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A Press Release is Always a Good Idea


The headlines were intriguing. “Jeff Bezos bans PowerPoint.” “Amazon eliminates presentations.” You’ve seen them, too. Before I joined Amazon, friends had told me about the company’s writing culture and how PowerPoint presentations, nearly ubiquitous in corporations I have worked for, were not used for decision making or strategic planning. Instead, press release style documents and Word files are the center point of discussions. As a writer myself, I was interested in how it would work. Did meetings really begin with a time of silent reading? Did it hurt collaboration and brainstorming? Did it slow things down or speed things up?

After calibrating to this new approach these past months, I can tell you that I will never go back. I firmly believe that this element of the culture is a critical contributor to Amazon’s success. Here is what I have learned.

Writing is clarifying: At Amazon, we write press releases. Not to announce products after they are done (although that sometimes happens). No, we write press releases before development begins. When the program or initiative is in the idea stage. Working backwards from what customers would care about, we start with the “why” and write what we call a PR/FAQ (press release plus frequently asked question style appendix). We write to clarify the value proposition. We write to position the offering. We write to coalesce all the ideas into a cohesive statement. Before we invest further time and energy, we make sure it is something we will be proud of and that will make a difference for customers. To clarify, these "press releases" are internal, confidential documents that inform the project throughout.

Brevity is strategy: Mark Twain once said “If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.” Anyone who has written before knows that writing (or saying) a lot of words quickly. But if you have to write concisely and clearly for an audience – especially one not necessarily familiar with all the nuances and details of the topic - it forces you to prioritize, to get to the point, and to make every word count. This curation is the essence of strategy. What are you going to do and what are you not going to do begins with what do you want to say and what do you not want to say.

Documents are invitations: In corporate cultures that heavily rely on PowerPoint, decisions favor the charismatic. The great presenter, who can excite the audience and think on their feet, can dominate strategy conversations. In contrast, when a document has to stand on its own merit, ideas can come from anywhere. TheWhether it is a one-page press release or a 6 page strategy document, with all graphs and charts in the appendix, documents provide a platform, an invitation, for everyone to contribute.

Reading is inclusion: In a typical “read” meeting, the participants spend the first 20 minutes of a 60 minute meeting reading a prepared document and then they discuss. The agenda is simply stated “are there comments or feedback that anyone wants to share?” I have found this approach allows the introverted and analyticals of the group to bring their thinking forward. It allows those who read and process quickly to review their notes to identify the highest priority feedback before the discussion begins. Everyone on the read can fully participate. In my experience, this leads to much richer feedback, getting to the heart of the issues faster, and is a better use of everyone’s time as no one is tempted to just read you PowerPoint slides.

Clarity accelerates: As I have written about before, ambiguity kills organizations slowly and clarity speeds things up. When you can get to richer and more meaningful feedback on key strategic issues faster, as I have seen with the document process, you can speed up your whole organization to make better decisions faster. This has a huge impact across the organization and can lead to breakthroughs for customers and real competitive advantages.

I am sure this approach has its critics. It certainly requires learning (and unlearning) of past practices. It requires calibration to get everyone reliant upon it. It uses different muscles than PowerPoint presentations and forces everyone in the company to be a better writer. It is a big change (as I am reminded every time I onboard a new employee into the company).  My initial curiosity has been replaced by conviction. When it doubt, write. You may find, as I have, that a press release is always a good idea!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash


Extending Yourself: 5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Agency


Extending Yourself: 5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Agency

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In order to enable a customer-centric enterprise, marketers often work closely with agencies. Choosing and onboarding an agency for success is often the key to success of the marketing leader and their teams ability to hit their objectives. Here are five common questions that marketers should ask when selecting agencies.

Why do we need an agency?

Michelle Reape is the Director of Marketing for AssureSign, an e-signature provider, having spent time in companies like Beazer Homes, Revenue Analytics and the consulting firm North Highland where she led marketing campaigns across industries like financial services, life sciences and healthcare. She advises companies to find an agency if they do not have in-house capabilities. “For example, if you don’t have public relations or digital experience, it’s imperative to leverage the skill sets of agencies or people who do,” Reape said.

Joe Koufman leads AgencySparks, a firm that connects brands and agencies and added “companies should consider hiring an agency, if their team is missing a capability or needs additional capacity. Capacity is when the company just does not have enough 'arms and legs' to do the marketing work. Capability is when the company is missing some expertise in a specific marketing discipline, like email, social media, mobile, etc.”

That said, some companies build in-house creative, strategy or execution teams rather than relying on agencies or freelancers. If the work load is steady and understood, it can be successful. However, Koufman is skeptical of the model where companies build in-house agencies or big consultancies absorbing marketing agencies. “Talented marketing executives go to work for agencies for a reason,” he observed. Sometimes the talent you need to grow your business or execute your campaign prefer working in the highly diverse and dynamic environment of an agency, over working for a client. Other times, brands choose a hybrid model, where strategy and specialty work are done by in-house leaders and other production tasks are done by third-parties.

How do we pick an agency?

“Usually, 50% of the reason that brands select a new marketing agency partner is capability,” Koufman offered. “The other 50% is chemistry. At the end of the day, brands want to work with agencies that they like, trust, and compatible with their teams.”

“Depending on your budget and goals, it will dictate the type of agency you will need to be successful,” Reape observed. Even the term agency can vary. Koufman explains that it can be “anything from a one-person marketing consultancy to a massive holding company. For instance, WPP is now over $20 billion in revenue and made up of a slew of different types of agencies. Global consulting firms are snapping up agencies to deliver not only strategy, but also execution.”

Do we need more than one agency partner?

“Given the companies that I’ve worked for, it is very rare that you have one agency what will do everything or has the capability to do everything.” The term “agency” itself can be pretty broad. Koufman sees these same trends. “Currently, some brands are seeking a stable of specialist agencies rather than one agency-of-record. The upside is best-of-breed capabilities. The downside is the need to manage multiple agencies.”

How do we select the right partners?

Sorting from amidst the agency options and vetting agencies and proposals is a challenging process. This is further complicated by time pressures. Reape recalled a situation where she had to move a project from one agency to another mid-stream. “I learned the power of your network is crucial when you are looking for an agency to partner with.” Asking for recommendations from other leaders or marketers is a good place to start.

Reape recommends asking some specific questions to avoid problems later. Asking, “Do you have specific references or case studies where you’ve solved a similar problem in an industry that aligns with my business?” will allow you to gauge how much you will need to familiarize them with the problem and what expertise they have to bring to bear on your particular issues. Asking, “Have you ever had a project that went off track, if so, why, and what did you learn from it?” shows how self-aware they are and how committed they are to professional growth, even if it requires admitting their wrong.

Should we go with a big agency or a boutique firm?

“I have a slight bias against massive marketing agencies because I feel clients often get the ‘B’ or ‘C’ team working on their business,” Koufman observed. “The smallest client for an agency receives less attention - alternatively, the largest client for an agency is the top priority.” Reape agreed. “I like for my agencies to always consider me to be one of their largest clients. It’s all about the client experience. If an agency makes you feel like you’re the most important client, they are responsive, and do excellent work, and are good to work with, you will continue to throw that agency business,” she said. That said, the experiences can be as unique as the companies and personalities involved, so testing the relationship for chemistry and commitment is a good start.

This article was originally published on


Hire Fast, Fire Fast: New Strategies For Competitive Marketing Job Markets


Hire Fast, Fire Fast: New Strategies For Competitive Marketing Job Markets

Annelle Barnett of Marketing Mob speaks to new hiring strategies in today's competitive market for marketing talent. Photo credit:  Jason Seagle  for AgencySparks.

Annelle Barnett of Marketing Mob speaks to new hiring strategies in today's competitive market for marketing talent. Photo credit: Jason Seagle for AgencySparks.

Building a customer-centric enterprise relies on employees building relationships, acting on insights and growing alongside the needs of customers. Underlying this is an assumption that marketing teams have the personnel they need and that they are up to the task. In today’s competitive job market, companies are changing their approach in order to stay competitive, not only in the eyes of their customers, but in the fight for talent.

Annelle Barnett runs a marketing recruiting firm, a job board, and produces and hosts the popular, Marketing Mob podcast and webinar series. I joined her for a talk in February 2018 and we had a chance to chat recently about the new trends she sees in staffing.

“In the past, it was often advised to 'hire slow, fire fast' with the idea that you would spend a good bit of time doing your due diligence to ensure you’re setting yourself up with the best chance for success when selecting an employee,” she recounted. Managers are taught that it is best to take the required time to hire the best candidate with the most relevant experience and the best cultural fit. However, things are changing. “Whereas it used to take days, weeks and sometimes even months to make a hire, that is no longer the case today. Especially with high demand positions, like digital marketing and agency account positions.” Time is not a luxury that most employers enjoy today.

“Due to the competitive landscape, candidates are hired in a matter of days and even hours,” she continued. “Things can also change at their current employers. I’ve had situations where a candidate was promoted while in the interview process and they took themselves off the market.” It is a highly dynamic space and “if you’re too slow to react to finding a great candidate, you will miss out and lose your amazing candidate to someone else, perhaps to your competitor.” Nimbleness is winning the game in talent acquisition.

Filing open roles also has practical implications on productivity. If an open position is filled in January, they have 11-12 months to contribute to the goals for the year. If that same position stays open until July, the employee is only going to be half as productive that first year. Hiring fast, Barnett continues, “allows the employer to move forward, expediting productive contribution.”

If you find yourself in a battle for great talent, what can you do to speed up your hiring processes?

First, audit and measure to provide a baseline. “If it takes more than 1 month to move a single candidate through the interview process, they should consider reexamining their hiring strategy,” Barnett advised.

Second, build your process for speed. “Calendar availability of hiring managers is the number one factor that slows down an interview process,” Barnett observed. “If a company or hiring manager is ready to hire, it should be one of their top priorities.” Blocking time for interviews, being ready to reschedule, or even being available after hours or before the workday (when passive candidates who are currently employed might have more flexibility) can all expedite the process. “Have offer letters ready in advance and get them out quickly,” she continued.

“Candidates get excited about positions. The longer the offer letter takes, the more anxious they get and that excitement starts to wear off. It’s like when you’re having lunch at a restaurant and the service has been fantastic through the entire meal but then the check takes 20 minutes. The guest often forgets everything that happened before the delayed check and they will reflect that in the tip. It’s just as important to finish strong in the hiring process. The candidates are paying attention.

And finally, “I’d say the most important thing to remember is flexibility and letting go of the way things used to be,” she concluded. “There may need to be more trusting of your gut and intuition than checking every box.” Employers would do well to remember that “great candidates get scooped up quickly by companies with more nimble processes.”

This approach to hiring has implications on the organization that extend beyond hiring decision speed.

The first obvious downside to a “hire fast” strategy might mean more turn-over. “By hiring more quickly, the chances of making the wrong hire are greater,” Barnett observes. Not every hire will be a good fit. They might not actually have the skills for the job or perhaps they bring with them toxicity that could spread to the rest of the team. “A disgruntled employee has the potential for disrupting the entire company or team culture,” Barnett adds.

The impact of a bad hire can be substantial, so a “fire fast” mentality has to be adopted. “Firing fast means that an employer would let go of an employee as soon as it’s recognized that the individual is not the right fit for the role,” she explains.

This might require the organization to be prepared to spend more in severance, outplacement services, or working with employees to place or coach them into new roles within the organization. In high-impact or customer facing the roles, the risks of “fire fast” can be dramatic as you don’t want customers to lose confidence in the brand. Barnett says that in some cases it is useful to have “a training period for a month or so before the employee becomes client facing to ensure the right hire was made” before key customer relationships are fully transitioned to new hires.

Care must be taken to not fire too fast, however. “By firing too quickly, you may miss out on a great employee because you didn’t take the time to coach them or move them to another position in the company that is a better fit for the individual,” Barnett said. If the employee is a good cultural fit and has the right attitude, often a better role can be found to put their strengths to use. “There may also be some repercussions online with employer reputation” with this strategy, Barnett warns. “If employees are fired often, the employer brand may take a hit from bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor.” Managers should always work with their human resources and legal teams to ensure compliance with applicable laws and practices, which vary dramatically by state or country.

In order to attract talent and maximize productivity, many companies are changing their hiring practices to a “hire fast, fire fast” strategy. This approach might not always be a fit for every company, but in highly competitive roles and dynamic markets, employers may find they no longer have a choice.

This article was originally published on


When Small Is Big Enough: Success Strategies In Niche Segmentation And Customer-Centricity


When Small Is Big Enough: Success Strategies In Niche Segmentation And Customer-Centricity


Whidbey Telecom is a 110-year old independent telecommunications company based in Langley, WA on Whidbey Island, which lies 30 miles north of Seattle between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 corridor of western Washington and forms the northern boundary of the Puget Sound. With 100 employees, the companies provides internet, security, video entertainment and phone services to over 10,000 businesses and residential customers, most who live in rural locations. The company’s success provides insights for niche market segmentation for other industries, brands and leaders looking to build deep and lasting relationships with their customers.

Chris McKnight has served as the chief marketing officer for Whidbey Telecom for several years, coming from a background in sales and marketing leadership for technology, advertising, finance and experience marketing agencies in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. He knows about innovation and the telecom industry relies upon it. But in the niche segments, innovation must be relevant. “The company’s history and culture is a rich tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship,” McKnight recounts. “In 1908, we pioneered Whidbey Island’s first telephone service. In the 1960’s we were the first to put our lines underground to improve service quality – we get many wind storms – and in 2004, we were the first independent telecommunications company west of the Rocky Mountains to provide Internet service.”

However, innovation for its own sake doesn’t ensure customer satisfaction. Here McKnight relies on research. “Market segmentation and personas are incredibly important to our customer-centric approach,” he said. “We start at a high level with published lifestyle segmentation data that match our households and then it becomes more proprietary as we supplement the data set with information from focus groups, surveys, and user data.”

This affects how he thinks about his role at the company. “My mission as CMO is to know the market better than anyone else in the company and to be the voice of our customers. I'm only able to do that by having frequent and ongoing interactions with our customers in the field and taking on sales opportunities,” he said referencing his background in business development roles. “Account relationships can provide enormous insight and data into what customers need and want in support of the overall marketing strategy.”

Based on their unique knowledge of their customer, their approach to service is a departure from the mainstream. "Since 80% of the residents are over the age of 60 and fall into the late-adopter category, we play an extraordinary role in educating and helping our customers adopt and adapt to today’s rapidly changing technology environment,” he continued.

“We maintain a 24x7 tech support team, and we extend our support to topics that other companies do not like how to use your email, how to download an app on your iPhone, or how to connect your computer to WiFi,” he explained. “We also staff a team of 10 customer service representatives in our Customer Experience center, so customers can come in and talk to us about their services, pay their bills, and get advice on new technology for their homes.” There are niches within niches as well, within the elderly population. Those that are 70+ often have a child or caretaker that works with them on their Whidbey Telecom account. “We are often conferencing in a child that lives somewhere else in the world, with one of our customers, to make sure they are getting what they need.”

The service stories at Whidbey Telecom take on mythic proportion. “Once the installation team pulled over to help a car that looked like it had broken down on the side of the road, only to find out the person was having a heart attack and managed to save their life by driving them directly to the ER,” McKnight said. “Once the CEO, George Henny, was swimming at the gym when he overheard someone say the internet was down. Jumping out of the pool, he called tech support wrapped in a towel to get the issue resolved right away.” In the island community, these stories travel fast and help build the brand. “We are proud to provide free WiFi and high-speed fiber optic internet to the community center in Pt. Roberts, were 22 different community groups use the building and community with the rest of the world,” McKnight said.

To their customers, service is personal. To Whidbey Telecom, it’s good business. “Not everyone wants to be scaled and automated into a non-human customer experience. This is where premium products and services live, and they are a very profitable place to be and a really enjoyable place to build a career.”

McKnight says his customers have enriched his life in many ways. “On the surface, many are laid back retirees, but when you get to know them, you find out they've run major global corporations, fought legendary battles, and invented the things we now take for granted today,” he said. “I don't think we're doing a good enough job as a society of sharing their stories and passing on the knowledge they've spent their whole lives acquiring and I think it could make our lives a lot easier if we did.”

To date, three customers have baked McKnight cookies in his tenure at the company proving sweetly that small is big enough

This article was originally published on


A Good Use of Time


A Good Use of Time


“It’s not a question of whether being in a meeting is a good use of an individual’s time; it’s a question of whether it is a good use of the company’s time.” – Rick Jackson



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.



You Are Bigger Than Your Job (and other truths of job search)

You and Your Job venn diagram high overlap.png

There are a lot of people who are looking for their next career opportunity. Either they left their previous companies and are in transition or they have outgrown their current role and are looking for a new challenge. Possibly both. Perhaps your are one of them. Or maybe things are humming along nicely for you at work, but you don’t want to get stale or forget your own development as you grow in place or seek promotion. Thinking about this in my own experience has led to me to some insights that might be useful to you.

1.      The hiring manager has a reason they are recruiting

Chances are the hiring manager for your next role had to go to bat to get the requisition approved. They have an immediate need. They have lived without someone in the role and it is taking its toll on the remaining team and the business results. So much so, that their management has seen the gap and approved the spend. There are specific things that need to get done that are either going undone or being done poorly. The business is suffering. This is true in many cases. The hiring manager has asked the recruiter or posted a job with a very specific list of attributes for which they are searching. They don’t want to hire a generalist, just like you wouldn’t use a Swiss Army Knife to cut a sirloin, if you could use a proper steak knife. Recruiters will complain, I mean, observe that hiring managers ask for a purple unicorn steak knife with pink polka-dots, their requirements are so specific and unique. This is true. Why? Because…

2.      The hiring manager doesn’t want to look the fool

Once getting approval to hire, the manager wants to make a smart hiring choice. They know that unless you have someone in the role who is highly productive in short order, they won’t be successful. Hiring a warm body isn’t enough. They want a candidate with the elusive combination of past experience, personal motivation, and future potential that will allow them to fill their need (see #1). Anything misstep in this search and they might be stuck with a bad performer (worst case scenario), have to swap out talent (losing more time), and damage their reputation as a leader and team builder in the process. All of these things are out of the question. The stakes are high to find the steak knife (see what I did there?). So, they go on the hunt for the perfect candidate for their role and you want them to find you in their search, so let’s switch focus to you.

3.      You are bigger than the job

You are an experienced, successful professional in your field. You have done some amazing things. You have more capabilities, more raw potential, and undoubtedly more experience than your next job can fully appreciate. That is okay. It is preferred. Otherwise, you’d go into a role that would immediately bore you or to which you couldn’t apply your diverse background to make it your own. If you are not clear on what you want in your next role, you will confuse a hiring manager. They want a steak knife. You are a Swiss Army Knife. If you go on about all the things you can do (“I can uncork wine, pop bottle caps, open tin cans, and cut fingernails, and have experience cutting pork chops, cheese, and Duct Tape”), you aren’t going to jump out as the obvious choice to a would-be hiring manager. Plus, everyone describes themselves the same way. You have to stand out. 

4.      You are best in class at some things

Sure, the company probably does need a well-rounded athlete (more on that later), but they are recruiting for a runner, cyclist, or swimmer, not all three. Even the accomplished triathlete has an area of strength. So do you. If you are honest with yourself, there are parts of your past experience that have been sources of joy and energy and things you have done (perhaps even done exceptionally well) that drain you of energy and motivation. 

Only you know for sure, although others can provide some useful insight you might be too close to see yourself. You can use assessment tools (like StrengthsFinders, Insights Discovery Kolbe, DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, and others) to gain insight. You can hire a career coach to ask you better questions than you are asking yourself. You can read books. You can seek counsel from networking groups or colleagues. You can take a self-discovery or professional development class. You can spend time with yourself. 

However it happens, you need to get clear about what you want and get good at describing your differentiation. What you do best. Not what you have done, but what you want to do in the future. What skills you want to use, what kind of role you want, what kind of company would suit best (by name preferably), what title would suit, and how you want to be measured and managed. This is essentially your personal marketing plan.

5.      The job is bigger than you

It is highly likely that the job requires some things you haven’t done, or done in a while, or done well. That is just the nature of the dynamic, changing nature of the workforce. Technology, competitive pressures, globalization, and other trends are causing jobs to change rapidly. Sure, you can invest in training and certifications (you should!). You keep up on your industry. You join networking groups. You do some mentoring and reverse mentoring to stay current. All those things are important, but likely you will need to make some effort, starting in an interview process and through onboarding, to translate what you have done as transferrable skills to the role. And for the rest, you and the hiring manager will need to develop a plan (more on this in a second). The manager will need to be incredibly crisp on the non-negotiables for the role; the personality traits, motivations, and skills that translate to success in the role. Notice I didn’t say “experience.” Experience may not be a measure of future performance in the role and, frankly, as a manager is a really hard to differentiate on experience since everyone who applies and makes it through initial screening seems incredibly and equally competent.

Looking at these things visually, each candidate has a certain degree of overlap with the success profile of the role they are applying for. The overlap are the familiar responsibilities, personality traits, motivations, and skills that the job requires that you can confidently accomplish. Both hiring manager and candidates are well-served by having a high degree of overlap.  

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On one side of that Venn diagram will be all the skills and experiences that you don’t directly apply in your new role. Perhaps it is your experience in hardware electronics, when you take a role for a software company. Let’s say you don’t use your experience in Javascript, when you take a job as a Python developer. Perhaps it is your experience in organizational design, when you take a job as in talent acquisition. Maybe it is the fact that you play the saxophone in a jazz band, you are an accomplished jewelry designer, or you are fluent in several Asian languages, but have a sales territory in Latin America. In these cases, if you want to find an outlet for those talents you might have to look to volunteer somewhere to take them up as a hobby. In past roles that didn’t require much writing, I found myself contributing to other blogs or publications as a guest contributor. As a writer, I just couldn’t help myself. You will do the same. 

Or, ideally, you will find a way to shift the role definition itself (the edge of the job profile circle) to the left to encompass more of your skills. Let’s say you join the company as an individual contributor, but have management experience. Perhaps as the company and role grows, you can take over a team and be a people manager again to use those skills. Perhaps you can look for ways to expand the scope to cover things you are developing in yourself, like strategic thinking, new technical skills, or leadership.

On the other side of the Venn diagram are the job responsibilities that are not in your sweet spot. Perhaps you have spent years selling through channels, but now need to apply skills in direct selling models. Perhaps you have done digital demand generation using tools like marketing automation and PPC advertising and now need to add intention and analytics to your skill set in order to do account-based marketing. Perhaps you need to add cloud computing to your impressive list of IT credentials. Perhaps the job calls for other things that you are willing to do and have been wanting to do, but haven’t demonstrated yet. For these you and your manager have some choices:

  • Development: you could learn and practice the skills required to be good at your new (next) job.

  • Delegate: you could bring people onto your team who are experts in these areas to do the work and for you to learn from.

  • Design: you and your manager could actually design these tasks out of the job itself, giving them to another person or group, shifting your role to play to your strengths.

The alternatives to these things also start with D: disappoint and disaster. Let’s try to avoid that with some frank discussion and good planning and organization design at the start. In the past, I have found that having people on my team who could help me follow-up on detailed accountability plans was a useful corollary to my strategy and idea-generating creativity. Everyone has strengths and we should use ours and allow others the opportunity to demonstrate theirs. We have all had these things in our jobs in the past that we either had to get good at or find ways to accomplish in other ways. 

Finally, if you are finding success and satisfaction in your job and want to continue to moving forward, these are still great principles to apply.  Keeping up on trends in the job market, understanding the career pathing at your company, investing in yourself with additional reading, courses, and experiences, and talking with trusted mentors and advisors can help you continue to develop your skills and capabilities to be a high degree of overlap for your next role.

And one last note: Everyone can use a good activist shareholder on their personal board of directors (don’t know what an activist investor is? See here). You should have people in your life that are asking the tough questions, making sure you are growing, and sponsoring you for stretch roles. It may be uncomfortable to invite a disrupter or agitator into your inner circle, but it is necessary to combat complacency and avoid developing blind spots around your own development. If you don’t have an activist among your career advisors, find one. 


Special thanks to Richard Banks for introducing me to personal marketing plans, for Minh-Ha Nguyen and Teresa Caro for helping me filter my own experience more clearly, to Rebecca Larson for helping me articulate my strengths, to Kelly Kannwischer for Younique and Susan Clark for HeartSpark, to Mike Allred at TechCXO for the Enneagram-based Print Report, to Brian Scudamore and Vistage for introducing me to Kolbe,  Alyssa Gasca, Michele Sarkisian, Tanya Young Stump, Gina Riley, Balaji Krishnamurthy, Ben Clifton, and Herve Fage for being activists to me, to Sarah Carr Evans and Kevin Hickey for recently dissecting job success profiles for me, and for so many of my LinkedIn connections, friends, and colleagues for your help and encouragement in my own professional journey. So grateful for their investment in me and I hope that I have done a few things to make them proud (mistakes and opinions my own, of course).



Manager's Prayer

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

Manager's Prayer (with my sincerest apologies to the Serenity Prayer)

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot delegate,

Courage to delegate the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I was listening to the Manager Tools podcast today and they called 1:1 meeting, feedback, and delegation "the holy trinity of management," so I thought it needed a liturgy.


Becoming Fearless: 5 Moves For Marketers


Becoming Fearless: 5 Moves For Marketers

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As a marketer, we are asked to make smart investments without all the information. The ever-increasing pace of industry, competitive pressures and rising investor and customer expectations are having their effect. To remain at the top of our game, we must demonstrate a bias for action and the ability to quickly pivot and learn. We are often asked to be change agents, which implies some conflict with internal and external stakeholders, or even our own bosses. We want to make smart decisions. We want to make a difference. We want to be confident and gain the confidence of others. How do we accomplish that? I believe the answer is in being fearless.

The word “fearless,” is often used to synonymously with fear-free. “He ran fearlessly into the burning building to save the child,” the newspaper will report of the local hero. “She has a fearless brush stroke,” they will tell of an artist’s boldness. “He fearlessly changed the business model from traditional transactions to a pay-as-you-go service business,” magazines will report. “Her fearless investments in the new market segment put her ahead of her competition,” followers will admire. "We fearlessly moved our business to the cloud, leading our industry in digital transformation," the annual report will boast. But any of these people will tell you that they have doubts. They were not guaranteed success. There is not a sub-species with superhuman abilities not to feel anxiety (although, in fairness, sometimes when I see the professional snowboarders flipping through the half-pipe or surfers attacking a crashing wave, I might be convinced otherwise). But for the rest of us mere mortals, it isn't about being fear-free, but rather they are overcoming their fears.

What does it mean to be fearless in your business and how can fearlessness be cultivated?

1. It is a mindset change

The answer might be hidden in the word itself. The term “less” is a relative word. It implies that it is less when compared to something else. I am sure you can sting your eyes with “tearless” shampoo, but it is meant to imply a relative safety to other products on the market. We use words like seamless, matchless, baseless, careless, effortless, heartless, motionless, priceless, and thankless as if they are absolutes, but they are really descriptions of relation. You can be seemingly tireless, but still get tired. So, being fearless is to fear less than you did before when faced with uncertainty. That is a choice that you make each day. In marketing, we may shift investment from traditional advertising channels or events to new digital initiatives or approaches. We may change our go-to-market structures, introduce new solutions, target new markets, go after new types of customers. All of these can be seen as fearless moves in hindsight, but if we live in the moment and in the data fearing less, we can improve our chances of success, even when we face internal opposition or hesitancy, without taking on unnecessary risk.

2. It requires practice

Extreme sports athletes seem fearless, but they train for years, risking life and limb, to build up the skills and stamina to wow us in prime time. They overcame their fear one run at a time and practice managing their mind along with their bodies. Entrepreneurs are known for their fearlessness, but that was also trained with small bets and experimentation throughout their lives.

In my experience, confidence is not the opposite of fear: it is action. Fear can be paralyzing, especially when combined with a vivid imagination, but the fearless face it down, give it a name, and move forward. Not recklessly, but with calculated intention, identifying and mitigating risks. To be fearless is just to strive to fear less than you did the day before and you do that with action. Before long, you are accomplishing things never before possible and bringing others along with you on the journey.

3. It builds confidence

I recently heard Beau Lotto, the neuroscientist whose TED talk has generated over 5 million views, say that “courage is more important than confidence.” The best leaders are right a lot of the time and are worth betting on, but more importantly, they have a bias for action. You only have confidence after someone had courage and proved it could be done. Hopefully, of course, that someone is you and you can reap the early mover advantages. Others see the success and what is possible and may live a bit more fearlessly as well.

4. It changes your priorities

You can be 100% correct about things that happened in the past (like last week's lottery numbers), but since we live our lives looking forward, we do not have that luxury. Quite the opposite. In today’s changing landscape, the tactics and strategies that worked in the past might as well be guaranteed not to work in the future. Be skeptical of anyone whose marketing plan, marketing metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are not changing over time. That is something to be truly afraid of. To fear less means to learn more and that is bound to change what you are measuring and where you are aiming your attention and resources.

5. It changes the way you work on a daily basis

Sometimes as leaders we see fearlessness demonstrated in bold business strategies or big M&A investments, but not all fearlessness happens in the boardroom at scale. It is seen in the conversations we have that are awkward or difficult. The coaching conversations with a struggling employee. The negotiations with stakeholders for input or support. The fierce disagreements that result in a strong commitment to the decisions, whether they aligned with your ideal or not. This is where the strength of our backbones are tested. Where our fearlessness and our commitment to strategy is demonstrated. This is where we build our confidence, reveal our new priorities and practice our new mindset.


This article was originally published on


7 Habits of Successful Crisis Management: Aligning Sales and Marketing in the Storm


7 Habits of Successful Crisis Management: Aligning Sales and Marketing in the Storm

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Today it seems that every company is either in the midst of crisis, coming out of a crisis, or about to have one. It isn’t a matter of if. It is a matter of when and how you will respond. And crisis can put the tenuous alignment of your sales and marketing organizations to the test.

“Reputation and crisis have the potential today to define an organization, to send its community of advocates spinning, to disrupt financially its stock, its profitability, its leadership hold on the market,” says Dean Trevelino, whose professional experience spans GolinHarris, Ogilvy, and now Trevelino/Keller, a public relations, social media and brand communications firm located in Atlanta. And no company is immune. “Every month, a national brand showcases the potential impact,” he continued.

Here are 7 skills that you can build today, ahead of a crisis, to help you weather and prosper in the storm.

1. Plan Ahead

“One of the most valuable things an organization can do before a crisis strikes is to have a designated crisis team in place,” offers Anne Marie Malecha, senior vice president and partner at Dezenhall Resources, a leading high-stakes public affairs and crisis management firm in Washington DC. “The team should have a cross-functional representation of your business.  It can’t be 15 people, because the group needs to make decisions and make them quickly,” she advises. “But it can’t be so small that it fails to consider your business as a whole.”

Of course, this crisis team supplements the existing practices regarding public spokesperson responsibilities. “It is critical that the culture and policies of the organization regarding who speaks to the public are in place long before there is a crisis. The ground rules need to be set early on,” Trevelino concludes.

Long before a crisis strikes, it is important to consider the goodwill you are creating in the communities you serve because often “giving back” becomes “paying it forward” in the times of trouble. Trevelino recounts a famous example from McDonald's:

"McDonald’s is a brand that invested in its communities early on. In 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, 53 people were dead, 2,500 injured, $2 billion in damage, including more than 1,200 buildings. McDonald’s restaurants were located in the heart of the destruction and not one McDonald’s was damaged. It was the one brand that people felt was an important brand in the community."

2. Recognize It When It Happens

“Crises take many forms without warning or incident.  From a wayward executive to natural disasters, from criminal tragedies to nationwide product recalls,” he continues. “Sometimes they start as an incident with the potential to become an impacting crisis. Other times, they originate as a full-fledged crisis and our intent is to prevent it from becoming a disaster.”

In Dezenhall's practice, Malecha has seen the range. “Crises are often caused, or fueled, by motivated adversaries,” she asserts. “Those are companies, groups, or individuals with a position that is counter to yours. If you are a large oil company, you can bet that you will find environmental activists among your motivated adversaries. If your company is in an industry targeted by regulators, you may find motivated adversaries on Capitol Hill or in state legislatures.”

Sometimes they are expected and sometimes unexpected. “Any company finds motivated adversaries among their competitors,” she continues. Competitors in the market today with which you are familiar, or disrupters entering the industry. “If you are a grocery store chain or a business focusing on home delivery of groceries, and Amazon enters your space, that is a marketplace crisis.”

And do not forget that sometimes crisis can begin positively. “Mergers and acquisitions can be a crisis,” Malecha observes. “Depending on what side of the transaction they find themselves on and if the deal is struck between publicly traded companies, where the SEC has rules around filings and who is allowed to say what to whom and when” the communications can start to feel responsive.

3. Communicate, Early and Often

Malecha suggests that in the first few hours after a crisis, “you have to communicate. We advise clients not to overpromise in these early stages.  To be empathetic to all the stakeholders, of course.  But you have to communicate something."

"You can’t allow a vacuum to be created,” she continued.  In today’s rapid-fire media landscape, “conventional and alternative news outlets will fill the vacuum with whatever they believe to be true or worse what fits their preconceived narrative,” she explained. And that can lead to a communications clean-up effort.  “Often an initial crisis is followed by a crisis of misinformation that is flooded into the vacuum,” she said. “Sometimes the perception of a possible wrongdoing becomes the crisis,” adds Trevelino. “It becomes a reality that has to be addressed.  The communications or lack thereof, around the crisis, becomes a crisis unto itself.”

“You should communicate progress, early and often,” Malecha urges. “One of the ultimate goals of crisis management is to make your crisis as unsexy and uninteresting as possible.”  That is accomplished through regular updates of incremental progress and as Trevelino advises “relentlessly pursuing the facts.”  You can err by under-communicating and you can error by over communicating, guessing or speculating before facts are understood and action is underway.

A Note About Social Media

“Crisis management is a containment discipline and social media is the opposite,” observes Malecha. “During a crisis, it can be difficult to combat the volume, velocity, and venom – what our firm calls the ‘fiasco vortex,’ – in today’s media landscape.” This phenomenon is explained in Dezenhall's CEO, Eric Dezenhall’s book, Glass Jaw. “Because of the sheer amount of content that can be spread, at warp speeds, with negativity and scandal prioritized over fact, organizations can find themselves in the center of the fiasco vortex in an instant.”

And social media platforms and user behaviors are also changing, especially among employees of affected brands. “No matter what level in the organization you are or no matter how old the Tweet was, people are losing their jobs, their careers, and their reputation,” Trevelino observes. “This heightened level of sensitivity of risk wasn’t there a few years ago.”

4. Align the Message and Equip the Field

A crisis is a distraction to normal operations and nowhere is it more distracting as with customers who want answers from front-line sales and service personnel.

“There is no one great solution to equip salespeople to talk to their customers about the crisis,” notes Malecha. “If they respond to their customers saying, ‘we can’t talk about it,’ that would be troublesome.” If they share too much or incomplete, or worse, inaccurate information, they make the situation worse. Here is what she suggests get prepared to keep everyone on the same page:

"You need an external message for the public.

You also need a message for customers that matter most. Usually, it is the broader public statement with some confidence-inducing talking points.  There is no such thing as an internal document that stays internal, especially in a crisis.

We recommend nothing more than a page and to have it distributed through sales leads or their managers, rather than from the CEO’s office. This allows more direct escalation through trusted relationships.

The message should always be that we are providing information as we get it, in this developing situation, and that our customer relationships are important to us."

5. Listen

In an environment where you are giving updates to the market or press every few hours or seeing an unfolding situation that is likely to take months to resolve, it can be tempting to lean on one-way communications, but that can also damage trust and undermine the ongoing effectiveness of the crisis management.

“Customers must feel that there is two-way communication,” Malecha observes.  “It can calm their nerves and helps inform the company about what questions are on people’s minds.”  This outside perspective is useful.  “What you are feeling and seeing internally, will be different than what your customers are seeing and feeling,” she continues.

This listening can take the form of face to face or phone conversations, a message hotline, email, or social media. Malecha offered this example from Southwest Airlines.

“They recently had a flight that needed to make an emergency landing after losing an engine. As pilots were in communication with air traffic control, Southwest’s sophisticated social media team was getting real-time information from passengers through social channels. A lot of corporations consider social listening an afterthought and as something non-critical, but in times of crisis, it is very important.”

No matter what tools you use, your attitude matters. “We have found you can keep the relationships intact, if there are honesty and continuity,” Malecha continues.  “Customers can also be your greatest pipeline to gauge how you’re handling the crisis. If a lion’s share of your distributors are asking the same question, that’s something that should be communicated back to the crisis team to ensure the company finds an answer to.”

6. Stop What Isn’t Helping

“Companies should be ready to respond with appropriate action across the organization,” Malecha said.  This often means impacting the ongoing marketing initiatives in light of the crisis. She pointedly adds “Do you stop running ads for the company when you are spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico?  Yes.  Do you change the tone of your social media accounts from irreverent to respectful when your product has allegedly hurt someone?  Yes.”

It is often good to shut down marketing in the midst of a crisis to be sensitive and to not waste critical resources, Trevelino observes. Like a hurricane, a "crisis can swallow up everything in its path." This can affect a brand even “when the crisis is not directed at the [client] company,” but is in the industry or market segment. “Everything in its path becomes devastated, regardless of whether they had a role.” Monitoring the situation and brand closely ensures that resources are allocated responsibly. “You can shorten the life of a crisis by not crashing your own plane,” Malecha adds.

7. Maximize Your Learning

“Good companies allow the crisis to be a catalyst for positive operational change.  Poor leadership can allow the crisis to drive the company to free fall,” Malecha offers.  “Some go through a crisis and try to go straight back to normal.  But the best companies recognize that there is a new normal.  They intend to learn from their experience and not let it repeat, with worse consequences.”

“What is the objective of the company when crisis strikes?” Malecha asks rhetorically. “To return to business as usual as fast as possible.  Sure, they may have to spend money that they didn’t intend to spend with lawyers, communications firms, and investigators.” Those are the expenses that come with the crisis.  But if those are treated like tuition, the learnings can be substantial.

8. Diagnose Accurately and Take Action

“Crises are often misdiagnosed,” Malecha concludes.  “They almost always arise as conflicts, not communication problems.”  Since the issue or topics might be playing out in the media, some leaders will identify the crisis as a communication problem and are tempted to treat it as such.  But “crises are solved through operational decisions, not just PR bandages.  You might have a great statement or press release, but that is not going to build back the factory that blew up or fix the quality issue that led to the product recall," she explains.

"Crisis management is a series of deliberate decisions the company makes to dampen the broader impact of what they are facing. It isn’t just communications." It is about an opportunity make the company better, strengthen relationships with the customers that matter most, improve the operations, and even solidify the alignment and positive dependencies between sales and marketing that will serve the organization well into the future.

Disclosure: I recently volunteered to conduct a workshop for McDonalds restaurant owners, sponsored by Coca-Cola I have flown Southwest Airlines and have fond childhood memories of McDonald's Happy Meals.

This article was originally published on Forbes.


4 Ways to Avoid Data Breaches Through Sales and Marketing Alignment


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.



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.


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.


Mission: Impossible and Sales and Marketing Alignment


Mission: Impossible and Sales and Marketing Alignment

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I saw the new Mission: Impossible movie yesterday and was struck by how often Ethan Hunt, the hero played by Tom Cruise, stopped to see, empathize, and protect his team mates and the innocent bystanders of his action shenanigans. Seeing them as people, not as obstacles on his parkour course chasing bad guys.

It was a good reinforcement of some ideas from a book (recommended to me by Jennifer Daniels) called The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. In it, they provocatively call the objectifying of people as an act of violence itself, as thoughts precede behavior. 

What does this have to do with sales and marketing alignment? Well, everything.

I have been writing for Forbes on the topic of alignment and customer-centricity, showcasing insights from different marketing, sales, and business leaders across the country, from brands big and small. I still have a lot to share (stay tuned for some great upcoming pieces), but even in these early weeks of my research I am struck with how often the problem that manifests as misalignment is one of perspective.

Harkening back to high school geometry, here is the step-by-step proof:

We can only solve problems we can see.

In frustration or impatience, we see each other as the problem.

When we see each other as the problem, we stop seeing the real problem.

As we don't see the problem as it truly is, we can never really solve it.

In a lesson today, Dr. Mark Brewer, reminded us that in relationships you can’t think “you are the problem” or “I am the problem,” you have to think “it’s you and me against the problem.”

When we see each other through the lens (or should I say the monocle) of the problem, we no longer see the person. They are the problem. They are objectified.  They are a caricature without the complexities inherent in humanity. We see them and the issue in 2D. Over-simplified. And as a result, our minds are tuned to seek and find hardship. We are often chasing evidence of how we’ve been wronged. None of which is useful to problem solving.

In contrast, when we see the problem through the lenses of more than one expert (as you can when you are on the same side of the table, instead of opposite sides), the problem can be fully explored in 3D. The people remain people (not obstacles to overcome) and our minds are tuned to solutions and finding common ground. 

We see what we seek.

This does not mean that sometimes our colleagues are not very good at their jobs or that some people are difficult to work alongside. There are times when people do have ill intensions or have broken our trust. Sometimes role changes or people moves are required to get to solution and this can be achieved with sensitivity and respect.  But in any case, confronting reality, both the good and the bad, together leads to better outcomes in my experience.

I heard of an example recently where a high-performing executive at a prominent company decided to take a side step into a supporting role in recognition that the business needed something beyond what he could give. This highly admirable act demonstrates not only self-awareness and servant leadership, but also the commitment to face the truth and follow that truth to whatever conclusions are best for the business. 

This kind of openness and frank communication can re-center the organization on the “why” of your business or project, what success looks like, and what is required to move forward.

Ray Padron recently shared a quote from Gail Hyatt which posed that “people lose their way, when they lose their why.” So true.

And ironically, the best way to find your “why” is to start with your “who.” After all, you can’t be obsessed about your customers, if you don’t know who they are. You can’t set priorities or align your time and resources to high-impact projects, if you don’t know who you are serving. You can't own your business, if you are seeking others to blame. And we can’t determine or achieve the “why” of our business without the people “who” are our colleagues, team mates, stakeholders, and co-collaborators.

Our mission, should we accept it, is to see people as people and to find a way together.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.


Advice to New CMOs: Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable


Advice to New CMOs: Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

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In my latest Forbes article, I interviewed Martyn Etherington from Teradata.  Read the full article here.


Martyn Etherington knows what it takes to drive change from the office of the CMO and has plenty of lessons for new chief marketing officers.  In fact, he himself is practicing being new. Six short months ago he joined Teradata, a data analytics company, drawing upon his extensive executive marketing experiences at IBM (Sequent Computer Systems), Danaher  (Tektronix), Mitel Networks, and Cisco Systems 

Being new on the executive team, the need to align sales and marketing, a perennial priority, is even more sharply in focus. “Sales and marketing can be like the Montagues and Capulets from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,” Etherington joked.  Even at the best run companies, alignment is hard won.

Etherington’s priorities these first few months he believes have set the foundation for the alignment that will be needed for transformation and hold some lessons for any CMO starting with a new company.

Goal Setting – tied to revenue and relationships

“The relationship between sales and marketing can also be, at times, as Winston Churchill described the U.S. and U.K., ‘two nations separated by a common language,’” he continued. “The key is shared language and goals,” not just perceptions. “We have one shared goal and that is ‘Growth’,” he summarized.

Etherington emphasizes that marketing should have intimacy with the business and that compensation should be tied to their sales peers’ goals. “I want them to know where are we regarding revenue, quarter to date, year to date,” he explains. “Are we growing quarter-over-quarter, year-over-year? Are we growing at or above market? Are we taking share? How does our collective sales funnel look?”  For this, he looks at the size, shape, velocity, and quality of the overall pipeline and then asks “How can we help improve the funnel?” to keep the focus on action. As he has found “without these KPIs, without this insight and intimacy of our business, we are stumbling in the dark.”

Every organization would like to get better at attribution, but Etherington is “less concerned with perfect attribution, or optics. I would much rather spend time determining our impact on the funnel and top-line growth,” he said.  It starts and ends with setting good Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and a desire to “do good, not just look good.”

“Other than my boss, my number one priority was the partnership with my sales peer Eric Tom, our chief revenue officer,” Etherington offers.  And those relationships extend through the sales organization and across between leaders in sales and marketing.

Etherington suggests that a good way to begin these conversations in your first few days on the job is to ask sales peers the following question: “If we were to nuke marketing, what would happen to our business?”  This can solicit a range of responses, all useful for building a relationship and getting on the same page as to the priorities.

“Sometimes you get the answer ‘nothing would happen.’ Others attribute a portion of their sales results to marketing,” Etherington recalls.  He has found that based on his B2B marketing experience, “organizations believe that, ideally, that they should get 20-30 percent of their funnel from marketing.” Some industries vary depending on the complexities of their offerings, sales cycle and whether they have a direct or indirect or blended go-to-market strategy, but no matter how much reliance there is on marketing to build the pipeline, it is important to create positive dependencies between marketing and sales that ties back to those shared goals and the relationships that are being fostered between the functions.

Teradata has an enterprise focus and sells direct.  The sales are consultative and high touch. In this model, it may be more simple to track attribution to marketing than other go-to-market models, but it still requires vigilance and a focus on the right things. “Transparency is key,” he adds. “You need operational rigor around your own metrics. They need to be real and they need to be metrics that you can manage versus just monitoring.” As I have also found in my career, marketing has lots of things they can measure, but not all things that are measurable are important or lead to action. “We are interested in conversion and ultimately conversion," he continued. "That is more important to us than vanity metrics like touch points. We want to work with our sales peers to drive growth.”

Culture – a mindset change supported by systems

“You can pontificate all you like about alignment, insight, impact and effectiveness, but you have to have a business perspective, an appetite for operational rigor and a culture of continuous improvement to affect change,” Etherington challenged. You have to operationalize the strategic plan, with the right structures and systems in place, to achieve it. He has worked for companies with exacting business operating systems, like Danahar, with red, yellow, and green dashboard indicators and he has taken the opportunity to apply best practices of lean to his team at Teradata for strategy deployment, KPIs, action plans, and “root cause countermeasure” approaches. “We implemented weekly stand-ups and have begun a standard monthly marketing operations review to make sure we are making progress and attaining our KPI planned metrics,” he explained.

Cultures are known to change slowly.  “We are at the beginning of a journey,” Etherington said. “We have begun our transformation. We have our strategic objectives in place, aligned with our company goals. We have our KPIs defined and populated, we have supporting action plans and forums for us to inspect and improve.”  It’s a start, but there is more to do.  “We don’t have all the answers,” he continued. “How much can we say that we contribute to our business? With only our first monthly marketing operations review under our belt, I can say not as much as we ought to be. Now we know where we are, our jumping off point, we have only one way to go!”

Any experienced executive will tell you that change - at the scale of a business transformation and a redefinition of what marketing means to an organization overall - can test the patience of the leadership and the organization.  It can lead to organizational fatigue, misalignment, or impatience to rush to answers when the problems are not yet fully understood.  Etherington finds that the power to achieve results first begins with a willingness to see the problems, in blaring detail, and face them head-on.

“One of the biggest challenges when moving from activity-based marketing to outcome-based marketing is the transparency, accountability, and responsibilities that come with that approach,” he explains. “We are in the infancy of our marketing effectiveness journey and most of our KPIs are currently in red.”  The ambitions of the organizations and the standards set by the team are not yet reflected in the reality of the business. “That is not a comfortable feeling for many people,” he observed. “We are all raised to covet the gold star or turn a red metric into the green.” Everyone wants to do well and wants to do well as quickly as possible.

“One philosophy ingrained in me from my time at Danaher was the notion of ‘living in the red.’ In monthly operations reviews, if your KPI was green, we did not talk about it. It’s good. It’s at plan. What we wanted to discuss was the red KPIs - the variances from plan.”  Living in the red means to ask questions like:

  • What is the cause of the miss?
  • What are the corrective actions underway?
  • Are we making progress against our goal?
  • Are the specifics in the supporting action plans to ensure we are executing strongly towards the KPI?
  • Are we stretching enough?

The focus needs to be constantly brought back into focus on the things that need attention, action, or course correction.  “It could be many months before that KPI would go to green, but it forces you to think differently, adopt a growth mindset and be ok, although not comfortable, being in the red,” Etherington instructed. “The confidence comes as you use the tools and know that with applied discipline eventually, you will achieve sustainable results.”  Etherington knows this from experience.  “It works," he advocates. "It is proven and has been to a large part a major contributor to my success and some of the companies for which I have worked.”  Leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and help their organizations do the same.

Of course, there are a host of strategies and tactics within these organizing principles that the CMO and teams need to implement from the start to be successful in the new role and for years to come. Seeking out data to inform decisions, building a great team and structuring them for success, influencing and being influenced by customers, and building a culture of continuous improvement take judgment and time.  Focusing on the shared goals, and the systems and mindsets required to achieve them, even if they are uncomfortable at first, is a great place to start for any new CMO leading an organization to green.


5 Ways to Bridge the Sales and Marketing Gap


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.


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.


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.


Jennifer's Frank Advice for Marketers in Forbes


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.


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.