Startup Marketing and Sales
by April Dunford

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Product Marketing vs. Marketing Communications (and MarComm Must Die)


Traditionally really small software companies have Development, Marketing, Sales and that’s about it (Ok I am generalizing here – there might be a lawyer, a finance person or two, possibly an IT person, work with me on this one, ok?).

Once the organization has landed a customer or two, and have started thinking beyond release 1 and basic survival, they typically start thinking about forming a real product management group.  The idea is that these folks will focus on the product roadmap and future releases, competitive analysis and they will also do things like product demos, and a lot of more technical sales support.

Meanwhile there is the “Marketing” department which is really pure marketing communications and is focused on things like building the website, maybe creating a brochure, and writing press releases.  They might book an analyst meeting or set up press interviews but they would rarely be the spokesperson.

This set up is broken for lots of reasons but the main one is that there is this idea that marketing doesn’t need to understand the product.  In some cases, I have heard folks argue that it is better if marketing doesn’t get “bogged down” in product details and stays “creative”.

If I look at the Pragmatic Marketing Framework (you product management types will know this thing by heart.) where they break down the responsibilities of product managers/marketers and recommend something called “The Product Management Triad” to cover the larger product management and product marketing functions.

Here is what that looks like (here’s me crossing my fingers it is ok for me to reproduce this here – let me know Pragmatic Marketing folks if I’m breaking the law.  Click for a larger image):

Product management triad

Here’s the thing that I keep thinking every time I come across the Product Management/Marketing Communications setup.  Why wouldn’t you start with Product Marketing and add a marketing communications person later?

If I look at the boxes under Product Marketing – what else is left to do?  A solid product marketing person can do all of the stuff in the Product Marketing Manager boxes (a senior one can cover product strategy too) and probably most of the communications stuff too.  Can they write press releases and brochures?  Sure they can.  They are going to outsource graphics (or hire a graphics person), the same way the marketing communications person did.  Sure when you get big enough maybe you can afford to hire a person that just worries about the look and feel of the website but this person shouldn’t be the first marketing person you hire.  The first marketing person you hire should have a solid product background (or the ability to pick it up quickly) so that they brief analysts, build presentations, write white papers, do a competitive write-up as well as manage the vendor building the web site and execute a lead gen program.

Let’s face it, we are way past the days where the first marketing thing a company had to worry about was advertising.  Why are we still building companies that way?

Winning is Fun – Why Companies Should Give Awards


Participating isn’t fun.  You know what’s fun?  Winning is fun.  Telling your friends you won is fun.  Being recognized for doing something very well is fun but you know, beating other people who are clearly better than you is really fun too.

This time of year there are a lot of awards being handed out.  Sure, people might make fun of them, particularly the folks that don’t have a chance of winning but seriously, I don’t believe anyone dislikes getting an award. I don’t understand why more people aren’t giving out awards.  In particular, I don’t understand why more companies don’t give awards to their customers and partners.  It’s such a cheap, simple, easy way to make your customers happy – why wouldn’t you do it?

Top 5 Reasons Your Company Should Give Out Some Awards to Customers and Partners:

  1. Winning Makes Winners Happy – Seriously, you do all sorts of other things because you want to keep your customers or partners happy, don’t you?  Why not recognize your best ones with a trophy?  You’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars taking them out to dinner but they can’t display dinner on their wall and trust me, everyone wants a wall full of trophies.
  2. Winners Talk About It – I was chatting with a CEO of a mid-sized company last week and he showed me an award that they had won from Microsoft.  They got to meet some senior folks from Microsoft, they put out a press release, they talked about it on their web site.  They didn’t know exactly why they had won but as he said, “Getting an award is cool.”  OK, so getting an award from your little company may not warrant a press release but I bet it still makes it into the display case and I bet they still talk about it.
  3. Award-Givers Get to Talk About it Too – I mentioned this in an earlier post but the neat thing about giving a great customer an award is that you get to highlight in public that the award winner is a great customer of yours.  They may not admit in public how much they love you but once you admit how much you love them you are officially dating.
  4. Account Champions are People too – There is a person in every account that stuck her neck out for you or fought like heck to make sure your software didn’t get thrown out.  Say “thank-you and please do that again sometime” by letting them put “IT Rock Star of the Year Winner” on their resume.
  5. It’s a Good Excuse for a Party (and to get employees talking to customers) – Developers complaining that they never get to talk to any customers?  Feeling like the company could be more customer-oriented?  Fine, your holiday party just became a customer awards celebration with tinsel.  Seat a set of customers at every table and watch what happens.  You can’t afford to fly everyone in your company out to talk to customers but you can bring a few customers in to talk to your folks.  Tell those customers they are getting an award at a party held in their honor and they might even show up.

And One More Thing (aka The Part Where I Ask You to Vote

First of all, due to some sort of MASSIVE oversight on the part of the folks that run the Canadian Blog Awards, I have not been nominated but I am pleased to say that my pals at On Product Management have been so please CLICK HERE right now and vote for them.  You don’t have to be Canadian, OK, this isn’t the Oscars.

Secondly, I am very pleased to have bribed my way into being nominated for been nominated for (turning on the echo machine) Canada’s Most Influential Woman in Social Media!!!!! (turning off the echo machine).  OK, so the other gals here look hard to beat because some of them have like, professional photographs and all that but trust me, I am super influential.  Just yesterday I convinced a guy at work to buy me a coffee simply by saying I didn’t have any cash on me.  Don’t think about it.  Just click here and vote for me so that I can win that sucker and put whatever it is they are handing out in my trophy case right next to my award for being the most popular female marketing blogger in Toronto with brown hair and big boots.

Innovating Through Recession


Paul Dunay at Buzz Marketing writes a post here pointing to a research paper by Andrew Razeghi from the Kellogg School of Management on Innovating Through Recession.

Andrew makes 7 great points in this paper but I love the first one where he states:

Listen to the market. It’s quieter when it’s less crowded. Unmet needs abound.

And here is the quote I love the most in that section:

During difficult economic times, market needs are more exposed than they are during an economic boom when the market is saturated with everyone’s “great idea” – many of which are chasing needs that have already been satisfied. When markets turn south, it’s easier to discern what the market needs precisely because the market is thinking more about what it needs and why it needs it. We are simply more thoughtful, more aware, and more focused during economic downturns.

I think it is hard for companies to stay focused on customers when they have their own economic problems to deal with.  During tough economic times, a focus on innovation is more important than ever.  Innovation thrives on constraints.  What is a recession other than a time of great constraint?

Customers are trying to do more with less.  Enterprises are looking for ways to decrease their cost of sales, shorten their sales cycles, reduce costs associated with business travel, decrease their need for physical real estate, improve their time to market, reach more customers while spending less – the list goes on and on.  What a perfect time for great product managers and marketers to take a step back and listen to their customers.

Your Company Can Ignore Social Media but You Can’t


I am not a Social Media Marketer.  I am a Product Marketer.  I’ve worked on products where we’ve done a lot of social media related things and others where we have done almost nothing.  In my mind, that is perfectly OK.  As a marketer however, I think it is essential that I’m participating in social media, even for no other reason than just to understand what the heck is going on.

There are lots of growing, successful businesses that ignore social media for the most part.  I can name a dozen startups that don’t blog, don’t Twitter, don’t have a facebook page, etc. and are doing just fine.  In almost every example, these folks are selling fairly big-ticket software to large businesses where the key decision makers aren’t big social media consumers.  Yes, these decision makers are likely influenced by folks that DO consume a lot of social media but for these startups, influencing this second tier is a much lower priority than building better product demos, running a better advisory council or doing a better job of managing their relationships with industry analysts.  Could they see benefits from participating more in social media?  Absolutely!  But marketing is a game of making the most with scarce resources and sometimes it isn’t at the top of the list.

My point here (you were wondering if there was ever going to be one, I know) is that there is a difference between making a decision as a company or related to a particular product, to prioritize social media participation lower on the list and not putting social media on the list at all because you’ve never really participated in it and therefore don’t have a clue about it.

I’m tired of marketers asking me why Twitter is important.  They should already know about Dell and Comcast and Zappos.  They should have already figured out that they key industry analysts are out there talking about them or their competitors on Twitter.  These stories have been told over and over.  I can’t believe it when I come across a marketing exec with 2 connections on LinkedIn.  I am shocked when I’m questioned by a marketing person about something I’ve written here or something someone on my team has written elsewhere on a blog.  Any decent marketer out there is keeping on top of this stuff and at a minimum playing around with it to make up their own minds whether or not it’s important.  In my opinion, the best ones understand that the world has changed and are diving into it as deeply as they can.

I don’t understand the marketers that don’t think social media is interesting enough to even dip a toe in the water.  Maybe they are too busy buying print ads and booking big trade shows and scheduling meetings with executives trapped on boats.  Who knows?  All I know is that things are changing quickly and it’s my job to keep up.  I hope I have the good sense to retire or change careers the minute I catch myself blocking anyone else from doing that too.

Killing a Killer Product in 5 Easy Steps


First of all I have to stay that this week totally stank.  It stank like a poopy diaper, like a bag full of used hockey equipment, like a movie with John Travolta that isn’t Pulp Fiction.  Yes people this week was *that* bad.

One of the reasons this week was so darn smelly was that one of the really promising products that I am working on has been suddenly besieged by “helpful” folks that haven’t had much experience with new product introduction.  This got me thinking of all ways that a great product could be managed right into non-existence and I give you this:

Killing a Killer Product in 5 Easy Steps

  1. Remove the Passionate Leaders and Replace Them with “Professional Management” - People that drive new products to market aren’t like the professional managers you know.  They’re nuts.  They are so personally invested in their product they make Steve Jobs look uncommitted to Apple.  They will get past any roadblock and solve any problem.  They are changing the world.  They might not be the right folks to grow it past $20M or $100M revenue but replace them too soon and what do you get?  You get an organization driven by someone who sees the product as nothing more than a step on his/her personal career ladder.  Will they fight your CEO when he makes a bad call?  Will they be at the office at midnight on Saturday elbow to elbow with the rest of the team getting product out the door?   Will they personally concern themselves with all of the stupid piddling little details necessary to get the first 5 customers up and running and happy?  Maybe.  And maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow in Ponyville and my name will be Sparkleworks.  Hey, it *could* happen.
  2. Give it a Completely Unrealistic Revenue Target - This is a very easy way to kill a great product.  Take something that is released this year and give it a $100 million target for next year.  By next summer everyone will decide it is a complete failure, just in time for fall restructuring.  Who knew murder could be so easy!
  3. Assign only Junior Level Marketing Support that Reports Somewhere else in the Organization – I will bet Joey in corporate marketing can build you a brochure but don’t expect him to give a decent product demo or develop a relationship with an industry analyst or produce decent messaging or even show up to a meeting when his boss assigns him to work “part-time” on something else.  That stuff wasn’t important anyway, was it?
  4. Under-Staff to Make the Business Case Look Better – Ah life is so simple when you just look at the finances.  This product doesn’t need 2 years to be cash-positive!  Look I just reduced the number of people in development from 12 to 6 and presto!  Cash positive in 6 months!  That means we’re successful, right?  Right?
  5. Give it To A Sales Force that Has Never Sold Anything Like it Before – Selling a software solution?  Give it to some folks that sell hardware.  Do you have a direct sales model?  Try giving that one to some folks that are used to mainly managing sales through the channel.  The target buyer for your product is the C-Suite?  Give it to a bunch of sales people that have only sold to first-line IT managers.  Hey those folks are smart, they’ll figure it out as they go along.

I hope this doesn’t happen to any of the products I’m working on currently.  I’m an optimist.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to bed early because I’m hoping to take a trip to Ponyville tomorrow morning.

Customer References 101


We all know references are critical to closing deals but most companies don’t get around to actively managing them until the 2 referenceable customers they do have are all yelling “Am I your only crummy reference?!  Pick on someone else!!”  I launched a customer reference program from the ground up once and it was PAINFUL!  I’ve now seen it all from big companies and small ones and here’s what I’ve learned.

Starting a Customer Reference Program – A Few Things to Think About

  • Partner with Your Sales and Professional Services Teams – The key function of this program is to increase revenue.  Never forget that.  You need to understand how to build something that the sales team will find valuable.  Decide up front who does what.  Professional Services needs to be involved because they are going to help you qualify the reference, figure out who the spokespeople should be and how to articulate the value of the solution.
  • Set Goals and Success Metrics and Revisit them Often – Here is how a customer reference program gets started and killed.  Marketing spends all their time writing success stories that sales never uses. Sales continues to use their own set of references because “the marketing references are crap.”  One day the execs get in a room and the CEO says, “What about this reference thing?”  Everyone looks at each other and says “I have no idea what they do.”  Snip, snip and the program is history.  Figure out how you are going to measure the success of the program and make sure Sales, Marketing and anyone else involved agrees.  These cannot be just soft goals like “increased awareness”.  Are you shortening the sales cycle?  Increasing your win rate?  Revisit these goals regularly and solicit feedback.
What To Do When the Customer Won’t Talk
We’ve all been there.  You are working on a great new product with a hot customer and as you are closing the deal they refuse to be a public reference for you, usually citing the reason that your solution is such a competitive differentiator that they don’t want any of their competitors to know they have it. Worse, their lawyers get involved and say flat out “We don’t do those.”  Here are some ideas of how to move forward.

Give as Good as You Get (aka Bribery) – Most customers can’t accept gifts or payment for being a reference (and let’s face it, that’s just no way to do business) but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something for them.  The obvious one is to give them a product discount or free premium support.  Get creative and don’t be afraid to ask them what they want.
Give them an Award or Invite them to Speak – An oldie but a goodie this one works surprisingly well.  Many customers can’t give a public reference for your product but would love to be your keynote speaker or Customer of the Year.
Give them More Than One Way to be a Reference – The definition of referenceable customer is that they agree to talk to other customers about your solution.  Some customers don’t want to go beyond that because they automatically think you want them to do a customer case study.  Give them some other options though and you might be surprised when they say yes (and let’s face it, that case study thing is getting a bit old isn’t it?).  Here are some ideas and I’m sure you can think of more:

  • A Guest blog post on your corporate blog
  • A video/audio interview with pre-set questions
  • A Q&A interview by text
  • A quote Agree to be a reference for press interviews
  • Agree to be a references for analysts
  • Agree to speak at your conference or local events
  • Agree to speak at your sales conference or internal kickoff
  • Agree to being on a public list of members of your advisory council

Let Them Promote Themselves – A lot of the ideas above involve letting the customer promote their products and/or services.  Oh and don’t forget that even IT folks are interested in raising their personal profiles.  Figure out a way for them to do so that benefits you both.
Develop a Relationship – Although the point of running a a customer advisory council IS NOT to convince members to do things for you, a well-run council will leave them feeling like they are actively engaged in the success of the company and therefore more likely to say yes if and when you ask.  For key customers, the head of marketing needs to develop a personal relationship with the key spokespeople.

One More Thing

Always ask for Video – Video is customer reference GOLD.  Having a customer give a well-articulated couple of sentences about why they chose your product or what the product has helped them do with their business (preferably both!) is simply much more powerful than written case study or quote could ever be.  I once got a CIO of a major account to say that his company was going to save “One million dollars a day” using our software.  Every sales rep on the team used that clip on every sales call for over a year.  That video was completely priceless.  Video used to be an expensive undertaking that cost thousands of dollars for a camera crew.  Now you can buy a high quality HD video camera for less than $1000 and edit the stuff yourself if you are short on budget.  Chances are you already have a YouTube savvy editor on staff somewhere.  There is no excuse for startups to not be doing video.
More Information
Marketing Profs has a great 2 part article on Customer References Programs.  Part 1 has some very practical advice for starting and running a customer reference program and Part 2 goes into a thoughtful discussion of the role of the customer reference program with other customer programs and the overall customer centricity of the corporate culture.  Well worth a read.
Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has a great post on The Impacts of Social Media on Corporate Customer Reference Programs.  A lot of this advice is more relevant to larger BtoC type organizations but pay attention to the “opportunities” section where he outlines non-traditional ways of using/working with a reference.
*Update* As pointed out to me in the comments, Joshua has a blog focused on customer references and I think it totally rocks.  Check it out here and in particular this post on why references are important in a down economy.

The Broke Marketers Guide to Brand Tracking


I’ve had a lot of branding discussions this week that were spawned from my branding rant earlier.  One of the most frequent questions I get is “How do I measure branding?” and then “How much does it cost to do that?”

At the bigger companies I have looked at there were two big pillars of
activity going on: monitoring media mentions over time and brand
tracking surveys.  But just because you don’t have the budget and
market intelligence department of a bigger company, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be
tracking this stuff.

Brand Tracking the Big Budget Way - The Brand Tracking Survey
experience is that large companies spend a lot of time and money doing
brand tracking studies.  These tend to be very well architected surveys
to measure awareness, consideration and preference of a brand vs. other
folks in the space.  These surveys also get into brand attributes where
your brand gets ranked against others for things like reliability,
performance, ease of doing business with, etc.  The results from these
surveys are hugely useful.  The only problem is that it took a squadron
of Market Intelligence professions to get it, and more importantly
interpret it.  There are outside agencies that can do this stuff for
you too, but as you might imagine, this kind of work is time intensive
and therefore not cheap and getting decent post-survey insight without
a deep understanding of your space and customers is difficult.

Satisfaction surveys aren’t a lot better.  I’ve worked at companies
that spent months of effort building and executing these surveys only
to get questionable results.  One company I worked for (which not
surprisingly, no longer exists) boasted about 98% customer satisfaction
yet never in my life have I worked with as many unhappy customers.  You need to spend time to get the right set of questions and then interpretation of the results is critical.

Brand Tracking the Small Budget Way – Net Promoter Score

There are ways you can get some insight
from customers that isn’t totally complicated and time consuming.  I am
a fan of Net Promoter Score (NPS).  This comes from the book “The
Ultimate Question”
.  From their website:

Just as net worth
represents the difference between financial assets and liabilities, Net Promoter quantifies
the difference between customer assets and liabilities. With one question, we can sort
customers into three categories: Promoters who are loyal and enthusiastic; Passives who are
satisfied but unenthusiastic; and Detractors who are unhappy but trapped in a bad
relationship. Quite simply, you calculate the NPS score by applying the formula P – D = NPS,
where P and D are the percentage of promoters and detractors.

What is the question you ask?  How likely would you be to recommend
our company to a friend?
Now, I know that this isn’t perfect and I
know if you had loads of time and money you might get something
better (you can read some criticism of NPS here).  But in my mind if you want to get an idea of the health of your brand in the eyes of your customer easily and quickly, you can’t get any better than this.

Brand Tracking Dashboard the Big Budget Way – PR Clipping Services

If you are lucky enough to be working with a PR agency one of the standard
services they offer is a press clipping service that shows you all of
the press mentions for your brand in the media.  This is fine if you
can afford it but with the rise of blogging, microblogging and all
other sorts of user-generated content, some of those clipping services
are missing a lot of what’s out there.  We are now starting to see folks out
there that do a great job of monitoring social media.  If your business
relies heavily on that, it is probably well worth the investment to
look into these companies.  I’ve used Radian6 and those folks get it.

The Do It Yourself Brand Tracking Dashboard

Oh but poor you, you have zero budget and aren’t likely to get some
anytime soon.  What do you do?  Measure what you can and over time
refine your measurements based on what you have learned.

1.  Press mentions – you are doing this now (I hope) and
tracking if they are positive, negative or neutral.  The important
thing to note is that the actual number doesn’t actually mean much.
The change over time is what you are looking at.
2.  Blog mentions – Some folks put this with press
mentions but if you are doing different things to reach out to bloggers
than you are to reach our to mainstream media then I would separate
it.  I use Google Alerts to track this.  Before that existed for blogs I used Technorati.
Do a search on your brand name and then hit the subscribe button on the
top right to view the updates to this search in a reader.
3.  Twitter – Everyone should be tracking what is being said about their brand on Twitter. Go to
and type in your brand name.  Again the actual number of positive or
negative mentions means little but the trend over time is important.
(Note – there are a lot of media publications twittering headlines – I
leave those out and only count live people).
4.  Other Social Media – Depending on your business there
are probably a number of forums or other places where your customers
gather that you want to monitor.  This will be specific for your
business so you need to do some digging on this one.
5.  Web Traffic and Searches – The trend over time gives you an idea of the level of awareness for your brand.

The key with all of this stuff is to measure and look at the changes
over time.  As you go along it will get easier and easier to fine-tune
your measurements.

That’s it for me and branding this week.  I gotta go – I have a report to run.

First time reader?  Why not subscribe or follow me on Twitter?

Keep Your Filthy Brands off of Me


I haven’t had a serious rant on this blog yet so today is the day!  Corporate marketers at big companies, you can just ignore this post, it’s not for you.  I’m talking to you product marketers at little companies or you folks that own marketing budget for new products at bigger companies.  You know who you are.

Lately I am hearing the word “brand” so much it’s making me ill.  Seriously.  Worse than having to watch people use the word brand inappropriately all over the place, is when I see “branding” used as an excuse for bad marketing.

Maybe it’s because I spent so many years of my life marketing database software but I am a bit of an analytics nut.  In my world if you aren’t measuring it you aren’t managing it and if you aren’t managing your marketing spend then you might as well hand out $20 bills on the street asking for sales calls.

So you have a marketing budget.  It’s puny.  In fact your CEO and your Finance guy are probably in a room right now cutting it as we speak.  Why are you still spending money on things you can’t or don’t measure and calling it “Branding”?

Oh I can hear you right now – “April, we have to run those ads – we are building our brand!”  “We have to be at those tradeshows, it’s important for our brand!” “We are spending tens of thousands of dollars on graphics and art and colors and logos and naming, and all that because we are building a brand!”  So how exactly are you tracking that?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Let’s just call it what it is.  Marketers do this stuff because they have always done it, because they are afraid to stop doing it, because they are afraid to do new things, because they didn’t know why they were doing it in the first place so they don’t know when to stop.

I understand that awareness is important.  How do you ever get considered by customers if they don’t know you exist?  But unless you have a lot of extra money hanging around, any spending on awareness that can’t be tracked back to revenue (i.e. is it translating to consideration then preference) is, quite simply, wasted.

And PLEASE stop calling it branding!  Your brand is determined by how customers feel about you.  How customers feel about your products and services is determined by their interactions with your company.  Did you meet their expectations?  Did you exceed them?  Focus on your customer experience.  Is it easy for prospects to find you?  When they do, is it easy to figure out what you do and how you can help them solve their problems?  Is it easy for customers to evaluate your products and/or measure the potential return on investing in your products?  If you took the money you are currently spending on “branding” and spent it on making it easier for companies to do business with you, would you drive more revenue?

We’re in a recession.  Stop fooling around and get out there and sell something!

First time reader?  Why not subscribe or follow me on Twitter?

How to Find a Billion Dollar Business Idea


I attended ProductCamp Toronto this past weekend (which was a lot of fun, thanks to everyone who helped organize it) and one of the discussions I participated in was titled “Looking for That Next Billion Dollar Idea.”   Well if that doesn’t get you into the room, I’m not sure what does.  The discussion was kicked off by Chris Herbert who had participated in a year-long innovation contest run by a large technology company.  His group came close to winning the contest and he shared the positives and negatives of the experience.  We talked about how great ideas get formed an developed and then we ended up talking a bit about how to foster and manage innovation inside a larger company.  Yeah, OK, I admit it, I might have given the conversation a nudge in that direction.  I’m a bossy betty, I can’t help it.

Having run marketing for a couple of incubation projects at IBM and working inside an incubator right now – this is a topic close to my heart.  The interesting thing is how our conversation touched on many of the things that I think are critical to fostering innovation inside a large organization.

Here are a few we talked about in the session:

  1. Innovative ideas are nothing without a passionate idea team – In smaller companies or startups the person with an innovative idea naturally becomes the one to drive it through to deployment.  At larger companies, this doesn’t always happen but it should.  A great new idea needs to fight its way past doubters and skeptics.  It needs to not compromise in the face of process and bureaucracy.  This is not a job that can be simply assigned to someone.  Idea owners need to passionately believe in it and be willing to risk their careers to make it happen.  That might sound dramatic but in the projects I have worked on it has literally come down to that.  Without a team with that level of commitment, any idea, no matter how great it is will fail.  Chris’ experiences in participating in the innovation contest were similar.  The passion and excitement of the team mattered as much as the idea itself.
  2. Passionate idea teams still need help – Chances are your passionate team won’t include all of the skills needed to take the idea to market.  Passion alone isn’t going to build a great business plan, figure out a winning go to market strategy or execute a killer launch.  A set of experts in business development, contracts, sales and marketing (if I do say so myself) need to be on hand to give advice and guidance when it is needed.

  3. Even “failing” ideas need to be recognized – Idea teams by definition put a load of effort and guts into driving an idea forward.  Even if the project doesn’t move all the way through to market, idea teams need to be recognized for their efforts if you ever expect them to give it another shot with their next big idea.  Chris shared his surprise and disappointment that after the contest ended, their entry which almost won but didn’t, received no recognition after a year’s worth of effort.

  4. Process and structure need to get out of the way - This is why larger companies need incubation in the first place.  Incubation teams need to be given enough space to get around process and procedure that will only slow them down.  Folks in this discussion were skeptical about the ability to drive innovation inside a large company without getting bogged down in process or politics.  My experience has been that it can work but there needs to be a conscious effort to get the process out of the way.

Some further reading:

  • Paul To over at the Corporate Angels Blog has a great post on how larger companies can help make their incubation programs successful.
  • Paul also pointed me to a great post by Innosight (you need to register but it’s worth it, trust me) called “The Innovators Survival Guide” which offers a great set of practical things you can do to shore up your innovation projects in the short term while the economy stinks.
  • On a similar note Innovation Edge has a post warning that “In Economic Hard Times, Don’t Cut Innovation”
  • Geoffrey Moore wrote one of my all time favorite posts on Innovation called “The Top 10 innovation Myths” This is an oldie but still stands up today.  I particularly like the points around “Great Innovators are Usually Egotistical Maverics” and “We Need to be More Like Google”

Notes from a Conversation with a Dozen CIO’s


I spent a couple of days in New York this week with a CIO Customer Advisory Board.  The main purpose of the meeting was to get their un-filtered feedback on my company’s strategy and direction.  That part of the meeting was confidential of course but I still wanted to share some observations from the  meeting about the general mood and attitude of the group.

Who were they?
The group was just under a dozen CIO’s from the Financial Services, manufacturing, medial/entertainment, hospitality, technology and communications industries.

What I Heard
They Expect 2009 Spending to be Flat – This surprised me.  For now, at least budgets are not getting cut.
2009 Spending will be Focused on Revenue Generation – The allocation of budgets however, is shifting toward revenue generation.
Cost-Cutting Projects Must Show Fast, measurable ROI – This also surprised me a bit.  In general cost-cutting projects are not happening in 2009 unless they can show very fast ROI.
Speed Matters – CIO’s are moving quickly right now and they expect vendors to keep up with them.  If they ask for something they need it now and vendors who can respond quickly have an advantage.

So What Should Marketing Do?
Messages and Value Propositions Must Focus On Revenue Generation – Your customers need to understand how your product/service can help their businesses make more money.  You, your sales force and your customers all need to understand that in very simple terms.
Give Your Customers Tools to Measure ROI - Don’t make your customer do the work to determine ROI.  Give them tools to help them do it.  Provide them case studies that show how other companies have done it.
Help Your Sales Teams (and your customers) Sell to Higher Levels in the Organization - When spending is getting scrutinized, you need to make sure that your sales team is selling across the entire decision making unit.  Make sure that when your CIO brings the project forward for approval, the CEO doesn’t say “Who are these guys?”  Now is a good time to do executive briefings.  Bring your customers to you and get your best people in front of them.  Educate them so that they are armed to sell inside the account.
Over-Arm Your Sales Force – Make sure you are ready when your customers ask for materials so that they can turn-around request as quickly as possible.

**Update** Survey results released today from CIO Magazine shows that 40% of CIO’s plan to cut their budget from last year.  Perhaps my group was on the optimistic end of the spectrum but that isn’t what I heard this week.  One thing that did jive with what I heard in my group – More than one-third of CIOs (35 percent) believe current economic
conditions will cause IT purchase decisions to be pushed higher within
their IT organization.

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