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I am pleased to announce that my wife, Lynn Kirsche Shapiro, has recently published her first book, Food Family and Tradition from The Cherry Press.  You can learn more about it at:

The Cherry Press


Best in Biz Award 2011

Ifbyphone CEO wins top prize in 2011 Best in Biz awards

Ifbyphone founder, CTO and CEO Irv Shapiro is having a well-deserved Sally Field moment: Irv has been named the Gold winner of the 2011 Best in Biz awards in the category of Executive of the Year.

This year, more than 150 companies--both public and private--from a variety of industries competed in this prestigious awards program. Chief executive officers, chief operating officers and presidents from all industries in the U.S. were eligible.

Earlier this year, awards were judged by independent members of the press and by industry analysts from thought leaders like Wired, Portfolio, Insight Media and the Financial Times. The judges award honors in distinctions of Gold, Silver or Bronze to the the top companies, teams, executives and products.


Google and Groupon

In 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin met. Google launched its search engine as BackRub in 1996, changed its name to Google in 1997, and sold out an initial public offering at $85 a share in 2004. Today, Google is valued at over $150B. In 2006 Andrew Mason launched “The Point” to provide a forum for public debate of complex issues. Eric Lefkofsky provided $1 million of support and the site launched. The site evolved first into a public petition site and then into Groupon. In October 2008 Groupon offered its first deal, a half-off coupon for the pizza restaurant on the first floor of the Groupon office building. Groupon is now positioned to go public with a valuation of up to $20B.

These two overnight success stories tap into the same basic business need to produce astounding success. Let’s examine this business need, beginning with Google.

While Google’s accomplishments in search set a new standard for web search, the company’s ability to monetize search was the most significant accomplishment. Web banners and Internet advertising were not new when Google introduced Adwords, nor was Adwords the first PPC advertising platform. In 1998 Jeffrey Brewer presented the pay-per-click concept at a TED conference. Google didn't introduce Adwords until October 2000. Google’s success is a result of both execution and refinement of a very simple idea. Provide marketers with a tool they can use to measure, manage and automate their advertising spend and they will rapidly adopt your platform.

Prior to Adwords, Internet advertising platforms did not provide the inventory, flexibility and immediacy required by advertisers. Adwords did. For the first time, advertisers were able to spend as much or little as they wanted and manage their campaign day-by-day. Thanks to the text format of Adwords, they did not require artists and technology experts to launch a campaign. Anyone with a web browser could get into the game. This led to a significant move of advertising dollars from offline media to Internet media. Offline media results are difficult to measure, require long lead times prior to publication, and are complex, if not impossible, to change post release.

Now let's analyze the similarities between Google and Groupon. Both companies began by improving business practices already in use. Coupons are hundreds of years old and daily sales may be even older. Groupon has been able to build a company worth billions of dollars by promoting coupons. Much like Google, Groupon has delivered management, measurement, automation and ease of use to a process that was difficult to manage and use in the past. Groupon coupons are able to run almost immediately, may be tracked back to an individual customer, and required very little up front investment. What can we learn from both Google and Groupon? Deliver measurability to a marketing or advertising process and businesses will flock to your service, companies will gain a valuable new tool, and consumers will gain access to valuable promotional pricing and product information.

How can an understanding of both Google’s and Groupon's success help you with your business? Emulate their best practices and begin managing, measuring and automating all of your marketing and advertising efforts. One of the first places you should apply this technique is to your telephone.

Let's take a look at a couple areas of advertising where better measurement, management and automation all offer the potential to significantly improve business economics. The direct response television marketplace is growing rapidly. US direct response TV advertising spending increased 2% year-over-year to $1.59 billion in the first quarter of 2011, according to a June 13th Kantar Media report. Running a television ad consists of a long and expensive process. After scripting and producing the ad you need to determine what happens when a customer responds. Often the requested response is a phone call to a number displayed at the end of the commercial.

Generally these phone calls from potential customers go to a call center. This is where the problem begins. As an advertiser you may not have a lot of visibility into how the call center handles your calls. You may not know if half of your callers were getting busy signals because the call center was under staffed or if the customer leads you paid for hung up because they were left on hold in a call queue for much too long. Since the telephone number inserted into the ad is owned by the call center it is difficult to change call centers. In summary you may not have the tools you needed to manage, measure and automate the routing of your phone calls.

The same problems apply to newspaper or magazine ads. If you list your main company number in an ad you have no way of knowing which ads are working and which are not. Using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions such as Ifbyphone you can solve these problems.

Instead of advertising call center numbers you do not control, or your main company number, which makes it hard to manage responses, use call tracking numbers. A call tracking number is a virtual phone number you rent by the month and fully control. Place these trackable numbers in television commercials, newspaper ads and all other offline and online advertising media. You use an online web portal to direct how to forward the calls from your ad. By using different numbers for each ad or media, you have the data you need to determine which ads are working and which are not. Additionally, with call tracking numbers you can use an interactive voice dialog to prescreen the call and forward the caller to the optimal sales person, call center or office location. You have complete real-time visibility into every call, which allows you to measure the performance of your ad and the effectiveness of your call center.

This is only the beginning. With voice based marketing automation tools you are able to manage, measure and automate all aspects of a call into your business, from your business to a customer, or initiated by a web transaction. These tools work with any phone system and both fixed and mobile telephones, VoIP or PSTN. As a result of better measurement and monitoring of your media campaigns you will save money on inefficient campaigns, identify sales and call center resources that are ineffective, and improve customer satisfaction through more responsive call handling.

Ifbyphone is a better approach to measuring and managing off-line advertising. While Google closes the loop for online advertisers and Groupon closes the loop for coupon advertisers, Ifbyphone closes the loop for advertising where the customer interaction is by phone. Don't miss out on closing the loop for all of your advertising efforts, start tracking your calls today.


Google Floats all Boats

Over the past week and a half, Google Voice has prompted an exciting increase in the volume of discussions about Voice 2.0 and the evolution of telephony from a facility based to an Internet based service. This evolution will free millions of businesses from the limited features provided by their local telephone company.

For some background on the impact of Google Voice I recommend reading the excellent posts from Andy Abramson, Wired.com, Gigaom, and Jon Arnold.

Once you have caught up on the industries first reactions think about the following. We are experiencing a dramatic revolution in telecommunications driven by the disaggregation of telecommunications transport from telecommunications features or applications. In the pre-voice 2.0 days, just a few of years ago, a business would call “the telephone company” and lease a telephone line with a set of features. These features might include call waiting, three way calling, voice mail, etc. While you were able to select a long distance carrier that was different from the telephony company providing you with dial tone, to gain access to additional features you had to install a key system or PBX in your business.

Unfortunately the installation of an in house telephone system often locked your business into a fix or very slowly improving set of features. Try upgrading your traditional TDM or POTS based small business key system. It often can’t be done.

Now that many alternatives exist for telephone transport, that is to say, dial tone, a business is no longer limited to the features provided by their dial-tone provider. You might choose to purchase your business lines from AT&T and then use your Google Voice telephone number as your public facing number. When a customer calls, Google will ring both your cell phone and your AT&T landline. In essence you now have three telephone companies. AT&T for outbound calls from your desk, your cell phone carrier for out bound calls from your cell and Google for inbound calls.

This works well since advanced features such as enhanced voice mail and find me are triggered based on an inbound call. The introduction of the trusted and innovative Google brand into the telecommunications landscape will hasten the acceptance of using multiple telephone providers for your business communications needs.

However, Google Voice is just the beginning. Once a business tastes the benefits of enhanced telephone applications they rapidly want more. That’s where companies like Ifbyphone come in. Google has demonstrated proficiency in deploying applications such as search and email where customer service and a consultative relationship are not required. Businesses requiring and willing to pay for a more direct partnership will find the Google approach unacceptable for critical business telephone services. Put more simply, businesses want the ability to pick up their telephone and talk to someone about their telephone application needs.

Additionally, Google Voice is currently limited to a very narrow range of telephone applications. Since Google applications are built for extremely large user communities they leave a wide berth of opportunity for innovative and more narrowly focused organizations.

At Ifbyphone we provide a complete suite of hosted telephone application services focused on the needs of small to medium sized business. We support these services with real people who spend thousands of hours a week consulting with new and existing customers.

While our entry-level services include unified telephone number support and overlap with Google Voice they extend into sophisticated sales, marketing and service delivery solutions. The power of Ifbyphone derives from our instant on-demand IVR services that are available to any web site initiated, in bound or outbound scheduled telephone call. Our customers see our services as toll free and local telephone number call routing, call queuing, interactive voice response, click to call and voice broadcasting.

In conclusion, I believe Google Voice will rapidly become the wave that floats all of the Voice 2.0 boats. While Google does the heavy lifting of educating businesses about the power of utilizing multiple telephone solution vendors for your business, Ifbyphone will focus on the delivery of innovation IVR based solutions that begin where the Google Voice technologies end.


Is Google good for Small and Medium Sized Business (SMB)?

Only if it gets them a phone call. Why? Because the majority of SMBs will never have a website with a shopping cart. Not because they're behind the times, but because they aren't selling things that can go in a shopping cart. Think about plumbers, lawyers and chiropractors. Now, think about that phone call.

Twenty years ago, when you needed a plumber, let's say in Chicago, you looked in the Yellow Pages. The number of listings was manageable and they were all local. You picked one, called and spoke with a human being. You made the deal at the moment when you wanted a plumber. The Yellow Pages were designed for making phone calls. Google isn't.

Googling "plumbers Chicago," returns an overwhelming mess of listings, including some for Tucson plumbers with "Chicago" somewhere on their website. You can only see one page at a time, making it hard to compare or return to a prior listing that seemed interesting. If you do settle on one, you'll probably have to navigate through the website for a phone number. And when you finally call, it's likely you have to navigate another menu. In the meantime, your wife got the neighbor to fix the toilet and one Chicago plumber missed a job.

It's simple human nature. We buy from people we feel connected to. Just browsing a web site we don't feel connected. Even using a pop-up text chat box, we don't feel connected. However, talking on the telephone we feel connected. The more human contact we have with a business the more likely we will buy their product or service. Googling "plumbers" is about as impersonal as you can get. The personal relationship is what drives sales more than any other factor. In fact, 75 percent of sales are closed in person and on phone calls, against an anemically small segment for Web site, e-mail, and chat orders, all of which create instant distance between seller and buyer.


It's not magic: the more callers, the more business.

Adding click-to-call to a website brings back the Yellow Pages Effect, bypassing that sales-chilling period of time between needing something and calling to order it. Click-to-call marries the intimacy and immediacy of the phone to the flexibility of the Web so business can have the power of both.

If click-to-call is so valuable, why aren't more SMBs using it? The answer until recently was cost.

Just a few of years ago, click-to-call was only available with costly interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Costing thousands of dollars and requiring highly specialized technicians, complex custom programming, and costly infrastructure upgrades, IVR systems were out of reach for all but the largest companies.

Today, the model of delivering business applications and services over the Internet, SaaS (Software as a Service) and mature VoIP technology (Voice over Internet Protocol) can bring advanced IVR capabilities to any business with a website. It's Communications as a Service and, if you think about it, it's what the phone company has been doing for over a century. In this model, service providers invest in the infrastructure and specialized skills ( shielding customers from the underlying complexity. All customers need to know is how to use the phone and a browser. Payment is as-you-go ( the same as your home phone.

And now that it's simple and affordable, the benefits are huge. Click-to-call gives businesses a measurable market advantage, according to industry analyst iMedia Connection*:

  • A 22 to 25 percent reduction in website abandonment from website pages with click-to-call services
  • As much as a 100 percent increase in transaction conversions from click-to-call users versus toll-free callers
  • 88 percent of click-to-call users say they are more likely to contact a company that offers a click-to-call service than one that does not.

Not only does click-to-call make it easier for customers to call while the impulse to buy is hot, it also makes sure their calls are answered and directed to the right place.

For example, a car dealer can route callers needing repairs to the service department and callers inquiring about fleet purchases to the sales department. You can also integrate click-to-call into email campaigns. However you use click-to-call, you always know exactly where a call is coming from. The bottom line: People buy from people. Even more so, from people they know. Thus phone calls build the relationships that build sales. And while Google is surely here to stay, click-to-call will make it better by connecting the SMB to their prospects the old fashioned way. By phone. Just like the Yellow Pages did.

Irv Shapiro

CEO

Ifbyphone, Inc.

*http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/8524.asp