May 222008

Inbox = Zero = Satisfying (Quasi Book Short)

Inbox = Zero = Satisfying (Quasi Book Short)

I’m a big David Allen fan.  Amazingly enough, I haven’t blogged about him and his books yet, probably for the most part because I read the books before I started blogging.  But here they are.  The first one,  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, is probably a little better than the sequel, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life, but both are worth reading.  When I first read them, they didn’t revolutionize my thinking about productivity and workflow management (I was already at least decent at those things), but they did really sharpen my thinking around the edges and give me a great framework to plug all my to-do lists into.

One of Allen’s great principles is Inbox = Zero…that in an email-centric office, you should try to completely empty out your Inbox at the end of every day.  Every item should have its home, even if that home is a “Will handle tomorrow” or “Waiting for Susie” folder.

Anyway, I usually get pretty close to Inbox = Zero, but the times I actually achieve it are few and far between.  This morning was one of those times.  It’s just incredibly satisfying.

Of course, it only lasted 8 minutes.

Filed under: Books, Business, Leadership

May 192008

Do Business Books Suck for Entrepreneurs?

Do Business Books Suck for Entrepreneurs?

Ben thinks they do.  Some of his reasons are pretty good, but I’d challenge a few of them, or at least his finer points.

My experience over the years is that while most business books are not geared toward entrepreneurs, a good entrepreneur will figure out how to milk them for what they’re worth quickly and apply key learnings to his or her company. 

The reality is that running a startup or high growth company is a multi-faceted and incredibly dynamic experience, and having a bunch of outside inputs in the form of business book examples and theories can be really helpful. 

Even bad ideas can spur good thinking.

May 152008

Morning Chuckle

Morning Chuckle

From an internal email thread we had here, mainly from Angela, our VP People:

So, I’ve just checked in at the Westin, I mean Wonderland.

AB: walk up hotel driveway, notices woman carrying odd looking dog
AB: looks more closely, not dog, pig
AB: looks again, pig is snorting, she is carrying said pig like a baby

Check In Desk

AB: hi, what’s up with the pig in the lobby (singular)?
Sally: oh yeah the pigs are here this week
AB: they are staying in the hotel? In the guest rooms?
Sally: uh huh
AB: blank stare
Sally: they all have names
AB: hmmm, really, pigs? Is there a convention? (I mean really, I was here during the bison convention, this seems like a logical question)
Sally: oh no no
AB: blank stare
Sally: they’re here for the ____ balloon festival
AB: ?
Sally: they’re the only pigs allowed to stay here
AB: the pigs go up in hot air balloons?
Sally: oh I’m not sure about that
AB: really.
Sally: they come every year, come down later I’m sure you’ll see them in the lobby

George, via email:  Welcome to Colorado. Next week is the ferret festival which is not quite as much fun.

Angela’s update: This AM in the lobby there were 2 pigs engaged in a rigorous Clinton/Obama debate. One of them *almost* spilled her latte she was so wound up.

Filed under: Current Affairs

May 142008

Legal Aggression

Legal Aggression

I will write more posts on this topic later in the year after a ridiculous lawsuit we’re in the middle of now winds up, but today’s news from Techdirt is that shoe retailer DSW is suing Zappos, who as regular readers know is one of my favorite companies and shopping experiences around.

The lawsuit sounds silly to me, but I’m not in the middle of the details of it.  But what absolutely amazes me is that DSW made no effort to contact Zappos prior to launching the lawsuit with a press release.  How incredibly irresponsible and rude and wasteful.  I hate it when lawyers run amok, or when overly aggressive business people think that a lawsuit is the most productive way of settling a dispute.  That may be true in the end, but for goodness sake, do your homework first and try to have a conversation with the other side, and everyone, try to be reasonable.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Twitter about this says it all.

Thanks to my colleague Lori for the heads up on this one.

Filed under: Business


May 122008

Drawing the Line: Where We Come out

Drawing the Line:  Where We Come out

In the first post in this series, I laid out a dilemma we’ve had internally at Return Path in recent months: whether and how we accept clients who are in “grey” businesses like alcohol, pornography, and neutriceuticals, and whether that applies uniformly across all of our products (software vs. consulting vs. whitelist). In the second post, I reposted a summary of all the comments we received from readers. Now comes the fun part — the so what.

We had a good series of conversations internally on this issue that included some very spirited debate. Here’s where we come out.

First, we drew a distinction between three types of potentially “troublesome” clients: those whose businesses are illegal, or who advertise or sell illegal products; those whose businesses are involved in litigation around email, data, privacy, or security; and those whose businesses are in the grey area, or what we called in our discussions “morally hazardous.” In the end, we decided that for us, there’s no difference by type of product in terms of how we handle the situation. But each class of client has its own issues as well as enforcement mechanisms.

Let’s start with the easy one. Clients who break the law or whose businesses encourage others to do so have no place in our company. The challenge here is more on the edge cases — what about companies whose products or advertising are sometimes illegal (by geography or by age of target audience)? I will come back to that topic.

Next, we move on to those companies who are involved in email-related litigation. We added this category to our thinking because we view ourselves as advocates for end users, the champions of good, high quality email. Ultimately, the decision about whether or not to take on a client who is involved in email-related litigation is subjective. One example of a client we would take on is a very reputable company that has a single instance of a CAN-SPAM violation or investigation by the FTC. But there are other companies who are in much deeper. I will somewhat impolitely refer to them as “pissing in the pool.” As advocates for good email and as stewards of the email ecosystem, we can’t in good conscience allow some of these people to be clients, even of our software, if they have the potential to use the software for evil and not for good. Of course, once the litigation is finished we can re-assess, assuming the company was found to not have violated any laws.

Finally, the tough category, the “morally hazardous.” There certainly is something that resonates with us around one user’s comment that, to paraphrase, if you’re not comfortable telling everyone around the dinner table that you work for Client X, you shouldn’t work for Client X (or, Client XXX, as it were). But at the end of the day, legislating morality is impossible to get right for everyone, at every time. We think it’s not our business what kind of legal business our clients are in. In fact, we go so far as to say that as advocates for end users, our criteria around which clients to accept should be as objective as possible — that is to say, much more around their email reputation (how much do users like the content) than about some arbitrary judgment about what’s right and what’s wrong. We feel like as long as we maintain our policy of allowing employees to opt-out from working with clients or seeing clients’ content that makes them uncomfortable, we’re in as good shape here as we’re going to be.

Of course, that’s not to say we won’t, on a case-by-case basis, turn down a client because of their business. We aren’t a public utility. We have the right to walk away from a client for any reason (or, not to put too fine a point on it, no reason at all). But as a matter of policy we’ve decided to focus on email practices as a basis for who we work with and leave questions of morality of certain types of business aside.

As a final note, we clarified our policies for vetting and enforcing these standards. These do differ a bit by product. For our by-application whitelist, Sender Score Certified, we will continue to ask questions around the types of products and content that prospective clients include or link to in their emails. We will perform extra pre-client research on clients that check a number of boxes on the application that indicate they might be in a grey area or are involved in litigation. We will ask clients to self-certify their goodness. We will perform spot audits of these clients to make sure they stay in compliance with the things that are impossible to automatically monitor, even those tricky ones which are “sometimes legal.” And we will not be shy about terminating those who aren’t.

For our software and professional services, we have a “client vetting” document that asks some of those same questions, and against which we will research and audit as appropriate. For clients of our professional services, we require that sales/client services fill out this document 100% of the time for our standards and compliance team to review. For software clients, we leave it up to sales/client services management to flag the cases where there might be an issue and to run only those clients through the same vetting process.

I think that about wraps this topic up, at least for now. We do our best on this stuff, but it’s tricky, and I have no doubt that however we handle these situations, we will upset someone. I appreciate everyone’s input on this, and I welcome more by commenting below.

Filed under: Return Path, Uncategorized

May 122008

Book Short: A SPIN Selling Companion

Book Short:  A SPIN Selling Companion

At Return Path, we’re big believers in the SPIN Selling methodology popularized by Neil Rackham. It just makes sense. Spend more time listening than talking on a sales call, uncover your prospect’s true needs and get him or her to articulate the need for YOUR product. Though it doesn’t reference SPIN Selling, Why People Don’t Buy Things, by Kim Wallace and Harry Washburn is a nice companion read.

Rooted in psychology and cognitive science, Why People Don’t Buy Things presents a very practical sales methodology called Buying Path Selling. Understand how your prospect is making his or her buying decision and what kind of buyer he or she is, be more successful at uncovering needs and winning the business.

The book has two equally interesting themes, rich with examples, but the one I found to be easiest to remember was to vary your language (both body and verbal) with the buyer type. And the book illustrates three archetypes: The Commander, The Thinker, and The Visualizer. There are some incredibly insightful and powerful ways to recognize the buyer type you’re dealing with in the book.

But most of the cues the authors rely on are physical, and lots of sales are done via telephone. So I emailed the author to ask for his perspective on this wrinkle.  Kim wrote back the following (abridged):

Over the phone it is fairly easy to determine a prospect’s modality. I’ve developed a fun, conversational question which can be asked up front, “As you recall some of your most meaningful experiences at XYZ, what words, thoughts, feelings or visuals come to mind? Anything else?”

If you’re interested in letting your blog readers test their modalities, the link below will activate a quick 10 question quiz from our website that generates ones modality scores along how they compare with others. (It’s like Myers-Briggs applied to decision making.)

In any case, if you are a sales, marketing, or client services professional (or even if you just play one on TV), Why People Don’t Buy Things is a quick, insightful read.  Thanks for the quick response, Kim!

Filed under: Books, Business

Tags: ,

May 112008

Blogiversary, Part IV

Blogiversary, Part IV

Four years on, as the British would say, OnlyOnce is going strong.  Cumulative stats show a steady 457 posts, about one every three days on average (same as it’s been all along), and a scant 409 non-spam comments. Maybe some day I’ll start being more edgy and provocative.  Or prolific.  Or Twitterific.  Or something.

Looking back over my initial “how’s it going” post and the last three anniversary posts, I’d say my reasons for blogging, out of my four original ones, have consolidated now around “Thinking” (writing short posts helps me crystallize my thinking) and “Employees” (one of our senior people once called reading OnlyOnce “getting a peek inside Matt’s head).  But I’d also add two new raisons d’etre to the list:

Book Reviews:  it’s not that I enjoy reading my own book reviews so much as I am glad I’m compiling a list of the business books I’m reading and what I think of them.  While it’s not comprehensive (I limit the blogging to business books, probably about 50% of what I read), it’s come in handy a few times to have a little online library for my own reference.

I like it:  I really, really enjoy writing.  I used to write all the time when I was younger.  High school newspaper editor, creative writing magazine founder, and all that.  I miss it.  Blogging is probably the only form of prose I regularly write now.  And it’s great.  The reawakening and sharpening of my writing skills has even inspired me to dive into a couple creative writing exercises, short stories mostly, in the past year.  So I just like doing it.

And isn’t that reason enough to do something?

Filed under: Technology, Weblogs

May 062008

Book Short: Presentation Zen

Book Short:  Presentation Zen

A few years ago, I blogged about Cliff Atkinson’s book Beyond Bullets.  I don’t know whether it’s a better book, or whether the timing of reading it just made a deeper impression on me, but I just read and LOVED Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds.

The concept is similar — a bad Powerpoint presentation kills your message as much as that horrendous high school physics teacher turned you off from the natural sciences.  Reynolds’s examples are rich, and there are tons of “before and after” slides in the book for the visual learners among us.  In addition, he articulates very clearly what I’ve always thought, since my consulting days, made for an excellent presentation:  offline storyboarding.

I’d recommend the book to anyone who does a lot of Powerpoint.  Relevant Return Pathers, don’t worry, your copies will come soon along with a new training course I’m developing using some of the concepts within.