Stop Trying to Close and Do This Instead

If the first sentence of this article saw me immediately trying to sell my app/product/service, the vast majority of readers would close this page, and rightfully leave with a bad taste in their mouths. Yet every day, entrepreneurs around the world try to sell, pitch and promote their business right out the gate, all in the name of “hustle.” – They want to be the person that hustles 24/7. But, does anyone really like ‘that guy’? Would you introduce him to your friend? In general, no. Which begs the question – why do so many entrepreneurs behave this way in business?

Before exploring this in more detail, take two minutes to watch this video by legendary business person Gary Vaynerchuck — this is what it looks like in real life. If you can identify this action in your behavior towards customers, prospects, journalists or investors, take a step back and ask yourself why this is your tactic for success. Those who believe they don’t behave this way and yet still have an auto-DM set up on Twitter should consider that though the tools are different, behaving differently online from offline still leads companies and individuals to act like the guy in the video. Don’t be “that guy.”

Israel’s top tech and marketing guru Hillel Fuld puts this beautifully in his blog:

“1. Would I respond to this message if I was on the receiving end?

2. Would I behave this way offline?

If the answer to either one of those questions is ‘No’, then do what you gotta do to make the answer yes.”

Good sales and marketing practice comes from one single underlying root — deploying empathy wherever possible. Though this emotion is very difficult to quantify with data points, it is fundamental for people working in sales and marketing to understand and internalize before every interaction. To start off by thinking, “How can I add value to this person?” rather than “How can I sell to this person?” is a shift in mindset, but one that will always pay off. This value may not (and probably isn’t) an instant sale of your product, and may even be the recommendation of a competitor — but the individual will remember the value for decades to come, long after the product or service is rendered obsolete. It is this shift in thinking to macro-marketing and away from target-driven objective marketing that has created some of the biggest companies in the world today.

Before starting to work at an Apple Store, employees are trained to make sure that they only sell to a customer that will get what they want from the product. If you were to go in and ask for a phone that absolutely must be red, they won’t try to sell you a rose gold iPhone 7, because that isn’t what you want. The thought process is as relevant to small businesses as it is for billion-dollar companies. Offer what the customer in front of you wants — regardless of demographic slicing, platform or situation — and the long-term benefit will pay out in spades.

This adjustment in mindset may be extreme for some, but when we consider the awesome power consumers now have via the reach of social media, and the swing of attention away from conventional advertising and towards influencers and peer let decision making, the customer is satisfaction sacrosanct before, during and after every interaction. Play the long game, be patient and succeed.

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This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 10th March 2017.

Getting Punched in the Mouth

In the world of martial arts, you have no option but to relax — if you are tense, analytical and over thinking, you get punched in the mouth. It is just that simple. When you relax, you allow your training to take over, you roll with the punches, and occasionally — you get punched in the mouth. The main difference between the two scenarios is that in the first, you get knocked on your back and examine what put you there. The second, you get up and keep at it and return to a place of calm.

Having trained in different martial arts from 4 years old, I’ve learned a huge amount about life — primarily that a bloody lip is nothing more than a small inconvenience and something that will heal faster than you’d think. It’s an activity that evolves into a passion with deep roots that last for far longer than any bruises ever could.

The Missed Opportunity in Content Marketing

In 1996, Bill Gates famously said ‘Content is King’. In 1996; Google first launched, 16mb of RAM was impressive, Palm Pilots were the hottest new ‘thing’, the internet was still dial-up and still wasn’t global. Creating content in 1996 was exciting because it was not yet widespread – it was not available to the masses and the consumer-at-large wasn’t being bombarded by corporate messaging around the clock. Whereas once, creating and disseminating content took great skill, tools such as social media, automation and the advent of click-bait has opened the floodgates to bad content. This pollution has corrupted Gates’ once brilliant soundbite – unfortunately, Content is no longer King.

To take this to the extreme and say that ‘Content is Dead’ would be inappropriate, but it is true to say that the landscape has become far more nuanced. The champion is no longer the content itself, rather creating the connection that good content can build is what should be striven for. This connection must be a two-way street between the company and the customers – a channel for conversation and comment, outreach and deep listening – for it to be successful. To do this, the foundations must be in place for inbound traffic and feedback; rather than scatter-gunning content at a wall and seeing what sticks, effort needs to be made to pay attention to public comment, fine tune future content based on learnings gleaned, and repeat. Simply put, I believe that classic content creation must evolve to be responsive and become a conversation as opposed to a one-way street of broadcast advertising.

Conventional content can lead to wonderful things. In August, this piece went viral on LinkedIn and while generating over 210,000 views, it seemed to resonate with people and led to over 570 comments – discussions on the subject matter with fellow entrepreneurs and industry experts alike. It also led me to meet remarkable people, leaders in their field and even led to wonderful work opportunities with some amazing companies. Conventional content can drive attention, while good conversation can drive results.

I’ve found that for startups, or personal branding, regularly creating new content surrounding your product, service, or industry is both time-consuming and problematic as it requires constantly having new things to say to your audience. This is a primary reason that many content creators have started to repeatedly regurgitate old content to fill the quota, and remain at the top of their audiences’ social media feeds. There is however, another way.

Startups are missing a key opportunity to share their most valuable content – many will read the next paragraph and feel uncomfortable, or even vulnerable at the suggestion, but I believe that implementing this strategy will result in a real and intimate connection with your audience, and lead to great results.

Document and disseminate the process of creation. Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had kept a blog each week as he built Facebook, or we had a video record of every lecture Dale Carnegie gave starting from his famous debut in 1912 where he encouraged students to speak about something that ‘made them angry’. A glimpse into the process of building an idea, company, and brand can be as valuable (if not more so) as seeing the shiny finished product to an audience. The decision-making process sheds light on the very core behaviors – it is rough, intimate, and personal, but I believe it is invaluable to those interested in your field.

This concept is not my own – I came across this idea from legendary marketeer Gary Vaynerchuk a couple of months ago, and it resonated with me but took until now to process what it means. I wish I’d had the foresight to document my last year – it’s been a wild ride. I left working at Israel’s top PR agency Headline Media to start freelance marketing, started and closed my own startup in the journalism space, went back to freelancing and am now starting to build another company (watch this space). The people I’ve met have blown my mind and taught me things that with hindsight, I’d have loved to share with fellow marketeers and entrepreneurs.

Removing the ‘Us and Them’​ Mentality

If you have never read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, I can’t blame you. It is long, it is complex, and to most – it is not interesting. That being said, many of the principals it lays out govern a tremendous about of our lives – one, in particular, stands out to me as since I have started working as a marketing consultant. The Division of Labor explains that to get the most effective outputs from a group, individuals should specialize in one task. Smith uses a pin factory as an example – he broke down 18 tasks that go into making a pin, suggesting that if each worker had to do every one of the tasks, they would produce drastically less than if the team were to work together with individuals specializing in individual tasks.

We see this applied everywhere. Fast food restaurants split up the process of making a burger to deliver the food quicker, marketing teams divide responsibilities such as Social, SEO and direct marketing, an orchestra is made up of radically different instruments and football teams are made up of players with specific roles.

This process of breaking up complicated tasks into specializations, if left unchecked, can morph into a huge disadvantage. When these groups grow, it is easy for them to become isolated, leading them to evolve from the once useful specializations into silos, which can lead to huge pitfalls without proper care and attention.

When working within siloed teams, it becomes all too easy for the objectives of the individual to cloud that of the organization – a tunnel vision where teams prioritize their successes (consciously or not) above that of the wider company. Dale Carnegie’s principal of “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”, that he spells out in his masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has led to managers adopting this technique and lavishing praise, often publicly. This can exacerbate an ‘us and them’ mentality unless properly monitored, especially if any financial benefit accompanies the praise. Silos particularly suffer when there is a lack of clarity in company mission – that especially affects companies that have experienced fast growth and are still grappling with defining and solidifying a mission statement. The internal confusion that can be caused while the company changes prioritize and shifts direction can compound the feeling of distance between teams and leads to a sense of reflective superiority, where one group feels that they are the only ones driving the organization towards their goal.

Organizations can avoid these pitfalls by utilizing the same techniques as football teams, orchestras, and armies, however few do. A single captain, conductor, or commander – one who views every different group, individual and specialist – knows their roles, responsibilities, and objectives and has a wider view of the organization’s mission can fine tune the behavior and activities of the silos to all pull together. This unifier does not need to be an expert in every field, a basic understanding will do, what is core is the knowledge of how to bring together disparate teams and recognize the sensitivities and needs of each of the groups.

This Unifier should be the bridge that ties the various teams together, facilitating dialogue between individuals and cross-checking reports to stakeholders. Without this role – silos will become more ingrained and eventually, outputs will suffer. This is becoming ever more important as remote workers are increasing in prevalence, and larger companies are expanding internationally. Fluid communication and strong leadership become increasingly challenging as physical distance grows.

Within my field (marketing), skills are becoming increasingly divided – social, advertising, direct, PR, digital, data analytics, sales, SEO, branding, and messaging, the list goes on – without someone to integrate all the departments, and align efforts with the overall company mission, the disconnect is felt internally and by the client. Where the unifier is present, the resulting whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

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Let me know in the comments below how this is in your organizations, and any innovative ways you have found to combat the challenges brought about by siloed teams.

4 Steps to Getting the Most Out of Consultants

There are many benefits to hiring an external consultant across almost any vertical — be it salesmarketing, programming or business strategy, bringing in specialists can be an important step in overcoming obstacles and achieving new heights. By hiring externally, companies can instantly gain specific skills for certain projects, get an outsider’s perspective without emotional investment to the business and augment their team to give them more resources for time-dependent tasks.

Firstly, it is important to understand what consultants are, what they do and how they do it. Think of them as an expert in their field, usually focusing on a narrow set of specialties that they excel in deploying across a wide variety of verticals. A (great) marketing consultant will be able to apply their skills to implement their solutions, regardless of the industry or challenges faced by their client, whereas a (great) sales consultant will be able to look at a target market and the product in question, and map a successful sales plan.

The challenge for business owners is ensuring that they are utilizing this resource to the fullest and not doing anything that will impede their success. There are four key factors to consider before investing in an external consultant.

1. Share the skeletons in the closet.

For consultants to fully understand the lay of the land, they must have full visibility of the entire company — the good and bad, financial issues, internal grievances and everything in between. It is too common for businesses to try to hide these negative aspects from all external partners, but this knowledge will help your consultants understand the landscape in which they are operating in fully — something critical for them to be successful.

2. Establish KPIs.

Both parties should know what results are being evaluated — nothing should be taken for granted. This discussion should be had before a plan of action is created and in advance of any contracts being signed. Without a joint understanding of the metric used to measure success, one party may be under the impression that a project is going well, while the other is woefully disappointed.

3. Organize the breakup.

It is a good idea to discuss the parting of ways at the beginning. This process can be brought forwards, or delayed whenever needed, however, both the consultant and the company should be aware of what is expected of them when they part ways, from what information is confidential to the amount of information or collateral shared afterwards. By having this agreement at the beginning of the relationship, bad breakups can be avoided.

4. Explore challenges rather than setting objectives.

Possibly the most important factor of the four. Consultants are specialists who by nature will seek the best solution to the challenge laid out in front of them. By outlining the challenges faced by the company, the consultant can explore the causes and the best solutions — thereby setting objectives alongside the stakeholders. In the field of marketing, this could be a business hiring a consultant to boost SEO, rather than exploring the challenge of driving more traffic to the website or taking a step back further to attract more leads. By giving consultants the ability to fully deploy their skills against a challenge, instead of assuming a solution and finding someone to deploy it, creative solutions can be found and companies can get a new viewpoint on the obstacles they are facing.

Finding the perfect person to gel with your needs is not easy, but the right consultant can bring incalculable value to your business, provided they are utilized to the fullest. These four fundamentals will help you ensure you get the very best from any specialist you hire.

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I’d love to hear anyone else’s tips on getting the most out of consultants – let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 27th February 2017

Revealing the ROI of Content

Content marketing is the new ‘in’ thing to do, to grow followers, grab attention, improve SEO and ultimately drive sales and brand loyalty. And it does them all very well, right? All the metrics point to improvements across the board – the better the content, the better the result, right? So why therefore do marketeers find it so hard to give an accurate ROI estimate for content?

Entrepreneur and businessman Gary Vaynerchuk was famously grilled by a particularly conservative CMO on ‘What is the ROI of social media?’, after a tense back and forth, he countered ‘What’s the ROI of your mother.’ What he said was intense, extreme, but relevant. He was communicating that creating a pipeline of investing a certain amount of money, to publishing a specific amount of posts, leading to X many likes, leading to Y purchases and Z repeat purchases is flawed. The steps may have worked with conventional marketing distribution networks, but to do so with social media, content, and new media… it’s just wrong. Measuring ROI can be a fool’s errand, and unless adequately defined parameters are established, is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard.

So, how do we reveal the ROI of Content? Firstly, we need to take a step back and audit ourselves in two main areas;

1.      What are the objectives for the campaign and for the company?

Figure out what you are doing. If SMART objectives are not set for each and every one of your campaigns, you will lose before writing the first word and before posting the first tweet. Without an idea of what you are trying to achieve both in every campaign, as well as tied into your wider business goals, any progress and benefit gained will not be ‘enough’. As human beings, we are programmed to want more, to achieve more, to do better and to be unsatisfied with what we have attained. Unless a tangible goal is set and understood, it can never be reached.

2.      What is the lay of the land internally?

Most importantly and least thought upon – does the company have the infrastructure to support the reaction of those consuming the content? A great piece of content may drive hundreds of thousands of clicks, but if it drives them to a slow, badly constructed and archaic website, the funnel falls apart. This is why it is critical to work out the aim of the content created and to understand the behavior that you are trying to elicit. Perfect planning prevents pathetic performance – try to conceive every reaction to your content and prepare accordingly to maximize throughput to your objective.

So now the SMART objectives have been set, and the internal groundwork prepared, the overarching ROI can be explored – overarching, not specific. To put detailed quantitative numbers to content is to disregard the fact that the content is being read by real people, rather than automatons. People have emotions, people’s moods change, interactions with people grow cumulatively and above all, people are often unpredictable, human thought and behavior are complex to the level that, to give metrics, inherently ignores the majority of the interaction itself. Imagine if off the back of an email campaign, your analytics show a high open and forwarding rate, you would be over the moon, patting your team on the back for a job well done. Open and forwarding rates show no more and no less than the email being opened, and forwarded, it does not show satisfaction or success. For all you know, you could have a catastrophic typo that people can’t help but share with the world, thus damaging your overall brand.

Rather than measure with metrics and treat your audience like a faceless commodity, reimagine them as a group of individuals that you are sitting down for coffee with. Your holistic approach to the way in which you interact with them will lead to a return on your investment, not the way in which you reach for the sugar, or the amount of milk you add to your coffee.

As distribution methods shift from billboards to newspapers to new media It is important that we reconsider our approach to evaluating the relative success or failure of each campaign. Measuring the accomplishments of tasks is critical, but ensuring that the measurement gives an accurate representation will always trump analytics for analytics sake. We as marketeers must stop ROI as an algorithm or numbers on a page, and begin viewing it as a living, breathing relationship.

The Single Most Poisonous Factor in the Workplace Today

The most important commodity at any work environment is the people.  Without a motivated, well trained and talented team behind it, even the best technology will falter and fail.  Companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix have pushed the boundaries on working conditions to attract new employees, with impressive catering, unlimited holidays and funky office space, a trend many smaller companies are trying to replicate.  Unfortunately however, just by looking at company review websites such as Glassdoor.com, it is evident that companies of all sizes are falling into the same pitfall, one proving to be poisonous to a company’s workforce, culture and eventually, their bottom line.

The meritocracy – being promoted on one’s deeds, rather than the length of time an employee has remained at the company – is used by companies to show fairness and encourage each member of staff to give their all rather than sitting back and waiting for advancements to come to them.  Without a doubt, a meritocracy is better than the aforementioned alternative of time-based promotions, but company executives should be thinking of the type of promotion, rather than the method.

Entry level positions become executives, executives become managers, and managers become directors – this is the status quo, and it is a poison slowly killing companies, large and small, in all sectors. Mastering one’s craft must be key to a person’s growth at a company, but the reward should not necessarily be promotion out of that specific skill-set, and especially not to team management.   A master programmer should not be elevated to a position where they are no longer programming, but managing others – likewise a master copywriter should not start leading a team at the opportunity cost of writing themselves.  Skills must be passed on to new blood, and mentorship programs, peer training, and good, solid teamwork are all constructive mediums to do so, however elevating someone to the position of manager without proper training, experience and the right personality is toxic to a team.

If employees are the lifeblood of an organization, the managers are surely its heart – they are responsible for getting the right person to the right place at the right time.  Almost every process in an employee’s lifecycle in a company is depended on their manager, from onboarding to setting goals, achieving targets to reviews, promotions to dismissals – the management is central.  Management skills are not something that can be ‘picked up on the job’ and though leadership and management are two skills that can be learned, though it is very difficult to teach.  It is an ongoing process rather than a lightbulb moment, and one which the best and brightest say is a skill to be honed and refined every day.

Thought leaders in the field of leadership and management have produced excellent resources for developing one’s skills, such as Simon Sinek (check out his YouTube video Why Leaders Eat Last – also his book of the same title), Andrew Gove’s glorious “High Output Management”, Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and of course, Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  Reading and absorbing resources such as these can go a long way to opening a person’s thinking to be more ‘managerial’, but it must be practiced over time.

Glassdoor shows that one of the most common complaints from employees is bad managers.  People get over lower pay, fewer office comforts and even longer working hours, but as Victor Lipman puts it, “People Leave Managers, Not Companies”.  A trend that starts a downward spiral that is difficult to break out of.  One of the biggest struggles for most companies is hiring the best talent, this in-turn helps create the best product or service, which attracts the best or more clients, turning over higher income for the company.  When top talent starts to leave, the product suffers as does the customer experience, leading to falling income, this then causes companies to squeeze out some of the staff benefits, causing more staff to leave, and so on.

Big data analytics company Palantir have been experiencing exactly this problem – originally seen as the place to be, it has been receiving lots of bad press and has experienced staff turnover of around 20% in 2016, twice as much as the last three years.   According to an article in BuzzFeed, this spike happened at the same time as three major clients have seemingly left – Coca-Cola, American Express, and Nasdaq.  Seemingly to stem the exodus of staff the company raised salaries 20% for employees who had been there for over 18 months – but as mentioned earlier, pay isn’t everything.  Recent reviews on company evaluation sites have commented that managers just don’t possess the right skills for the job.

Employees want this promotion to management predominantly because they don’t understand it, and because companies have yet to work out how to promote to maintain top talent, without changing the role to management.  Employees often see managing others as a badge of pride, not realizing the immense responsibility that comes along with it – managers work harder, have higher pressure and often get less recognition than staff not holding these management roles.

Marketing agencies use a model for their creative teams where salaries are increased, as is flexibility, autonomy and prominence in the company, all as methods for keeping staff happy and loyal.  Granted, teams usually operate as silos, separate from other similar teams, however, this model could work for other organizations.  With the proper company culture, managers can be “in charge of” people more experienced than them, getting higher quality work done at faster paces, providing that the goal of everyone at the company is pulling towards the same goal.

Until companies can adequately compensate well-performing staff, promote the right candidates with the proper training to management positions and create a culture that supports a clear objective rather than the politics of self-promotion, this poison will continue to spread throughout businesses around the world.

NOTE: I have been fortunate enough to work with some phenomenal managers in the past – people who have been truly formative in building me into the person I am today, investing time and energy into instilling company values, good work practice, and continued professional development. This article is by no means, a comment on my own experience, but rather my take on what I see as an issue with the industry standard today.

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Take Life Back to Basics and Enjoy the Rewards

This morning I was making a cup of coffee when I was struck with a realisation – truly the simplest things in the world have become detached, and in so doing, some of its true beauty is lost.

It all started with a coffee.  I heated up my Nespresso Lattissima touch, and took out the plastic capsule, reached for my mug when I saw my good old French Press – something I’ve not used in months.  This made me remember my wife, who just returned from Kenya, had brought me some coffee beans as a gift to me from one of her colleagues.  Click – the Nespresso machine went off, beep, the kettle was on.  Out came the grinder and the wonderful ceremony began, measuring out the beans, grinding them down, heating up the French Press with boiled water, pouring it out and adding the course grinds, more water, wait, stir, wait, plunge, pour, enjoy.  But it was so much more than a cup of coffee.

The process of measuring the beans, the aroma during the grinding, the steeping, that sound when you pour – all were enjoyable, all part of the coffee experience.  It made me think about how much we miss in our day to day lives when we trade in simplicity for convenience – filters on photos may enhance a picture, but the true beauty of what could be seen is lost.

Later in the day, I went to listen to a talk by a fantastic marketer (Hillel Fuld).  I decided that rather than taking notes on my iPad, having it upload to the cloud through Evernote, and never having the think about it again, I would continue on the same path I took with the first coffee of the day.  I grabbed a notepad and pen and headed to the event.  What I learned throughout that session was without a doubt ten times more than I would have done had I constantly been looking down at the iPad typing up notes.  A doodle here, a few words there, and the pages filled up with invaluable notes and what’s more, I remember far more than I would have done otherwise.  I was present, in the moment, and absorbed the information without even trying.

I implore you all, take a moment tomorrow and dial down something simple tomorrow into a purer form, enjoy the experience and take pleasure in the journey.  It may take a little longer, but the happiness and appreciation you have for the final product will make it worth it.

Let me know what you tried and any impact you saw in the comments section.