Channeling the Positive…

So often, I tend to get very negative when it comes to marketing or business ideas.  I’m sure my DW can attest to my most-used comment (“outburst” is probably a better word…) while reading VentureBeat is, “Oh my god! Listen to this stupid idea that just got millions in VC funding!”  I’m not sure if it’s age, cynicism, or just being around a critical mass of coworkers over my lifetime to really, finally be able to quickly separate the smart from the, well, not so smart.

Example:  While reading about Bump.com, the license-plate social media startup that links people via their car’s license plate numbers and has just raised $1M, I jumped to the conclusion that it was, yet again, another reason that the Silicon Valley bubble was about to burst.  Instead, I should have focused on the positives:

Great Startup Ideas
By cswtwo (via Flickr, Creative Commons)
  • VC and angel money is fairly easy to get.
  • A startup’s focus is usually very different after a year.
  • Getting an early jump on connecting your car to your social graph is an ingenious idea.
  • This is a great experiment to test the bounds of social media.
  • I now have an outlet beyond my middle finger and my horn for the jerk-store in front of me who jammed on his breaks and didn’t use his turn signal.

With less than two weeks focused on my own startup, I’ve quickly realized that there is as much negative energy in the business world as there is positive.  And, being pretty much a solo operation, it’s up to me alone (and maybe Buddha) to ease my suffering.  My negative energy hasn’t been because these other startup ideas have been that bad (OK, some have been that bad…), it’s been due to my jealousy and anger at myself for not having the confidence and positivity to launch something on my own.

Bottom Line

Now, when my startup launches, I can’t wait for all of the other people to say, “Yeesh, what a stupid idea!”  It’s already happening, and, after a momentary, “oh no, they might be right,” I quickly plow forward, knowing that this is a great idea!  And, to all of those other companies getting seed or VC funding, I say, “Good for you! (But leave some for me!)”

Why Do Marketers Make it So Difficult to Unsubscribe?

Over the last few months, part of my daily work routine has been deleting the dozens of spam and marketing emails that I receive every night.  And, without fail, I always think, “Gee, maybe someday I should just unsubscribe from all of these lists!”  I’ll skip over the ironic, hypocritical nature of that statement being uttered by a marketer…

unsubscribe
By johnscotthaydon via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Nevertheless, I chose yesterday as the beginning of the end of my overloaded inbox!  As I started, I took both a marketer’s view and a recipient’s view of the unsubscribe process.  Given that I ran a recent campaign designed to get people to proactively unsubscribe, where we almost begged them to remove themselves from our list, I started to laugh at the methods at which recognizable and established publications and companies use to make the process so confusing.

Click Here to Select Your Unsubscribe Process

At the highest level, there seems to be four general methods that marketers subscribe to (hee hee) for their unsubscribe process, from easiest to most absurd:

  1. The one-click method:  A link labeled “unsubscribe” that opens a webpage stating that, “You’ve been unsubscribed.”  Done!
  2. The “You figure it out” method: A link labeled “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” or, the clearly designed to confuse “change your email preferences,” which then takes you to a webpage with multiple choices and unclear directions.
  3. The attempt to confuse people into giving up method:  A confusing link that drives you to a webpage where you need to reenter your email address, de-select the name of the newsletter you just clicked through, and select from a confusing set of action buttons with double-negative descriptions. Oh yeah, and then click “submit.”
  4. The “no method at all” method:  The favorite of the “grey market” list brokers and cheapo sales and marketing people who blast out thousands of messages that look like personal emails, hoping that someone will bite.

Having been in the software space for over a decade, an area of confusion for me is the time until the unsubscribe takes effect.  Across 30 or so unsubscribes in the past few days, I’ve seen everything from the instantaneous “you are now unsubscribed” to the ludicrous “please allow up to four weeks for this change to take effect.”  Really?  A whole month?  I can see where maybe some ’90s vintage, homegrown email system requires a manual upload of an unsubscribe list from one system to another, but a whole month?  If it takes longer than 24 hours for your unsubscribes to merge with your email marketing system, you either need to start calling the ExactTargets and Eloquas of the world, or you need to open your employer-provided MS Word ’95 and start cranking out a new resume.

Examples

Let’s take a look at a few of the unsubscribe procedures I went through over the past few days.

The Good

  • LeadSloth, using Vertical Response and the “one-click” method.  In fact, Vertical Response goes so far as to include this fine print on their unsubscribe page:  iBuilder users are strictly prohibited from using UCE (spam) in their marketing efforts, and are subject to immediate termination if they do so. Wow!  (BTW, I added the link to “UCE.”)

    A surprisingly friendly email from Apple.
  • While most unsubscribe pages were bland, flat, text-only affairs with little or no branding, Adobe/Omniture provided the prettiest unsubscribe page and actually put some thought into their branding during this seemingly negative activity.  With a focus on marketing and the customer, they are doing this the right way.

The Bad

  • TechTarget not only adds a bit of confusion, but questions my judgement by requiring a double answer.  Their unsub page asks, “Are you sure you want to unsubscribe from this mailing from the sender?” and forces a yes or no radio button choice, plus requires you to click “Confirm” to make it so.  Why not just have yes and no buttons?  They add a slight bit of confusion with a footer that says, “To opt out of all future mailings from this sender click here.”  This then takes you to a second page titled “opt out” that asks the same question with respect to opting out, not unsubscribing: Are you sure you want to opt-out of all future mailings from the sender? Now I know that the difference is opting out of one list vs. all of their lists, but not sure if the average person would get this at first glance.
  • I’m not sure if this method is easier or more difficult than visiting a webpage, but a few of the emailers, like Toolbox.com, resorted to the old school method:  If you do not wish to receive updates from Toolbox.com, please reply to this message with UNSUBSCRIBE in the body of your reply. Simple, but requires typing…  😉
  • The Association of Strategic Marketing alerts you to a potential delay, but is nice enough to give you the reason: Email is prescheduled, so it may take up to one week before you stop receiving email. They also make it crystal clear what you need to do to unsubscribe:  Be sure to click on the unsubscribe link to successfully unsubscribe. Thanks for that…
  • One of the other ways pubs put the pressure on the user to unsubscribe is by making you do the work and enter your own email address on the unsub page (rather than having it pre-populate). Windows IT Pro was nice enough to give me a warning, however: To STOP receiving promotional e-mails from Windows IT Pro, please click here to opt-out. (Requires you to enter your own email address)
  • Finally, TRUSTe offered this very un-trustable unsub link in their email: One-Click Unsubscribe. I clicked that link with glee, knowing in my heart that such a trustingly-named company would never lie, and that this would truly be the nirvana of unsub processes.  But then I was required to commit to a several-click process to complete their one-click unsubscribe:
    • Please enter your email address and indicate your preferences – required field, not prepopulated
    • I’d like to unsubscribe from the following (check all that apply) – required, and with four potential choices and nothing pre-populated, leaving me to wonder which one brought me here
    • I’d like to unsubscribe from ALL email communications, with a yes/no radio button but not marked as required
    • The “confirm” button

By my count, that one-click unsubscribe required a minimum of five clicks…  Based on that, no, I do not trust you, TRUSTe.

unsubscribe
By Josh Liba vis Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

As Bruce Banner Says: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

OK, so I’ll admit that this is a picky rant post (as are most of my posts).  But really, do marketers need to make it so difficult for people to unsubscribe from their lists?  You’ve already pissed them off to the point where they are taking time out of their busy day to proactively tell you to stop bothering them!  It is taking 10x – or more – time and effort to unsubscribe than to just delete your email or add you to their blocked/spam filter.

But, even knowing that they are miffed, you go the extra mile to frustrate them even more, hurting your brand, equating your logo with frustration, and alienating one more person.  Worse yet, you try to confuse them into staying on your list, make them work for it, and rarely give them to option to opt out of all future emails.  If I’m pissed off enough to unsubscribe, and then I get another, slightly different email from you tomorrow, what response and reaction do you think that is going to elicit?

Bottom Line

Make it easy, easy, easy for people to get off of your marketing list and out of your way.  You’ll be eliminating their frustration, eliminating wasted time by your sales reps even thinking about calling them, and reducing the chances of your domain being flagged as spam.

But that’s just my opinion.  What do you think?  Leave me a comment and share your view.

“WFH” is Not a Bad Word: Five Tips for Better At-Home Workers

OK, so WFH isn’t even a word (it’s three:  working from home), let alone a bad word.  So why do so many employers, managers, and coworkers treat it as such?  In today’s constantly-on, mobile-enabled, Skype video-connected world, there are very few reasons why an office employee needs to actually be in the office to be productive.  Sure, there are people who need to be away from home to work due to personality, logistical, or other issues – such as those with young children at home and no space for an office.  However, it’s confusing to me that so many people think that, just because someone is working from home, they are slacking off and otherwise unproductive.

Pres. Obama in the Oval Office
Pres. Obama in the Oval Office of the White House (Photo: Getty)

A recent manager told me that working from home wasn’t allowed under his management because “work happens in the office.”  Really?  In just a few weeks at that job, I saw that work didn’t really happen all that often in the office.  In a typical workday, the open floor plan encouraged plenty of random conversations that ranged from work to television to lunch destinations.  Add in the walk to the cafe in the lobby, a drive to a local lunch spot, and a half-dozen non-work-related conversations every day and that eight-hour workday drops down to about five, maybe less.

Contrast that with working from home, where you’re alone (ideally) and totally free from the distractions of coworkers.  A place where you can choose to engage in an email, phone, or IM conversation immediately or later, when you have time and focus.  A place where you’re free to work in total silence, or with the heavy metal music turned up to 11.  A place where you have the freedom to structure your office, your day, and your view. You get the point.

Going further, the eight-hour workday (or 10-12 in the start-up world) is actually extended by an hour or more on each end. Given a typical commute of 30-60 minutes, breakfast, getting dressed, etc., you’re looking at an additional few hours per day that are totally unproductive with respect to your employer’s point of view, but which and employee considers part of the work day.

Again, contrast that with working from home where the average commute is 15-30 seconds, breakfast is often multi-tasked with checking email and attending a conference call, snacks and lunch are just a few feet away (and close to free), and showering is, unfortunately for spouses, optional.

In fact, I’m a firm believer that those who work from home actually put in MORE hours than those who go into the office. Once you subtract the lunches, coffee stops, mindless office chit-chat, etc., from the work day, the typical office worker is probably putting in about a 60% workday.  When working from home, your line between home and work becomes blurred.  You end up working later than you expect because you don’t have the end-of-day cues of the office emptying out.  You aren’t pressed to immediately shower, groom, and dress, so tend to get wrapped up in email or early tasks before you do anything else. You tend to work through lunch, and work longer knowing that your commute home is instantaneous.

Now, I can hear you saying, “What about those WFH-ers who go to the dry cleaners at 2pm or dial into a conference call from the mall?  Really?  You’re going to forget about the 70-minute lunch you took last week – while at work – because you had to get your oil changed and grab paper towels from Target?

"alone" by Giorgio Montersino
"alone" by Giorgio Montersino (Flickr CC)

Notice that, in this entire rant, I never mentioned that laptops are portable, smart phones allow access to email, IM, and documents and attachments from virtually anywhere.  I’ve worked effectively the past 10+ workdays from a new apartment with no internet access, surviving by tethering to my mobile phone to grab email, make calls, and even conduct a web meeting which shared my screen for a product demo of a browser-based product and used VoIP for the voice portion! (Thank you, GoToMeeting and my Nexus One phone on AT&T!)  There is absolutely no reason why I needed to go into an office to do any of this.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a productive brainstorming session in front of a white board can be more illuminating and effective that 20 conference calls, but they don’t happen every day and they aren’t necessary every day.  In fact, the occasional video chat can alleviate that sense of alienation and increase the sense of team.  And, as the guys at 37Signals put so well, time apart actually increases the effectiveness of occasional in-person meetings.  Absence makes the brainstorming grow fonder, or something like that…

So, after all of that rant, here are my five tips for making the work-from-home experience better for your employees:

  1. Don’t just support WFH, encourage it! Set the example by working from home and proving your productivity. Encourage communication and be responsive. Pick up the phone when an email response requires more than a paragraph. What not to do? I had a manager at Siebel Systems who frequently worked from home on Fridays.  On those days, we either never heard from him, or when we did, he was obviously out shopping or running errands and was just calling to “check in.”  If a question was asked that needed research, he always promised to get back to us later that day, but never did.  That manager set the example that WFH was a vacation day and our team resented it.
  2. Support the necessary tools without breaking the bank. And, forget about where your employees work, but make it easy for them to do so.  Give all employees a laptop (not a desktop), a web meeting account (Yugma and Skype are both free, and Skype includes nearly ubiquitous audio/video chat, IM, and screen sharing), and access to a collaboration or project workspace like Basecamp or Google Docs. Reimburse $75 or $100 for mobile phone service so that your team isn’t worried about exceeding minutes or using the data plan.  Every tool required is available, and most can be found for free or nearly free.
  3. Don’t force video calls. While the iPhone’s new FaceTime video chat is all the rage, not everyone is comfortable showing their home office (or their WFH fashion) to the entire team.  Even for those on the road, most wouldn’t choose to do a video conference from their hotel room.  Audio-only phone calls have worked just fine for the past 50 years.
  4. Allow flexibility with schedules and meetings. In an office, you don’t expect people to be at their desk every second of the day, so WFH should be no different.  I frequently run into the issue that everyone expects me to be attached to my phone and laptop 100% of the time.  They assume that I don’t go out to lunch, don’t have other calls, and don’t even go to the bathroom.  My guess is that people in the office immediately assume that WFHers are not working if they don’t answer the phone on the first ring or respond to an IM within seconds.  Remember that breaks are needed regardless of work location, and that other calls or meetings or tasks pop up.  More importantly, having the luxury to ignore the constant interruptions is one of the key benefits of WFH.
  5. Treat the remote colleague as you would anyone else. Expect the same output as those in the office, but give the same respect.  One of my pet peeves is when a colleague (or worse, a manager) begins a conference call with something like, “So Bob, must be nice working from home today…” You wouldn’t begin a call with a customer or prospect that way; it’s insulting to the WFHer and counter-productive for those in the office.

Bottom Line:  Working from home may not be a personal preference for everyone, but for many it’s a highly-rewarding productivity and morale booster with a huge ROI.  Encourage it, support it, and quell the dissent from the non-believers.  In the tech start-up world, the typical workday has always been 10-12 hours long, with most people answering emails and putting in a few hours in the evenings and over the weekend.  If you’re willing to accept that “extra” work, there’s no reason to deny your team a few days per week for WFH.

Let me know what you think.

UPDATE:  GigaOm’s WebWorkerDaily just had an interesting piece on the productivity gains from working at home.  The most striking stat is that 45% of at-home workers put in 2-3 more hours per day, and 25% put in 4 more hours per day!  Adding 20-50% more hours is an incredible benefit for any company.

Enterprise Software is Dead

OK, “dead” may be a bit premature, but it is surely in decline.  And, unless you are Oracle, SAP, HP, or similar, you’re not a software company, you’re just a feature awaiting a lingering death or a future acquisition.

Industry lifecycle curve

The Investopedia defines the final stage of the “industry lifecycle,” decline, as: “revenues declining; the industry as a whole may be supplanted by a new one.”  While Oracle’s revenues are definitely not declining, it’s becoming increasingly rare to hear of an enterprise-focused software firm that is doing well.  Sure, there are the SuccessFactors and QlikViews of the world, but it seems that Silicon Valley is bursting with enterprise software companies (SaaS and non-SaaS) that are doomed to limp along as the VCs continue to pump more money into the dream of next year’s hockey stick revenue chart (which is why the traditional VC model is dead, too).

There is a nice paper by a group at MIT’s Sloan School of Business that covers this industry’s decline in great detail, and shows how software companies have grown more and more dependent on services revenue for growth while license sales (as a % of total revenue) have steadily declined since the late ’90s.

The Feature as a Business Model

While the software world is stampeding towards an app-based economy on the consumer side (more on that in a future post), today’s enterprise software start-ups can succeed in only one way – by building their business on a killer feature missing from the entrenched leaders’ solutions (read: Oracle, IBM, SAP, Microsoft, Google, etc.), then hope that they are acquired by one of those leaders. If a start-up’s key functionality or value prop is matched or trumped by a market leader, that start-up is done.

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of these doomed start-ups in Silicon Valley, scrounging up a few million (<50) dollars in annual revenue (with cash-flow positive always just three quarters away), churning through employees and executives every few years, and living on VC money until, around year six or seven, they either put themselves up for sale at a fraction of the invested capital or they simply close their doors.  Hell, I’ve worked for a few of those, and most of my friends in Silicon Valley have been jumping between similar companies for most of their tech careers as well.

On one hand, we should thank the Googles and the Siebels and the rest of the successful Valley companies for creating the wealth to fund the traditional VCs, who then make the Silicon Valley economy possible at all.  Since there is so much money available for investment, there are thousands of jobs created just to spend that money, even with incredibly flimsy business models to back them up (OH: “$3M revenue this year, $12M next? That’s impossible and insane, but it’s what the VCs want to hear…”).  But I don’t want this to turn into a rant any more than it already has.

Bottom Line

The enterprise software industry is dead.  The big guys own the market and are essentially the software equivalent of General Motors and Ford.  The start-up pitch of “we’re going to disrupt/be the next gen/be version 2.0 of <insert successful software here>” or “we’re going after the $50 billion enterprise <insert solution here> market” is nearly impossible to achieve.

For those of us who work at enterprise-focused start-ups, it makes the effort of the entire team that much more important.  There is zero room for slackers or 9-to5ers.  The term “start-up” needs to return to it’s meaning as the description of a lifestyle, not it’s current meaning of a small company that provides snacks and foosball to employees.

All it Takes is One Bad Googler to Spoil the Online Privacy Barrel

OK, well this morning’s post was a bit ill-timed.  As news spreads of the Google engineer who accessed users’ Google Voice call logs, chat transcripts and contact lists, it seems as though this is just one more reason for consumers to worry about their online privacy.  But, while this may seem like the the perfect reason to unplug your life and delete every online profile, the phrase, “one rotten apple…” pops into my head.

I’m sure that someone at Wells Fargo can access my transactions or someone at AT&T can view my call logs or text messages – and they could have done it 20 years ago.  So while I’m still a huge advocate of embracing online, location, mobile, and other services – and this is an extremely isolated incident – I do see this as a perfect opportunity for every company with users’ personal information to put some processes in place to prevent these types of improper privacy violations.

CNET’s Buzz Out Loud – my fav podcast – had some interesting solutions to this issue:  oversight, hashing personal data, working in teams, etc.  While these are great options, it still only takes one employee with an axe to grind, or worse, to make any company look evil.

Bottom line:  It wasn’t the technology that exploited this data, it was a person.  To me, it’s an HR/management issue, not a technology issue.

The Importance of Quant-based Marketing

I like to joke that, at Carnegie Mellon’s business school, every subject was boiled down to an equation, even marketing.  It’s not that far from the truth: given the marketing tools that I’m using today, it’s absolutely critical for marketers to be both creative and quantitative. There’s marketing automation, CRM, web analytics, external campaigns, social media, SEM, and the mountain of resulting data and analytics available from each of these tools.

From ROIs and CTRs to web analytics and funnel ratios, marketing leadership requires a deep level of expertise with Microsoft Excel as much or more than Word and PowerPoint.  Yes, marketers spend a lot of time writing copy, creating collateral and sales tools, and building presentations. But at every level of marketing, more and more attention is being paid to the numbers and the trends, not just the catchy tagline or the snazzy graphics.  A/B testing is becoming (or should be) a standard step in every marketing campaign, and that goes well beyond just changing colors or subject lines.  As marketing automation software makes it easier to segment lists and blast multiple versions of a campaign, interpreting the resulting data is becoming as important as creating the actual campaign copy.

I just read this great post at Chief Marketing Technologist that looks at marketing as a technology-driven discipline.  As a marketer currently pitching analytics software directly to marketing executives, this couldn’t be more on-target.  While we definitely need to be careful of over-promising the ease-of-use to those marketers who are not very quant-focused or tech-savvy, it’s the marketers who have some level of technical, analytical proficiency who are going to succeed.  Why?  Because they are going to quickly understand what’s working, what’s not, why, and what to do next – and have the data to back it up.

If you’re a marketer with only the soft/fluffy skills, your days are numbered (or at least your career advancement opportunities are severely limited).  Learn HTML or PHP.  Take an advanced Excel course.  Become a power-user of your Salesforce, Marketo, ExactTarget, Webtrends, Omniture, or other marketing software tools – especially the reporting and analytics capabilities.

Bottom line:  The faster you can get the answer to your manager’s questions with hard data (who do we target? with what? when? what worked? what didn’t? why? where is this new traffic from? how did they find us?), the better you can position yourself as the one who knows what to do next!

Good Design Should be a P-zero for All Marketers and Product Managers

I just read a wonderful post by Shawn Borsky at Six Revisions on why “craftsmanship” is critical to good web design.  He keys in on professional pride, which essentially defines craftsmanship, as the primary reasoning.  As I see it, anyone can slap some wood together to build something, but a real craftsman takes pride in his or her work, puts thought into the design and the execution, and strives for an elegant and functional finished product.

Early on, Borsky states, “If you do not take pride in your job, strive to build better value, and feel rewarded in your work, this article is not for you. The first step to being a better craftsman is care for your work no matter what it is.”  That’s a true statement regardless of your profession, but especially in technology where too many developers, product managers, and even marketers focus on the functionality with little thought given to the actual experience.  My recent post on “Marketing and Physics” calls out Google, but there are many, many more examples of good technology fronted by poor design.  Apple, on the other hand, is the reigning master at putting design ahead of technology, and has forced other tech companies to up their game tremendously across hardware, apps, and websites.  (More and more, HTC has matched or beat Apple at their own game.)

Borsky covers such minor, yet critical, points as naming and organization. It’s this focus on sweating the small stuff that really helps create a killer design.  Being diligent about alignment and symmetry – two of my many PowerPoint pet peeves – is as important as layout, graphics, and other “major” design elements.

I won’t spoil the whole story, so do yourself a favor and jump to Six Revisions to read the entire article.

(As for the “P-zero” in my title, it means an absolute must-have item in a list of priorities.  P1, for example, is first priority, P2 is second, and so on.  I learned of this early in my career as a Product Manager at Siebel Systems, where the engineering team considered P0’s as something we definitely wanted, P1’s as excuses to extend meetings, and everything P2 and beyond as complete wastes of time and not worthy of discussion.  Ah, those were good times! 😉 )

Welcome!

Hi there and welcome!

First, let me apologize that this website is about 10 years too late.  Maybe more.

Over the past decade-plus, as I’ve honed my marketing skills, built my experience, and worked to schlep software solutions both large and small, I’ve been an avid reader of other people’s blogs.  Frequently, I’ve either thought, “What the hell is that person thinking?” or “Damn, they are dead on!”  But I rarely added my own two cents and that gnawed at me.  So much so that, a few years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to comment on every article that I read online that year!

As time passed, I kept thinking that maybe my thoughts, views, and opinions wouldn’t be interesting to others, or that I didn’t want to make a strong statement about something and have it open to counter views and negative opinions.  But then I started to change and see the web for what it is:  an immense outlet for EVERYONE’S views and opinions.

(Via Flickr: Brightening by Nicholas_T used under a Creative Commons license)

I also started to feel as though my marketing skills were too attached to my employers’ brands and success (or lack thereof), and not attached enough to my own brand and my own success.  As with any profession, a marketers’ success is primarily based on that person’s ability to market creatively, aggressively, and intelligently.  But as everyone knows, many things are outside of your control:  ample budgets to really make an impact, effective sales

execution to close deals, solid engineering resources to develop killer solutions, a market that slides into recession, lack of a cohesive corporate strategy, effective employee retention… OK, now it looks like I’m passing the blame to everyone but marketing.  I’m not.  I’m just realizing that it’s up to me to build my brand, not be so attached to the brands of past employers.

So, finally, I decided to start this blog as an outlet for my many views and reviews on tech marketing, with a little sprinkling of gadgets and apps for good measure.  Please feel free to comment your positive, negative, and other opinions. I sure have posted my flames, gushes, and veiled marketing messages over the years, so please feel free to do the same here.

Bottom line:  This blog is designed as an outlet for my marketing ideas and I hope you enjoy what you read (or it at least makes you think).  If not, or if you never even read it, that’s OK.  But if you contribute to the conversation, even better!