Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Defense Of The Remote-Worker, And Why Offices Don't Work

The right investments matter in the business world - people, software, systems, processes. The wrong investment can make or break how fast you win or lose. However, with all the good investments out there, is the office the right one? Is a building/rent/lease/office-chairs-for-everyone one of the best choices to launch your product or service? I'm speaking about the tech world here, and in some cases it is. But in most cases, it isn't. This post is a defense of the remote worker (and if you don't want to read my rant, by all means watch the TEDTalk by Jason Fried, creator of Basecamp - 37Signals).

Having worked for mostly tech start-ups in my career, I've had the special privilege of working with the passionate, immensely-dedicated and powerfully intelligent. Start-up people are as special type. They don't quit, until they are forced to! I love it! With all that energy, ego and effort, can you imagine them being crammed in the office? Pizza-Friday would be total nightmare! The best start-ups I've worked with haven't invested wholly in an office, but offered a remote-working setting whereby the culture was built with trust and dedication to delivering the product. And I believe this is the best path for a start up. But what about beyond the start up?

One can make the argument for a remote-worker environment in the corporate world too. For starters, let's talk about talent. For tech leads as well as sales (key positions), talent matters most. Is it important to have the leash on your VP of Architecture, or would you rather hire a stud in Oklahoma City while keeping your HQ in Zion, UT (I mean, are there really a lot of chief technology architects in Zion? Maybe, but maybe not). Do you think this tech lead would want to move away from her family? Probably not. Do you think, if you made this request, they would move anyway? Yes, for 5x more the pay! So now you've lost money hiring this tech stud in Oklahoma, as she is now the most highly paid employee. Furthermore, she's pissed because she had to leave her family - there goes the productivity!

Next, there was a reason the movie Office Space was so funny! Just like Fried explains above, Managers and Meetings don't mix with Productivity and Success! An office just exacerbates politics and idea-conflict (something I plan to write about next). cramming people into a space doesn't make them instantly smarter and more capable. Instead, I'd argue for an open environment where the office IS a resource, not a burden. The office IS a place where people connect. The office IS a place where people can grow ideas. The office IS NOT a place where you go to work. The office IS NOT a place where you hate to go. The office IS NOT your headquarters and the brand. People are, and so is the product - invest there!

If you're in manufacturing, service or hospitality an office is worthy (although those landscapes are changing too with the peer-to-peer economy). I'm not saying that an office is always a bad idea, but one that needs to be carefully considered. An office investment needs to be about something different, something important. It shouldn't be a symbol of excellence, but an environment where people create excellence. If that was the culture of our office spaces, there would be an Office Space part II, but with a positive spin on the case of the Mondays

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sales And Marketing Lines Blurred Again - Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed the nature of sales process and CRM. The point of my post centered on how the great salespeople have a natural tendency to build networks of people that help drive their success. And that marketers have a bad habit of getting in the way of that!

In this post, I hope to center on messaging. To start, how many times have you seen a sales rep hold up marketing collateral and say, "really, we are sending this out? What does this even mean?" The sales rep is commenting on the gloriousness that marketers can't help but add to marketing materials (some call it fluff). Yes, we are addicted to it! However, the fluff doesn't sell, nor does your grand vision. What sells are stories about users engaging with your app, and simple bullet lists about features. Does your app do x, y or z? Yes or no? The best collateral is binary and simple, not so confusing that people lose you on the paragraph about how you want to change the world (so stop saying that shit).

Messaging is about clearly communicating to an audience that wants to hear you (where marketing can assist, greatly). It is telling great stories, and exciting people to spend another five minutes with you. It is 100% sales! Yes, I'm selling you to stay five more minutes because I might entertain or educate you to buy something (or spend your time doing something). That's not marketing, that's selling! 

And so the lines are blurred again... Marketers have an even tougher job now. We are burdened with two very important tasks... 1, trying to support the sales team with wonderful collateral and 2, developing a work-flow to support lead generation. If marketing is doing anything else, I'd suggest either firing them, or calling them Product Marketing (where the focus might be on developing spec sheets for the products you're selling to support engineering). Whatever the case, we need to think more about selling and less about brand. Frankly, your brand attributes are truly developed when someone takes a risk with your product or service (they either buy it or will spend time with it - that's consumers taking a risk). If your product delivers on the FEATURES and not the LIFE-CHANGING reality you've pitched, then you've won a fan, and grown your brand.

A few things to think about in developing messaging:
  1. Does it sell? If you're messaging comes off as "afraid to present a price" then you've lost! Present a sell, or the process to exchanging money for your product. 
  2. Does it excite? Any great sales rep makes you feel wonderful! They get to know you personally, and not only that, excite you to talk more. The nature of your collateral needs to focused on creating an exciting feeling - I want to buy now! 
  3. Does it inform? Sales is about exchanging binary information (this product does x, y and z). If your collateral isn't informational then you're wasting my time as a buyer! 
  4. Does it get to the point? See above... Don't waste my time! 
The best marketers aren't actually marketers, but advertising reps! When you think about it, marketing is just a big harry process map. What advertisers learned was how to sell products and services, not how to present silly vision maps about changing the world. Check out the video people from one of the best ad men ever! The point he makes is selling makes the world great (at least that's what I got out of it). 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Sales And Marketing Line, Blurred Again... Part 1

In the book Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell details how great successes are driven by little things. One of those things is people. And one type of person that helps products/ideas succeed is the Salemen (and women) (or charismatic people with powerful negotiating skills). Their passion is to evangelize the solution, service or the wisdom derived from an idea. They can't help it, and the best make ideas contagious. However, as great as the gift of gab is, I've realized one very important trait that the great Salesmen have - building networks of people that believe in what you say so much, they'll sell it for you. This is the true power of sales... And this is what I'd like to explore in a series of  posts... Let me start with a rant...

Now, let's look at marketing strategy, and think about the above paragraph. Do we see a conflict...? Isn't it marketing's job to build the network? My quick answer... No, read on...

When you really dig in to CRM (customer relationship management) you realize one important thing... It is all sales, marketing is just supporting the objective...

There is this tendency to capture process in such a way as to lose the creative instincts of your sales reps. Marketing is, at times, largely to blame for this. As marketers, we can't help ourselves in trying to implement CRM systems to capture data for use later in campaigns. However, by complicating the sales process to such a degree, you restrict the customer buying experience into systematic and boring processes. Innovation dies here... What is more effective, I'd argue, is a more fluid approach to the sales process where, for example, sales has the flexibility to co-create marketing materials (using marketing as a source, not a command and control branding center). A truly effective sales rep is hunting/gathering/building on his own, and developing a network that will want to buy from him. If you rely on too much marketing automation to do all this, you're going to lose the juicy nuggets from the sales team (and we get enough spam already). My prior post on culture touched on (getting ideas from the team) leveraging internal knowledge and acting on it. But do most organizations do this?

I've implemented Salesforce.com in several organizations now, and although I'm a raving fanboy of Salesforce.com, I've realized there isn't something right here. Why is the campaign functionality so weak. Why are CRM systems built with sales "outreach" as the last step and not the first. In other words, so much attention is paid to data entry and reporting that we miss the fundamental of sales - communicating! The lines of marketing and sales should be blurred as sales reps gain more insight into web analytics and branding - seems like we need less marketers and more Smarketers (oh boy made up words). Now empower your sales team with the ability to run micro campaigns, and you have a CRM system that truly nets you more deals, not more process! In the future, I see sales reps as truly mini-marketing engines with more power at their disposal.

So, do you agree? Could it be that we start to see a blend of sales/marketing personnel? Are we fundamentally looking for a more engaged sales rep with marketing, sales, CRM, content and web analytics skills? Should we be developing this in our teams?

In my next post, I'm going to explore the idea of Social Selling - where the idea of network building came about anyway...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Is Culture A Process?

Like most of us, when I hear the word "culture" I start rolling my eyes... But time and again, I keep seeing examples of how a vague cultural process can lessen the potential of an organization. Frankly, vague is how I describe business culture anyway, so I'm starting to wonder why I'm writing this post. However, as a sales and marketing strategist, and one bent on process management (CRM), I believe in the value of workflow. So I must think that culture can be a process too... Let's think on this...

I'd like to explore culture from the perspective of a remote software business. Let's face it, remote workers are the future, so helping them navigate a culture is likely one of the most important jobs of the CEO and leadership team. But how is this done?

To start, I have to say that I'm fortunate to work with a CEO that's sensitive to employee needs. I've learned that having close working relationship as well as "knowing" your employees more will net you large dividends. So, step 1, get to know your employees with a weekly or monthly check in. In another company, I saw the CEO open the product management process to several team members (outside of the normal product team). This was a brilliant move! Employees that had a direct role with customers were able to feedback on what the isolated product team was building. Furthermore, excitement about the product direction and features trickled down to other teams. So, step 2, involve many team members in the user story debates (agile). Don't let misinformation hurt your product's success. Probably the most powerful cultural tactic I've ever seen was a teaching process developed by a sales executive during his morning boiler-room meetings (a group let's kill it today meeting). He would, on a conference call, discuss three things he learned from his team members during the previous sales calls that day. He made it a point to teach, and pass on knowledge. So, step 3, create a learning organization by teaching what you've learned. Don't let little kernels of knowledge slip into oblivion - teach! And that's all I got for now...
  1. Get to know your employees! Understand their fears, needs, wants, concerns... Open up the path of understanding (pretty much a core need of all humans)
  2. Involve and engage! Don't just play lip service to this. Actually bring in other team members to council you on your innovation and product development. 
  3. Create a learning organization! This doesn't mean buying an expensive Learning Management System or having VP of Teaching. It simply means you know people are sharing knowledge, and they want to! 
There is a lot of trust with culture, but that's all you can really do... If you don't trust it, and try to manage it with "outside experts" you might already be in trouble. Just get the behaviors right, and the best culture will emerge. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Ultimate Come Back - David Chappelle On David Letterman

Of all the comedians, I hope David Chappelle actual does come back... Check out his interview with David Letterman last night!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The One Thing Your Product Needs To Prove

This brilliant video post by Steven Blank (product management expert) got me thinking about the ever discussed MVP, or minimally viable product. In short, the MVP is what you eventually strip away from your software to reach a very specific value prop based on two things:
  1. Your app/solution is solving very specific pains for the user, and
  2. Will the user see/understand the benefits of solving that pain
In other words, are you actually solving a the right (or big enough) problem! But the one thing your product process really needs to prove, above all else, is will they pay for it?!?!?

It is all about risk. Will your customer (not user, but a buyer) pay for what you're offering and can they clearly articulate the value proposition? I'm not talking about intangible things like: oh, it allows us to communicate more effectively. No, I want to hear things like: we have lost at least $1m because of the lack of direct communication links between our franchisee locations, and this happens every year. We would be happy to pay $150 a month for your solution, or more. Getting to this answer, based on the right questions is likely the hardest job in software planning.

My point is this... Determine how much your customers will RISK paying for, in lieu of just running with assumptions that you're app is solving a great problem. Does this make sense? Let me rephrase this... If you've only tested your product theory or MVP and not your business model, you're going to get seriously stuck! Think: will people buy this?