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« May 2010 | Main | July 2010 »

A sad truth about most traditional b2b marketing

"People who don't care, selling products to people who care less."

I was at a conference recently where the senior executives spent the entire day talking about profits, market share and growth... they never once mentioned that the pharmaceuticals they were selling were saving lives, or that changes in the product or its pricing could reduce side effects or the load on the patient and her doctor.

This disconnect is becoming less common, but it still happens. It's okay to be passionate about what you sell, even if it's an industrial chemical. It's okay to be connected to your suppliers and vendors, even if you're spending company money to buy from them.

Many businesses focus exclusively on saving money (or so they think) when they publish an RFP and take bids for this product or that service. It's only later when they discover the sticky gas pedal or the customer angry about a stock out that they realize that paying attention to their suppliers beyond price is a good idea.

If you've ever met someone who is passionate about tax accounting or warehouse roofing systems, you understand the power that this passion can have in transforming a client. The challenge is for the supplier to hire passionate people and then give them the room and support to actually care.

"Without apology, we care about what we make and the companies (and people!) that help us make it."

Not an easy thing to say, because if you rely on numbers alone, you get deniability. Blind bidding means you don't have to care about anything but price. An RFP means you don't have to compare apples and oranges. Anonymous business clients means you don't have to answer the phone when it's easier to send it to voice mail.

Except that caring works. On both sides.

Archetypes at work

What are you, what do you want to be? When you're being your best self at your job, what are you doing? Here's a partial list:

Farmer--repeatedly and patiently optimizing the production of goods for sale, worrying about the weather

Hunter--tracking prey, balancing patience with bursts of energy

Gardener--pruning for beauty, growing enough to sustain yourself

Servant--"yes, sir"

Architect--creating a platform for others to work in or on

Nurse--healing (in any sense) other people

Shadchen--connecting others, making a match

Impresario--inventing out of nothing, putting on a show and selling tickets

Conductor--coordinating, leading and shipping

Trader--buying low, selling high

Artist--seeing the world as it is, shipping gifts

Receptionist--greeting all with a content-free smile

The movie star--admired (and bizarrely, respected) for being famous and beautiful

The professor--solving interesting problems

and Mary Ann--the simple farm girl with a heart of gold (sorry, Gilligan, I got carried away)

Of course there are many jobs that include elements of more than one archetype. Deep down, though, you've probably been trained, conditioned or persuaded that one (or perhaps a combo of a few) of these work missions is just right for you.

It's interesting that the most common (in terms of jobs available) is by far the servant, and just about all the others require an insane amount of personal responsibility and initiative. Just because you work on a farm doesn't mean you're a farmer--not if someone else tells you what to do all day.

Worth noting: very few jobs match the archetypes they share a name with. Nurses, for example, don't get to spend much time at all doing actual nursing. If an archetype calls to you, don't be fooled by a job that appears to match it but doesn't.

You can change what you do if you choose to, but not if you keep seeking out the same archetype.

Gifts, misunderstood

What's a gift?

I met a big-shot former Fortune 500 company CEO who explained to me that he used to have three secretaries. One for his calendar, one for his usual work, and one who did nothing but send people gifts.

I think when it's sent by a corporation and chosen by a secretary, it's not a gift. It's a present. Or a favor...

A gift certificate from a rich uncle is a present as well, it's not really a gift.

A favor is something we do for someone hoping for an equal or greater favor in return. (Hence the phrase, "return the favor." No one says, "return the gift.")

A present is something that costs money, sure, and it's free, but I don't think it's a gift.

A gift costs the giver something real. It might be cash (enough that we feel the pinch) but more likely it involves a sacrifice or a risk or an emotional exposure. A true gift is a heartfelt connection, something that changes both the giver and the recipient.

The Gift of the Magi is a great story because each person in the story sacrifices to create a heartfelt gift for the other person. And it's gifts--gifts that touch us, gifts that change us--that are transforming the way we interact.

One or two readers asked me why my book Linchpin costs money. After all, they ask, if gifts are a cornerstone of the new era, why not give it away free, as a gift?

Free doesn't make something a gift. Free might be a marketing strategy, free might make a generous present, but free doesn't automatically make something a gift. Gil Scott Heron's new album isn't free, but it's a gift. He's exposing himself. Taking a risk. You listen to the album and you feel differently when you're done... it's not a product, it's a very personal statement. Keller Williams approaches his entire craft as a chance to give gifts, but that doesn't mean he can't charge for some elements of his work. What it took him to create the music is so much greater than what it cost you to consume it that he is giving gifts without doubt.

The way I understand gifts is that the giver must make a sacrifice, create an uneven exchange, bring himself closer to the recipient, create change and do it all with the right spirit. To do anything less might be smart commerce, but it doesn't rise to the magical level of the gift. A day's work for a day's pay is the win/lose mantra of the industrial era. More modern is to view a day's work as a chance to generate gifts that last.

Slick

For a long time, the best way to tell if something was professional, high grade and worth a premium was by judging the slickness of the production values.

The Bourne Identity cost more to make than The Toxic Avenger. John Grisham's latest novel was clearly worth more than a self-published typewritten book of poetry. Sergeant Pepper was a more professional album than something from the Skinny Americans, that garage band down the street.

And so, restaurants got slicker, as did business proposals. We looked for cues on websites or in the way a conference was presented and the stage was dressed.

Now of course, there's autotune and ProTools, which can make any band sound like Britney. There's Kinko's and Moo cards and plenty of people who will sell you gloss for not so much money.

So I guess instead of slick we're now seeking transparency and reputation and guts.

Amplifying the lizard brain

Not sure why you would want to reinforce the noise in your head that tells you not to speak up, stand out and do work that matters, but if you do, a surefire way to do it is to focus your attention on every piece of negative feedback in your environment. Or to imagine every possible disaster that could befall you, and to do it repeatedly. Or to carefully study anonymous comments, tweets and online reviews from people who don't like the work you're doing. Or focus on the one paragraph in your annual review called 'weaknesses'. Or spend the day thinking about the one slip of the tongue you made this morning...

You can listen to your customers murmur about you online, except that pleased customers tell a few people, angry ones tell everyone. So it's really easy to misinterpret a few as a deluge.

On the other hand, once you accept that this is self-sabotaging behavior, you might choose to deliberately ignore interactions that amplify the very noise you're trying to avoid.

Goodbye to the office

Factories used to be arranged in a straight line. That's because there was one steam engine, and it turned a shaft. All the machines were set up along the shaft, with a belt giving each of them power. The office needed to be right next to this building, so management could monitor what was going on.

150 years later, why go to work in an office/plant/factory?

  1. That's where the machines are.
  2. That's where the items I need to work on are.
  3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.
  4. There are important meetings to go to.
  5. It's a source of energy.
  6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.
  7. I need someplace to go.

But...

  1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.
  2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.
  3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.
  4. How many meetings are important? If you didn't go, what would happen?
  5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.
  6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?
  7. So go someplace. But it doesn't have to be to your office.

If we were starting this whole office thing today, it's inconceivable we'd pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get. I think in ten years the TV show 'the Office' will be seen as a quaint antique.

When you need to have a meeting, have a meeting. When you need to collaborate, collaborate. The rest of the time, do the work, wherever you like.

The gain in speed, productivity and happiness is massive. What's missing is #7... someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.

Benefit event/help wanted in Hyderabad, India

Many of this blog's readers live in India, but I've never been able to do a live event there. Today I'm excited to announce that I'm doing a benefit for Acumen Fund on July 7 in Hyderabad India. All proceeds go to Acumen Fund.

Acumen's Country Director position is possibly the best job in the world, and if you know the right person in India, I'd consider it a favor if you would spread the word about the opening. If I can help call attention to this job search by flying to India and doing a benefit, it's well worth my time.

To amplify their search for a country director (see below), I'm going to be doing one (just one, sorry) speech in India next month. It's in a beautiful auditorium at the Indian School of Business, from 4 pm to 7 pm local time. There are no tickets at the door, so please read on for details.

There are 100 reserved-seating tickets for advanced admission, and approximately 200 tickets available for students, entrepreneurs and others at no cost. Preferred tix are $50 and 100% of proceeds go to Acumen.

Click here to see step by step instructions on how to get one of these seats.

For information about getting a no-cost seat instead, please visit this link. If you can afford to buy a reserved seat ticket, that would be great--the more we can generate for Acumen, the better.

[Alas... This is the only event of any kind I'm going to be able to do in India this year, I'm sorry.]

PS People worldwide can make a donation directly to Acumen here. And you can join their community here.

The real reason for the hoopla, though, is so you'll forward the job listing below to anyone in India who has the experience and desire to take on this job:

COUNTRY DIRECTOR, the job of a lifetime: Acumen Fund is looking for a stand-out change-agent, with experience in both investment and social enterprises to manage and grow its current $23 million social impact investment portfolio in India. This job combines head and heart in a unique way using the tools of business to tackle poverty. The India Director will oversee investment portfolios focused on bringing affordable healthcare, housing, water, agricultural inputs and energy to the poor. S/he will also be responsible for leading a team (based either in Hyderabad or Mumbai) capable not only of managing and growing a world-class investment portfolio, but also of creating a large, active community of supporters, advisors and funders that transcend national boundaries. She or he will work closely with a powerful team of investment and development professionals from around the world, and, over time, will be involved in supporting our global investments (currently in Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan with plans to expand) and report to Acumen’s Fund Chief Investment Officer and Chief Management Officer. 

In short, this is a role capable of igniting significant change in India, and - by knowledge transfer - elsewhere in the world.  It requires significant investment skills, but will not appeal to the mercenary, the cynical or the faint-hearted.  The right India Director is a visionary with excellent execution skills who is unafraid to challenge the status quo and determined to effect real change.  The right Director is a seeker who enjoys being on a global, dynamic team and brings a sense of humor as well.

For details on how to apply, etc. please visit this link.

"This better work"

... is probably the opposite of, "this might work."

"This better work," is the thinking of safety, of proven, of beyond blame.

"This might work," on the other hand, is the thinking of art, innovation and insight.

If you spend all day working on stuff that better work, you back yourself into a corner, because you'll never have the space or resources to throw some 'might' stuff into the mix. On the other hand, if you spend all your time on stuff that might work, you'll never need to dream up something that better work, because your art will have paid off long ago.

Trying to please

Who is your marketing or your product or your effort trying to please?

Every campaign that I've ever seen fail has failed for precisely the same reason: it pleases the wrong person. Think about it... it wouldn't have launched if it hadn't pleased the boss or the client, right? Pleasing the wrong person meant failure.

The same thing is true on a deeper level in your career choice or what you write or what you say or what you sell or how you sell it: if you are working hard to please the wrong people, you'll fail.

Does that critic or that buyer or that spouse or that girlfriend or that investor really matter as much as you think they do?

Hope and the magic lottery

Entrepreneurial hope is essential. It gets us over the hump and through the dip. There's a variety of this hope, though, that's far more damaging than helpful.

This is the hope of the magic lottery ticket.

A fledgling entrepreneur ambushes a venture capitalist who just appeared on a panel. "Excuse me," she says, then launches into a two, then six and eventually twenty minute pitch that will never (sorry, never) lead to the VC saying, "Great, here's a check for $2 million on your terms."

Or the fledgling author, the one who has been turned down by ten agents and then copies his manuscript and fedexes it to twenty large publishing houses--what is he hoping for, exactly? Perhaps he's hoping to win the magic lottery, to be the one piece of slush chosen out of a million (literally a million!) that goes on to be published and revered.

You deserve better than the dashed hopes of a magic lottery.

There's a hard work alternative to the magic lottery, one in which you can incrementally lay the groundwork and integrate into the system you say you want to work with. And yet instead of doing that work, our instinct is to demonize the person that wants to take away our ticket, to confuse the math of the situation (there are very few glass slippers available) with someone trying to slam the door in your faith/face.

You can either work yourself to point where you don't need the transom, or you can play a different game altogether, but throwing your stuff over the transom isn't worthy of the work you've done so far.

Starbucks didn't become Starbucks by getting discovered by Oprah Winfrey or being blessed by Warren Buffet when they only had a few stores. No, they plugged along. They raised bits of money here and there, flirted with disaster, added one store and then another, tweaked and measured and improved and repeated. Day by day, they dripped their way to success. No magic lottery.

What chance is there that Mark Cuban or Carlos Slim is going to agree to be your mentor, to open all doors and give you a shortcut to the top? Better, I think, to avoid wasting a moment of your time hoping for a fairy godmother. You're in a hurry and this is a dead end.

When someone encourages you to avoid the magic lottery, they're not criticizing your idea nor are they trying to shatter your faith or take away your hope. Instead, they're pointing out that shortcuts are rarely dependable (or particularly short) and that instead, perhaps, you should follow the longer, more deliberate, less magical path if you truly want to succeed.

If your business or your music or your art or your project is truly worth your energy and your passion, then don't sell it short by putting its future into a lottery ticket.

Here's another way to think about it: delight the audience you already have, amaze the customers you can already reach, dazzle the small investors who already trust you enough to listen to you. Take the permission you have and work your way up. Leaps look good in the movies, but in fact, success is mostly about finding a path and walking it one step at a time.

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