Lead, Don't Manage http://sapountz.is Random musings on leadership and technology Sat, 16 Feb 2019 21:42:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.4 62849116 Do we still need Digital Marketing? http://sapountz.is/2015/03/still-need-digital-marketing/ http://sapountz.is/2015/03/still-need-digital-marketing/#respond Wed, 11 Mar 2015 13:04:40 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2604 Digital marketing as an organizational function needs to cease to exist if we want to truly focus on the customer.

The post Do we still need Digital Marketing? appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

The Customer Experience MazeNo, I am not referring to the discipline, but rather how most organizations manage their Digital Marketing function.

A few years ago, I wrote that success in social media is when it’s fully integrated in organizations’ business practices and not this nebulous thing called ‘social business’. It turns out my post was almost perfectly timed with the burst of the social bubble in mid 2012. See Google Trends for ‘social business’, or google ‘social enterprise’. When I ran this search in 2012, I got 249 million hits. Today it yields 104 million hits.

From my anecdotal research, most leading companies have by now understood that social media is an integral part of their overall digital marketing strategy and have integrated these skills and resources under some sort of a digital marketing function. The same is however not true for digital marketing.

Isn’t it time we now finally take the next step and finally disband our ‘Digital Marketing’ teams?

Let me explain…First ask yourselves this question: What is the purpose of Marketing in your organization?

Marketing’s sole purpose should be to facilitate the customer journey and reach them at the moments that most influence their decisions.

I paraphrased the definition from this McKinsey article on the customer journey.

Although almost five years old, I still find this to be one the most comprehensive articles on this topic.

Now tell me, how many industries can you think of where the customer journey does not involve some sort of a digital interaction?

As an experiment, do the following:

  • Open your favorite print publication and look at an ad
  • Watch your favorite commercial on TV
  • Drive down your favorite highway and look at a billboard
  • Look at the last marketing brochure or coupon you received

Now try to find one of these that does not include a reference to a website, Facebook page or Twitter handle (if you do, please let me know!).

Do you believe your digital marketing and other teams are fully aligned in their objectives to help your customers as they move from one channel to the next? I don’t think so. Here is an example from my personal experience.

As much as we all dream that organizational structures don’t matter, the reality is they do…a lot.

Come on you say, after all digital marketing is only 25% of our overall marketing budget – at least according to Gartner and many other analysts. That’s not the point however. Here is what I believe:

  • Customer experience drives tangible results: Based on this research, while the S&P500 Index grew 51.5% between 2007-2013, the Forrester Research Customer Experience leaders’ stock price grew 77.7% during the same period. This compares to a negative -2.5% for the laggards.
  • Organizational complexity is an impediment: 33% of organizations cite organizational complexity as an obstacle to consistent customer experience according to this 2014 Harvard Business Review study.

So, as our customers expect a consistent experience regardless of the channel, do you believe there is still a place for ‘digital marketing’ in our marketing teams? Isn’t it about time we did away with this and focused on the customer?

After all, don’t we all want to facilitate our customers’ journey and reach them at the moments that most influence their decisions?

As always, I look forward to your comments…

The post Do we still need Digital Marketing? appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2015/03/still-need-digital-marketing/feed/ 0 2604
Data is still like crude oil http://sapountz.is/2015/01/data-still-like-crude-oil/ http://sapountz.is/2015/01/data-still-like-crude-oil/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:32:16 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2588 Eight years after ‘Data is the new oil’ first appeared, data is still like crude oil. Our obsessive focus on the 1% of Business Intelligence users has caused us to forget the other 99% who are left dealing with spreadsheets.

The post Data is still like crude oil appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

Data is the new oil

Data is just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used.

If you are involved in business intelligence, business analytics or big data, you have undoubtedly heard how ‘Data is the new oil’. Heck, you may have even used it yourselves. After all, searching for ‘Data is the new oil’ returns over 550M hits on Google.

What you may not know is Clive Humby first coined this term in 2006 in ANA Marketing Maestros: Data is the New Oil.

What I love about it is the inherent contradiction:

  1. Oil has been the key commodity to own over the past century – think about the billions of dollars traded daily, not to mention the countless lives lost because of it
  2. Oil is however, just a commodity. Just like data it’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used.

Let’s put things in perspective. We ‘ve all seen many studies quoting how much data we have at our disposal today. Here is one from 2013: 90% of world’s data was generated over last two years.

So, that’s a good thing, right? Not so fast….

Data, just like crude oil, does not lead to better business decisions unless we can extract insights from it. We are so focused on the data we now have that we forgot most people are unable to extract even the most basic insights from their data.

To those of you using data to make better business decisions, I say this: I am sorry. We, in the business of delivering the technology to help you, have failed you.

Our obsessive focus on the 1% has caused us to forget the other 99% who are left dealing with spreadsheets.

Don’t get me wrong; the 40+ year-old Business Intelligence industry has created value. This is especially true for the technology companies that provide these products and services – more than $15B in 2014. At the same time, despite buzzwords such as personal data warehouse, self-service BI and now Agile Business Intelligence, it has failed to deliver on the promise of putting the power of information at the hands of the people that need it.

If you don’t believe me, here are some facts:

Ask yourselves these questions:

  • When you need to create a new dashboard or modify an existing one, can you do it yourselves or do you need to ask your IT department?
  • How long does it take your IT department to get you what you need?
  • How much of the data you need to drive business decisions lives in your BI platform versus your spreadsheets?

I can go on and on, but you get the point. Your over-worked and over-stressed IT department is trying to fulfill your requirements with one hand tied behind their back.

Now imagine. What if?

  • Your entire organization had access to the same real-time data
  • You could create and modify your reports and dashboards without any IT help
  • You could share your reports and dashboards with your colleagues and collaborate in real-time

So, the request to my friends and colleagues in the industry is this: Let’s start focusing on the 99% and the value will come. Only then we can move forward and help realize the promises we ‘ve been making for years.

I am sure this post will create a heated discussion and as always I look forward your comments…

The post Data is still like crude oil appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2015/01/data-still-like-crude-oil/feed/ 2 2588
Marketing Qualified Leads: You ‘ll know them when you see them http://sapountz.is/2014/06/marketing-qualified-leads/ http://sapountz.is/2014/06/marketing-qualified-leads/#respond Mon, 09 Jun 2014 14:56:22 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2483 A Marketing Qualified Lead is something so unique to your industry, company, marketing tactics, etc. that nobody else can define for you. Discovering what is a Marketing Qualified Lead for your business is something you will only discover after experimentation.

The post Marketing Qualified Leads: You ‘ll know them when you see them appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

X-rated: Marketing Qualified LeadsAccording to folklore, the famous quote “You will know it when you see it” referring to pornography, was provided to Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart by his law clerk, Alan Novak, in 1964.  Fifty years later, you can safely replace pornography with Marketing Qualified Leads.

Searching for the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) on Google returns 800K hits.  Most revolve around Hubspot’s version that defines a marketing qualified lead (MQL) as “a lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence…”.

Do you see the issue here?  A lead judged more likely to become a customer….If you are like me expecting a more concrete definition, you have just been sorely disappointed. A Marketing Qualified Lead is something so unique to your industry, company, marketing tactics, etc. that nobody else can define for you. Discovering what is a Marketing Qualified Lead for your business is something you will only discover after experimentation.

Modern marketers use a marketing automation platform to ‘score’ leads using a combination of demographic and behavioral parameters. Demographic information typically includes information such as title, function, company size, industry and location. Behavioral information includes the actions they have taken. Did they attend one of your events? Clicked on your call-to-action in your last email? Which pages did they visit on your website and for how long? Once a lead crosses a pre-defined threshold, they magically become a Marketing Qualified Lead.

It turns out that modern marketers are unfortunately still the minority; a recent Sirius Decisions study found adoption of marketing automation platforms to be at an astonishingly low 16% at B2B companies.

To make matters worse, while implementing a marketing automation platform is a prerequisite, it is not a guarantee for success.  So what is a modern marketer to do? Here is what I ‘ve learned the hard way over the years:

Focus your marketing programs on content and context

First and foremost, start by building the right marketing programs to attract new buyers. I have been a proponent of content marketing for years; it is only lately however, that I have grown to appreciate the importance of context even more.  As Michael Krigsman, a well-respected enterprise tech analyst wrote last September, “Content is king but context is God”. How mature is your market? Is it an emerging category where you have to invest more in educating the market? What about your buyers? What are their key pain points and how do you solve them? Which channels are most important to them? I can go on, but I think you get the point.

Don’t fixate on your scoring methodology

You will initially most definitely get it wrong. Remember, you have no basis to determine what the right values and thresholds should be. Take your best guess and monitor the conversions. Most marketing automation platforms provide you with a template. Don’t overthink it. Take what they suggest as a basis and learn from it.

Align with Sales

I cannot overemphasize this point enough. Work hand-in-hand with your sales team to calibrate your definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead. Make sure you understand how the leads are converting.  Initially, you will most certainly be either handing these over to Sales too pre-maturely or too late.  Striking the fine balance is key. Focus on revenues and not Marketing Qualified Leads, which are a leading indicator at best. What has served me well in the past is to start conservatively and manually control which leads get handed off to Sales. While this obviously does not scale, it will provide you with valuable data points early on.

Be patient

Remember that nurturing potential customers to trust you enough to buy from you is a journey.  You have to be committed and not think that whatever nurturing program you put in place will yield immediate results .  If you are just starting out, plan your marketing nurturing cycle to be 2x of your sales cycle. If your funnel is very wide at the top because of your marketing strategy and content, plan on much longer cycles. I recently heard Jon Miller, one of the co-founders of Marketo, speak at an event. During his talk, he mentioned Marketo’s nurturing cycle is 320 days because of their emphasis on top-of-the-funnel content.

What has been your experience? If there is one thing I ‘ve learned over the years, it is to be persistent but maniacal about experimenting and measuring. And above all, don’t be afraid to fail!, Sam Walton, the legendary founder of Wal-Mart, wasn’t either.


The post Marketing Qualified Leads: You ‘ll know them when you see them appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/06/marketing-qualified-leads/feed/ 0 2483
Startup Fundraising: Entrepreneur, be scrappy! http://sapountz.is/2014/05/startup-fundraising/ http://sapountz.is/2014/05/startup-fundraising/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 13:29:00 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2394 Less is more when it comes to capital in the early stages of a startup. Fundraising is a very time-consuming activity and more cash can easily de-focus you early on.

The post Startup Fundraising: Entrepreneur, be scrappy! appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

Startup fundraisingHow much capital should entrepreneurs raise in the early stages of their startup?  Startup fundraising is a topic that has always fascinated me and many (smarter than me) folks have debated this topic before.

On the one hand, some people advocate that the more runway (i.e., cash) your startup has, the more time you have to experiment and the better your chances of success will be.  On the other hand, well-respected venture capitalists like Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures believe maximizing runway can minimize success.

The most recent fundraising data I have seen are from Tomasz Tunguz of RedPoint Ventures. He recently analyzed Crunchbase data from 2005-2012. He found that raising a $600-$900K Seed round would maximize your probability of raising a Series A round to 33%.  In his words, “after that point, the marginal capital demonstrates diminishing returns”. While his thesis was that more runway implies better odds of success, I don’t find the data fully supporting this argument. As a matter of fact in a separate post, he found no correlation between the size of Seed rounds and follow on Series A rounds.
In my opinion,

when it comes to startup fundraising, less is more.

Let me explain…

You can control the runway

Many folks tend to forget that.  Everyone will tell you that you need at least 12, or ideally 18 months of runway. Remember however, how much cash you have to survive depends on how much revenue you bring in and how much you spend. In my experience, more cash does not equate to success. Of course there are exceptions, but for most startups, if you cannot produce some demonstrable milestones with a lean team over a period of 6-12 months, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

Cash is like a drug

Having more cash can give you the false illusion of security and easily de-focus you.  While the lavish parties of the last bubble are now gone, here are a few data points from my world in the heart of Silicon Valley. One seed-stage startup is paying $8K / month in office rent so they can claim a coveted Palo Alto address.  Another (this one post Series A, but pre-revenue), is operating two offices, one in up-and-coming San Francisco and their headquarters down on the peninsula. Or how about the Series B, high-flying B2B software company that has a brand new shiny billboard on Highway 101, the main artery that cuts through Silicon Valley?

Fundraising is hard

Based on my personal experience, fundraising can become more than a full-time job for the CEO.  Even for seed-stage financing, the fundraising process can easily take 6+ months or even longer. What is the opportunity cost of your CEO fundraising instead of selling and helping to build the business? Most entrepreneurs under-estimate the time it will take them to raise even a small round and their startup invariably suffers.

You lose control faster

Oh yes and then there is dilution. If you are an entrepreneur, you already know how the math works.  The more you raise early on, the more equity you have to give up – much more than later rounds.  While I certainly don’t advocate being greedy – that’s probably a topic for another post – remember that early on.

So, is there a silver bullet, may you ask?  Sorry, if there is one I haven’t found it yet.

Keep this mind though; more cash for your startup is not always the answer.  You can build a successful business by being scrappy early on.  Here are a few examples: Google’s Seed round was an inflation-adjusted $145K in 1998, Facebook’s $630K in 2004 and more recently, Whatsapp had raised an inflation-adjusted $280K Seed round in 2009.

What has your experience been with startup fundraising?  As always, I look forward to your thoughts.

The post Startup Fundraising: Entrepreneur, be scrappy! appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/05/startup-fundraising/feed/ 2 2394
Why LinkedIn’s publishing platform is a smart move http://sapountz.is/2014/03/linkedin-publishing-platform-smart-move/ http://sapountz.is/2014/03/linkedin-publishing-platform-smart-move/#respond Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:06:43 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2382 LinkedIn has historically trailed most other major social networks engagement rates. Expanding access to their publishing platform to all their users may just change this.

The post Why LinkedIn’s publishing platform is a smart move appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

LinkedInVery smart actually…


It’s no secret that LinkedIn has been trying to diversify beyond its HR roots with mixed success to date. Based on their financial statements, they grew overall revenues at an 85% annual growth rate between 2010-13.


Their Marketing Solutions business however, grew by 66% outpaced by both Premium Subscriptions (71%) and Talent Solutions (103%).

The key driver to growing marketing revenues is by increasing user engagement. As a matter of fact, two of their key acquisitions, SlideShare (2012) and Pulse (2013) were clearly aimed at this.

Many studies have shown LinkedIn trailing in user engagement to all other major social networks. According to this eMarketer survey from last May, only 40% of US users log in daily as compared to Facebook’s and Twitter’s 76%. The results from a 2012 Mashable article show an even larger gap. According to the articlethe average LinkedIn user spent 17 minutes per month on the site, while Facebook’s figure was at almost 7 hours.

Which brings me back to this new feature….

LinkedIn launched their Influencers program in late 2012; from what I can tell it has been extremely successful. The program currently includes ~500 personalities and business executives such as Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Richard Branson. According to the company, each post receives more than 31K views on average. Quite a few have even received more than 1M views. These are impressive figures even for accomplished bloggers such as HubSpot’s Darmesh Shah.

So last month LinkedIn decided to gradually rollout the program to all of its 277M users.

LinkedIn is by no means alone in this. They are increasingly competing with many alternative content marketing platforms, some new (Medium) and some not so new (Tumblr). I believe Forbes is the one that should be watching this most closely. Forbes entered the content marketing business with its AdVoice pay-to-play program in 2010 and has received its fair share of criticism for blurring the lines between journalism and advertising. The program has since been rebranded to Forbes BrandVoice and appears to have about 20 global brands participating.

LinkedIn’s announcement also had a few critics who claimed the new program would decrease the overall quality of the content; I guess this is why LinkedIn is only rolling this out gradually. If you are interested in applying for early access to the platform, click here.

I will be watching this closely, but for now I remain optimistic. I believe LinkedIn had to do this to continue driving their user engagement higher.

Very smart move indeed, LinkedIn. What’s your take?

Photo credit (Darmesh Shah-LinkedIn, edited)

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

The post Why LinkedIn’s publishing platform is a smart move appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/03/linkedin-publishing-platform-smart-move/feed/ 0 2382
Startup marketing: Hiring your first VP of Marketing http://sapountz.is/2014/03/startup-marketing-hiring-your-first-vp-of-marketing/ http://sapountz.is/2014/03/startup-marketing-hiring-your-first-vp-of-marketing/#respond Tue, 25 Mar 2014 12:27:30 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2354 Hiring the first VP of Marketing for your startup can sometimes be confusing. Understanding the skills of the founders can help you determine when and who to bring onboard.

The post Startup marketing: Hiring your first VP of Marketing appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

Confused babyThis is a question I seem to be getting a lot lately and wanted to share my thoughts.  Let’s start with two quizzes. Pick your choice:

  1. ASAP
  2. Once you have a few early customers
  3. Once you hit $XXM in revenues / ARR

Actually the correct answer is #4: it depends on the skills of the founders.

Now to the second quiz. Assuming the founding team consists of mostly technical founders, what you should look for when hiring this person?

  1. A branding / marketing communications expert
  2. A product marketing expert
  3. A demand generation expert

If you selected #2, read no more.

The bottom line: The most important skill an early-stage company needs is someone that can communicate the value your product delivers. Period.

If the founding team consists of mostly technologists, then you need to bring in an experienced product marketer on board once you have a few early customers.

In my discussions with founders I still encounter quite a bit of confusion on this topic. Many think they need a branding expert, while others look for a demand generation expert before they have refined their messaging.  Both of these can be fairly costly mistakes.

Let me explain…Most marketing departments consist of three distinct marketing skills:

Corporate Marketing (aka Branding / Marketing Communications)

These are the agency types. They own the brand from your company’s name and logo, to your company’s overall positioning, to managing the PR/AR and advertising relationships and budget, all the way to the email signature templates and tchotchkes to hand out at events. Many of them have an agency background and are seldom domain experts in your business.  As a matter of fact, I have observed an increasing trend of marketing professionals with a B2C background entering ‘traditional’ B2B industries as these industries discover that ‘buildings don’t buy your product, people do’.

Hiring such folks at the early stage of your venture will rarely help you.

Product Marketing

These are the content types. They bring both the domain expertise and ability to communicate the value of your company’s products. They are first and foremost responsible for defining your products’ messaging and positioning. They help you translate your features and functions into something your buyers actually care about. The content they produce varies for both the stage of the journey the buyers are, but also the channel (e.g., digital / social, sales, partners, etc.). They also typically interface with your media and industry analysts, to both get their input but also influence their perception of your company’s products.  In some companies, they are also responsible for what is called the inbound component, i.e., gathering and understanding the market requirements.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this role, especially for teams with mostly technical founders.

Demand Generation

These are the ‘bring-in-the-dough’ types.  They work hand-in-hand with your sales team and are responsible for driving demand (a.k.a, Marketing Qualified Leads) for your awesome products. They do so through a variety of tactics (e.g., inbound and outbound) and channels (e.g., SEM, email marketing, social media and tele-marketing).

Of course you can always try to hire someone that excels at all three skills.  In my experience, most marketers can be strong at one or two of these but not all three. The latter two are the most critical skills to look for.

Before all the growth hacker enthusiasts flame me with hate mail, I do realize the world is neither that black-and-white nor that linear. As a matter of fact, in my last company we leveraged SEM not to drive leads but rather help us with our positioning.  It is helpful however to think through what stage your company is at before starting to look for the utopian Renaissance woman.

Now go grow your business and start looking for your demand generation team…

PS.  If I have offended any of my marketing colleagues, I apologize.  I stereotyped to emphasize my points.

The post Startup marketing: Hiring your first VP of Marketing appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/03/startup-marketing-hiring-your-first-vp-of-marketing/feed/ 0 2354
Build enterprise software products customers will love (and pay for) http://sapountz.is/2014/02/build-enterprise-software-products-customers-will-love/ http://sapountz.is/2014/02/build-enterprise-software-products-customers-will-love/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:16:46 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2316 Building enterprise software products is a fairly complex and involved process. When I examined my own experience on why products succeeded, I discovered four simple principles.

The post Build enterprise software products customers will love (and pay for) appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.


I ‘ve spent a significant part of my career designing and building enterprise software products for both large and small companies across many industries. A few weeks ago I embarked on an exercise to find out what made some of them wildly successful while others floundered.  Here is what I found separated the winners from the losers…


Align with your company’s mission

Products don’t live in a vacuum; they need the rest of your company to succeed.  If your mission is to e.g., make sales professionals more productive, think hard before deciding to also target e.g., HR professionals because there are only ‘minor tweaks required for the product’.  Even if they are (which they seldom are), what about your sales and marketing functions?  Can they scale to now support the needs of a very different buyer? If you are in a large, established company you have the resources and time to buy yourself into new markets.  This is very difficult, if not impossible, for young companies.

Find a real pain point your customers are willing to pay for

As product managers we often forget to ask if anyone really cares about a product or feature.  Large companies have many resources, from the large analyst firms like Gartner, IDC, Forrester, etc., to the independent analysts and consultants that will craft together surveys and customer interviews.  Small ones don’t.  What they do have however is customers, or even friends in the target buyer roles for their product.  Sketch your idea and ask them if it solves a real pain point.  Go a step further and ask them how much they would be willing to pay if you were to actually make their pain point go away.  You ‘d be surprised how many would actually tell you whether your great new idea is something they would pay for.

Manage the scope (a.k.a. don’t attempt to solve world hunger)

I am a big proponent of focus and experimentation.  It ’s very easy to design something that will require 2 years before you can actually bring it to market, at which point the market may be at a different place.  In many cases, your new product may be so revolutionary and involved that it may just require this much time; in my experience this is rarely the case.  Even if it does however, you need to break it up in more manageable components.  Challenge yourselves to see if you can deliver 80% of the value with only 20% of the resources.  You ‘d be surprised to find out how much you can accomplish and how much you ‘ll learn by starting focused.  My last company’s first product solved a ‘simple’ problem of helping companies measure the effectiveness of social media activities around their customers’ events and we did that very well.  While not a huge market, it helped us learn the market and establish credibility with our customers that subsequently led to the addition of more use cases.  I would argue that would have been impossible had the company started by attempting to build an end-to-end social marketing solution.

Focus on the user experience

I have been a proponent of user experience for quite some time. My friend and enterprise software guru Jon Reed wrote a great 2-part post on user experience a couple of weeks ago.  While I fully agree with Jon that this is much over-hyped topic (and has been since Consumerization of IT first emerged as far back as 2001), user experience does matter. As the buying power has continued to shift away from IT into the lines of business and as these enterprise users get accustomed to [pick your favorite consumer product], they increasingly demand a similar user experience from the products they use at their professional lives.


Yes, I do realize that the process of designing and building enterprise software products is a lot more complicated and there are companies whose sole purpose is to help companies crack the art and science of product management. These simple principles however have served me well over the years whether I was adding a feature or building a full-fledged product. As matter of fact, I have used these principles when planning new releases for existing products and they have seldom failed me.

What do you think? What are the core principles you apply when building enterprise software products?

The post Build enterprise software products customers will love (and pay for) appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/02/build-enterprise-software-products-customers-will-love/feed/ 0 2316
Focus for startups: the power of saying no http://sapountz.is/2014/02/focus-for-startups/ http://sapountz.is/2014/02/focus-for-startups/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 13:53:55 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2301 The importance of focus for your startup is critical. Success will be determined by the things you decide not to do and although saying ‘no’ is hard, you must learn how to say no.

The post Focus for startups: the power of saying no appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

Needle in a haystackI am going to start this post with a story. I saw a friend last week that I had not seen in two years.  When I saw him last time, it was in a windowless basement office where him and his cofounders were working on an idea to disrupt a very mature market.  Fast-forward two years later, his company has a long list of marquee customers, employs 40 people and has raised two rounds of venture financing. When I saw the product demo all I could think of was our last conversation; the product demo was exactly like he had described his vision to me – two years ago! Later that evening he told me that they had just turned down a very large sum of money from a prospective customer because it would have de-focused them from their mission.

I know what many of you are thinking, “oh…he must have gotten lucky”.  While luck certainly plays a role, I would argue that “fortune favors the prepared mind”, as Louis Pasteur so aptly said more than a century ago.

How many of you have been in situations like this?

  • We don’t have enough data points to pick a focus area yet
  • But, these are all big opportunities, we have to execute on all of them
  • I was on a demo yesterday, and the prospect asked for these five new features, when can we build them into the product?
  • Our Board said we should also look into these three new areas
  • We can’t give up yet, it might just work if we give it a bit more time
  • Our biggest competitor is doing it, it must be a big opportunity
  • None of our competitors are doing this, we have to pursue it

I am sure you can all add your own favorite questions. What is the point of all of this?

My point is that (especially if you are in a startup) you have to pick your battles (aka focus areas), test them and move on if something is not working. Here is what I have learned the hard way:

  • You will never have perfect information. Trying five or ten things at once is guaranteed to fail. You will never have sufficient resources to build out what you need to, in order to go against your larger competitors.  Use market data (if you can get it) or talk to your customers and prospects and pick no more than one or two.  Then give it all you got.
  • Saying no to a prospective customer is hard, especially if you are staring death (aka insolvency) in the eye. Sure, getting just one more customer to sign up is great and your potential investors will love this marquee customer name, but how much will you have to invest to make them successful and what will you have to give up instead? And if you do make them successful, will that translate to success for your company?
  • Knowing when to give up is even harder. You have been working on something for a year maybe longer, but nobody is interested. If only you had a few more months to perfect your product, find the right partner, etc. Now it’s time to wake up and face reality. It is obviously not working and you have to move on.  While you will undoubtedly be emotionally invested in this, you have to let go.
  • Chasing the feature du jour will get you nowhere. With all due respect to Boards, nobody knows (or should know) your business as well as you do.  Chasing down a specific idea just because a Board member or advisor thinks you should has fewer chances of succeeding than winning a straight-up bet in roulette.


Saying no is the hardest thing you can do, but I can guarantee you focus is not hocus-pocus.

The post Focus for startups: the power of saying no appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/02/focus-for-startups/feed/ 1 2301
Social Selling: Does it really work? http://sapountz.is/2014/01/social-selling-really-work/ http://sapountz.is/2014/01/social-selling-really-work/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 06:50:05 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2270 Social selling can work provided you properly integrate social media into your overall sales and marketing strategy, and use this channel to build and nurture relationships that will ultimately convert to sales.

The post Social Selling: Does it really work? appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

FailWith the holiday shopping season officially over, I am surprised I have not seen many pundits trying to determine whether social selling actually works. This recent AdAge article however caught my attention. It cites a study conducted by the e-commerce analytics company Custora that found social media yielded just 2% of online holiday retail sales.  The study looked at how many social posts with a ‘buy now’ call-to-action were clicked by consumers. Do you see the issue with this premise?  What about the customers that interacted with your brand through organic search, your ads, banners, social posts, etc. and then decided to purchase your product?

Marketers call this ‘last-click-attribution’, and while straightforward to explain, it can be extremely misleading. Attribution theory in marketing is not new and has its roots in psychology.  It was first developed by Fritz Heider in the early part of the 20th century and according to Wikipedia, “The purpose of marketing attribution is to quantify the influence each advertising impression has on a consumer’s decision to make a purchase decision, or convert”.

Don’t get me wrong. The convergence of paid, owned and earned media is making attribution of social media to sales very hard.  As a matter of fact, according to this Forrester Research study from last summer, 38% of marketers still struggle with measuring ROI from social media.

So what you should do if you are a marketer investing significant resources and need to demonstrate business value to your CFO or CEO?  These are 3 principles that have served me well over the years:

1. Think marriage, not a one-night-stand:  This was the title of a post I wrote back in 2010 and it is as true now as it was back then.  You need to think about how to build relationships with your prospective customers.  Stop looking for a magic bullet to magically solve your lead problem by posting social ads. I firmly believe that while consumers do express intent in social media, that number is minuscule as compared to the opportunity this medium presents to nurture relationships that will ultimately convert to sales.

2. Stop thinking social (only): Social media is a means to an end rather than an end in itself .  Unfortunately too many marketers still view social as a silo and are focused on the vanity metrics of fans, followers and likes with no understanding of how social media can further #1 and ultimately their revenues.  If you are still treating social as a silo, now is a good time to break down these walls.  Go talk to your colleagues in marketing communications, PR, product marketing, or alas your marketing campaigns team.  Ask them what problems they are trying to solve and work together to help them.  You ‘d be surprised at the opportunities you might find to truly influence your business.

3. Think big, start small, fail fast: Yes this feels trite and obvious, but it is also true and under-appreciated.  They key is to experiment and fail fast but always keep the goalposts (i.e., strategy) in sight. Don’t try to ‘embed social media across marketing’ initially. Instead focus on one specific problem your colleagues are trying to solve and help them.  For example, help with a new product launch, leverage social media for one of your customer events, or add social media into the mix of one of your marketing campaigns. By the way, you will fail and that’s OK since that’s how most of us learn.  I can go on with all the mistakes I have made, but that’s probably left for another post.

What has worked for you in the past? As always I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about attribution theory, I recommend reading either this post by Avinash Kaushik or this one by Michael Wiegand.  Not for the faint of heart, but definite must-reads if you are facing challenges trying to measure the ROI of your multi-channel campaigns.

The post Social Selling: Does it really work? appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/01/social-selling-really-work/feed/ 2 2270
New Year, New Beginnings http://sapountz.is/2014/01/new-year-new-beginnings/ http://sapountz.is/2014/01/new-year-new-beginnings/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 16:59:14 +0000 http://sapountz.is/?p=2249 After more than a year helping to build NextPrinciples, an enterprise software startup helping companies extract true value from social media, I have decided to move on. While I am proud of what we accomplished, it was time to move on. I will forever cherish the experience and lessons I am taking away as well […]

The post New Year, New Beginnings appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

FireworksWith the New Year come new opportunities.  After more than a year helping to build NextPrinciples, an enterprise software startup helping companies extract true value from social media, I have decided to move on.

Needless to say, I am extremely proud of what we accomplished over the past year.  A few highlights:

  • Continued to deliver real value to our customers: From helping global tech companies manage their diverse social portfolios and execute/ measure their social marketing campaigns, to helping global pharmaceutical companies improve the care they provide to their consumers, I have been both inspired and humbled by the trust these companies placed on us.
  • Almost doubled our bookings by expanding our footprint in high-tech and entering the pharmaceutical / life sciences industry.  NextPrinciples proudly calls some of the most innovative and largest companies in these industries as their customers today.
  • Built-out our product and won significant recognitions from many smart people and institutions in our market along the way.  Some of the most notable ones include ZDNet (CRM WatchList), CRM WizKids and CRM Idol.

Was it all smooth sailing?  Of course not.  Like any entrepreneur will tell you, the highs are very high and the lows are very low, and you frequently experience both many times within the course of a single day.  I am however extremely grateful for the experience and the lessons I am taking away (and yes, you will have to wait for a follow-on post for these).

All good things however must come to an end.  After many sleepless nights and discussions with people whose advice I have come to trust over the years, I decided to move on. While this was a very difficult decision, I felt it was ultimately the best thing to do as I no longer felt connected to the evolving vision of the company.

As I move on, I will miss the new friends I made and the existing relationships I strengthened-both within the team, but across our extended ecosystem as well.

Does this mean I am soured on social media? Not at all, I still believe there is a tremendous opportunity for technology to help organizations truly embed social media in their existing marketing channels and practices.  As I have argued before, this is the only way for marketing professionals to truly deliver value to their customers (and their own companies).

So as 2014 rolls in,  I am taking some time off while thinking about my new adventure.  For now, I am giving my blog a fresh new look that will hopefully help me overcome the chronic writer’s block that I succumbed to last year.

For those of you that have stuck with me for the past few years, thank you! Your interactions have provided me with a great deal of inspiration and hope you have enjoyed reading my ramblings as much as I have enjoyed writing them.   For the new readers that are wondering what this blog is about, you can read my inaugural post here. I plan to continue writing (and hopefully increase my frequency) as the New Year rolls in.

Thank you for reading.

The post New Year, New Beginnings appeared first on Lead, Don't Manage.

http://sapountz.is/2014/01/new-year-new-beginnings/feed/ 2 2249