Decision Making

Caution: Predictive Analytics May Miss One Important Thing

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Predictive analytics is, without a doubt, the new big thing in marketing.  It’s how we marketers are putting so-called big data to work to help us find, target, and sell to the right customers at the right time.  I’ve written about this before; any time we rely on technology or process to tell us about our customers’ preferences, habits, or needs, we run the risk of missing out on one critical element of our customers’ decision-making.  Our customers are human and, therefore, somewhat unpredictable.

Many years ago, I worked with a company that created customized news feeds.  Customers would select their areas of interest, and each day, the company would sort items from a range of newswires (yes, this is before social media!) and send each customer a custom collection of articles, press releases, and other news items.

A general concern others and I raised about the trend toward more personalization (which is still ongoing) is that people would miss out on items of general interest.  In those days, when I read the newspaper, I would seek out sections of particular interest to me, but I would also read the front page and often catch other items on my way to my sections.  This exposed me to news, information, and thinking outside my specific area of interest.  In particular, reading the front page gave me a sense of what was collectively considered important (as filtered by an editor, granted, but one whose interest likely was matching the collective interest).  This provided a common understanding of the world and important events of the day.  With an entirely customized newswire (or, in today’s terms, a group of Facebook friends with whom you completely agree), you create your own unique understanding of the world around you, and you become less aware of what is outside your bubble (and in some cases, less able to understand it).

One of our goals as marketers is to influence behavior, particularly toward buying our products and services.  One way to do this is to create some elements of a bubble around the target buyers so they see more of your offerings than anything else and more messages encouraging the lifestyle associated with your offerings.  That creates stronger associations with the promise of the brand and results in brand loyalty.

We observe the actions customers take and focus on the ones that make them most likely to deepen their association with our brand and all of the things for which that brand stands. That creates the customer journey.

Once we know all that, we work hard to influence customers to take the next step on their journey toward becoming a brand loyalist and buying more and more from us.

Dealing with the myriad actions, possible paths, probable journeys, and the wide range of customer tastes and behaviors has been nearly impossible until technology stepped in to give us ways to store and analyze all that data.  Enter big data and predictive analytics.

We now have computer systems that tell us—if a customer has a certain set of tastes and preferences, and then takes a given action (or a series of actions)—what the most effective way to get them to take the next action is.  So we do that.  Then we see many of those customers taking the hoped-for action.

Enhancing the Impact of Predictive Analytics

One of my favorite themes is to remind marketers that your instinct—your intuitive understanding—goes far beyond the analysis of any computer system.  You will not always be right, but your intuition provides a strong sanity check.

For example, your predictive analytics might suggest prospects who end up buying from you always take a specified action several steps prior to purchasing.  This might be true.  But you might also notice there is a large drop-off rate right before that step—only a small number of prospects in your funnel move to that step.  Your analytics don’t tell you this because you’ve told your systems to answer the question of what causes people to buy, so it looks at the outcome and works backward.  It takes human powers of observation to look at the funnel from a different perspective.

I rely on my systems and the analyses they produce to tell me how my programs are working.  I set them up to give me data-driven answers to a variety of questions, including the question of what actions are most influential in converting prospects to paying customers.

But I always look at the data myself.  I look for anomalies.  I look for things that might not be answered by my systems the way I’ve set them up.  I look for things I’ve otherwise overlooked.  Some of those insights have led to opportunities I would not have seen otherwise.

In short, I use my own experienced intuition to make the final call about what is working, what is not, and where I should look next to improve my efforts.

Don’t miss out on this one critical factor.  Don’t let your predictive analytics and automation systems take over your marketing.  There may come a day when intelligent systems can do this for us, but for now, this is your job.  It’s where your value gets added.  Using your own experienced intuition is what makes the difference between good marketing and great marketing.  Don’t give that up.

Decision Making

How Data Can Be Dangerous: Don’t Market to the Middle

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Danger!  Your data is causing you to market to the middle of your audience and miss many opportunities.

In my recent post, I wrote about the dangers of relying solely on data to make good marketing decisions.  While data is the ultimate sanity check, data can also be easily skewed, misinterpreted and used in ways that were never intended (or worse, in ways that are meaningless).  Without good judgment and interpretation, data almost certainly will lead you astray and you could market to the middle.  But there’s a subtler danger that lies beyond just the use of data in your marketing decisions.

What if your actions as a marketer are closing off options for your customers?

What if both you and your customers would be better off with those options open?

What can we, as marketers, do about it?

Douglas Rushkoff, an NYU professor and leading thinker on the Internet and society, said in his recent book:  “Companies know things about you that you don’t yet know yourself, and they only know them in terms of probability.  The world that you see is being configured to a probable reality that you haven’t yet chosen.”  And we, fellow MENG members, are the ones doing the configuring.

We work hard to understand our audiences.  We try to decipher their behavior.  We work to develop models of their personalities and their tastes.  We try to determine what we think they are going to do next.  And then we build every experience custom-tailored to each individual, bringing them closer and closer to the next action.  And then the next.

If you look deep down inside the models that got you to “knowing” what each and every individual’s behavior is going to be, you’ll find they are all based on statistical averages. Even if you segment your audience really well, you’re still looking at statistical averages of each segment.

That works for the 68% of your audience within the first standard deviation from the mean. It skews the results for the next 27% and for the last 5%―the outliers―you just have no idea what they would have done if you didn’t pre-define their path.

Market to the Middle:  The Small Danger

You’re missing some great ideas and opportunities.

One of the tenets quoted so often is that the opportunity for innovation lies with the outliers.  It’s the customers who do the weird thing with your product or ask for something which you haven’t yet thought of who show you the way to your next big opportunity.

When you don’t let them get there by following the market to the middle, when you decide they should follow one of your home-made yellow-brick roads, you miss out on the great opportunities they bring.

This is just another way of saying you are listening to your customer too closely, and you will be disrupted by some other company that thinks about the problem differently.

But that’s just the small danger.

The Big Opportunity

Ten years ago, a small group of sales and marketing people started thinking differently about how to use all the then newly available technology to advance the field.  One of the core tenets of that group―later codified in this book and many other publications―is that companies must now learn to adapt their sales and marketing to what, where, and how customers want to buy, rather than asking customers to adapt to how the company wants to sell and market to the middle.

We’ve tried many different forms of this, but what it comes down to every single time is: we have a really hard time delivering a perfectly customized sales process, product, service, and experience to every single customer.  We’re still looking at averages.

A Short but Relevant Digression

In the old, industrial-age, grade-school classroom―the kind most of us experienced―teachers were said to be teaching to the middle, which means they were teaching to the average student in the class. That makes it very difficult for the students at the top and bottom of the class (for different reasons) to learn effectively.

I recently worked with a company that helps school districts implement personalized learning. What that means―when it’s fully working―is every single student gets exactly the right challenge, information, work, assignments, and education he or she needs at every single moment throughout his or her school career.  Sounds like a tall order, right?  It is.  It requires rethinking how education is delivered.  It redefines (and, I believe, elevates) the role of the teacher.  It changes the school from a factory, churning our identically educated kids, into a greenhouse, growing each and every unique kid in their own unique way.

Can we marketers do the same for the customer experiences we deliver?

Yes, but we have to change the way we do marketing.  It’s OK to rely on data, as long as we’re careful using it and do not always market to the middle.  But we have to start building organizations and processes in a very different way.  Can our marketing analysts turn into customer coaches?  Can our marketing leaders turn into Sherpas (with apologies to the site of the same idea)?  Can our content developers become editors?  Everything we do now would have to change.

And change is hard.

But there’s always someone ready to disrupt if we don’t.  And all the outliers, and then the 27% and, eventually, the 68%, will just go their own way―not ours―right to that disruptor.

Your Turn

I’ve attempted, in this post, to offer a glimpse into an idea I am developing in my own work.  But it’s just beginning.  Please tell us what you think in the comments or on social media, and let’s discuss how to do this.  I look forward to your contributions.


Requiem for the Home Page: Rethinking Website Architecture

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The Home Page is dead!  Long live the Home Page!  That might be overstating it a bit, but it’s well past time to rethink our approach to website architecture.

Evolving Website Architecture

I’ve been involved in website architecture, design, redesign, and rebuilding projects in various ways during the past decade.  In this time, nearly everything has changed about how companies communicate with customers and prospects.  We’ve become comfortable with email as a marketing tool—in fact, we’ve become pretty good at it.  Printed mail certainly has not gone away (judging by my mailbox this week), but we’ve found effective ways to replace some printed media and blend print and email.

We’ve become social.  Do you remember your social media presence in 2004?  I’m guessing not, primarily because you didn’t have one.  Twitter didn’t exist, and Facebook was the cool new thing on Harvard’s campus.  Now, most companies have some sort of social media presence, and the ones that are doing it well are integrating social media directly into their communication with prospects and customers.

In 2004, even search marketing (both SEO and SEM) were hardly in use.  We were still figuring out how that worked, which gave rise to the seemingly endless supply of people who spend their time trying to outwit Google’s search algorithm (and Bing’s and Yahoo’s and…).

But in the same decade that saw the creation and explosion of email, search marketing, and social media, website architecture has been virtually unchanged.  We still build websites in the same traditional structure as we did in the late 1990s:  We start with a home page that summarizes our company and brand message, include a hierarchy of pages (products, solutions, about us, careers…sound familiar?) that describe everything we want visitors to see when they show up.

We’ve seen tremendous advances in website design:  from the “above-the-fold” designs of the 2000s to the current trend of responsive, parallax, and endlessly scrolling websites designed for the ever increasing number of devices we use to visit these sites.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I tend to focus not on what your company wants to say but what your prospects and customers want to hear—and how they want to hear it.

Looking at it from that perspective, we’ve learned one very important lesson in the past decade about how visitors, prospects, and customers use our website:  People come to the site looking for something.  They want to go directly to whatever that particular thing is on our site and skip all the other stuff.

Some visitors take advantage of the hierarchical structure of the site to find what they need.  Many, many more come in directly to some specific page on our site as the result of a Google search. Many come to our site as a result of an email or social media campaign directing them to a landing page.  And some come to a specific page on our site through referral (a link sent to them, posted somewhere, etc.) or other various means.

We even spend time designing click paths through our websites both to serve specific kinds of visitors and to encourage them to take actions we design.

Improving Website Architecture

This means the way we build websites has no relationship whatsoever to how visitors use them.

What can we do differently?

A modest proposal:  Outside–in architecture.

Let’s go back to that idea of click paths.  We know how to do that (at least some do, and most of the rest of the marketing world is learning).  We also know that pretty much every single person who visits our website will have a click path that is unique to them and serves well the visitor profile (or persona) they fit.

My proposal:  Build for that.

Take the personas (or whatever method you use for profiling visitor needs) and the click paths and needs you’ve already figured out.  Build those pages.  Put the right information, content, and calls-to-action on those pages that lead where you think that person wants to go.

Then do it with every single profile/persona you have built (and maybe a few on the edge that don’t visit as often).

Then you will have a jumble of pages that meet defined click paths.

Every single one of those journeys through your site starts with some inquiry, and most (we hope) end in some action, even if it’s just reading information.

Arrange your starting points in a circle (conceptually or on your design board).  Lay out the paths moving toward the center of that circle.  They will overlap.  Some will spiral.  Some will go straight to the center.  Some will stop halfway.

But you will find significant overlap among your paths.  Many different kinds of visitors need the same information at different points in their journey through your site.

Each of those landing pages and stopping points becomes a page.  If you’ve taken into account all the types of visitors who come to your site (don’t forget job seekers, investors, researchers, etc.), then you’ll also find you’ve included all the information you need.  And anything that is not there, by definition, is not needed by your visitors and does not need to be on your website.

We know where our visitors land or start.  We have a pretty good idea of where they go and how they get there.  Why not build  our websites around that journey and make it easy for them to get there and engage with us they way they want to—and, ultimately, the way we want them to.

What do you think?  Have you done this?  Have you taken an unconventional approach to website architecture?  Tell us in the comments!


Please Stop Collaborating with Me!

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

Collaboration is all the rage in the business world these days — you can’t go more than a few minutes in any business conversation, journal, site, blog or anywhere else without the word coming up. And there’s no doubt that improved collaboration (often enabled by technology) has led to leaps and bounds in productivity.

But are you — like me — starting to feel like we’re overdoing it? I know there are times when I just want to say, “Leave me alone and let me get some work done!”

I’m just old enough to remember the days when everyone in the company had an office. I mean a room with a door that could fully close. While very few office doors were closed much of the time (there was a lot of debate about open-door policies and the like), you could close the door when you needed to concentrate. Or have an important phone call. Or — in the case of certain nameless colleagues — take a nap. In fact, in my very first job after college, I had just such an office.

Then the age of the cubicle arrived. In the 1980s, companies such as Intel were admired for their devotion to the cubicle culture — meaning the collaboration that came with the broad adoption of cubicles. At Intel everyone, even the CEO, had a cubicle.

There was conversation. We talked with each another far more than when I had an office. It became useful, productive, even fun. Prairie-dogging became a game.

Then we discovered the dark side. We couldn’t have the challenging conversations with customers, partners or even our bosses without everyone knowing about it. There were no more moments of concentration; there was collaboration, but there was also constant interruption. Recent studies have shown that constant interruption and multi-tasking are far less productive than concentration and single-tasking.

But are we ready to go back to closed-door offices? For most companies, no. Many companies are going even further and eliminating cubicles in favor of open-plan offices — just a collection of desks in a room (think the secretarial pool from any random 1950s movie).

Tele-Smart consultant Josiane Feigon recently published an article about an un-named client who gave inside salespeople closed-door offices. From her article, it’s easy to tell she did not agree with this move. She seems to feel that having salespeople in closed-door offices defeated the collaboration that she thinks is at the core of their job, and, as is common in other companies, they should have kept the salespeople in cubicles or an open-plan office.

I, however, agree with this client wholeheartedly. In fact, I think they might not have gone far enough. Here’s why:

Inside sales — at least the core piece of the job, which is making calls to prospects — is not collaborative at all. The employee’s (inside sales rep’s) focus is entirely outside the company, and that employee needs the ability to focus their attention outside (at the prospect) rather than dealing with the inside distractions of noise interruptions and over-hearing other outbound calls.

My friend and inside-sales expert Anneke Seley, CEO of RealityWorks Group, points out that there is a critical component of the inside sales rep’s job that is collaborative: training and preparation. These parts of the job benefit from working with managers and colleagues, collaborating on strategy and working to improve skills.

So these parts of the job should be done in an environment that promotes collaboration and interactions (intentional and accidental), and this can be done in a group setting such as a conference room or open area.

But the outbound calling should not be done in “public.” The highest productivity from that part of the job is achieved when the environment isolates the inside sales rep.

In our zeal to achieve ever-increasing collaboration, maybe we’ve forgotten why we want collaboration in the first place: to increase productivity and effectiveness.

Looking at collaboration through the lens of where the focus of the work is pointed (internal, external, solo, team, etc.) can suggest a new way to evaluate whether a collaborative work environment is going to help or harm our productivity. And then maybe we can find ways to collaborate when it helps and leave each other alone when it doesn’t.

And yes, I said “collaboration” (or “collaborative”) 16 times in this post. We might just be overdoing it.


Has Marketing Failed Sales?

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A few weeks ago, at the Sales 2.0 conference, I noticed a trend: Salespeople are generating their own leads. In fact, I heard pundit after pundit offer justifications for salespeople to be more proactive and take lead generation into their own hands, including statistics showing that as few as 30% of the leads sent to sales by marketing are worthy of pursuit.

Isn’t it marketing’s job to deliver qualified (or at least pursuit-worthy) leads to sales? So has marketing failed?

Well, no, not exactly. There are two significant (you might call them disruptive) trends happening at the same time in lead generation: the indivdualization of technology and social selling.

Marketing is less-well-equipped than sales to take advantage of these. Sales, especially the individual salesperson, is far better equipped to experiment with new methods, processes and technologies than any marketing department can be, if only because of the scale. And marketing has significant responsibilities beyond lead generation, including leading and developing the company’s relationship with its prospects, customers and all other stakeholders, and stewarding the company’s brand.

But in order to be successful, marketing will have to watch these trends — and how salespeople take advantage of them — and figure out how to make them part of everyday marketing in order to stay relevant.

Trend One: The Individualization of Technology

Technology has migrated from huge systems only practical for large institutions to apps any individual can use anywhere, anytime. In the same way, systems which large corporations use to manage their resources are now available for individuals, including cloud-based (SaaS) services, such as CRM and marketing automation.

Companies such as Nimble and Contactually provide cloud-based services that are designed for (and priced for) individual salespeople to do the essential parts of what a more cumbersome CRM system once did. They manage everything from contacts to social relationships to follow-ups to engagement opportunities.

What is important about this is these services can be used by an individual salesperson to find opportunities and generate leads entirely on his or her own, even while working within a larger corporate CRM system.

In fact, my friend Matt Heinz offered a wealth of tips and tricks (he calls them “sales hacks”) for individual salespeople to use a range of tools to create a robust lead flow — all independent of any marketing department (yes, this works very well for sole proprietors, too!)

Trend Two: Social Selling

Social selling means salespeople can use their social networks and the activity they generate to find prospects and identify buying signals. For example, if I were selling marketing automation software, and a 2nd-degree LinkedIn connection just took a new job as CMO (a possible buying signal) for a company in my market, I would want to contact that person. I might find that out through the activity generated in my own social network, then find out more about that person through their own social and other activity. I would then have a connection that can introduce me and would also know how to approach my newly discovered prospect.

Notice I am not looking in my CRM system for a lead that has not been touched in a while, nor am I looking for an introduction from my management. Salespeople (presumably) have their own networks they can use to find the connections they want and need.

Services such as TwitHawk and Newsle offer this kind of social signal search service, and Nimble and Contactually integrate it into the activity stream.

When you put all this together, you have a powerful new source of very well-qualified leads for the salesperson to pursue.

So Where is Marketing?

Marketing departments have done a very good job of adapting to the world of on-line and social media, and they have found ways to successfully get the word out. Marketing departments have also become very good at doing this on a large scale, just as they became very good at large-scale communication in traditional media.

But even the most targeted integrated email and social media campaigns reach thousands — sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands — of people in the hope that a small percentage will be sufficiently interested to become leads and prospects.

Salespeople are looking at this from the other direction. They are ignoring the scale of reaching mass markets and large target audiences, and instead, using the power of atomized technology and social media combined to find the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack — who they are pretty sure is an interested prospect.

Can Marketing Adapt?

Should marketing change its approach and focus on finding individuals? No. Well, maybe.

Marketing must look after its whole scope of responsibilities and ensure there are strong relationships with customers, prospects and other stakeholders. Marketing must also continue to use its ability to scale communications to ensure large audiences are reached.

In fact, without doing this first, the salesperson may never have the chance to find that one interested prospect

But marketers must also become proficient in a world that has become individualized. This individualization has happened not only in how sales leads are found, but also in how relationships and brand preferences are developed. Marketers must be able to take all the activities where they focus on the mass market and find ways to translate or evolve them into individual relationships.

It’s easy for individual salespeople to experiment with new methods and technologies, and they are finding some of them very useful. Marketers must find ways to experiment with new methods, processes and technologies to find the ones that work in this changing world.

The challenge marketers face is learning how to scale this individualization to reach the mass audience so the company can scale its individual relationships.

And marketing can deliver more relevant leads.

Join the conversation: post a comment telling us how you are addressing this issue.


Making Remote Work Work: Nine Ways to Succeed and Five Myths Dismissed

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If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Silicon Valley recently, it would be hard to miss the uproar about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decree that Yahoo! would no longer allow its people to work from home.

I spent several years leading marketing and internal communications for the remote work program at Cisco Systems.  During that time, our policies evolved and grew into a sophisticated program designed to create competitive advantage for Cisco in both its access to skilled workforce and in serving its customers.

I don’t want to jump into the debate about Yahoo!, nor do I want to discuss how organizations and employees benefit from remote work.  My colleague Faith LeGendre has covered that very well.

I want to take a closer look at how to make remote work (which includes working from home, working in a remote location, or even just having a geographically diverse team) actually work well and benefit both the company and the employee.

First, let me dismiss a few myths:

  • Working from home is not just for mothers with young children.
  • Working remotely is not just about wanting schedule flexibility for personal needs.
  • Working remotely to achieve a flexible schedule does not reduce productivity.
  • When remote work programs fail, it’s generally because of poor technology planning or a lack of good management practices.
  • Collaboration and informal interaction do not require being in the same location.

Making a remote work program work for the benefit of everyone requires hard work and a shift in thinking on the part of both the employee and the company.  The goal of a remote work program should be to make employees just productive from anywhere as they would be in an office.

For the company and the remote worker’s manager, these practices will help make you and your people successful and productive no matter where they are:

Shift your thinking from presence focused to results focused.

One of managers’ most common complaints about people who work remotely is that they can’t see whether they are working. I suggest that your inoffice workers are probably also pretty adept at making you think they are working even when they are not.  But it just doesn’t matter.

Whether your people are in your office or somewhere else, remember that you hired them to produce results.  It may require a bit more rigor on your part, but make sure both you and they understand what those results are and how you expect them to be achieved.

Be honest:  if your people are producing great results, does it matter whether they did all the work between 9 and 5?  Or is it OK with you if they did some of the work at 3 AM?

This also means you need to set expectations and have an explicit agreement on when the remote worker will be reachable for emergencies and other time critical matters.  Make sure you know what you actually need and what is reasonable to expect.

Be reasonable and allow yourself a learning curve.

Managing remote workers is not easy. You will find that shifting your thinking, measuring results in a different way, and trusting your workers more completely than you likely have before is challenging and requires a learning curve.

Don’t expect more from your remote workers than from your inoffice workers (though you will probably get more) and watch yourself for inequities in your treatment of the two. This will get easier with time, and it will be much easier if your company’s HR team provides support and training.

Create formal agreements and stick to them.

Your remote workers should know what you expect from them, and you should know how they are meeting those expectations.

When you either hire a remote worker or change an inoffice worker into a remote worker, create a formal written agreement.  Outline everything from objectives, expected results, response times, and availability to reporting and collaborating with colleagues across the company.

Get the technology right.

Don’t skimp.  The technology available in today’s market for making remote workers effective is both very good and very affordable.  Make sure you have the technology that allows your remote workers to get the job done as efficiently as your inoffice workers.

For the remote worker make sure you work effectively and follow these ideas to help your management realize as much benefit as you do from your working remotely:

It’s not about your convenience; it’s about producing results.

As with so many communications you have with your management, explaining why you need this “privilege” just doesn’t cut it.  Explain how it will benefit your manager and the company.  Show how you will make it work.  Sell your manager on trusting you to make it work.

Take it slowly.

Don’t walk into your manager’s office and announce your plan to work remotely full-time starting Monday.  Start with one or two days per week.  Create milestones that show your part-time remote work plan works.  Then go to three days per week.  Then four.

When you are choosing which days to start with, intentionally choose days that will show that you can work effectively.  For example, choose a day when a weekly team meeting occurs, then demonstrate your outstanding participation in that meeting while sitting in your living room.

Demonstrate results.

If there is one single key to success in remote work, this is it:  create external objective evidence of your work.  Your management will not see every bit of work you do remotely. But they can always see the outcome of your work.

For example, let’s say your job is to run email marketing campaigns.  You and they both know lots of planning and collaboration go into creating those campaigns.  But they may or may not see that.  What they will see is that the campaign launched and produced results.

Learn to collaborate online.

Both structured and impromptu collaboration can easily happen from anywhere.  But for most of us, it’s not natural to strike up informal conversations electronically.

I can’t put too fine a point on this:  learn how.  Getting good at making connections and developing relationships with people you can’t (and may never) see is critical to your success.

Overcoming resistance is about proving success.

This is generic but critical to making it work.  Some managers will resist the idea of having someone work remotely.  You can’t change the culture overnight, but you can create opportunities to prove success.  Create trial remote work times.  Develop result focused plans for making it succeed.

When the trial period ends, make sure you have lots of evidence of success to show your manager the benefits and start planning for a larger trial.  Make your success available to others also:  the more people who show and prove success, the faster the culture of resistance will change.

The list of benefits of remote work for both employees and employers is seemingly endless, so there’s no reason not to get started.  Remember, if your people can’t work remotely for you, they might just work remotely for your competition.


I promised myself I wouldn’t, but…

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This is a bit of a rant. And not a really important one at that. But it seems to me that there are things companies do that impose themselves on their “customers” and, in this case, their “customers'” “customers.”  The culprit in this case is Technorati and, that one thing is:


I feel responsible to those of you who take your valuable time to read my writings to make those writings worthy of your time and discuss issues that have the potential to make a real difference. In this case, all I did was change the URL of this blog (did you notice?). And to convince Technorati that it is still my blog (no, they can’t see the new URL, even though Google can) they require that I publicly post that random string of characters for them to find in my blog feed (not even directly on my blog!).

This means they are forcing me to post this for all of you to read also. So instead of just posting a cryptic post with those random characters, I thought I should at least explain. And no, I don’t have a good mystery novel in me, so while it might be a good start, I’ll leave it to more talented folks to go beyond the first sentence.

This is quite an imposition compared to Google. When they wanted proof of ownership, they asked for a tag in the blog’s header, something easily accomplished and invisible to RSS readers and human readers alike. It’s quite the comparison that Technorati wants me to impose their (rather outdated) technology on you, my readers.

The question I draw from this is along the same lines as my last post about Ford Motor Company: Are you being responsible to your customers if you are imposing on their relationship with their customers (when you can avoid it)?

It seems clear to me why, in the past few years, Technorati has lost trust as an on-line authority and Google has stepped in to fill the gap.

So, Technorati, can you read my code now?


Is the “Age of Conversation” Coming of Age?

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It’s a bit like that ‘fool me once…’ adage: When the second observation showed up this week, I started wondering if this is a trend. Then I realized it’s inevitable.

There are few people left (at least among those with internet access) that would dispute that, in the past decade or so, technology has changed the way we interact with and relate to each other. Whether you call this the ‘Age of Conversation’ or refer more generally to the social media/social networking trends, it’s been clear for some time that the skills of technology have been applied to the art of human relationships, and how those relationships manifest has changed.

Another point that few would argue is that the social media/social networking phenomenon has changed the way corporate – actually, all – marketers see the world and related to and communicate with their target audiences. Even the simple use of the phrase ‘communicate with’ in the previous sentence is symptomatic of the change – 15 years ago I would have said ‘communicate to.’

I found it interesting when two unrelated experiences began to triangulate (yes, I’ll still need a third to fully triangulate – care to offer one in the comments?) on these ideas.

  1. Over an otherwise social dinner, a friend who is a successful CMO told me he’s thinking of leaving his position to start an agency. When I pressed him for the reason he wanted to do this after many years working in corporate organizations, he said ‘Marketers have forgotten how to market.’ He explained (and I mostly agree) that most marketers have become so caught up in the social media trend and have focused on a long list of not-well-developed-conventional-wisdom approached and tactics, that some of the fundamentals – like knowing how to segment a market, understand basic customer needs, and focusing on messages (read: content) that is of critical interest to your customers and prospects – have been lost in the shuffle, or worse, forgotten.
  2. I watched a Tom Peters video that talked about the importance of being able to write well and coherently (you can judge for yourself if I’ve mastered that skill). Yes, the very same Tom Peters who is always ranting about big strategic ideas and the importance of challenging the status quo, is now talking about a very basic skill in which most of us became at least moderately proficient in high school. His explanation for this is that in the age of quick e-mails, facebook statuses (statii?) and Twitter, where writing is reduced to the fewest characters possible and sentence structure gives way to compact meaning, being able to communicate well and coherently is still a highly valued skill. In fact, good communication – including written – skills are critical for business success (his new book, in fact, focuses on the importance of the so-called ‘little things’). I would add that for marketers, being able to express yourself well rather than briefly (in most cases), makes it more likely that your audience will understand your message.

A return to fundamentals is the core idea that ties these two observations together. Good marketing is, well, good marketing, no matter the tools, channels, media or relationships. The core elements of understanding how to relate to your audience and how to get a message across in a way that is compelling and results in action (presumably buying, but not always), along with the rest of the basic marketing tenets, are still the things we must do right every day to make sure that, whether in old or new or social media, we can be effective communicators. The same is true of the basic skill of written communications (admit it, you love reading blogs – obvious, because you’re reading this – but you know that so many are poorly written, and sometimes hard to decipher).

I would never make the argument that the so-called ‘revolution’ in the nature of the relationships among people and between companies and their audiences is coming to an end. In fact, I’d argue that it’s only just begun (but I won’t argue that right now – maybe later). Relationships must and will change, and they will change dramatically.

We are no longer at the point where we are experimenting with what the new tools can do. We have reached the point where we’ve played with the new tools and now we have to go start finding out not only what they can do, but where they are useful and how to make them a part of our own lives, our own professions and our own relationship. Then we have to use them to redefine and rebuild those lives, professions and relationships in ways we may not fully understand.

As we do, we should not forget that we still have lives, professions and relationships, and the need to do the simple things right – to live lives, to practice professions and to relate to others – and to do them well has not changed, and I don’t think it ever will.

Add your story about how you see good fundamentals returning to blend with a radically changed world in the comments


What if your navel stared back?

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From Mashable:

Bloggers! Here Comes Navel Gaze Sunday
A trend: sometime every Saturday afternoon Eastern Time (now), tech bloggers run low on real news, and a story about bloggers themselves gets an unnecessary amount of airtime. On Sunday, it rises to a rabble before dying down as the Monday news starts coming in – call it Navel Gaze Sunday if you like

No, there’s nothing really disruptive about this at all. But it does lead me to ask whether bloggers (in general) are creating communities around themselves, or are the collective “they” just one community?

If you choose to start or use a blog to promote yourself, your company, your book or whatever ideas you want to put out into the market, while you are working to make it less promotional and more a part of the so-called blogosphere, you also have to remember that it needs to appeal to YOUR community, and not the community of bloggers.

You tell me: By talking about bloggers talking about bloggers on my blog on Sunday, have I participated in the tradition I just tried to warn against? Would it have been possible not to?


Adoption Happens

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In his blog last week, Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann responds to Cisco’s Parvesh Sethi touting the capabilities of Cisco’s IP phones:

I’ve seen quite a few IP phones on people’s desks, and I’m sure that some people are doing innovative things with them. However, I usually see them being used as, well, phones. The phones may have an IP address and lots of great possibilities, but I have yet to encounter anyone who uses even 20% of those possibilities. Most people just pick them up to dial, much as they have been doing for decades.

Am I missing something? I respect Mr. Mann greatly, but I think there’s a point missing from this argument.

Whenever a new – and disruptive – technology arrives, even when it’s widely deployed and the benefits are obvious, the adoption of the most advanced features takes some time (remember your technology adoption life cycle?).

I don’t mean to be cynical here, but let’s face it: If I had an IP phone on my desk, I’d use it to make calls (sorry, I’m with Steve Jobs on this one: the killer app for (cell) phones is still making calls). Given my penchant for playing with tech toys, I’d probably play with all of the advanced features, too. And I’d learn which ones are actually useful for me (not necessarily the same ones for everyone, either). But I’m an “early adopter” and not everyone is – in fact, very few people are.

But the fact that the technology is there, and it’s being marketed and made available means that – if it’s useful – it will eventually be used.

Bringing a disruptive technology to market happens in stages. In order for a majority of customers to understand the technology, it has to fit into the context of something they do today. It can be better and different, but in this case, a phone is still a phone and makes calls and does some other cools stuff.

The important lessons for disruptive marketers: Only when it’s accepted that the disruptive technology can fit into common activities does it get the chance to realize its disruptive potential and begin to change those activities, or obviate them and create new ones.