Forgive me audience, it has been many months since my last post.

Mea Culpa! I succumbed to the most common malady in the blogosphere; I ran out of steam and stopped posting. To any of you that still have this blog under surveillance, I apologise.

Much has changed though since my last post. I am now a full time employee rather than an independent consultant and that brings with it certain obligations.

First up, I have to do what my employer wants me to do, no bad thing but there are deadlines and priorities which dictate availability of time and focus.

Secondly, I am a lot more focused on the telecommunications industry, rather than the broader tableau of cloud service providers.

Thirdly, given the focus of my work and the offerings of my employer (www.pega.com) the subject matter of my observations and conclusions have shifted a little from integrated marketing and sales to integrated marketing and sales of enterprise IT into the global telecommunications market.

So, confessions out of the way, let’s get onto the absolution; writing more stuff.

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Tell Me. What Do You Do?

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Like many people, the start of the new year was a time for me to do a little professional house keeping.  not cleaning houses for money, I’d be rubbish at that because I can’t even clean my own house very well for free.  No I mean cleaning up my laptop filing system, clearing the back log of emails and tidying up my social networks.  I took the opportunity to go through the list of people who I follow on Twitter and add them to lists that group them into my areas of interest.  For example I have lists for “B2B marketing,” “Social media,” “Cloud Computing” etc.

The way that the twitter interface works means that I can see a full list of all the people who I follow, and then I can select an individual and add them to one of my defined lists.  However, that view doesn’t give me a snapshot of that person’s headline, I just get to see their last tweet.  At that time of year, that was mostly a carry over from Christmas or a New Year’s greeting; not very informative.

I Want to Know You Before I Meet Your Pets.

Here’s the thing: I was staggered at how many people had a meaningless headline (bio) on their Twitter page.  For those people who I was not able to categorise because I couldn’t remember what they tweeted about the most, I had to go to their Twitter home page.  With a bio that talks about how many children or pets they have or that they are “internauts” or “visionaries” or some such left me clueless about what interests them.

Your followers should know exactly what you tweet about because you are consistent in your tweets.  Even if it’s two or three subject areas.  That’s fine.  You can continue to mix in some other tweets about your favourite sports team or that you’re trapped in a plane on the runway in a snow storm.  What ever.

@Tolstoy: I Write Epic Novels.

Now I may not see all of your tweets; let’s face it, once you get past 40 or 50 on your follow list, it’s tough for me to see every tweet.  But for heaven’s sake, make your Twitter Bio relevant to what you want people to know about you. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace, just a short but descriptive sentence; “I help startup companies get the finance they need to expand,” or “I’m at the forefront of poodle grooming fashions.” You decide but at least make it easy to work out from your bio.

Deciding whether or not to follow someone is like channel surfing on the TV; click! You’re gone!

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Skype Outage: Telcos Take Note

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Yesterday you may have experienced or at least read about a loss of service from Skype.  At time of writing there still seems to be some issues but they are not uniformly distributed.

I use Skype a lot, both personally and professionally. I pay them money every month and love their services. I happened to be out during yesterday’s interuption of service but I saw that there had been an issue when I returned to my PC.

I’m sure that there are executives in “traditional” telecommunications companies that are rubbing their hands together in glee and saying things like “We knew that they would have a problem with availability and quality of service. Ha! Now customers know the real value of paying us every month for a real telephone service.”

In looking around the web last night and today, I definitely saw mention in the press, on Twitter, facebook and LinkedIn that Skype was having problems. What I didn’t see was subscribers and industry pundits howling in rage and indignation that they had lost service or been cut off mid call. It was merely an acknowledgement that there were issues and that it would probably be fixed soon.

There lies the huge gulf between the old world of telecommunications and the new. Can you imagine BT, France Telecom or AT&T losing 10 million calls? There would be a blood bath. Why? Because those companies’ subscribers don’t think that they’re getting a fair deal. They feel as though they have been ripped off and have suffered poor customer service for so long that any disruption is simply unconscionable.

Skype, however, provides such a wonderful service at a “fair” price that when they have problems, and they had serious problems yesterday, their subscribers are happy to put up with it and even applaud them in their efforts to put it right. Now I know that traditional telcos have huge investments in network infrastructure and services like Skype could not exist without them, but I think that consumers and businesses have repaid that debt to the telcos a long time ago. 

There’s a lesson here. Certainly for telecommunications companies but I think for all service providers. Give your customers what they want at a fair price and don’t take advantage of them, just because you can.

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Make Yourself Heard Above The Noise

 

Photo Credit: Ame Otoko on Flickr

Dan Zarrella, an academic who specialises in the science behind social media, wrote a blog article about how listeners to social media are turned off by people and companies that talk about themselves all the time.  No surprise there.  It’s the same in real life.

He also pointed out that novelty is a big factor that drives interest and propagation of messages via social media.   Again, like real life.  So the trick for sales and marketing people is how do you keep your messages fresh  and interesting and keep away from banging on about how good your products or services are?

Nobody Cares What You Think (About Yourself)

The way that I look at it is to try to find the things that occupy the minds of your target audience or potential customers.  I like to keep a good handle on the industry movements, especially those things that stir some debate or controversy.  This provides me with good conversation starters and topics that can lead towards discussions of challenges that I know that I can help my clients to address.

I also like to read about other areas of creativity and innovation, keeping my mind open to things that might be applicable to the conversations that I am having.  For example, back in 2005, I read the original Wired article by Chris Anderson where he put forward his ideas about the Long Tail of business in the digital world.  At the time, I was employed to develop business for a new category of solution for service providers to help them launch new digital services to consumers and businesses.

I used the Long Tail concept to open conversations with my potential customers about how the ability to launch new services very rapidly and at almost no incremental cost would become the difference between success and failure for service providers.  Perhaps it was a bit of a stretch, but the point is that the conversation was about the challenges of rapid service delivery and of whether the Long Tail was valid in this context or not. 

My Widget’s Bigger Than Yours

We weren’t talking about whether my widget was better than the next guy’s, or whether 99.999% availability was important or not.  Those are product discussions which need to happen at some point, but I was able to open things up and establish a level of credibility which made the product discussions easier and happen later in the buying cycle.  As Mr. Zarrella says, I spoke as myself, not about myself.  I introduced novelty and interest for my audiences.

Turning the Tide

Here’s another example of how a company has spoken as themselves to say something different to everyone else.  In this New York Times Article, a local dry cleaner in Kansas City has increased revenue despite a global brand like Tide, opening a franchised outlet near by.  Joe Runyan, the founder of Hangers Cleaners says in the article:

“The entrance of Tide into our market forced us to consider how we’re different, what we can do that someone else won’t be able to replicate.”

They focused on unique services like pick up and delivery and on using social media to communicate their quirky and edgy messages to their customers.

Increase Relevance, Not Volume

We have all heard about how social media has changed the way that buyers evaluate purchases.  However, the level of noise that now exists and continues to grow and compete for your buyers’ attention is immense.  To raise yourself above that noise get noticed and to have your messages heard, find ways to pique interest and to bring something new and fresh to the conversations.

How To Develop Your Own Voice

Find out what those audience interests are.  Develop your own styles of communications and use broad-based content to become recognised as a company or an individual that has something meaningful to say and is not bleating with the rest of the flock.  Don’t be afraid to link your messages to things totally outside of your industry or completely off topic.  As long as you can draw a credible link, you will gain ground on your competitors.  Above all, let other people talk about you whilst you lead the conversations and have your audience hanging on your every word.

I’d love to hear about ways that you turn your conversations into the centrepiece of conversations with your customers and prospects.  Leave a comment.

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Hear that Thump?…

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..that’s the sound of your last remaining audience member’s head hitting the desk.  Now, as this is a webinar that you’re hosting, the thump is imaginary because the communication is primarily in one direction (please put your phones on mute.)

Is it any wonder that people dialled into these sessions take other calls without muting their microphones, or process email or catch up on facebook and twitter?  How rude of them since you have taken the time and trouble to prepare your content.  How rude of you!  Not to take their needs into account during that preparation.

I confess to a crime: I wasted 45 minutes.

I participated in a webinar yesterday, hosted by the regional manager for a large technology company.  I use the term “participated” very loosely as my host was definitely in broadcast mode.  He used a monotone voice with slide after slide of market research results with no conclusions, no engagement (save for a few questions submitted via the chat window at the end) and no value for me.  Worst of all, there was no call to action.  In my view this was a huge waste of time, resources and opportunity.  I wasted my time, he wasted his time as I’m sure that he has not achieved his aims.  Most of all, we have all wasted an opportunity to move our games forward by exchanging value.

Webinars, or web conferences or webcasts or what ever you want to call them, are becoming a standard feature on today’s business calendars.  It could be internal to your company for training or information transfer, it could be external to partners or customers or prospects.  The benefits of using this channel of communication are many fold and the barriers to entry are low.  They are relatively cheap to host and to attend, much more flexible because they’re cheap and because there is no physical location associated with them.  You can record them for people who miss the live version or want to review the content later and they still allow for a modicum of interaction, live or queued, between the host and the audience.  The disadvantages are that you cannot see your audience so you can’t gain immediate feedback on their levels of interest or whether they seem to agree with you or are skeptical.  The barriers to exit are very low so your audience is free to disengage at any time and you won’t even know it.  People will be reading email, surfing the web, sending IM and tweets, walking off or taking other phone calls.  Anything but listen to you droning on about your topic of the moment.

8 Ways to Deliver Better Webinars.

Here is my take on how to make the most of hosting a webinar.  Keep in your mind that your audience is more likely to do something else than to listen or engage with you, so you have to amplify your engagement tactics to keep them with you. Here are some ideas:

  1. Tell your audience where you will be taking them during the session. At least they know when you arrive at the punchline and whether they should stay for the ride.  Tell them how they will benefit from staying with you for the duration.
  2. Vary your presentation tactics and delivery to keep interest.  Change your tone of voice, change the presenter, use video, take questions two or  three times during the session and not just at the end, hold a straw poll to set up your next point or to verify your assumptions.
  3. Don’t lean on your slides for support.  As with face-to-face presentation, your slides are only visual aids to the delivery of your messages.  The slides are not the presentation.
  4. Liven up you presentation by making it real; include anecdotes and case studies, add real customer quotes or sound bytes from industry leaders, ask your audience members to contribute their own experiences.
  5. Use the tools available to you to engage the audience and gather feedback.  Most web conference tools have chat facilities.  Have an assistant handle questions via chat or via an external IM system so that you can gauge how the messages are being received and where potential areas of concern or confusion exist.
  6. One of the best tools available to you is Twitter.  Create a hashtag for your webinar and publicise it in the meeting invitations and at the start of the session.  Have your assistant monitor the hashtag and respond throughout the session.  Mention some of the tweets during the session to show that you’re listening and that feedback is important to you. There are multiple benefits to doing this;  questions will come through this channel, you’ll get feedback on what people think of your presentation (“I love this guy!” or “Groan! What a waste of time!”)  If you’re really good, members of your audience will be tweeting key points of your presentation to their followers, they’ll be competing with each other to do it first, almost as the words leave your lips.  Think about that for a moment.  You may have 50 people dialled in to your webinar.  If 30% of them are tweeting about it, and each of them has an average of 150 followers (low estimate), your message could reach another 2250 people.  That’s leverage.
  7. Use a chat show format to spice things up a little.  Present stimulus content up front to set the scene then hold a conversation with a domain or subject matter expert followed by a summary.  Use the feedback channels to put audience questions directly to the expert.
  8. Make sure that you have a call to action to complete the session.  Even if it’s a simple case of having people register for a newsletter, or to download accompanying content.  Preferably, the call to action is actually the primary aim of the session; generate sales appointments, sign up to a partner programme, enroll in a training course.  Offer a prize or a reward of some sort as an added incentive.  If you don’t do this you are wasting an enormous opportunity. 

Remember, even though they’re invisible to you, the members of your audience are real people.  You have to treat them as human beings and not as little coloured icons on your webinar dashboard.  Think about what they want in return for giving you their attention.  Ask yourself what would make you rate the webinar as 5 stars if you were in their shoes.

Used correctly, web conferences are a really valuable way to touch a lot of people an a time and cost-effective way.  Done badly, you could turn people away from your company, products or messages and you won’t even know that they have gone.

Leave your own tips, good and bad, in the comment section.

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Copying Increases Innovation

© is the copyright symbol

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Recently, a friend of mine (thanks Steve) put me onto a TED talk by Johanna Blakley about how the fashion industry has almost no copyright protection what so ever. You may find this a little odd given the nature of fashion designs and the industry that feeds on it.  However, it makes sense to me that since a fashion design can be easily and legally copied, designers must be so much more innovative and prolific to bring out something new and fresh each season.

In fact, this process of design innovation and subsequent replication by high street stores and knock-off artists provides a symbiosis because the copying produces trends and trends drive sales.  Sales drive revenue and profit which drives more innovation.  You could say that the fashion industry needs this copying to happen to sustain its viability.  This point is very graphically illustrated during the talk by a graph of overall industry size of non-copyrighted industries (like fashion) versus heavily copyrighted industries (like mainstream entertainment.) Fashion wins hands down.

An Idea Shared is an Idea Doubled.

Applying this logic to the broader business world leads me to think about how, if we share our ideas and concepts openly and freely, perhaps we could drive more innovation.  This would be hard to get rolling on a macro level; facebook will be tough to unseat even if they gave their code away.  However, at a micro level, the personal level, perhaps it could be easier than we think.  To a certain degree this is going on anyway.  You have only got to spend a little time in the blogosphere to see that ideas are shared and then built upon and how many times have you seen the same tweet flutter past, sent from a few different people?

The sharing and development of knowledge and ideas is where I think that this could work in a business context.  Not in terms of sharing your idea for a business so that someone can steal it, but in the context of how business can be conducted.  How customers can be better served, how partnerships and collaborations can be built so as to accelerate the advent of better ways to work and to provide products and services.  This ties in with a post that I wrote a week or two ago about sharing knowledge.  It’s tough to strike a balance between being open for innovation and retaining competitive advantage, but I think that we will only be able to gain competitive advantage by innovating more quickly and more creatively than others whilst building on the ideas of other, smart people.  Not even the smartest person is as smart as everyone in the room.

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Which is More Important. Sales or Marketing?

Team Pursuit

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Some years ago, I was working in a developing market as part of a tight-knit team of field sales people.  One evening, I walked into the office of one of the sales guys to hear him finishing a phone conversation with one of our corporate marketing people.  He was clearly agitated and when he ended the call, the air turned blue with the expletives that he felt compelled to share with me.  I waited minute and then said to him “Marc, remember how you feel right now.  Remember this when you go back to corporate marketing.”  You see, Marc had joined our team from corporate marketing and was now experiencing life on the frontline of sales.  It was very likely, that after his two-year secondment was over, he would return to corporate marketing.

In reality, there is no reason that marketing and sales should be so separate.  In fact, in my opinion, there ought to be no separation at all.  Fully integrated sales and marketing is the only way that you can maximise the impact and efficiency of your go-to-market programme.  However, there is no doubt that there are parts of the GTM process that lend themselves to what we call marketing, but as a marketer, how can you bridge that gap if it exists between your teams today?

6 Ways to Make Sure Your Marketing is Aligned with Sales

  1. Interview your best sales people to gain insight into how their customers respond to your value propositions.  Do they have to “adjust” the messaging on the fly or do they even use their own messaging based on experience, industry and customer knowledge?
  2. Visit a few customers and ask them how they educate and inform themselves about what’s going on in your industry.  Ask them which channels they prefer to use to pick up that knowledge.
  3. Ask those same customers if the conversations that they have with sales people from your company match up with the messages that you are trying to communicate to your target audiences.  If not, make sure that you don’t leave until you work out how the differences have come about.
  4. Draft one of your sales people onto your marketing team to help you develop and implement your go-to-market programme.  They will give you the “field” view of things and help you to tune into the sales teams and the customers themselves.
  5. Ride shotgun with a few sales teams that are in different stages of their sales cycles so that you can get a snapshot for how they are shaping their campaigns, how the customers are responding and if there are ways that you can help shorten the buying process.
  6. Make sure that you are providing the sales teams with messaging, proof points and engagement tools for each stage of the buying process.  Marketing’s job doesn’t end with a lead list.  Work with The sales teams to build a lead nurturing programme to capture those leads that are not yet ready to buy from your company.

In the end, Marketing has no purpose without successful sales and Sales cannot succeed without good marketing.  Working together, both can succeed by making sure that they are in-tune with their customers and with each other so that they can align each element of the GTM process towards the ultimate objective; helping the customer to reach a decision in your favour.

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