Thursday, October 27, 2011

In Work & In Life: Fail Faster, Succeed Sooner

In order to succeed, you must fail, so you know what not to do the next time.

That’s a powerful and fitting quote that came to mind after reading a recent Wired article entitled “Why Do Some People Learn Faster?”

The Wired article makes the case that "education isn’t magic. Education is wisdom wrung from failure."

The key in my mind, though, is taking the action to “wring” a lesson from failure.

Faster, Sooner
It isn’t enough to “Fail Faster” as many pundits suggest.  The difference is to be mindful of the lesson the mistake (or “Fail”) teaches us.

Certainly David Kelley's "Fail Faster, Succeed Sooner" is a useful axiom, popular with engineers, industrial designers, creative folks and others.  

For me, the concept of "failing faster" impacts everything from my work life as a marketing consultant (Which marketing programs work? Which programs don’t? Email subject line resulted in poor open rates? Try something new next time.), to dog training techniques (Puppy is still pulling at the leash, time to try a halty), to the weight loss journey I am on (Still “failing” with mindless snacking during those challenging hours between 4PM – 7PM), to dealing with teen-aged sons.  (Well, I don't want to make this blog post too long so won't attempt any illustrative examples.)

A Way That Works

Failure is inevitable. The faster we move and learn through failure, the faster we find a way that works.

This is a powerful idea: doing things wrong is a prerequisite to doing things right. Move through the failure quickly, learn the most you can, and move on.

I Must Have Been Mistaken
At the end of the day, it would be a mistake to try to avoid all mistakes.

But it’s a mistake not to pay attention to the lesson the mistake offers.

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” ~Japanese Proverb

Monday, October 17, 2011

5 Tips for Work Teams: Lessons from Ethel the Dog

It was only a matter of time before Ethel infiltrated this blog.

We adopted Ethel, a black lab mix, as a 7-month old pup this past summer from the Alcona Humane Society up near our cabin in Northern Michigan.  

Before she came into our lives, Ethel spent her entire life in the shelter, lovingly cared for by the dedicated staff and volunteers at that well-run organization.

Ethel is a wonderful office-mate.  She listens when things get tough, and she shares her wisdom to keep me focused and on task each day.

Although still a puppy, Ethel knows a thing or two about the business world,  with specific wisdom for work teams.  

5 Lessons 
To be effective, any team - whether a department, a project team, or even a team of volunteers --  must set and maintain shared goals.

For marketing teams, one shared goal might be to expand market awareness for the product/service. Another shared goal might be to deliver quality leads to the sales team.  Yet it’s easy to get off course. 

Thus, here are five lessons from Ethel about being effective in our work lives.

1) Keep your focus – Nowhere is focus more clearly displayed than right before Ethel receives a bone or treat, or during a game of fetch with her ratty Frisbee.   Work teams must cultivate and maintain this same quality of focus to be effective.  Ignore those daily distractions, and keep a consistent focus on overall business goals.

2) Run, romp, and play daily – Ethel is a lot easier to be around when she gets to have 'fun time' each day.  Work teams are wise to keep those countless projects humming along, but don’t forget to insert some fun into each day.  There’s a lot of value in making fun a priority for a high performing work team.

3) Never pretend to be something you’re not – With Ethel, what you see is what you get. Not sure of how to perform a task or meet the next project benchmark?  Come clean, do the work needed to get up and running, and be authentic with your teammates.

4) Avoid biting when a simple growl will do – We encourage Ethel to think before she acts. When things get stressful, keep your cool!  Certainly speak up for yourself and be assertive, but tone down the aggression.

5) If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it – Ethel is a tireless digger when she’s exploring the sandy beach on the big lake. Sometimes teams can get off course; a project goes awry due to an underlying issue.  Work hard to dig into a solution, discover the underlying cause, and remedy whatever process issues there are in order to work more effectively.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The B2B Summit Recap Part II: Do You Cultivate a Customer Mindset?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about “mindfulness” lately - more related to my personal life than professional.  But in fact, mindfulness has a place in business-to-business marketing.

At its most fundamental, mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose” with a conscious direction of awareness.  Significantly different than simply being aware, a mindful mentality has purpose and focus.

A Mindful Focus on the Prospect
Last month’s MarketingSherpa B2B Summit offered a wonderful chance to meet and listen to Kristin Zhivago, a powerhouse marketing guru and author of several excellent books including “Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy.”

Zhivago advocates cultivating and maintaining a “customer mindset” or in other words, developing a mindful focus on the prospect.

Zhivago delivered an inspiring keynote on day two of the conference, which stressed the importance of aligning sales and marketing to the buying process. Essentially, she suggests a company reverse-engineer their recent successful sales, in order to manufacture new sales in quantity.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive
The process involves in-depth Interviews of customers and prospects to find out what their needs are, and the promises they want a company to keep. She then helps a company make and keep those promises with products, people, and processes.

Zhivago’s premise is powerful:  only a company’s customers can tell a company how they want to buy what the company sells.

There’s a lot more to her message, but the bottom-line is the importance of putting a mindful focus and awareness on the customer.

Roadmap to Revenue
The bulk of the book “Roadmap to Revenue” analyzes a customer’s buying stages, not a company’s selling stages (like that typical “sales funnel” everybody uses).  Zhivago  provides an overview of the buying cycle organized by levels of scrutiny a buyer gives a product or service (light; medium; heavy; intense).  She then delves into the marketing methods effective for each one.

It might be tempting to only read the buying process that applies to a particular scrutiny level, but be advised:  there are universal truths in each level.  

Scrutinizing Scrutiny
For example, a medium scrutiny seller can learn from light scrutiny techniques, and vice versa.  It is quite informative to read through each level and understand the marketing mix that applies to each one.

For those in the “intense scrutiny” buying cycle, Zhivago notes that referrals play a more significant role than in other categories.  The buyer decision is so important, with so much at stake, that the credibility of the referrer plays a greater part in the buyer’s decision to pursue a relationship with a specific vendor or company.

Zhivago then links this finding to an action:  she suggests building a database of satisfied customers who don’t mind being contacted by prospective customers, and keep track of how often their names are given out as a reference, so they don’t get “reference fatigue.”

The Power of Insight
Both Zhivago’s presentation at the conference, and her book, are a powerful reminder of the power and knowledge companies can glean from their happy customers.

In all, Zhivago has much to offer business-to-business marketers who are caught within their own four walls, guessing at what might motivate and inspired their prospects to buy.

Instead, she advocates paying attention “on purpose” to customers and prospects. A conscious "customer/prospect mindfulness' leads to positive business outcomes.

Learn More

Monday, October 10, 2011

The B2B Summit Recap Part I: It All Starts with a Unique Value Proposition

It’s been a few weeks since I returned from the MarketingSherpa BtoB Summit in Boston. 

What a worthwhile event – a great way to be in the company of experts from MECLabs, Marketing Sherpa, MarketingExperiments and of course all the interesting and marketing-focused attendees, many facing similar b-to-b marketing challenges.  I left charged up and equipped with actionable ideas to put into place at a variety of clients.

The Kick Off
One of the more interesting presentations was from MECLab’s leader Dr. Flint McLaughlin who kicked off the two-day event with a fundamental, central question… in business to business marketing, has the team taken the time to develop the company’s value proposition?

How telling that before the conference even delved into specific tactics such as social media marketing, web optimization, email marketing, campaign management, content management or other programs, the kick-off presentation focused on the issue of finding a compelling value proposition.

This reflects back on the old “What’s In It For Me” perspective I’ve written about many times here in this blog.  As Dr. Flint noted, the overarching question is:

If I am the “Ideal customer” why should I purchase XXX product/service rather than a product from your competitors?”

The question involves a deep dive into a company’s “ideal customer profile” and a customer-mindset. It involves taking a close look at the competition, and importantly, how messages are created, to see if they answer the most compelling force inherent in a product/service, a unique appeal to each segment.

There must be a compelling value communicated in each piece of content (web, email campaign, postcard, etc) and a way to differentiate a product/service from the competitor.

Don’t Start with a Logo
This approach takes work.  And frankly, sometimes it isn’t fun.  It can be easier to get caught up in tactical pursuits when kicking off a marketing program, like designing a new logo, brochure or website.

Dr. Flint provides us with a great reminder. It isn’t enough to be a tactical expert. It isn’t enough to focus on a new brochure, the number of form fields in a landing page, or the length of a direct email subject line.

It all begins with a customer mindset, and what would bring true value to that customer.  Then, using various tactics and messaging, finding a way to identify what motivates the ideal customer to make a purchase choice over all those other options out there.

Learn More

Check out their resource for more wisdom from these great marketing thought leaders at MECLabs, MarketingSherpa and Marketing Experiments.