Three Guiding Principles for Marketing

Every Evil Empire needs some sort of manifesto to guide its rule. The Sith Lords had their Rule of Two. The Hutts had their own ruthless philosophy. Why not Marketing?

I’ve been involved in a lot of different marketing Empires in my career. And they’ve all believed in something, even if that wasn’t explicitly called out to its members. Some believed in “schedule chicken” with customers, promising products on the theory that we could build them faster than the customer could agree to buy and implement them. Some believed in doing whatever sales told them to do; some believed the opposite. Some were survivalists who simply believed in every man for himself, or its corollaries: build your connections and scratch the right people’s backs, and always grab as much budget as you can.

The Bullhorn marketing team has a three-pronged approach, and it has held up quite well over the last couple years that I’ve been part of the group:

Revenue-focused. Spend effort on activities that earn the company money. In effect, this makes us very driven to help the sales team sell, via lead generation campaigns, sales enablement and training, and content to drive prospects’ movement through the sales funnel. It also discourages us from building products because we think they’d be cool, instead of because we think our customers and potential customers will pay us money for the value we’re creating. Too often marketing departments worry about things like “branding” or generating lots of one-off content instead of focusing on what will grow the business.

Outside-in. Spend time understanding what our customers think and need, rather than inventing it ourselves. Don’t make decisions from an ivory tower. By remembering NIHITO – Nothing Important Happens Inside The Office – we stand a chance of understanding our customers’ wants and adjusting our messages, product investment, and strategies appropriately instead of blindly guessing based on our instincts and past experiences. Which, I’ve found, is all too easy a trap to fall into.

Metrics-driven. Whenever possible, use data to assist in making decisions. As the Pragmatic Marketing saying goes, our opinion, though interesting, is irrelevant. What do the numbers say? Data tells us which programs are more successful, which parts of the selling process need help, which email subject lines are better, which segments to focus on, and whether we’ve reached the goals we set out to achieve. SMART goals let us know when we can declare victory, and rapid iteration lets us keep refining and measuring until we get to the level we are looking for.

No, these three principles won’t let us rule the galaxy with an iron fist. But they do make our role in the larger scheme of an organization much clearer. They provide guidance for prioritizing activities. And they avoid the usual criticisms of a marketing department of being squishy and hard to measure – the traits that turn an important functional group into a company’s parasitic weasels.

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Launching a New Product for Your Bounty Hunters

“There will be a substantial reward for the one who finds the Millenium Falcon…”
— Darth Vader, to his bounty hunters

So you understand how Bounty Hunters are motivated.  Your sales team wants to know how you’re going to help them make money.  They are hunting customers for the commission bounty spelled out in their compensation plans for successful sales.  They worry that any time not spent selling is time wasted.

Meanwhile, you’ve got a new product to launch.  How can you possibly get these sharks to stop swimming long enough to hear what you have to tell them?

Here’s the classic way to do it.  Engineering says the product is ready to go, so you decide it’s time.  You put together a 1-hour sales training meeting/conference call/webinar, maybe even recorded for anyone who missed it.  During the training you introduce the product and go through how it works.  After the webinar you send a long launch email to the sales team with everything you think they need to know all squeezed in: links to datasheets and whitepapers, your 30-slide training presentation, what’s new in this release, and so forth.  Voila!  You’re done.

Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What happened?  First of all, you waited too late to tell sales; they’ve already heard about the product and have been out pitching it (incorrectly) to customers for a month.  If they attended your session at all, they were multitasking through it if remote.  Folks in person fared a little better but they’ve still forgotten 80% of what you told them.  No one watched the recording.  They archived your email for reference, if they looked at it at all, and never went back to check it out once they grabbed your PowerPoint, found the 3 or 4 slides they decided were worth using (including some internal-only slides), and added it to their standard pitch deck.  Then they went back to selling the stuff they know how to sell, rather than risk money by pitching your new, unproven product.

None of this should be a surprise, frankly, and it’s not all endemic to sales.  Learning anything new requires reinforcement.  It requires breaking down lessons into takeaways that are easy to remember concepts.  The old tell-’em-what-you’re-gonna-tell-’em, tell-’em, tell-’em-what-you-told-em still holds true.  On top of that, you need to take into account the typical sales motivation: so what?  How will this help me make money?  Why should I care?  If you don’t answer these questions, they will not absorb what you have to say.

Here are five ways to improve your overall communications with your bounty hunters:

  • Know your message.  Decide from the start how to answer this question: “What are the 1-3 things you want the sales team to remember?  Then be consistent.  Make that message loud and clear, then reinforce it through all your communications.
  • Keep it short.  Brevity is the soul of wit, but it’s the bane of marketers and engineers.  Engineers are too worried about being complete and accurate.  And us marketers have diarrhea of the mouth.  Shorter is better.  Find quoteworthy soundbites.  If you tell them ten things, you tell them nothing.
  • Make it relevant.  Why should sales care?  Why should customers care?  Answer the question “So what?”  This means you’re NOT talking about version numbers, “speeds and feeds” or numbers without context, or obscure features that won’t help them sell.  You ARE talking about what the product is (at a high level), who would buy it, what pain points those buyers have, how it solves those buyer’s problems, who competitors are and how to counter their attempts to discredit it, who’s already using it, how much it costs, and how sales is compensated for it.
  • Establish a place to go for help.  No one will remember everything you tell them, and they definitely won’t read all your emails.  You may find yourself bombarded with questions that you thought you answered in your long painful email that no one kept: “Where’s the price list?  Do we have a standard contract?  Do we support X?  Can we do Y for my customer?”  If you’re unlucky, they’re not asking you those questions, and they’re out there making up the answers.  An internal reference site is key as a repository for launch training and your ongoing release of new helpful materials.  You can be fancy and use knowledge base software that allows for tagging and searching, but you’re often fine with simply a Google site with some uploaded links.  Driving home that this is the place to go for their just-in-time training lets sales concentrate on selling until they realize they need information.   Expect to direct lots of sales questions back to the site — and when possible send links instead of actual docs so they learn where to find the information themselves.
  • Protect yourself.  Remember that anything you give sales is likely to end up in front of a customer.  The temptation is too great to reuse slides to save time.  Not to mention it’s nice to show off to customers or answer their tough questions, even if that means revealing the totally unapproved and speculative product roadmap.  So keep things on a need-to-know basis.  Anything you say can and will be promised to customers.  There’s no such thing as an “internal only” slide unless you take steps to make it unusable.  I prefer a WordArt banner over the title that says DELETE THIS SLIDE BEFORE PRESENTING TO CUSTOMER.  The flip side is also true; you need to give them enough runway.  Depending on what your typical sales cycle is, you may need to tell them about an offer a month or two before it’s ready, so they can get comfortable with it and start pitching it now.

Finally, for the love of all bounty hunters everywhere — please, please don’t try to train sales on anything in the last week of the quarter.  Maybe even the last two weeks.  I’ve even had a sales VP tell my marketing department not to plan any trainings in the last 6 weeks of the quarter!  Would you try to interview a marathon runner on the last two miles of the race?  Or, keeping with this blog’s theme, did Obi-wan spend time training Luke once the Rebels were battling it out at the Death Star?  Often, sales people are trying to bring in a few last-minute customers, especially if they haven’t yet made their number for the quarter.  They are too distracted to absorb anything.  They are focused on that final push.  So schedule that sales kickoff meeting for a few weeks into January, April, July, or October, when your bounty hunters have captured their quarry, cashed in their rewards, and are already planning their attacks for the next 3 months.

Next up: Some practical examples of sales training in action.

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The Mindset of the Bounty Hunter

“Bounty Hunters…  We don’t need their scum.” — Admiral Piett

Ah, but so often, as Dark Side Marketers, we do need the Bounty Hunters of the Sales team.  No matter how good your product is, it won’t sell itself.  Someone has to go out and find the customers.  And that someone is Sales.

But what motivates the Sales team?  The same thing that motivates Bounty Hunters in the Star Wars universe.  Money.

It’s easy to nod your head and move on, but if you’re going to interact properly with sales, you need to realize just how much this basic motivation drives all of your dealings with the Bounty Hunters of your organization.

We Jedi, whether we be Dark Side Marketers or Light Side Engineers, enjoy a certain degree of job security and steady income.  Your average sales person lives under the constant threat of being fired if she doesn’t make her number.  Her compensation plan is driven entirely by her ability to meet her quota.  A bad quarter may be the difference between steak dinners at Morton’s and hamburgers at McDonald’s.  Just as sharks must keep swimming to breathe, sales must keep selling to live.

Consider the implications.  If sales must keep selling, then any time they spend not selling is likely a waste of their time.  They don’t want deep dive product training.  They could care less about the latest obscure features or your product’s new architecture.  They rely on others to learn the tech.  The question that guides their every activity is, “How will this help me make money?”

Imagine your programmers were compensated per line of code written, regardless of quality.  Or if your QA team were paid for every bug report filed.  Or if your product team got a bonus for releasing a product early, never mind any defects.  It would significantly change their behavior.  They would be less concerned about releasing a great product.  And yet, most sales people are primarily compensated solely based on the revenue they bring into the company.  It’s no wonder they are keen to sell something — ANYTHING — and not interested in spending time becoming a well-rounded citizen of your company.  Nor should they.  They need to keep swimming.

Practically speaking, this mindset leads to some of my favorite quotes from sales people I’ve worked with over the years:

  • “The only emails I read right away are from the head of the company, from my boss, and from my customers.”  Marketing and product aren’t on the list.  No one reads your release notes.  No one saw your instructions on tagging marketing campaigns in the CRM.  No one read your launch email.
  • “The answer is yes.”  Hint: it’s always yes.  Yes, we have what you need… I just need to go back now and find out how close we can get to actually delivering it.
  • “Why should I learn this new product?”  After all, quota is quota, and if a sales person can hit his number selling the stuff he knows, there’s not much point in losing selling time trying to learn a new, unproven product that might not sell as well.
  • “I don’t use your slides.  I’m most comfortable with these older ones.”  Oh, the horror of going to a customer meeting and seeing 2 year old slides with outdated misinformation, because the sales person didn’t want to create a new deck.
  • “I couldn’t go to your training, I was on a customer call.”  Customers >> training, every time.
  • “Let’s celebrate!  I sold something to Big Client.  You just have to build it now.”  What in your organization prevents sales from promising stuff that can’t be delivered?  Not every company has a check to balance out this problem.

The next time you’re wondering why sales is ignoring you, or chooses not to bring you on their sales call, or puts pressure on your team to deliver something so they can make the sale… trace it back to their motivations.

Next — learning to work within the framework of the sales mindset.

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ProductCamp Boston – Balance to the Force

This weekend I’ll be attending what’s billed as “the largest gathering of product managers and product marketers in the Boston area,” at the 2012 ProductCamp Boston “unconference” event in Cambridge.  Over 350 people have registered to attend.  The topics for the unconference are arranged and chosen by the attendees from 8-9am, and then given in multiple rooms on multiple tracks until the end of the day.

I’ve volunteered to lead a session that I’ve become passionate about in my last several years: “How to Talk to Sales.”  It’s telling that we’ve gotten a bunch of Jedi together but no bounty hunters.  “We don’t need their scum,” right?  Except that that attitude is exactly why the relationship between product teams and marketing teams sour when it comes to working with sales teams.  There’s an effort to build the product, and an effort to promote the product… and then it’s thrown over the wall to customers and to sales and someone says, “Go.”

Whether I end up leading a session or not, this is a perfect topic for this space.  Over the next few posts I’ll talk about the mindset of Bounty Hunters, the worst mistakes you can make when working with Bounty Hunters, what you can do to improve your interactions with Bounty Hunters, and finally some examples of how I’ve successfully “hired” Bounty Hunters in the past.

And I’ll definitely report back on what I learn from my Force training at ProductCamp Boston.

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A long time ago…

Three years ago I started this blog, because I had stuff I needed to say.  Things I noticed about the malformed relationship between engineering and marketing.  Misunderstandings, that led to friction, that led to an unnecessary adversarial relationship.

Then I got involved in sales enablement, and realized there was a third misunderstood player in the game–the sales team.  The three teams–product, marketing, and sales–could very easily go merrily on their way, doing what they thought was right from their perspective, and getting in each others’ way.

I drifted away from this blog’s theme, as my career became less about my transition from engineering to marketing, and more about the gap between marketing and sales.

A few months ago, I realized I still had more to say.  I started a new job.  I encountered more examples of the misalignment of the three organizations.

Join me as I revisit this Star Wars metaphor, and together we’ll rule the galaxy, father and son  explore more ways to close the gap between the Light Side of engineering, the Dark Side of marketing… and the Bounty Hunters of sales.

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Humanizing copywriting

I’m on a constant quest to stop people from talking like they think marketers are supposed to talk.  Many others have done more than I to highlight the perils of biz-blab, gobbledygook, and buzzwords.  But it’s easy to tell people what they’re doing wrong.  Can you catch people doing what’s right?  And what is right, anyways?

In my mind, it’s not enough to write copy that’s clear.  It needs more than clarity… it needs excitement.  Pull.  Something to hook your audience emotionally and bring them into your pitch.

Recently I’ve come across more than a few newsletters and email pieces that did a great job of sounding like a human, not a marketer.  For instance, this one from

Just wanted to check in and see what’s going on with your various swag needs. […] We’ve added a TON of new stuff. And I’d say only about 10% of it is total crap. I mean, it can’t ALL be great – I make my living selling pens and mugs after all… But man, that other 90%. I’ve spent a lot of time drinking and reading gadget blogs (in that order) and I’ve found some killer stuff.   Anyways, if you haven’t looked in awhile you’re missing out. You’d be like that one quiet girl in junior high that never saw Star Wars because her parents thought the way it portrayed women was degrading. So please go on there and buy something. Right now. It will save you (and by extension your company) from being square, and it will save me from selling dog Tshirts for the rest of my life. (that really is a product on there – and I’ll send you a free one if you can find it).

My coworkers and I were laughing as we read this and quickly forwarded it around to everyone in the marketing department.  It tapped right into the “tchotchkes are crap” problem that all marketers face if they are looking for cheap promotional items.  All of us at least clicked through to look at the site to see more.

Here’s another tidbit wedged into a longer newsletter.  It’s a throwaway wink-and-a-nudge line that immediately puts you on the same side:

The Boomerang Elite Data Scientists (us, plus an $8 bottle of Cabernet) released our first Infographic last week! It provides some surprising insights about email that we learned from Boomerang and The Email Game over the past couple years.

The king of this are the folks at, who really know their audience too well.  Their website, their emails, the printed catalogs they now send… all embody a playful tone that speaks to their audience.

Engineers don’t have many occasions to write copy, unless they cross over to the Dark Side of  marketing.  But you’d be surprised how many things an engineer is responsible for writing that works its way to customers, users, or the general public.  The next time you’re authoring those release notes, think about tone and audience, and don’t be afraid to show the world a sneak peek at the human author behind the writing.

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From the Customer’s Perspective

Encountered a classic mistake this morning.  I read about, a new startup competing with Groupon and other buyer-aggregating deal sites.  The first time you hit their site, you see a nice simple starting web page that has a place for your email address, a drop-down for your location, and a huge button that says SEE TODAY’S DEAL.

So I, not unreasonably, clicked on the giant SEE TODAY’S DEAL button.

I’m taken to a follow-up page that points out that I need to enter my email address in order to find out today’s deal.  The message?

“ENTER EMAIL — 1 error prohibited this lead from being saved.”

As far as I’m concerned, they might as well have popped up a mysterious error code and listed a .dll not being found or something.  Your “lead” wasn’t saved?  Talk about not using the language of the customer, who does not see himself as a lead to be bombarded with emails but as a consumer looking for information.  (It’s a good thing I used a spam-collecting account to get past that gatekeeper.)

The lesson, as always, is that engineers and UI designers tend to look at things from the inside out instead of the outside in.  Don’t get so trapped in your own specs and internal jargon that you forget to do your best Tron impersonation and “fight for the users.”  (I’ll warn you that, should you ever join the Dark Side, it’s just as easy to make that mistake in sales and marketing!)


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