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The Business Magazine July 2024
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…and again, please, in English?

Zoho's Steve Baxter
Zoho's Steve Baxter
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Zoho's Steve Baxter

We had new fencing put up at Baxter Towers this month. It's horrible. The new panels are so bright they dazzle spy satellites in orbit. They reflect enough sunshine to send David Dickinson running for shade.

It wasn't meant to be like this. I'd asked the supplier for "stained" panels. I'd written it down. The supplier sent me a quote promising "treated" panels. He wrote it down too. I assumed "stained" and "treated" meant the same thing. Fool!

Separated by a common language

Why on earth am I telling you this? Language, that's why. Misunderstandings usually come about because we deliberately use jargon and acronyms. We think we're helping. We're not.

It's convenient to lay the blame on acronyms. We forget that what's familiar to us may not be familiar to our audience. My favourite when I started at Zoho was "DRI". In Zoho, it stands for "Directly Responsible Individual" (or "project leader" to normal folks).

The convenience of a short acronym is no excuse to use one. Auto-correct exists in all manner of apps, ready to change "CPC" to "cost-per-click" every time you type it. It requires no effort from the writer and leaves no doubt in the mind of the reader.

READ MORE: Best-of-breed? Not such a great idea in software

Let's not forget that it's the reader that matters, not the writer. The writer's job is to get a message across to the reader. While the reader's brain is translating an acronym into words it's not paying attention to the message in them.

Acronyms in product names are even more baffling. It's as if companies which launch new products called "ABC" have never come across Google and never considered the truckload of trouble they're causing themselves.

I used to work for a company that had a product called an OCS. What did it do? Well, you could Google it to find out. Were we selling the Oriental Ceramic Society? Were we fans of Ocean Colour Scene. No, our OCS was an Oil Condition Sensor. Google would tell you this. On page 12. As soon as we changed the name to OilAlert those problems disappeared.

It is, of course, grossly unfair to mention OCS, a name that was coined long before Google became the international bully it is today. If you need inspiration for a product name, download the Igor Brand Naming Guide. The 2022 version has gone a bit 'New Age' but it'll still help you come up with a better name for modern times.

Get Specific Quickly

Language sits at the heart of many IT disasters. I've been involved in my fair share. A CRM deployment comes to mind - not with Zoho, thank God. And yes, the jury's out on whether I should expand CRM to Customer Relationship Management. I'm not sure it helps.

We needed the CRM system to integrate with an old version of Microsoft AX. After an initial snag, the supplier said, "No worries - we can still link the apps." We said, "Great - go for it." Weeks later they come back with a plan to send hundreds of text files backwards and forwards between the apps every hour of the day and night.

The supplier was sticking to the word of what they were required to do but, because we hadn't dug into HOW they were going to do it, we nearly ended up with a system that would have been more fragile than a government majority.

We'd fallen into a typical SME trap. We'd hadn't been specific enough in saying what we wanted nor in asking what was going to be done. That's why so many IT deployments fail for SMEs. We assume we'll muddle through somehow.

CRM has a terrible reputation for failure so when we did our 2022 survey of CRM in bigger companies, we asked them how happy they were with their deployments. We were expecting a low number. We were wrong. 89% were happy or very happy.

That's because bigger companies are very careful about the way they buy their systems. They're very specific about what they want so, consequently, they get what they need. It takes time, expertise and it's a monumental pain in the posterior but, if you don't do it, you get a bad system.

Steve Baxter is Enterprise Marketing Manager, Zoho UK

Email: [email protected]

Steve has worked in B2B marketing for over 30 years. He joined Zoho in March 2022 having previously worked for large multinationals, local SMEs and his own consultancy.

When he's not working, he's drumming in his rock band, following F1 or being dragged into equine activities by his wife and daughter.


Stephen Emerson is the Managing Editor of The Business Magazine and is responsible for the publication's print publications and online properties including the newly launched Biz News websites in Hampshire and Dorset.

Stephen has been a journalist for 20 years and has worked at local, regional and national publications and led a team which made The Scotsman website one of the fastest growing news sites in the UK with over eight million monthly users.

He has a keen interest in technology, property and corporate finance and telling the stories of the people behind the successful firms in these sectors.

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