Monday, May 18, 2009

Online/Brick–and-Mortar Business Development Acumen

“An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer®” is how an off-price clothing retailer positions itself. Although not similarly copyrighted, as of late, I have come across a number of other businesses that live by that slogan with a single word change, “An Educated Consumer Is Our Worst Customer.” Unlike that off-price clothier, they don’t publicize the slogan that they actually live by, and, in fact, do their best to hide that fact. Here are two of them:
1. A vitamin chain offers a particular supplement for 10 dollars more than its online price. A clerk at their store refuses to match the price for a regular customer. The manager insists that the customer must go home and print out the proof even though the store has Internet access.
2. A bank automatically renews you two-year CD unless you come in. The rate is one percent, while if you came in, you could obtain a higher rate by renewing the CD for only seven months. Additionally the bank is offering those that open a two-year online CD a much higher rate of 2.85 percent.

Contrast those two examples with a national department store chain advertising that customers can check on computer terminals in their stores for cheaper prices available from competitors on the brand appliances its sells, and that it will match the competitor’s cheaper price.

Clients will be needing help adjusting and prospering in this brave new world where technological advances are overhauling and significantly transforming the rules of the game. Is your firm ready to help? And more importantly, how deep is the firm’s understanding and knowledge of the virtual and brick-and-mortar worlds and the possible interactions.

To find out, how about giving a 12–question test to firm members from every level of the firm--the managing partner, partners, staff accountants, marketers, technologists, and administrative support (if applicable)? One key aspect of this test is that it is an “open-book” test, in which you can use any technological aid and ask anyone outside the firm. There should be a time limit, e.g., three hours or overnight. The typed answer sheets are anonymously submitted and assembled for review by whomever the management of the firm determines is appropriate. There is no marking of individual exams.

The 12 questions are designed to focus on testing knowledge of the use of technology, the ability to obtain competitive intelligence, and business development acumen.

1. Where on the site is a database of firms which is searchable by state, city, and size of professional staff, number of branches, AICPA practice monitoring sections, and AICPA centers?
2. Is it possible in New York and a limited number of other states to buy a long-term care insurance policy that will allow the insured to qualify for Medicaid without spending down their assets? If so, what is the policy commonly called?
3. Webcams are being used more and more by churches, funeral homes, and day care providers as a service? Briefly explain how.
4. Give three examples where enhanced cell phones and other handheld devices are being used to enhance a brick-and-mortar business. Hint: Might involve calling a number with recordings or entering a zip code where there is Internet access.
5. Name a Web site for a company that will give you 250 free business cards or more (except for minimal shipping costs) and lets you pick from over 40 different, distinct designs.
6. Name the tax service that allows the user to search for federal and state and local tax incentives by the address of the business.
7. Give three novel networking techniques used by other firms? Example: One firm offers a day at a spa.
8. How many members are there in the Young CPA Network group on Linkedin, and what are the names of four specific accounting firm alumni groups on Linkedin? (If possible, pick firms in your firm’s region.)
9. Name a well-known site for helping you create and maintain a free blog.
10. How might search engine optimization come into play when a potential employee submits his or her resume electronically?
11. Name five specific strategies being used by businesses and other firms in response to the economic crisis. (Don’t include any strategies you firm is using or advising clients to utilize?)
12. How did you obtain the above answers? Please indicate all methods that you used.
Personal knowledge
Internet search
Text messaging
Discussion group inquiry
Telephoned someone
Directly talked to someone
Other, please describe

I’m not providing an answer key as the test’s purpose isn’t to determine who scored what or even how well research can be performed; but rather, the purpose is for the firm, as a whole, to focus quickly and in a fun way on their knowledge, the tools available to broaden knowledge, and developing a deeper understanding of changing business trends that will significantly impact clients.

Final thought: I recommend that as soon as the answers are assembled and prior to management reviews, sets of the answers be distributed, as is, to each individual who took the test (better yet, all the firm members). The idea is by that doing this the community aspect of the virtual world is being further explored, instilled, and encouraged in a primarily brick-and-mortar firm.

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