reconsidering how companies build relationships through better marketing, services, & sales

Got A Little Too Much JQA In Your Organization?

I’m always a little late to the game when it comes to finding good podcasts. However, I have a wife who has a longer commute than me (sorry, honey) and has found podcasts to be a balm to soothe her mind and stoke her intellect while navigating Atlanta’s daily traffic woes. One of the latest podcasts she has introduced to me is Presidential, which is produced by the Washington Post. Each week, Lillian Cunningham devotes an episode to one President – starting with Washington and ending with Obama – and explores their character and the legacy they left as Chief Executive. Well, consider this history nerd fully fascinated and engaged.

Now, even though the podcast started a few months ago, I just started listening and am only caught up to John Quincy Adams (AKA JQA). But already I’ve learned so much about the birth of this nation and how even the Founding Fathers were complex individuals who didn’t always get governance right. And I’ve learned that while we might think our current political climate is completely FUBAR, from the moment of our nation’s founding there was discord among opposing viewpoints, constitutional squabbles, and racial tensions that don’t seem that different from what we are experiencing today. In some ways, it’s rather comforting to know there really has never been a golden age when all Americans – regardless of color, religion, creed, etc. – held hands and sang Kumbaya. Yes, granted there have been better times than others, but this “union” of states has always been in some phase of precarious tension that could tear it apart.

A related and important question raised in the podcast series, and which gets to the title of this post, is what does effective leadership look like? Let’s say you have someone with a bold vision for what they want to see and a strong policy framework in mind to make it happen. That sounds like effective leadership, doesn’t it? It’s supposedly what we want from the person in charge. By that definition, JQA was a visionary leader who wanted to dramatically overhaul the infrastructure of the young U.S.A. The only problem was that Congress wasn’t having any of it. The result: gridlock. No one was willing to budge or compromise for reasons both petty and pragmatic. Sounds familiar, right? Sounds like what’s happening “over there” in Washington right now, yes?

But what if it’s also happening right now in our own organizations? Show of hands where there is no conflict holding up a crucial project or keeping a department from surpassing its goals. Yup, thought so. I’m not suggesting that conflict is inherently bad…quite the opposite. Productive conflict that focuses on mission and a mutually desired objective is what moves organizations into new areas of growth. Yet, on the other hand, unhealthy conflict occurs when leaders believe their own vision is the only vision and their way of getting there is the only way of getting there. (It’s also not too healthy when leaders get too caught up in their own fears of change and paranoia of not being completely in control, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I get it, though. If figuring out how to create win-win scenarios on a daily basis was easy, thinkers like Stephen Covey wouldn’t have sold millions of books. Organizations like yours and mine would be operating with close to zero friction. And JQA’s presidency would be considered a rousing success rather than the one term failure that history has judged it to be.

Here’s the question I invite you to ponder along with me: how can we practice effective leadership which best balances our vision for organizational success so it is also inclusive of the visions held by others? When things stop working well, that seems to me one of the only ways we can dislodge ourselves from the political mire that holds us back from doing world-changing work.


Will Moneyball Analytics Kill Loyalty and Leadership?

On the heels of Om Malik’s recent post on the dangers of “soulless” data, I read this post from HBR. The answer to the post’s title is “Yes, if we allow the quantifiable to assume sole supremacy over all decisions.”

The concept of Big Data has fooled us into believing that data is only relevant when it’s quantitative. This could not be more wrong. Data is everywhere. It just takes time, patience, and an abundance of curiosity to see it.

Let’s not get so wrapped up in the numbers that we lose sight of the stories, the insight, the soul that give tremendous meaning to data and life.

Source: Will Moneyball Analytics Kill Loyalty and Leadership?


On Lemons And Uncertainty

I just did something that pisses me off about myself. I managed to suck all the joy out of what should otherwise be a fun business venture for my daughters.

Tomorrow is Lemonade Day. If you don’t know much about it, it’s a great way for kids to learn about business and entrpreneurship (learn more). In preparation, my gals are going through the workbook doing the math and exercises needed to figure out how much material they’ll need in order to make their goal. How do I choose to contribute to this process? By making it far more difficult, overwhelming, and anxiety-ladden than it should be. Yes, that’s me: Mr. Unfun Business.

Problem is, this is one of the biggest gremlins I face in my own work. When uncertainty arises, I don’t just get serious…I become something like a black hole of grimness, sucking the life out of any task. I find flaws in plans. I identify all the risks. I – though quite unintentionally – take activities that could be thrilling and turn them into miserable drudgery. In other words, I work my ass off to create certainty. And I fully understand that this is all horseshit since business and entrepreneurship is all about navigating the waves of uncertainty.

Sorry all, I just had to get this off my chest. There is quite a lot more coming on this topic of uncertainty. It’s one of the fundamental personal challenges I face as a startup business owner. I know I cannot expect to succeed without coming to grips with this inability to deal with all the uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship.

Yes, starting and running a business isn’t all fun and games. But it sure as hell better be interesting, exhilarating, and worth doing. If I’m going to teach my daughters they can be successful businesswomen and that business is about courageously bringing our creative vision into reality, then that must start with my example. Now let’s make some lemonade.



Why Great Writing May Not Be Enough To Win Blog Readers

The genesis of the tweet below (and this blogpost) was a realization late last night that I am my own enemy to growing my blog. Bailey WorkPlay has existed since 2004 in various incarnations. To date it contains nearly 500 posts, some of which have been featured on AllTop, The Social Customer, and The Customer Collective. Over the past few months, I was getting more and more angry about my relatively low readership and lack of general awareness.

I kept brooding that after eight years it still shouldn’t be this hard to build and keep an audience. This thinking was exacerbated lately by having a handful of people tell me – based on reading this blog – that writing is one of my key strengths. Well, if it’s one of my strengths, then why the hell don’t I have more readers?

But all of that angst ignored the fact that the problem is not “out there.” The problem – and responsibility for solving it – lies solely with me.

Here’s the question that is now driving my actions: Am I prepared and committed to doing the work of building an audience and growing my awareness as someone with expertise in marketing, branding, and customer experience?

If the answer is “Yes” then that means I need to commit to a few things if I want to win more blog readers:

  1. Post more frequently. Probably at least once per week, preferably 2x if at all possible. I can’t blame others for not being consistent readers if I’m not posting great content consistently.
  2. Improve my titles and other copywriting techniques. I’m wagering the single biggest reason why I don’t get many clicks is because I give throwaway titles to my writings. I’m opening myself to learning from smart practitioners such as Mack Collier and the folks over at Copyblogger.
  3. Bring even more “me” into each post. Tell more stories. Open the kimono just a bit more. I’d like to thank this post from Entrepreneur and this one from Amber Mac at Fast Company for the inspiration here.

But enough about me…what about you? Are you satisfied with your reach and influence as a blogger? Take it further. Is there another area in your life where things are just not where you want them to be? If so, stop looking for answers or blaming others out there. Look inside, instead.


Can Your Startup Succeed Like Pinterest? Only If You Understand People

I’ve been talking with startups in Austin (and a few who made the trip here for SxSW) about how they incorporate the customer into their business. The conversation usually begins at a high-level, where I learn they have someone covering customer support. Then they mention they’re monitoring social media and eventually they realize they think about the customer in their UX design. This is good. It’s the baseline any company – startup or mature – should bake into their operations. But is it enough to differentiate a startup from the competition?

In an interview at SxSWi, Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann explained how his startup is organized:

Pinterest’s small team of 20 people is not driven by engineering. The company is split into three divisions: Engineering, design and social — with “social” a combination of quantitative people and community people, who try to understand how and why people use Pinterest, how social groups form and how social norms propagate (emphasis added).

I added that emphasis for a reason. Pinterest doesn’t just want to build apps for customers…it wants to create experiences with them. You can’t do that by sitting in a cube imagining how a customer might use your product. You have to get out of the workspace and observe all the different ways your product is being used in the wild. You need to understand how people are interacting with it in relationship to their everyday world. Take a page from the Pinterest playbook and figure out deeper questions such as:

Why are people really using your product?
Are new social groups forming around your product?
Are unique social norms developing around these new groups?
How can these groups help your business grow…or destroy you if treated poorly?

To be honest, I have no idea if Pinterest is employing fellow anthropologists or social scientists. Based on the mission of their social division, it sure looks like it. But what about your startup? What do you know beyond the usual customer stuff? Do you know why and how your product is being used? If not, we should really have a chat soon…before your competition realizes this is their pathway to true business advantage.


Five Ways You’re Killing Your Employer Brand At Job Fairs

Last week, I attended the Tech Career Expo which was held in conjunction with SxSW 2012. I persevered the driving rain, crowds of festival-goers, as well as sparse and horrendously overpriced parking options to check out what was billed as “not your normal career fair.” In the end, I was sadly disappointed to find that it actually was just. like. every. job. fair. ever. As much as I enjoy a good brew, the fact beer was served did not create a revolutionary new experience.

Before I start, let me say I fully empathize with the trials and tribulations of being a trade show exhibitor. I’m all too familiar with being on my feet for hours rattling off the same 30 second “Who We Are” pitch to countless booth visitors. I know how hard it is to maintain the same upbeat nature of the first day on days two and three (and sometimes four). But any organization should know the same rules which we marketers use for creating business with prospective customers very much apply to attracting possible job applicants. It should come as no surprise that the differences between marketing brand and employer brand are wafer-thin.

So if you’re attending or in charge of sending representatives to the next job fair to promote your employer brand, I hope you’ll find these observations from a marketing trade show veteran useful.

1. You’re damn happy and appreciative to be there.
Whatever you’re actually feeling about being there, the prospect doesn’t care. All they care about is your complete and undivided attention. If you and your booth staff are bitching about having to be on your feet all day and looking like you’d rather be anywhere but at that very spot, imagine how a potential job seeker must feel. And yes, I did have someone do this to me. I can guarantee it did nothing to endear me to him, his company, or his company’s product.

2. You know your company and what it does by heart.
Unless your company is named Dell, Apple, or Google, it’s extremely likely potential applicants will want to know more about your business. It might even be their first question. So have the 30 second pitch down cold. Know the basics: your industry, your target customers, what your product or service does, and your competition. And if this sounds like common sense, let me say that reps from at least three booths at the Expo would have gotten a failing grade here.

3. You can speak eloquently about your open positions and employment needs.
Please don’t just go through the motions…you might as well not have a booth at all. When I asked the question, “What types of positions are you trying to fill?”, I had more than one booth rep shove a piece of paper toward me and respond, “They’re all here.” Sorry, but that’s not the question I asked. I’m certainly capable of taking collateral and reading it. What I want to hear is some insight into your company and what skills/backgrounds/expertise you need to move your business forward. Sorry? Your booth reps don’t have that kind of information? Then educate them or leave them at home.

4. You can help the prospect understand how great it is to work at your company.
Yes, I know how much you like working at the company. While your perspective is important to hear, I also know you’re getting paid to say how much you like working at the company. Instead, do this: help me understand why I might love to work there. Paint the picture, not from your perspective, but from my own. Take a couple of minutes to ask me what I do, what my strengths are, where I want to go in my career…then help me see exactly why I would want to take my talents to your organization.

5. Finally, you’re a brand representative so act accordingly.
I may never, ever work for your organization. I may not possess the type of skills you need now or in the future. I may not quite fit with your culture. But that still doesn’t mean I’m a throwaway contact. Each potential job application you come into contact with at a job fair may end up being the individual who chooses your company to do business with in their next gig. Or refers an important key client in the direction of your company. Taking the short-view of any candidate’s viability obscures the hard truth that we live in a hyperconnected world.

Photo credit: KUT


Think Personal Touch Doesn’t Matter To Your Brand?

Think again, amigo. Today’s reminder comes from Klout, who actually did much to redeem itself by not hiding behind a faceless corporate persona. When it made a mistake in an email, the mea culpa came from their marketing associate’s personal Twitter account.

It started with an email received this morning from Klout letting me know about a perk. Note who it is addressed to.

Not sure who Lan is, but I semi-joked with Klout that if they think I’m Lando Calrissian they may have a slight problem (though, I do think I still have my smooth old-school Billy Dee moments).

The response I got back was not an anonymous, sorta sincere “Sorry about that” from the Klout account. Instead, a response came from Lan Nguyen, Klout’s marketing associate who constructed and sent the email.

Turns out Lan messed up the personalization and came clean about it. And you know what? Name me one marketer who hasn’t done the exact same thing when working with email. We all usually test but we can also get impatient, particularly when we have a gazillion other tasks to accomplish. And sometimes we’re working with email marketing platforms that make it exceptionally difficult to test even the simplest of personalizations let alone complex segmentations.

What’s the learning here?

  1. Make it easy for your customers to empathize with you. Don’t hide behind anonymous social media accounts. Smiling faces – like Lan’s – really do make a difference as to how people feel about your brand.
  2. Keep hammering away in your internal branding docs the value of being personable, real, and yes, vulnerable. Your customers are smart and they know when they’re getting the corporate treatment. Screw up? Then fess up and learn how to do better. I very much believe that Lan – after she deals with the barrage of confused/irritated tweets – will work doubly hard to not make the same mistake in the future.
  3. And reward employees for being human and putting a face on your brand. They only hide in the shadows of anonymity when they know they’re going to get shredded by management for screwing up.

What are your favorite examples of brands that know how to humanize their customer experience?


AT&T Proves It Knows Zilch About Positive Customer Experience

Want to know how to quickly turn a new customer into a vocal ex-customer? Offer pretty talk without delivering meaningful results. This is my personal experience dealing with AT&T.

First the set-up. As a part of our family’s end-of-year review of finances, we realized we were paying too much for cable, internet, and phone with TimeWarner. We went out and researched other providers and settled on AT&T’s DSL and phone bundle (we decided to nix cable for a while) based primarily on price. We placed our order on January 9 and were told the effective date would be January 17. So far, so good.

The evening of January 17, I plug in the DSL unit and nothing: no phone, no internet. I call tech support and I get a friendly guy who tells me there’s something wrong with our account but because it’s after-hours, he can’t get more information. No problem, I’ll call back in the morning. When I call New Services the next day, the individual I talk to verifies the problem and tells me the internet order has been pushed out 45 days. Why? Well, she couldn’t be sure but would get it resolved. Just give them a couple of days and it would be taken care of. A couple of days later, we are met at our door by a tech who says he’s come to turn on our phone. My first thought was, “Why the hell are you here on Friday instead of Tuesday like you were supposed to be?” But I’m happy we’re finally going to get our service – as promised – so I say, “Great, go ahead and help yourself to whatever you need.” Thirty minutes later, he returns to the door and says there’s a problem with our line and will need to come back with new equipment. Unfortunately, we don’t see him again that afternoon and I guess AT&T doesn’t work weekends so we don’t see another individual until Monday. Never mind the fact the tech screwed up the phone line and we were without home phone service for the weekend.

Monday morning another tech arrives to fix the problem and after 2-3 hours of work feels confident he’s got us all sorted out…without fully checking that both phone and internet actually work. Unfortunately, I have the mother of all sinus infections that day so I take him at his word. Later in the evening, I check on the DSL unit and I’m amazed to see the red blinking light that tells me it’s still not functioning properly. The only service that appears to be working is the phone but it only works if using the phone jack in our upstairs office (the downstairs kitchen jack that is our preferred location is broken).

Next day, I try to call New Services but because of the labyrinthine phone tree, I think I ended up talking with a central call center rep. Yes, there appears to be a problem with our account. No, she can’t determine what the problem is. Yes, I’m still going to be fully charged starting on our effective date of January 17 even though I haven’t received close to satisfactory service. Yes, she’ll make a note of my objection.

If you’re keeping score so far, I’ve spoken to at least three AT&T contacts over the phone and two techs. And our service problem is far from being resolved. Not exactly the best experience you want for a new customer, particularly one who works in customer experience.

I decide to take a different route and contact AT&T via Twitter and see if I can get someone to give a shit about my problems. I manage to get a fairly quick response from @ATTCustomerCare on January 26 and am told to send an email with an accounting of our problems.

Hallelujah! A response from Algeria, Social Media Manager at AT&T. Finally, someone who will own my problem and finally help me get our service started. Right?

Imagine my raging frustration when all I get is more sweet talk about wanting to help and escalating the issue without seeing actual results. Since the nine days since @ATTCustomerCare told me I could expect a call about resolving this issue, I’ve received ZERO calls. But I sure have received plenty of tweets of apology and reaffirmations that I’m important.

Guess what? Every one of those tweets might as well read, “Blah, blah, blah you unimportant asshole customer, we’re big and we really don’t care.” Do I believe Algeria was sincere? Yes, but it doesn’t matter if everything she says is counteracted by a company without a clue when it comes to delivering a positive customer experience.

So as I mentioned yesterday via Twitter, AT&T has not only lost a new customer but gained a very vocal detractor who will be more than happy to share his customer experience with anyone, anytime, anywhere. All the nice words, all the marketing and PR bullshit, all the empty promises mean nothing if a problem isn’t resolved. Because in the end, that’s the power all customers have over companies that prove they really don’t care through their actions.


Marketers Are Hypocrites

Yep, big fat, stinking hypocrites. Why? Because we perpetrate the same marketing bullshit that annoys us to no end on our own prospects and customers. Think I’m joking? How many times have you secretly – or publicly – wished a company would treat you like an actual human being in their messaging? Wished they would actually send you information that recognized your own special snowflake qualities?

Now, turn it around: when was the last time you actually tried to give the same level of appreciation with your own prospects and customers? Do you see each name and recognize it belongs to an individual?

Before you answer, honestly consider about how you think about that house file in your CRM. Think about how you organize your reports. Think about how you’re rewarded in your job. Think about what really matters in your success.

None of this is intended to point fingers (hell, I know I would already have three fingers pointing right back at me). Instead, my intent is to stir some awareness that things need to change. And that change should start with the language, syntax, imagery we use in marketing. As my esteemed friend and fellow marketer, Russ Somers, notes in his Human Marketing Manifesto (and also the genesis of this post):

I am not traffic. I am not driven by your marketing to your site like a lemming is driven by instinct to a cliff’s edge. I am a person who had a need to know something…Where am I in your funnel? What a stupid question. Who the hell wants to be in a funnel?

I don’t have any definitive answers…at least not yet. But it seems to me that if marketing as a discipline is to evolve toward where the world is going, we better get ourselves together and plot a new direction. Else, we don’t need to wait for the comet to wipe out our profession, we’ll have done all the damage ourselves.


The Convenient Lie Of Customer Lying

Last week, Alessandro Di Fiore wrote a blogpost at HBR that provoked some pretty strong reactions from me called How to Get Past Your Customers’ Lies.

First, I don’t believe customers “lie.” When we believe they’re “lying” to us, it immediately puts a negative lens on the customer and their experience. Try this little thought experiment: the next time your significant other (or kid, boss, etc.) says something to you, immediately plant it in your mind that they’re lying or not telling you the whole truth. Makes a big difference in how you treat these relationships, doesn’t it? So what makes us think we can do anything different with a customer? How about if we practice some empathy for our customers instead? Our customers may hide things from us or simply not know how to clearly articulate the needs, frustrations, ideas, and convenient work-arounds that play out in their daily experience. They need help and it’s what a trained anthropologist with experience in fieldwork can do.

He suggests that eight to ten participant observations are enough to gather necessary data for decision-making. Field observation in business settings can be time, labor, and money intensive activities. But if we’re going to condense the ethnography, then every single interaction and experience counts. Nothing can be wasted. Field observation isn’t just an academic exercise, it’s purpose is to drive better business and product results. If the whole process – research design, data gathering, and analysis – takes months to complete, that’s critical time lost. Business anthropologists know how to conduct what’s known as rapid ethnography to complete the process not in months, but in weeks.

Finally, the process of getting market feedback and customer ideas in the field is not the sole domain of the C-level suite. As a matter of fact, I’d argue they are the least best option. You have to know how to observe the right things and ask the right questions. You also have to know how to see what’s not there and listen for what’s not actually said. Too many times, CEOS and other executives are too tied to their prior strategies and decisions. They become blinded to what they want to see. And they’re not trained to explore the nuances of things which is often where true discovery happens.

Trust me, a good business anthropologist is going to be able to filter all of this with the necessary focus on business, strategy, and people. It’s this – along with our needed objectivity – that makes us the ideal partner.

Photo credit: discoodoni via Flickr