Saturday, October 30, 2010

E-mail Advice That Makes People Angry ... or How to Keep Your E-mails Typo-free.

One of the toughest jobs of a Marketing Director is telling people that they had a typo in their e-mail or sent an unprofessional e-mail.

People don't want to hear it.

"I was going 100 miles an hour that day. Of course, I'd have a small typo."

"A typo? Who cares? Every e-mail has typos these days."

"So I forgot to include a subject line. Stop being so picky."

But the truth is that you are judged by your work and your work includes the e-mails you send. And here's a tougher truth: People are looking for reasons not to hire or keep you. They are actively looking for any excuse so they can justify their business decision of not using your service or not buying your products.

When I see a typo, I wonder:
a) Are they careless? Or
b) Do they simply not care?

When the CEO of a client company sends me an e-mail with a typo I think it's (b) they simply don't care. Why should they bother to proofread internal e-mails or e-mails to vendors? And while this might surprise people who know me... I agree. I hope they have better things to do than proofread internal e-mails. In fact, I hope everyone does.

So, we are only talking about typos in external e-mails.

But I really don't want to write a post on why sending unprofessional e-mails is bad. If you don't agree, you've already stopped reading. But if you do care that the people in your organization write proper e-mails, without typos, but don't want to get that snippy nasty-gram back for actually trying to help... here is your solution:

Send them the below portion of this blog post. Say it's from me. With love.


Three e-mails you should never send and how to ensure you never (or at least very rarely) do.

1) An e-mail with a typo.

First of all, go to Preferences in your Outlook® and select all the check spelling options. This will add squiggly lines under all your misspelled words as you compose them and it will also ask you to "ignore" or "change" all misspelled words before you send the e-mail.

However, this will not stop you from sending homonyms or other typos that are correctly spelled, but not the correct word. (Think back to the old poem with the line: "My checker tolled me sew.")

The most common one here seems to be "their" and "there." Another example, my personal demon, is using the word "from" when you mean "form."

Here's a trick to avoiding this kind of typo: Read the e-mail aloud before you send it.

Your eyes might not catch the typo, but your ears will.

Try to catch the errors below.
  • "You should receive the PDF form Nicki by 5pm today."
  • "I now you like sushi, so let's meet at Yasu."
  • "I never did here from Marc. Did you?"
A spellchecker also won't catch contraction errors such as the very common "your" instead of "you're" one. Since the "read aloud" trick doesn't seem to work all the time on these errors, here's an additional trick: Read all contractions as if they weren't contractions. That is, when reading the e-mail aloud say, "you are", even when you wrote "you're."

Try to catch the errors in the two following sentences.
  • "Every sentence should stand up on it's own."
  • "I haven't seen you're boss around lately."

The spell checker should also catch typos in the subject line, but, for some reason, this tends to be a good place to find typos, anyway.

Simple advice here: Proofread your subject lines, too.

2) An e-mail without a subject line.

I seem to receive a greta deal of these and I am unsure how it happens. Outlook should pop-up a message line that reads: "This message has no subject. Are you sure you want to send it?" If you get that message, click "cancel" and add a subject line.

Try, right now, to send a message without a subject line. If you don't get that message box, contact your IT person. In the past you must have selected the "Don't show me this message again." option. Why you did that is beyond me. But you did and, sadly, there is no preference you can check to get it back. Your IT person can, however, fix it. And once it's fixed, there is never (not ever!) a good reason to choose the "never show" option, since you should only see that box when you accidentally forget to include a subject line.

Let me put that more directly: You should want to be notified when you are about to make a careless mistake. Don't stop your computer from helping you.

Also, if you proofread your subject lines and see that there is nothing to proofread, then, well, add something to proofread.

3) An e-mail without a body. ("Subject line messaging")

For some reason, people think this is efficient.
Subject line: Please send me the updated Petrovich file. I also want Version 2 of the Montrose one. Thanks.

Yep, I get it. What more did you need to say? The whole message was in the subject line.

But let me explain how e-mail works in this century.
  1. There is a preview pane now. So I can read most of your e-mail without opening it.
  2. The 'In' box is actually a thin column where people can see the sender's name and only a few words of your subject line. So I have to open up the e-mail anyway.
  3. When I open the e-mail, Outlook puts the subject line in a grey box, making your amazing creation harder to read.
So, when your recipient opens your e-mail, he likely sees only the body of your message, which reads:


Then it's a treasure hunt for the message. This is the opposite of efficient.

In fact, if I'm looking at your message on my smart phone, I could read your whole two sentence message without actually opening the e-mail unless you use your special trick of putting the entire message in the subject line.

It's funny, since there is really no reason why "subject line messaging" is actually unprofessional (albeit lots of reasons it's inefficient), but my informal poll of about two dozen people revealed that NO ONE likes this and EVERYONE thinks it's unprofessional. A few of them used pretty choice words about the, and I quote, "D-bags" who do this.

So, stop it. Even (read: especially) for internal e-mails, since it'll come across as bossy and rude, not efficient.



Here is the full "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise" poem, which includes the line: "My checker tolled me sew." (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Are You (Unwittingly) Wearing Red or Blue During Your Presentations? Start Wearing Purple.

All apologies to Gogol Bordello. But listen to this song as you read this post. Or instead of reading this post which might be more entertaining.

Many businesses (if not all) are subject to governmental regulations and law changes.

Because of this, there are many experts who cover – either directly or tangentially – updates and pending law changes during their speeches and presentations. When they do, with a word, eye roll, or even tone of voice, they can quickly disengage half their audience.

Did you just use the term, "Obamacare?" Bad idea! Half the audience now believes you are the local leader of the Tea Party. They stopped thinking of you as an expert at anything. Now they see you in a bright red jacket with a gun in one hand and misspelled rally poster in the other.

Did you sigh when an audience member used the phrase "liberal agenda" in his question? Oops! Half the people in attendance have just decided you are anti-business. They now see you in a blue jacket (with leather elbow patches) handing all their hard-earned money to a welfare cheat.

It's a fact that Congress' decision on extending Bush's tax cuts is a critical business issue right now. But if you can't say "Bush" without verbally painting yourself red or blue, you need to call the tax cuts by another name.

|> Unsure if your words, looks or tone are betraying you and disengaging half your audience? Ask someone who sits on the far side of the aisle from you to attend your practice session. <|

You don't practice your presentations beforehand? Let me know when you are speaking next, so I can avoid it.

You don't know anyone who has stupid politics (i.e. disagrees with you politically)? You need to widen your circle and, again, let me know when you are speaking next, so I can avoid it.

In short words: If you are a true expert, you can keep your personal politics out of your presentations.

In shorter words: Start wearing purple.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Technical Ability vs. Marketing Ability? It's Time to Graduate from this High School Mentality.

Back in high school, there was peer pressure to actually do poorly on tests. Why? Because getting straight A's and being cool were mutually exclusive. Cool vs. Smart. Pick one.

We knew, then, that this was stupid. Not simply because the dichotomy was imaginary, but also because acting on it would limit our future success.

Fast forward to our career lives and there is an equally stupid either/or proposition: Technical ability vs. Marketing ability.

And the syllogism is just as stupid as it was when we were fifteen.

1) He gets good grades.
2) Therefore: He must be uncool.

1) She can make it rain.
2) Therefore: She must have, at best, mediocre technical ability.

Back in high school, I heard good students called 'losers' by others who didn't even know them.

Now, I hear strong networkers and marketers dinged for having 'poor technical skills' by people who have zero insights into that person's work product.

Do we think we get so many points and have to assign them to one category or the other? Of course, we don't. But we do believe that if we are technically able and cannot market, then we have made a positive choice.

Let me rip off your blinders and give you a new syllogism:

1) You are unable to be good at both marketing and service.
2) Therefore: You are jealous at others who might actually be good at both.

And, though this news will make you really unhappy, you need to hear it: There are plenty of rainmakers who have far stronger technical ability than you.

We do not get a fixed number of points and the skill sets that make people good marketers do not conflict with the ones that make people good at their craft.

Life is unfair. You are jealous. << Let's admit to both of these RIGHT HERE and RIGHT NOW.

Done? Good.

Now you can stop assuming that people who can bring in business cannot also service that business or engineer innovative solutions. They can. And they do. And, very likely, they make far more money than you. And they deserve it.

So, why am I writing this? Because I am tired of companies rejecting strong marketers since they assume that these people cannot deliver on the technical side. And I am tired of the technical snobs rolling their eyes in marketing meetings, believing that marketing is for people without technical abilities.

All you are doing is limiting your own future and your company's future. Just like others tried to do to you back in high school. But now you are doing it to yourself and, worse, to others and to your organization.

It's not their fault you are bad at developing business; it's yours. And it's not because you have (or believe you have) superior technical ability. It's because you stupidly think that people only get so many points to assign.

It's time to graduate from high school. And, if you haven't noticed, the economy is weak right now. So, it's also time to improve your marketing skills.

The only thing holding you back is your belief that marketing ability and technical ability are on the same slider knob. They are on different controls and they can both go up to 10. (Or 11 for you Spinal Tap fans.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Turning Tough Times Into Triumph

Keith McFarland, author of The Breakthrough Company and Bounce and a regular columnist for Business Week, gave a speech entitled "Turning Tough Times Into Triumph" at a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce event on September 30th.

David Spitulnik, Managing Director of Blackman Kallick's Strategic Services Group, and I wrote a synopsis of the talk, along with some tactical next steps for business owners.

You can read the article at The Strategy Insights blog.