Nov 10

Private Matters. Privacy Matters.

My wife and I were in the mall the other day looking for a pair of jeans.

We walked in to Banana Republic and a perky sales clerk immediately greeted me by name.  ”Welcome back to Banana Republic, Charles.   Last time you were here, you were looking for dark blue jeans.  I’ll show you those.”  She walked me over to the jeans section and watched as I browsed.  ”Hmmm; that’s helpful I guess,” I thought.

After a moment of observed-shopping though, I began to think this was a little creepy, so I suggested we leave.  Walking through the mall, my wife said, “You have a lot of dark blue, why don’t you look for some lighter blue jeans.”  We talked about this for a minute, then walked in to J. Crew.

“Hi Mr. Gold.  Welcome to J. Crew!  We have some fantastic light blue jeans on a 30% off sale.  Just follow me and I’ll show you.”

OK.  Now this is getting really weird.    How the hell did they know that?  Time to leave. Forget the jeans.

As we walked, we discussed an upcoming Caribbean getaway.   “It’s going to be awesome to be somewhere warm where we can go swimming,” I said, still feeling vaguely watched.

We stopped at Macy’s.    No sooner were we in the door then a guy in a Hawaiian shirt approached us.  ”You should see our bathing suits.  They’re perfect for winter vacations.”

Crazy creepy.  Yuck.

Of course, none of this actually happened. But it happens to me, and to all of us,  every day when we’re online.  And generally, it’s benign — sometimes it’s even valuable.

But frankly, I’m not crazy about the idea of anyone watching me, listening to my conversations, or reading my email. Not that I have much to hide — I’m a 45 year old married suburbanite with three kids and and a dog.   Pretty standard stuff.

But, my conversations are mine.  When I talk to a friend or business associate, I expect these conversations to be between us.  I imagine you do too.  But when we send email, we mostly give up this expectation.  And for 90% of emails, this doesn’t matter.  But sometimes it does. Sometimes you want to ensure your private communications stay private — not read by anyone but your intended receiver.  Generally speaking, ensuring this type of privacy has been pretty difficult up until now.

For the last several months, I’ve served as a strategic advisor to Virtru, a digital privacy startup. Their service (now in private beta), lets its users send secure messages and control who can read them.  They also add privacy features like the ability to revoke or expire messages.   And the amazing thing is that they’ve made all this work within everyday tools like Gmail, Mac Mail, and Outlook using your existing address.  They’ve also got a pretty nifty iPhone app.

Online privacy is rapidly leaving the domain of tin foil hat crowd and hitting the mainstream.   Over time, I’m confident that virtually all everyday users will become more privacy-conscious.   And over time, they will demand an answer to false tradeoff between privacy and convenience — they will want easy to use services to communicate securely.

I think Virtru is tapping in to a huge, unmet need — simple email privacy.

I’d love to know what you think.  Post a comment below or email me at








Oct 18

A little fun at my expense

I’ve been fortunate enough to work in quite a few environments where practical jokes were, well, encouraged.  Here’s a video of the best one ever played on me.   I understand it took 5 people several hours to completely cover my office.

Here’s what they did to me:


Jun 11

Making it Stick

Take a look the way most software companies tell their stories.   Most of them, frankly, suck.  The messaging is tired, it lacks meaning, and doesn’t communicate differentiation.  And worst of all, it requires prospects to do a translation exercise to understand the value.

One good reason for this is that communicating a technical message is hard.  Getting the right words in the right order requires hard work and time.

That’s why I’ve been such a fan of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. The book provides a fast education on creating memorable messaging and some practical tools to get started.  I like the book enough that I recently attended a Made to Stick workshop in New York.    It was a great day and it really helped me sharpen my story.

Just check out the before and after videos.











Jan 19

Five New Year’s (Un) Resolutions

‘m one of those guys who believes in New Year’s resolutions.  There’s something about taking the time to reflect, envisioning a better version of ourselves, and making plans.

This year, I’d like to propose some marketing un-resolutions—that is, things that we should be careful to avoid in 2013.  These are all traps that I know many marketers have fallen into.  I certainly know that I have.

Speaking for myself, in 2013, I will strive NOT to:


1.  Get out of alignment with Sales.

We get busy.  Sales gets busy.  We’re sure we’re doing the right things to support them.  Of course they want that new white paper, right?  They liked the Widget World trade show last year, so they’ll love it this year, right?  I talked to Frank last quarter and felt great about lead volume—let’s keep doing what we’re doing.  I’ve been doing this a long time, and I understand the buying process, right?

Markets are dynamic, and alignment between Sales and Marketing requires constant and meaningful communication.  And, as I’ve argued before, alignment is becoming more critical than ever. We must be vigilant to ensure everything we do will ultimately feed the revenue engine.


2.  Ready, Fire, Aim My Programs.

 We’ve got a big number for 2013, and we’ve got to build pipeline.  Now.  Let’s just get something out there to generate buzz and drive some leads.  I can certainly see myself giving this directive.

And it makes me cringe.  We’re all under pressure to deliver, but we need to take the time to be thoughtful and complete with our investments.  Better to do few programs with more precision and forethought.

So this year, I will take the time—and ensure my team take the time—to be deliberate, thoughtful, and complete in their program planning.  And this includes deciding how we’ll measure success before we kickoff the program.


3.  Dismiss My Competitors.

 Our stuff is better.  Just look.   Our market share is dominant!  We have unique technology!  Check out what the press is saying!

It doesn’t matter.  What matters is our prospects’ priorities, how they perceive us, and what budgets our products will come from.  Often times, this leads us into seemingly weird competitive dynamics. And we need to be prepared.

Let’s take the time to truly understand—with an open mind—what our competitors are offering, how they’re talking about their products, and how they’re de-positioning us.  Let’s listen to our prospects to discover what we’re really competing against because they’re making priority choices every day.  Let’s build detailed and compelling competitive materials for our Sales teams so they can be confident in the street fights for deals. And let’s not underestimate the small, new, scrappy competitor that will give us fits if we’re not prepared.


4.  Be Afraid to Experiment.

 When we’re planning our program spend and executing our campaigns, it’s easy to fall into the tried and true.  We know what works, right?

The problem is that the marketing world is changing at an insane rate—what worked last time around might not work now.  In this new world, only constant experimentation will keep us on top.

Experiments don’t have to be big.  It can be as a simple as A/B testing email subject lines or website button colors.  It can also be as big as testing a whole new audience or exhibiting at a whole new conference.   But regardless of the size, we need to run structured, measurable experiments and keep track of the results.  Otherwise, we might miss some pretty big boats.

We need to be open enough with our colleagues (especially other executives and Sales) to let them know we’re trying something new and then review the results.   We also need to be humble enough to admit failed experiments and be clear about what we learned.

5.  Ignore How Other Industries Do Their Marketing.

 In our industry we do things our industry’s way. That just how it is—our customers expect us to market in a certain way.  And it’s easy to go this route.  It’s safe.

But it isn’t always the most effective.  Marketing is marketing, and many of the same core principles apply, whether you’re marketing soap or software.  I’ve argued before that B2B can learn a ton from B2C generally.


This 2013 is a big year.  What are you NOT going to do?


Jan 12

From Sales Push to Demand Pull

Sales take place when a buyer has convinced him or herself of the value of a purchase — and generally not until then.

And in a connected, social, and content rich world, much of the buying process takes place before the prospect has even engaged with us.  It’s now generally accepted that in B2B, more than half of the buying process takes place in a self-directed fashion before our sales teams are engaged.


Social Media Options.JPG


For B2B marketers, there are massive implications to how we do our jobs, allocate our budgets, and invest our time.  But at the core, we now have two critical imperatives:


1)  Ensure our content marketing strategy matches the buying process.

2)  Ensure our sales team is properly enabled for the points at which they will engage with prospects.


Matching Our Content to the Buying Process

I’ve written before about creating a great content factory, so I’ll focus more on aligning content with the buying process.

Every piece of content (webpage,  white paper, video, infographic, case study, whatever) we create should be designed systematically to serve a purpose in the buying cycle.  A prospect that is just starting to look for solutions to a problem is in a very different place than one who is comparing your offering to a competitor’s.  Our content must be tailored to this difference — and should be designed to move a prospect to the next phase of their investigation.

For instance, when a prospect is just becoming aware of the full scope of the problem you solve, our content must educate without selling too hard.  Your prospect should come away thinking of you as a thought leader.  Contrast this with the stage where he or she is actively investigating solutions.  At this point, it’s ok to sell a bit by focusing on our unique value proposition and differentiation from our competitors.


I like to use the following buying stages to focus my own content development efforts.

Arrow ProgressionLarger.JPG

[Click on visual to enlarge]  
What you offer (and how you offer it) at the awareness stage is vastly different then what you offer when the prospect is already engaged with your sales team.  When content is pushed at the wrong time in the buying cycle, it’s the equivalent of leisure-suit-Larry jumping on you as soon as you enter the car showroom.

Enabling Our Sales Teams to Achieve Situational Fluency

With all this great content and buyer pre-education, our sales teams must be prepared to interact in a different way with prospects.  Generally, your reps will be dealing with a prospect that has already formed some opinions about what they need and how your organization might be able to help.

Perhaps the best way to think about it is this:  your reps are continuing a conversation that has already been going on for some time.  This pre-conversation includes your content, your competitor’s content, interactions in the social sphere, articles in trade magazines, and probably a dozen other sources.

This puts a lot of pressure on the rep to be highly confident in the details of your solution and to be totally conversational in discussing the prospect’s problem.  The combination is called “situational fluency” — that is to say that our reps must project the confidence it takes to interact with an educated and empowered buyer.

For marketers, it is our responsibility to help our reps achieve this level of situational fluency.  Our training and enablement materials should be rich enough to guide our reps to the right level of interaction.  And the materials we give them to send prospects should be designed to meet specific buying stages or address specific known objectives.  This type of content must be clear, concise, and focused.  People don’t read — and overblown content will just wind up in the virtual or physical bin.

The overarching theme is this:  prepare your entire revenue engine, from initial engagement through opportunity close, for an educated buyer.  Every link in the chain is important, and it’s important to think of the entire chain as one long, multidimensional, and often interrupted conversation.  Marketers who think this way will position their organizations well.  Those who don’t will put their organization at risk when one of their competitors figures it and captures the prospects attention.

Aug 11

Ice Ice Baby

(This post was originally run on the Marketing Executives Network Group (MENG) blog on June 27th, 2012.

Nope.  This post isn’t about rapper Vanilla Ice.  And it’s not about 80s pop music in general.  With apologies to fans of both, it’s about Initial Customer Experience, or ICE.

ice cube.JPG

Initial Customer Experience describes how our prospects first come to interact with our offerings.  I’m writing this post from the perspective of B2B software because that’s what I know best — but I’m certain the concepts apply more generally.

As marketers, we often spend our time and money trying to build awareness and generate product trial.  Through our thought leadership activities, we help educate our prospects about the problem we solve and our category of solutions. Our marketing communications materials, website, and blogs articulate our differentiation and core features.  Our outbound marketing activities drive engagement and product trial.

But what about the product itself?  What water does it carry for us?  In my experience, not nearly enough.

Too often (at least in B2B software), the ICE is frustrating for the prospect.  The installation process is clunky.  Supporting resources are hard to find.  It’s hard to unlock the cool features that were vividly described on the website.  And on and on.

What happens?  The prospect, unless he or she is incredibly determined, simply leaves.  If we’re keeping track (and many don’t), it shows up in our statistics as a trial “abandonment.”  He may move on and never come back.  She may go try a competitor’s product.  Whatever happens, it ain’t good.

As marketers, we need to reframe our perspective on our roles.  It’s not just building awareness and stimulating trial.  We need to work closely with our R&D and product teams to ensure that that the initial customer experience is a priority.  We should invest time and money to have external parties test the experience to find areas for improvement.  If it’s practical, we should instrument our products to actually measure prospect behavior and find points of abandonment so that we can fix them.

Let’s run the numbers.  Using a hypothetical $1,000 product, let’s see what happens if we can improve both the number of people who actually complete a trial of our product and have a great experience. Note that without changing the number of site visitors or the number of people who initiate a trial, we double revenue simply by improving the ICE.  Pretty cool.




The prospect that makes it all the way to the trial stage of our customer acquisition funnel should be regarded as a dear resource.  We must do everything we can to ensure their experience delights.  As the saying goes — you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

May 04

Going Old School


Ok, this picture is part of a practical joke.  We don’t really use an overhead projector at Sonatype.  I am, however, old enough to recall using one,  and to remember the painful process of creating “foils.”

And painful it was.  Time consuming and painful.

But it did get me thinking.   Was anything better about presentations in the old days?  Surprisingly, yes.   Two (related) things.

1.  Producing foils was such a pain that people didn’t have 75 slide decks.  Each foil had to carry a significant amount of water.  This is in stark contrast of the massive (yet often underwhelming), presos we must endure today.

2.  Because there were fewer slides (foils), the presenter had to be better prepared for the presentation.  It was much harder to rely on a prop (slides) to carry the message.  Does anyone really need to see one more presenter staring at the screen and reading every word of their slides while the audience plays Words with Friends on their iPhones?

So yes, Keynote or Powerpoint on an HD projector is far far better.  But there is a babies-and-bathwater lesson to be learned here.


Apr 30

The Content Factory

Content is (once again) king.

Everywhere you look, the marketing discussion centers around using “content” to drive marketing results.  For all the buzz, two key facts are consistently overlooked:

  • Building effective content is hard.
  • Doing it consistently is very hard.

I’m not going to pretend to have the all the answers to make it easy.   But I’ve been giving the matter a lot of attention recently.  I’ll be facilitating a class on content marketing for Demand Metric next month, and, as my Dad taught me, a deadline helps focus the mind.

Here’s my top 5 conclusions:

Content is, in Fact, Critical

Beyond the buzz, content is a critical element of the modern marketing engine.  The B2B customer acquisition process is evolving quickly from a seller-push to a buyer-pull model.  Engaging, informative, compelling, and even humorous content has huge role to play in greasing the buying process.  If we don’t have a strong content strategy, our competitors will fill that void — and reap significant advantages in the buyer education process.

To Work Well, Content Must Be Very Good (and Most of it is Crap)

As I’ve said before, all marketing is an interruption.   To cut through, great content must be clear, compelling, and have real value to its intended consumer.  Unfortunately, most of what we see is salesy blather or obtuse technical material.  Both are generally ignored.  Bob London even gave it it a fitting name — content pollution.

Great content persuades.  But it does so tastefully.  It informs, educates, or entertains.   I’m a firm believer that prospects buy things, they are not sold things.  In other words, they convince themselves that ours is the right solution.  It’s our role as marketers to help them reach this conclusion.

Like Success, Great Content Has Many Fathers

A lot of marketers I talk to seem to think that they must bear the entire content marketing burden.   Wrong.  Great content and great content ideas come from a variety of sources inside and outside the company.  It’s our jobs as marketers to foster a culture of content generation and to ensure that good ideas are translated into great execution.

Reuse and Recycling is the Only Way to Scale

Too often, content development are one time, herculean efforts.  We spend weeks developing a 12 page whitepaper (does anyone read 12 page whitepapers anyway?), complete with fancy diagrams.  Then we heave it over the finish line, sigh a deep sigh, and move on the to the next project.  Very obviously, this does not scale.  Instead, we need to build content for maximum reuse.

Here is an example from my company,  Sonatype.   For the last two years, we’ve conducted an annual survey of our community to develop a deeper understanding of issues and opinions related to the products we offer.   We’re fortunate to have a large and engaged community, so we were able to collect more than 2,500 responses to a fairly long-form survey.  We had a tremendous amount of information and myriad ways to slice and dice it.

The survey effort is huge — but the content is compelling and the payoff is beyond huge.  From our survey, we produced more than 20 infographics, multiple whitepapers, a press release, a widely shared Prezi presentation, several blogs posts, and content for a number of analyst presentations.  We also garnered a ton of media attention.  And it’s only April; we’ll continue to leverage our survey findings and content throughout the year.

Process is Good.  In Moderation.

To scale, the content factory must rely on a variety of contributors.  At the same time, it’s critical that your message remains somewhat consistent.  I don’t mean scripted and robotic — just thematically consistent.

To achieve both objectives — a variety of contributors and consistent messaging — it’s important to implement a modicum process.  Every organization is different and must determine its own rules.   But my recommendation is to develop bands of content — ranging from totally uncontroversial technical materials to potentially explosive strategic announcements.  Each band should have its own process and its own levels of approval.  And each band should have the minimum possible bureaucracy to minimize misery and ensure you can move quickly.  More than one content effort has floundered due to old school ‘control the message’ marketing management.


Like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about content.  Anyone interested in attending my Demand Metric session, can register here.















Apr 21

Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit — Some Nuggets from the Trends in B2B Panel

I had a great time yesterday at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit yesterday.  It’s always invigorating to step away from the day-to-day and see what others are doing, and how they’re thinking about their work.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to sit on the ‘Newest Trends in B2B Marketing’ panel along with some very impressive panelists  — Erin Bush from Neustar, Deb Lavoy from OpenText, and Scott Shaw from CreatiVerge.  Bob London from CEO of London Ink facilitated the panel.   Smart smart people with really really interesting things to say.


Some nuggets from the discussion:

How Has Marketing’s Role Changed in B2B Companies?

More and more, the marketing function has become central to  the way b2b companies goes to market.

  • Prospects want to self-educate, discover, and learn — they come to us more prepared to buy.  Sales is increasing becoming a buy-facilitation function.
  • Often the first indication of a customer problem is on social web. They may not file a support ticket before lighting up Twitter with their complaints.
  • Pre-sales funnel metrics are attracting Board level attention and scrutiny.
  • Products themselves are assuming more of a marketing role (I’ve written about this before).   Marketing’s relationship with R&D has become even more critical.
  • Deb said,  “Marketers need to become the chief story tellers.”  Absolutely spot-on.
  • Scott talked about how agencies are being held accountable for metrics — just delivering creative isn’t enough.    This is how it should be — and it’s exactly how CMOs want to work with our agency partners.

Where Do You Start in B2B Marketing?

Everyone tends to get wrapped around the axle with all the new tools in the tool box.  But all too often we forget about the fundamentals.

  • It all starts with the customer’s problem and our unique solution
  • Clear articulation of a value proposition and your differentiation is critical.
  • One of my favorite quotes of the day (thanks, Erin):  “You can’t have thought leadership if you don’t have thoughts.”
  • We need to work closely with Sales to understand customer problems.  It’s our jobs as marketers to synthesize inputs from Sales and Customer Support to help define and refine positioning.

Shameless self-promotion:  This topic is one of my pet peeves.   Marketing efforts must be designed around central concepts of customer needs, differentiation, core competency.  See my model for the modern marketing organization.

Buzzy or Worthy? B2B Marketing Tools, Trends and Platforms Marketing Automation Content Marketing Social Media

Tools and tactics are only as good as the message you promote with them.  But what about the tools & tactics?

  • When someone comes with a request for a program or tactic  (“why aren’t we on Pinterest?”), we need to ask probing questions.  What business objective are we trying to achieve?  Does our audience actually use the vehicle in question (I doubt my audience,  25-35 year old software developers, is on Pinterest)
  • Marketing automation is table stakes (my perspective) in b2b tech, but it’s not for the faint of heart.  Most companies under-implement their systems — there is tremendous capability and potential,  but only so much time in the day.
  • Content Marketing (inbound marketing) is hard — and hard to do right.  Carpet-bombing the internet with bad content serves no one.
  • Another great nugget from Deb — “we should rename content marketing to  substance marketing.”  I could not agree more.


I had a great time on the panel — and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work in a region with such smart, dynamic, and interesting people.




Apr 17

5 Things I Learned About Business from my Dad

My Dad would have been 83 today.  He died eight years ago and I still think about him frequently.

My father and I chose very different paths career-wise.  He was an accomplished academic who stayed in school into his 30s.  I went to work right after college, returned for an an MBA, then went back to work.  My Dad worked almost exclusively for the federal government as an economist, researcher, and urban planner.    I, on the other hand, have been fascinated with private enterprise since I can remember.  Working for the government never occurred to me.

And yet, I learned a lot about business from my Dad.  Here’s a few nuggets:

If You Don’t Communicate Well, the Rest is Moot

From the time I was in high school, my Dad beat me up about my writing.  He would brutally edit my papers and critique my word choice.  At the time, I hated it.  Now, I’m incredibly grateful.   His point was simple:  No matter how strong your position, if you can’t communicate it clearly you’re dead in the water.  My Dad didn’t know about Powerpoint, but I’m sure he’d have strong opinions if he sat through many of presentations I’ve seen.

Be Loyal

Before he died, I went to my Dad to ask for some advice when I was working at some start-up or another.    I had been at the company since the beginning, but things were going sideways.  I had other opportunities and was considering bailing out.  His position was clear:  You were a part of getting this thing going, you  need to stick it out until the end.    He was right.  I stuck it out and things worked out for the best.

Just Solve the Problem

Like many of us, I can get wrapped about the axle stressing about some work problem or another.   Whenever this happened, my Dad’s advice was always the same:  don’t worry about all the things that you can’t do anything about, just focus on the root problem.  He was right — wasting energy on stressing about a wild series of what-ifs does nothing to move the ball.

Study the Matter

My Dad never made decisions quickly.  It was maddening when I was a kid.  The answer always seemed obvious to my naive mind.  But he was always thoughtful.  He took the time to research and understand, and to let his thought wash over the options before deciding.  While I didn’t always agree with his answer, it was always well-reasoned and deliberative.

When a Man Knows He is to be Hanged in a Fortnight, it Concentrates His Mind Wonderfully

A sign with this saying hung in his office for years.   In other words:  deadlines and consequences matter.  Some amount of time pressure constrains the task and focuses efforts. I’ve found this works for myself and for my teams.

I miss you, Dad.   Some days I really could use some advice.



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