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.

 

 

Mar 27

Oh no, not the wall of words — anything but that

Remember when you were 6 years old and just starting to read chapter books?  If you were anything like me, you preferred books  that had a nice mix of words and pictures.  It’s not that I was lazy, I was just  overwhelmed by a mega-sized serving of words without visual interruption.    I had to be pretty determined if I was going to climb that mountain.

Guess what?  Adults are the same.  Of course, we don’t read picture books anymore.  But we do consume lots of written information.  And again, if you’re like me, you prefer it served up in manageable portions with lots of white space and illustrative graphics.  Why then, do we so often encounter the dreaded ‘wall of words?’

 

You know what I’m talking about — the web page, whitepaper, or collateral pieces that is long, dense, verbose, and inaccessible.  No one wants to read it.  And in all likelihood, no one does.

No one reads.  They scan and the skim.  They peruse.  But they don’t read.  And they  don’t often read 250 word web pages or 25 page whitepapers.

As marketers, it’s our jobs to communicate.  But we don’t get paid by the word.   Let’s challenge ourselves to say more by writing less.  I bet most of our content could be shortened by 30% or more.  And I bet most of us could add compelling and illustrative graphics that engage the reader instead of scaring them away.  And, most importantly, I bet our message will actually get through to our prospects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 04

A New Model for Marketing

I’m convinced that many of us are working with a busted model.   Marketing has changed radically over the last ten years as has our customers’ buying process.   But many of us haven’t changed how we think about our function.

I was fortunate enough to work with Marketing Profs to publish my thoughts on what the model should be.   This new model builds on tried and true (it all starts with a customer problem and the differentiation of our solution), but then adds in the tactics that support the way our prospects now want to buy.    Most importantly, it shows the interconnections that are now necessary for marketing to be truly effective.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

 

 

Feb 27

The Innovation We Need

I’m in tech.  In tech, we market innovation.  We let you do something you couldn’t do before.   We have a better way, a faster way, a cheaper way.  We are, therefore we innovate.

But here’s a secret, I’m sick of innovation.  Now before you start labeling me some sort of Luddite,  let me explain — I’m sick of technical innovation.    And I don’t think I’m the only one.   Here’s why:

Mostly, our prospective customers aren’t looking to be on the bleeding edge of anything, they’re looking for an easier way to solve their problems. They want to be more efficient and more effective in their jobs.  They want the information they need, when they need it.   They want what we all want:   simple.

And if ‘simple’ is the goal, there are two areas of innovation where we should be focused.

User Experience Innovation

Are our products really as easy to use as they could be?  Is the interface completely intuitive?  Are our product easy to try?  Can prospects see the value for themselves when they try our product?  Are there easy ways for them to share their successes with our products?

For most of us, the answers to these questions are somewhere between ‘no’ and ‘not really’ — and herein lies the innovation opportunity.

I’ve written before about the dawn of Age of Me where b2b customers carry their b2c expectations with them to work.   And when they do, they expect a streamlined, elegant, and simple user experience.   I would submit that the future of the software industry belongs to those companies who make user experience a core competency and a competitive differentiator.

This may will require culture in most tech organizations.  Fine.  To win, we must prioritize user experience — from first touch to first purchase to upgrade.  This is, in many cases, more valuable than adding additional features.

And given the user experience in most b2b software, there is ample space for some really cool innovation.

Business Model Innovation

But it goes even further – innovation doesn’t need to involve bits at all.  It could be in our go to market strategy or in the way we monetize our technologies.  As I’ve noted before, the traditional b2b software sales model is dying.   The ‘sales’ model is being replaced by a ‘buying’ model where the customer drives the process.

The new winners will acknowledge how prospective customers consume technology and devise innovative ways to grease the process.  This might involve a ‘freemium’ product strategy or a SaaS based delivery strategy that minimizes time-to-value.  Regardless of the strategy employed, the point is that there is significant scope for innovation in how prospects engage with your products and your company.

As with our product definition and our positioning, it all starts with the target customer.   What is their current process for evaluating and acquiring software to solve the problem we solve?  Where are the bugs in this process?  How could it be better?  What do they hate about doing business with the incumbents?   What would it take for them to love their vendor?

 

Now, all of this might seem obvious.  But if it’s obvious, why aren’t more of us investing more time and money in user experience and business model innovation?

Feb 19

All Marketing is An Interruption — Thinking Outside In

Some co-workers recently gave me a copy of  Mike Tennant’s The Age of Persuasion — a great book about how we ended up in such a message saturated, marketing-is-everywhere world.  Great book, loaded with fascinating anecdotes from the history of marketing.

One point from the book stuck with me.  He says, “all advertising is an interruption” — meaning that very few of us seek out advertisements.  They interrupt us doing whatever it is that we were intending to to.

The same is true of all of types of marketing.  When’s the last time you woke up thinking,  “today is the day I hope someone will try to convince me to buy a new widget” or “I sure do hope that Company X will email me today.”

 

The answer is, of course, never.  But the implications are significant — and largely ignored.   While most of us don’t generally go around looking for interruptions, we will tolerate them under two conditions:

1)  We’re interrupted by something that entertains us.

2) The interruption contains valuable information — that is, it teaches us something useful that we didn’t know.

And yet, most of the marketing we see does neither.  Instead, it asks us to care about what some vendor wants us to care about.  And guess what?   We respond with apathy.  This shows up as low click-through rates, poor webinar attendance, flat web traffic, low numbers of product trials, etc.

So let’s think about it differently.  If we want our message to be absorbed, let’s first start with something interesting enough for our prospects to listen.  In other words,  ‘outside-in.’      Have we done something compelling, funny, or interesting enough to justify the interruption?  If not, let’s rethink.

Outside-in is the only way to cut through the clutter.

Start today. Are the programs you have slated for this week going to entertain?  Inform?

 

 

 

Feb 04

Learning OTJ — What Most Marketers Studied (an unscientific study)

Marketing is learned mostly on the job — at least for tech marketing execs (CMOs, VPs, Directors).   A simple survey shows that most of us didn’t study much marketing in school.

Here’s what my completely unscientific study uncovered:

1) Literally no one studied marketing as an undergrad.  Zero. Zippy.  None.

What did top marketers study in college?

 2) Almost 3/4 went to grad school.

Did top marketers go to grad school?

3) But most of those who went to grad school didn’t study marketing there either.

What top marketers studied in grad school

 

I’m not totally sure what to make of this –  but the facts are the facts: to get to the top spot in a tech firm, you certainly don’t need to have formal marketing education.

For the record, my undergraduate degree is in economics (minor in psych).   In business school my concentration was finance.  Go figure.

 

 

 

 

Jan 15

Learning from our B2C Cousins

Marketing has changed tremendously in the past 10 years (social, online, blogs, analytics).  Well covered territory.  In all the hubbub, it’s easy to miss the fact the the software market itself is growing up.

Our market is becoming more consumer-like.  We should too.

I was flattered when MENG (the Marketing Executives Networking Group — an outstanding organization which I highly recommend) asked me to guest blog.  I wrote about what B2B tech marketers can learn from those who’ve already seen their markets mature — our cousins in B2c.

I won’t rerun the full article, because you can read it all here (along with a ton of other really good MENG blogs).  But here’s my top  5 list of things we can learn from b2c:

  • Brand is Critical –  A strong brand greases the skids for product marketing.
  • Quantitative Analysis — Consumer marketers are experts here. We should be too.
  • Segmentation –  We talk about it. But we don’t really do it.
  • Elegance and Ease of Use — Have you tried to set  up a software product recently?  ‘Nuff said.
  • Speaking Clearly — Lose the buzzwords.  Speak plainly.

I delve into each of these topics a bit deeper in the article.  Check it out — am I nuts?  Or is this how we should be thinking?

 

Jan 02

My (Marketing) New Year’s Resolutions

I’m generally of the school that says January 1st is just a day like any other.   If I need to make a change,  I should just get on with it.  Why wait for some arbitrary number on a calendar?   That said, it’s a nice to reflect and January 1st is as good a time as any.  So here’s my top 10 things I plan to do better in the coming year.

Simplify. Everything.

In 2012, I will focus on simplifying everything I can.   Tech is too complicated — our products, our messaging, our marketing.  It could all be simplified.  In 2012, I will advocate for simplicity and elegance.  I will insist upon it from myself and my team.

Get Closer to the Market

At heart, I’m a product marketer.  Developing a deep appreciation for customer needs is the fastest path to developing great messaging, content, and programs.   In 2012, I will get closer to the market.  I will see more customers and  listen more intently.

Work More Closely with Sales

This one is a gimme; it’s always the priority.  This year I will I will push even harder to align Marketing and Sales.   I will develop shared metrics and communicate more effectively.  I will ensure programs are rolled out clearly and with precision.

Write More Often

In 2011 I rediscovered how much I enjoy writing.  Blogging has been fun.   But even more fun has been crafting the words we use at Sonatype — our positioning, our  content, all of it.  This year I will write more often, both here and at work.

Write Less Words

Be brief, be bright, be gone.  Part of writing more is learning to say the thing in less words.    I’m good at this, but I want to be great.  Sometimes this means creating will take longer.  But the result will be better — clearer, more accessible, sharper.   Better.

Borrow from Elsewhere

Maybe it’s just me, but b2b tech marketing seems to be looking more and more like other types of marketing every day.  But compared to b2c, tech marketing is just plain  primitive.  This year, I’m going to school.  I will learn more from non-tech b2c marketers — and then I will borrow some great ideas.  After all, we’re all marketing to human beings — regardless of the product.

Teach Where I Can

I’ve been a tech marketing exec for nearly 20 years.  Generally this means that I’m among the more experienced (seasoned?  old?) people in the (marketing) room.  Over the years, I’ve benefited tremendously from the experience of others.  In 2012, I will do a better job, when it’s appropriate, of helping more junior marketers to develop their skills

Speak More Plain English (and Demand it of Others)

This kind of goes along with ‘write less words’ — but it’s important enough to call out separately.   In 2012, I will purge more buzzwords and communicate more clearly.   I will demand this of others. If an idea is coated in all sorts of business-speak or techno-babble, I will insist on clarity.

Communicate Visually

In a world of short attention spans, pictures work well — if they’re good.  In 2012, I will use more images to communicate.  And I will ensure that the images I use are powerful and meaningful.

Take Time to Recharge

In 2012, I will take the time to unplug and spend time with those who mean the most.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 13

Why Marketers Should Love Open Source

Why would I suggest that marketers should love something which is generally free, widely available, and highly disruptive?

It’s simple.  Open source simplifies commercialization.   Here’s why:

1.  Open Source Validates a Need   — Open source answers the ginormous  question that keeps us marketers up at night:  who cares?   As in — it seems like a good idea, but who really cares?  Open source businesses are built around a community of users.  Rational users only use products that solve their problems.    So by definition, someone cares.  Of course, lots of questions remain in terms of a business model and commercialization strategy — but  the most fundamental question is off the table.  Here is the typical commercial open source route to market:

There is a significant gestation period before a business venture is attempted.  Ideas are refined, product are polished.  A need is validated.   In the wild.  By the actual people who will use the finished product.

Contrast this with the more traditional commercialization process.  Note that the product never really gets stress tested until the prototype phase.  And it doesn’t get a real workout until the launch.  At this point, you’ve got a ton of sunk costs — and more than likely, a ton wasted effort.

 

2.  Open Source Defines a Route to Market — I’ve argued recently that a modern go-to-market strategy engages users early and by offering them limited, but meaningful value before attempting to sell them anything.  It then let’s them buy small increments of functionality and then ‘step-up’ their purchases over time as their needs dictate.  For convenience, here’s the diagram from my earlier post:

 

In this case, the ‘free or trial’ version is the open source version.  It’s incumbent upon us as product developers to create enough added value in our commercial versions to encourage a meaningful percentage of open source users to step up.   Or to encourage their organizations to do so.

3.  Open Source Stimulates Commercial Demand — Provided you’ve got a large community AND provided you’ve built a commercial product with sufficient (and truly valuable) differentiation from your open source version, you have two key (and non-trivial) ingredients for commercialization.     But in any market, you still need to know who to target.  A massive amount of resources are wasted trying to figure out the who.   Open source gives marketers a huge leg up in the who department.  You already have users. 

By providing easy ways for users to see/try/understand value-added commercial functionality, some numbers of users will raise their hands.  They’ll try it.  If it meets their needs, they’ll get their companies to pay for it.   They’ll make suggestions.  They will tell you the type of functionality that they need to justify a purchase.

To make things even more interesting, open source almost always grows organically within a buying organization.  A few people start using a technology, then more, then more, then it becomes a candidate for to become an organizational standard.  This all stimulates demand for commercial versions.  This creates a phenomenon some people call BFM, or black f#@ng magic.  This is where out of the blue, you get an email or a phone call from someone to the effect of:  “we love your open source product and we’d like to buy 1,000 seats of your commercial product.”    It doesn’t happen every day, or even every week, but it does happen.   And when it does, it’s pretty cool.

It’s Not Perfect.  It Doesn’t Work All the Time.   But It’s Pretty Compelling.

Don’t get me wrong — there are tons of challenges and pitfalls with commercial open source businesses.  Leaving aside the gargantuan hurdle of creating a popular OSS project (just look at the number of dying or dead  projects on SourceForge), commercialization takes a ton of creativity, hard work, and more than a little luck.  Your commercial product has to be well differentiated.  Your users most likely aren’t buyers, so you have to turn them into advocates.  You can’t market too aggressively.  And so on.  And on.

But the market efficiency benefits trumps all the challenges. By a long shot.

PS:   This isn’t some new-found found fascination based on my current gig at Sonatype.  I’ve worked with several open source companies.  I’m currently the CMO at Sonatype,  which makes open source management products and plays an active role in huge projects like Apache Maven, Hudson, Nexus, and Eclipse.   I worked for Akopia, an open source e-commerce software vendor, later acquired by Red Hat.  I stuck around there after the acquisition and and ran product marketing for them.  I currently serve as an advisor to Zenoss, an open source systems management company.

Dec 10

Story Sells. An Email Experiment.

We recently tested  two emails to recruit for a survey we’re doing.  Which one do you think performed better?

 Email A: Generic Offer

Email B: ‘Story’ Based Offer

In email A, we used a generic offer (Fill out this survey for a chance to win a Macbook Air).  In email B, we added some back-story (you could win Jason’s Macbook Air).  Jason is a well known guy in our industry, and a somewhat polarizing figure.

So what happened?

Email B crushed email A — over 3:1.  Although the open rate was about the same, the click-through rate on email B was 1.27% versus .37%.

Story sells.  And with this simple A/B test behind us, we’re continuing the ‘take Jason’s laptop’ story throughout the rest of our recruitment.

And as of right now, we have nearly 1,100 survey responses with a full month left until we close it down.  I’m betting we hit our goal of 2,012.

 

 

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