that this is way too long for a great product and way too quick for a poor products that are not fit for purpose.

Instead of spending a year trying to sell an untested product that you eventually find has no tangible or quantifiable results, I would far rather have 3-4 pilot projects run for a year and then get roll out to 40-60 colleges within weeks after publishing the results. The latter scenario seems to be worth the wait. 

Therefore before considering rolling out any of the ideas I have had in the past, I feel it would be better to work on developing a network consisting of the right mix of people within the sector.

If I asked Customers what they wanted...
While I am all for collaboration and am keen to hear to the sectors' views... that does not necessarily mean that I will listen to the overall consensus! I realise the need to balance the information that you get with your instincts, which will sometimes tell you to go against the advice of the market and trust that the idea will catch on.

"If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."

But even if you decide to go against the consensus and disregard this feedback the same process applies - Test the idea with the right customers on a small scale and, if your judgement is sound, roll out... If wrong, thank you're partners for their time, kill the idea, discuss what you've learned and see if you can build on the experience and refine the idea. 

And that's where I am with some of the ideas below. I'm just gonna start building... Building on a small scale until we have the results, and roll out any that are successful.

Good Ideas?
I have come up with and/or sourced some interesting ideas which focus mainly around;

  • Social Media 
  • Promoting the college brand/identity and positive messaging 
  • Income generating and Business Development ideas
  • Technology that have good case studies in other areas of education
Just like some useful tools like @LinkedInU few of these ideas would cost any money, but a lot of them could increase revenue. I have included a few examples below and, as you consider them, it may be worth asking;

"How easy would it be to get this established at the college? How long would it take before everything was in place?"

The Hard Sell... Or a Tough Market?
Assuming that any of these ideas are good (or reasonable), if it's such a challenge to get good ideas that are free, you can imagine how hard it is for any that cost money?! This is something that Bryan Mathers also highlights in his latest post "Getting Hands on with Emerging Learning Technology"
For some examples of these ideas please find my Business Development Ideas and suggestions that I came up with for #ukfechatrq.

Business Development Ideas for FE
UK FE Chat Research Question (#ukfechatrq) Ideas

Inspired by Stanford

I'll leave you with the summary of what the outcome might be if the ideas from the Business Development Ideas were successful;
"A busy regional MD reads about a new network of national training & conference venues “The College Conference Consortium” in a business trade magazine that he subscribes to. This includes 280 locations nationwide that can be booked at a central point and at a fraction of the cost he usually pays, so has the potential to save him both time and money.
When he sees the network is FE Colleges at first he is surprised at the variety and quality of the services available - he had no idea all these services were available in colleges.
He loves the fact that his new supplier could be FE colleges as this fits his company’s “Corporate Social Responsibility” ethos and their commitment to young people & the community.
When he requests more information he is delighted to learn that he can get a further 20% off through the “FE Corporate Loyalty Card”, which is valid at any college - great news for his sales team who travel a lot.
He subscribes to the Colleges' business e-mail updates and gets sent a brief outline of the training sessions that the college is considering running this term and is asked what his level of interest is for each session.
When he books the training, he indicated he was "Very interested" in, he is surprised to find that his costs can be reduced even further if he can encourage more people to attend. He e-mails some of his contacts with details of the training session and the discounted offer.
When he arrives for the training there is the offer to have his car valeted/serviced during the event and when the session finishes he is handed a voucher for a discounted meal/salon/spa. He is also given a list of the outsourcing service that FE can provide. 
This MD's perception of FE, his experience as a customer and the range and quality of service means that he is set to become a keen supporter and regular user of the college & its facilities.
How achievable this might be is unknown, but in essence it is not dissimilar to Professor Fredrick Terman’s recommendation to his staff in 1930's Stanford
"Get out and get acquainted with local industry and with the people in it who were doing interesting and creative things. Likewise he encouraged industry to know about the university by getting acquainted with what was going on at Stanford as it related to their own interests and to make the acquaintances of those university people who had similar interests."
A region that was as badly affected as everywhere else in the 1930’s depression is one of the least affected areas in today’s economic downturn because of one educators’ frustrations at student opportunities and his vision to change the situation. 

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