Saturday, December 24, 2011

WWED? = What Would an Entrepreneur Do?

A number of month's back I wrote "WWED?" on a post-it note to help stimulate discussion with a partner at a law firm. I stuck that note to my bulletin board and find myself pointing to it day after day – as well as using it to help fuel my own decision making.

Many people use the I/U process (Important/Urgent) to help focus their time and effort (as do I), but I am not sure this helps decide what you should do. Or how you should act.
"WWED?" delivers instant clarity.
A few times, I have done nothing more than point to the post-it note to help my client get over the decision-making 'hump.'

So... What would an entrepreneur do?

I doubt there is a comprehensive list or even an action plan for decision-making entrepreneur-style, but I do think there are some ground rules.

1) Make decisions. Stop waiting for others to force your hand. If you need to be nagged to move forward, you are either being guilted into a bad course of action or you are not an entrepreneur.
2) Lead by example. Leave a wake, not a memo. Enough said.
3) Pick up the phone. E-mail is great for sharing details, but not for having decisive and brief discussions, providing solutions or delivering bad news (and eating crow.) Or better still, make a personal appearance.
4) Trust your people. Even if you did not choose them. And even if they are your superiors. Let them know that you don't always expect success, but you always expect sweat, urgency, and immediate heads-up when a problem occurs. And you expect them to learn when they fail.
5) Rise the tide. Too many people think that entrepreneurs are looking to hobble their competitors. Anyone who believes this is not an entrepreneur. So-called competitors are often the best collaborators and, even as adversaries, provide later insights you won't get if you ostracize them.
6) Find time to think. Entrepreneurs are doers, but, even more so, they are thinkers. They carve off time, close their door, walk to lunch instead of taking a cab, draw on napkins, etc. ... all to figure stuff out vs. checking stuff off.

… and the list goes on.

But the point is this:

Regardless of your role at your organization, you can create a mental box of your ownership. You can determine the part of the business you control and from which you can create value for all the boats in the lock, not just your own dingy.

That is, if this were "You LLC," how would you act? What decisions would you make? What would you stop doing?

You would never say, "It's only company money." Or blame others for your failure. Or wait for outside forces to force your hand. Or goof off on Facebook because no one is watching. Or show up at 9:00 am sharp every day since that's when your job starts. Or do value-less things because others assigned them... Etc. ... Etc.

To end:

Next time you are face with a decision, no matter how seemingly small, ask yourself, "WWED?"

Friday, November 25, 2011

What is a Promoter and how do I make more of them?

In February, I wrote a blog post entitled: Stop Networking! You Already Know Enough People. While you don't see comments here at Blogger, I continually receive notes and in-person queries, many of which are basically the following question:

"OK, so how do I monetize my 'large enough' network?"

Good question. Strike that. Great and possibly, the best question.

First of all, there are three types of people in your network:
1) Promoters and prospects
2) Time sucks
3) Friends and family

Separate your network into the three categories as above.

If they fall into category 1… keep them on the list.
If they fall into category 2… take them off your list and DO NOT SPEND ANOTHER SECOND ON THEM. You will never get that time back. This is why you have so many people on your list and, adding up the hours spent on them will only make you cry. I suggest you throw away the rear view mirror and move forward.
If they fall into category 3… take them off your networking list and put them on your holiday card/BBQ invite list.

Your list should now only have promoters on it and should be, at most, 5% of the original size.

"OK, so how do I figure out who my promoters are?"

Assess them against the three attributes, starting with the first one.

1) Access.
They hang around people who could be your clients. If they do not have access to your prospect network, they can never be promoters and will only ever be time sucks. In other words: If they are on your networking list and they do not pass the "access test" then take them off your networking list. Send them e-blasts, perhaps, but not lunch invitations.
|> I've watched a lot of football over the years, and I have never seen someone in the stands throw a receiver a touchdown pass. Nor have I seen someone in the audience get an assist for a hockey or soccer goal. <|
2) Interest.
They believe you can help their network and want to help you. You can test this by providing them with a referral or an introduction to a promoter of their own and seeing if they return the favor. If they live at the end of a cul-de-sac... take them off your list. Or, you can ask for a specific referral and see how they react. Better, though, to start by helping them and see if they pay-this-forward, even if it's not to you.
3) Understanding.
They appreciate the value you can provide to their network. Note: I did not say they understand what you do, definitely not how you do it, or why you are so special. In many cases, (cough cough...approaching 100% of all cases), the only thing that makes you special is they are willing to refer you to their clients.
Prospect: "What sets you apart from the 500 other people who seemingly do what you do?"
You: "I'm in the room with you right now and they aren't."
Odds are, there are dozens or hundreds of people who do what you do and only your mother thinks you are special. (Or at least you hope she does.) Please do not waste any time trying to explain what you do or what sets you apart. Even if they could understand, which they can't, they don't care. They only care that you can help their network. Better to tell them when you can help. ... but that's a blog post for another day.

Next up:
> Triggers and USPs
> The LinkedIn trick for finding the real promoters in your network … and what you can do to find them if you aren't using LinkedIn. (Read: You like doing things the hard, old-fashioned way.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November Fast Five – Marketing Ideas You Might Have Missed

Here is the November Fast Five, as published in the Association for Accounting Marketing's "AAMMinute." It includes articles on "mocial" and "favicons" as well as a collection of marketing tributes to Steve Jobs.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Have an unhappy client? Here's a moment of clarity.


Which of these two words do you want to change?

If you don't quickly change one, the client will make the choice and he/she will almost always change the second word.

I've heard it said you should pick one, but that's both untrue and short sighted. Even if you decide not to keep them as a client, which sometimes is the right choice for the company and the client, you should try hard to not let them go away unhappy. Unhappy ex-clients are not much better than unhappy clients. Some would argue they're worse. (I won't.)

Just because they are an unhappy client, doesn't mean they are unhappy with you or believe your company provides bad products or service. They might simply be a square peg in a round hole.

Try to keep them as clients, if it makes sense. If it doesn't make sense to keep them as clients, then still try to fix whatever it is that's making them unhappy.

This way, when they go away, they won't go away mad.

While you're trying to figure out how to make that happen, you can listen to this Blondie song from Parallel Lines.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Two Most Damaging Words at a Professional Services Firm

Let's rip the bandaid right off...

The two most damaging words for a professional services firm are:
"My client."
I've actually heard an engagement lead chastise another senior firm member for talking to 'his' client at a social event. The other person was not talking about business, she was just making polite conversation. Even had she been talking business, the lead was hurting his firm and the client by creating this wall.

Why do engagement leads want to discourage access to their clients?
This is their "book of business" (three words that are also harmful to a professional services firm) and they are worried that the other people will, somehow, damage the relationship and, ultimately, the client will leave.

There is no fear the other person will steal the client, since most firms have this part of the compensation well structured.

Playing the odds game, they fear scorched earth, which is very unlikely, and yet do not appreciate the value of having a deeper relationship that leads to more value for both sides and, likely, more sales and referrals. Crazy!

Why should the engagement lead encourage access to their clients?
The value your firm provides to clients includes creating relationships and bringing ideas beyond what the engagement lead brings to the table. Also (see above) these discussions can lead to uncovering new requirements at the client's company ... and hence more business. Call it 'greater wallet share', since the company is likely currently using other firms, possibly competitors, to service these needs.

Why should firms encourage (read: structure and compel) this access?
One word: depth. If the engagement partner gets hit by a bus, wins the lottery or is recruited by a competitive firm you have another point of contact. Also, the other person (or people, since I suggest at least three connections) will be able to see loyalty issues that a single person might miss or, let's be blunt, not bring to the firm leaders' attentions.

Two words: more business. See above.

In short:
If you hear "my client" come from an engagement lead or salesperson (for those of you at a product company), this should be a signpost that the client is being underserved and is less likely to be loyal. Meet with the engagement lead to add more service depth (I recommend creating a 3x3x3* map) at that organization.

Greater client satisfaction and increased revenue will follow.

*More on the 3x3x3 model at a later date.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Drive and 10 Easy Ways to Improve your Website

A (somewhat) Mini-Review of Drive.

Keep meaning to write a review for the book Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, but have not yet gotten to it. So, here's a mini review:
• Raman Chadha, the Executive Director & Clinical Professor of DePaul University's Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, turned me on to it. If you knew Raman, this would be reason enough to read it.
• It uses quantitative data and studies to support its ideas, not anecdotal ideas. (It's not a another insipid business parable, thank God!) Another good reason.
• I have often thought the carrot&stick approach was either ineffective or outdated and this book provides a strong argument to that effect. Again, using studies for comparison.
• My biggest problem with carrot and stick is that it provides rewards (or rapped knuckles) at the end of the process, which is often at the end of a fiscal year. Yes, I know you can reward/punish sooner, but this is still too late for marketing and business development. "He failed, so we will ding his annual bonus." "But I want him to do better now, not feel pain at the end of the year." (Also, too many bosses let them off the hook at the end of the year or the people do not think it'll stick, so they bet on not actually having to pay for their failure.)
• A carrot or a stick provides a "cost" for action or inaction. Too many people will pay this cost. And this cost is variable, since people value money differently. What I like about Drive is that it explores this "failure payment" idea.
• My last issue with carrot & stick motivation is the amount of effort is takes to create and track that effort vs. creating and tracking the desired process and outcome.
• Drive explores just how much money motivates action. And how much people "game" the system to get the money without actually performing the desired action. Certainly not performing it in any sustainable manner. More importantly, it goes down the path of what you can (and should) do instead.

In short: if any of this makes you curious ... read Drive, the book.

Ten Easy Ways to Improve Your Website And Bring in More Customers.

Co-wrote this article with WSI. Pretty basic stuff, but that was the intended audience. I welcome any comments.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why I Hate Triangle Relationships – A Rant

Your client hires you as their marketing firm. Then they, separately hire an SEO firm, or website developer, or PR firm, or etc., or etc. And, of course the client expects you to both to play nicely and provide integrated services that build on each other … "the sum of the parts ..." and all that.
Hint: This is not limited to marketing relationships. Not nearly.
All well and good until something doesn't work. Or there is a new project on the table. Or new data appears. Or a process needs to be developed. Or feedback is required. Or it's a Tuesday.

Then you get this unhealthy triangle where two firms are fighting for attention, respect, information, and, worse still, budget. And you, the client who thinks competition is a good idea, end up with fighting sibling that aren't related by blood so have no sticky red reason or impending reunion to bury their hatchets. And you are doing double work to keep both teams up-to-speed.
The single line worth reading in this post:
Set up a straight line relationship from you to a lead to a sub.
Take it from someone who has been part of many triangles and been the lead and sub for many, many projects: Avoid the triangle relationship like the plague.
If I, as the sub, cannot take direction from your chosen lead, then give me two options: 1) shut up and 2) leave. Or a third option: 3) shut up and leave.

At worst, I will sit back and wait until the lead's total incompetence is discovered and I get promoted or, in a better case, we'll find mutual ground (with your best interests in mind). In the best case scenario, we'll get along and develop a business relationship, perhaps in the same lead-to-sub line or perhaps reversed, but always thinking of you every time another client sends us a check.

But please do not expect that you can magically make the triangle relationship work.

You can't.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Literally "Phoning It In"

The Urban Dictionary defines "phone it in" as ...
1) Literal - To present something, whether an idea, project, product, etc. by way of a phone call, rather than in person.
2) Used to describe a lazy or uninspired attempt. Perform an act in a perfunctory, uncommitted fashion, as if it didn't matter.
Reviewing a new business opportunity with a Partner at a professional service firm, I asked, "When are you presenting the ideas?"

The response, "On Monday."

I knew the answer before I asked the next question, so I asked it in a leading manner, "Are you going there or is _Name_ coming here?"

Without hesitating, he said, "We're talking over the phone, but I plan to e-mail him something to review prior."

Phoning it in.

We seem to have taken a literal term and made it into a euphemism for "perfunctory." This is dangerous.

Now that we have e-mail, many people rationalize a phone call believing they could do worse and simply e-mail the prospect. However, being able to do worse does not mean you did well. And many people would argue that a text or e-mail is actually more personal than a phone call.
"But you can't hear tone in an e-mail, which is why I call people directly," he argues proudly.
> Don't be so proud. You can't see expression on a phone.

"That's why I use Skype," she beams.
> Better, agreed, but are we looking to be better or make the sale? "That was a better shot, this time," says the coach, "but you still missed."
We need to remember why the expression "phoning it in" became an expression in the first place. Sending an e-mail or Skyping, whether or not this is better or worse than a live call, is still "phoning it in" if it replaces an in-person meeting.

While there are many times when an e-mail, phone call or Skype is more efficient and environmentally-sound than an in-person meeting, we need to keep the expression "phoning it in" in mind when looking to close business.

To end: If you are using the phone or your computer instead of your feet to deliver an idea, then ask yourself the following: "Am I phoning it in?" If you start to weigh the answer against worse forms of communication, then the answer is "Yes, you are phoning it in." And you know what to do instead.


On a positive note, I recently received the following note as part of a pipeline update: "They sent out the RFP to 8 firms and __name deleted__ said we were the only firm to come out and speak to them."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fast Five – Some Marketing Ideas You Might Have Missed

For those of you looking for interesting marketing links, Daniel Jackman, e-Marketing Coordinator at Blackman Kallick, and I write a monthly column called the FastFive in the Association for Accounting Marketing newsletter.

I keep meaning to post links in this blog and keep forgetting... until now.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Is a Specific Promotion Worth the Spend?

When a marketing or promotional opportunity appears, the question is... Is it worth using any of your precious budget or time?

Normally, the question of ROI comes up: Will we get our money back or 4x to 8x our money back? If the answer is "yes", that is, you can guarantee that your spend will return 4x or 8x the investment, then stop here. If you are 100% sure that putting $1,000 down will return $4-8,000 in the next, say, 12 months, there is zero reason to hold off. In fact, please contact me and I'll pay half ... assuming you will give me half or even a quarter of the return.

Since sure things are rare in marketing, read on...

How to quickly judge if a marketing opportunity is worth pursuing:

1) Ignore ROI. Yes, I said it, ignore ROI. Recall, you are guessing, not guaranteeing. If you can guarantee it, then read above.

2) Avoid any "Act now or forever lose the opportunity" offers. One of my clients, long ago, said, "I do not regret any missed opportunities that turned out well. I regret the ones I took that turned out poorly." There are opportunities, like interviews or speaking presentations, that time-bomb quickly ... so assess them quickly. But do not say "yes" only because they go away soon. Anyway, if a rep says you need to let them know about a 50% off deal by Friday or you lose the space, and this wasn't already in your plans, then nine times out of ten you are better off shrugging and pressing delete on the voice- or e-mail.

3) Determine the 'all in' cost, that is, money and time. No need to figure out the hourly or billing rates of the people involved, simply make a list including dollars and people hours. I.e. inventory your investment.

4) Ask yourself the following question: Is this the best possible use of this investment? Make a list of what else you could do and rank them. If the opportunity in question rises to the top, then go for it. If not, then don't do it ... regardless if you will actually move forward with the better option(s).

A Partner at an accounting firm and I did this assessment the other day and he quickly listed out two or three things he would rather do "...if we had this money and time allocated." End of discussion about the so-called opportunity that instigated the assessment. We had better uses for the time and money and, while we may or may not move forward with any of those, why would we move forward with the lesser option ... regardless of estimated ROI?

In short: Judge "act now" opportunities not on whether or not they are a good buy, but if you could do better.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Branding Strategy of the Day: Everyone Else Lies

This blog post is in two pieces, since the discussion that prompted it was also in two pieces. First of all, I want to thank the folks at Hinge Marketing for not only providing a thoughtful presentation with (gasp!) empirical (vs. anecdotal) data, but also for having a business card that's hinged. See Why Do We Still Have Business Cards?

Piece One: Everyone Else Lies

Thinking back, I can recall more than five client engagements where we had reasonable facsimiles of the following branding strategy discussion:
Them: What we provide is innovative in our space.

Me: But a quick web search shows many competitors that say they do exactly the same thing in the same way.

Them: They're all liars.

Me: We can't create a brand based on being the one company in this space that doesn't lie.

Them: Why not?
There is no doubt that many companies over-promise or dress for the business they want instead of the one they have. This creates a great deal of noise for the company that actually does what everyone else only says they do.

But first... a little due diligence should show if the other companies are really "overstating" or if your company is actually only hoping the others are liars. And a little more due diligence (read: customer surveys - both present and past) will show if your company is also overstating or, perhaps more importantly, if anyone actually cares that they receive this additional "value."

Let's assume that both due dillies reveal that a) your company is unique and b) the clients do care. Now you have the challenge of marketing the "other companies are liars" messaging. Good luck with that.

In all the cases where I found myself in this position, we took another tact. We marketed the end point of the value, not the innovation or ability*. The client interviews were instrumental here, since the clients told us what it felt like at this end point and we used that for messaging. The competitors did not know what the end point looked like, let alone get their clients to articulate this for them, since they were unable to deliver it.

Then we could follow up with case studies and client testimonials supporting this messaging. And we named names and gave out customer phone numbers. In one case, the customer called me and said he felt like he was our new salesperson since he spent all day on the phone telling callers that, yes, this really happened. The market now knew the competitors for what they were (cough cough liars) and did not need to take our word for it.

In other words, as the travel company adage goes: Sell the destination.

*We also created branding that looked very different from what was prevalent in the space. Most industries (like soup cans) have common color templates. We picked away from this list. This does not mean we needed to be garish, just not soup can red.

Piece 2: You Shouldn't Have a Position Where There is No Viable Opposite.

Look at professional service firm positioning: Excellent customer service. We care. We're responsive to your needs. Experience where you need it most.

Not only are these positions bland, but if you cannot be positioned opposite, then you cannot be positioned positive.

Let me write that again: If you cannot be positioned opposite, then you cannot be positioned positive.

Pick one: Excellent customer service. -or- Shoddy customer service.

Pick one: We care. -or- We don't care.

Pick one: We're responsive to your needs. -or- We focus on what's best for us. (Which is true most of the time, but no one wants to say this out loud.)

Pick one: Experience where you need it most. -or- Experience in places that don't matter.

As you create your positioning, think of what the other side of the mirror looks like. And if any of your competitors would ever want to be on the other side of the mirror, let alone a significant subset. If not, then you aren't positioning or differentiating, you're pontificating.

Another option is to get specific. If you are going to say you are responsive, for example, say how responsive. And provide a guarantee. Examples: 30 minutes or it's free. Less expensive or we'll provide a competitor's name. However, you had better be able to deliver most of the time or you will quickly go broke and/or lose all of your customers.

Or get creative. Example: Not just fast, but freaky fast. However, you had better back this one up. And if you ever order from Jimmy Johns, you will hear yourself say, "Wow. That was freaky fast."

While no one would say they have slow delivery, they might not say they have "freaky fast" delivery. And not everyone would guarantee 30 minutes, since they might prefer to trade some speed for more quality.

Clearly not all hooks have viable opposites. So, if you do pick a hook without a viable opposite, sharpen the hook until fewer companies would (or could) hang their hat on it.

Piece out.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

ROMI and Women's Literature -or- Pretty Fly for a Marketing Guy

Years ago, at college (more years than I plan to say), I was signing up for English classes and I saw, for the first time in my young existence, an elective called Women's Literature. I wasn't sure if it was a literature class for women or a literature class featuring women writers. I wasn't being incendiary, I was trying to understand.

This evolved into a heated debate, with me cast as the villain (a role I am always content to play), about the rationale for this type of class.

• Do they need to lower the bar so enough women writers can hop over?
• Is this so that male chauvinist professors actually consider female writers in their curriculum? This argument doesn't make sense, since small-minded teachers can now let the Women's Lit professors cover those books.
• Are we focusing on literature written from a woman's perspective? And, if so, then why not read books by both genders with similar themes and/or are written in similar places and times? I would very much enjoy reading and discussing, say, Frankenstein and Moby Dick in the same class … and I was sure a literature professor could find hundreds of such pairings.

But this isn't a blog post about Women's Literature classes, so suffice to say that I just didn't understand why we needed a subset of literature called Women's. I still don't, but now have learned not to start this discussion.

Fast Forward to 2011.

In the past two weeks I have heard a great deal of discussion about ROMI (Return On Marketing Investment) and ROMI modeling. And I just don't get it. Why isn't it simply ROI?

• Is ROMI some sort of 'special' ROI to help lower the bar for Marketing efforts?
• Did we need some new buzzword to further confound management now that we can track more and more of our tactics? "I can show you, predictably, how engaged prospects are 15% more likely to become customers, how they will spend 20% more in their first year, the margin on this spend during that period, and exactly what it costs to engage them … but let's instead talk about ROMI."
• Does this make us feel good about ourselves as Marketers?
• Or is this a term used by Marketers that cannot yet figure out how to show value without their trusty mirrors and smoke machines?

Every time I hear ROMI, I think of sports statisticians who (rightly) create coefficients to predict a player's success rates from the farm leagues into the majors. "Sure, they're batting 380 in AAA, but the pitching isn't as strong there, so it's like batting 280 in the majors. Still strong, but let's not get that excited just yet."

I am unsure if ROMI shows a higher percentage figure than ROI or if ROMI-using Marketers have different calculations to find their ROMI score. If the scale is different, then it's not really ROI. If the scale is the same, then why do we need a special term?

An example where a special designation makes sense: Instead of calculating a publication's CPM (Cost Per Thousand), for example, I was taught to calculate CPTM (Targeted). While publication A reaches 200,000 readers, we really only care about 60,000 of those and, perhaps 1/2 care about 40,000 of those, so the CPTM calculation ... based on: $s/sum[60M + (0.5 x 40M)] ... shows the cost of the targeted portion of the readership. Publication B reaches fewer people, but the CPTM might reveal a better buy, even though the CPM is higher. This makes sense, since it actually discounts non-targeted reach.

But ROMI seems to be a buzzword that puts Marketing into a special (read: lesser) class of ROI. "Your ROI is pretty weak compared to the initiatives of other executives here at BigCo, but it's pretty good for a Marketing person. Keep trying, son, and someday you'll make it to the bigs."

In short: If it's ROI, please call it ROI. If it's not, then keep your mouth shut until you can use the "ROI" term without the asterisk.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Why Do We Still Have Business Cards?

Every time I take out a business card, I feel like I'm pulling out a piece of the past.

With vcards, Outlook, CRMs, LinkedIn, QR codes, etc. haven't we progressed past having a small, printed piece of paper with our contact data on it? Even card scanners seem quaint, like they are automating the abacus.

So, let's assume the business-card-as-contact-details-mechanism is dead. Clearly there is a reason we all (or almost everyone) still have them. And I hope you think about these reasons before you order your next box of cards.

To get you started, here are three goals for post-rolodex business cards.

#1 – to be a tiny billboard I.e. to help promote your messaging and value proposition. You can either handle this with a unique design, a unique material, or by putting an advertisement (of sorts) on the back of your card. Or a combination thereof.

If you are decal manufacturer, your card could be a high-quality decal. With a dead-front*, perhaps. If you are an envelope company, use a business card sized envelope. A plastics company? Print your card on plastic**. And the list goes on.

There are other ways to provide a tangible 2" x 3.5" idea of how you are better, faster, smarter, etc. - which could even be by not making your card 2" x 3.5" in size. Remember: the card no longer needs to fit into a card holder, though it might need to fit into a pocket folder.

#2 – provide talking points for networking situations See #1 above, but you can also solve this by adding an interesting line to the back. What question do you want someone to ask you after you hand them your card? What might spur them to ask this?

A few classics, though they might be urban legends, are:

• Putting, "Don't believe me, call my Mom" and her phone number on the back.

• A lawyer with his litigation win/loss score on the back.

Some recent ones I have seen are:

• A QR code on the back of the card.

• A mini assessment (relevant to the company's services) on the back.

• Icons for the company's services lines, highlighted for the area in which the person works.

To show we, at LargerPond, practice what we preach, our cards are thinner than normal, have rounded corners and we each have a number of different taglines.

#3 – taking notes. #1 and #2 above make this harder, so you might end up with an either/or proposition, but if you want people to write on the back of your cards, or want to write something on yours before you hand it to them, then strongly consider a plain white or light colored, non glossy card. (Why non glossy? So the pen doesn't smear.) I have yet to see a card with "Notes:" and line rules on the back, but it would not be a huge surprise to learn that there are cards like that.

All of the above is anecdotal and from personal experience, since I have seen no studies with real metrics. However, I believe most people just try to make cards "pretty", so any thinking here is likely going to provide value and spur discussion.

In short: Whatever you decide to do will be better than simply making your cards "pretty", especially if there is a business or positioning reason behind it.


*When you can only see the printing if there is light behind it, such as the engine warning light in your car. And, yes, we created a business card like this for Muir Omni Graphics. (See

**Maine Plastics has these cards. (See

†LiquidPrint, a web development firm, does this. (See

Monday, May 30, 2011

Who's Big Idea Was It, Anyway?

As creative types, we're constantly being asked, "Who came up with that idea?" and, likely, our knee-jerk reaction is, "It was a team effort." Oh, we know who it was. Though, odds are, we think it was "me", but the truth is that it is more often than not a team idea. Someone might have had the 'a ha' moment, but nothing happens in a vacuum.

But, when bad things happen, we tend to be more quick to point specific fingers. "Who dropped the ball, here?" they ask and we answer, "It was ________." Then, acting as a leader, we say, "But we'll work on it and make sure he/she learns from this mistake."

I question this approach.

Why do we succeed as a team and fail as individuals? Why can't it be the other way around?

You might say that it should be a team/team effort. I.e "We succeed as a team and we fail as a team." Or "There is no 'I' in t-e-a-m." (But there is a 'm' and an 'e.')

Sounds great, but the team/team approach doesn't reward individual effort and accomplishment.

As coaches, we are told to critique the team (the individual will know he/she messed up) and applaud individuals (since we want to encourage 'above and beyond' effort.)

In business, I often see the reverse and, well, I wonder why. Maybe because we think all good ideas are our own and we're simply being humble. If so, then maybe the team/team approach is the best after all.

Anyway, I now find myself responding to "Who's ideas was this?" or "Who dropped the ball here?" with a "Why?" Not that I refuse to answer the question, but I'm curious what they plan to do once they have the name.

Would enjoy learning your thoughts here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Three (of Many) Ways to Stop Getting Referrals

"More business? Who needs it? All these clients get in my way of thinking about myself. So, please stop helping me connect with people who want my products or services. I prefer to be poor and lonely."
In the past five days alone, I witnessed three instances of people saying the above to one of their trusted referral sources. Oh, they didn't say it in those exact words. In fact, two of them said nothing at all.

First instance: A long conversation with no mention of the help provided gaining entry to the discussed prospect company. "Why didn't you thank them for the referral?" "Didn't think of it." "Then, you might as well have said, 'F-You.'" Eye roll and head shake. "I've known her for years."

Second instance: A terse e-mail saying that the connection was not worthwhile, since the prospect was at least six months away from needing a bid. And the best part: " time, ask them when they might be making a decision before you send them my name." The person who showed me the e-mail needed no coaching. "No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose. There won't be a next time."

Third instance: Learning that business was actually sold … by the buyer, not the seller. This was another e-mail showed to me during a coaching session. The customer thanked the referrer for connecting him to the service provider. The connection was made weeks ago and there hadn't even been an acknowledgment from the person he referred.

> If someone refers you business, no matter ill-guided it might be: thank them!

When the lead has nothing to do with your products or services, there are still two thanks-worthy 'wins' here:
#1) You can use this an an opportunity to more clearly define your offerings to the referral source. (But be sure to make this a two-way street.)

#2) You now have a lead you can provide to someone else in your network.
But we're marketing folks, so we have to ensure our clients and people take the time to appreciate that their referral sources. They need a pointed way to understand that promoters are the engine to their business development. In short: We need a tactic.

It is common practice to create a list of key promoters/referral sources and match this to won business. This helps focus on which referral sources are really helping vs. the ones they believe are doing so. (How often this list differs!)

Now ask them to add all referred opportunities to this list, regardless of value or outcome. This list will reveal the referral sources who are trying the hardest. Often the ones trying hardest are also the ones who are most successful, but not always.

If they find someone who gets them lots of at bats, but few if no hits, see #1 above.

In any case, add a column next to the entire list. Head this column: "Thanked?" Tell them to find a way to put a check mark in each of these fields.

Also happened during the past five days and on a brighter note...
One of the people I coach added the following to our next meeting agenda: "______ has been fabulous to me lately. I want your help finding ways I can be fabulous back."

One final thought...
Many people think referrals only want quid pro quo. I'm not an idiot. I know that back scratchers also like their backs being scratched. But you can do this in more ways than simply referring them business. (A blog post for a future date.)

But, to the point of this post, you MUST start by showing your appreciation of their efforts on your behalf. Or, with all likelihood, it'll stop.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

So what? -and- Who cares?

If I wrote a marketing book, it'd be two chapters long and each chapter would be two words. Here's the entire book:

Chapter One: So what?

Chapter Two: Who cares?

You have a new product or service offering? Answer the above two questions. Be very, very specific. If you can't answer both these questions AND can't articulate this quickly to your target audience, then I'll bet good money your product or service will fail.

You're giving a presentation? Don't even open up PowerPoint until you can answer both of these questions with fine line detail. And succinctly.

Sending out an e-blast? Building an app? Tweeting? Same two questions.

Now let's think even smaller.

I'm sitting in a new business presentation (on the 'buy' side) and one of the presenters is explaining his experience to me. After five minutes, including exactly twenty discreet background details, I have asked myself the following question exactly twenty times: "So What?"

None of the background items seemed relevant to me or my hopes and dreams.

I fully understood I was supposed to be impressed and reassured by his depth of experience, as well as the technical effort it took to build the solution, but each fact, individually, just sat there like a lump.

"I've worked with McDonald's and Rubbermaid." Impressive. But so what?

"The system is build to scale and integrate seamlessly with blah, blah and blah." Who cares?

Myself, have a pen that's also a mini flashlight (True.) And two dogs. (Also true.) You don't hear me rattling this off at a sale presentation.

"I have an MBA from the University of La De Da" Very nice. But so what? And who cares? Besides your Mom.

I once shook President Ford's left hand. (True.) And met the guy who played C3PO. (Also true. And he was extremely gracious and personable.) Oh, and I saw a guy shot out of a tree. (I know ... right? But this isn't relevant and, while it might make me more memorable, it won't lead to a sale.)

The only thing that will lead to a sale is answering the following question, clearly and in small, short words: "So What?"

The "Who Cares?" part gets you in the room with the right person.

Unsure why this is so hard.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Retreats, Summits, and All-Company Meetings. Oh My!

But first an update.

I write about the value of failure a great deal, it appears. If you haven't gotten the overall message yet, it's this: Marketing is the art of managing failure. And failing is only really failing when you fail to learn anything from it.

Supporting this belief is a short article on HBR, which is more about prototyping than failing, but is still worth reading.

And now back to the blog post already in progress.

Retreats, Summits and All-Company Meetings. Oh My!

We've all attended these sessions and many of us have been "fortunate" to attend all-company meetings for more than one company. But the question is: What have we learned that we still put into action today?

This is no random question. This is why you have retreats, summits, off-sites, or whatever you call them.

This why is often lost in the planning effort, if it's ever included at all. And I would argue, from having the "pleasure" of attending many such events for a wide range of organizations, that if you do not defend this why with all your might, then you should take all the money you plan to spend (multiply everyone's hourly costs and add that, too) and donate it to a single charity. At least someone will get real benefit from all the time and money spent.

But let's add to the why.

Because why is only the starting question. Let's add a how and a when, a what or two, and, most critically, let's add a small who and a big WHO.

Complete this simple questionnaire before you even set a date for your session:

1. Why we are having this session: (Be specific.)
2. What will the long-term results of this session?
3. By when do we expect to start seeing these specified results?
4. How will we measure these results?
5. What will we do to add needed structure and continually reinforce the why post-event?
6. Who describes the vision & value at the event? (This is the small who.)
7. WHO will be responsible for creating the structure, supporting the day-to-day needs, measuring, and reporting successes and failures to leadership? WHO actually owns these results? (I.e. WHO will be rewarded or punished accordingly?)

Now that we have our questionnaire, here are the two key reasons why retreats are often one-and-done events:

• No post-event action plan.
We call these "legs." Without legs, your great Rah Rah session won't survive the first fire-drill back at the shop. Once you have your why, spend time figuring out the hows. Set dates and metrics. Work with the right people – before the fact – to develop the long-term plan and milestones.

• The wrong people are in the room. Or, more correctly: The right people are not in the room.
I believe this is the #1 reason why summits and retreats create plenty of temporary flash but dissipate as soon as the tables are cleared and golf scorecards are tallied.

Your ego says, "I only want my senior people there." Your wallet says, "Having everyone there is expensive." Your clubby nature says, "I want to spend time with my peers. This is also a time to bond and enjoy the company of my equals."

For these reasons, you leave the people who will execute and measure the impact of your vision behind. They hear nothing, they are disconnected and, often, they are told after the fact that they even have a role.

It's amazing to me how many times I hear soaring rhetoric and motivating visionary plans and then look around the room to see that the actual owner, architect and/or general contractor for this great bridge to the future is not in attendance. Often, this person has no or little clue what is being discussed or that she has any post-event role for ensuring the bridge gets built.

Whether you give this person an active role at the session or not (you should), or whether or not you include her in the bonding sessions afterwards (fifty-fifty on this one), disincluding her before and during the event is a near guarantee you will never see your bridge built.

Look back at the last five company retreats, summits, whatevers. Do you even recall the themes? Can you point to the specific ROI you are still receiving from the money and time you spent? Can you point to the new structures that were built based on the outcomes of those sessions? If so, congratulations. If not, what makes you think your next one will be any different?

Happy bridge building! See you on the other side.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Press the Thumbs for Your Staff

I'm often skeptical of studies such as the one highlighted in this Harvard Business Review Daily Stat. Basically the study shows that wishing people luck can improve and speed their performance. (It also reveals that "press the thumbs" is the German equivalent of "cross my fingers.")

Why am I often skeptical? There are frequently more variables involved than they believe they're testing, such as positive selection. In this study's case, they took away a lucky charm from half the participants to prove that having lucky charms improved performance in the other half. I wonder if the first half of the participants would have performed less well if they had taken away anything from them, such as one sock.

Why did this study catch my attention? Since I interpreted the finger crossing to actually be a sign of encouragement, not simply a superstitious act, and I do believe that wishing someone well is motivational. If I cross my fingers for your success, it shows that I support your success, not solely that I am invoking lucky spirits on your behalf.

There are so many toxic workplaces, where people are afraid of making mistakes and receive attention only when they screw up. Or, at best, receive kind words only if they succeed. And there are far too few workplaces where bosses send their staff off with encouragement.

While I have not done any analysis of the success rates within the two types of workplaces – and there are so many other variables – I expect that the ones with bosses "pressing the thumbs" for their staff's success would have better "luck" and greater productivity.

So ... next time you give someone a job to do, also give them a little motivation on the way out. It might lead to better and faster success.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It Now Takes 30 Minutes to Become a Marketing Expert

Maybe less.

"This guy, at a conference, spoke on Social Media and he said all you need in today's world is a YouTube channel and a Twitter account and you'll be beating back the customers from your front door. You post a video, twitter the link, and then thousands of people twitter and retwitter it. Many of them show up to your store, are impressed by your service." This part in a whisper: "And here he explained that you had to give the first few people incredible service. Maybe offer them a free gift." Back to the regular voice level: "Then these people, right there in the store, twitter to their friends or post on Facebook or ... something elser it ... makes no difference what social media they use ... and, voila, you have more customers than you can handle." And then the new-found expertise: "So all we need to do is get a Twitter account and make a video. Let me know if you need help, I'm good with the internet. I buy things on all the time, and I have teenage kids who are really good at making videos."

Raise your hands if you've been on the other side of this "discussion." Everyone have their hands up? As expected.

Makes no difference where you work, your client base, whether or not you have access to followers, or even have a good video idea. This is how it works nowadays, apparently. You no longer need marketing experience or training, or even business developers. All you need is a Twitter account. And a Flip. Unsure why you, the veteran marketer, couldn't think of that? Maybe you don't go to conferences where Social Media experts give talks? Maybe you are simply trying to do things the hard way. Or maybe you didn't hear about Twitter yet.

Too bad that our entire field has been replaced by a free online tool.

I wonder if Denny's is hiring.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Broken Windows and Marketing Culture

Many people are familiar with the "Broken Windows" theory from having read Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point.

The theory, not Gladwell's (click on "Broken Windows" above to go the the Wiki page), is that slight neglect or small crimes create a breeding ground for larger, more persistent issues. Consequently, if you want to eliminate major problems, you need to focus on eliminating minor transgressions.

The "Broken Windows theory" is named from an example provided: an unrepaired broken window in an apartment building leads to further neglect, vandalism and, inevitably, worse crimes.

But what does this have to do with creating a marketing culture?

Marketers are often seen as small-minded shrews nagging people to accomplish meaningless tasks.

Examples include:
• Entering contacts or updates into the database.
• Completing surveys after events.
• Taking the time to send out thank you notes.
• Researching people before networking sessions.
• Completing pre-proposal forms.
• Following up in 48 hours. (And then entering that into the database.)
• Reviewing subscription lists before mailings are sent.
• Updating online profiles.
• The list goes on.

We also find ourselves being vetoed by more senior people who let the high-perfomers off the hook ("They closed two big deals this quarter and you're worried about them entering a few marketing activities?!?") or allow special cases* to slide.

Letting your high-performers and special cases off the hook provides plenty of rationale for others looking to shrug off the marketing work:

1) Management doesn't really care about this effort, so why should I?
2) Those people are succeeding because they don't have to waste their time on this.
3) What makes him/her so special? I'm special, too.
4) Why am I the only team player here?

When people see that not everyone is being forced to do something (and it often takes only one example since people look until they find the single exception), they decide they are also off the hook. And then it's a slippery slope, since examples are easier and easier to find. Broken windows everywhere.

Look, I fully understand that we should only worry about the important things. That organizations can and should keep only three to five big goals in the center of their plate. And that everything else is a "nice to have."

So the real question is this: Is creating a marketing culture one of the "need to haves" of your organization?

If it isn't, then don't waste your time trying to get some of the folks to complete the marketing tasks. Certainly don't put an intermediary in the toothless role of nagging people in the hope that enough of them will do it.

However, if a marketing culture is a critical issue for your firm (and I would argue that it must be), then you can't let anyone slide. Not one person. Not for any one of the attributes/tasks you decide is part of this culture. When you do let them slide, you have a broken window. And we know what happens next.

In short: It's not an attribute of your marketing culture unless everyone is doing it all the time. And when any transgressions are met with sharp, high-level disapproval.

To end: Do you want a marketing culture? If so, then senior leadership must be willing to fix any broken windows quickly and publicly.

*Special cases are often simply "squeaky wheels" that are only special since they turn every skirmish into a siege … and who has time or stomach for that?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Referrers, Promoters and Yetis

Yetis? Yes, yetis. And you heard it here first.

One of our goals as networkers is to create referral sources. And we all know what they are. People who send you leads.

There has also been a lot of discussion and research on promoters and net promoter scoring(TM) … a registered trademark of Satmetrix as it turns out. I have been using the term "promoter" to mean "proactive referral source" for a long while now (maybe even before net promoter scoring came into existence.) Unsure if I am using the term "promoter" in a technically correct manner, but I very much doubt it matters. Others call them "angels" or "ambassadors," which is fine. You can call them whatever you want.
|>My thinking, as many know and as I expect I have written in this blog before, is that you need 8-12 promoters in your network. If you do not have them, either go get them or go get a "real" job, since you will have trouble staying in business without them if you rely on rainmaking.<|
Gene Rosendale of ASA uses a term called "witnesses," which fits nicely into the strategy I've always employed. A "witness" is someone in the room when the relevant pain is being felt by your potential customer. The witness will help guide this prospect to contact you. My strategy was to have active promoters who understood your unique selling proposition (USP) and were able to ask questions that help lead your prospects to uncover the pain that you can uniquely salve. And then point them your way. "Witness" is an elegant term for this person. And far faster to explain as you have just read.

But even this does not go far enough.
|>We need to look for people who can present potential value above the "you should" metric and move to the "you will" one. That term is "Yetis."<|
Why a "yeti?"

One the same day recently, two people pulled out their iPads and asked me the exact same question: "Have you gotten an iPad, yet?" This was not the first time I have been asked this question about products or services – and I've specifically been asked the question for iPads at least 5 times so far.

Why do these people assume that it is only a matter of time until I get an iPad ... or a Kindle ... or call a certain person to help with a specific business issue?

The answer is that they, themselves, can't imagine why you haven't yet already done so. They believe that the product or service is not only a perfect fit, but a known and obvious solution; the only one that'll do the job well enough to even be worth considering. In fact, them thinking you already know this is a compliment and an insult: You are "in the know," but not yet wise enough to take the obvious next step.


So, how do you create Yetis?
1) Find the pain for which your product or solution is a clear and obvious salve.

2) Create witnesses (often current customers) who cannot imagine why others haven't yet used your offering to salve that pain.
Sound simple? Sound easy? Of course it's neither. Both of those bullets are hard work. But every "yet" is money in the bank and you can only get there by creating Yetis, so it's worth it. And the closer you get, the better off you will be.

Finally, since so many people forget that current customers are the best referral sources, this might help them see their customers in a new way, that is, covered head to toe in shaggy fur.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stop Networking! You Already Know Enough People.

The golfer steps up to the tee, pulls out a driver and swings. The ball soars perfectly straight, right down the middle of the fairway.

Without even admiring the drive (or where the ball eventually stops), the golfer places another ball on the tee and swings again. Another great drive! Also right down the middle of the fairway. This one skips twice, hits one of the many other balls (just white dots from where the golfer stands) and the two balls roll forward a few feet before they stop, both hitting other balls along the way.

The golfer places yet another ball on the tee...

For many people, this golfing analogy describes their networking (and sadly, entire business development) strategy. Stand at the tee, hit lots of balls onto the fairway and either hope for a hole-in-one or that, by some miracle, one of the balls will knock another one onto the green. Once the ball is on the green, we suddenly notice it and try to putt it into the hole. The problem is that the fairway is often littered with balls that have sat there for years and years and years.


I promised I'd assess the last three years of networking coaching efforts to determine how many professionals and companies needed more contacts in order to reach their business development goals.

Individuals: 12/79 (15%)
Organizations: 4/10 (40%)

Of 79 individuals, I can recall only 12 that didn't already have plenty of contacts to fuel their business development plans. This counts two professionals who had long lists of contact, but after review it was determined that they didn't have enough of the right contacts, so did need to meet new (more targeted) people.

Organizationally, only 4 of the 10 companies needed lead generation efforts; they had enough names in their contact databases.
|>A caveat: No one nor any company should ever stop marketing. Using the analogy above, you should have a plan to continually drive balls onto the fairway. But if your business development effort does not include a strategic, step-by-step plan for moving these people from 1) initial meeting to 2) engaged community member to 3) referral source/prospect, then you are wasting your time meeting them.<|
Recently, I asked a professional to print out his contact list so we could assess it for potential clients, promoters and centers of influence. His administrative assistant contacted me with some desperation in her voice.

"Do you really need a print out? It's eighty-four pages."
I asked, "How many per page?"
A long pause as she counted. "Thirty-seven."

Let's do the math: 84 x 37 = 3,108 contacts! To be fair, the last page only had 27 names on it, so we didn't quite hit 3,100. Also to be fair, this professional knew he had enough network contacts already. However, we both looked at this list and wondered where we would even start. The list itself was overwhelming.
|>The question is: If you output all your contacts onto a spreadsheet, how many would you have?

A better question is: How many more do you need? Odds are (85% likely by my non-statistical count), the answer is none. You already have enough.<|
So... Put down your driver, get out an iron and start clubbing those balls down the fairway and onto the green. The good news is that no one is counting strokes*. They only care about how many balls you get onto the green and into the hole.

And here's a question for the business leaders out there: Can you see all those white dots out on the fairway? That's wasted opportunity! And wasted cost of getting the balls out there. (Do that math if you need additional motivation.)

*Many companies do track the number of tee shots. Some even compensate on this. We can argue whether or not this is valuable and that is arguable. However, if you are only measuring tee shots and sunk balls, then you deserve what you are getting, which is a lot of wasted time and money meeting people who will be contacted once and then left to rot on the fairway.