Sep 192012

Email Intelligence and the new Return Path

Welcome to the new Return Path.

For a tech company to grow and thrive in the 21st century it must be in a state of constant adaptation. We have been the global market leaders in email deliverability since my co-founder George Bilbrey coined that term back in 2002. In fact, back in 2008 we announced a major corporate reorganization, divesting ourselves of some legacy businesses in order to focus on deliverability as our core business.  

 Since then Return Path has grown tremendously thanks to that focus, but we have grown to the point where it’s time for us to redefine ourselves once again.  Now we’re launching a new chapter in the company’s history to meet evolving needs in our marketplace. We’re establishing ourselves as the global market leaders in email intelligence. Read on and I’ll explain what that means and why it’s important.

What Return Path Released Today

We launched three new products today to improve inbox placement rate (the new Inbox Monitor,  now including subscriber-level data), identify phishing attacks (Email Brand Monitor), and make it easier to understand subscriber engagement and benchmark your program against your competition (Inbox Insight, a groundbreaking new solution). We’ve also released an important research study conducted by David Daniels at The Relevancy Group.

The report’s findings parallel what we’ve been hearing more and more recently. Email marketers are struggling with two core problems that complicate their decision making: They have access to so much data, they can’t possibly analyze it fast enough or thoroughly enough to benefit from it; and too often they don’t have access to the data they really need.

Meanwhile they face new challenges in addition to the ones email marketers have been battling for years. It’s still hard to get to the inbox, and even to monitor how much mail isn’t getting there. It’s still hard to protect brands and their customers from phishing and spoofing, and even to see when mail streams are under attack. And it’s still hard to see engagement measurements, even as they become more important to marketing performance.

Email Intelligence is the Answer

Our solution to these problems is Email Intelligence. Email intelligence is the combination of data from across the email ecosystem, analytics that make it accessible and manageable, and insight that makes it actionable. Marketers need all of these to understand their email performance beyond deliverability. They need it to benchmark themselves against competitors, to gain a complete understanding of their subscribers’ experience, and to accurately track and report the full impact of their email programs.  In fact, we have redefined our company’s mission statement to align with our shift from being the global leader in Email Deliverability to being the global leader in Email Intelligence:

We analyze email data and build solutions that generate insights for senders, mailbox providers, and users to ensure that inboxes contain only messages that users want

The products we are launching today, in combination with the rest of our Email Intelligence Solution for Marketers that’s been serving clients for a decade, will help meet these market needs, but we continue to look ahead to find solutions to bigger problems. I see our evolution into an Email Intelligence company as an opportunity to change the entire ecosystem, to make email better, more welcome, more effective, and more secure.

David’s researchoffers a unique view of marketers’ place in the ecosystem, where they want to get to, how much progress they’ve made, and how big a lead the top competitors have opened up against the rest. (It can also give you a sense of where your efforts stack up vs. the rest of the industry.) There are definitely some surprises, but for me the biggest takeaway was no surprise at all: The factors that separate the leaders are essentially the core components of what we define as Email Intelligence.

Sep 132012

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Credit to my colleague Chuck Drake for this one…but How Do You Eat an Elephant?  One Bite at a Time.  The David Allen school of time management (post, book)  talks about breaking your projects down into “Next Actions” so they don’t become overwhelming and can easily move forward one step at a time.

I think the same is true of organizational projects – perhaps even more so.  Any time we find ourselves swirling around a big initiative at Return Path, we are at our best when we ask ourselves some questions along these lines:

  • How can we be scrappier about this?
  • It it ok to be messy here…or at least not perfect?
  • What is the next milestone?
  • What else needs to be done until we learn the likely outcome?

We had a great example of this recently around rolling out a new product to our sales and service team.  The team is now pretty large – over 100 globally.  It was a daunting task to try to get all those people trained up at once.  The answer?  We took a bite out of the elephant.  We picked a couple of sales reps and a couple of account managers and started by training them on the new product.  Now we can figure out how to institutionalize learnings from the limited roll-out and figure out the next step from there.  Much easier than what otherwise would have been a pretty high-stakes project without enough learnings behind it, even though it will take a little longer and be a little messier.

Sep 062012

The Best Place to Work, Part 7: Create a Thankful Atmosphere

The Best Place to Work, Part 7: Create a Thankful Atmosphere

My final installment of this long series on Creating the best place to work (no hierarchy intended by the order) is about Creating a thankful atmosphere.

What does creating a thankful atmosphere get you?  It gets you great work, in the form of people doing their all to get the job done.  We humans – all of us, absolutely including CEOs – appreciate being recognized when they do good work.  Honestly, I love what I do and would do it without any feedback, but nothing resonates with me more than a moment of thanks from someone on my exec team or my Board.  Why should anyone else in the organization be any different?

This is not about giving everyone a nod in all-hands by doing shout-outs.  That’s not sustainable as the company grows.  And not everyone does great work every week or month!  And it’s not about remembering to thank people in staff meetings, either, although that’s never bad and easier to contain and equalize.

It is about informal, regular pats on the back.  To some extent inspired by the great Ken Blanchard book Whale Done, and as I’ve written about before here, it’s about enabling the organization to be thankful, and optimizing your own thankfulness.

Years ago we created a peer award system on our company Intranet/Wiki at Return Path.  We enable Peer Recognition through this.  As of late, with about 350 employees, we probably have 30-40 of these every week.  They typically carry a $25 gift card award, although most employees tell me that they don’t care about the gift card as much as the public recognition.  Anyone can nominate anyone for one of the following awards, which are unique to us and relevant to our culture:

  • EE (Everyday Excellence) -is designed for us to recognize those who demonstrate excellence and pride in their daily work.
  • ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) -is designed for us to recognize the outstanding work of our colleagues who go Above and Beyond their duties and exemplify exactly what Return Path is about
  • WOOT (Working Out Of Title) -is designed for us to recognize those who offer assistance that is not part of their job responsibilities.
  • OTB (On The Business)-is about pulling ourselves out of day-to-day tasks and ensuring we are continually aligned with the long-term, strategic direction of the business.  We make sure we’re not just optimizing our current tasks and processes but that we’re also thinking about whether or not we should even be doing those things.  We stop to think outside of the “box” and about the interrelationship between what we are doing and everything else in the organization.  In doing so, we connect the leaves, the branches, the trunk, the roots and soil of the tree to the hundreds of other trees in the forest.  We step back to look at the big picture
  • TLAO ( Think Like An Owner)-means that every one of us holds a piece of the Company’s future and is empowered to use good judgment and act on behalf of Return Path.  In our day-to-day jobs we take personal responsibility for our products, services and interactions.  We spend like it’s our own money and we think ahead.  We are trusted to handle situations like we own the business because we are smart people who do the right thing.  We notice the things happening around us that aren’t in our day-to-day and take action as needed even if we’re not directly responsible
  • Blue Light Special  is designed for us to recognize anyone who comes up with a clever way to save the company money)
  • Coy Joy Award is in memory of Jen Coy who was positive, optimistic and able to persevere through the most difficult of circumstances.  This award is designed to recognize individuals who exemplify the RP values and spread joy through the workplace.  This can be by going above and beyond to welcome new employees, by showing a high degree of care and consideration for another person at RP, by being a positive and uplifting influence, and/or making another person laugh-out-loud.
  • Human Firewall is awarded if you catch a colleague taking extra care around security or privacy in some way, maybe a suggestion in a meeting, a feature in a product, a suggestion around policy or practice in the office.

In the early days, we read these out each week at All-Hands meetings.  Today at our scale, we announce these awards each week on the Wiki and via email.  And I and other leaders of the business regularly read the awards list to see who is doing what good work and needs to be separately thanked on top of the peer award.

Beyond institutionalizing thanks…in terms of you as an individual person, there are lots of ways to give thanks that are meaningful.  Some are about maximizing Moments of Truth.  Another thing I do from time to time is write handwritten thank you notes to people and mail them to their homes, not to work.  But there are lots of ways to spend the time and mental energy to appreciate individuals in your company in ways that are genuine and will be noticed and appreciated.  To some extent, this paragraph (maybe this whole post) could be labeled “It’s the little things.”

That’s it for this series…again, the final roundup for the full series of Creating the Best Place to Work is here and individual posts are here:

  1. Surround yourself with the best and brightest
  2. Create an environment of trust
  3. Manage yourself very, very well
  4. Be the consummate host
  5. Be the ultimate enabler
  6. Let people be people
  7. Create a thankful atmosphere

Anyone have any other techniques I should write about for Creating the Best Place to Work?

css.php