Archives for category: Planning

I wrote in a recent post about how folk don’t tend to use handkerchiefs much any more. I was reminded of this recently when I went up to Dublin for a meeting. I had over an hour to kill before my meeting in the heart of the shopping district, and I’d forgotten to bring one of the umpteen handkerchiefs in my bedside drawer, so I decided to spend a small part of the hour fixing the problem.

My brief was simple: buy one funky-patterned hanky. Easy.

I went into a very reputable department store full of snazzy concessions. It was the closest store and the best fit I felt. After looking around in vain, I asked a salesman, who, after a bit of confusion between a hanky and a pocket square – a new term for me, the posh bit of silk that sits in your outside breast pocket – said they didn’t sell hankies. At all.

He sent me across the road to a department store that sold them, he said. I went to it and it sold two types, in packs of 7 only. Not singles, 7 or nothing. I then went to 4 other stores and the odd thing I noticed was that at each store the staff weren’t sure where the hankies were; a sure sign that they don’t flog many of them. What do folk use instead? Also, the hankies were all super dull designs, or plain white, and in large packs.

With about 10 minutes left, I realised I shouldn’t have done this on a whim. I should have planned it, googled ‘single funky handkerchiefs Dublin’, and made a bee-line for the right place.

In the end, with 10 minutes to spare, good old M&S came through for me with packs of 3 relatively funky hankies. Not a great fit to my requirements, but the best of a bad lot.

I wonder if I should open a shop for custom single hankies. Nah, folk don’t use them any more.

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I have found, perhaps more by luck than judgement, hence my anecdotal phrasing of this sentence, that when you do the prep, things tend to go fine. When you don’t, they don’t.

When you wing a call or a meeting, choosing not to think about the questions you might get, or the outcomes you want from an encounter, it can often unravel and put you behind where you started. When you think about your call or meeting, plan for it, do the work required, try and anticipate the questions, have answers for them, and have an outcome in mind, it tends to go well.

Things are rarely as bad or difficult as you thought they’d be before you started the prep.

I think this has to do with the self-fulfilling prophecy, and peace of mind. The self-fulfilling prophecy, as I’ve talked about here, here and here, dictates that something will probably turn out the way you expected it to, and that by extension you should go into any situation with a positive outcome in mind. When you’ve done the prep, you’re comfortable with the impending call or meeting. You have peace of mind, which relaxes you and sets you up much better to shape the meeting to how you want it to go.

In a situation that’s much more complex than a call or meeting, like war, or business, our strike rate is nothing like as high. There are too many more variables, with too many more possible outcomes. All plans turn to dust in the heat of battle, inevitably. The prep, though, and the act of prepping, is still a very important and worthwhile exercise.

Reduce, reuse or recycle: so goes the environmentally-aware aphorism to keep us on the straight and narrow with the earth’s resources. We should reuse what we have if at all possible. If we can’t reuse it, we should recycle it. If we can’t recycle it, then we should reduce it, so that it occupies a smaller space in the places where we borrow but can’t pay back, namely landfill.

It turns out that this guide applies equally well for the food we buy and consume. I derive an odd sense of pleasure from being able to use up all the frozen food from the freezer, or combine left-over perishables into a meal that wouldn’t exist if I threw out the separate items.

It’s that thrill of maximum utility – getting the most use out of what we’ve paid for.

It also turns out that it’s a handy approach to adopt in our work, especially marketing. Content, especially good content, takes painstaking time to create. But it can also be the gift that keeps on giving, since you can use it again, or recycle it into other formats, or reduce it into smaller parts that can form a series. Beautiful.

Any why not other areas of work as well? Whatever processes, resources and technology you can reduce, reuse or recycle, you should, as long as you achieve the goal of greater productivity.

I remember a Far Side cartoon from way back which showed four pictures in order, with each picture showing how technology has progressively shrunk. The first picture was a mainframe computer, the second a desktop computer, and the third was a laptop computer.

The fourth was a notebook and pen…

When you’re in the ideas business – and, let’s face it, that’s most of us – you need to keep a recording device close to you for those flashes of inspiration. A mobile phone is the handiest, perhaps with a dictaphone app. I don’t know how many blog post ideas have come to me in the car, away from my home office or phone, only to disappear into the ether because I had no way to commit them to memory before the next distracting thought dislodged them for good. Dozens I would say.

Sometimes you have the good fortune to be at your desk, or your phone’s on the bedside table, and you can capture your lightbulb moment. Then you hope your computer or phone doesn’t take more than a few seconds to spring into action, or isn’t preoccupied with an update, or the idea risks being lost like an outgoing breath as another thought – invariably one of numbing everyday, humdrum banality – smothers it.

That’s why I always like to rely on the trusty pen and paper, both of which will instantly function nineteen times out of twenty, allowing me to commit my thought to posterity.

That said, if you lose the thought in the time between having it and picking up a pen that’s close by, you have a different set of problems.

When you’re in marketing and sales, you’ve got to mind the gap, otherwise you may never emerge from it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up launching a new business, a business launching a new product, or a company planning its sales targets for the next 4 quarters, there’s always a gap for marketing and a gap for sales.

By this I mean that there is a lag effect. The marketing lag is from the time you start thinking about marketing to people, actually marketing to them with your finished content, to someone putting their hand up and saying ‘Talk to me, I’m interested.’ The sales lag is from the time someone puts their hand up, through the period of qualifying whether they’re a good fit for your business, through to them signing the deal. Add the marketing lag and the sales lag, otherwise known as the sales cycle, and you’ve got a pretty big gap before you’re turning your stuff into cash.

So, if you’re a start-up and your product’s not ready yet, you need to start marketing right now: blogging, tweeting, emailing. Building up a head of steam so that you can have real conversations once your product is ready takes at least 6 months. That’s half a year, which sounds much worse than 6 months.

Same if you’re an existing business about to launch a new product. You have to mind the gap, similar rules apply. And if you’re building your 2019 financial year’s sales figures, you need the marketing to kick in in 2018. Companies selling complex products and services with a 3-month sales cycle will not see any marketing activities from one quarter converted to sales in the same quarter. It might not be the quarter after that either, when you factor in the sequential lag time of the marketing and sales gaps.

How many companies who do a business plan for year Y plan the marketing effort for year X? Not many. And certainly not the ones who finish their year Y plan at the very end of year X, or even the start of year Y. Those companies can write off any help at all from marketing, probably for the first half of the year.

Taking a new product to market, whether it’s the sole product of a start-up, or it’s a new product or offshoot from an established business, is a fascinating area, and one which I’ve been involved in and advised on for a while.

There are typically three phases that a company goes through in its go-to-market journey towards a repeatable, scalable business: problem-solution fit; product-market fit; scale. All of them are customer-verifiable.

1) Problem-solution fit

In this phases of the new product go-to-market journey, you have a solution that a customer acknowledges – by parting with money – solves a problem for them. Hardly rocket science. It might just be one customer, and that one customer might be helping finance your development of a product that you hope you can sell to others. The trade-off is between customising the solution to the customer’s requirements and developing a solution that will still do the job for your target segment.

2) Product-market fit

In this phase, you have developed and sold your product to the point where there is a fit between your product and the market. Again, we’re not splitting the atom here. Your customers acknowledge that they need your product and they would be in trouble if for some reason your product was unavailable to them.No-one buys a nice to have, they buy what they must have, and you’ve demonstrated that a good number of customers need what you have.

3) Scale

The third phase of new product go-to-market is when you’re adding sales at an acceptable rate and at an acceptable cost of acquisition. There are various different ways of doing this, such as using channel partners, optimising internal resources, getting better at implementing and servicing the business, and so on. As the business is growing it is achieving greater economies of scale. It is multiplying revenues at a progressively smaller incremental cost. It is scaling the business.

Plenty of companies are perfectly happy providing solutions to problems for a very small number of customers, perhaps for ever. A smaller number graduates to a product which has product-market fit. A smaller number still manages to genuinely scale the business.

The ad agency that masterminds its own advertising campaign.

The consulting firm that follows its own methods to bring in work.

The childcare experts who raise their own children.

Sometimes it’s really hard practising what you preach. You stick too rigidly to the framework of best practices you advocate yourself. It takes you longer than it does for your customers because it has to be perfect. You have to get it right. You have to eat your own dog food and be the best at what you do because it’s what you’re also selling.

Of course, there are difficulties doing your own stuff. You’re too close to it for one thing. Also, the shift in perspective is always a revealing one. ‘This is the way I’m teaching this stuff, yet when I do it myself it’s hard.’ Or, ‘this is how I tell people to prospect for new business, why am I not following this practice myself?’

Then there is the criticism of those who say that ‘do as I say, not as a I do’ is a copout for those with lesser abilities than the people they’re coaching. I’m not sure this is valid. Even those who are the best at what they do look for coaches to give them that extra edge, regardless of whether the coach has been in the mentee’s shoes before.

Practising what you preach is useful for refining what you preach. Doesn’t make it any easier though.

In this last post, for now, in the mini-series on product marketing in agile environments, I offer you my third thought on what has worked well for me. In fact, I talked about it briefly at the end of my second thought.

The third thought is this – and how difficult is that to say for a non-native speaker, with 2 voiced ‘th’ sounds and 2 voiceless ones! – leave the detail until the end. The detail is the filler, the proof points, the things that are only needed when the audience has engaged and wants to go deeper.

In your earlier iterations of the content to support your new product or enhancement, you focused on the high level, the really important stuff that resonates with your audience, the reason why you developed the product in the first place. People are busy, they are subject to a constant, heavy flow of information. They don’t have perfect memories; they’re only going to remember one thing you tell them, if you’re lucky, and you’re probably going to have to tell them multiple times anyway.

This is a good thing, because in an agile environment the exact detail of what you’re offering isn’t decided and baked in until the end. So your job is to build up the interest and demand with high level, highly distilled and focused messaging which helps your personas self-select. Once they have engaged and want to know more, then you can hit them with the detail which you now have.

This is the third post, and my second thought, as part of a mini-series on what to focus on in product marketing where the software development is agile and releases are small and quick fire, rather than traditional, infrequent and sometimes slightly ponderous.

My second thought is this, and it borrows from the agile philosophy itself. Approach your content and your communications in iterations. It’s no good disappearing into your bunker at the beginning of the creation process and coming out right before launch with the finished article before anyone’s had a chance to comment on it.

You need to iterate, and iterate often. Quick fire drafts get your thoughts out early and give key stakeholders the chance to sense check the direction you’re heading in and feed back so that you can adjust if necessary. Reviewers can track their changes in your documents so that when you evolve your work for a second and third look they only need to focus on the new stuff and not re-read everything again. Your job is to make sure that each new version still hangs together, makes sense and is a coherent, unified piece of work.

This is how I approach almost all of my work, including product marketing assignments. Do the homework, collate all the information, get a sense of the patterns, distil everything down to the key messages, and do a first pass. The early, high level draft allows you to align everyone’s thinking and affords you the time to change accordingly. The detail can wait til later, when you’re closer to the finish line.

 

In a previous post I introduced a mini-series offering thoughts and experience on how to do product marketing in an environment where agile software development creates a sea of small releases rather than a desert with a few major milestones affording you time to circle the wagons.

My first thought is that you should stay true to the principles of what you’re trying to do. Faced with a barrage of product enhancements and releases of all sizes and shapes, you have to prioritise in terms of your audience, your audience segments, and their personas.

What is most important to them? What will attract their customers and keep them loyal? What does your enhancement or release do to help them help their customers? Answering these questions should drive what you devote to building a story about, and, perhaps more importantly, what you choose not to focus on.

When you wear this special lens which focuses on what their customers care about, you can develop messaging which helps your customer solve these problems or capitalise on these opportunities. It’s never about your products’ features and functions, unless they uniquely guide your customers to an understanding of how you can solve their real problem, which is sometimes not the problem they think they have.

Don’t get bogged down in the iterations of your solution, get bogged down in why your customers should care about where you’re heading.