Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: 2008

Dealing With Your Evil Twin

They say that you can learn the most about someone when they’re under pressure. As we hit a low point (I hope) in our economy, we’re going to start seeing some hidden personalities come out. These may not be our “real” personalities, but we’ll certainly see a few “evil twins.”

Breathing deeply and counting to ten before responding doesn’t work for everyone. Here are a few additional thoughts that may help you through some rough patches:

1. “When you point your finger ‘cause your plan fell through, you have three more fingers pointing back at you.” (Make a fist and point your finger if you don’t get this line from an old Dire Straits song.) Chances are it won’t just be your own fingers pointing at you. Those who make a habit of blaming others often find themselves sweating under the spotlight.

2. You can never really know what is going on in another person’s world. We probably all remember situations where we’ve been frustrated with colleagues only to find out later that they were going through something that we didn’t know about such as a major health issue.

3. Stop the name calling. Even if the stress gets to be too much for you and you need to vent to a trusted colleague about a situation, try to keep it objective. Thinking of your colleagues as lazy or incompetent doesn’t move the situation forward. Try to never say anything about a co-worker that you would not say to him or her.

4. Prioritize and then pick your battles carefully. Your priorities are not necessarily the same as your co-workers. You need to make sure that you aren’t making an issue out of everything or the really serious matters won’t be taken seriously. Ever heard something like this? “Oh you know Joe. He’s never happy. Don’t worry about it.”

5. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall. As efficient as email is, it’s easy for the tone of your message to be misunderstood. Think about this quick message delivered on email.

“What’s going on? I haven’t heard anything about the XYZ project lately.”

When you wrote that, you heard a casual, pleasant voice inside your head. XYZ project is important to you, but you accept that you’re partly to blame for losing touch with the project. You just wanted to reengage.

Your co-worker, who is up to their eyeballs in a crisis in ABC project, sees your message as criticism of them and their handling of the project. Not a good way to reconnect.

Not being critical doesn’t mean you have to accept poor performance. Just treat the situation openly and objectively and try to understand all sides while you work with your co-workers to address the issues that really matter to the business.
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Play Nice

As the economy continues its downward slide I thought I’d bring up the topic of “job insurance” again. Chances are some of you are in organizations that are at least considering a reduction in force if things get worse. Many are keeping it as a last resort, but it is there.

It can’t be said too many times that the best job insurance is to have measureable goals that tie to the company’s objectives (preferably bottomline) and then to make sure you meet or exceed those goals. Even in companies that cut marketing staff, they don’t usually cut everybody. Unless the company goes out of business, somebody who can show their value to the company has a shot at staying on the payroll.

But, an often overlooked piece of job insurance is to be someone that others like to work with. Be someone that others can count on. Be pleasant even when others around you are feeling the strain and letting it show. Think about how you can get the job done and support the rest of the company during the crisis.

I’m not suggesting you be Suzie Sunshine. People that are well-liked but have no substance are no more in demand now than they ever were. Plus, you have a job to get done and sometimes you have to be direct.

What I’m talking about are those of you who are a “nasty piece of work.” You’re likely to be at the top of the list even if you are performing. It might be a good time to start rebuilding some of those bridges you’ve been tearing down.
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10 Trade Show Tips

MarketingProfs recently had an excellent thread in their forum on how to make effective use of your trade show investment. You can access MarketingProfs if you are a member and even their basic free membership will allow you to access the forum. I am not affiliated with this site. I’m just a fan.

I suspect a lot of you are like the questioner. You are spending a significant amount of your marketing budget on trade shows. You feel you need to be there even though you can’t trace a single sale back to the show. How many times have you said to yourself, “If I can just get one...”

As the economy slows down, the money you’re sinking into trade shows is going to come under even greater scrutiny. If you do decide to continue to do trade shows, the forum responders had some great ideas for how you can make the most of it. My favorite ideas are listed below, and I’ve added some of my own perspectives as well:

1. Attend the show as an attendee instead of exhibiting. Make sure you send your most outgoing sales person to the conference. If it’s an educational conference, as so many are, be sure to sign them up so they can attend the sessions. You need them sitting next to potential prospects and talking shop. In my experience, you’re just as likely to find opportunities this way as you are by sifting through hundreds of unqualified leads.

2. Cut the number of people attending. No one likes to go to a show alone, but does everyone need to attend? IMO, marketing babysits far more often than they need to. Do you really need to be there in order to make sure everything is done properly? Sales people aren’t children. On the other hand, marketing sometimes doesn’t do effective pre-show marketing ahead of time and ends up with too many sales people at the show. It's tough to know what you're going to get, but it's better to have too few people and look busy than it is to have sales people just hanging around.

3. Rent a SoftServe ice cream truck. This brilliance of this one is self-evident.

4. Set up appointments ahead of time. You can do this through pre-show mailings and telemarketing. Give them an incentive to set up an appointment for a demo at the show. E.g. a gift card for a bookstore. They get the incentive after the show-meeting.

5. Make sure you also set up appointments with your current prospects. If you’re releasing a product that they haven’t seen yet, do a call down to invite them to stop by for a showing. Better yet, make it a “sneak peak.”

6. Use the show to do market research. I wrote about this one in a previous post.

7. Don’t exhibit but rent a conference room at a local hotel. Invite people to this meeting room in your pre-show marketing. Even providing food, which can be costly at a hotel, is often a lot cheaper than the cost of exhibiting.

Here’s some additional ideas that I didn’t see mentioned:

8. Work with the show organizers to see if there is some incentive you can arrange for your attendees. Many of these shows are seeing a drop in attendees and the organizers are feeling the pain as much as you are. Let them know you will proactively market show attendance to your prospects, but you want something to sweeten the deal.

9. Do the follow up. This was mentioned, of course, but I didn’t see anyone mention who should do the follow up. If you want to ruin your reputation with sales and completely waste your money go ahead and dump the leads into their lap. Read more about this in a previous post.

10. Set up meetings with your executives. If you’re selling to the c-level suite, see if you can get your own execs to attend and then set up side meetings with them for your key prospects. One word of caution: because many executive schedules can be unreliable, you need to be sure you have either an extremely committed exec or a backup exec of a comparable level. You don’t want to have your best prospects fly to a show thinking they are going to meet with the VP of Customer Services, only to find out at the lat minute that he or she couldn’t make it.

I’m sure we could come up with a list of 100 ideas if we put our minds to it. Let us know what’s worked and hasn’t worked for you.
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Out of the Box Marketing

Seth Godin seems to be on a run with intriguing posts these days. His Oct 29th post about How to Lose opens up an interesting if controversial idea.

I think most marketers, with any spark of fire in them, are very competitive people. While we try not to copy our competition (most of the time) we end up studying them all day long. What are their target markets? What are their key messages? What are they saying when they run up against us? What can we use to “attack” them?

But we just can’t compete on every deal. If you’re smart, there are some segments you don’t go after because the odds of winning the deal are low. And, if by some accident you do win, the odds of having a satisfied customer are even less.

What if you identified a “competitor” for these markets that you could send leads to when they aren’t a fit for your solution? Obviously, a “quid pro quo” relationship is what you’re trying to establish, so create that relationship with someone who is willing to admit that they can’t meet the needs of some of the markets that you target.

For those of you brave enough to try this, it will take some work. Cooperation for scarce resource (or sales) is not a natural thing in human nature – at least not in modern humans. You’re going to have to work hard to find the right competitive partner. You’re going to have to be OK with the relationship being a little one-sided at times. You’re going to have to give up your old dreams of putting the competition out of business.

I know, I know. I’m talking about an old idea – co-opetition. And, maybe some of you have actually tried this before. If so, let us know how it worked, or didn’t work, for you.
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Do You Like Who You Have Become?

I’m always surprised at the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, ways my personality and outlook on life changes when I change jobs. I worked for one company for a few years that was an awesome place to work. Brilliant people. Great benefits. Fun work. But, the culture was very direct and often crossed the line into needlessly confrontational. It was a real battle for turf. I think confrontation can be constructive but it can also get in the way of reaching team goals. Now that I’ve left, I think of myself as the “kinder, gentler me.” I’m happy with that.

Seth Godin’s October 24th post, Be Careful Who You Work For, is spot on. He advises people to take more time making the most important marketing decision of their lives.

While I agree with that, I’m not sure that now is the best time to jump off the bandwagon. However, you can prepare yourself to look for a work environment that suits who you want to be by getting your resume updated and working on your internet presence through Linked In and other networks.

Sometimes it’s just an individual you work for or with that poisons the atmosphere. If your organization is large enough, perhaps there are opportunities on other teams that will decrease the amount of contact you have. Or, if you are lucky, maybe you have the option to work from home. (while preparing yourself to find an opportunity that suits you better.) Avoidance isn’t always the best thing for your career, but it can help you hang on to your sanity while you work on your future.

None of us has to be doing the work we are doing. A CEO I know was fond of saying, “you are not an indentured servant” whenever he heard people complain. We can’t all quit our jobs on a whim. And, sometimes it takes a lot of effort to find what really suits you. But, if you are unhappy, remember that YOU are the one who is responsible for your being where you are. We are all the sum total of our choices. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Don't Show Up For Work!

‘Tis the season to share one of my biggest pet peeves. Every year, we’re subjected to all those self-made martyrs who insist on showing up for work despite being sick as a dog.

Some of them truly have work to do. They don’t make a big deal out of being sick. They stay in their office and try to avoid unnecessary contact with their colleagues while they fight the bug. If at all possible, they work from home and call in for meetings. To these people, I say “bless you!” and I mean that in more ways than one.

However, the vast majority seem to wear their misery like a badge of honor. They tell everyone they meet how sick they are and that they really should go to the doctor but they just can’t find the time. They joke about having to come to work, laughing, coughing and wheezing microorganisms all over the office. (Experts say that you spread a cloud of microorganisms as much as three feet every time you exhale.)

Go home!

Better yet, don’t come in to work at all if you are starting to feel sick. Doctors will tell you that you’re most contagious before you really even feel all that sick, so don’t wait for a full blown cold. They’ll also tell you that the quickest way to get well is to rest, so if you can, cancel all your appointments and crawl back in bed. Those sick days in your benefits package are there for a reason.

I’m surprised more companies don’t make a big deal out of this. Many of them sponsor health awareness, fitness club memberships, and other initiatives designed to keep their people healthy. Yet, they continue to turn a blind eye when the modern day equivalent of Typhoid Mary shows up for work and starts a round of contagion that lasts until next summer.
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Should You Have Your Resume Professionally Written?

With an uncertain economy, a lot of us are asking what we can do to ensure that we stay employed and keep progressing in our careers. The best advice is work hard; work smart…and make sure you have an up to date resume.

But, while you’re working hard it can be hard to find time to keep a resume up to date-- especially if you haven’t touched yours in awhile. When I left Microsoft I hadn’t updated my resume in more than fifteen years. (My prior resume was probably on a 5 inch floppy disk somewhere in the basement.)

But, a resume shouldn’t be that hard to write. After all, it’s really nothing more than a personal brochure for our services. As marketers, most of us have written a brochure at one time or another.

We can keep telling ourselves that, yet that personal brochure never seems to get written.

I wrote my own resume before leaving Microsoft, but then about two years ago I decided it was time to update it again. As a birthday present to myself, I hired a professional resume service. As luck would have it, I needed that resume within six months as the company I worked for went through a reorganization.

For those of you considering a professionally written resume, there are pros and cons to consider:

Expense. A professionally written resume written by a reputable service can run several hundred dollars. The more senior level the role you are aiming for, the more expensive the resume will be. For those of you thinking of having a resume written I’d suggest you not put it off. It’s a lot easier to mentally deal with the costs while you’re employed than when you actually need that resume!

Less work – sort of. Resume writing services can leave you with the impression that they can take the work out of resume writing. To a certain extent that’s true. They can handle the wordsmithing, most of the proofing, the design, and the formatting. However, the content is only as good as the material you provide them with. You still need to spend time thinking about the roles you’ve held and the value you’ve provided to your employer.

Quicker. As with most marketing projects, outside vendors deliver faster than internal staff. Once I signed off on my resume project I was on the hook for the milestones that had been set such as submitting initial information and the review process. It was going to be completed within a couple of weeks whether I wanted it to be or not.

No need to be humble! Many people have a hard time tooting their own horn. A professional service can review your actual accomplishments and take out those self-limiting words and phrases. e.g. “responsible for…” should almost always be replaced with objectives you achieved while you were fulfilling your responsibilities.

You still need to own it. My writer took my accomplishments and put his own take on them. He did a great job of clarifying some of my statements in the process. Considering all of this interaction took place over email, I thought he did pretty well. After signing off on his work, I took the resume and made any changes that I felt more accurately reflected my accomplishments.

You still need to have done it. If you haven’t actually done the work it’s going to come across in the interview. As an interviewer, I always ask candidates to tell me about several of the accomplishments on their resume. Exactly how did they achieve that turn around? What were the darkest moments? What hurdles did they have to overcome? I can tell who’s faking it.

The best way to make sure that you have something to put on your resume is to, as previously mentioned, work hard; work smart. Make sure that you have goals tied to corporate objectives. Don’t settle for a role with no accountability. It should go without saying, but revenue objectives trump everything else.

Once you have your objectives set, make sure you meet them, and get that brochure written.

Best of luck to all of you!
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The Economy - A "Marketing" Correction?

There’s been some talk that the current financial crisis and the economic impact is a market correction. I have my opinions, but since I’m not an economist, I think I’ll leave the speculation to others. (No pun intended)

However, I believe that the current situation can lead to a much needed “marketing" correction. Here are just a few of the positive things that I hope to see:

1. Marketers stop being satisfied with just filling their chair.

2. Managers of the marketing teams start holding their team members accountable.

3. Marketers focus on opportunities and not just leads.

4. Marketers reassess their marketing mix to cut out those tactics that are no longer producing.

5. Marketers stop being satisfied with things like “awareness” and “click throughs” that aren’t connected to opportunities.

6. Marketers focus on building a partnership with their #1 customer – the sales team.

I know many of you may be concerned for the future of your careers. No matter what happens in the months and years ahead, there are some companies that will go through rough times. Layoffs are bound to happen, even in the best of times.

Following the six guidelines above, and probably a few others that you can think of, can help you whether the storm.
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Measuring Social Media

This one is for every marketer who is struggling with how to measure their social media projects. I suspect that includes most of us.

Chris Brogan’s Sept 1st blog 10 Communications Objectives of Social Media lists ten objectives for social media projects proposed by Douglas Walker on his blog. Chris has invited his readers to comment on whether this is THE list or if there are some objectives that have been overlooked.

As usual, Chris’s readers have some great comments on which items are most important to them, and which ones have been left out. I encourage you to read through these for some additional ideas on how to measure your social media projects.

However, I think the real value in the list is found on Douglas Walker’s original post, A Draft Social Media Metrics Model. To me, it’s not important whether this is the definitive list. These are all possible objectives. What is usually missing in social media plans is a way to measure whether you are reaching your objectives.

On Walker’s original post each of these objectives has several possible measurements associated with it. For example, one objective “Influence the Influencers” has the following metrics associated: Positive/relevant blogs or media, incoming links, trackbacks, technorati (or similar) rankings.

Measuring social media is crucial, especially if your social media program is under constant surveillance by skeptics within your organization. If you can’t measure your projects, it’s hard to justify them for long.
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Best Practices = Mediocrity

Long time, no “see.” I start a new position in a new company on Monday and I have been taking a little extra time off to these last couple of weeks to enjoy what’s left of the summer.

Today’s Dilbert (Sept 3rd) was especially insightful. The boss says that they will be adopting “best practices” just like everyone else in the industry. Dilbert makes the observation that is everyone else is doing it then it’s the same as “mediocrity.”

That one made me sit back and think. Everyone in IT always talks about “best practices.” You hear it in everything from software development, support, implementation and even sales and marketing. And, certainly, there are some very good practices out there. But, are they the “best”?

To assume that something is a “best practice” means that nothing is going to get any better. That takes all the fun out of it and removes the opportunity for innovation.

I like the approach that practitioners of Lean Manufacturing take. (Note: Lean as a practice has gone far beyind manufacturing in the last several years, with all departments and many different industries deploying it)

One of the main philosophies within lean is to aim for "kaizen" or continuous improvement. For example, if between manufacturing runs your change over takes three minutes, how can you get it to two? Once you get to two, what changes can you make to get it down to one? How about less than one minute?

On and on it goes as the everyone in the organization looks for ways they can improve whatever it is that they are doing in pursuit of the company’s goals. It’s not the pursuit of perfection or a “best practice” but the pursuit of improvement and a "better" practice that matters.

Same with marketing. For example, in your industry, direct mail response rates may be 2%, but how can you get them to 3%? How about 4%? If you can’t, are there ways you could be spending your marketing dollar more effectively?

You don’t have to make all changes at once, but continually asking, “Is this the best we can do?” and making small changes will allow you to continue to improve. And, to me, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
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Your Own Worst Online Enemy

Some people are their own worst enemy, especially when it comes to their online presence. I’m not sure if they are clueless or just don’t care. I suppose it doesn’t matter. The way they conduct themselves in the online community hurts their image and diminishes potential opportunities.

Seth Godin recently wrote a post Who’s telling you the truth about your online personal marketing. As a good place to start, he focused on the picture you choose and advised that you ask a handful of trusted confidants to tell you what they think.

I like to think that we’re beyond caring whether someone’s picture makes them look “dumpy” or not. Although I have to admit that he does have a point about choosing your picture carefully. The net is littered with mug shots that do no one any favors.

Here are some additional mistakes that I see otherwise intelligent people make everyday.

Curmudgeon or jerk? – We all know curmudgeons. They are the wise and seasoned professionals with a slightly testy attitude, but brilliant ideas. They can be fun to work with as long as they have all of the qualifications, namely, wisdom and experience in addition to biting wit.

Unfortunately, unless you have an established reputation on the web, biting wit generally comes across as rude. Just think how many misunderstood emails you’ve seen in your career. The sender thinks they are being clever but the recipient is offended and the conversation turns into a series of flame mails. Comments are just as easily misunderstood on the web, so better to save your clever remarks for face to face interactions.

Offensive Material – I just removed someone from my LinkedIn connections and Google Mail connections because the picture he used on Google Mail was of the lower half of a woman’s torso in lingerie. I immediately blocked him from my Google Mail because I often use my computer in public. I do not want anyone seeing that on MY system. I also immediately removed him from my LinkedIn connections, but it wasn’t because I thought the picture was offensive. (Although it was.) It was because it was just plain dumb to use a picture like that, and that’s not the type of people I want to connect with.

Poorly thought out responses – Every interaction you have on the web is public to some degree. I’m not sure why people don’t understand this. I belong to a few online networking groups where I continually see people ask and answer questions as though they were at a Friday night gripe session with their buddies. Many of these people are actively looking for new opportunities. Others dash off responses to questions or on blog posts that are not well organized, poorly worded or riddled with typos. Now, why would I want to contact these people about a potential opportunity?

Stupid questions – OK, I know, there are no “stupid questions.” But you have to admit that some come close. For example, someone on LinkedIn recently asked why only marginal looking people post their photos. She wondered if the good looking people were afraid that posting their photo would cause them to get too many people wanting to date them.

Quick note to this individual. Assuming you aren’t one of the “marginals” like the rest of us, you only get 10 or 15 good years at best. Better start working on that personality now.

Blanket statements, especially political – I believe in civil political discourse. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to exist on the web, especially in an election year. I am keeping an eye on another one of my long time contacts who has been making strange political statements in his LinkedIn “what are you working on now” field.

I don’t care what political leaning you are, unless you are a political blogger, I would recommend saving political ideas for offline conversations where a real conversation can take place. This is especially true if you are looking for new opportunities. No sense in alienating half of your audience with a strongly worded statement about a particular candidate or elected official.

Weird hobbies – It’s great to enjoy things other than work. You may or may not want to comment about these things on the web though. One Facebook listing I saw had a hobby listed as “occasionally drinking too much.” I suspect the person was trying to be cute, but why would you say this? As a potential employer it’s a yellow flag at the very least.

The web is a great way to establish a reputation whether you are looking for new business or a new job. Keep your online reputation spotless by imaging that everything you write will wind up in the hands of someone you want to do business with or for. If it diminishes your image or could be misunderstood in any way, don’t post it.
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When Opportunity Knocks Will You Be There?

I get a lot of calls from recruiters. That’s a good thing. I never need to feel “trapped” in any company or role. Plus I get to find out about new opportunities long before they are generally available. You never know when the right opportunity will knock.

Most of the calls from my recruiter friends are for roles that are not right for me, but they know that I am happy to give them names of people I think might be interested.

Yesterday, I got a call from a recruiter about a position for an experienced marketer. He was looking for a candidate that is ready to break out from working under someone to being in charge of marketing at a small software company. That’s a dream for every ambitious young marketer, and these roles don’t come along every day.

I did a little thinking through the people I have worked with in the past that I think might be ready for this. I easily came up with a list of ten people. I quickly logged into LinkedIn expecting to be able to send the recruiter a link to their public profiles.

I was only able to send the recruiter profiles for four out of the ten!

There’s a lot of talk in marketing circles about being digitally relevant. Everyone is thinking about starting a blog or dabbling in Twitter. It can be daunting so many are not sure where to start.

I say forget being digitally relevant and just be available. If you do nothing else, get your profile set up on LinkedIn so people can get in touch with you about potential opportunities.

I suppose you could argue that there are other networks out there. That’s true. However, LinkedIn has the advantage of being widely used among businesspeople. Maybe the most widely used?

It also has the advantage over social networks like Facebook in that you can use it as an online resume without being obvious about it. When in your already in a good position, you want to be looking, but the best opportunities come when you don't look like you are looking.

There are also those of you who may be thinking, “I’m happy where I’m at. Why do I need to be available?”

I’m happy for you. Just remember, you don’t have to be interested in any opportunities that come your way. Use it as an opportunity to make a positive connection with someone who might be useful to your career in the future. Find out what they are looking for and if you are not interested, maybe there’s someone else that you can refer them to. It is a great opportunity to do someone else a favor.

Finally, you never know when you’ll be interested. Job boards are littered with marketing professionals whose careers are not living up to their expectations. And, worse yet, there are many who thought they were secure in their roles, but find themselves looking as companies scale back their marketing.
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Management Lessons From The Dairy Farmers

I was talking with my husband the other night about people management and he made the observation that it was a lot like dairy farming. He’s a scientist, not a dairy farmer, but apparently he has some insight.

To get dairy cows to produce you have to treat them right. You feed them well. You make sure their barn is clean. I’ve heard some even play them soothing music to make sure they are relaxed.

The same goes for your employees. I think most people do their best work in a relaxed environment where their basic needs have been met. Maybe it doesn’t apply to all roles, but it certainly applies to creative roles like marketing (and scientists).

And, what do you do if they still don’t produce? You turn them into hamburger. I mean the cows, of course. Still a similar, but more humane, approach applies to people too.

There’s no sense in keeping employees around who still can’t do the job even in the best environment. Either find a role within the organization they can succeed in, or cut them loose so they can find a fulfilling job that they are good at.
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Developing Emotional Intelligence

I think emotional intelligence is one of the greatest assets anyone can have. It’s not that people with the highest degree of emotional intelligence are the ones that reach the greatest heights. I’m sure you can think of a bonified jerk or two in a position of power. However, I think that those with high EQ (vs IQ) are happier and more effective at their jobs. And, the jerks aside, they often achieve more than their equally talented but less mature colleagues.

A high EQ is especially important for marketers. When sales are down, sales says that “marketing didn’t give us enough leads” or “we don’t have the right messages” or some other criticism that deflects the blame off them and squarely on to marketing. (Marketers, don’t get smug, there’s often lots of blame to go around.)

And, some days it seems that everyone thinks they are a natural born marketer. Just try naming a product or creating a new logo and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone from the CEO to the front desk receptionist is likely to have an opinion.

A high EQ will get you through these times without creating additional conflict. And, working with emotional intelligence can help you make the right decision about the product name, the new logo and all the other decisions that marketing has to make.

A fellow marketer recently asked me what books on emotional intelligence I would recommend. Hint: as an expressive, passionate, type A personality I have spent my career working on my own EQ. Here’s a list of some of the resources that might be helpful.

Working with Emotional IntelligenceDaniel Goleman has a series of books about emotional intelligence. I read Working with Emotional Intelligence several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. The book is a bit analytical, but if you like to dig into a subject from a more scientific perspective, I think you will enjoy it.

No Workplace Bullies – I just ran across Catherine Mattice’s blog a few days ago. She’s a good writer and her advice seems sound. I'm looking forward to participating in the conversations on her blog.

Dinosaur Brains – A fun and quick read by Albert Bernstein that is full of tips on dealing with difficult people at work. Sometimes you just need to smile and putting all those annoying traits in lizard terms can help.

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. This book by Robert I Sutton is on my “must read” list, but I haven’t gotten to it just yet. The title alone was enough to hook me but it’s also highly rated on Amazon.

News Flash – Given that I have this book on my “must read” list I thought I’d check to see if the author has a blog. What author doesn’t? You can read Bob Sutton’s blog at Work Matters and find enough books in his Good Books list on the left hand side to keep you reading for a long, long time.

If you have books on emotional intelligence that you found helpful, let me know!
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Working Through the Conflicts Between Sales and Marketing

In Monday's post, Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing – Overcoming Sales Resistance, I said that you just have to be strong and work through conflicts with sales. You need to do this is a way that is emotionally mature and doesn't make sales feel like you are pointing fingers or the process breaks down quickly.

This is easier said than done.

I ran across a great suggestion from Catherine Mattice, the author of the blog, No Workplace Bullies. She recommends the simple approach of parroting or repeating the criticism. No Workplace Bullies: Polly Want a Cracker?

For example, let's say you are working through the reasons sales goals were not achieved for the quarter. You have shown that the marketing team produced the agreed on number of opportunities.

In response, sales says, "But, they weren't qualified."

Instead of saying, "Oh yes they were..." which immediately invites confrontation, you simply parrot back what sales just said in the form of a question. No smirks or anything that will make the question sound accusatory. It has to be done in as emotionless a manner as possible.

"They weren't qualified?"

This almost compels the salesperson to expand on what they just said. Sometimes it will uncover a problem with the qualification process. And, sometimes, it will show that the salesperson does not have anything with which to back up their statement. This is usually a sign that they let some of the qualified opportunities slip through the cracks.

On a related note, if they don't have anything to back the statement up with, this is not the time to call it out. You don't want to back your sales team into a corner so they end up fighting like a wounded animal.

I always find that it works better if you make a note of it and then work behind closed doors with sales management to work through the issues. If sales management was in the room, as they should be, when the statements were made, you can be almost 100% certain the comments were noted. Any sales manager worth their salt will have already made a note to follow up with the sales team to make sure they are following up on ALL the qualified opportunities that come their way.

Of course, parroting can’t be the only tool you have to get sales to be more specific while they are pointing the finger of blame at marketing. However, it is a good one to add to the toolbox, if you are not using it already. It’s simple, non-confrontational, and has the added benefit of giving you something to say when nothing else comes to mind.

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Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing - Overcoming Sales Resistance

I’ve written here, here and here about bridging the gap between sales and marketing. I believe the most important thing marketing can do is to tie its goals to the sales goals.

This shows the sales team that marketing is part of the same team. It shows that marketing is serious about its own accountability. And, it improves the sales team’s chances of success. If you are a salesperson, what’s not to like about marketing assuming this goal oriented approach?

However, don’t be surprised if you get resistance from sales as you first work with them to define “qualified opportunity” and to set your goals for the number of opportunities that marketing needs to produce. I think there are two main reasons for resistance from the sales team.

The first is marketing’s history. If your marketing team has a long history of less-than-meaningful goals such as “creating X number of press releases” the resistance from sales is natural. They’ve heard it all before.

Marketing gets excited about their latest project. They do what marketing does best – tell everyone about it in glowing terms. They make the initiative sound like it will save the company, but sales doesn’t see any difference in the number of opportunities they have to work on. Worse, if the latest project takes marketing’s eye off the ball, opportunities may go down.

I don’t blame them for being skeptical. The only thing you can do is to make sure you do what you say you are going to do. If, at the end of the quarter, you didn’t reach the opportunity goals, don’t spin it. Take accountability and figure out how you are going to reach the goals next quarter. Then do it.

The second reason is less legitimate. If marketing takes ownership of the opportunity generation goals, and then meets its goals, sales becomes solely accountable for the sales goal. At the end of the quarter they can no longer say, “I didn’t get enough leads,” and point to marketing as a way of taking pressure off themselves.

They may still try to say this, but that’s where a good lead management process comes in. You need to have documentation showing the details of the agreement between marketing and sales about the number of opportunities that needed to be produced. You need to be able to show that you produced these leads and that they were qualified. You need to show that they reached the hands of your sales team through whatever means you agreed was mutually acceptable.

They may come back with, “Well, they weren’t as well qualified as you initially said they were.” You just need to work through this, by asking questions.

Go through the leads that “weren’t as qualified.” What were they missing? Is telesales asking the wrong qualification questions? Does the criteria for qualification need to be changed?

This is the most painful part of the process. Sales would rather be selling than working through these details. Sometimes, the only conclusion you will come to is that they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. In other cases, you will agree that changes need to be made to the goals, the qualification criteria, or the process.

If you find that marketing padded the numbers to make the team (or the individual) look good, you need to call them on that. If these individuals cannot change, weed them out as quickly as possible. There is no place in a professional marketing organization for this game playing.

As for the rest of this painful process, you need to be strong. Sales may push back, but the organization can’t fix what’s wrong if the sales and marketing teams don’t take the time to work through it.

Try not to sound as if you are laying blame. You are simply trying to diagnose what part of the process needs to be changed.

Most importantly, never lose your cool. As one of my friends and former colleagues once said, “Someone has to be the adult.”
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Words - When Less Is More

I am a big believer in simple writing. If your prospect or customer has to spend more than a few seconds processing what you are saying, you are wasting your time and theirs.

Geoffrey James wrote a series of posts on BNet, How To Rewrite an Elevator Pitch, that clearly show the difference between an elevator pitch that uses 25 cent words compared with one that uses 5 cent words.

I often find young marketers making this mistake. It is understandable. In school, showing their command of the English language probably earned them better grades. On the job, they are eager to prove their ability to contribute. Being somewhat unsure of themselves, they write in a way that they think shows their intelligence.

Of course, it is not always the young marketers that make this mistake.

Over the years, I’ve been in many debates with nonmarketers who want to edit my copy because their favored wording “sounds better.” One VP of Sales insisted that we use words that came directly out of the copy of one of his customer’s internal documents that explained the use of our software applications.

This internal document was not intended to be prospect-ready copy. Judging from the 50 cent words used, the authors were trying to show their intelligence and justify their choice of software solutions. To put it plainly, using their words as our words in our copy was the height of idiocy.

Always edit your copy with simplicity in mind. If you have a 5th grader handy, have him or her read it. How much do they understand?

You should also invest in a program like Stylewriter. There are different versions depending on whether you are using Australian, UK or American English.

You can also use a free program like Bullfighter to uncover the hidden simplicity in your own writing. I use at least one of these tools on everything I write. I don’t always take their recommendations, but I like how it makes me choose my words deliberately and with my reader in mind.

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Finding Marketing Candidates

“I need to hire someone to run marketing, but I don’t know much about marketing. How can I find a good candidate and what should I look for?”

This question, and others like it are common on the forums. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about going beyond the traditional routes to find candidates for open marketing positions.

When I needed to fill a position I’d ask my network if they knew of anyone who was looking. If my budget could handle it and the position was important enough, I’d hire a recruiter. I might use a job board. Of course, I’d put it on my website. Then, I’d sit back and wait and wonder why I wasn’t too excited about any of the candidates that came through.

The truth is, most of the people I would want to hire were employed and probably too busy doing their job to have an updated resume. Of course, I’m sure there were also many great people “in the market” who lost their job through no fault of their own, but they weren’t beating down my door either.

If the role needed to be filled, I’d find myself in the uncomfortable position of trying to decide who was “good enough.” Who wants to hire someone who just meets the requirements? It is hardly an auspicious beginning to a working relationship.

Then, someone on LinkedIn asked this question,

“When recruiting, would you use social media platforms to recruit potential candidates?”

The lightbulb went off. Of course, I would!

For those of you who have marketing positions to fill, here are some ideas on how to use social network to identify the candidates with real potential who may not actively be looking.

1. Use LinkedIn’s job board. And, here’s an off-the-wall idea to go with this. Why not say that you welcome submissions from candidates without resumes who have completed LinkedIn profiles.

2. Let your LinkedIn network know that you have a position to fill and would appreciate any referrals. Tell them that you welcome discussions with any genuinely interested and qualified individuals even if they are not actively looking.

3. Do an advanced people search on LinkedIn. Use “marketing” as a key word and narrow the search to your industry. If you want to find local candidates you can also narrow the search to a specific geography.

Browse through the search results looking for people with positive references. Click their Q&A tab if they’ve asked or answered any questions and see what you thought about the quality of their responses.

Scroll down to the bottom of their profile as see if they’ve listed “job opportunities” as one of the things they are interested in. If so, contact them and let them know you have an open position. If they are not interested, ask them for recommendations.

4. Toss a question or two out into the LinkedIn forums and see what answers you get. for example “What do you think the biggest mistake high tech marketers make?” “What one risk have you taken that made the biggest difference in your career?” “If you had to slash your current marketing budget in half, what would you cut?”

Be creative and don’t worry if you are not a marketing expert. It isn’t so much about what the answer is as much as it is how they approach the question.

For those who answer your question well, start an off-line conversation through email. Ask to connect if they seem open. And, when the time is right, let them know you have a position to fill and ask them if they know of anyone who might be right for the role.

Even if the people who you connect to initially are not interested, good marketers know other good marketers.

4. Finally, use other forums such as MarketingProfs. When you see a good response click on the profile to see if you can get their name. Those who might be interested in new opportunities will have it listed. You can also see what questions they’ve asked and answered and which of their answers have been accepted. Browse through and see what else this person has to say. Then hop over to LinkedIn to see if you can find out more about them.
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Marketing Is Not a Function of Sales

I write a lot about tying marketing goals to sales goals. For more on this, read Tuesday's post on Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing.

I used a variation of this response when I answered a question from a fellow marketer who was asking what one thing he could do to improve his marketing. His response was that he “agreed that marketing was a function of sales…”

Hold on a moment! I never said marketing was a function of sales. I am saying that marketing and sales need to have an equal partnership. Each are accountable for fulfilling their part of the arrangement.

Marketing is accountable to sales for supplying opportunities that will allow them to reach the goals. Marketing is also accountable for making sure they have the materials they need to get the sales – e.g. case studies, presentation materials, white papers, and other collateral.

On the other hand, sales is also accountable to marketing. They need to agree on the definition of an “opportunity.” By agreeing to that definition the sales team is committing to 100% follow up on the opportunities that marketing supplies.

In addition, sales needs to commit to making the sale. They need to agree on a reasonable percentage of opportunities that they can close based on industry norms and market conditions. If they are not reaching those goals, they need to look inward and improve their own abilities.

Does this mean that sales is a function of marketing? Of course not, they partners in driving the business forward.
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If I Were New to Marketing

A see a lot of questions from high-tech marketers that find themselves in the role of marketing without a background in the profession. Usually it is someone who succeeded at something else within the organization and has been asked to play the position.

Sometimes it is someone who did not succeed at what they were doing, usually sales, but that management does not want to fire or one reason or another. Let’s put them in charge of marketing! For heaven’s sake, marketing is so simple. Anybody can do it, right?

I worked with a sales manager once who proposed hiring people straight out of college because the enthusiasm they had was far more important than the knowledge. All though I won’t go so far as to say that he was right, there is a kernel of truth to this. I will take someone with enthusiasm, a natural and intense curiosity, and a willingness to learn over someone who already “knows it all.”

So, for those of you with the drive to succeed but with no background in marketing, here’s a list of the things I would do, knowing what I know now, if I were in your shoes.

1. Skip the formal education such as the MBA. If you are looking to succeed in your current role, you don’t have time for it. Of course, if you are getting an MBA for future advancement, by all means do so. I’m only referring to getting an MBA to help you in the short-term.

2. Sign up for MarketingProfs and watch every single webinar they offer. With rare exceptions they are well worth the time spent. You can sign up as an individual for about $250/year and get access to all of their premium content free.

You should see if your company will pay for your subscription. If they won’t cough up even $250 for your professional development, consider that a powerful omen.

3. Attend a marketing conference every year. I admit that I have been so busy attending IT conferences that it has been awhile since I attended a marketing conference. I have made it a personal goal to start attending these again. The knowledge transfer, even for old-timers, is thought-provoking and reinvigorating. You’ll realize you are not alone as you talk with others who have been in your shoes.

4. If you don’t know ask. If you have a question about marketing ask someone who has been there. There are many forums filled with marketing people who are happily sharing their expertise. Marketingprofs and LinkedIn are the two I am on most often.

5. Hire outside help. I worked with a guy once who was very reluctant to hire outside help. When I asked why, he said it was because he was afraid people would think he couldn’t do it himself. If the truth hurts, just tell your boss that outside help will help the team move faster.

Use this time with outside experts to learn from them. SEO, PR, branding, e-marketing are all areas filled with consultants who are ready and willing to help you and educate you at the same time.

6. If you are a Product Manager or Product Marketer attend Pragmatic Marketing. I was thrown into Product Marketing from sales many years ago and I credit them (and a great mentor) for turning me into a professional.

7. Read practical books. Skip the motivational and flashy stuff – for now. Read the how to books. There are many “Idiots” and “Dummies” guides in specific areas of marketing. When I first got into blogging, SEO and Google Adwords, I bought one of these guides for each of these areas. I like them because they are written at an entry-level and the advice is practical and of immediate value.

8. Save the advanced initiatives for later. Blogging isn’t going to help you if you are not doing the basics like targeting your market, creating messages that resonate, driving opportunities and creating supporting sales materials. Save the social media stuff and other breakthrough initiatives for after you have the foundation built.

9. Know what you are accountable for. To a certain extent it doesn’t matter what marketing is if your boss is only evaluating you on your ability to drive opportunities. As you learn and grow you’ll realize there is so much more value you can add, but you’ll never get a chance to if you don’t meet the metric the company holds you accountable for.

10. Breathe
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Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing - An Illustration

I’ve written a lot about the process for connecting marketing goals to sales goals. I hope you are all familiar with the steps by now:

1. Work with sales to define the difference between a lead and an opportunity. See Leads Are For Marketing, Sales Wants Opportunities for more on this.

2. Work with sales to determine their close ratio of qualified opportunities.

3. Work backward from this determine the number of qualified opportunities that marketing needs to produce.

4. Create a good nurture program to keep churning the opportunities that marketing produces but don’t meet the standards of a qualified opportunity.

5. Evaluate.

Here’s an example to illustrate. Let’s say that I am a marketer for a company that does consulting on lean manufacturing practices. (This one came up in a forum a couple days ago and lean manufacturing is an interest of mine.)

Step 1
My sales team could spend a lot of time talking to “prospects” that are intrigued and willing to engage in a discussion, but not likely to buy my services. Therefore, to focus their selling efforts on only those prospects that are likely to buy, I would want to narrow the criteria further.

In this example, we agree that a qualified opportunity meets these criteria:

Within our target market. To increase our chances of success, we’ve decided to focus only on companies that are single site and in North America or Asia. Our key industries are electronics, high-tech and industrial equipment manufacturers. Later, we may branch out into different industrial sectors or continents, but for now this allows us to focus our efforts.

By the way, this narrowing of the target market is one of the hardest disciplines for most companies to stick to. But, when you take the time to define your target market you can target your marketing investments much better. Plus, your sales team is spending their time on opportunities that they are more likely to close.

Has an identified project leader. This means that someone within the company is responsible for the success of the initiative.

Has executive support. The initiative is not a skunk works project started by a guy who is passionate about it, but hasn’t convinced the rest of the organization.

Depending on your circumstances you could select other criteria. I’d recommend that you don’t define it so tightly that nothing but the “perfect opportunity” slips through. It needs to be just tight enough that you are not wasting the time of the sales team, but give them some benefit of the doubt. They can sell.

Step 2
Work with sales to determine what percent of qualified opportunities they think they can close. You can specify a specific time period, such as six months, if it helps you come to an agreement on a reasonable close ratio. In this case, the sales team thinks that a 30% close ratio of these qualified opportunities within six months is reasonable.

Step 3
Work backwards to determine marketing’s goal. If my goal is 10 new deals per quarter, that means that marketing has to deliver 34 qualified opportunities.

There is a time dimension to this as well. If it takes an average of 3 months to close a deal then marketing has to deliver the needed number of opportunities 3 months in advance.

Another common question is, “What if we focus more on revenue that number of deals?” If you have consistent revenue per deal, the conversion is easy. It’s a little more challenging when your revenue per deal is all over the board.

If you have different products with different target markets, you could set goals per market. However, in many cases I’ve seen you don’t know which offering is going to be the right one for the prospect until you are fairly far into the process.

It’s easy to over think this and get lost in the analysis. I recommend trying to estimate an average revenue per deal and converting that so you can still use the number of new deals figure as the goal. If you are producing the required number of opportunities, and sales is closing their agreed on percentage, but you still are not meeting revenue goals then you didn’t get your average revenue per deal figured accurately.

Step 4
Create a nurture program. As already mentioned, you are going to uncover leads that are almost opportunities, but not quite right. For example, you speak to a person who is passionately trying to convince the rest of his organization to start a project. You can see the company can use your services and they are in the right target market. However, he doesn’t have executive support. In fact, his executives are against the idea.

Turning this over to the sales team will just waste their time. On the other hand, this lead could turn into a great opportunity if your contact can make it happen.

You need a nurture program for opportunities like these. But, not just any nurture program. You need one that adds value.

I talk to many companies that say, “Yes, we have a nurture program.” What they really mean to say is that we toss unqualified leads back into the database and then have Joe, the intern, call them every month to see if they are ready yet. Not good.

I could go into detail on how to structure a nurture program, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, you should know there are three essential components of a good nurture program.

1. It’s educational – It gives the prospect information that they can use. This lean example is a great one because you can continue to deliver educational information on lean practices and their benefits to the prospect through webinars, white papers, and newsletters.

2. It’s prospect focused – A monthly newsletter about what is happening within your company and the customers you closed is not a nurture program. It’s a turn off.

3. It’s opt in – Whomever is in charge of the qualification of the prospect during first contact needs to ask them if they would like to continue to receive information on lean through webinars, white papers and such as they become available. If you have a newsletter, ask them if they would like to subscribe and then send out a confirmation. If they say that they do not want to receive more information, you must honor that.

Step 5 Evaluate
Did you meet sales goals? If not, this is where the finger-pointing between sales and marketing normally starts. However, by following this approach you can remove the emotion and take a logical look at why goals were not met.

Did marketing meet the qualified opportunity goals? If not, marketing tactics need to be reevaluated.

Are the criteria for qualified opportunity set too tightly? It is sometimes better to loosen up the criteria and adjust the close ratio than to make sure nothing but the perfect opportunity gets through.

Are unqualified opportunities slipping through? Is marketing still wasting sales’ time by giving them leads that don’t meet the criteria? Sometimes, sales is actually the problem because they uncomfortable not having the numbers that they are used to and they raid the database looking for leads they might be able to convert.

Is sales following up on 100% of the opportunities passed to them?

Is sales meeting their close ratios? If not, were they set too high? Does sales need more training or a more disciplined approach? Do they have the materials, such as case studies, that they need to close these opportunities?

Successful marketing is as much of a science as it is an art. Demand creation is one of those areas where it helps to unleash your inner analytical personality. If you work diligently through the process you can remove much of the emotion that separates the sales and marketing teams. And, you can deliver what the business needs to meet its objectives.
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Keyword Selection Forcing a Marketing Best Practice?

Has it occurred to anyone else that SEO projects that including selecting keywords are forcing a basic marketing “best practice”?

For years, poor marketers have written content that resonated internally in the company and not with prospects. No amount of “feature/benefits” lists could get these internally focused marketing teams to speak in the language of their customer. Even when they did try to write content in the words of the customer, the engineers or the executives would come along and change the wording.

Now, keyword analysis can give the marketer concrete evidence to use when creating content that will resonate. If your CEO or product engineer suggests changing the words that you use, keywords analysis can be used to show them that these are the words that prospects use to describe products or services like yours.

This is basic market research that companies formerly spent thousands of dollars, or more, to conduct. The web has made it so easy that we take it for granted now.

In addition, this keyword analysis can be useful for creating far more than just websites that get picked up by the search engines. These keywords should be shared with anyone who will be creating customer or prospect facing content. That includes brochures, press releases, presentations, sales communications, upgrade announcements and anything else that your company creates that a prospect or customer will see.

These keywords should become part of your formal (or informal) corporate style guide. They should be reanalyzed periodically as markets change. Words and phrases come and go, but the core is likely to remain consistent.

Even if you don’t have a formal SEO initiative, I recommend educating yourself on keyword analysis and incorporating it as part of the foundation for everything you do in marketing.

Don’t forget to vote in the SEO Poll on the top right hand side of my blog. Just a few days left!
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MarketingProfs Has a LinkedIn Group

Yeah! MarketingProfs has added a LinkedIn Group!

For those of you who are also avid fans of the site, it’s easy to join the group. LinkedIn doesn’t yet have a functional group directory, so the easiest way to join is to go to the profile of someone else who is already a member of the group. Ann Handley is the group’s organizer so you can click on her profile or you can go to mine.

Scroll down the profile page till you find the list of groups that she or I belong to and click on the MarketingProfs icon. You will see the icon added to your list of groups. Note that next to the icon it says that your membership is pending approval and that you should send a note to the organizer of the group. I sent this note but while I was writing it I received a notice that I was approved so I’m not sure that notification was completely necessary.

Remember to vote in my SEO poll this week. You can find that at the top of the right hand side of this page. If you'd like to add comments, add them to Tuesday's post New Poll - How Do You Handle SEO? Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

When Dancing With the Gorilla, Better Wear Steel-Toed Boots

My industry, business software, is undergoing a dramatic shift in delivery model as more and more on-premise providers add Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to their mix or replace their on-premise solutions entirely. In addition, SaaS provides a window of opportunity for small start-up companies to challenge the established leadership of companies like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

I have no doubt that all three of these well established players will do just fine. However, the ones who could get stepped on in the battles ahead are the channel partners of these big players – especially SAP and Microsoft who work with thousands of small (by comparison) VARs and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).

This is nothing new. While Microsoft and SAP have strong partner programs and a commitment to the channel, there is always room for day-to-day skirmishes over individual opportunities. In addition, if you are an ISV or VAR who develops your own intellectual property (a.k.a. add-on software applications) you never know when your “partner” will suddenly decide to enter that space and become your competitor.

In the SaaS battle the channel partners with the most to fear are those who make their money off the license revenues or off recurring revenues. There is an opportunity for annuity revenue that is attractive, assuming your partner doesn’t limit this by lowering your percentages, but you are foregoing sales revenue up-front for the promise of future revenues. If you are a publicly held company, good luck selling that one to investors.

For those who do implementations, there is some question over whether your livelihood is in danger. Service providers have always had to fight for turf with the big guys. Now they have to fight against the expectations being set in the minds of the prospects. Just because you can implement a solution remotely does not mean that it will be implemented correctly. For example, there is still a logic behind the way a manufacturing operation is set up that is hard to pin down without spending time with the customers operations.

Certainly there will be opportunities created by this change. Channel partners with the IT knowledge and bandwidth to support applications in a cloud could see their business take off. But, that’s not the business that many of the entrepreneurs focusing on traditional apps such as ERP and CRM signed up for.

If you are one of these traditional partners you are going to have to do some fancy dancing in the days ahead. The gorillas are leading this dance, but it will help if you can anticipate their moves and make sure you are in the right position. It may not be pretty for awhile, but least you can avoid getting knocked off your feet.

I’ve helped both Microsoft and SAP channel partners with their channel strategies for many years. My LinkedIn profile will give you some idea of where I am coming from. I have to say that I don’t know what “the answer” is yet, but I am certain of one thing. This change will come, and probably sooner than many of you expect.
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New Poll - How do you handle SEO?

I've been involved in several conversations recently about outsourcing Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In June, I wrote a post on The Perils of Outsourcing SEO. In spite of the perils, however, I am a big fan of outsourcing. It's not a simple project and you can learn a lot by working with the experts.

Today's poll is focused on finding out how you approach SEO projects. Are you working with an outside firm or have you decided to do it yourself? If your SEO project is an in-house job, do you have a focused effort or is it more hit or miss? Or, did you need to click on SEO above to find out what it is?

In addition to voting in the poll, please let us know why you chose the path you are following.

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Why I Hate the Purple Cow

A friend of mine recently asked me if I read Seth Godin, author of the book Purple Cow, as well as probably a dozen other books that most of you would recognize.

Of course, I read Seth Godin. Could I call myself a marketing professional if I didn’t? I find his writing and his presentations thought provoking and inspiring. However, I have to admit that I also find concepts like the Purple Cow a little bit irritating. OK, a lot irritating on some days.

For those of you who haven’t read Purple Cow, it’s about standing out from your competition by being “remarkable.” This means remarkable in the literal sense, as in “something that is worth remarking on.” Hopefully, in a good way.

The problem is that while many marketers are trying to create purple cows they are neglecting the rest of the herd. Their websites are nothing more that static brochures. Their marketing goals are disconnected from sales goals. Their messages don’t resonate. They are spending good money on campaigns that just don’t work. To use the analogy, their current herd is in shambles. It’s sickly and getting worse everyday because they are not taking care of it.

If these marketers manage to actually create a purple cow, they'll grab onto it's neck and hold on for all it's worth. They can feel their careers slipping down the drain and they are just praying that cows can swim. (I think cows can swim, but purple ones are usually too burdened down by the hopes and aspirations of the marketer. They sink like lead weights.)

Purple cows can separate you from the rest of the crowd, but until you’ve got the basics down, they won’t do you much good. And, those who are good at the basics stand a much greater chance of succeeding even if they never manage to create a purple cow.

Please read Seth’s book. As much as it may sound like it, hating the purple cow doesn’t actually have as much to do with his book as being irritated by those who blindly follow the concepts of any book. If you are a marketing professional I think you will enjoy it. Plus, it’s hard not to have it come up in conversation and you don’t want to be the only one who hasn’t read it.

But, beware of the purple cow, at least until you have the rest of your herd in order.
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15 Tips for Creating a Successful Advisory Board

With so much going on in the social media world, I don’t get a chance to talk about the basics much. Today I want to touch on the old fashioned, but oh-so-useful, advisory council.

Chances are if you are in a role that needs to gather input from the marketplace you have needed to create or be involved in an advisory board. These groups can help you create product roadmaps, figure out what messages resonate, get buy-in on new product launches, vet your channel programs and 100 other things that will keep you from falling on your face when you roll your ideas out to the world at large.

But, creating and maintaining a successful and sustainable advisory board is a difficult undertaking. I’ve managed a number of them over the course of my career. I have also served as a member on others. Here’s a quick “brain dump” on some of the tips I have for creating and managing groups that work.

Keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler. If this is your first time creating and managing an advisory board, don’t over complicate it. For example creating an advisory board with twelve separate tasks forces and a 20-page rule book probably doesn’t make sense. You want to create a plan for your advisory board, of course, but a simpler plan will help you get off the ground faster. You can always make course corrections as you go. In fact, tweaking the advisory board plan as you get input from the members can help you get them to accept ownership of the board.

Have an objective and make sure it is clear to everyone. Even if you are organizing the advisory council you may not be the “consumer” of the information that you gather. For example, if you are in marketing and you have been asked to put together a customer advisory council, it’s important to establish what kinds of advice you are looking for from the council. Not settling this up-front means that sales will think the council is for one purpose, product development for another, and the executive team may have a completely different objective. It is a lose/lose/lose situation with marketing (and the council members) caught squarely in the middle.

Keep it small. Like all meetings, more than twelve people in the room and you are not going to be able to solve much. Discussions quickly become presentations to larger groups. Less vocal people stay quiet. It almost seems as though a mob mentality takes over in larger groups because the group is always in agreement with the most vocal members. Take a few of them aside at break and you’ll quickly discover there is a difference of opinion, but because they thought everyone else agreed, they didn’t speak up.

Think about time zones. If you want a global advisory board, it is possible but tough to do if you have members from the Americas, Europe, and Asia all on the same call. It may be advisable to have submeetings by region but then get together once or twice a year for a global meeting.

Assign a note taker. Every meeting needs someone taking notes. As the organizer, and probably the host, you have other tasks that will keep you occupied. Make sure you select a reliable colleague ahead of time that you know will do the job right. You will want to create your own report after the meeting, but these notes will be an invaluable reference—especially if you don’t get to that report right away.

Member Participation

Select the right members. You have to know why you are creating an advisory board. For example, if you want product feedback, you will want to be sure to select product specialists from your customer or reseller channel. This is not the same group of people you would select if you were looking for feedback on marketing programs. A “one size fits all” approach to advisory councils will only ensure the fit is a poor one.

Get the members involved in the nominations. If you are creating a partner/channel advisory council (PAC) chances are that you are working within a community that knows each other. Try selecting a few core members that you know you want on the PAC and then let them nominate other members. You’ll get to meet channel members that you may not have otherwise, and you’ll be less likely to be accused of loading up the PAC with only people whose opinion is the same as your own.

Require participation. If you have an advisory council made up of twelve members you can’t afford to have a member who only attends half of the meetings. Depending on the purpose of the council and how you selected the members, it may be fine for the member to send a colleague in his or her stead. At other times, such as when the membership is made up of owners of the businesses, only one person will do.

Make sure the participation rules are clearly understood, but cut them some slack. Everyone misses a meeting every now and then.

The best group I ever belonged to had a three-consecutive strikes and you are out rule. If a member didn’t show up for three meetings in a row, the other members would nominate a replacement. The company who ran the advisory council would then contact the errant member thanking them for their participation but, respectfully, letting them know they had been replaced.

Regular meetings are critical. Nothing kills an advisory board faster than not having a meeting for several months. Meetings can be via conference call or over the internet, but they should be regular.

Have at least one face-to-face meeting per year. For most organizations, monthly face-to-face meetings are not possible if their customers or channel are spread around the globe. However, you should try to hold at least one face-to-face meeting a year. As much as I would like to deny it, you just can’t make the same connections over the internet or phone that you can when you meet someone face-to-face.

Take advantage of events. Whenever the members of your task force are likely to be together, such as at a conference, take advantage of the opportunity to have a face-to-face get-together. This doesn’t count as your annual face-to-face meeting because, depending on the event, you may only be able to carve out an hour or two in everyone’s schedule. You need a couple of days of “together-time” to create close and lasting connections between members.

Have a printed agenda. Know what you are going to talk about in each of your meetings including the phone based meetings. It will be much easier to keep everyone on task. If you share the agenda ahead of time, it will give them a chance to frame their opinions ahead of time and improve the quality of the input you gather.

Make it fun. Be sure to include a bonding event in your schedule. This may be even more important than the meeting itself because the purpose of the face-to-face event is to establish the connections that will carry through the rest of the year. Renting a bowling alley is always fun – or is it just me that likes that? A golf scramble also works great. Make sure it is a scramble so you don’t discourage nongolfers from taking part in the outing. I’ve also been on some great dinner cruises at advisory council meetings.

Keep it balanced and two-way. Try to avoid anyone from dominating the advisory council. That includes the highly priced executive who likes to hear himself talk, the partner or customer who has the energy to sustain a two-day rant, the marketing communications person who is a walking press release, the genius who normally sits behind a computer screen all-day but suddenly discovers he’s a people person, and any number of other characters who can monopolize the conversation.

Take the executive aside, or have someone else whose career is not on the line speak to him or her. Have one of the technical specialists hold a private meeting with the “ranter” so you can get their personal issues solved while the rest of the advisory council works on the bigger picture. Don’t let the marketing communications team own the agenda. (Side note: I have been on PACs where marketing did a great job, so this is just for when you have a problem with marketing.) Send the genius back to his cubicle or let him be the one to work with the ranter. And, above all else, make sure you are inviting opinions from the entire group. If someone isn’t speaking up, ask them what they think.

Get professional help. Now and then, it can be educational to hire an outside expert to run your advisory council. Market research firms are a great choice, but there are other choices as well. I attended one meeting where the company hired a business professor from the Kellogg School of Management to run the group. The information she helped elicit from the group wasn’t typical but it was helpful, and the meetings were some of the best I ever attended. We were all able to learn about holding effective meetings just from watching her style.

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Corporate Blogging Made Easy

In my post a couple days ago, Social Media - Start Here!, I mentioned that two obstacles to successful corporate blogging were fear and time. Today I want to focus on the time issue.

I first got into blogging because of our corporate blog. I know for many of you it was probably the other way around.

The team was hounding me to let them start a corporate blog. I wasn’t opposed to it, but I knew it was going to a time intensive effort. I couldn’t afford to add a full-time person to the team so we were going to have to make-do with the people we had – and they had other responsibilities they still had to meet.

I made them work for it by telling me how a corporate blog would help us meet our goals. Eventually, they won me out by showing me how we could increase our media exposure and increase our search engine rankings.

I started my own blog as a “sandbox” for the corporate blog. I wanted to understand blogging and, in my estimation, the best way to do that would be to roll up my sleeves and try it out.

Of course, like my team, I suffer from not having enough time to write. (Note: I’ve since gone independent so I am now blogging with a purpose. This helps me find the time in the early morning, middle of the night, or whenever my muse decided to pay me a visit.)

My goal was one post per business day. For companies, I recommend slightly less as it gives your audience a chance to participate in the conversation before the topic changes. But, to be effective, you still need to be doing two to three posts a week. And that can be tough when you have a day job and a fickle muse. So, how do you find easy ideas?

Read other blogs and create links from your blog! I read blogs like others read the morning paper. I love it when blog authors allow me to have the blog content sent to my inbox, but even if they don’t, I have my favorite blogs set up on my Google homepage. Just by reading the blogs I get great ideas for the business, but I also find blog entries that I think are ideas my own readers would also appreciate.

For example, just this morning I ran across this blog post from Chris Brogan, a blogger who writes extensively about social media. 50 Blog Topics Marketers Could Write For Their Companies. Chris manages to come up with fifty great ideas for corporate blog topics that most marketers could write about in their sleep.

I could write my own blog post linking back to his blog post. Which I am doing right now, of course, but the point is that his blog post could be the main topic of my post. I could add my own ideas to his ideas. For example, his ideas are inwardly company focused. I also recommend writing about best practices whenever possible to add another dimension of value for your reader.

In fact, most of the blogs I read are best practices blogs focused on my profession –marketing. I also read sales blogs since the sales teams are my main customer. If I were in a technical field such as selling and implementing software for healthcare providers, and this was the audience I was trying to reach with my blog, I would try to find other blogs about the industry and read them daily. Whenever something happens in the industry or you find a best practice advocated by someone, create your own post, link back to the original post, and add your own thoughts and ideas. Clearly, this works best if you are not only reading your competitors blogs, as you may not want to create link backs to their blogs.

This benefits me because I can find an easy topic to write about when my energy and ideas are flagging. In the case above, it also benefits Chris because I have promoted his name and blog and potentially increased his readership. By creating the link back I’ve also potentially increased his search engine ranking.

This is clearly a win/win and makes regular blogging much less difficult than trying to think up fresh ideas several times a week.
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Adjusting Marketing Spend in an Economic Downturn

My blog poll closed yesterday with 4 votes. Certainly not enough for a representative sample. No where to go but up, I suppose!

However irrelevant the results are, they are still interesting. When I asked the question on LinkedIn, most of the responses suggested companies were spending the same but altering the marketing mix. A few were scaling back. See Monday’s post for a synopsis of the LinkedIn Q&A or visit my LinkedIn profile where you can actually view the responses.(click on the Q&A tab on my profile)
In the blog poll, 2 votes were for spending more, 1 for spending less, and one for spending the same. Again, hardly scientific, but it would have been interesting to hear more from the two marketers who said they were spending more.

I am curious to know if they are in markets that are doing better than average or if they see this as an opportunity get an advantage over competitors who are scaling back. Or maybe, they are selling a product that is attractive during a downturn.

Everyone thinks of the Great Depression as a time of overwhelming misery (and I am certain it was), but remember, companies like Wrigley may not be what they are today had it not happened. By selling chewing gum, a simple pleasure that many could still afford, they endured and went on to become a multi-billion dollar powerhouse in their segment.
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Social Media - Start Here!

This isn’t a blog about social media—there are enough of those already. However, I find myself writing about social media more often than not.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of power in social media and corporations are undergoing a transition in the way they communicate with the world. Marketing managers had better figure out how they can leverage social media now or they’ll find that they’ll soon have to play catch up with their competition.

So where do you start? As a marketing manager focused on the big picture, I’ll share my perspectives. I am sure that any of the experts in social media could make convincing arguments about why you should focus on a specific area – usually whatever they specialize in. However, as a marketing manager, you have to make a call based on your own assessment.
Here’s my take:

Your Corporate Website - Websites are not usually considered part of social media, per se, since there isn’t typically a two-way dialogue happening on the site. However, if you still have a one-way, static website, I’d say that’s the first thing to fix.

You need to give your prospects (and customers) ways to interact with you. e.g. useful materials they can download, newsletters they can sign up for, links to others sites such as a blog as soon as you have them. And, you need to give them fresh content.

Customer Portals – If you are a technology marketer, you probably have one of these portals already. It’s probably some sort of knowledge base and/or support center that customers can access.

Again, this is not social media in itself. The conversation can be two-way (sort-of) but the dialogue is prescriptive and automated. It’s not a “real” conversation between a company and the customer. Any real conversation usually happens off-line in an e-mail or by phone.

You need to have these sites to communicate with your customer, but don’t confuse these sites with social media.

Corporate Blog – Here’s where the fun starts. Ideally, the conversation is two-way and you are starting to have a real conversation with the marketplace. Many of the companies I work with have been reluctant to get into blogging because they are concerned about two things:

Time – No doubt good blogging takes time. You have to post regularly and the content should add value and elicit comment. Plus, you have to market the blog! It’s hard to have a two-way conversation if no one shows up. Tomorrow, I am going to write a post on some ideas I have for making Corporate Blogging easier so stay tuned for that.

Fear – No company wants negative comments made about them, especially on the web! I have news for you. You are no longer in control.

Social media took control of public perception out of the hands of the corporate communications people and put it into the hands of the independent bloggers, people who comment on other blogs, forum participants, Facebook users, Twitter users, and any of the other people that use the myriad of tools to take part in online conversations.

A corporate blog can give you some balance against any potential negative publicity. For example, if you find a misperception being spread on the web, you could certainly blog about it. Then when responding in other places you can point back to the corporate blog. Just make sure your blog post isn’t spin or you stand a good chance of compounding the negative view.

As the saying goes – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.

Customer Community Platform – The next step, which most companies have yet to reach, is to set up a company specific social networking platform. It’s a fairly new idea with lots of vendors popping up. Like with all things new, the best advice I can give you here is to do your homework.

What about Twitter?
Twitter is a tool that many marketers, including me, like to play with. My advice to you is play around with it if it fits your style. But, unless your market is made up of other Twitter users, it’s not very useful as a corporate social media tool.

I did a Twitter search once on a company name that sold IT training services and certifications. Many interesting comments on Twitter, but that’s a good example of an exception where the audience they targeted was already there. Actually, it was their end users and not the people who paid for their services, so for prospect reach the value was still suspect.

Even if these end users had significant influence, I would not have recommended this company work Twitter into their social networking plan anytime soon. It would be useful to hang out (lurk) on Twitter so they could get closer to the people using their product, but this company was too traditional to Twitter about anything that would be well received by the audience.

Same goes for personal social networking tools like Facebook. Many of these sites are set up for specific target audiences and lend themselves better to personal social networking. Some consumer goods companies have started using tools like Facebook (semi-successfully), but if your audience is businesses there’s a good chance you won’t be able to deliver the right message on a platform like Facebook - yet.
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The Hard Questions

Geoffrey James has another great article on BNET – Can You Handle the Truth? I love Geoffrey’s writing because he is so unvarnished. I’d rather have him berate me and my profession than one of the people I work with. When it’s not a personal attack, you can take a step back and really think through the merits of his points. There are many.

This particular article is about salespeople who ask the hard questions – of the clients and of themselves. While he is a writer that focuses mostly on the sales profession, he has written on many occasions about marketing, and not usually in a good way. His recent article called Should He Lie About Sales Experience? takes to task the highly-paid marketing executive who can’t articulate why a customer would buy his product over a competitor.

Having read both of these articles back to back this morning, let me offer up a few hard questions that marketers should be asking themselves. See how many you can answer – honestly!

• Why is your product better for your customers than your competitors? Would your customers agree with your answer?
• How has your work in the last year helped drive sales? Would the sales team agree? Have you asked them?
• Are you accountable for metrics that really mean anything to the business? Or, are you just keeping busy?
• Do you treat marketing as a profession that requires continuous learning? Or, is it just a job that you do the same way year after year?
• When is the last time you had a conversation with a customer? I am not talking about a presentation, but a real two way exchange of ideas.

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Have You Adjusted Your Marketing Spend?

(Reminder: Just a couple more days to answer the poll)

As well as posting the poll question on this blog, I asked the following question on the LinkedIn Sales and Marketing Q&A forum.

Have you adjusted your marketing spend up or down in response to the current economy?

So far, the responses have leaned toward “spending the same” however, many of the marketers are taking a close look at their marketing mix. They know the only way they will be able to make intelligent decisions about where to spend is by measuring results.

Here is a paraphrased selection of some of the comments. You can read all the comments here. The comments are well thought out and suggest several interesting ideas for how to adjust marketing spend without killing the business.

• Branding initiatives, and other hard to quantify activities, are being scaled back.
• In an effort to justify activities, we are measuring more than just marketing’s impact at the top of the funnel.
• Scaling back in some of the harder hit target markets, but increasing spend in more profitable ones.
• Scaling back in more mature markets but increasing spend in emerging markets.

Realistically, not all marketers have complete control over their budgets. In many organizations the purse strings are held by someone not in marketing. Marketing is one of the first places nonmarketing executives may look to slash budgets. We can’t stop development. We can’t stop sales. We can’t stop supporting customers. But maybe we can scale back marketing, just a bit, for a quarter or two.

Yes, it will have an impact, but when quarterly numbers or the company’s immediate survival are on the line, you can’t blame the average executive for looking at marketing for immediate cuts.

And, marketers themselves are not without blame. Many marketers are uncomfortable with being measured or are not sure how to do it. When pressed to identify their most effective initiatives or to justify the investments, they just can’t do it.

So maybe, just maybe, an economic downturn can have a positive impact on our profession. It can help us improve our own skills by understanding which metrics impact the bottomline. It can make us better at evaluating the mix. And, it gives marketers a chance to improve our communication skills at the executive level when we are called on to justify the investments.

It is hard to get through times like this, but we can come out stronger.
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