Outside Eyes and Ears: Coaching Top Performers


Photo courtesy of SD Dirk

Lance Armstrong had a coach; actually, two coaches (Johan Bruyneel and Chris Carmichael).  So does Rafael Nadal (his uncle Toni).  So do the world’s top opera singers. Tony La Russa’s masterful coaching of the St. Louis Cardinals was a critical factor in this year’s World Series.  Coaching can also benefit a top performing surgeon, according to a fascinating article by Atul Gawande in last month’s New Yorker magazine.

But how about mid-career, top performing marketers? Can they benefit from coaching, from an outside set of eyes and ears? I think the answer is clearly yes.

Great marketing requires great implementation of the basics – positioning, understanding the customer, engagement.  As we advance in our careers and we get engaged in projects, sometimes we forget or don’t pay enough attention to these fundamentals. The effectiveness of a marketing campaign can also be determined by the most minute of details: details that we may be too close to see. A coach’s perspective, encouragement and discipline can help even the best marketer improve their performance by tweaking the details and covering all the fundamentals.

I have a coach.  He’s not a marketing coach, but a business coach. I find talking to him once a week tremendously helpful. He provides me with that outside observer’s perspective. He reminds me to focus on particular details and to prepare thoroughly for a meeting, making sure I understand my objectives going in and thinking about the perspectives of other players. He sends me inspirational materials, including the above mentioned New Yorker magazine article. Without his coaching, I’m sure that I wouldn’t continue to grow as much as I have or enjoy my work as much as I do.

What about you? Could you use a coach? Where could you benefit the most from an outside set of eyes and ears, as well as the encouragement and discipline of a coach?

Want to Learn Something? Teach It.

TeachingIt seems contradictory, doesn’t it? How can you teach something that you yourself don’t know well? The truth is, for anything that is an extension of your existing expertise or where you have a reasonable aptitude, the best way to learn something is to teach it.

Back in early September, I received an email from the University of Washington, Bothell campus, asking if I would be interested in teaching a course in E-Marketing. The person slotted to teach the course had dropped out, and I had a previous relationship with the school. I took the opportunity, although I didn’t then consider myself an expert in E-Marketing.

The last time my job title contained the word Marketing in the title was back at Microsoft, in the late 90′s up to early 2001.  At that time, Microsoft barely got the internet, and Mark Zuckerberg was still in prep school. No one at Microsoft talked about social media marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization or a host of other e-marketing techniques.

As CEO of a couple of startups, and then through my consulting practice, I had kept up with most of the new concepts in e-marketing, but I was hardly an expert. Here’s what I learned and some tips if you decide to use teaching as a method of learning a new skill or subject.

  • Read everything relevant to the topic and synthesize it – One of my best decisions early on was to use David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR as a textbook, rather than a traditional college textbook.  I read it cover to cover before starting on the syllabus, and as I read, I investigated many of the links and sources that David referenced in the book.  David led me to another book, Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, which in turn led me to sites like MarketingProfs, Junta42 and The Content Marketing Insitute. The synthesizing generally takes place as I prepare the lectures. I also take notes as I read using EverNote.
  • Call on the expertise of others – Where I don’t have deep expertise, I bring in people who do.  Cal McAllister of The Wexley School for Girls spoke this week on viral marketing, Todd Warren spoke on the creation and use of personas.  Later in the course, I have Matt Youngquist of Career Horizons coming in to talk about E-Marketing in the job search, and Tom Barr coming in to talk about E-Marketing at Starbucks.
  • Learn by doing – Before I teach something, I apply it in my consulting practice. I’ve built Facebook pages, created social media strategies, run webinars, worked on SEO and SEM, and created Content Marketing strategies for clients in my consulting business as I’ve taught these techniques in my class.  This allows me to enliven the discussion by bringing in my own experiences and challenges.
  • Let students learn by doing – I think the academic term for this is experiential learning, but I prefer the simpler “learn by doing”. My students must practice e-marketing either within the confines of an existing business, or by creating a blog or web site, and apply e-marketing techniques to increase their traffic and viewership.

What do you think? Have you ever learned something by teaching it? What new skill could you learn by teaching?

User Stories in Agile Marketing

One of the most useful tools in Agile Development is the use of User Stories.  These stories, typically recorded on a large index card, take the format:

As a [role], I want to [task], so that I can [goal or benefit]

On the back side of the card, developers will usually list the acceptance criteria or test cases for the feature.  To see a good example of user stories in agile development, go here.

Are user stories relevant to the Agile Marketer? If so, how might they differ from user stories used by agile developers?

The Role of User Stories in Agile Marketing

User stories provide the agile marketer with insight into the personas associated with each of their target markets as well as focusing the marketer on the customer’s viewpoint and benefits.  Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

  • As a [role] – Roles correspond to Personas.  A Persona is typically a fictional character that is representative of a set of users who use a product or service in a particular way, and that play a particular role in the selection or use of that product or service.  The Persona is described in sufficient detail that product managers can make decisions regarding features or design elements of the product.  Marketers can use Personas to design web sites, write marketing collateral and generate content (blog posts, instructional videos, white papers, eBooks, etc) which meet the needs of these Personas.
  • I want to [task] – Focusing on what the customers want to accomplish, whether it’s solving a problem, alleviating a pain, scratching an itch, or aspiring to something better, reminds us of why the customers want our product.  For Content Marketers, focusing on tasks reminds us of how we can help our audience accomplish what they are looking to accomplish, and gives us an avenue to add value by providing relevant and helpful content.
  •  so that I can [goal or benefit] – The goal or benefit reminds us that all good marketing should answer a single question for the customer: What’s In It For Me (WIIFM).  Bad marketing focuses on the vendor’s products and features, rather than the benefits that accrue to the customer.

In my next blog post, I’ll describe how Agile Marketing user stories differ from Agile Development user stories, and share with you a couple of templates that I use to document Personas and User Stories.

What do you think?  Have you used user stories in your marketing?  How have you found them useful?

Ingredients of a Good Demo

Steve Jobs demos Macbook Air

Photo courtesy of Tom Coates

David D’Souza of Moprise and I were down at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco last week, demoing Moprise’s latest application, Coaxion, for several hundred VCs, press and technology enthusiasts. Demoing the product over 100 times that day, I started to think about the ingredients of a good product demo. I also watched one of the masters, Steve Jobs, demo products over the years: ranging from his introduction of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 to his introduction of the iPad in 2010. Looking at Job’s demos, and thinking about the ones I’ve done over the years, it seems to me that there are seven key ingredients to a great demo:

  1. Start off with a “hook” – If you look at Steve Jobs introduction of the iPad 1, he describes it as “More intimate than a laptop, more capable than a smartphone”.  We started off our demo of Coaxion by describing it as “Flipboard for the Enterprise”. This, by the way, is what is known as a “high concept pitch“.  It’s like something you know (Flipboard), but different in a way that makes sense (for the enterprise, rather than for consumers).  Or it’s like one product that you know meets other product that you know.  This technique, borrowed from the movie industry, is very effective in communicating what your company does in a single sentence.
  2. Explain a problem and show how your product solves it, elegantly – after our “hook”, we described a scenario involving a salesman, who wanted access to all his documents on the iPad, offline or online, and we showed how easy and elegant it was to retrieve those documents and make them available offline.
  3. Put the product in a bigger context – Jobs is the master of this.  For example, when he introduced the iPhone, he didn’t just say, “hey look, here’s a nice feature and here’s another nice feature”.  What he said was “we’re re-inventing the phone” and then proceeded to demonstrate exactly what he meant by that phrase.
  4. Reinforce by repetition – in his introduction of the iPad, count how many times Steve Jobs said “It’s just that simple.”
  5. Leave out the jargon and the tech talk – watch this video if you’re ever tempted to use jargon in a demo.  It’s a spoof, and an accurate one.
  6. When something goes wrong (and it will), ignore it or make a joke – Coaxion was still unstable when we demoed it at TechCrunch, and almost every demo we would have a failure. Since I had told people up front that this was work in progress, I just joked that the failure showed that this was real software, and not a fake demo.  Watch Steve Jobs handle a loss of connectivity when he introduced the iPhone 4.
  7. Close with a call to action – this will vary depending on whether the demo is to a large audience from a stage, or a more intimate sales call.  In any case, don’t forget the purpose of the demo – you want to move people to action.  Don’t forget to be explicit about the action that they should take, whether it is to download the product or sign up to learn more.


Marc BenioffYesterday I attended Salesforce.com’s 2011 DreamForce in San Francisco, their annual event for customers, partners and press. If you’ve never attended DreamForce, I highly recommend doing so. It is marketing theater of the highest order, not only entertaining, but also full of lessons about how to do these kind of events. In Marc Benioff’s hands, Salesforce is much more than just a SAAS CRM and an internal Facebook-like app (Chatter), SalesForce is a platform, and the future of enterprise computing. If you watch closely, Benioff does three things very well at his event:

  • Paint an attractive vision. Whether he can pull it off or not is an open question, but there is no doubt that he paints a vision of the future of enterprise computing that is attractive to customers and to a lesser extent, partners and ISVs.
  • Effectively use customer testimonials. Burberry, Avon, Kelly Services, Facebook all talked about the exciting things that they were doing with Salesforce and the Force platform.  They were enthusiastic and convincing.  Particularly effective was a video that demonstrated how a small consulting firm had used Heroku to deploy a very scalable Facebook app for Warner Bros. Entertainment.
  • Entertain and enlighten. Any vendor can hire a big name musical act (Metallica this year at DreamForce). But Benioff also brings on stage well-known thought leaders, interviews them, and keeps people entertained as well as sends them off thinking. Last year he interviewed former President Bill Clinton, this year he interviewed Eric Schmidt of Sun Microsytems/Novell/Google. The questions were thoughtful, delivered well, and clearly established Benioff as someone who is comfortable discussing big issues with these thought leaders.

Although people loved DreamForce, there were at least a few rumblings and complaints among the partners and ISVs that I talked to.  The ISVs on stage with Benioff were not chosen because they were the biggest or the most innovative; they were all ISVs  either owned by SalesForce (Heroku), or where Benioff had made a personal investment (Seesmic, Kenandy). And clearly the man’s ego is as big as his stage presence: 30 minutes or so of the day two keynote was devoted to the Benioff Children’s Hospital.

What does all this have to do with Agile Marketing? It is a reminder that although Agile Marketing is both a philosophy and a methodology that aligns marketing with the business, results in accelerated and measured results, and helps an organization adapt to change, it’s not enough by itself to guarantee great marketing.  You also need a compelling vision and effective delivery. In my opinion, Marc Benioff and his team delivered on both counts this week in Moscone Center.