Monday, December 3, 2012

"We don’t need marketing to sell our product! Meanwhile I only buy the coolest things."

Why do so many technical people think that marketing is not needed to sell the products they make, while failing to see how marketing messages have shaped their own opinions about what they buy as consumers?

I had an experience a few years ago with a technical person who was the epitome of this contradictory view of reality.  I worked for a company that had amazing software that let users easily create complex applications with no programming experience.  The founder of the company, Ian, a brilliant engineer, took the typical view of sales people – on a scale of which professions one could trust, salesmen placed higher then politicians, but somewhere below prostitutes.

Ian felt that all a salesman needed to do was demonstrate his software.  Our bright prospect would certainly have knowledge of all the characteristics of all the products in the marketplace, and choose us since, objectively, we were better. Of course, Ian argued, if the prospect wasn’t bright enough and couldn’t see how much better we were, then we were wasting our time with him and we should move on. 

Well, soon after I joined this company we went public.  Since Ian was a founder and had many shares of stock, he was an instant millionaire.  To celebrate, he bought his dream car.  I called him and the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey Ian, congratulations, I heard you bought a car.  What kind?”

Ian: “Aston Martin DB5.”

Me: “Hmm, a great car.  Being a logical, objective engineer, I imagine you created a spreadsheet with all the vehicles you might consider purchasing, then loaded the spreadsheet with every conceivable characteristic, from price, to type of steering, gas mileage, turning ratio, etc, and then rated each vehicle in each characteristic, giving every car a score and that the Aston Martin DB5 won.  Correct?”

Ian: “Well, not exactly.”

Me: “Oh?  Really?  Well then, why did you buy an Aston Martin?”

Ian: “Because that’s the car that James Bond drives.”

Me: “I see.  So you had an image of a car, created by a fiction writer, and when it came time for you to spend your hard-earned money, you decided that this car, driven by a fictional person, was the car you wanted to buy.”

Ian: “Yes.”

Me: “So, marketing, which created the image of that car in your mind, played a role in your buying decision.”

Ian: “Yes.”

Me: “Why then, don’t you think that marketing plays a role in the decision making process of our customers?”

Ian: Silence.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Connecting with an audience: an idea that works

Recently, I taught a two-day sales training class in São Paulo, Brazil. I love teaching these classes; they’re filled with role playing sessions and interactive discussions, interspersed with lively, good-natured joking.  And the less I lecture and the more students talked and got emotionally involved, the more they enjoyed the class, and the more they learned.
The first morning I entered a large room with rows of chairs and desks facing a raised platform  Arriving at the platform, I turned to see 25 professionally-dressed seriously-caffeinated faces staring at me. Each had a blank note book open with pen in hand, determined to listen attentively and quietly while taking notes.  These were students from schools that demanded obedience. Would they be brave enough to tell me their names?
Immediately I know this would be disaster.  What could I do to break the ice?
I said, “I want everyone to take a piece of paper”; they complied like dancers in a chorus line. I took a piece as well. “Now, do as I am doing please, very carefully, put the paper in your hands, and crumple it up in a ball just like this”.  They all followed me with neither a quizzical look nor smile.
“Now, I tend to speak fast, and I know that English is not your first language, so every time I speak too fast, the way to slow me down, is to take this paper ball and throw it at me.” I then threw my ball over everyone’s head.  “Now don’t throw it too hard, because you might hurt me. So throw those balls at me, right now!”   Everyone threw their paper balls at me and smiled.  Fortunately, no one knocked me out but a few throws did hit me solidly, to the laughter of the crowd.
I had them. The ice was broken. It was a great class.
© Marc Gedansky, 2011

Monday, November 5, 2012

You're as good as celery!

Ever have a client tell you "you're as good as celery"?

If you haven't, you should know it's really a compliment.  Let me explain -

I asked my client what he meant by that.  He said: "Every time I bring you in to help me think about my sales and marketing challenges, you give me ideas that make me more money than I pay you.  It's like eating celery.  It takes up more calories to chew and digest calories than you get in calories from the celery, so eating celery is like negative calories.  Paying you is like getting more back than you cost.  So to me you're like celery".

"Are you telling me that I'm not charging you enough"?

"No,because if you charge me more you turn into lard"!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Marketing Toots the Wrong Horn

Ever work with a technical marketing person who didn’t really know what your company was selling?

A few years ago I worked for a business intelligence software company.  Essentially, we sold business-oriented software, to business people, who were looking to solve business problems.  I can’t explain it any more simply than that. This was software that did not interest technical people.  Sure, once installed they had to maintain it, but it was not for them.
One day I get an email from our technically-oriented head of Marketing with the latest press release.  Here is a short quiz - was the press release:
A) A story about a financial service customers, extolling the virtues of our product, so I could leverage this and send it to my financial service prospects?, or was it
B) A story about a Retail customers, extolling the virtues of our product, so I could leverage this and send it to my Retail prospects?, or was it
C) A story about a manufacturing customers, extolling the virtues of our product, so I could leverage this and send it to my manufacturing prospects?
Unfortunately, the answer was “D, none of the above”.  The title of the release reveals all you need to know, “Latest Benchmarking test shows that (My company’s products) runs 27% faster on UNIX Servers than (our biggest competitor’s product)”.
I immediately felt sick.  I picked up a mail order catalogue I had brought from home in anticipation of this type of press release, and went  to see our Marketing VP.
“Heinz, why was the last press release about our speed on a UNIX box?  That’s ‘nice to know’  info, but what functional VP cares about that?”
“The IT Departments needs to know all the technical specs of our product, since they have to maintain it.”
“True, but we know that IT often only gets called in by the business groups at the end of the buying process, just to validate a decision that has essentially already been made.  I think we are cluttering our image in the market, since business people will also get these technical messages, and  confuse them with our ‘business value’ messages”.
“Well that’s why you are in sales and not marketing.”
“Heinz, do you see what I have here?”
“Sure it’s a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, why are you bringing that to work, nothing else to do?”
“I brought it here to prove a point.  You are delivering technical messages to business people.  They want to hear about business solutions to business problems.  Seems to me, If they made you VP of Marketing of Victoria’s Secret, you would fire all these gorgeous models, and replace them with a picture of you, standing in a white coat in a laboratory, holding a garment, and the caption would be, ‘we use 27% more lycra in our thongs than our competitors.’  How many thongs do you think you’d sell with that ad”?
Heinz was speechless.
© Marc Gedansky, 2011

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dashboards - why are so many, so useless?

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Most dashboards are designed with no clue as to the meaning and/or importance of this quote.
(BTW, even though this is a blog about data visualization, I won’t show any poorly designed dashboard examples, as they are ubiquitous.  Trying to find them is about as difficult as trying to find leaves on the ground in New England during the Fall). 

I view dashboards every day; on software company sites, news sites, financial sites, and blogs.  Since dashboards can distill so much information and display it in such a small space, they hold the potential of quickly delivering valuable insights; of cutting through the “data clutter” to immediately reveal important trends or truths.

So why then, are most dashboards crammed with so many charts, dials, and graphs that they overwhelm you?  Just because you can fit a half-dozen on a screen, why is there a need to do it?  (This approach reminds me of my friend Geoff, who, upon hearing that Hellmann’s was coming out with mayonnaise that had half the calories remarked, “great, now I can eat twice as much”.)

I think there can only be two reasons. 

1. The designer/developer wants to show off their expertise with Qlikview, or Spotfire, or Tableau, or X product.

2. The designer/developer does not care about the average person, and wants to build smart software for brilliant users. 

That attitude reminds me of a meeting I attended at a software company a few years ago.  The head of development was upset because he was being asked to make his software “easy to use”.    He called it “dumbing down”, and complained that it would be less challenging for his development team to build “software for idiots”.  At this point, the President of the company interjected, “if our customers are smart enough to write us a check, then they are smart enough to use our software.  And the onus for them to be able to use our software is on us, not on them.”
Want an example of “dumbed down” software.  Remember Alta Vista? 
I am sure they employed tons of bright people.  I can only imagine the passionate debates over what the screen should look like.  And, whoever the “winners” were, they could tell their friends to go to the Alta Vista link and brag to them that it was their design ideas that were used.  They were responsible for the brilliant idea to place the “Directory” where it is, or to use the words “Useful Tools” instead of just “Tools”.
And then along came this simply idiotic search engine.  Boy, did the Alta Vista folks get a good laugh at the simpletons who designed this!  Talk about “dumbed down”!

 By the way, what’s a share of alta vista stock going for these days?
OK, some of you will say I am being unfair here, because I have the advantage of being able to look back at who won the search engine “war”.  To those of you who say/think that, I leave you with one final quote, from George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Think Tanks

Have you ever been in a meeting where you thought you were the seller, and then realized that the person you were selling to was trying to sell something to you?    

It first happened to me a few years ago at a software start-up. We knew we had a better, cheaper, easier to use product than our entrenched, multi-million $ competitors.  We thought that if a well-known market research/think tank knew about us, they would put us in one of their “magic quadrants”, so that the marketplace would know who of us and our great product.  Wasn’t that the mandate of these research firms? Isn’t that what their large corporate clients were paying for, namely, what are the best solutions for their business problems?

We were thrilled when an analyst from one of these groups approached us at a trade show and stayed for a demonstration.  She asked lots of questions, seemed keenly interested, knew about the market and the competition, and appeared to understand why we were better.  Visions of fast cars and winter months spent on warm beaches flew into my head.

A few weeks later, I got a call from this analyst.  She was coming to town and wanted to come by and talk further about our cool product and company.  Shouldn’t I at least find out what a down payment for a Porsche might be?

When the analyst came she wasn’t alone.  She brought an “Account Executive” who was available at the “last minute”.   She said it would be a good idea if we knew more about the services they could provide us.  At this point, the image of my Porsche faded into a picture of an Isuzu.

We walked into our conference room where our excited Founder and President was ready with a  detailed presentation. But before he talked, I wanted to ask a few questions.

I said, “I know that you’re planning to tell us about the services that you could offer us, but before you start, I have one question – do you cover and report on companies that are not paying clients?”

“Well, of course we do”, said the Account Executive.  “However, it is hard for us to justify having an analyst spend a lot of time with a client if we are not getting compensated for our services.  We see it as a symbiotic relationship.”

“I see, symbiotic.  And just how much might this ‘symbiotic’ relationship cost us?”

“There are all types of and levels of relationships that we have with our clients, if you just let me start my PowerPoint presentation, I can explain..”

“Ah, excuse me before you start, can you just ballpark your fees for us?  What might a ‘symbiotic light’ level cost us? 

“Our ‘entry-level’ fee structure for an organization of your size and, I might add, immense promise, is, in the $25,000 range.”

“I see. So, the companies in your magic quadrant, are they all paying clients of yours?”

“Well, yes they are.” He said, proudly.

“Well, if they are all paying clients, then what’s so ‘magic’ about being in the quadrant?”

“All of the companies are not all rated at the same level, there are some companies that are rated much higher than others.”

“And should I be surprised to hear that the companies that pay you more so you can afford to have teams cover them full-time; you tend to know a lot about, and they tend to get better ratings?”

No Answer.

“Maybe you should stop calling it the ‘Magic Quadrant’ and call it what it really is; perhaps ‘The Quadrant of Companies That Can Afford To Be In It’.

“Hey, wait a minute, we are a well-respected, multi-$M global organization, and our Magic Quadrant is used by thousands of organizations to make important decisions. Vendors use it to enhance and round-out their product lines, and large corporations use it to make key sourcing decisions, although we refuse to endorse any particular vendor. Please do not call into question our integrity.”

“Wait a minute, did you just say you are vendor neutral?”

“Yes and proud of it.”

“So, you would be as likely to endorse us as anyone else, even if we weren’t in the Quadrant?”

He glared at me.

“Why don’t you start your presentation, and we’ll see what this all costs.”  At this point my Isuzu faded into an image of a pair of sneakers.  Used.

We eventually became a client because this was the game we had to play (and pay dearly for). But it taught me a lot about “objective” 3rd party analysis.

© Marc Gedansky 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Qualifying leads at Trade Shows – a true story

Before Social Media, SEO, or Hubspot, companies had to engage with prospects in a very strange way - they actually had to talk with them, often in person.  And, of course, just as there is now a right and wrong way to qualify leads, there was back then as well. 
The following is an example of the wrong way :
I was doing booth “duty” at a large trade show in New York, for a company that sold sophisticated software to large corporations.  Our targeted audiences were people who worked in large organizations and consultants who could help us get into those corporations.
All attendees were given badges that contained their contact info in electronic form so that exhibitors could easily capture that info by scanning those badges with an electronic “wand”.
While standing in our booth I noticed one of our young, eager marketeers latching on to anyone who came near her.  She would cheerfully introduce herself, smile, and ask if she could scan their badge.  Unfortunately, no one turned her down. 
The situation got out of hand when I saw her approach a 14-year-old wearing a Yankee cap, backwards.  As she smiled and got her wand ready, I began to feel an urge to scream out “Cease and desist!” but realized that my yelping wouldn’t do much for our corporate image.  Instead, I calmed down and approached the perpetrator.  The following conversation took place:
Me: “Hi Carol, can I have a word with you?”
Carol: “Can it wait? There are a ton of people out here.”
Me: “No it can’t, I need to talk with you now.”
 (We walk away from the crowd to the back of our booth)
Me: “Carol, why are you scanning children’s badges?”
Carol: “I was told to scan the badges of as many people as possible, since we need to capture as many leads as we can for the sales force, it’s our job.”
Me: “How much software do you think that kid with the baseball cap can afford to buy?”
Carol: “Well, he’ll get entered into our database and we can categorize him appropriately.”
Me: “Why bother to enter him at all?  So he can be a record that will take up space which we’ll have to maintain for years?  Do you want to be the sales rep that calls our Yankees fan next week?  Should we waste time sending him emails and letters over the next five years?”
Carol: “But in a few years, he might be old enough to be a prospect.”
Me: “Ok, so if he is a prospect in 9 years when he gets out of college, then let’s capture him then.  Between now and then, who knows what will happen?”
Carol: “But I’m supposed to get leads from this show, that’s my job.”
(At this point, it was getting close to 5 PM.  The trade show had hired a catering service which was in the process of setting up booths to sell food and beverages)
Me: “Carol, come with me for a minute.”
(We walk over to one of the booths.)

Me: “Carol, you see these meatballs?  They come from a cow.  Let’s say the cow was named Elsie.  Let’s say there was a badge next to the meatballs for Elsie.  Should we scan that badge too?”
Carol shoots me a dirty look.
Me: “Look,  I know we need leads, but there has to be some level of intelligence in determining what badges we scan and what badges we don’t.  And I am here to tell you, that our Yankee friend is about as likely to buy software as Elsie is.  Should we scan Elsie into our database so we ‘categorize her appropriately’ as well?  So why bother to do it with Master Backwards Yankees Cap!”
Carol: “I see.”
Me: “Thank you, sorry for going crazy here, but I needed to prove my point.”
Carol: “How come the VP of Marketing never explained it to me this way?”
Me: “Actually, I am glad he wasn’t at this show.”
Carol: “Why?”
Me: “Because he would have scanned Elsie’s badge.”