Archive for category Random Musings

Playing to customer emotions in B2B

emotions picThis post is in reaction to an interesting blog from @econsultancy. If you read through it, though I don’t advocate the notion of attacking a competitor, you’ll likely find it common sense. But the thing about common sense is that its often rare in practice. How often do we really consider how our customers feel emotionally about their problems or our products in the B2B environment?

It seems to me we, as marketers, spend way too much time articulating features / benefits and not necessarily about what drives customers emotionally. Some key emotions that come to mind relevant to B2B –

1) Security and peace of mind
2) Fear of complexity (and a need for simplicity)
3) Fear of obsolescence
4) Disdain for the big, evil OEM or corporation (that could even be you)
5) Need to be top dog or seen as a thought leader (not necessarily as an organization but as an individual)
6) Fear of unpredictability, inconsistency or failure (not at the product level but as a team or organization)
7) Desire to be perceived as charitable or benevolent

Obviously not every customer in your world is going to share all (or even one) of these emotional needs (that’s where the segmentation comes in).  But when it’s all said and done, hard as we try, people are irrational decision makers.

How often have you tried to rationalize a purchase that in your head you knew was irrational? We see it all the time in the consumer world – products and services become emotional extensions of ourselves and we rationalize in our heads why we need something that we really don’t. I refuse to believe the same can’t be said in B2B. Buyers are still people, and people are still irrational.  There are just different emotions at play.

In my current role we are commercializing a new solution playing to some extent on #s 4, 5 and 6 from above. That said, we’re still in the early phases so I won’t try and convince you of my genius…yet. In the meantime I would love to hear about what others have seen or done to tackle emotional needs in B2B.  I’m all ears, so what have you got?


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Marketing vs customer value

Many times I’ve heard marketers say something like “You have to give something to get something.” And many times, the person means “[The customer] needs to give [their personal information] to get [my content].” As a marketer I can see the logic, especially when it comes to targeting, measuring, and tracking. But as a consumer, it’s not always clear to me that what I’m getting is as valuable as what they’re giving.

There’s a great article from HBR [N.B. requires purchase and/or login] that talks about the gap between sellers’ and buyers’ perceptions. According to the article, sellers overvalue their wares by up to a factor of 3x, while buyers undervalue those same wares by up to 3x, resulting in a nearly 10x gap between what the seller thinks their thing is worth and what the buyer is willing to “pay” for it.

Put it another way: how many of us have clicked a link or gone to a website only to be immediately challenged to “log in or register to see that content”? Before you are even able to evaluate whether the information is good and valuable and credible you have to give up your personal information, sometimes including your street address and employer’s name. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but given the recent rash of security breaches around the internet (viz: Citibank, Gawker Media, Sony, et al), it should make you wonder exactly how secure your information is, what is the risk of that information being leaked to the rest of the internet, and what happens to you if it does get leaked. Only then will you start putting your information in the right context to decide whether giving it up is the right thing to do.

As a vendor, you have to ask yourself whether that White Paper is telling the customer something they can find in any first year MBA textbook, whether that blog post titled “37 Ways to Supercharge Your Marketing Plan” is really all that insightful, or whether the news you’re hiding behind a paywall is something the customer can freely find somewhere else (see also: the Disney Corporation).

Good marketing is not about targeting, or measuring, or tracking; good marketing is about getting inside the customer’s head and offering something that they really find valuable. Not something that’s inside the 10x margin, not something that’s slighly less crummy than the competition, not something that was easy for you to get done and approved, but something that helps the customer solve a problem that’s big enough to matter and let them do it without a bunch of “exciting (upsell) opportunities” standing in their way. Only then can you really become the “trusted advisor” that is the holy grail of customer-marketing relationships.


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Skype: An option for a brain drain

UPDATED 12:01, Monday June 27, 2011:

According to Silicon Alley Insider, the executives who were let go will be receiving some/most of the equity compensation in question.  While it’s still difficult to know exactly what’s going on or the motives behind it, it’s still a good illustration how bad publicity and the appearance of impropriety can travel very quickly.  I still think what I wrote below applies: the changing tide of compensation, and how it’s perceived in the market, could severely stifle innovation in this country, at least as much as any tax, levy, or tariff.


A few weeks ago news broke of Microsoft’s purchase of internet VOIP/VidOIP service Skype. At the time I wrote about what the strategic play might be for Microsoft, what they might consider doing with the service, and how I’d like to see it incorporated into my work digital lifestyle. Now, a few weeks later, news about Skype is again breaking acrosss the interwebs, but this time it paints the service – and specifically it’s management team and a key investor – in a much different light.

Sunday morning Michael Arrington wrote on TechCrunch about stories of Skpe employees being terminated and their stock options being reclaimed by the company (he uses the word “worthless” in the title). Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing had similar thoughts on the matter (he invoked the word “screwed” in his title). Over on, Fred Wilson had slightly more tempered thoughts on the matter but does recommend the entire system be rethought.

The intricacies of employee stock options in general and these stock options in particular aside, there’s a larger issue that Skype and Microsoft need to consider. Whether or not it’s true, it appears as if Skype terminated a bunch of people just before a big payday and then took away one of the major incentives that convinced the person to work at Skype in the first place. What’s more, they did it in a way that has been called disingenuous and perhaps even actionable.

At some point, the current Skype management team is going to want to start another company, and they’re going to have this reputation to overcome.  Their other investors are going to want to invest in another technology company, an organization who’s employees might flee the moment the deal is announced. Ninety nine times out of 100, acquisitions and investments are for the people, not the technology.

We talk alot about the impact of taxes, tarrifs, levies, and other monetary vehicles on innovation and advancement. But what of the impact of this type of behavior on technological innovation? Silicon Valley, one of the major hotbeds on American innovation, has long depended on the promise of equity compensation in lieu of cash. If employees no longer trust equity compensation, start-ups and small businesses might be forced to switch to more traditional cash-based compensation, which could severely limit their ability to bring enough people on staff to get things done as quickly as necessary, thereby stifiling technology innovation.

The people that really have to be carefule here are Microsoft. If Skype’s people start to view their options as completely worthless, then there becomes very little incentive for them to stay. Since the talent should be at least as much of a concern as the technology in any acquisition, Microsoft could find themselves holding a shell of a company worth much less than the $8.5B they paid for it.

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Seth: Are you a scientist?

Are you a scientist?

Ask a physicist what will happen if you fire a projectile like this in that direction, and she’ll know. Ask a chemist what happens if you mix x and y, and you’ll get the right answer. Even quantum mechanics mechanics can give you probabilities that work out in the long run.

I’m not always the biggest fan of Seth Godin’s brand of “crackerjack marketing” – for my taste it generally lacks the subtlety and nuance that paints life in anything other than primary colors 1– but I do have to admit that most of his observations are sound, at least in the broad strokes.

As someone who spent the better part of his life as a scientist, I can tell you that while Seth’s observation might be technically right, it does lack the subtlety of insight.  Scientists spend vast tracts of time testing and observing the world, and only after gathering, collating, and interpreting the data do they build hypotheses of how the world works.

Scientists make predictions, and predicting the future is far more valuable than explaining the past.

In reality, scientists predict the future by explaining the past.  And to be fair, they don’t so much “predict the future” as tell you what would be consistent with past observations.

But buried somewhere here is a lesson, whether you’re in science, marketing, or any other knowledge worker driven field: future insights are only as good as the summation of your past observances.  It is, at times, attractively expedient2 to rely on “key thought leaders in the field”3 to generate your “insights” rather than a full-fledged primary marketing research study.  We can’t do large-scale marketing research studies, the argument goes, because we don’t have the budget.

But ask yourself this question: what’s more expensive – fielding and executing a good primary marketing research study, or better on a product that only a small handful of people will like?

Or as I’ve heard said before, The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘evidence’.”4

  1. I know there are a great many “Seth-heads” out there. Please understand that I’m in no way saying that being a “Seth-head” is wrong, only that he doesn’t suite my taste. It would be a shame if the only thing you took from this article was this comment about Seth, as I’m trying to address a larger point, which you’ll hopefully see below.
  2. READ: Cheap and fast.
  3. READ: A few good customers.
  4. I can’t seem to find the original source of this quote, so I’ll link to where I first remember hearing it. It now graces a crude printed sign hanging on my own cubicle wall.

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Dilbert on customer feedback

A tongue-in-cheek commentary on how marketers often can’t resist the urge to over-survey.

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Can introverts succeed in business?

A few years I had a performance review in which I got heavily criticized for “not appearing engaged enough” in meetings and other social situations.  As an extreme introvert (by Meyers-Briggs standards), I often find it difficult to relate to a large room filled with very exuberant and outgoing people.  And while it’s far from being debilitating, my penchant for listening rather than talking has at times, as in the case of my former manager, earned me a reputation as aloof and unengaged, when in reality I’m simply listening rather than talking.

I spent a long time trying to change, until a subsequent manager helped me remember that each person is different and that the better  manager tries to mold themselves to their people, not the other way around.  This is not to say that I didn’t make my fair share of mistakes in that previous role – I did, many times over – but I came to realize that my former manager also missed a few opportunities to relate to me more successfully.

That story came back to me yesterday when I stumbled across a post by Carl King on the 10 Most Common Myths About Introverts.  As a strong introvert, I definitely related to all ten of his points, none more than the last one:

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts … A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.)

It got me to thinking about the difference between introverts and extroverts in the enterprise setting.  I don’t know whether it’s that we expect our leaders to be outgoing and charismatic or whether the outgoing and charismatic are the best at positioning themselves for advancement.  Regardless, it seems that too often the strong introverts are, for whatever reason, overlooked.  A recent study published in Harvard Business Press points to the necessary balance between introverts and extroverts on teams.

A new study finds that extraverted leaders actually can be a liability for a company’s performance, especially if the followers are extraverts, too. In short, new ideas can’t blossom into profitable projects if everyone in the room is contributing ideas, and the leader is too busy being outgoing to listen to or act upon them.

An introverted leader, on the other hand, is more likely to listen to and process the ideas of an eager team. But if an introverted leader is managing a bunch of passive followers, then a staff meeting may start to resemble a Quaker meeting: lots of contemplation, but hardly any talk. To that end, a team of passive followers benefits from an extraverted leader.

So it seems that the best teams benefit from the mix between introverts and extroverts.  The problem, of course, comes when it’s only the introverts that recognize and promote the introverts, leading to silos of introverts and different silos of extroverts.  Put another way, you get one group that only wants to think and plan and another group that is all to eager to execute, regardless of the level of planning involved.  Each type brings a much needed skill – and check and balance – the other other.

Once I found my place in a team that recognized – and even encouraged – my personal style, I can say that I found a place where I could chase my successes.

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The difference between a vice president and a janitor

Steve Jobs On The Difference Between A Vice President And A Janitor

“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs tells newly minted VPs, according to Lashinsky.

“Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is “crossed when you become a VP.”

Interesting quote from Steve Jobs, via an upcoming Fortune 1 article.  It sounds like Steve expects his senior management team to realize that nothing is not their fault.  And via another Business Insider article, it sounds like he practices a radical approach to accountability:

He gathered the troops [ed: the entire MobileMe team, from engineers to management] at the auditorium Apple uses on its campus to do demos of small products for the press.

He asked the team what MobileMe [ed: Apple’s online suite of desktop and mobile tools] was supposed to do. Someone answer, and Jobs said to that person (and everyone else), “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?”

Right there and then he named a new executive to run the MobileMe service.

Perhaps not the kinder, gentler side of corporate relations and HR practices, but probably very effective in it’s straightforward-ness.

  1. As of this writing, the original article was not available via the web for a link. It is currently only available via the Fortune iPad app via in-app purchase.

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