Ryan Hall and Greg Mutai on Heartbreak Hill

Catching the Leaders on Heartbreak Hill: 16 Topics for the New Exec

Sixty days into my transition as an exec at Aternity, I feel like a runner just behind, but in sight of the lead pack in a marathon.  Just like the chaser needs to push hard to catch up to the leaders, I’ve been focused on accelerating my ability to add value as a member of the leadership team.

tf90d-book-coverIn “The First 90 Days,” author Michael Watkins lays out an approach to structured learning which helps the new executive determine where to focus their effort.   At this point, I’m about two-thirds of the way through that timeline, and I’m feeling confident about my progress.

With the 118th running of the Boston Marathon this week, it struck me that the two-thirds point of the marathon course is in the middle of the four Newton hills, which culminate between miles 20 and 21 at Heartbreak Hill.  This section of the course is often where leaders are caught.

Boston Marathon Route
Boston Marathon Route

In fact, Heartbreak Hill is so named because of the dramatic finish of the 1936 Boston Marathon.   Defending champion, John Kelley, whose statue now stands at mile 19, overtook Ellison “Tarzan” Brown and gave him a consolatory pat on the shoulder.  This inspired Brown to overtake Kelley and go on to win, thus breaking Kelley’s heart.  Kelley statue before Heartbreak Hill

The new exec shares a similar goal as the chaser of the lead pack at Boston.   Make your move around the two-thirds point, so you catch up to the lead team by Heartbreak Hill.   Just like there are 16 miles to the start of the Newton Hills, there are 16 key points for the new exec to tackle, in order to achieve this goal.

Business Topics

Target market

  1. Market size and growth rates.  Company market share and trends.
  2. Target customer profile and buyer personas.
  3. Industry analyst coverage of the market – size, trends, competitive analysis.

Current customer base and growth  

4.  Revenue, customer count, and average sales price, by customer market segment.
5.  Past and projected growth rates.

Product development

6.  Product revenue and growth, past and projected.

7.  Road maps, key capabilities and competitive advantages.

8.  Access to product demos.


9.  Current and future competitors, based on planned road map.  Their revenue, growth, target customers and buyers.

10.  Strengths and weaknesses.

Partnership ecosystem

11.  Partner categories and leading partners within them.

12.  Business plans and key metrics for measuring success.

Culture Topics

Cultural topics are equally as important as business topics, especially at a small company.

Decision making

12.  Is the culture driven by consensus, top-down management style, or something in between.


13.  What methods of communication are used?  Social media guidelines and key influencers.

Meeting cadence

14.  Regular management team meetings and functional meetings.

Dress code

15.  How formal is the company dress code?

Work practices

16.  Working from home, typical times for arriving and leaving the office.    Social activities like group lunches, happy hours, etc.

What’s missing from my list?  How have you made your move at Heartbreak Hill?  I’m interested to hear about similar or different experiences.   On to Boylston Street!

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shutterstock barefoot running_136762700

Minimalist Running: Born from the Voice of the Customer, or Marketing Hype?

Minimalist running hit the mainstream in 2009, when Christopher McDougall published his New York Times best-seller, “Born to Run.”  The book profiles the eccentric Micah True, as he arranges a running competition between American ultrarunners and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, who run for hours on their huaraches made of tire tread.  The book suggests that humans evolved to run long distances naturally, with little to nothing on our feet.   It claims that the cushioning in modern running shoes causes more injuries than it prevents.

Vibram FiveFingers, synonymous with barefoot running
Vibram FiveFingers, synonymous with barefoot running, photo courtesy of Vibram

Sales of minimalist running shoes took off, along with the book’s popularity.  In 2010, minimalist running shoes made up 30% of the market, according to Outside Magazine, with new market entrant Vibram FiveFingers capturing 2%.

Today, although the share of minimalist shoes is down to 15%, all of the major athletic shoe brands promote minimalist models, such as the Nike Free, Merrell Trail Glove, and Saucony Kinvara.   Is the voice of the customer driving this trend, or just hype?  Let’s analyze the question with a marketer’s tool set.

Minimalist Running:  the Value Proposition

The value proposition of minimalist running is that “less is more.”  Minimalist running advocates for the least amount of shoe that runners can safely wear.   With less padding, a runner’s foot feels the ground more effectively and sends feedback to the brain to modify the stride.   Over time, runners change from striking the ground first with their heel to a more natural strike, with the mid-sole or fore-foot, which should strengthen the foot and prevent injuries.

The Voice of the Customer – from WAY before 2009

Minimalist running was not invented in 2009.   Men and women were running barefoot, and running FAST, long before then.

In the 1960 Rome Olympics, Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila ran barefoot to win the marathon in 2:15:17.   In Tokyo in 1964, he won again, becoming the first two-time marathon winner, finishing in 2:12:11.

Famous for her collision with Mary Decker in the 1984 Olympic 3000 meters, South African Zola Budd set the world record for the 5000 meters, running barefoot, in both 1984 and 1985.

A Competing Voice Calls for “Clown Shoes”

In 2010, the padding pendulum began to swing the other way.  That year, elite ultrarunner Karl Meltzer tried a pair of massively cushioned Hoka One Ones,  known affectionately as “clown shoes” because of their huge sole.

Photo courtesy of Hoka One One
Photo courtesy of Hoka One One

More forgiving and stable, the brand has quickly gained a devoted following of top competitive ultrarunners, claiming 30 trail running wins in races over the past 18 months.

A Closer Look at Buyer Pains

I’m not talking about leg pain, and whether minimalist shoes or maximalist shoes are better for injury prevention.  The science is inconclusive.  I’m talking about a deeper look into the voice of the customer and what drives the purchasing decision.

According to the Buyer Persona Institute, key aspects of a buyer persona include priority initiatives, success factors, and decision criteria.   In determining preference for more or less cushioning, wouldn’t these factors be the same for the majority of serious trail runners?  Of course!   Run fast over long distances.  Avoid injury.  Appearance doesn’t matter.  Clown shoe or weird looking foot-glove – if you get the results, then wear them with pride.

Then how to explain what seems like two different voices of the customer?

The answer seems obvious.   Serious trail runners are only a small portion of the market!   Some buyers (gasp!) are not even runners!  The Nike Free, the minimalist category leader with a 70% share, is most often purchased by non-runners.  SportsOneSource even separates it from other minimalist shoe sales when reporting on category market shares.   The voice of the customer making a fashion purchase is certainly different from that of the ultrarunner.

Minimalism:  More Than Marketing Hype, a Lasting Impact

It appears that the era of barefoot running is indeed over.  Minimalist shoes declined to 11% of market share, as reported by Runners World in spring of 2013.  And the share falls to 4% when the Nike Free is removed.   But the decline doesn’t mean that it was only marketing hype from “Born to Run” that drove the market.

The minimalist running trend has made lasting impact on larger running shoe categories, like traditional trainers.  Companies are incorporating new materials and processes to drive down weight and ramp angle throughout their product lines.   Like the impact of alternative fuel vehicles on the broader automobile market, these significant innovations will continue to drive the market in the future.  Although you may see more Hoka One Ones than Vibram FiveFingers in your next ultra, the minimalist running trend has left its mark.

How about you?  Have you used minimalist running shoes?  How about Hoka One Ones?  What was your purchasing criteria?

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Triathlon bike positioning

Spring Training Fundamentals: 5 Benefits of a Positioning Statement

The calendar says that spring has arrived.  You wouldn’t know it from the frigid temperatures and mounds of crusty snow outside.  But if the calendar says so, then it must be time for spring training.

Baseball players aren’t the only ones preparing for the upcoming season by focusing on fundamentals.  We triathletes do too.  For us, it means getting the bike tuned up and ready to ride outside.  It’s not only a question of getting in the miles.  We also need to work on riding position.  Perfecting that tight, aerodynamic body position that delivers maximum power with minimal wind resistance.

Marketers getting ready for an upcoming product launch need to devote the same level of effort into positioning.   Building a  positioning statement is no trivial exercise.   Like in triathlon, getting the positioning statement right is the key to success, and it requires discipline.

Key Elements of a Positioning Statement

Positioning Template (Trew Marketing)
Positioning Template (Trew Marketing)

There are a variety of templates for a positioning statement.  I’ve used a template similar to the one shown here.  Although it is short, each area requires close examination and continual refinement,  just like finding that optimal riding position.  Nail the positioning statement, and you can expect at least five benefits.

1.  Identify Your Buyer(s)

A positioning statement begins with the buyer.  It therefore demands that you focus on the buyer persona.  For B2B software companies, it’s especially important to focus on the job title, company size, and target verticals of your buyer.  If you sell to multiple types of buyers, you may need to develop a positioning statement for each one.  You’ll be able to decide once you know whether there are differences in needs, benefits, and competitive advantages.

2.  Do You Need to Cross the Chasm?

Chossing-the-chasm-coverOnce you have identified your buyers,  the positioning statement has you move onto their needs.  Knowing where your buyers are on the technology adoption life cycle will help you understand their needs.   Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” discusses the psychographic differences between groups along the life cycle.

Visionaries appreciate technology for its own sake.  They often identify uses of technology not even considered by marketers.  Early adopters expect to use a new technology to get a jump on others in their industry.  They’re not looking for an improvement.  They are looking for a fundamental breakthrough.  Buyers in the early majority want to realize a gain in productivity for their current operations.    The positioning statement should reflect these instincts.

3.  Your Market – Clarify the Field You Are Playing On

seattle-277120_640This section of the positioning statement calls for another area that seems trivial.  But defining your market does require some thought.   Using a well understood existing market category has advantages, especially for buyers on the right hand side of the chasm.  But doing so will reqiure you to differentiate yourself from other vendors also in the market.  Creating a new market segment which you can own may help with differentiation, but it will require effort and time to educate the market.

4.  Leverage Your Commercial Insight for Competitive Advantage

I’ve written in previous blogs about my experience with Challenger Sale methodology.   The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.    The commercial insight therefore shows up in two places in the positioning statement – the benefit and the unique differentiator.

5.  Crafting the Positioning Statement Gets Your Team on Board

The last benefit of building the positioning statement is that it helps to get all of the functional areas in your company on board with a consistent message.  Sales, product development, support, and marketing all see your company, customers, and product from a different perspective.  Distilling the relevant information onto a positioning statement helps get everyone pulling in the same direction in how they discuss your competitive advantages for your buyers.

Content creation is team effort

I’m not saying that getting everyone to agree on the positioning statement will be easy.  It won’t.  But having the various functional groups involved in creating it, or at least reviewing it and providing feedback, will provide benefits.

What about you?  What’s your experience in building positioning statements?  Do you have a favorite template, or different approach?  Let me know.  I’m interested in feedback.

Triathlon photo credit:  Rena Shild/Shutterstock

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Whitewater kayak

Structured Learning in Career Transition – Navigating the Whitewater of the First Week

After my first week as Chief Product Evangelist at Aternity, it’s clear that a career transition isn’t like a triathlon transition.   Triathlon transitions are executed efficiently and calmly.  You lay out your gear neatly so that you can peel off your wet suit after the swim, pull on your cycling gear, and get going.   Spread a towel next to your bike to dry your feet.  Put your sunglasses in your helmet, and your helmet on your aero-bars, upside down, so you can put them on quickly.  Clip your shoes into your pedals, so you don’t waste time.  It’s logical, methodical, and predictable. Tri bike InTransition

Starting a new role at a small company is more like kayaking a class 5 river.   Exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting.  All at the same time.   So many areas to investigate, each seemingly as important as the next.  As I’ve started at Aternity, I’ve tried to use structured learning, outlined by Michael Watkins in his book, The First 90 Days.  Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve learned.

The Recommended Approach to Structured Learning

tf90d-book-coverIn his book, Watkins details a systematic approach to structured learning that helps new executives determine where to focus their efforts.   The structured learning process helps you gather and analyze information from a variety of sources so you can build a plan for adding value to your new organization.

Creating a learning agenda with a focused set of questions relating to your company’s past, present, and future helps you identify how and why decisions were made, the current state of market opportunity and challenges, and possible vectors for future growth.

Four Areas to Focus Structured Learning

In my first week on the job, I’ve focused my structured learning in four key areas.

The business:    Current customer base and growth, new product development areas, current and future competition, primary partnerships.

Stakeholders:  In the first week, I’ve met not only with management team colleagues, but also selected members of the sales and customer support teams.  These sessions have been helpful for me to start to understand our sales process and how we engage with customers.

Expectations:  In all of these meetings, I’ve asked for input on what the stakeholders need from me.  By asking this question across all of the major functional areas, I hope to get insight into consistent themes, and potential deliverables to generate early wins.  Watkins discusses the importance of generating early wins in building credibility, momentum, and on-going trust.

Culture:  Even by the first day, it was clear to me that our company has a very strong culture.   Priorities include effective and timely communication, clear assignment of action items and due dates, and mutual respect.   Not to mention a real work hard/play hard mentality!

Accelerate Learning in the Field

Mobile-World-Congress-Fira-Barcelone-1024x464Actually,  my first week in the office wasn’t my first week with the company.  Rather than wander the halls of our corporate headquarters, I wandered the halls of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  And, with 1800 exhibitors and 80,000 attendees, the event provided me plenty of opportunities to get in my mileage!

More important than mileage, attending the event allowed me to accelerate my structured learning plan.  Mobile World Congress is the largest gatherings of operators, vendors, and pundits in the area of mobile.   One of Aternity’s strategic priorities is to expand into mobile application performance management.   Attending this event fast-tracked my understanding of customer needs, competition, and partnership opportunities.   These areas are far more important to accelerating my structured learning plan than was filling out HR forms and firing up my laptop!

I summarized my impressions of MWC in my first blog entry in Aternity’s End User Experience 2Day site.   Check it out!

In the coming weeks, I’ll be using Watkins’ book as a guide as I complete my structured learning and prepare my 90 day plan.  I’m interested in feedback from others in a similar position.   Any guidance or suggestions for me?


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Strategic Alliances and Marketing: Like Doubles Luge

Give me a minute to explain how doubles luge relates to strategic alliances and marketing. Take a look at the recent results in doubles luge from the Sanki Sliding Center.   Do you see any interesting patterns in the medal winners?  

If  you follow the sport, you know that this doubles win gives Germany its third luge gold medal of the Sochi games.  (Actually, by now they have all four!)  Coached by five time Olympian Georg Hackl, Germany has now added doubles and the relay to its golds in men’s and women’s singles.

While that is true, I’m talking about the names of the competitors in the top three slots.

Brothers in Arms, and Legs

3 brothersAlthough the German sliders are both named Tobias, it is even more interesting that siblings have won both silver and bronze medals.  Andreas and Wolfgang Linger from Austria were trying for their third straight gold, but had to settle for silver.  And Latvia’s Andris and Juris Sics dropped down a notch from their Vancouver silver medal for the bronze.

It’s no surprise that brothers would do well in a competition that requires such close coordination.  Even more than the Bryan brothers in tennis, or ice dancers Alex and Maia Shibutani, siblings competing in doubles luge are literally joined at the hip.  Kind of like strategic alliances and marketing.

What Strategic Alliances and Marketing Share with Doubles Luge

Like the competitors in doubles luge, strategic alliances and marketing share many common attributes.   Here are just a few:

Close working relationship.  Goals, objectives, and tactics are common across strategic alliances and marketing.

Aligned efforts.  Strategic alliances and marketing make almost every move together.

Tightly coupled.  The measures of success for strategic alliances and marketing are often shared.  Just like the lugers getting to the bottom of the hill.

High levels of trust.  To achieve their goals, strategic alliances and marketing staff must implicitly trust one another to make and fulfill appropriate partner commitments.

Marketing Skills are Fundamental to Determining Strategic Alliances

The relationship between strategic alliances and marketing goes beyond common attributes.  Marketing plays a key role in each of the five factors in determining a strategic alliance, as discussed by the Ivey Business Journal.

Critical to success of a core business goal.   Many strategic alliances are formed to generate revenue through joint go to market efforts.  In order to do so, the marketing teams from both partners must align on target customers, pain points, joint value proposition, demand generation, and awareness programs.

Critical to a core competency or competitive advantage.  These are the domains of product marketing, who owns product differentiation, messaging, and positioning.

The potential to block a competitive threat.  Similar to the previous area, product marketers often own the competitive analysis, and help drive future road map and partnership strategies.

Creates or maintains strategic choices for the business.  The decision to buy, build, or partner drives the need for alliances.   Product marketing is a key contributor to building the landscape of potential targets for merger, acquisition, and technology partnerships.

Mitigates a significant risk for the business.  Whether this applies to product or market risks, marketing plays a key role in this area.

Building Strategic Alliances Requires Strong Marketing

Strategic alliances and marketing are often combined in the early days of a small company, and for good reason.    Many of the critical steps required to form and grow a strategic alliance require strong marketing skills.  According to Bain & Company, to form a strategic alliance, companies should:

Define the business vision and strategy, to determine how the alliance helps meet objectives.   As I wrote in a previous post, marketing can often improve the strategic planning approach, by reversing the traditional SWOT analysis.SWOT, TOWS

Choose partners based on synergy and ability to work together.  For revenue generating partnerships, synergy relates to common markets, buyers, and go to market tactics.  Coordination of sales teams and marketing campaigns are some of the trickiest areas of alliances.

Recognize mutual opportunities between the business and the partner.  These mutual opportunities often relate to road map alignment, go to market strategies, competitive threats or market opportunities.   Areas that fall right into marketing’s purview.

Implement a formal agreement including systems to monitor performance of mutual goals.  For revenue generating relationships,  marketing’s experience in goal setting plays a key role.  The systems to share information on demand generation, pipeline, and closed business are the same systems that marketing uses to report progress within the company.

Your Team’s Strategic Alliances and Marketing:  Smooth Sliding, or Bumps on the Track?

Are strategic alliances and marketing closely aligned within your organization?  How do you ensure you’re tightly coupled and moving fast down the track?  When you hit the big curves, are you facing the g forces together, or are you risking a nasty spill?

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biathlon ski-79564_640

The Biathlon CMO: Creative and Analytical

I have to admit it.  I just cannot get enough of biathlon!   How can you NOT love a mash-up of endurance sport and shooting?  As I watched Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina repeat as Olympic gold medal winner in the 7.5km sprint last weekend, I was amazed at the combination of skills the sport requires.    The competitors are absolutely full throttle anaerobic while skiing the course.  Then they glide into the shooting station, and must immediately calm their heart rate in order to hit the targets at 50m and avoid a time penalty.    Two completely opposite disciplines are necessary for success.    Just like today’s CMO, who must be a master of both creative and analytical skills.   The biathlon CMO.

Content -the Engine of the Biathlon CMO’s Creative Side

In today’s inbound marketing world, content is the key to a compelling, creative demand generation program.   An effective program requires knowing the buyer persona, identifying the latent pain, and building content to address those pains with your unique approach.

Effective B2B marketers then use a variety of avenues to distribute that content to their target audience.   A well crafted program can re-purpose the same basic information through a variety of channels, including social media, ebooks, case studies, blogs, white papers, surveys, webcasts, videos, as well as in-person events.

Content creation is a big job, but it can be made easier by getting a broader team involved.  Functional groups outside of marketing have great insight that can be built into compelling content.

Metrics Show Whether the Biathlon CMO Hits Her Targets

Big data and analytics have made their way into the B2B marketer’s world.  As a result of this, CMOs now have the data they need to communicate results and show value to the rest of the business.  As has been written in StoryMETRIX and Branding Strategy Insider, this allows the CMO to better align with their CFO colleagues.

The metrics exist.  The business can be instrumented to show value.  A key question is which metrics to use for which audience.  That is a subject for another post.

Are you a biathlon CMO?  Or, are you strong in one area but not the other?  Do you take too many penalty laps because you’re not hitting your targets?  Or, are you running out of gas in the last part of the race because you’re short on content?  Let me know what you think!



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Speedskating B Stefanov shutterstock_49076566

Pipeline Progression: 7 Steps to Synch Sales Enablement and the Sales Cycle

In my last post, I discussed how sales can improve pipeline visibility by identifying what reps should hear from the customer at each stage of the sales cycle.   Uncovering the right comments helps qualify the opportunity and ensure proper pipeline progression.

Marketing plays a key role in this effort.  I’m not talking about qualifying inquiries at the top of the sales funnel.  I’m talking about an opportunity that has entered the sales cycle.  The customer contact has been qualified.  Sales has accepted the lead.   Marketing and sales work together to pursue the opportunity, like short track skaters drafting off of one another.

Marketing’s role in pipeline progression

Pipeline progression – isn’t that the job of sales management, not marketing?  True, but it is also another important area of CMO-CSO alignment.  For marketing to be effective in producing sales enablement kit, we have to deliver what the sales team needs at each stage of the cycle.

This task is pretty clear when you use an approach to pipeline progression that is based on what you expect to hear from the customer.   The deck below shows a real world example.

Seven Steps to Synch with Sales

Here are seven lessons learned from our approach to enabling the field for pipeline progression.

1. Make the first pitch without pre-sales

baseball-89612_640Although our product was technically innovative, we kept our sales presentation at the business level, using a Challenger Sale approach.  We based the first sales milestone on uncovering urgency and differentiation, rather than product features.  Our sales team ran this stage without pre-sales, helping to keep the conversation focused on business topics.

2. Nail the business issues up front

In order to validate the urgency of getting a cloud service to market, we needed to discover the buyer’s strategic, financial, and personal goals.  The only way to do that was to demonstrate credibility and situational fluency.  Our deck needed to quickly show that we understood the goals and challenges of the cloud market, based on our experience with other customers.

3. Recount relevant customer stories

To validate that our solution provided compelling business value, we built short summaries of relevant customer success stories into the sales deck.  We trained our sales reps so they could tell these stories, as if they were personally involved in each account.

4. Deliver a dynamic demo

Since our design goal was to complete the first pipeline milestone without pre-sales, we recorded a short, compelling demo that explained how our product’s technical capabilities helped customers achieve business goals.  We armed the sales team with product information to augment the demo, but deferred deeper technical discussion until later in the sales engagement.

5. Publish customer case studies in several formats

You never know how your prospect will want to consume a customer case study, so publish them in as many formats as possible.  We used the following:

  • Publicly available website information from customers using our product as the basis for their solutions.  Here’s an example.
  • The usual suspects:  summaries on our website and in pdf format.
  • YouTube videos of customers discussing cool topics they did with our product.
  • Blog posts about customers highlighting their successes.
  • Implementation summaries covering the technical and operational information on how the service was built.

6. Project profit with a financial model

money-167733_640Our competitive advantage was that service providers could use our product to roll out cloud services faster, and at a higher profit margin, than they could with alternative solutions.  To frame this argument, marketing created a detailed financial model to project the profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.  We worked with the customer to tailor the model to their situation, so they could use it in the financial justification for investing in our solution.

7. Generate a Go To Market plan

For our customers to have the confidence to invest with us, they needed to see a clear path to building and launching their cloud services on our platform.  So our kit included implementation and go to market plans to accelerate the customer’s launch.  The plans included timelines, templates, training, and examples based on our experience with other customers.

Are You Synched with Sales on Pipeline Progression?

If you’re a product marketer, you need to know that your kit is being actively used by sales as they progress deals through the sales cycle.   If you’re not sure, that’s a slippery slope.   Find out, or you might take a spill on the next turn.    Let me know how you stay aligned!

Speed skating photo credit:  B Stefanov

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pipeline visibility

Sales Opportunity Pipeline Visibility: You’ll See Better With Your Ears!

We like to think sales opportunity pipeline visibility is a science.  Or at least well-founded math.

Create five or six stages based on the major milestones of the sales cycle.   Assign percentages to represent the probability of closure for that particular sales step.

Sales Pipeline Stages

Drive the business by reviewing the opportunity pipeline every week.  Query the reps on actions they’re taking to progress their deals.  Excellent pipeline visibility is key to ensuring revenue goals are met.

The inconvenient truth about pipeline visibility

If pipeline visibility is such a science, why do so many deals die late in the funnel?

We’ve all been there.  A deal that was at 60% suddenly gets killed off  for reasons that appear out of the blue.

  • No funding
  • Not a strategic project
  • Lost sponsorship

Management goes nuts because the reps should have identified these issues way earlier in the sales cycle.  Before they invested so much time and resources.   So much for visibility!

Why does this happen?  That’s obvious.  The reps didn’t ask the hard questions early enough in the sales cycle.  Why not?  There are many reasons.  I think that one contributing factor lies in how sales management manages the pipeline in the first place.

Emphasizing sales activity causes you to focus in the wrong area

You end up managing what your sales guys are doing, rather than what they are learning from the customer.   Your reps respond accordingly.  They focus on activities like giving the pitch and doing the demo, rather than uncovering the buyer’s pain points.

You get great visibility into your sales reps’ activities, but not into the customer’s buying cycle.

There’s a reason it’s called the customer buying cycle.  It’s based on the information the customer needs before they buy.  Not on what your sales reps do at each stage.  In order to know what the customer needs at each stage you have to listen.

Define your pipeline stages by what you should hear

radar-dish-63013_640You’ll get better pipeline visibility if you specify what your reps should hear at each stage when they ask the right questions.    You’ll hear what the customer is thinking, as they progress along the buying cycle.  And that will give you better visibility into whether or not the deal will close.

A Real World Example

In a recent role, I ran marketing for the cloud platform group within a large company.  We sold our product to service providers who wanted to launch high margin cloud services.   Our product was a true innovation.  Its unique capabilities allowed service providers to get to market fast and with lower capital and operational expenditures.

We faced a real problem with sales opportunity pipeline visibility.  Customers were hugely interested in our product because it was such an innovation.   But interest didn’t always translate into investment.  Deals would fall out of the pipeline after the teams had devoted significant time to presentations, demos, proofs of concept, and reference calls.  We were spending too much time on deals that were never properly qualified.

To improve pipeline visibility, we redefined our pipeline stages.  We knew from successful deals the types of comments our sales reps should hear from the customer at each stage.  We did this along two tracks.  One for business conversations.  The other for product and implementation conversations.    This post focuses only on the business track.

What you should hear at the 20% stage

Deal Progression 20The goal for the 20% “Research” stage was to uncover whether the customer had an urgent business need for a cloud launch, or just interest in learning about our product.  If it was just interest, we’d know not to invest time into prosecuting the deal.

We wanted our reps to hear the business owner say something like the quote in the yellow box.  Anything else less urgent would indicate a risk that the opportunity was not real.  True sense of urgency would be indicated by competitive pressures, specific customer demand, financial targets and a specified time frame for cloud launch.

Pipeline visibility at 40%

Deal Progression 40

At the 40% “Verify” stage, we wanted our reps to hear comments in two different areas.  First, we wanted to hear validation of the cloud service portfolio that the buyer intended to bring to market.  Knowing the specific cloud services they intended to launch would help us orient our demos and customer reference stories appropriately.

Second, we needed to hear as much detail about the decision making process to get a deal done. We needed to understand the business justification our buyer would need to make, in order to justify the investment in our solution.   In our selling approach, we worked with the buyer to build this justification.  So, at this stage, we wanted to learn about the audience, the format, and the level of detail.

What you should hear at 60%

Deal Progression 60

At the 60% “Prove” stage, our goal was to show that our company provided the best way for the service provider to achieve their cloud service goals.  The key deliverable at this stage was a financial model created jointly with the customer projecting the revenue and profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.   We needed to hear the buyer express confidence in the model so that she would feel comfortable presenting it to the Board or investment committee.

Pipeline visibility:   See better by listening better

Once we built this approach into our sales training and sales enablement kit, we had much better pipeline visibility.  Verifying the urgency of cloud service launch at the 20% stage provided a tough hurdle.  But the diligence that the team expended resulted in much less pipeline leakage at later stages.

Try this approach for your business.  What do you need to hear at each stage to improve your pipeline visibility?

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5 Steps to Using Hoshin Kanri for Marketing Goal Setting

“Using WHAT?!”  I know, I know.  I lost you with those strange words.  And I also know I risk losing you irretrievably if I tell you that Hoshin Kanri is a Six Sigma strategy tool used to ensure the whole company pushes in the same direction.   But I’ll take the risk, because the start of a new year is a great time to use Hoshin Kanri for marketing goal setting.

As an endurance athlete, I know that results take time.  So, I’m not surprised if my first post on Six Sigma and inbound marketing  hasn’t convinced you of the role Six Sigma can play in improving marketing strategy and execution.  I respect your skepticism.

So PLEASE STOP READING this article UNLESS any of the following challenges apply to you:

  1. Communicating how your team supports the company strategy.
  2. Creating a high performance team.
  3. Ensuring everyone knows where they stand relative to achieving goals.
  4. Holding your team accountable for the achievement of targets.
  5. Fostering innovation at all levels of your team.

Still reading?  That’s what I figured.

Hoshin Kanri Background

Hoshin translates literally to compass
Ho (direction) + shin (needle) = Hoshin (compass)

Hoshin Kanri was developed in Japan as part of the quality effort of the 1950s. Translated literally as “compass management,” it is a process for setting strategic direction that leverages the collective expertise of everyone on a team.

Hoshin Kanri differs from other approaches in two critical ways.  First, in Hoshin Kanri, two way communication is key.  Top management sets the overall direction, but delegates as much as possible to the front line teams to determine HOW best to achieve the goals.  Second, Hoshin Kanri calls for a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle to regularly measure actual results against the plan, and to take corrective action for root causes.

How to Use Hoshin Kanri for Marketing Goal Setting

Here are five critical steps to using Hoshin Kanri for marketing goal setting.

Step 1:  Build the annual strategy & corporate goals

The executive team builds the annual corporate strategy, including SMART goals for the critical few metrics that define corporate success.   For B2B software companies, these generally include revenue, new customer acquisition, and new product launch.

Step 2:  Cascade the company goals to the departments

waterfall-199204_640Department heads support the corporate strategy by identifying goals for their teams that align directly to the corporate goals.  Some departments coordinate to achieve mutual goals, such as marketing and sales for revenue and customer acquisition targets.  Bi-directional communication among departments and the executive team solidifies goals and inter-dependencies.

In this step, marketing identifies goals for  demand generation, awareness, and sales enablement.   For a B2B software company,  marketing is normally expected to build pipeline for 15-30% of new revenue.   This translates into a goal for number of leads in the marketing funnel, based on average sales price, sales cycle, and historical conversation ratios of marketing programs.

Step 3:  Use the team to identify supporting tactics

Here is where Hoshin Kanri really drives innovation through two way communication.  With so many variables to consider, the entire B2B marketing team is needed to identify the best tactics to support the goals.   Leverage the expertise of those who run the programs, execute SEO and SEM, and build the content and messaging.   When complete, the marketing plan identifies tactics, timeframes, projected costs, and expected results for each element.

Step 4:  Link achievement of metrics to individual performance

The best way to ensure the marketing team remains focused and aligned is to directly tie achievement of the target metrics to individual team members’ performance.  Use the performance management system to tie variable compensation to goal attainment.  A combination of shared goals and specific goals ensures the marketing team works together, while each individual strives to hit the numbers for which she is responsible.

Step 5:  Measure and adjust regularly

vu-meter-70433_640Regular comparison of actual results to plan is a fundamental aspect of Hoshin Kanri.  Frequently measure key marketing metrics to determine whether tactics are working as planned.   The metrics will vary, but should include both inputs and outputs.  Investigate any variance from the plan, and analyze the dependencies between causes and effects.  For example, if a webcast didn’t achieve the target audience, was the problem the content, the promotion, or the outreach?

The Benefits of Using Hoshin Kanri for Marketing

Once you get beyond its name, you can see the benefits of using Hoshin Kanri for marketing goal setting.   Understanding how marketing contributes to the company goals.  Clear focus on achieving targets.  Constant analysis of achievement vs plan.  Employee engagement in building the plan.

Despite its reputation for being cumbersome and overly techie, Six Sigma has much to offer to marketing.   Today’s marketers need to be both creative and analytical.   Hoshin Kanri is one tool that can help achieve this balance.

What do you think?  Have you used this approach?  What was your experience?



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Driving on Ice: BMW Branded Content and Bobsleds: 8 Marketing Tips

BMW, known for producing the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” could also be known as the “Ultimate Branded Content Machine.”  This Sunday, I took a break from watching football to catch the BMW produced documentary/commercial “Driving on Ice.”  This short film provides a behind-the-scenes view of how BMW worked with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation to completely redesign the two man bobsled for next month’s Olympics in Sochi.

Was it a compelling story?  Absolutely.  Will it result in a gold medal?  We’ll find out.  But as the New York Times summarized, what “Driving on Ice” absolutely shows is how BMW continues to advance the use of branded content in its marketing.  It also provides us B2B marketers with eight cool tips.

BMW and Athletes Both Have Something to Gain

Since 2010, BMW has been the Official Mobility Partner of the US Olympic Committee.  Aside from financial support and advertising, both sides have gained from vehicle-to-athlete technology transfer.   The bobsled team leveraged BMW’s expertise in light-weight materials and aerodynamics to improve the twenty year old previous design.

BMW marketing has delivered a compelling branded content story that cuts through the clutter of the myriad of car commercials and provides an emotional response to the BMW brand.

High Stakes Promotion of the Ultimate Sliding Machine

This is the third time that BMW has used technology transfer to help the US Olympic team.

swimmer underwater-79592_640In advance of the 2012 London games, BMW provided USA Swimming with underwater camera motion tracking system.  The system tracked the performance of six body parts as swimmers exploded off the walls with powerful dolphin kicks.  US coaches used this data to find how to shave off every last hundredth of a second in time from their starts and turns.

One one-hundredth of a second makes all the difference.  Just ask Michael Phelps.  That was the margin of victory as he out-touched Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in the final stroke of the 100m butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

BMW also provided real-time velocity measurement to USA Track & Field to help optimize the performance of long-jumpers.

With this technology transfer, the stakes are higher, both for the bobsledders and for BMW.  The US hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in two man bobsled since 1936.   The first two cases of technology transfer were behind the scenes software.  This time, with the focus on aerodynamics, control, and materials, there’s a direct connection to vehicles.   So the corresponding impact to BMW’s brand will be huge.

Eight Cool B2B Marketing Tips

Here are eight points from “Driving on Ice” that relate to B2B marketing.

1.  Know the Customer Experience First Hand

Before taking on the bobsled work, designer Michael Scully rides in a two man sled on a real course, to experience the violence, vibration, and G forces involved in the sport.   Nothing beats direct exposure to the buyer’s pains, persona, and journey.

2.  Focus First on the Critical Few Metrics

Scully focuses the redesign on two areas.  He improves the aerodynamics by making the sled smaller and narrower.   And he modifies the weight distribution of the sled to improve handling.  Numerous modifications follow as the details are addressed, but all of the tactics support these goals.   Similarly, B2B marketers align their tactics to big major goals, like revenue contribution.

3.  Start with a Low Risk Trial

The first prototype of the new sled is done on the relatively tame course of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.  Of course, the first trial results in a myriad of modifications.    Similarly, B2B marketers get customers started in a low risk way with freemium models.

4.  Iterate Often, based on Customer Feedback

The designers get input from the athletes after each run.   Like in agile product development, the changes come fast and furiously.  The athletes receive prototype #2 with no time to practice on it before their next  race.   More work is clearly needed.  An improperly placed steering cord causes the driver to crash into the wall immediately after starting.

5.  Uncover the Underlying Need

After the unsuccessful run, designer Scully meets with veteran driver Steven Holcomb to discuss the steering problem.  Holcomb wants more of a range of motion, but Scully isn’t sure whether that means on the steering handle or in the runners.  By clarifying the underlying need, Scully is able to make the right adjustment.

6.   Creative and Analytical:  You Need Both

One set of skills is not enough.  At the US Olympic Trials, driver Elana Meyers emphasizes the need for mental toughness, as well as physical strength and skill.  All of the work in the gym and on the track must be augmented with calm and courage.   Similarly, B2B marketers must be both creative and analytical.

7.  Adjust on the Fly

Optimizing performance is a continuous effort.  At the Olympic Trials, constant tinkering is done to the sled to fine tune its performance based on real-time track conditions.  B2B marketers must make similar adjustments to their demand generation and awareness tactics based on their own real-time metrics.

8.  Keep Your Eye on the Prize

With a month to the Olympics, the redesign appears to be on track. The US is ranked #1 in the World Cup standings.   But success will be defined by who gets the gold in Sochi.

I think BMW achieved its goals with “Driving on Ice.”  The BMW commercials interspersed throughout the film relate directly to the points in the film.  As cars drive through snowy roads, messages of the technical proficiency, advanced materials, and handling are clearly reflected by what was shown on the bobsled track.

What do you think of BMW’s branded content strategy?  Want to pull 5 Gs in turn 8 on the Sochi course?


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