Thursday, March 08, 2007

TAVMA: Defining the value proposition

Orlando is significantly warmer than Jim Thorpe this time of year, so I'm glad to be onsite for the annual conference of the Title/Appraisal Vendor Management Association. It's been a great show thus far and continues through tomorrow.

Today's sessions pushed attendees to think about their businesses in new ways, before their customers, home borrowers and legislators made up their own minds about what this business is all about. In the words of excellent keynoter Thomas J. Winninger, TAVMA members must be able to answer four key questions if they hope to avoid commoditization:

1) Who are you?

2) What do you do?

3) Who do you serve?

4) What is different about you?

Sounds like material right out of a first year marketing textbook, but Winninger puts a great spin on it. He warned attendees not to answer the first or second questions in terms of products, which can be commoditized, but in terms of a solution to the changing needs of the company's primary customers.

Example: Kodac. Does the company sell film or the preservation of life's magic moments?

He was a very impressive speaker. Find out more about what he says companies should be doing in his latest book "BULLSEYE" Thinking Smart!

Mortgagebot: Gets Dan Welbaum

If you want to know who drives a ton of business in the mortgage space, you usually need only look to the F companies (Fannie, Freddie, First American, Fidelity National and Fiserv). While executives tend to move around the industry a fair amount, the top folks at these companies tend to stay there for a long time.

Consequently, I was surprised to hear that Fiserv veteran Dan Welbaum had been recruited away by Mortgagebot.

Now Scott Hap's company may not start with an F, but it's been a favorite of technology journalists for some time as it has been pushing the electronic boundaries in this industry for many years.

Dan is a well known marketing executive in the industry and so I'm very interested to see where he'll take the Mortgagebot online lending technology.

eLynx: Out of the box thinking

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to act as facilitator for a great users conference in Vegas. eLynx, Cincinnati, Ohio, brought together about 75 of its clients for its third annual IdeaWorks.

When I was working full-time as a journalist, I would jump at the chance to go to these conferences because I could sit in the back and listen to the questions the users asked of the company. I could share meals with company customers and find out what they really thought about the vendor and its products. Not every company would invite me, of course, but those that did tended to be the better firms.

Most users conferences are opportunities for companies to gauge the success of their offerings in the market, shore up relationships with customers and sell new products and services. But eLynx, at its IdeaWorks shows, takes it further, encouraging out-of-the-box thinking that has led to new products each year the show has been held. It often takes some work to get customers comfortable enough to open up, but the eLynx team is very good at it.

Getting customers to tell you what they think of your products is good. Getting them to buy your new offerings is better. But getting your customers to tell you what they want you to offer them next is great, especially when they are eager to help you develop the new products and services they are looking for.

If you're inviting customers together for a users conference, be sure you spend some time asking them what they want to see next--and working with them until they are willing and able to tell you.