Archive for June, 2009

If you had to pick two groups inside a corporation that must work together effectively for the enterprise to realize its potential, which would they be?

Manufacturing and R&D? Finance and Legal? HR and Operations?

For my money, it’s Marketing and Sales. No inter-departmental alignment will have greater impact on awareness and affinity for a company’s brand. No tag-team will have quite the same impact on customer experience, for better or worse.

If you agree with that premise, then effective, ongoing communication and collaboration between Sales and Marketing should be a top priority for any company.

That’s why it’s surprising to see how wide the gulf sometimes gets between these two functions, especially in larger organizations.

Case Study: In Search of Corrupted Selling Time
Recently I met with one that has developed, in recent years, an emphasis to the point of obsession on stamping out “corrupted selling time.” Some time ago, leadership decided sales reps were spending too much time on what were deemed to be unproductive activities. 

In fact, someone decided the Marketing people who produce sales support tools and content, including the sales intranet, were among the most egregious of corrupted-time culprits.

Turns out they would sometimes ask sales reps to fill out online satisfaction surveys and need assessments. It also wasn’t unusual for them to involve selected reps on teams planning new sales support campaigns and tools.

At some point (probably during a short-term dip in revenue), it was determined that Sales was spending too much time collaborating with Marketing. So, leadership decided to curtail those interactions. Significantly. No more surveys. No more fact-finding interviews or sales focus groups.

The assumption being that time saved could be devoted to selling. Sales productivity would skyrocket. Results would register on the top line.

Unintended Consequences

But the pendulum swung too far. Sales reps, cut off from an outlet to express their needs for new tools and specific messages, grew frustrated. And, because sales people don’t take no for an answer, they began to create their own content. Presentations. Fliers. How-to instructions. Case studies.

In most cases, these materials went in front of customers and prospects with no creative or quality review by Marketing, much less by corporate Legal. Strategic positioning and selling messages, not to mention brand design guidelines, were left to the interpretation of individual reps, many of whom were not peak performers in their high school English or college art classes. 

Because every sales rep was creating his or her own communications, there were no synergies or efficiencies. Within one regional team of 16, each had his or her own collection of leave-behinds. Each had a different, homespun PowerPoint to describe the company’s core value proposition to its most important B-to-B audiences.

Meanwhile, Marketing continued to produce batches of new sales support materials and load them to the intranet. But they were dismayed to see, from Web metrics, that site use was declining.

Weren’t they providing effective, on-target communications tools? Maybe. Maybe not. It was difficult  to say, because they were operating in the dark. Essentially banned from asking Sales for input and validation, for fear those conversations would constitute — you guessed it — corrupted selling time.

Accidental Alignment
Then, almost by chance, two sales reps got invited to a Marketing team off-site. They’d benefited greatly from a new tool Marketing recently developed. They attended the meeting, primarily, to thank their Marketing colleagues.

What transpired, though, was a two-hour, freewheeling discussion over box lunches about what Sales truly needed in the way of new support tools. More customer-relevant content. More step-by-step how-to documents and videos. Shorter PowerPoints, able to be customized with customer-specific data points.

One rep repeatedly flipped open a three-ring binder to show pieces he’d put together. “But I’m not a creative person,” he said. “If you guys could just give us something like this, I know everyone would use it.”

The marketers mostly listened and scribbled notes. This was manna. Internal customers, expressing their needs and challenges, clearly and passionately. It had been so long since this sort of exchange had taken place. Too long. All the meeting participants acknowledged as much.

Moral of the Story

Sales needs uninterrupted time to sell. But Marketing also needs access to talk and co-create with Sales, so effective, high-quality support tools can be developed, reviewed by the right stakeholders, and shared efficiently across all sellers.

Rather than reduce corrupted selling time, constricting collaboration between Marketing and Sales can have the opposite effect. With no one to listen and respond to their needs, sales reps are forced to go off on their own to develop tools they need. In doing so, they become a user base of one for each tool being created.

By contrast, having Marketing and Sales collaborate in a focused way, on an ongoing basis, is a powerful strategy to reduce corrupted selling time. Because the tools Marketing creates are more likely to be those Sales truly needs and will value.

Which means Sales will spend less time crafting their own customer communications.

After all, they’ll be too busy selling.


What about your organization? How do you strike the optimal balance between maximizing selling time and making sure Sales and Marketing are in productive, ongoing dialogue? If you have best practices to share, please do so with a comment. We’ll summarize them in a future post.


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When sports commentators extol the virtues of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, you’ll often hear them say, “He plays the game the right way.”

Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer

Unless you’re a baseball fan, you might not even recognize Mauer’s name. He’s an all-around athlete who grew up in St. Paul and now stars for his hometown major league team.

At 6′ 5″, with a pro quarterback’s arm and a basketball player’s agility, Mauer (pronounced “mao” — as in Chairman Mao — “er”) is a two-time All-Star widely regarded as the game’s finest defensive catcher. 

On the offensive side, Mauer’s starting to be mentioned among the premier hitters not just in baseball, but in baseball’s long history. He’s already led the majors in batting not once, but twice. By end of play this past Tuesday, he was again atop the American League in hitting, making him a definite threat to win a third batting title.

Admirable Attitude
Given the tremendous aptitude Mauer demonstrates with bat and glove, it’s the attitude with which he plays that, as much as anything, earns him admiration from fans, hard-nosed former players and curmudgeonly media commentators.

On Tuesday night, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mauer merely added to his legend. He was perfect at the plate, four hits in four at bats, driving in a run and scoring two in a Twins’ 8-2 win over the Pirates. With the bouquet of hits, his average blossomed to an eye-popping .429.

But for all the showy stats, here’s the telling highlight from Tuesday’s game. An example of what it means when people say Mauer “plays the right way.”

In the bottom of the 5th inning, with two out, his team ahead by two runs, Mauer occupied first base. One of his teammates lofted what looked to be a sure-out fly to short center field.

Now understand, Mauer’s young, just 26 years old. He has a contract that plays him millions each year to play a game — a game at which he’s ridiculously accomplished. According to one report, he was battling a cold Tuesday. He plays catcher, the most physically taxing of all positions. And the baseball season is a physical and mental grind — 162 games, one flowing into the next.

Some players in this moment, with these credentials — whether to conserve energy, or to demonstrate a certain level of self-satisfaction — would have jogged lazily toward second, slowed to a walk to watch the pop fly being caught, and then veered toward the dugout. 

But Joe Mauer elects not to be an ordinary player.

Instead, he ran hard from first, as baseball players are taught to do as kids but so often forget or fail to do as millionaires. Remarkably, Pittsburgh’s center fielder lost track of the ball in the Metrodome’s roof. What should have been out No. 3 dropped 10 feet to his right. By the time he retrieved the ball on a bounce, Mauer was chugging into home plate with another run toward a convincing victory.

The Not-So-Little Things
What on God’s green baseball diamond does any of this have to do with marketing, sales or even business?

Maybe not so much, but then again…

Most days we don’t get to produce an award-winning Super Bowl ad. We aren’t closing a new, multi-million-dollar piece of business. We’re not making a speech, writing a speech, or even setting up the audio-visual equipment for a global economic summit in some romantic-sounding European capital.

A lot of what happens day-to-day in marketing, sales and corporate communication is not all home runs and high fives. It’s about:

  • Finding ways to make the user experience on our Web site more valuable and engaging than it was yesterday. 
  • Making time to scan that industry news article and think about it’s implications, so the next e-mail touch with a customer isn’t simply “How are you doing?” but instead, “You know, I’ve been thinking….”
  • Going on calls with a sales rep, or asking her to show you the home-spun cheat sheets and leave-behinds she’s developed to fill gaps in the sales support toolkit provided by Marketing.
  • Looking at every program and campaign we create to see how we can make it better, smarter, more efficient, more measurable.

As we summon focus, creativity and commitment to do all these relatively unglamorous, seemingly incremental things, it might be helpful to recognize that even superstars are very often doing the little things on their way to the All-Star Game.

At least they are if they’re playing the game the right way.

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Joe Pulizzi is no luddite when it comes to social media.

Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi

The former Penton publishing exec and founder of content marketing hub and match-making service, Junta42, can Twitter, TripIt, Facebook and LinkedIn with the best.

So, if you’re feeling a little behind in blending social media into your branding and marketing efforts, you might be buoyed by this post from Pulizzi’s Junta42 blog. In it, he argues that marketers who rush to adopt social media before establishing a content strategy are putting the cart before the horse.

The tweet before the meat.


Tweeting On Empty
Couldn’t agree more. In fact, a colleague recently passed along this good example (and by good I mean bad) of what can happen when it appears a business or a marketer has jumped into social media because, well, the water’s fine and everyone else seems to be diving into the pool.

It’s one of those classic faux pas vignettes, this time involving Time Warner Cable. But it could have been any organization where the strategy and motivation for using social media is unclear.  

A designated corporate tweeter from TWC put out the following message:

“…working on customer loyalty programs and would love your ideas/input — raffling an ITouch on Thurs to constructive suggestions.”

Already you know something’s a little off. Let’s assume we’re seeking customer insights to enhance a loyalty program. Most of us might find a more artful way to make the ask than to say, essentially, “Hey customer, we’re looking for ways to make you more loyal. Got any?” 

However, a customer took the bait and proceeded to publish a series of tweets describing some fairly specific wants and pain points. More attentive customer service reps. Great flexibility to personalize channel packages. A monthly bill cleaned up of “cryptic misc. charges.”

After about the fifth tweet of constructive feedback and critique, the TWC tweeter chirped back:










Rough translation. “Appreciate the comments. But we’re actually not that interested in listening to you. We’d prefer to market at you.”


Content Trumps Social Media
Now that’s just one example, perhaps an aberration. Presumably, TWC is a fine organization with mostly excellent marketing intentions, execution and people. But the bigger point, the one made by Pulizzi’s post, is this:

Make sure you’ve got something to say, something of value to offer, before you go stirring up too much conversation and following via social media. And be ready to engage in conversation. Otherwise, you’ll end up whistling Dixie, or engaging in aimless chatter, and that’s not a good place (and by not good I mean bad) for a brand to be.

“Ultimately, it’s not about just experiences and interactions through social media. It’s about creating meaningful experiences and interactions,” Pulizzi writes. “It’s about creating valuable, relevant and compelling content on a consistent basis that positions your brand as the trusted expert to your customers. When that happens, customers and prospects want to talk to you, and want to share your content.”


Visual Metaphor Alert!
I added a comment to Pulizzi’s post. It’ll probably sound quirky, but it might help establish a visual metaphor by which to keep your social media and content strategy priorities in order.

Social media is a bit like a colony of ants, streaming out from a hill. Bumping into each other. Climbing over one another. Exchanging antennae rubs. Impressive amounts of kinetic energy and potential on display.

Then, abruptly, the scene changes. Those seemingly random interactions start to signal there’s something important or valuable going on back at home base.

Suddenly, what appeared to be mostly a scramble starts to assume purposeful patterns. Queens get nourished. Eggs get laid. Tunnels get dug. The colony and its inhabitants flourish.

That earlier scramble was social media activity lacking an organizing purpose. Without a content strategy.

The latter, more orderly scene? Let’s call that content marketing in action, leveraging social media as channels by which to stimulate awareness, consumption and sharing of your content.


If you haven’t yet, check out comp-1Get Content. Get Customers.,
co-authored by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett. It’s just out
in paperback from McGraw-Hill.

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I’m a frequent visitor to a nearby hardware store. One of the employees, Zac, makes a point to say hello and call me by name. I’m pretty sure he memorized my name after writing it down a few times as I was dropping off blades to be sharpened or screens to be repaired.

Unlike other store staff, especially the over-eager cashiers, Zac rarely if ever asks, “Can I help you find something?” Or, the even more irritating, “Can we help you find something?” 

Zac apparently knows that if I need help, I’ll ask. He probably also intuits that I’m one of those people who likes wandering hardware store aisles now and again. 

So, instead of pouncing with pseudo-proactive customer care, Zac greets me, we make brief chit-chat, and then I either tell him why I’m there or ask him to point me in the direction of my intended purchase.

When I leave Zac’s store, I usually feel well served and valued.

I visit a local candy shop on occasion. One of the managers, Julie, has made it a point to learn my name. She also knows my regular order — a No. 3 popcorn, plain, in a bag (not a box), with a Pepsi. She asks how’s it going. I ask her how’s business. These interludes rarely last more than a minute. But I leave Julie’s store feeling like a regular, and valued for it. 

On my walk to the parking ramp after work, I’ll sometimes stop at one of those sandwich, soup and salad places that also makes great baked goods. Between 5 and 6 p.m. cookies and muffins go on sale for half price. Unless I”m buying cookies for the whole family, I’ll get a chocolate chip or two.

When I approach the cashier, there’s no greeting. Zero recognition that I’ve been here before. And once the sale is rung and cash is exchanged ($.59, or $1.28) the cashier robotically asks if I want my receipt. For what seems like the umpteenth time I’ll say no, thanks, and shuffle off.

Forget about 15 minutes of fame. What many of us hunger for is one minute, even 30 seconds, of recognition — as an individual, a good client, a repeat customer — as we go about our daily rounds. In fact, some of us base our buying patterns and brand loyalty on it.

In a retail business, in customer service generally, there’s a line between training employees to follow procedure, so they become regimented and rote, and engaging them to recognize and treat customers as individuals.

What about your organization?

Are you finding ways to help customer-contact employees make regular customers feel recognized and valued? Or are you simply ensuring that no customer walks away without that one last shot at the receipt?

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