Jun 062012
 
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In a letter to potential shareholders included in Facebook’s pre-IPO S-1 filing, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote this:

We hope to improve how people connect to businesses and the economy. We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.”

2_t-zuckerberg_apOn reading this, I was struck by Zuckerberg’s use of the word “authentic” to describe businesses. This adjective is more often applied to people than to companies. For a person, being inauthentic means failing to be yourself, which often leads to failing other people. For people who want to succeed in life, being authentic is considered a best practice. Yes, one can still achieve success by fooling some of the people some of the time. Even the un-fooled have learned to tolerate this fact. But it’s the “real McCoys” and “straight shooters” who earn our enduring respect.

Can the same be said of companies? Do straight-shooting companies also win in the marketplace? We could debate that question all day. But regardless of the current “truth,” Zuckerberg believes that in the future, authenticity will be a source of competitive advantage for companies.

These days, it’s easy to notice when companies fail their customers, employees, or shareholders. Would a more authentic business be less likely to let its stakeholders down? If so, the Authentic Business may become the new standard of excellence, due to the favorable business outcomes a commitment to authenticity creates.

And we’ll soon be tearing down cubicle walls.
And we’ll throw the cubicle walls into a burning forge.
And the burning forge will operate 24/7,

giving rise to a large new army of…

…Business Authenticity Consultants!

[I know that won’t actually happen. But do you think it could work as a Super Bowl ad?]

Ok, back here in our world, this leaves me with two (other) questions:

1. What does it mean for a business to be authentic?
2. How can companies use social media platforms, today, to become more authentic?

I’d welcome your thoughts (on question 1, question 2, or my Super Bowl ad concept/nightmare)  in the comments section.

Mar 302012
 
Jan 142012
 
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“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

This wonderfully compact nugget of wisdom – commonly attributed to Voltaire, the French Enlightenment figure – is a fixture in the vernacular of modern business.

My undergraduate French degree doesn’t qualify me to challenge Voltaire’s intellect. But hey, Voltaire hasn’t done a lick of work in over 330 years. So I’m going to weigh in on his War of Good and Perfect, to see if I can pick a winner.

Here are 5 ways Good beats the crap out of Perfect:

1. Good is quick out of the gate. Perfect debates whether this gate, or that one over there, is the best gate from which to proceed.

2. You probably can’t afford Perfect. But with a savvy mixture of your cash on hand, some pocket lint, and your own creativity (or your talent for inspiring it in others), Good is within reach.

3. Perfect is an egotist. Good is a collaborator. Perfect is an old school, round-world, command-and-controller. Good is a progressive, flat-world, plays-well-with-others hipster. [thank you Thomas Friedman]

4. Good is motion. Perfect is an obsession. Good feels like a hike or a trip to the gym. It’s got a beginning and an end. It makes you sweat. And when you’re done with Good, you feel it (Good). Perfect is like a Scottish poet, locked in a seaside cabin, curtains drawn, brooding for weeks over the next couplet.

5. Good finishes on schedule, or early, and doesn’t expect kudos. Perfect always takes extra time, without asking for it. And if you object, Perfect will lecture you, gazing into the distance, with trite zingers like “time takes time,” or “you can’t rush (me),” or this little gem, “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”

[No, it wasn’t built in a day. It took 1200 years of militaristic expansion, artistic and cultural thievery, slavery, torture, taxation without representation, corruption, massive debt, and general debauchery, until it collapsed, ushering in the Dark Ages. Thanks a lot, Rome!]

Ok, ok. The Rome comparison is probably the right place to throw down a big fat caveat. Because the Romans clearly did some great work. And caveat is a Latin word.

If you consistently reject even the pursuit of Perfect, Good will eventually let you down. Maybe in a big way.

Perfect, for all its faults, wants to get it right. Perfect has been there and done that, and will also listen to others – like Been There and Done That – who have relevant experience. Perfect is willing to consider all the angles. Perfect doesn’t trust quick fixes. Perfect is all about adding value over the long-term. Perfect has calculated the cost (to the penny!) of what happens when Good ends up being Not Good, because Good phoned it in, half-assed it, or took a short-cut. “The Donner Party tried to take a short cut,” Perfect says, annoyingly but with conviction. “And THAT didn’t work out so well, DID IT?!”

[Perfect tends to overindulge in hyperbole.]

So what’s our endgame in the war between Perfect and Good?

Maybe it’s this: Perfect and Good may be enemies. But Too Expensive, Too Late, Half-Assed, and Eaten-For-Breakfast-By-Your-Friends are our enemies.

So let Good and Perfect battle it out a bit. Just be sure to impose a cease-fire before Good Enough and Nearly Perfect end up K.I.A..

Your turn now.  Do you have any more fun personifications to compare — or comparisons to personify — Good and Perfect?

Apr 162011
 
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Here’s the deal: marketing is hard.

If you think marketing is easy, you’re probably not a marketer. Or a human. Yes, you’re probably some kind of replicant who (that?) has been lucky enough to have the Google algorithm programmed into memory. Or you are, in fact, the Google algorithm, crawling this page right now. [In which case: hey, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you Fresca or something?]

But for those of us who ply the marketing trade, it’s a pretty tough job. Among our long list of responsibilities:

  • we’re supposed to spend $1 of the company’s money and get $25 (or more) back.
  • we have to keep the Sales team supplied with good leads, and be neither a father of Sales’ success nor an absentee dad when they fail.
  • we must stay focused and execute in a constantly changing landscape of internal (e.g., budget, people, products, processes, policies) and external (e.g., media, agencies, buyer behavior, competition, government regulations) variables.

In the marketer’s pursuit of success, this all just comes with the territory. But, in business, “success” is a weird thing. It’s not always a (linear) result of hard work. In fact, it’s sometimes awarded to those who seem, at least on the surface, unworthy. And a jealous rival can always spin an objectively kick-ass outcome into a “gap versus expectations.”  Business success is always worth pursuing, but it is rarely captured on our preferred timing or terms. But with the right tools and attitude, success in the form of personal fulfillment is always within reach.

One of my trusted mentors, Lenora Edwards, encourages her clients (consultants, entrepreneurs, and executives) to define a Ten Commandments list. These are ten (or however many are needed) experiences that are essential to making any project, job, or client relationship fulfilling. “Achieving great results” is a mainstay on my list. Even though it can be squishy and elusive, I have to be chasing a meaningful, measurable outcome. But for me the process is even higher on my Ten Commandments list than the outcome.

Oh gosh. I know that sounds trite. But the oft-maligned and misunderstood notion of getting there has always been vital to enjoyment of my work. The results will either happen or they won’t. Or, as noted above, they will happen AND they won’t. I can’t control the outcome but I can strongly influence it if I’m not too caught up in how it looks. Adopting an “enjoy the journey” approach isn’t just pie-eyed happy talk for me – it’s a survival skill.

So, here are my three keys to marketing happiness. Get ready to smile. Wait, wait… …ok, go!

1. Seek the truth.  Also known as “optimization.” I’m spending the company’s money, time, and energy. If I’m not getting a return, I shouldn’t be spending. So I hold myself and my clients accountable for how we execute our decisions. That might require an occasional uncomfortable conversation with IT, Finance, Sales, or a C-level Executive. But the pursuit of the truth is fun, and honorable. And as long as I remember to breathe, those uncomfortable conversations are learning opportunities. And the truth will set us free.

2. Take reasoned risks. Also known as: “managing a marketing program portfolio.” Marketing is about placing smart bets. The bets should be smart. But they also must be placed. This link contains a keyword search for “average tenure of a CMO.” Click it and check out the organic results. The average tenure is around two years, right? Personally, I prefer embracing this reality to wresting with it. Either way, I get my uniform dirty, but the former is more fun than the latter. I try to never be reckless, but also never afraid. And I always keep in mind that — no matter how high the stakes — it’s a game and that games should be enjoyed. Otherwise, why play?

3. Predict the future. Also known as: “forecasting profitable revenue growth.” This is the hardest part of the job but also — when I have the right mindset — the most fun. And if I am diligent about truth-seeking and reasoned-risk-taking, I learn enough to make future-predicting easier over time.

So, what do you think? Is my list missing any “bliss-enabling imperatives?”  Tell me yours in the comments.

Apr 092011
 
Video thumbnail for youtube video Smart social media – 5 ways KLM gets it right
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A friend in Amsterdam shared this video on Facebook today, and I was inspired to spin it here on the TLOTL blog. It struck me as a potential “beginning of the end” in the tedious debate of the question: is social media dead?

I refuse to waste pixels issuing birth or death notices for social media (or wade into questions of its citizenship for that matter). But if you are still monitoring social media’s vital signs, or if you just like watching videos, then watch the video. Then read my analysis. And whether you agree with me but think I missed a few points, or you think I’m hopelessly hopped up on social media Kool-Aid, I invite you to make your case in the comments section. [Hey, as long as you’re not a comment spammer or some other type of internet n’er-do-well, you can even launch an epic vitriolic screed against all forms of social media containing links back to your blog or Twitter page.]

Here’s my take on what this video and story does for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines:

  1. Launches a new Miami route with a dose of the fun a KLM passenger can have there. Message: when you fly KLM the transportation is part of the destination. And now one of the reasons you would go to Miami in the first place is one of the reasons you’ll consider flying KLM to get there.
  2. Targets a customer segment with a high expected lifetime value. If you’re a major airline in 2011, it’s nice to fill a seat. It’s reeaaally nice to fill it with young people who tend to travel in groups, probably don’t have kids or a spouse to think of, and spend disposable income on international leisure and entertainment. Seats filled (for 16-18 hours round trip!) with those kinds of passengers provide KLM with a captive audience who will buy drinks, meals, movies, and sign up for credit cards and loyalty programs.
  3. Connects a distinctive, generations-old brand with notions of youth, vitality, style, escape and adventure. These themes appeal to a wide cross-section of the traveling public, and indeed have been part of the air travel sales pitch to consumers for much of the last century.
  4. Shows KLM:
    a. Using social media. Period.
    b. Using social media to listen to customers, and not just to blast out special offers or manage the TV news cycle.
    c. Using social media to engage customers in profitable exchanges – “yes, we’ll gladly move the Miami route launch up one week, but you gotta get your raver friends to fill some seats.” I bet shareholders like that part of the story.
  5. Differentiates KLM as a company that rises above the B.S. — at a time when the dominant storylines in air travel are rising fares, nickel-and-dime surcharges, and (in America at least) TSA body scans, KLM is setting a Guinness World Record for the highest altitude dance party.  This is really smooth, and the nexus of content and context matters a lot here. How would we feel about this video if this were 1999 instead of 2011? In a world awash in post-Cold War, dot com, fin de siècle giddiness, a thumping, transatlantic, 30K-foot dance party would’ve looked terribly tacky and “me too.”

Leon Pals, a Rotterdam-based trendwatcher, posted on thenextweb.com that even if this video is just a clever concoction of KLM’s marketing department or creative agency, he enjoyed it as an example of effective social media. (Such sleight of hand would seem a needless risk for KLM, in my opinion.)

I would take Pals’ point further and say that even if some level of storyline manufacturing took place, this would only underscore social media’s value as a communications channel.

And BTW, let’s just take it as a given that all media is subject to misuse. We should move beyond moral outrage and accept that, at some level, we’re just going to have to figure out the difference between authentic and synthetic messaging. We can try to regulate and we should. And we can hope that those who think it’s ok to “pee in the pool” (I’m talking to you J.C.-Penny-and-or-the-agency-that-supposedly-acted-of-its-own-accord-to-employ-black-hat-SEO-practices-on-J.C.-Penny’s-behalf) will eventually be caught in the act, publicly shamed, and sent to the big house if necessary.

But in the meantime, we marketers have a job to do, and that is TO SELL. And whether or not J.C. Penny or anyone else is cheating is not our concern. What we need to do is tell great stories that inspire the right customer to engage our brands, and ultimately, buy our products. Well done KLM.

Oct 112010
 
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A CFO with whom I once worked shared with me the qualities he believed essential in a VP of Sales. As he worked up the list from bottom to top, I was certain that some variation of “consistently achieving revenue and gross margin quota” was going to occupy the #1 slot. But instead, he treated me to this nugget of wisdom that has stayed with me over the years:

The thing I care about most is predictability. Of course I want the VP of Sales to make his number. But actually, I really need him to make the number that he has been forecasting to the executive team, as close to the mark as possible, regardless of where that number is in relation to quota.  To put a finer point on it, if he over-performs against quota by 30%, but he told us that he was going to beat quota by 10%, I’m happy for the business that month, but that VP of Sales has lost a measure of credibility with me. And by the same token, even if he comes up short, I want him to tell me how much he’s going to miss the number ahead of time, and then deliver that result exactly. Because that shows me he’s in command of his business. And when he’s in command of his business, I can manage mine more accurately.

I was reminded of this conversation recently when the sales director for one of my clients happily announced the latest new customer win. I relayed my congratulations and then asked “how is the forecast that we discussed last week coming along?” I know, I know. Shame on me for not letting the sales director enjoy a few more moments in the winner’s circle. But this exchange, and that CFO’s words, point to an important truth about modern sales management:

It’s not enough to be a rainmaker. You also need to be a meteorologist.

It’s not enough to simply beat a sales goal. Management expects that. To be an “A player” in sales, you must be able to accurately predict AND deliver a specific sales outcome.

To the casual observer, this may seem like a ridiculously tall order to fill. But it should be noted that these kinds of sales acrobatics used to be easier to pull off than they are today. Sellers had more direct leverage in the sales process, buyers had less information, and there were fewer regulations on corporate accounting practices such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. These and other factors gave Sales VPs more hands-on control of the revenue factory.

Today, sellers have less leverage, buyers have more information, and compliance regimes have significantly reduced or eliminated sandbagging. But somehow the sales VP is still expected to accurately predict when it’s going to rain (hour-by-hour), how many inches will fall, and what the temperature, windspeed and direction, and barometric pressure will be. Oh and s/he needs to do this job while managing the people (sales reps, overlay resources, clients, channel partners, and executives) whose interactions will determine the final “weather report.” If you’re a Sales VP and this is your reality, here are a few ideas for how to pull this off….

1)      Look at your past ratios and trends. Get a report of your past sales results, by month, going back 1-2 years. Then on the same timeline plot all of the contributing factors inputs to those results you can think of. How many sales reps were on staff during each month? How many selling days were there during each month? If you can identify a metric that is more highly correlated than others to variations in sales, you can try forecasting the next few periods using that ratio. It’s a low-tech and brute force forecasting method, but it may nonetheless make your crystal ball a little less cloudy.

2)      Look at the sources of leads that convert into sales. Which lead sources have the highest conversion rates and deal values? Which ones have the most consistent conversion rates and deal values? You may need to optimize your lead generation portfolio for the same reason you may need to occasionally re-balance your investment portfolio – to get predictable returns.

3)     Find out what your champions eat for breakfast. This is really just another take on the lead sources recommendation. If you had a widget factory with 20 assembly lines, and 4 of them consistently shipped defect-free widgets, on time, and in the quantities specified on the work order, you would figure out what goodness is happening on those assembly lines and make sure the other 16 know it too.

4)      Look at marketing automation software and or services. Although much more of a “commitment to the process” than the first three suggestions, marketing automation can provide, along with many other benefits to your organization, more predictable revenue and profit over time.

Whatever you do, don’t try to pull this off alone or as a project managed solely within the sales organization. Making it rain is an art form, and it’s what you’re really good at. Meteorology is a science. So partner up with the scientists in marketing, operations, and finance people who “get” sales  the most (but could never do your job) and ask for their help.

May 192010
 
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Early in my career, I worked in sales at Concur Technologies (now called simply “Concur“) and had the opportunity to learn from some great sales leaders. I specifically remember a 1/2 day training session led by Tim Fitzgerald, who was then VP of North American Sales at Concur.

With all due respect to Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others of their ilk, I have to say I received more practical, directly applicable knowledge out of those 4 hours with Tim than I learned in any seminar course I ever attended.

Over the span of my career, as I’ve participated in numerous sales presentations from both the buy and sell sides, I’ve often been reminded about how there’s no substitute for the fundamentals. And in sales, like in sports, fundamentals are unfortunately most noticeable when they are not being followed.

I was reminded of this topic today when I answered this question on Focus.com: “What are your tips for the optimal sales presentation?”  Here is the answer I gave, which is perhaps 5% drawn from the original Fitzgerald course content, and 100% confirmed by my experiences over the ensuing 13 years.

1. Arrive 20-30 minutes early. Use the time to overcome the inevitable conference room / projector / IT issues. And if none of those issue exist, get a pre-brief from your vendor-side contact on how to best run the meeting. And if you don’t get time with your contact, use the time to mentally prepare / relax / meditate before you enter the ring. In sales, most of your money is made by executing well at key moments, like presentations. Give yourself the opportunity to execute well.

2. Manage the clock. Re-confirm when the meeting starts that you still have the time allotted with all the key people that you thought you did. 5 out of 10 times, a key decision maker / influencer has a “hard stop” 15-30 minutes earlier than you expected. If you can accomplish your objectives in this compressed window of time, you can be more productive in your next meeting (assuming you get another one).

3. Manage your crew. Make sure anyone who may be supporting you in the meeting knows exactly what they are there to do/say and what they should NOT do/say. If anyone on your team is dialing into the meeting, they should:

(a) be in a quiet place

(b) be using a good phone

(c) not be distracted by anything else, and

(d) not have any chat windows or other screen pops come up during the meeting (Web conference scenario only).

I had a hands-down market-leading software vendor selling to my company a couple of years ago. The sales person was unfortunately not adept at managing his resources, and what should have been an easy win for him became a drawn out affair because his demo failed and his team was not prepared for the meeting. When our CEO came into the meeting, the disorganization was obvious, and there was no opportunity for the sales rep to show why his company was the clear market leader. Instead, a lot of doubt was created that I, as the vendor advocate, had to manage through over the next several weeks.

These are just a few of the little things that, if left unmanaged, can completely derail a sales presentation, and detract from the actual business of selling.

Dec 022009
 
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Many of us are familiar with the concept (used in manufacturing, software and numerous other business processes) of mass customization.

In my field – B2B marketing – an interesting manifestation of this concept is marketing automation software. This technology allows marketers to customize the manner (content, offers, communication channels) in which they engage a diverse audience of prospects, where each prospect is at a different stage of purchase-readiness. One of the more compelling features of marketing automation technology is how it enables marketers to gain insight into the types of “hooks” (content, offers, and channels) that engage the largest numbers of buyers over time.

Now, seasoned marketers know it is very rare that a *single* offer or piece of content is empirically proven to drive lead conversion or sales. And this makes sense when we consider the perspective of the B2B buyer. How many of us have ever – in a B2B buying context (Engadget salivations don’t count here) – read a single white paper or promotional offer and immediately committed to a purchase or even a conversation with a vendor? It happens, but not very often. Not often enough for marketers to bank on anyway.

So buyers consume a lot of information before they make decisions. And therefore, marketers who want to influence those decisions need to analyze lots of data about buyer behavior.

Among B2B marketers, most of the above is non-controversial. Much has already been written and said about how B2B buyer behavior has forever changed the role of marketing and sales. But there are several emerging and interrelated trends that have a bearing on where we go from here. I’ll loosely classify these trends as follows: high unemployment, tight capital/credit markets, personal branding, social networking, and low-cost/free, self-service publishing platforms (WordPress, etc).

The confluence of these trends is creating an effect that I’m calling “mass expertization.”

I don’t have a rock solid definition for mass expertization yet. For the moment, I’ll define it as a rapidly growing population of people, typically with commercial or status-driven agendas, publishing original content based on their experience.

Note that I’m not passing judgment on mass expertization. If I was I’d be judging myself since I’m one of the self-styled experts. I’m just observing it as an effect that has implications for producers, deliverers, and consumers of content.

For example, one noticeable result of mass expertization is that, increasingly, buyers are not looking to established media brands, analysts, or research firms to inform their decisions. Why should they pay (in dollars or time) for content from these traditional channels when they can “get the CliffsNotes” for free and instantly? Thousands of self-branded experts are hard at work publishing white papers, blog posts, videos, status updates and tweets to showcase their expertise to a worldwide audience. With the help of tools like RSS and TweetDeck, and sites like LinkedIn and Focus, buyers can efficiently consume this content as they move through the purchase cycle.

I’ll be writing some more on mass expertization in the coming months, as I believe it will be an important theme in the 2010 B2B marketing arena. There are many questions to consider for buyers, marketers, media firms, analysts, and experts. Here’s just a few to get us started:

How do buyers identify the good experts/content from the less good?
How do marketers turn the mass expertization effect to their advantage?
How do “old guard” media brands and analyst firms slow or stop the process of disintermediation?
And how do experts separate themselves from the masses?

Your thoughts and expertise are (of course!) welcome on these questions and this topic.

Oct 062009
 
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Chris Jablonski, who works with me in Tippit Consulting, has scored his second guest post in less than a month on Craig Rosenberg’s famous Funnelholic blog.

That’s Jablonski 2, Scearce 0 for anyone (other than me) who might be keeping score. 😉

I can get over it though, because Chris writes great stuff. And the topic is important.

Remarkable content is key to successful marketing. It’s easy to gloss over it in the highly mechanized world of Marketing 2.0, where metrics seem to matter more than anything else. But the same rules apply now as did 5, 10, or 15 years ago. Any direct marketing guru will tell you that the three legs of the DM stool are:

1. List / audience
2. Offer
3. CREATIVE

In my opinion, List and Offer have become easier to optimize because metrics quickly allow us to see what works and what doesn’t. Content (creative) effectiveness can also be measured but not quite as easily or quickly. And the bigger issue is that content is often more difficult to swap in and out of a campaign than its siblings, List and Offer.

So Content matters! And Chris has written a nice checklist to help make your content remarkable on the first volley.

Take a look at Chris’ checklist and his guest post on Funnelholic.

Here’s the question to you: has he missed anything? What else makes content remarkable?