The Pantheon of Bad Management Clichés

Engineers often accuse marketers of speaking in some strange language.  It’s true; any role has its own jargon that must be parsed through.  Too many TLA’s can confuse even people in the know.

But there’s a different kind of jargon, that both engineers and marketers hate.  A friend and I call it the Pantheon of Bad Management Clichés.  Over the last few years, whenever we heard a new phrase, we’d nod knowingly to each other and quietly “add it to the Pantheon.”  Here’s a helpful reference and translation guide for any of you who have suffered through these as well:

  • Duly noted. I understand your objection… and go screw yourself.
  • Thank you for your openness / I really appreciate your insight. Feel free to continue telling me stuff that I can ignore.
  • I’m not sure what you’re trying to say there. You’re wrong.
  • Think about it. I don’t have time to convince you that you’re wrong.  Can you convince yourself for me?
  • I like the sentiment / This is a great start / I like where this is going. Come back after you’ve put another 4 hours into this, because right now it sucks.
  • I’m not going to read these slides…. I really am.  Each and every sub-bullet of this incredibly dense slide, while you listen in abject terror.
  • I know you know this, but… You obviously don’t, based on this crap.
  • Good news! I have work for you.
  • Great news! Man, oh man, do I have a lot of work for you!
  • Let’s make sure to get on that / How can we make that happen? We — and by “we” I mean “you” — need to fix this.
  • I can’t believe we can’t do better than that. We’re not leaving this meeting until someone is on the hook to fix this.
  • Let me know if you have any questions. I’ve explained everything pretty clearly, so you better be sure you really need to bother me.
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A look at iPhone competitive promotional campaigns

I continue to be a fan of Geoffrey James’s “The Sales Machine” blog.  He’s recently devoted several posts to Apple and its poor competitors, and all the marketing mistakes they’ve made… including one called Why iPhone Trounces Droid, Palm, Blackberry, and Microsoft. Go take a look so the rest of this makes sense.

My reaction?  He’s right on re: Microsoft, Blackberry, and Palm/HP:

  • Microsoft’s product doesn’t live up to its promise.  Remember, you engineers out there, no one wins if you make a crappy product and then expect  marketing to put lipstick on a pig.
  • Blackberry is defining itself in terms of its competitors instead of carving out its own niche.  It’s like when AMD tried to compete on processors speed with Intel.
  • The Palm ad is what happens when you give ad campaigns over to the aliens… you know, the “creatives”… and they run out of control.

I disagree with Geoffrey’s take on Sprint.  I can at least see what they’re trying to do.  The “first” positioning is pretty clear, especially if Sprint is pursuing the early adopter crowd.  Geoffrey thought the ad was unintelligible, but we’ve seen several Rube-Goldberg style ads become viral sensations and have become quite memorable.  Though I think this one pales compared to the Honda one, for instance.

Geoffrey also picks one line from a two-page ad and says its reference to Animal House means they’re targeting people who went to college in the 70′s.  Animal House is a cult film that was quite popular for college goers in the 90s, so that means Sprint might be hitting 30-something early adopters with cash to spend.  As is often the case when you see ads that make you scratch your head…  perhaps “you’re not the target audience.”  Remember that your subjective judgment of the campaign’s effectiveness doesn’t matter compared to whatever metrics they’re (hopefully!) using to measure the effectiveness of this campaign on awareness, inquiries, and revenue.

Likewise, I gotta think Verizon’s  strategy for the Droid is to try and attract the early adopter propeller heads that Geoffrey ridicules, hoping that they will be the ones recommending it to their friends.  As a mass consumer campaign?  Yeah, it’s bizarre and off-putting.  As a way to attract the nerds and geeks?  Great stuff.  All the things said iPhone hating geeks complain about are in that commercial.  The futuristic Terminator-esque branding is likely a sweet spot for that Con-going crowd as well.  “You are not the target audience.”

Now, is the attract-the-geeks crowd a good strategy to pursue?  I’m not convinced — these competitors are limiting their audience and not portraying themselves as a viable alternatives to the iPhone.  Plus, the iPhone product is still better.

Some of my takeaways will sound familiar for readers of darksidemarketing:

  • Keep your marketing team and your product team aligned in their product vision.
  • Don’t let the creative types take control of your messaging.
  • If your product stinks, marketing can only help so much.
  • “You are not the target audience” for judging subjective material.
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Day two of Force Training for 500 Dark Jedi

Another day of convening with fellow Dark Jedi marketers, and discussing how to work well with the bounty hunters in sales.  You Light Side engineers are already bored, right?  Just remember the basic premise of this blog–namely, engineering and marketing are not as different as you’d think. Both involve very similar problem solving skills, even if the weapons are a bit different.

Amusingly enough, Tony Jaros of SiriusDecisions opened up his discussion of “pipeline acceleration” by calling us all scientists and then showing a slide littered with calculus equations demonstrating the physics of acceleration.  My engineering brain started rattling the bars on its cage.  “Hey!  HEY!  I recognize those!  Are we really going to talk about mv² and second derivatives? Can I make a Force pun?”  The next few slides on demand waterfalls sent it grumbling back to the corner of my brain.  Too bad, really; today definitely involved yet more problem solving and application of scientific principles.

Measure, measure, measure. Bad marketing often relies on guts and instinct.  Good marketing involves gathering data and testing.  Many of the sessions provided great frameworks for understanding how to classify and take action on the problems that face marketers.  For example, the nebulous concept of inbound marketing, and the squishy what’s-the-point topic of social media.  There ARE ways to measure these things beyond your own activity.

Marketing Operations is our QA. Any true development shop has a QA role.  Only the smallest shops would require engineers to do their own QA, and that path is Fraught With Peril™.  Many people on Day One and Day Two talked about Marketing Operations.  Huh?  Whazzat?  Turns out it’s similar to the QA role for marketing.  How is demand gen performing?  Are our automated measurements working correctly?  Right now, most organizations (including ours) have the demand gen teams “QA-ing their own code” by spending cycles to report on their performance.  It’s the fox watching the hen house.  Not to mention a dedicated marketing ops team can make sure the right infrastructure is in place to get these metrics, and can spend the cycles analyzing trends and giving guidance back to the demand gen team.

A bazillion ideas… from vendors? I have a new addition to the cast of characters.  Call them Jawas.  Every trade show has them–the annoying vendors trying to push half-functioning merchandise on you.  Heralded by signage and tchotchkes, they represent a necessary evil since their sponsorship dollars make these events happen.  Except… at this event, every vendor I talked to had something interesting to talk about.  I walked away with ideas for tools, process changes, data discovery, and automation capabilities that I had never even thought of.  You don’t know what you need until you see it.  And most of it we don’t have, but could afford, and makes a tangible improvement to our marketing.

Improving our ability to influence. When it comes down to it, most of marketing is about learning how to influence others.  We talked about the Buy Cycle so much I thought I was at the Tour de France.  (Get it?  Buy Cycle… bicycle… oh never mind.)  Right now it’s too easy to just throw our marketing resources at whatever problem sales mentions, without any  thought to whether we’re trying to move people through the early education stages, or the later selection stages.

Laying down the gauntlet. Finally, we learned more than one way to say, “I have altered the deal… pray I do not alter it further” when it comes to working with the sales team.  The Dark Side needs to get the Bounty Hunters to agree on what’s agreed: we will pay this, you will give us that.  Service Level Agreements.  Formal alignment programs.  Joint operations reviews.  That way we don’t produce a bunch of low quality leads that sales is not interested in and has no bandwidth to follow up on.  Which, you know, happens way too often.

More than a few people have mentioned to me that their brains are full too.  There’s quite a lot to digest!

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Day one of “how to work with your bounty hunters”

The SiriusDecisions Summit is all about how to align your marketing organization with the sales organization.  So yes, like my prediction yesterday, it really is how a Dark Jedi can hire his Bounty Hunters to get what’s needed.  Here’s some quick thoughts on Day One:

- Yup, I’m on the Dark Side all right. There is still a lot of science behind the marketing approaches advocated by the speakers: get data and measure, test hypotheses, plan ahead, make incremental improvements… but it’s still about best practices, qualified leads, buying cycles, demand types like ‘new paradigm’, lead nurturing, sales enablement… the engineering side of my brain, still trapped in a cage in the corner of my mind, is screaming “What are you doing?!  How can you listen to this?!  NOOOOOOOOO!”

- A lot to learn. What was immediately clear even from the first two hour session was that SiriusDecisions has some great frameworks for talking about the marketing and sales functions and how they work together.  I was entranced with the information first presented in this session, and kept nodding my head saying “Yup, that’s us… oof, yeah, we screw that up too… wow, so THAT’S why we have trouble with that…”

- A long way to go. In some cases, my company is doing well and living up to some of the recommendations given here.  But in other cases… not so much.  One session talked about ways to better integrate your sales and marketing technology to give a better understanding of lead progress and metrics and the like.  As I had tweeted at the time, it was like an eagle explaining flying to a groundhog.  My company is so far behind on its optics, its ability to see pipeline progress and funnel conversion rates and the like, that any talk of more complex business analytics is useless until we can get the sales team to reliably input information into their sales force automation system.  Our Bounty Hunters never report in — how do we know when to show up at Cloud City?  And right now there’s no incentive  for them to do that.  So we’ll keep picking up tips on ways to encourage the right behavior.

- More roles in marketing than I thought.  The folks here have talked about tasks such as Marketing Operations which doesn’t fit into my evil scorecard cast of characters (part 1 and part 2).  They have some roles also defined to be more encompassing, like field marketing and sales enablement.  They have roles like “teleprospecting” to go along with telemarketing and telesales, and that’s a role I had simply never heard of (though I immediately appreciated its function.)  And they advocate creating a “demand center” for handling demand gen across the company.  It makes me wonder at what point someone should take a sledgehammer to our own marketing organization and rebuild it into something more functionally pure.

- There’s no engineering equivalent for the Demand Waterfall.  More on this later, but the Demand Waterfall which is espoused by SiriusDecisions is a really important concept and plays a part in most of their recommendations.  Reflecting on this later, I realized that there is no analog to the Light Side that explains how this sort of thing works.  Engineering is very much you do X, and Y happens.  And if it doesn’t, then you better figure out why.  The Waterfall says things like 1000 people come in the top, and varying conversion ratios shows how many deals that turns into from stage to stage.  I’ll write more about this later.  It’s another Marketing 101 topic, and one that I became more conversant with in the last 5 years or so of my career, but it definitely was acquired learning on the job.

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When the marketers are marketed to

Today I’m off to a “marketing conference,” specifically, the Sirius Decisions Summit.  I’ve always heard great things about the consultants at Sirius Decisions, and read some of their analysts’ work.  I guess it’s the engineering equivalent of going to a developer’s conference.

A typical Dark Side sales & marketing convention.

A typical Dark Side sales & marketing convention.

But I am nervous.  After all, marketers are often accused of being verbose windbags.  Will I be seeing any useful content, or will I get a lot of talk about “best practices” and “leveraging core assets”?  Already the emails are pouring in from vendors who have received the attendee list.  I feel like I’m in this “Dark Side convention” scene from The Empire Strikes Back.

Suddenly I find myself the target of bounty hunters, sales folks looking for any “in” to my company, eager to collect my information and spam me with newsletters for products that, though probably useful, are not really within my sphere of influence to invest in.  I’ve been invited to two dinners already from vendors who may have once done business with someone in Nuance, saw the name “Nuance,” and thought I could help.

It means this week may also serve to provide some telling examples of what to do and what not do when WE’RE sponsoring events and inviting partners and trying to spam people with lots of information and giveaways.  I’ll tell you one thing though, all the “Stop by our booth and register to win a free iPad!” promotions are going to work on me.

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Writing website copy

These days one of my major projects is trying to re-write all of our divisional and product based information for a refresh of our corporate website.  The current website is an embarrassment and makes us weep and moan and gnash our teeth.  Fortunately, a Content Management System is being put in place, the website is being moved off of its 10-year-old .asp technology, and we’ll have a bit more control over what shows up there.

But the writing.  Wow.  It’s a lot of writing.  Between my co-worker and me, and any other contributors we sucker in along the way, we’ll need to produce copy for some 50-75 webpages as part of the rewrite.  It’ll probably grow to over a hundred by the time we identify all the extra things that we didn’t realize deserved their own webpage.  For instance, a page talking about what standards we support may be added to the list.

We have tons of old whitepapers, datasheets, and other collateral that we can draw from.  But you know what?  They suck.  Oh, I’m sure they’re perfectly adequate — heck, I wrote many of them — but the real problem is that many of them don’t actually say anything someone would want to read. It’s like the presentation I saw from another company the other day, whose subtitle was “Driving Value for our Clients.”  That’s the best you could come up with?  Or another slide I saw recently that claimed a product “utilizes leading edge technology to enable your company’s future.”  Shoot me now.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of lazy marketing writing.  And it breeds upon itself.  Use becomes utilize, suddenly you’re leveraging all of your best practices and your robust, scalable technology.  Double-u, tee, eff, my friends.  No one wants to read that!

So I’m determined not to let that happen to our stuff.  Let me show you my first crack at making that happen.  I started with this, pulled from a whitepaper I wrote years ago:

Nuance Recognizer is the network speech recognition software that increases the efficiency of self-service solutions to help companies deliver a consistently excellent customer experience.

Built upon the combined expertise, research, and code bases of the two market-leading speech engine providers, it delivers the industry’s highest recognition accuracy and enables natural, human-like conversations that drive more satisfying self-service interactions. Built-in load balancing, multitenancy, and centralized logging support more efficient use of computing resources. Centralized server management—with Operations, Administration and Management (OA&M) capabilities, reporting, and other analytical functions—simplifies deployment and maintenance of self-service solutions. Together these capabilities add up to unparalleled levels of accuracy, reliability, and ease of use that transform the way companies care for key constituents: customers, business partners, and even employees.

So, were you snoring after the first sentence?  Why?  It’s accurate, it’s communicating our positioning statement properly, it’s identifying a category for the product and promising a benefit, then backing it up with relevant features and claims.  Any engineer and most marketers would marvel at how I’ve taken a very complex piece of software and boiled it down to a key message with a short summary of the most important features.

Well, how does it compare to my rewrite?

If you’re going to consistently deliver a great customer service experience, and you’re using speech to raise your containment rates, then you’ll need Nuance Recognizer.  Nuance Recognizer is the software at the core of our contact center automation solutions.  Built upon years of experience across six different product lines, this ninth-generation Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) engine is used around the world in over 54 different languages.  It delivers the industry’s highest recognition accuracy even as it encourages natural, human-like conversations – the conversations that create more satisfying self-service interactions with your customers.

Do you like it better?  I sure do.  What makes it better, for me?  Well, I’ve made it feel more relevant — I’m talking to you, not to “companies” or “organizations.”   I get to the point faster — it’s cut down from 125 words to 91 words.  I skip over some of the technical mumble jumble about OA&M, load balancing, and multitenancy — those can show up in the more detailed breakout sections later — and get right to the point.  I make all three rhetorical arguments — logos, ethos, and pathos.  And along the way I managed to use enough important keywords that SEO will be able to benefit.  Oh, and I got rid of do-nothing words like enable, efficient, simplifies, and unparalleled.

Now, can we build the rest of the website like this?  Maybe… if we enable our flexible value proposition and leverage our core assets with best practices. Sigh.

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Planning webinar content and timing

I’m preparing to host a webinar tomorrow (Tuesday) called “What Your Customers Want: Latest Study on Consumer Attitudes Toward Customer Care and Automation.”  And yes, I’ve already went back and reviewed my Tips for Presenting a Webinar — I’m on the “read it through” stage since timing is tight.   For the first time, I’m the host of the whole thing, complete with a script announcing how to use the interface to participate in the Q&A session.  The meat of the seminar comes from the conclusions of some great research which J.P. Gownder and Doug Williams, both of Forrester Research, completed on behalf of my company.  And if you follow the world of customer care, automated phone systems, and the like, you’ll appreciate what they have to say.

But this blog is not about customer service — I’ll save that for the Bruce Temkin‘s of the world.  It’s about surviving on the Dark Side of marketing.  And that means being able to plan content for a webinar where you’re not the “talent,” but the host.  We’re allocating our 60 minutes as follows:

  • 5 minutes – Wait for people to sign on, introductions, instructions and reminders
  • 40 minutes – Presenters give information, brief interruptions by me to do poll questions
  • 5 minutes – I do the “close,” briefly(!) pitching my company, its services, and answering “so what” with high-level positioning statements
  • 10 minutes – Q&A period… which unfortunately will almost certainly disappear as we run overtime

It’s too bad the whole thing couldn’t be shorter — no one is ever upset to attend a 1 hour webinar that lasts 40 minutes!   I wish we could shorten the presentation about 10 minutes, give slightly more time to the closing pitch, and save a lot more buffer time for Q&A.  In this case, though, we had already cut the information down to a 40 minute presentation and it doesn’t feel like we can cut it further without sacrificing its quality.  It’s good stuff.

You see the mention of poll questions throughout the webinar — we’re using 4 of them, and they’re very important.  The poll questions are offered under the guise of audience interactivity, but really they serve to help us qualify viewers.  Keeping with this blog’s theme, let’s call them our “probe droids,” helping us sift through the vast emptiness of space to gather intelligence on our targets.  Do the presenters care if our audience members have budgeted for a customer service initiative in 2010?  No, but our sales team sure as hell does!  It’s questions like these that turn unqualified suspects into qualified leads so the inside sales team can prioritize who to chase.

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