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Listening At Scale: 4 Ways To Build Customer-Centricity

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Chief Marketing Officer Denise Karkos joined what is now TD Ameritrade in 2006 and has seen a lot of changes in her tenure there. The bank is a fixture in the world of investing, with over 360 branches and numerous recognitions over its 40-year history. In 2016, it bought Scottrade, “which doubled the size of our sales force and blended two cultures,” Karkos explained. This created new opportunities and challenges for aligning sales and marketing and refining her own leadership in the process.

Starting with Employee Engagement

Since the acquisition, she has "been working to create the best playbooks knowing that in some cases Scottrade had more experience, branches, and tenure to apply,” Karkos offered. “We want to make the combination the best it can be.” This required a large emphasis on listening and communication to ensure the right practices endure and that everyone is aware of the new direction.

“Never underestimate the importance of internal communications,” Karkos advised. “We have 11,000 associates. It can be overwhelming, but is very important to make sure that they all know the strategy and what we are trying to do.” This applies to what happens in the branches with product offerings for local clients, and in the larger marketplace as she builds the brand.

“One of the things that has been important is for us to preview commercials with our associates, to celebrate successes, and even sharing our digital campaigns,” she continued. “I like to share our world with our internal audiences. The advertising is fun, so we invite associates to the set of our commercials and even invite them to be in the spots.” This has led to business-impacting innovation.

“We were working on a commercial for our customers and decided to do some testing with our front-line employees,” she said. “I flew out to our call center and listened to phone calls and we did focus groups with associates.” They watched the rough-cut ad and a dialogue emerged. “One associate said that when he talks to traders the conversations are like therapy sessions. The investor is nervous.” They want to make the right choice and there are a lot of things to consider, which are often outside the domain or professional experience of the client. “They want to know if their decisions are sound,” she recalled. The associate "went on to say that his approach is to invite the client with an invitation: ‘Buddy, let’s talk it out.’” Light bulbs went off around the room and that line made it into the revised ad. “It was important to use the voice of actual conversations. Taking the time to listen to the words customers use," she offered. "In a world when people are uneasy and there is distrust, straight talk goes a long way,” Karkos concluded.

Listening Deeply to Customers

“We do a ton of qualitative and quantitative research to gain insights from consumers,” Karkos explained. “One of the themes that came up time and time again is that the old-school notion of ‘leaving a legacy’ is a superficial insight. It’s more about the emotional insight underneath that. It is about providing safety and security for their family. They want their kids to be okay.” Digging deeper into this theme created a new opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional level.

“We ran a spot around Father’s Day last year where we wrote new lyrics for the Harry Chapin classic ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ to reflect contemporary fatherhood,” Karkos said. “It was a tear-jerker. We previewed the commercial at a sales meeting to 300 of our retail associates and when I looked over the crowd and saw a bunch of tears.” They knew they had something of impact. “Our associates were sending it to their customers knowing that it would appreciate it and be touched by it as well,” Karkos added. Just the kind of viral behavior you want in an advertising campaign.

Over the subsequent months, we started getting stories back from the field. Memories of their own fathers. Stories about their sons. We received videos that they had shot themselves. It prompted a different conversation. With our associates and with their customers.”

“I am held accountable to revenue and profitability and although that ad campaign wasn’t our most profitable investment, I would do it again because of the impact it had internally.” The ad went on to be recognized as a 2017 Clio Music Shortlisted entry for use of music in a short form film.

Aligning Across Functions

“In order to make our customers successful, we need to make our associates successful,” Karkos continued. To understand "a day in their life” and let that influence investment, policies, and processes.

“Right now, it is cumbersome for them to know what ads and offers are in the market.” Due to the expansion of the business and legacy technologies, associates had to reference multiple systems. “We are in the process of developing and rolling out a customer relationship management system that allows a single sign-on and a complete look at the customer journey. This should be a game changer and make their job easier.” It is important to look at the marketing (and sales) technology stack holistically to see the impact on processes across the organization. “You want to innovate with clients,” Karkos added, “but you can’t put the burden on the back of salespeople. We measure share of wallet, but there are steps in the process before share of wallet that need visibility.”

And alignment doesn’t stop there. “We not only have to align with sales as there are other parts of the organization with whom we need to partner. For instance, finance,” Karkos offered.

“Our industry has a necessary evil called ‘offers.’ These are the promotions you see that offer free trades or cash incentives for opening up accounts,” she explained. “We market into a competitive space and we have to be responsive to what is being seen in the market. We have a budget for promotions and in highly-contested markets would often find ourselves out of budget and at a disadvantage.” This was unacceptable in the growth ambitions of the group.

Karkos was able to work with the finance team to “revisit the treatment of these offers to allow us more flexibility. This is the kind of alignment you only get when you are focused on the same growth and profitability goals.”

Demonstrating Leadership

Although Karkos has been in the CMO role for five years, she has reported to the CEO for less than two. This reporting structure and expanded scope have changed the role. “This position in the organization has caused me to focus not just on the ROI of the marketing mix and emerging trends in the industry, but also to drive for better investment decision making overall,” she observed. “Sometimes that means investments in marketing when we are confident that would lead to growth. Other times it is investments in sales or technology with analogous metrics.”

Advocating beyond functional boundaries for the good of the business is an important shift in the maturation of marketing leaders. “There is growth we can get in the industry and we need to make smart investments,” Karkos explains. “I have learned to step back and think more strategically about how I show up in those conversations. Not just representing marketing, but representing the business overall.”

This article was originally published on Forbes.

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4 Ways to Avoid Data Breaches Through Sales and Marketing Alignment

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4 Ways to Avoid Data Breaches Through Sales and Marketing Alignment

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Data breaches and privacy vulnerabilities splash across the headlines each week and cost businesses millions and some of the blame may lie in the misalignment of sales and marketing.

These announcements unseat executives, obliterate market value, shake the confidence of customers, necessitate awkward Senate hearings, and damage the brand for the long term. All of us can think of companies that have been adversely affected by this violation of trust, and the impact is significant across industries.

According to the 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study by Ponemon, sponsored by IBM IBM +0.46%, the average cost of a data breach in the US is $7.91 million in direct and indirect expenses and another $4.2 million was the average loss of business following a breach. But even for smaller incidents, each stolen record costs the business $233, which is up 4.8% since last year. It doesn’t take many compromised records to have that figure add up.

And perhaps more shocking, the average global probability of a material breach in the next 24 months is 27.9%. That means, nearly a third of companies will have a data breach next year, which means that nearly a third of customers could be victims of data vulnerabilities.

As you might imagine, the faster the data breach can be detected, the lower the cost and brand impact. Companies that identified a breach in less than 100 days saved more than $1 million than their peers that took the average of 197 days. But better yet, companies can avoid costly breaches by evaluating their systems and processes and preventing problems from ever occurring.

How does this relate to sales and marketing misalignment? The Data Breach Study attributes 27% of breaches to “human error” and 25% to “system glitches.” These combine to cause most data vulnerabilities. Because the systems used by sales and marketing contain some of the richest customer data and largest user populations with access to data they represent a significant business risk hiding in plain sight.

Here are four areas in which you can assess your risk of a breach and some best practices to address each:

1. Beware of Separate MarTech and SalesTech Stacks

If you hang around a modern marketing organization you will hear terms bantered around frequently: CMS, marketing automation, sales enablement platforms, e-commerce, customer relationship management or sales force automation tools. These are often abbreviated “MarTech” (as in Marketing Technology) or SalesTech (Sales Technology). And it is not uncommon to have these systems in organizational silos without integration, data synchronization, or a common view of the customer. “Multiple applications, in many cases, have duplicate data to accomplish the same objective,” commented Joan Netzel, CPA and professional board member, former group vice president and internal auditor for SunTrust Banks and former CFO of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. “One key risk is that the data is not accurate from system to system, which poses a problem with reporting and decision making.” This has implications on the customer experience, management effectiveness, compliance with GDPR and other regulations, and the ability of the organization to fully leverage relationships, but it holds another risk: it can make your systems more susceptible to data vulnerabilities.  Companies are quick to overlook the data breaches that happen every day when territory salespeople leave the company and take contacts and contract details of clients with them on their personal devices.

Actions you can take: Look closely at the integration or duplication of systems between sales and marketing and the access rights to each. Often misalignments in annual objectives and management styles can manifest in system proliferation, each with a different set of access controls. And don’t forget the hidden sales systems that exist in employee’s email inboxes, contact directories on their phones, shared drives, or on spreadsheets, outside the formal CRM systems.

2. Beware of System Proliferation

It is not uncommon in large companies or companies that have grown through acquisition to have a number of competing systems all in simultaneous operation. One company may have dozens of separate CRM instances or point solutions in the sales and marketing space, across multiple vendors and hosting models. With this disarray in their system ecosystem, vulnerabilities around data usage and access are often hidden in the mix.

Plus, the features of these robust and expensive platforms go under-utilized. As author and consultant David Taber wrote for CIO Magazine “no amount of ‘best in breed’ features will make a difference if their data is an uncoordinated mess.”

Furthermore, systems tend to multiply when governance is not strong.  In organizations of all sizes, shadow IT organizations (or “hidden factories”) can build and implement solutions in the organization without explicit organizational approval.  This is becoming increasingly easier in a world of cloud computing or when applications are offered in Software as a Service (SaaS) business models, where anyone with budget authority can implement solutions, without the technical expertise previously required for on-premises installations. This ease of database provisioning and application deployment in the cloud has real benefits to the enterprise, of course, but it can exacerbate organizational dysfunction. And the ubiquity of API-style connections between tools makes sharing sensitive data with third-parties easier than ever before.

Actions you can take: Building on the investigation above, conduct a full inventory of the systems used at your company that store or share customer data of any type. Review the data policies of your vendors. You will likely be shocked by how many systems are in use and can put a plan into place to streamline and consolidate as required.

3. Beware of System of Record and Data Ownership Ambiguity

“Decisions around technology platforms need a holistic approach,” continued Netzel.  Never is this truer than when companies are determining their systems of record: the computer system or application which will serve as the company’s authoritative data source for customer data. Not the pet system of one department or the other, but for the enterprise as a whole. “The customer demographic data regarding sales and products, need to be in sync with the system of record and a reconciliation of that data in separate systems needs to be designed and performed periodically,” Netzel advised. It is critical that each system has a “data owner who is responsible for determining who has access to the data and for how long,” explained Donna Gallaher, an IT and cybersecurity advisor who holds active CISSP, C|CISO, and CIPP/E certifications. “That data owner should be tracking exceptions and ensuring that access is removed when no longer needed, even though IT or the security team implements the controls.”

Actions you can take: Go to your ecosystem inventory and ensure that every system has a unique and defined purpose and a data owner that has defined processes for access controls. Once you know how many systems you use and which you intend to serve as the system of record, you can decide which should be phased out of operation, which could not only lead to reduced risk, but reduced costs as well.

4. Beware of Ill-Defined Security Policies

It is not uncommon for companies to have an employee manual or other documents which outline behavior expectations of their employees, but many companies do not have a written security policy that covers topics beyond acceptable use, to include password and encryption standards, data retention standards, access management procedures and other critical elements. “A key element of a security program is the maturity of a company’s employee and contractor onboarding and offboarding process,” Gallaher offered.  “Access rights should be defined for each job role, and there should be procedures in place for granting and removing access to all required systems.” This requires another system of record to be defined for employee data. “Typically, either Active Directory [email and network access system] or the HRIS [human resources information system] is the system of record with one system feeding data into the other,” she continued. “It is important for companies to determine which is the system of record and who owns the data, and to design the rest of the processes for granting and removing access rights around that system of record and data owner.”

Actions to take:  Gallaher suggests that “everyone should have security responsibilities in their job description” and understand what systems and tools they need for their role and how to secure the data in those systems according to the policy.

In summary, “the most important thing is to decide on your system of record and to assign a data owner,” Gallaher offered. However, data vulnerabilities and risk assessment can not be delegated. The responsibility must be shared across the enterprise. “It is common for businesses to try to shift risk to the IT or security organization,” Gallaher added, “but the business always owns the risk.” No matter who works on the systems or administers policy, the business ultimately owns the impact.  Sales and marketing must align, with other groups and interests of the business, to ensure the systems they use every day, to communicate with customers or track the sales pipeline, don’t end up costing the business a breach.

This article originally ran in Forbes on August 20, 2018.

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Get Paid for Paying Attention

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See this article in Forbes on how one company, Suterra and their leader, Melinda Sych, puts the customer in the center of their marketing and sales efforts.

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At the heart of every successful customer-centric company is that they get paid for paying attention: to the needs of their customers and to the things that result in internal efficiency and effectiveness. By learning faster, while staying on strategy and on message, the results and rewards can be substantial.

What can a purpose-driven chemical company in a highly-regulated and competitive market teach you about building a customer-centric culture and driving great results? More than you might suspect.

Suterra offers biorational and healthy pest management alternatives for the agricultural industry and is a division of The Wonderful Company , a $4 billion private corporation comprised of healthy brands across consumer and industrial segments. Melinda Sych has served as the vice president of Commercial Operations for four years and is responsible for marketing and sales for Suterra, building on her engineering and business management experience at Dow Chemical, Asahi, and SEH.

In our recent interview, she shared several key principles that have been deployed at Suterra that are instructive for anyone wanting to foster customer obsession in their organization.

1. Focus for Impact

Suterra makes products that allow growers to reduce crop damage and increase their profits and output with healthy alternative pest management solutions. In her first days at the company, Sych met with customers to better understand the business. “When a customer told me that we were everything to everyone and nothing to anyone, it was telling,” she recalled.  It was clear they needed a strategy to improve their chances of success and exceptional customer experience where it mattered most.

“Defining for your business what you are going to do is also defining what you are not going to do or what you are no longer willing to do,” Sych instructed. “And that focus must be for the business and for the functions.” Sych added that “you need to be able to answer the question, ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’” in a consistent way across the whole organization.   This is easier said than done. Especially when customers themselves ask you for solutions outside your focus.

David Cooperstein, who ran the marketing leadership practice at Forrester and now provides strategic advisory services to startups and mid-stage companies with his company Figurr, has seen the same tension in companies across multiple industries. “It takes discipline to be willing to say that they can’t serve a particular vertical right now,” he shared in a recent interview. “Successful companies always pick a tight market to focus on, then expand once they have mastered each category.”

Sych summed up what this kind of discipline has meant to Suterra:

The success of focus is remembering that you can’t do everything and if you try, you are not going to do it well. As a leader, you need to remind your team what you are doing to accomplish your mission and be the best. The reason we aren’t doing other things is that it would dilute our ability to achieve the mission. There are millions of businesses that have tried to do everything and failed at everything. We want only to be the best of the best at our purpose. This helps not only build our brand with our customers, but also our employees, shareholders, and the industry.”

Advice you can use: Decide what your business is going to do and what you won’t do. And have the discipline and courage to stick with your strategy. You have to believe that focus will make you more successful when your resolve is tested.

2. Go Deep With the Customer

Increasingly in competitive markets, businesses are differentiating on experience and that requires a deep understanding of the customer. At Suterra “it’s all about the customer experience,” Sych said. “We want them to love using our products and to see it result in damage reduction. We must understand them.”

In their highly-technical sales they “take market analysis, competitive insights, product details and understanding of the customer problem, and we decide how we are going to position the product and what the typical use looks like in different segment markets,” Sych explained. For instance, in grapes alone there are many segments, Sych described, including various grades of wine grapes, table grapes, and raisins. The channels to market, the price points, likely applications, and the varietals vary widely across those segments. Suterra’s marketers need to have data to show the efficacy of the product in the most likely use cases.  “The marketers work with our technical teams to understand agricultural practices in the segments and to gather the data required to properly position our products in our target segments,” Sych explained. They ask themselves “what makes the most sense and will have the most impact?” and they then target the use cases that have the highest impact on the management of a pest in that target segment. “We then price according to our principle of accessible return on investment,” she concluded.

This process is very involved when you need to prove outcomes with science and research as Suterra’s market requires. “In our highly-regulated business, there are lengthy product development cycles and sales processes,” Sych described. “We need to facilitate conversations with many parties and people to get feedback. For instance, we ask sales, customers, business development, and others for feedback on our labels, messaging, and use cases so that we can achieve our objectives.”

Launching product in this context requires highly segmented messaging, ROI data, and efficacy data aimed at the different decision makers for the different markets and extensive sales training to deliver the message. “In order to do this, we need to understand how our product makes our customers’ lives harder and easier,” Sych observed. “What equipment or products they will need to be successful. What support services they need to make it easier to use and more readily adapted across our key target segments." All of that insight comes through deep understanding of the customer.

Yet, even businesses without the regulatory requirements for evidence, need to provide reasons for customers to purpose the products or services that rely on a deep understanding of the customer needs.

Advice you can use: Whether your development cycle is three years or three days, whether you are selling B2B or to consumers, use that time to get feedback from key stakeholders and understand deeply the customer problem at which your solution is aimed.

3. Differentiate with Brand Experience

When Sych visited those first customers she asked why they bought the product.  They answered “because it works.” She saw that as something to build upon.

“We are seen as an innovator and are often first to market,” Sych said with pride. “But competitors watch the filings and we only can count on a few year head start, as our compounds can not generally be protected with patents.” Suterra’s products are based on science often discovered and researched in university settings.

“If you can’t patent the inventions, then your messaging and brand is your differentiation,” Sych concluded.

This creates a high-stakes scenario where speed to market matters.  “When anyone complains about others copying our work, I just ask ‘how can we do it better?’  It ups the game,” Sych observed. “Being first gives us the chance to learn about weaknesses in the market that we need to address. Competition makes us better by putting us on our toes and making us ready to respond,” she suggested. As a result of the competitive pressures Suterra’s “sales and marketing teams are listening better for information, they are analyzing, they are digging into nit-picky details, and they are paying attention,” Sych commented.

Instead of paying patent attorneys, we are paying attention to our customers.”

And what has been the result of this customer-focus? “Having a strong brand speeds up the time to market even in our highly regulated industry,” Sych remarked.  The EPA and state registration and efficacy tests take time, but the market adoption curve can vary widely. “We just launched a new citrus product two years ago,” she recalled. “It went from nothing to 70% market share in two selling seasons after registration.” The credibility and customer confidence they had built in the brand, had earned them customer loyalty and trust and allowed them to over-achieve their sales targets. “We asked for pre-orders for this new product and were pleasantly shocked to book 95% of our annual sales by January of the year,” she added.

Advice you can use: Don’t focus too much on the competition and whether you have defensible protection. It can trap you into looking backward and may not be as secure as you would hope.  Rather, focus on being the fastest learners in the marketplace for sustainable advantage.

4. Partner Internally

Cooperstein added that in his experience “the sales teams look to marketing for guidance.  They want to know how to tell a better story than others in their space and how to win more business.”  In short, “Sales needs to carry the company message, not just the sales numbers.”

Sych agrees on this kind of partnership and noted that at Suterra “Marketing is setting the message and Sales is responsible for delivering.”

The needs and roles of sales and marketing, even when they are part of the same organization as they are at Suterra, are different and require open partnership. “Field salespeople are busy and are dealing with day-to-day issues of their customers,” Sych said. “Marketing people are back in the office thinking it will be simple to follow the approach they have recommended.”  In many companies, this can lead to silo thinking, pointing fingers, and breakdowns in relationships.  In fact, InsideView’s Report “The State of Sales and Marketing Alignment in 2018” noted that negative perceptions between the groups leave 28% of sellers thinking they would do a better of marketing than their marketing colleagues and 23% of marketers believing they would do a better job of selling.  However, the truth is that the groups need each other to be successful.

“There is a connection and dependency throughout the business and between sales and marketing,” Sych noted.  “Whether they are on a single team or separated, they should be reminded that they need each other.”

In order for marketing to be successful, we have to hit our revenue targets.  In order for sales to be successful, we need to have messaging and tools in the market.  They should be incentivized together.”

Beyond having common goals, Suterra has created positions to act as bridges between sales and marketing.  “Having people who own the products through the product launch helps facilitate sales success by improving the visibility of how this approach is being received by the market and allowing us to adjust our message or approach to better optimize the results in real time,” she commented.

Speaking to marketers, Sych had some final advice: “Marketing organizations have to be strong to do their job well.  Confidence in the marketing organization is earned and learned.”  Successful launches in which marketing and sales both see their unique contributions, help reinforce this confidence and mutual respect.

Advice you can use: Make sure the sales and marketing organization (or organizations) know how they win together and align goals and incentives.  Celebrate the wins together and build upon that success.

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5 Ways to Bridge the Sales and Marketing Gap

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5 Ways to Bridge the Sales and Marketing Gap

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In this latest post on Forbes, I talk about 5 ways to bridge the sales and marketing gap referencing experts from the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, Microsoft, and other leading companies.

Special thanks to Rakhi Voria, Bob Perkins, Shelli Keagle, and Trip Jobe for lending their expertise to this piece.

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Pointing fingers is a familiar and repetitive motion between the sales and marketing groups of many companies. “It is very common to have marketing people complain that sales isn’t following up on leads and salespeople complain about the lead quality and quantity,” explains Bob Perkins, the founder and chairman of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP). According to the organization’s 2017 report “Top Challenges of the Inside Sales Industry,” as a category "Leads" was the number one challenge for both leaders and sales reps alike. It was listed as a larger concern than quota expectations by a factor of 2.5 to 1. “This challenge moved up from previous years and indicates lots of work and change needs to happen to solve this issue,” Perkins observed. “When sales reps are not meeting their quotas consistently, the pressure is high and there are even more visibility and attention on lead quality and quantity.” The same is true across the organization as expectations continue to rise on corporate performance and the importance of sales and marketing is emphasized.

Does this sound familiar? If so, here are five best practices and approaches to bridging the gap between sales and marketing that have worked successfully.

1. Take a Walk

“On the top of my list of best practices is to have marketing listen to live sales calls,” Perkins proposes. “In and of itself, this can cure some of the ills of misalignment and the complaints that sales and marketing have about each other.” How this happens will be different for each company. “You don’t want marketing listening into more calls than the inside sales manager,” Perkins counsels. “But they should listen regularly.” It could be a standing “call week” event set each quarter or it could be tied to a specific marketing campaign that needs monitoring and optimization. In any case, best practice is to sit together and use that time not only as an opportunity not only to hear the prospect call, but to debrief on what went well and what didn’t. “By having a marketing person walk into a sales group, you send a message. That you are open to feedback and want to learn how to make sales successful,” Perkins observed. That short walk across the building can go a long way. If a walk isn’t possible, use video conferencing. Perkins said that among his members, sharing in calls provided a powerful way to get early feedback on campaign effectiveness, rather than waiting for the lagging indicator of pipeline growth.

2. Open Your Meetings

Invite sales to participate in regular marketing staff meetings. Trip Jobe, whose experience in sales and marketing leadership spans senior roles at Oldcastle, Neehah Paper, Kimberly-Clark, and International Paper, had this advice. “When you can have sales or sales leadership involved in a marketing meeting, they typically gain a perspective on the many levels of execution needed to tackle a program.” Better to do this regularly and ahead of the action to get insights that are usable by both teams. “By getting the opportunity to hear the 'sausage making' process, they gain a perspective on many of the details involved in certain marketing programs,” Jobe continued. “Sales can also shed light on what it views as priorities or not.”

And that openness goes both ways. Perkins suggests that in his experience consulting with leading sales organizations “the best companies invite a marketing representative to sit on the weekly inside sales team meetings to share updates on campaigns and feedback from the field. Both learn about the campaigns from the first-hand experience."

However, how you conduct those meetings matter. “My experience is when you can create this two-way dialogue you will more quickly gain alignment,” Jobe advises. “When either sales or marketing is preaching one way, the other side will tend to start tuning out.” Keep it a conversation with opportunities for feedback and you can watch partnership building.

3. Build a Council

Sometimes, physical proximity, the scale, or the leanness of the team prevent regular cross-functional communications. In those cases, you can build representative councils to provide input. Jobe used this approach in several previous companies to create sales councils of several sales reps (3-6 at the most) involving them in 4-6 meetings a year (mostly over the phone, but maybe in person at a national sales meeting or industry convention) and matching them with key marketing leaders. He has used the council to get feedback on product development, but it can extend to other topics like lead generation campaigns, sales effectiveness, or new marketing initiatives. “This does a few things," Jobe observes. "First, it gets sales more involved in the business and their peers know they have an advocate working with marketing. Second, it gives those marketers a few sales reps they really get to know and can use them to set up a market visit.”

4. Visit a Customer

Shelli Keagle, managing director at Canvas Research, a boutique marketing research and strategy firm, says that “the customer is the great equalizer.” Without a deep understanding and empathy with the customer or consumer (or even the channel), both sales and marketing can lose. Jobe added that he is “a big believer in gaining an understanding of your environment, your customers' problems, what do they face every day. Within your company, the more that sales and marketing can understand each other and communicate effectively, the better the combined output will be.” So, send marketers out with field sales reps to visit customers, work trade show events together, and create opportunities for the team to connect with customers together both formally and informally. Facilitate listening sessions at customer gatherings. If face-to-face meetings are impractical or incomplete, conduct and share customer research and verbatims. Videotape customers using the product or talking of their experience with products or with the sales process. Encourage marketing people to build relationships with key accounts. All of these can be important sources of common truth for groups trying to work more effectively together.

5. Scale Your Approach

Rakhi Voria is a senior business manager at Microsoft who has helped to build out a world-class inside sales organization with eight different sales center locations around the world for this leading technology company. “We now have around 1,800 sellers in our organization,” Voria explains. “One thousand of those individuals were hired in the past year alone. Seventy percent of our team was hired externally from over 70 different companies.” This represents a huge scale and velocity for the organization and a great opportunity for shared listening, but at this magnitude, it is prohibitive to rely on informal structures around customer visits or call observation. While sales and marketing leaders in other organizations “have gotten creative about bridging the gap between marketing and sales by having the teams sit under the same umbrella organization or by physically putting marketing managers and salespeople side by side, however at Microsoft, marketing and sales report up through different organizations and marketing managers often aren’t based in inside sales center locations.”

They solved the problem in a different way on a scale that matched the enterprise. “As part of our organizational design planning, we invested in creating resources called Sales Program Leaders who are based in our sales centers and aligned by the solution areas that we sell,” Voria described. These roles are hybrid roles with elements of both marketing and sales. “These individuals meet with sellers daily to gather insights and are able to use these insights to drive improvements across our products and offerings, to remove blockers, and to take corrective actions to ensure achieving business goals.” They also provide feedback on demand response campaigns, corporate account or channel programs, and real-time from conversations with customers and partners.

And the results are reflecting the intention. Here is how Voria describes one success story.

We were recently engaged in a deal with a healthcare customer in Latin America who was struggling with one of our cloud product offerings. This feedback was shared with our marketing and operations team, and within a few months, we were able to offer a new SKU in the market that addressed the concerns directly and packaged the offering in a way that was well-suited for customers in similar situations. It is this kind of feedback loop that makes us better, not only aligning sales and marketing, but also aligning the company to our customers."

These five approaches are some of the best practices used by sales and marketing teams seeing better alignment and better-shared results. These steps are, in themselves, quite simple. Easy, in fact. Maybe not as easy as finger pointing, but a lot more effective. When done with purpose, they can build and maintain the bridge between sales and marketing and perhaps even create onramps for new ideas and approaches.

Disclaimers:

Rakhi Voria is a contributor to Forbes in her advisory capacity on the Business Development Council. Also, I collaborated with Canvas Research on some original investigation into the use of IoT and high-end entertainment products in specialty consumer segments which I presented in the “Integrated Life” seminar at the InfoComm conference produced by Avixa in June 2018.

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Jennifer's Frank Advice for Marketers in Forbes

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Jennifer's Frank Advice for Marketers in Forbes

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My latest article for Forbes has been published. In it, I speak candidly with CMOs and marketing leaders about how to have more influence in their organization. The perennial topic of "marketing marketing" is a key one across businesses and industries. It requires great cross-functional partnerships, communication, and, most importantly, a keen sense of self. I haven't ever done it perfectly, but has learned lessons through the years that may be of use to others. 

Check my page on Forbes for all of the recent articles.

Special thanks to many leaders, mentors, and friends who have influenced my thinking on this topic, including Steve Buhaly, Angela Dowling, Balaji Krishnamurthy, Gerry Perkel, Amy Walker Barrs, Alyssa Gasca, Wade Clowes, Sam Runco, Ben Clifton, Jerry Viera, Carolyn McKnight, Douwe Bergsma, Erick Petersen, Jerry Dawson, Steve Bryan, Mick Connolly, Tanya Young Stump, Paul Gulick, Steve Seminario, Rob Baumgartner, Adam Schmidt, Karen Howells, Samantha Phenix, Susan Clark, Rob Morton, Jon Quillard, Esther Diez, William Efird, Julie Naster, William Walker, Greg Turnbull, Jack Raiton, Zach Zhang, Victor Li, Kelly Kannwischer, Teresa Caro, Helene Lollis, Dan Bruton, Terry Trover, Mark Ceciliani, Rob Stewart, Doug Barnes, Patrick Herguth, Annie Ho, and many, many more. I am also indebted to authors Seth Godin, Patrick Lencioni, Eli Goldratt, Barry Trailer, Jon Maeda, Clayton Christensen, Danny Meyer, Ben Horowitz, Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Gino Wickman, Michael Watkins, and Guy Kawasaki  for their insights. Although I have been blessed with great counsel, the opinions expressed here are my own.

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You can’t talk about sales and marketing alignment without addressing the topic of “marketing marketing.” Some companies devalue marketing, considering it sales support or the group that makes things pretty (the “arts and crafts department” as a friend once quipped). Other companies strongly value the strategic importance of marketing in branding, product roadmap, strategic planning, and industry thought leadership.  I have been blessed to work for organizations that model the latter, but I certainly am familiar with the former.

Forgive my tough love, but if you are a marketer and want to do a better job of marketing marketing in your organization (and building your own personal brand in the process), here are five questions to get you on the right path.

1. Would you having a seat at the decision-making table improve the company results?

You may be a great third baseman, knowing all the throwing and catching moves that make someone fantastic at executing this role in a baseball game, but if you don’t know how to read the scoreboard, understand sports commentary, or know how your actions impact the outcome of the game, you are not a very strong ball player. Similarly, if you don’t know how the score is kept in your business, you may not yet deserve a seat at the table to influence decision making.

You must remember you are a business person. No matter your role in the company. When you are pitching a new idea or defending your budget, can you frame the results you hope to achieve in financial terms?  Are you prepared to advise senior leadership to make strong economic decisions?

Now, this emphasis on financial results doesn’t prevent being a hands-on, servant leader who knows the technical details of the functional work and gets things done. That is required. It doesn’t prevent a business from having a strong mission, culture, and a balanced scorecard that includes giving back in the community. That is increasingly critical. But if you are tasked with allocating resources, you should be able to describe it in the language and thought process of a business leader.

Best advice: Lead with the financials. Don’t put them in the back of your deck or neglect to make a business case for the things you are doing. Tell your peers and boss what they can expect in return for the investments you are advocating, whether that be revenue, profit, lifetime customer value, or some other economic driver that your shareholders value. And if you aren’t sure how to do this, learn. Get a mentor. Take a class. Ask your CFO to lunch. Read a book. Be curious about the economic impact of your choices and let that guide your thinking.

2. What is the perception of you and that of marketing in your organization? 

Before you would embark on a brand-building campaign, you would begin with data to identify the "as is" state and some visioning to determine "to be" state, so that the gap could be identified and closed with careful planning and execution. Often this “as is” state is determined with surveys, voice of the customer, share of voice analysis, or other tools, both formal and informal. Why not do the same thing within your organization to gauge how far away your brand perception within organization is from what you envision as the ideal?

I also know that many business people have scars from previous wounds in the battle to align sales and marketing. You may be in an organization where the marketing function is mistrusted or undervalued, and that was true long before you were on the scene. Making positive change in this environment requires more individual attention: to understand where detractors are coming from, their concerns, and how to lead the organization forward.

Best advice: Know your strengths, weaknesses, and how you are perceived, personally and as a function. Asking a few trusted advisors within the company might give you enough to know your starting place. There are organizations - like Gartner ( CEB ), SiriusDecisions, or consultants - who can assess the strength of your team across a variety of frameworks. Determine how you want to be perceived and take action to close the gaps. Build alignment with peers with by delivering results and with open communication.

3. How are you mentoring and developing your team to be better practitioners and better business people?

You are responsible for the work output and business acumen of your team. Going back to my first point, one of my best practices is to give my marketing teams a primer in reading financial statements. This includes creatives, new college grads and interns, and experienced functional experts brought in for their expertise. As I said, everyone should know how the game of business is played. This is just one example of the learning objectives you can set for your team that set you apart. Other topics for exploration might include new practices in digital demand generation, insights into changing customer preferences, or developing a point of view of how technologies like AI, bitcoin and blockchain might impact your business.

Best advice: Have a learning and development plan for each individual on your team and for the team overall. Assess your talent against your goals to make sure you have the right horsepower to get you there. Don’t be afraid to make changes or redefine roles as necessary. Think critically about what you in-source and outsource, through agencies, contractors, or service vendors to ensure you are maintaining the right amount of capability and curiosity in your organization.

4. What "marketing" does your customer really need?

This should probably be the first question, because anything that isn't seen and appreciated by customers, probably isn't worth doing (besides that which is required for regulatory, legal, or financial compliance). If the customer can’t see it, then it’s waste. What specific value does the customer perceive in the marketing you do?

  • Are your empowered customers able to make better and faster decisions because of their access to technical information?
  • Are your resellers able to reduce their costs with more accurate quoting resources?
  • Are your clients able to achieve business results because of the value proposition of the products and services you provide?
  • Are they more loyal because of your differentiated customer service approach?
  • Do you make it easy for your customers in ways they value, throughout their customer journey?

Best advice: If you can’t think of examples of adding value that customers perceive, it is time to rethink your strategies. If customers only see themselves being “sold to,” then it is unlikely that you are providing them the value that will lead to long-term loyalty and maximize lifetime customer value. If you can think of solid examples, use these success stories as a platform to build credibility and to inform your investments of time, money, and energy.

and finally...

5. What is working that is worth repeating?

If you want to answer questions 1-4 and put a plan of action in place, a good place to start is to build upon your successes. Where are some situations that have gone well, that you think are worthy of replication and celebration? Use formal employee communications and informal networks to tell the story of the wins. Remember, you serve a role in building positive momentum throughout the whole organization when you market marketing and let everyone participate in the success.

Best advice: Go back and analyze a big order, a design win, a record-setting campaign, or a successful product launch and ask everyone involved how it came to be: the touch points with the organization, what sales tools or marketing resources were used, and what made the difference. Listen for examples of cross-functional teamwork. Use that case study as a cause for recognition, a chance to tell employees about how marketing is playing a role in your shared success, and as an example to replicate in future campaigns or plans. Make sure the CEO and the leadership team knows the story and ask for their help in congratulating those involved in the win.

These questions, and the follow-on discussions they have triggered, have helped develop my leadership and have been useful to leaders I have mentored. What has been your experience?  What are your best practices around marketing marketing?  Connect on Twitter or LinkedIn and let's continue the conversation.

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Beyond Wishful Thinking: Visa's Chris Curtin On Sales And Marketing Alignment

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Beyond Wishful Thinking: Visa's Chris Curtin On Sales And Marketing Alignment

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Aligning sales and marketing is a top priority of CEOs, CMOs and sales leaders across businesses and enterprises and the impact of doing it poorly can be devastating to enterprise value. Doing it well leads to sustained success.

Visa, who will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, is no stranger to success and the importance of sales and marketing alignment. Its VisaNet platform is the largest global payments network capable of handling a staggering 65,000 transaction messages a second and which offers solutions for a diverse group of customers including 3.3 billion card holders, 46 million merchants, and 16,000 financial institution clients. No wonder they appear at No. 27 on Forbes' World's Most Valuable Brands list.

Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer, offered insights into how they approach sales and marketing alignment, as both a consumer and a business-to-business brand.

“The big unlock to aligning sales and marketing is to agree not just on the goals, but also the assumptions around those goals,” says Curtin. “Not just that we want to achieve the goals or that they are a nice to have, but truly digging into the how. You always need to ask ‘What would it take to hit that goal?’ That is the only way you know you really have a plan and not just wishful thinking.”

To avoid wishful thinking or false impressions of alignment, they utilize pre-mortems. These are meetings that you have “ahead of the action” of the campaign or annual plan to ask and answer the question “If we fail at our goal, why will we have failed?” Curtin recommends that leaders schedule a series of meetings asking questions like “What if you miss the target?” or “What if you hit the target, but it’s too late to impact the quarter?” This meeting is where you get all the worst case scenarios out on the table and have the functional experts to weigh in. “Ask the group to brainstorm all the reasons why a miss would occur,” Curtin continues. “Would it be because you’re missing the right sales materials, running the wrong promotions, setting the wrong price, missing a market window? Pretend you have a crystal ball.”

This forecasting allows you a chance to course correct before you leave the starting line heading in the wrong direction. “Post-mortems, or post-action reporting, don’t do you any good,” Curtain asserts. “You can’t change the view in the rearview mirror. But pre-mortems can change the future.”

These meetings have another advantage that gets to the heart of what often sabotages sales and marketing alignment and that is clean, clear communication across department or functional lines. “Post-mortems put people on the defensive,” Curtin observes. “They lend themselves to finger-pointing. Pre-mortems allow the staff to be more creative. To share the potential problems before they occur. Plans developed in isolation with the hope that they can reconcile after the fact never work.”

These meetings are serious business. Curtin warns that “if the pre-mortem isn’t tense and uncomfortable, you are doing it wrong. Either you’re not putting up all the risks, or your plan is too easy.” If you are to gain actionable insights, you need to get all the ideas on the table, no matter how uneasy they might make the team.

Once a list of possible misses and causes are identified, the team can do some probability analysis and conduct risk mitigation. This serves two purposes according to Curtin. First, “you can believe in your plan because you have identified the potential points of failure and are watching them more closely.” And secondly, “if things do slip [and you have done a pre-mortem], you already have language and a common understanding of what you are doing to do, together, across functions, to address.” All in all, this approach helps the team have the best chance of success at the start and throughout the year.

“It is not uncommon to find some tension (hopefully always constructive) between sales and marketing teams who are both competing for internal investment, resources and support as to which is the better ‘channel’ to utilize,” Curtain recognizes, informed throughout his career at Visa, HP, and The Walt Disney  Company. “Incidentally, that tension can manifest itself within marketing – with the brand team and the direct response teams battling it out for budget,” Curtin continues. “The key to avoid this is to acknowledge that there is a ‘one team mentality’ and all the groups are driving towards a common outcome.”

Whether you are the market leader growing the category, like Visa, or a category creator of your own, Curtin offers some parting advice to those seeking better alignment. “The role of leadership is to find the right balance between and amongst the groups and to ensure that the process pulls out the best in teamwork.”

Scott Adams - the clever cartoonist behind Dilbert (who can boast of being the most photocopied, pinned-up, downloaded, and e-mailed comic strip in the world) and now author and investor - said, "Losers have goals, winners have systems." Pre-mortems can be part of your sales and marketing alignment system to achieve greater results, or at least greatly improve your odds.

This article originally ran in Forbes on July 16, 2018

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Jennifer Presents at Virtual Keynote on Sales and Marketing Alignment

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Jennifer Presents at Virtual Keynote on Sales and Marketing Alignment

 

It's a classic Dilbert cartoon plot line and sadly is very common in so many companies: misalignment between marketing and sales causing waste, confusion, distrust, and poor customer experience.

Whether you are a CEO, head of marketing, or head of sales, find out what misalignment may be costing you and steps you can take to bring the customer back into the center of your business strategy and get sales and marketing working together in active partnership to grow the business.

See a recent presentation that I gave for OnConferences here.

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Align or Die: 4 Reasons To Align Sales And Marketing Now

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Align or Die: 4 Reasons To Align Sales And Marketing Now

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This article was originally published on Forbes.

It’s the chronic, and often fatal, disease of business: sales and marketing misalignment.  I, like you, have seen it done well and poorly in my career as marketing leader and CMO. I have also experienced the impact of poor alignment myself, as a consumer and as a customer of B2B goods and services. Although it has been an issue since the creation of the modern enterprise, there are reasons to believe that this chronic disease is getting more deadly.

1. Your Customers Are Changing

An increasing percentage of your customers, even technical buyers in B2B product categories, are wanting to disintermediate your sales team and gather information about products and services online and on their own, according to Forrester. In 2017, the percentage of customers expressing this “don’t call me, I’ll call you” preference was 68%. This represents a 28% increase over the 2015 survey just two years earlier. In fact, only 16% said that they find interacting with a sales rep superior to self-service research.

Mary Shea, Ph.D., principal analyst at Forrester Research , said it even more strongly. “If marketing and sales aren’t aligned and if they don’t collaborate, they will be disintermediated. By buyers themselves who find other ways to get what they need or by more agile competitors," she challenged.

The data would suggest it is already happening.  This puts more pressure on marketing to facilitate increasingly sophisticated customers through a funnel (or around a pin-ball machine, to depict it more accurately) without direct engagement with sales.

2. Misalignment Hurts Your Customers

Forty-three percent of B2B marketing decision-makers report that their companies have lost sales as a consequence of not having necessary content at the right time for a specific customer and 77% of the rest have experienced costly delays, according to Forrester (Q1 2017 International B2B Marketing Panel).

This is further complicated by the fact that more people are involved in the decision-making process than before. Committees, panels, and groups are replacing individuals and making it more difficult to identify the influencers and meet all their needs. This is certainly true in B2B sales, but even consumers are sharing their e-commerce or subscription accounts with more people in their household and decision-making processes can fragment at home, too.

Despite this, shockingly, only 24% of organizations calibrate on the definition of target segments or accounts that will apply to both the sales and marketing organizations (per Forrester’s Q1 2018 Marketing Benchmark survey). How can we jointly hit a target, if there is more than one?

This lack of alignment is hurting your customers and impacting your top line.

3. You Are Wasting Money And Time

Sangram Vajre, chief evangelist at Terminus and former head of marketing at Pardot (now owned by SalesForce.com), asked a provocative question: “if only 1% of leads convert to opportunities, does that mean that 99% of marketing is wasted?”

Of course, it’s an unfair question as marketing is often responsible for strategy, channel, brand building, communications, and community engagement which may not directly relate to lead conversion, but if there isn’t cooperation on customer acquisition, where else in value chain might alignment be broken?

“Without shared goals and real-time data sets to drive decisions and investment prioritization, you have to wait for feedback from sales which may be late, anecdotal and with an agenda,” added Shea. “Marketing leaders can, and should, know what content, sales tools and campaigns are driving growth.”

If there is any doubt about what is driving your growth, then undoubtedly you are wasting time and money and that is impacting your bottom line. A bottom line that is getting more attention.

4. Your Boss Cares About It – Deeply

Forty-eight percent of CEOs say that poor alignment and collaboration will be a major marketing challenge over the next 12 months, according to Forrester. And those CEOs are looking hard at CMOs to lead the improvements.

The tenure of chief marketing officers is one of the shortest in the C-suite (per Korn Ferry) and there will be continued pressure and accountability around alignment, especially in times of transformation and change. Vajre agreed that high CMO turnover could be a sign of poor sales and marketing alignment. “If sales fall and budgets are squeezed, everyone pays,” he observed.

Shea concluded that “if you are doing sales and marketing the same way you did 3-5 years ago, you won’t survive.”

Now is the time to take your business’ vital signs and ensure that you have the alignment that you need to sustain and grow, putting your customer in the center of your strategy. As a starting point, look for evidence of customer preference changes in your business, create a common goal set and customer target, use real-time data for decision-making, and regularly report on joint progress.

 

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Jennifer to Contribute to Forbes

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Jennifer to Contribute to Forbes

Starting this month, I will begin contributing for Forbes.com writing about customer-centric marketing and the alignment of sales and marketing. My work for the CMO Network will highlight who does it best and what we can learn from their success.

You will be able to access all my articles and follow my work here.

I am very excited about writing for Forbes.com, as this topic has the potential to impact so many businesses and their customers. We've all seen it done well and done poorly and had it impact our experience as a consumer or business customer.

Knowing that every company and organization has room to improve, I will be focusing on success stories from across a wide variety of industries, organization types, and business models. I want to use this column to amplify best practices that have helped build brand, serve customers, and facilitated growth.   

Even before my first article is published, I have already had the privilege of interviewing top researchers in the field, as well as practitioners in marketing, sales, and general management leadership roles.  I am anxious to share what I am learning along the way.  Follow my articles, like, comment, and share which will help direct me to how I can help you become better at your craft.

I am also mindful and grateful of my friends, colleagues, and mentors, and now my editors, who have so generously helped me make this platform possible. Special thanks to Moira Vetter with ModoModo, Dan Bruton, Susan Clark, and Kami Toufar especially in their encouragement along the way. 

As leaders and customer advocates, we have an opportunity and responsibility to continue to  learn from the best and develop ourselves and our teams to better serve our customers. I sincerely hope that my articles help and inspire you in this worthy mission.

P.S.  If you know of companies or organizations who align internally and focus on customers particularly well, I welcome your recommendations and introductions. They can connect with me on my blog, Twitter or LinkedIn. As this is a side endeavor for me, and there is much ground to cover, I ask in advance for your patience with me as I follow up on these recommendations. 

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BridgeSpan Media Presents Home Entertainment Research at InfoComm

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BridgeSpan Media Presents Home Entertainment Research at InfoComm

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Prior to the official start of InfoComm 2018, Avixa will host the first ever Integrated Life conference.  On the afternoon of June 5th, Jennifer Davis, on behalf of her consulting business, BridgeSpan Media together with Canvas Research, will share some new and exclusive research conducted for this event.

In May 2018, a small sample of high net worth US households were surveyed highlights were shared at the conference.  This summary research was conducted to inform a larger study that is being designed to delve deeper into trends, purchase motivations, and to provide a larger sample that would allow for regional insights (as homeowners in Dallas or Los Angeles face different issues than those in Chicago or Manhattan).

Use the Contact form on this website (or a direct message via Twitter) to express interest in the full research report once it becomes available.  It will provide insights for the whole value chain from manufacturing brands to integrators and resellers providing local design, installation, and support.

Contact the research team at Avixa to share your interest in the residential market, as we partner with them on these efforts.

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Game-Changing Technologies to Watch in 2018

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Game-Changing Technologies to Watch in 2018

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Here are a few technology trends I am following.  By no means an exhaustive list, so I would love to hear more about what you are hearing about, especially coming out of CES, ISE, SXSW, and other recent events.

Ultra-Fast Charge, High Capacity Batteries:  This is the key to the end of the combustion engine.  A world where torque reigns and the electric vehicle is in every garage (or at the end of every Lyft call).  At the end of last year, Toshiba announced a 200 mile battery that charges in 6 minutes, and although this one doesn’t appear to be out of the lab yet, every multi-industrial and every car company seems to be investing here.   The implications of this shift not only change industries, but our environment and travel practices as well.  But perhaps we won’t be ACTUALLY going anywhere if the next trend catches on.

Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality:  Before we go virtually landing aircraft in our living room or visiting the Louve from Los Angeles, I have seen some great practical applications for the technology in technical field repair work and training.  I also love the application of virtual reality for architecture, as despite our technology advances, humans as a species have a very difficult time visualizing.  We simply can’t imagine what a carpet tile will look like replicated across our entire office space or how a vaulted ceiling will “feel” once it is installed.  We had great success with this kind of visualization tools (here is an example) at my previous company, who wanted you to know what your space (or one like it) would look like with a big video wall installed.  So, before we replace our physical world with some dystopian future where people in grim warehouses think they live in luxury due to their headsets, I think we can build and maintain a more beautiful and functional world using these new tools.

Light Field Technology:  Related to the category above, light field technology has a promise to change the way virtual images show up in the real world.  MagicLeap gave the world a holiday present with it’s long leaked and teased light field technology, but as someone who came from the display world, the core science here is very interesting and will spark a whole lot of innovation before we are done. Check out what Leia (named less for the princess than after her “Obi Won Kenobi, you are our only hope” hologram in the Star Wars movie) is working on or geek out on some of the technical papers of the Society for Information Display.

Motion Capture:  I loved the pioneering work that OptiTrack does here (full disclosurer: I was with Planar and Leyard when we acquired the company in 2017). I also love how the optical science was originally inspired as a method for mouse replacement for a disabled family member of the then teen-aged  founder/inventor, who earlier had won a science competition at 12 years old for building a hoverboard, but I digress. Now, technology of this type is used for motion science research, as well as Hollywood productions and gaming that is changing the realism of what we see.  And all because we found a way to sensor up real motion so that we could build better models.

Internet of Things:  I would be remiss to list out a technologies to watch list without listing this ubiquitous term that is underlying the growth of companies from start-ups in garages to industrial giants like GE and Honeywell.  That said, I think that IoT should probably stand for the “instrumentation of everything.”  Why would you use a camera technology (however sophisticated it might be) to identify intruders, when you could use the door, window, or floor covering itself?  Why would you need a refrigerator to tell you whether your fruit has spoiled when your robot chef has already taken inventory and is whipping up a batch of banana bread?  Why not prevent tripping or falls (which account for more injuries and deaths each year as the population in developed countries ages) with lights triggered by personal beacons and air bags on stairways?  With modern day processing and sensors literally in everything, it will be awesome to see what simple solutions arise to real problems. 

Artificial Intelligence:  This buzz word is SO buzzy that it has spun-out a few additional buzz words to clutter the landscape: deep learning, machine learning, and data science.  It is the underlying technology behind self-driving cars and trucks and will be very disruptive to the logistics industry overall.  It is an arm’s race not just between companies and research universities, but between countries.  Even content, like news articles or promotional videos, will be created auto-magically using these new tools (and their new friends in natural-language generation, video, image manipulation, and 3D modeling).

Fake News:  Okay this is a trick one.  It really isn’t a technology, but one enabled by a collection of inter-related technologies.  We hate fake news.  As a marketer, I particularly dislike “smoke and mirrors” pre-releases that feature only Photoshop wizardry, photorealistic 3D renderings, and the promise of things not yet possible.  Add to that VoCo which allows you to “Photoshop” your voice to sound like anything or anyone.  It is amazing how the technology is advancing.  We can’t tell the filtered from the real anymore and with folks like Adobe leading the charge, this will only get harder.  This is one to watch as it will change (and has changed) the need for media literacy and the nearly impossible ability we will have to discern it.  But maybe with our sensored world, we will just trust the data and skim the news.

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Building a Brand Isn't Hard.  It's Difficult!

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Building a Brand Isn't Hard. It's Difficult!

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To be clear, it is not hard to build a brand. Well, it’s not complicated, at least. It is infuriatingly simple. You only have to let people know why they should care about what you do. It’s as simple as that. Yet, building a brand, and maintaining it, in a noisy world is increasingly difficult and requires some of the best-run companies in the world to invest billions of dollars to ensure that people know what they stand for. Standing is no longer enough. You have to stand out in a sea of others standing. 

You don’t want your brand to be a wallflower, the company who no one notices at the dance until it slips away into obscurity. Your brand doesn’t need to be irreverent or brash, but it can’t be shy.  It needs self-confidence. It needs to know why it is unique and why it deserves attention. If your brand lacks the courage to be itself, then you might need to mature it. For companies small and large, and even for individuals, this comes down to two things: Clarity and Conviction

Clarity: If you want people to know about your company, products, services, and people, you need to know your brand well enough to introduce it at a cocktail party. What is the one thing that makes it special among the “next best alternatives” in your category?  What is it’s value and why are customers willing to pay? Why does it deserve the market share you aspire to? If you have more than one answer about this question, you have more work to do. I love the timeless introduction to Steve Jobs’ speech to introduce the “Think Different” campaign as it speaks to the link between values and brand. To find your “one thing” might be obvious, but for most it requires some research and some soul searching. To find out what customers are buying from you (which may very well be different than what you think you are selling) and what you aspire to become.

Conviction: This is where most brands get into trouble. Companies simply lack the conviction to be clear and talk about their “one thing.” They simply don’t believe enough in their brand position or in their strategy as a company enough to focus on it. They are sustainable, AND fashion-forward AND have the best features. They are value-priced, AND celebrity endorsed AND available for immediate delivery. They are the most established AND the most current AND the safest choice. And because their “but wait, there’s more” approach to brand marketing, leaves customers confused (at best) or creates so much noise, that the signal of their true purpose can never reach their potential customers. And standing, proud enough and long enough to be noticed, requires stamina and perseverance, so can be sure your conviction will be put to the test.

I am as guilty as anyone of taking the “yes, and” approach to branding from time to time. It is human nature to want to please and make our brand relevant to more segments, more customers, and have more value (propositions) than is necessary. Branding is one area where “yes, and” - this communication tool, borrowed from improv - doesn’t apply. You can succeed in negotiations, conflicts, or even creative collaborations using “yes, and” responses, but brand conversations need a lot more “no” and “this, NOT that” clarity. What you say “no” to is the test of strategy and what where you choose not to stand is the test of your brand strategy.  It is difficult because you have to fight human nature, sustain under pressure, and have courage.  All so that you can stand, with confidence, clarity, and conviction until people think about your “one thing” when they think about your brand.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

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The Best (ahem, most effective) Marketing Copy of 2017

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The Best (ahem, most effective) Marketing Copy of 2017

I recently ordered some bedding online and the package came with a printed insert that began “Dear valued customer.”  At first, I scoffed at the amateur writing (clearly written by a non-native English speaker), but upon further reflection I am convinced this is the best marketing copy I have read all year.   Or at least the most effective.

It successfully introduced their unique brand, it engendered empathy with their employees, it made me feel better about myself, encouraged me to read closely and completely, and was something that I joyfully shared with a few friends (and all of you).  I can’t say any advertising or marketing literature I encountered in 2017 was as effective as this.

Here are a few excepts that you might enjoy and the principles they illustrate.

Authenticity: The first paragraph thanked me for my business and ended with this sentence “It is really a great luck for us to be able to encounter you on Amazon.  Thank you for choosing our products, without your support, maybe I will get unemployed.” It might be hyperbole or brutally honest, but it certainly isn't boring or too "corporate" sounding.

Relational: The second paragraph talks about the product features.  They end this idea by saying “Welcome to contact us and give us some advices that will be helpful to improve our products quality and services, we will continue to optimize the service and strive to do better.”  You can just picture the eager employees awaiting the advices of customers.  The third part of the letter encouraged customers to write positive reviews and if they couldn’t to contact them first for support.  They sum up their approach like this “We convince that communication is the bridge to solve problems, we will certainly let your concerns get a good solution.”

Customer-Focused: The letter ends with a final greeting: “Finally, hope you could be nice every day ! Happiness every moment ! Have a healthier body and a sunny mood !” (spaces before the exclamation points are as printed).  I couldn’t help, but smile when I read this.

Now, perhaps it is my deep familiarly with English-as-a-second-language communication for all my years working with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean suppliers that makes this letter endearing, but I think you can agree that it stands out in a sea of well-crafted correspondence.  Although the experienced marketer in me shutters when I read the run-on sentences, improper vocabulary, and the like, this copy was effective in it’s purpose and isn’t boring!  Not every brand or company could pull this off (nor would they want to), but perhaps it inspires us all to be a little more real in our communications in the coming year.

And, I hope it gives you a “sunny mood” as well!

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Forgive the poor quality scan of the flyer.  The actual was readable (mostly) and looked better than this.

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Are You My Customer: a simple question that demands a strategic answer

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Are You My Customer: a simple question that demands a strategic answer

Are you my customer wide.png

It’s the holiday season and in the final countdown, it seems everyone is a customer. But in the world of business-to-business commerce, the basic question is oft debated in board rooms and strategy meetings: who is our customer? 

I often jokingly respond that the right answer to “who is our customer?” is “yes.” Especially if you sell complex solutions or through channel partners. But who’s voice is loudest in your “voice of the customer” that speaks into your offerings and strategies?

Seems simple enough, but for those of us who sell through channel partners or distributors or have products used by different people than those who buy, it can be a tricky question which requires a nuanced and highly strategic answer.  For instance, who is the “customer” of a diagnostic display used to detect cancer? The hospital CIO or the radiologist who uses it every day or the patient who benefits from the early diagnosis. Who is the “customer” of a publisher of a complex enterprise software tool that sell through consultants who add necessary professional services to provide a solution to the companies they find, cultivate, and service? Who is the “customer” of a lighting company who is marketed by independent reps, specified by architects, purchased through distribution by contractors, programmed by lighting designers, and maintained by corporate facilities departments or property managers? Or what about advertising-based models, where the “customer” (who is paying for advertising) and the “user” (who would really rather not have ads) are inherently at odds. The definitions of a customer can be dizzying.

And adding to this confusion is changing market dynamics in many industries. Management consultants will want to analyze profit pools to make channel optimization recommendations, all the while experienced sales people appreciate the loyalty of existing partners while market disrupters disintermediate channels using technology. Integrators, resellers, and dealers are consolidating in many markets. And manufacturers and service providers are left wondering whether their routes to market are efficient enough and capable of serving the needs of the end users effectively. And for strategic reasons, you must be informed by the past, but look to the future.

When you are start into a “who is my customer?” conversation, which can devolve into academic exercises and tribal territory defensiveness, here are three questions that should be asked to provide actionable clarity.

1.     Who sees the most value in our offering?

No matter where you are in the supply chain, there is someone out there that appreciates the value that you are producing between your “raw materials” and “finished goods.” So, who best appreciates what your product or services do and sees the productivity improvements, cost savings, or other tangible or intangible benefits of your offering? This may or may not be the entity with whom you are directly transacting. It is often likely to be a specifier or end user, but it could be a channel partner who sees your offering as part of their solution and ability to differentiate against their competition. The answer to this question has huge implications on product management, pricing strategies, and overall business approach. If the people that see the most value, are not in a position to pay for it, then it is difficult to monetize the differentiation you have built into your offering. And, of course, your offering today might not be what you are bring to market in the future and this discussion about who values and can afford the differentiation you are offering is a good input into your product roadmap.

I have lead products whose primary value proposition was to help integrator partners generate more profit with easier installation and easier service features. End users of the system didn’t necessarily have visibility to these features and were not willing to pay more, but the resellers and installers preferred the product strongly and were able to shape demand effectively and maintain a price premium. In other businesses, the value propositions are for the end user, and the channels are just there to fulfill demand created directly by the brand and help the brand influence at the point of purchase.

2.     Who best represents independent demand for our offerings?

One of the arguments for supporting channel partners is that they have customer relationships and can influence transactions to the point that they are essentially a customer and can take their business (or more precisely, the business of their captive customers) virtually anywhere they want. When Costco decides that they will only accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard are locked out and Costco members sign up for American Express credit cards. When Dell selects TechData for a multi-year distribution contract, Dell’s customers don’t know or care where their computer peripherals are being sourced. So, if you are PC peripheral brand who sells through distribution, who is your customer? In contract, when a homeowner calls their trusted “AV guy” to set up a home theater, they expect to hear recommendations and purchase product, even from brands they have never seen advertised. And when demand generation budgets are tight, it is very tempting to leverage channels (which you can pay in margin) to build demand that you otherwise can’t afford to cultivate on your own. Some channels are great at creating and shaping demand and others are best at fulfilling demand created by brands or manufacturers. 

I have seen incredible wealth created in partnership with channels who can create category and build demand. And I have seen other channels that can’t create demand on their own at all. Depending on your industry and the level of commodification, there may not independent demand represented by your channel partners, in which case you are not selling “to” channels as much as you are selling “through.” This question has huge implications on how demand generation money is invested.

3.     Do we transact with the most efficient partners to fulfill the demand?

During the consumer-driven holiday season, the challenges of the “who is my customer” question is well illustrated. In this season, we are consumers, but we are gift givers. We are transacting for others. Purchasing gifts that we might not have specified nor will we use.  Your 80-year-old grandmother might not be the best prospect to put on the mailing list of a skateboard shop, even though that is where she purchased a gift for her grandson this year. Even though she technically was the one writing the check. Gift givers are like the purchasing department at a company, who might be listed in the manufacturer’s database as the customer, but in fact, are not actual customers. Or like the role of a reseller or dealer who may just be taking orders and don’t have a real ability to make product recommendations or command any customer loyalty. They might not represent independent demand. They might just be an intermediary. And as an intermediary are they effectively and efficiently playing their role in the value chain? Are you paying a reseller a large margin percentage to transact orders you have cultivated yourself? Are you absorbing service costs because your channel can not service their customers effectively? 

These questions might lead you to answer the “who is my customer?” question with more purpose and confidence. The answer might not just be “yes” (ie, end users, channel partners, specifiers, influencers are all my customers), but it might be “no” (that we need to focus on just one or two of these groups to have the maximum impact). In fact, the real test of strategy is what you are saying “no” to and narrowing the voice of the customer and your definition of who you serve is a great place to start.

These are just a few of the questions that I have found most insightful when discussing channel strategies and customer experience approaches.  I would love to hear your ideas as well, so leave a comment or engage on my blog (www.atjenniferdavis.com) to continue the discussion. I wish you all a warm and wonderful holiday season!

Cover image is a parody of “Are You My Mother?” book, a classic children's book by PD Eastman.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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Looking for Pain

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Looking for Pain

In the States there is a class of attorneys known as “ambulance chasers.”  They follow accident victims to the hospital and offer their services to get justice or payment for their injuries.  I am not diminishing the role of personal injury cases and the legitimate rights of those victims, but those attorneys are looking for pain and suffering.  In fact, it fuels their business.

All of us in business have a similar need to look for the pain.  The most successful companies, and the products and services that they offer, address an unmet pain and solve it in a unique way.

As innovators and business strategists we should always be in the hunt for the pain. 

  • What costs too much?
  • What takes too long?
  • What ends too soon?
  • What can we not get enough of?
  • What do we have too much of?

These kind of questions, can lead to the insights that create new customers, new business models, new products, and fuel the enterprise into the future. 

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