Laylines and building startups

Sailing into the wind can puzzle people who have not sailed before.  Sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind, but rather they sail diagonally upwind at a substantial angle, let’s say 45 degrees, and tack over 90 degrees and sail upwind in the other direction.  The resulting path is the boat zigzagging to reach a point directly upwind.  When pointing higher into the wind, the boat will go a bit slower, but has less distance to travel; when pointing lower and away from the wind, the boat goes faster, but has more distance to travel. The trick is to find the optimum angle that balances speed with distance sailed.

Yes, business leader, you have a tech budget. But you still need IT. Here’s why

Gartner predicts that by next year, 35 percent of enterprise IT expenditures will be managed outside the IT department’s budget. CMOs, HR directors, and other line-of-business leaders are becoming technologists, purchasing and implementing software to improve their department’s productivity.

This doesn’t mean they need to have IT skills, but they do need to appreciate the expertise of IT professionals in protecting their investment and making it work.To date, there’s been a lot of talk about collaboration between IT and business leaders. It’s mainly been lip service. But this collaboration isn’t just about playing nice — as a line-of-business leader implementing technology, you’re codependent on IT. Here’s why:

Why you need to talk with your customers like you’re a new hire

When is the last time you performed a systematic customer research and segmentation exercise on your business?

I stumbled upon an interesting, and somewhat alarming, observation earlier this year following a CMO peer group discussion in Boston during which we were discussing each of our company's positioning and how we determined the approach.  

Hot Coffee Sprints to keep your marketing “mo’joe”

Crafting and communicating killer and persuasive messaging are some of those foundational skills that every marketer must master. Like many things, these skills atrophy if not continuously exercised. That gets increasingly likely as you rise in your marketing career and become less hands-on or as you become specialized in a particular function.

Of course we’re all ridiculously busy and stretched thin, but honing and maintaining your craft is important and shouldn’t feel like a chore or preparing for a marathon. You just need to make a little time in your schedule and focus. It’s more doable than you may think.  

An easy way to learn more about your customers and prospects

I still don’t know enough about my customers and I bet my team doesn’t either. Ok, I said it. I’m not too embarrassed though, as I don’t think a marketer or entrepreneur can ever really know enough.

Knowing your audience intimately well –their goals, their challenges, the language they use, their perceptions of alternatives, and so on– is critical for devising the most appropriate product features, efficient and effective communications, and routes to reach and support them.  

Industry Analyst Programs for the Startup or Early Stage Venture

Favorable coverage by industry analysts is obviously quite valuable for any company.  But getting there can be time consuming and expensive.  Is it worth it for the startup or early stage venture when time and funding are in such short supply?  Well, it depends.  You need to consider your target buyer, the role analysts play in your industry, the competitiveness of your market, and how differentiated your product is.  Industry analysts are quite prevalent in enterprise IT markets, so if you’re selling B2B solutions into this market it’s important to consider developing an analyst plan.  

Sales Enablement Using Mobile Apps and Content

Sales team and channel enablement is a key responsibility for marketing organizations of any size.  It's an opportunity for marketing to lead the field into the most fruitful target segments, ensure the sales people are on-message, and enabled with the most current and effective sales tools.  With the increasing availability of mobile apps and content tools, it's easier than ever for marketing and sales management to quickly improve how the field teams are supported.  And many of these techniques can be spearheaded by the business with little to no involvement from IT.  

Your B2B Customers Now Expect More From You. Your Team May Be Delivering Less Than You Think.

The rise of consumer-facing companies that are easy to deal with and offer a fun customer experience bring a refreshing change for us as consumers.  And as I’ve written before, they are also setting a new bar for enterprise-facing companies.  For their day jobs many “consumers” also buy products and services for their enterprises. And rewarding customer experiences they have in their personal lives are raising expectations for how they interact with business partners.  

Rebranding a Startup after a Pivot: Case Study with Apperian

In a recent post I talked about when it makes sense to challenge your branding elements. Today I’ll share a personal experience of rebranding an emerging software company after of a pivot. What follows is a quick example of something we faced at Apperian, where I am honored to be CMO.  

4 Reasons you may need to blow up your branding and start over

Branding is one of those topics that many marketing people want to so carefully protect. That’s probably the right call when defending well-established brands, such as Coca Cola, Apple, and BMW. In those cases, companies have worked diligently to ensure alignment between capabilities/product/offer, the target audience, how the company executes, messaging, the creative design elements, and more. They have some degree of stability to the business. Even so, they do evolve their brands over time.  

Startup Sales and Marketing to the Enterprise: "Old School" Meets "New School"

There is a lot of attention on “lean startups” and “scaling big” with minimal marketing and sales efforts. These are great stories and I love reading about the breakout, viral success of a hot startup. But that doesn’t reflect what the majority of startups experience and it’s even less frequent for one selling B2B software.

Your company may need an alignment – here’s a way to fix it

If your car is out of alignment, you’ll be fighting to drive in a straight line, wasting fuel, wearing out your tires, and taxing your frame prematurely. When everything is pointing in the same direction it’s much easier and more efficient to control the vehicle. Companies are no different. Teams and capabilities that are aligned create an organization that is more efficient to drive. And when everyone is on the same page it’s also easy and quicker to change direction when needed – this is essential for the early-stage venture tacking and pivoting its way to ideal product/market fit. 

Your message needs a pyramid: a simple structure for efficient and persuasive communication

When presenting or writing to persuade we obviously want our content thoroughly consumed and recommendations enthusiastically acted upon.

Unfortunately that’s probably rarely the case and your audience isn't entirely engaged.  People are bombarded with messages, Twitter is training us to consume in sound bites and distractions are always a click away.

Yes, you can probably be doing more to make your communications more efficient and more persuasively structured.

There are many schools of thought on communication structure, but I’ve found this one to be very easy to apply when developing and delivering presentations and written communications that intend to convey a proposal and recommendation.  It’s based on a core framework developed by Barbara Minto in the 80’s and most find it easy enough to consistently apply.  I think the most powerful benefit from this approach is better introductions, which engage an audience’s attention before providing a recommendation. 

You may be bigger and more well-funded, but I will out-love you. Customer experience rules.

Up until last October I was traveling north of 100k+ miles a year on United alone. I’m a United 1K and would re-make that status by the end of April each year for the past four years. And I’d do much of it with the cadence of a Swiss clock, commuting BOS-SFO to my office in Palo Alto twice a month with other trips in between. Plenty of people out there travel a lot more, but on United and based on my position on the gate upgrade monitors, I’m assuming I was in their top 15% or so. I wasn’t waiting for my name to be painted on the side of a plane, but you’d think they’d like to retain someone like me, right? 

Branding Does Matter in a Startup

You don't often find the words "branding" and "startup" used in the same sentence - at least not in a positive way. Spending a ton of money/time/effort on branding before product/market fit is achieved is certainly unwise, though I'd argue investing to scale lead-gen programs can be fruitless at that point too. However, as a venture hones in on product/market fit I do think it's critical to establish a branding direction that is well-aligned with the business strategy; not at the expense of lead-gen investments, but in conjunction with them.

Does your marketing team *really* command the message?

The U.S. Marines have a doctrine that “Every Marine is a Rifleman.” It’s a focus that emphasizes the infantry combat ability that every Marine must have. Regardless of their military specialization –whether infantry, supply, operations, or even cook– every Marine receives training and is proficient with a rifle. This ensures that they can unequivocally rely on each other to jump in and help out on the front-line. With that kind of pressure I assume new Marines do not take rifle training lightly. 

Pivots, Growth Tacks, or Staying the Course. How Marketing can help hone in on Product/Market fit.

Why is it that “pivot” is a feared word for some people in startups? Maybe because some mistakenly feel it’s an admission of failure? Personally, I cannot recall a venture that did not need to make a pivot, tack or course correction along its way.

Tacks or “growth tacks”, are smaller changes, such as evolving messaging, pricing models, product features, or similar actions to accelerate growth, while a “pivot” is a more substantial change to the business, such as taking the product to a brand new audience. 

The Importance of Positioning for the Startup

The essence of strategy is choice; choosing where to focus and where not to focus. It’s great wisdom attributed to Michael Porter and the focus of many management consulting books and projects. But for those of us in the middle of our companies, it can be immensely challenging to gain clarity. To me, a core element of a company’s strategy can be boiled down into a positioning statement. It’s not the entire strategy of course, but it does force clarity and focus on market segment and value. And the exercise of devising -and revisiting- one should create alignment with the team and form a foundation for scaling when the time is right.

When Outbound Marketing Makes Sense for Startups

There's lot's of attention on inbound marketing these days, and rightly so, because it's a powerful approach that can find engaged people when/where/how they want to engage you.  It’s genuine and much more representative of how most of us want to be “sold” now.  Unfortunately the increasing emphasis on inbound marketing has many people thinking that outbound marketing is, and should be, completely dead.  While I agree that the relative mix of tactics is swaying significantly toward Inbound, I do believe there is a role for some outbound marketing in companies – even startups.