Jul 182013

Book Short: The Little Engine that Could

Book Short:  The Little Engine that Could

Authors Steven Woods and Alex Shootman would make Watty Piper proud.  Instead of bringing toys to the children on the other side of the mountain, though, this engine brings revenue into your company.  If you run a SaaS business, or really if you run any B2B business, Revenue Engine:  Why Revenue Performance Management is the Next Frontier of Competitive Advantage, will change the way you think about Sales and Marketing. The authors, who were CTO and CRO of Eloqua (the largest SaaS player in the demand management software space that recently got acquired by Oracle), are thought leaders in the field, and the wisdom of the book reflects that.

The book chronicles the contemporary corporate buying process and shows that it has become increasingly like the consumer buying process in recent years.  The Consumer Decision Journey, first published by McKinsey in 2009, chronicles this process and talks about how the traditional funnel has been transformed by the availability of information and social media on the Internet.  Revenue Engine moves this concept to a B2B setting and examines how Marketing and Sales are no longer two separate departments, but stewards of a combined process that requires holistic analysis, investment decisions, and management attention.

In particular, the book does a good job of highlighting new stages in the buying process and the imperatives and metrics associated with getting this “new funnel” right.  One that resonated particularly strongly with me was the importance of consistent and clean data, which is hard but critical!  As my colleague Matt Spielman pointed out when we were discussing the book, the one area of the consumer journey that Revenue Engine leaves is out is Advocacy, which is essential for influencing the purchase process in a B2B environment as well.

One thing I didn’t love about the book is that it’s a little more theoretical than practical. There aren’t nearly enough detailed examples.  In fact, the book itself says it’s “a framework, not an answer.”  So you’ll be left wanting a bit more and needing to do a bit more work on your own to translate the wisdom to your reality, but you’ll have a great jumping off point.

Filed under: Books, Business, Marketing, Sales

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.

Jul 122012

Marketing Data: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Marketers have blinders on when it comes to some aspects of data. We‘re so focused on using it to build relationships and businesses, that we don’t pay enough attention to data’s inherent risks. Those risks are real, though. Our brands are constantly under attack, and even trivial oversights in data handling can leave us—and our customers—unacceptably vulnerable. We need to better understand the risks. We need to know more.

If marketers don’t develop industrywide expertise in all aspects of data use, if we can’t demonstrate that we can be trusted stewards of information, we risk losing our rights to use it. The DMA is taking the lead to make sure that we, as an industry, gain the knowledge we need: It’s Institute for Data Governance and Certification  is a badly needed program that can make a real difference.

The Institute is a three-day intensive for marketers to learn how to protect their customers and their brands while using the power of data to connect with consumers—and ultimately to grow. The first course begins on July 18th in New York, with more scheduled across the country over the next year.

As many of you know, I chair the DMA’s board, so I’m not a neutral third party when I urge you to attend the Institute and get certified in marketing data governance. But if I’m biased it’s because I’m a passionate industry advocate and I believe that marketers should lead the global effort to champion intelligent, responsible data use. Before we can start, we all need to know what that means.

Please click here to learn more about how you can register for the DMA’s Institute for Data Governance and Certification.


Nov 032011

Learning to Embrace Sizzle

Learning to Embrace Sizzle

One phrase I’ve heard a lot over the years is about “Selling the sizzle, not the steak.”  It suggests that in the world of marketing or product design, there is a divergence between elements of substance and what I call bright shiny objects, and that sometimes it’s the bright shiny objects that really move the needle on customer adoption.

At Return Path, we have always been about the steak and NOT the sizzle.  We’re incredibly fact-based and solution-oriented as a culture.  In fact, I can think of a lot of examples where we have turned our nose up at the sizzle over the years because it doesn’t contribute to core product functionality or might be a little off-point in terms of messaging.  How could we possibly spend money (or worse – our precious development resources) on something that doesn’t solve client problems?

Well, it turns out that if you’re trying to actually sell your product to customers of all shapes and sizes, sizzle counts for a lot in the grand scheme of things.  There are two different kinds of sizzle in my mind, product and marketing — and we are thinking about them differently.

Investing in product sizzle (e.g., functionality that doesn’t actually do much for clients but which sells well, or which they ask for in the sales process) is quite frustrating since (a) it by definition doesn’t create a lot of value for clients, and (b) it comes at the expense of building functionality that DOES create a lot of value.  The way we’re getting our heads around this seemingly irrational construct is to just think of these investments as marketing investments, even though they’re being made in the form of engineering time.  I suppose we could even budget them as such.

Marketing sizzle is in some ways easier to wrap our heads around, and in some ways tougher.  It’s easier because, well, it doesn’t cost much to message sizzle — it’s just using marketing as a way of convincing customers to buy the whole solution, knowing the ROI may come from the steak even as the PO is coming from the sizzle.  But it’s tough for us as well not to position the ROI front and center.  As our Marketing Department gets bigger, better, and more seasoned, we are finding this easier to come by, and more rooted in rational thought or analysis.

In the last year or two, we have done a better job of learning to embrace sizzle, and I expect we’ll continue to do that as we get larger and place a greater emphasis on sales and marketing — part of my larger theme of how we’ve built the business backwards.  Don’t most companies start with ONLY sizzle (vaporware) and then add the steak?

May 032011

Why Winning Matters (Especially When You’re Young)

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has long been a leading voice for direct marketing for nearly 100 years – back when direct marketing was really only about postal. It has evolved in that time to include phone, fax (for the nanosecond that was relevant), and then interactive tactics, including email. While the DMA has not always incorporated the new technologies in the most elegant way – the tendency has been to apply previous best practices, even when consumers have demanded a new way of thinking – the organization has made tremendous strides in recent years to re-shape itself into an organization that will be relevant for another 100 years.

And one way it is doing that is by supporting and recognizing achievements among start-ups and new ventures, they’ve announced a new award called the Early Stage Innovation Award.

As a DMA Board member and mentor of TechStars/SeedCamp companies, I am happy to see my two interests coming together in this way. Return Path’s own history of innovation and supporting new companies that are at the leading edge of the progress of direct marketing (including email) is well documented.

I’ve said that marketing is like eating French fries (and ice cream— I like snack-based analogies) and it’s hard to know when to stop grabbing for just one more. There’s always one more thing you can do to position your company and gain awareness. But I can give you a tip. This award? It’s a fry worth eating.

Awards don’t just make you feel you great; they can provide credibility in a crowded marketplace. What’s important about this Early Stage Innovation award is the exposure. Being industry-acknowledged as a company that makes new rules or changes the game? That’s the kind of ROI and opportunity that a growing company can really run with.

The other thing I love about awards and the shows where they are presented is the chance to learn about what’s new and interesting. Attending these shows helps link me to companies who may be creating tools that I didn’t even realize I was lacking and may not have heard about otherwise. I get the opportunity to learn more about problems other companies may be facing as well as seeing the solutions being proposed. For a smaller, new company, this chance to connect may lead to the support they need to grow and eventually be eligible for accolades in growth and long-term success.

If your young company is doing something new and innovative in direct marketing, consider submitting for an award. But hurry! Entries are due by May 15. Finalists will be selected and showcased during our ALL FOR ONE Marketing Summit June 20-21 in New York NY. I’m looking forward to hearing about these exciting new companies at the Summit.

May 022011



Once I stripped out the spam and the person:person emails from my inbox this morning, here were the five subject lines I was left with:

  • Wall Street Journal:  Osama Bin Laden is Dead
  • [eCommerce company]:  Final Hours to Shop Our Private Sale!
  • Wall Street Journal:  Bin Laden Was Killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan Official Says
  • [Travel site]:  Last minute deals from NYC and more!
  • Wall Street Journal:  Osama Bin Laden Buried at Sea
  • Return Path (yes, my own company):  Why Whitelisting is Important to Your Email Marketing Mix

The cynic in me says “wow, nice timing on the email marketing.”  I am guessing the attention and click-through on anything other than today’s big news will be greatly diminished.

But the realist in me says there’s no way anyone in a marketing department can figure out how to optimize around headlines delivered during a 24-hour global news cycle.

Does anyone have a theory about how to think about this?  Is it even a problem?

Jul 312010

Agile Marketing, Part II

Agile Marketing, Part II

I wrote about this years ago when I was temporarily running Marketing and was noting a lot of the similarities between running contemporary Product Development and Marketing efforts.

Nick Van Weerdenburg just put up a great post called Why Marketing is Becoming Like Software Development which you should read if you run or work in, or work closely with, a marketing department.

Jul 152010

Mental Maps

Mental Maps

I recently went grocery shopping at a store I’d never been to before, Stew Leonard’s, and, no offense to Stew, I am unlikely to be a repeat customer.  While there were some things about the store that were better than most grocery stores, the experience drove me nuts.  Here’s why.

The store is laid out completely differently from standard grocery stores.  Most stores, even unusual ones like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, have a nearly identical layout.  One side is produce, frozen foods in the middle, meats in the back, dairy around the other side, standard aisles have bread, baking stuff, cans, cereals, drinks and snacks, etc.  Go shopping enough, and you can generally find your way around any store in your sleep.

Stew Leonard’s decided to break the model.  The store has no aisles and is linear – you just keep walking in one direction/flow and hit every single section of the store before you reach the end of the maze at the cashiers.  One bonus is that they merchandise some things well and put logical items next to each other (burgers next to buns).  But you can’t really go back if you missed something, you have no idea what’s coming up next, you can’t tell if you’ve seen all of a given class of item yet since different elements of every category keep popping up.

Sometimes that kind of a risk can pay off in a breakthrough new product design.  Maybe people buy more items at Stew’s because things are set up differently.  But the experience was very disorienting, the shop took twice as long as usual, and I couldn’t find a bunch of things so I still had to go to A&P afterwards – basically, the costs outweighed the benefits.

The obvious comparison here to our professional world is UI design.  Breakthrough redesigns are always risky.  They can produce better user experiences, but they can also confuse new visitors or less sophisticated users, and they risk an immediate reaction of “I can’t figure this site out, goodbye.”

UPDATE:  Comments aren’t working today on the new blog, but my friend Pete Warden just emailed me a great comment about this post:

Your post reminded me of an incident at Apple that I wanted to share…One of the engineers was advocating for a UI change to an existing product. It clearly made the interface more elegant and logical, but our designer was pushing back hard. Finally the designer said “If you put that change in, I’m going to sneak into your house tonight and move all your furniture to different positions”. That analogy stuck with me; familiarity is what enables us to use a tool without having to stop and think, and so you need a really strong reason to change the structure of an interface.

Feb 252010

New Blog of Note in the Direct Marketing World

New Blog of Note in the Direct Marketing World

Gene Raitt, Chairman of the DMA, has launched a new blog today called DM Unplugged.  It’s not an official DMA property.  Gene won’t be the only contributor — over time, other DMA board members (including me) and thought leaders in the direct and interactive marketing communities at large — will contribute as well.

This is one small, though notable, development in a series of things the DMA is working on as it transforms itself.  Look for some truly “unplugged” commentary on this blog about both things happening in the industry and transparent views into things happening at the DMA as well as invitations to contribute to the discussion on both.

Filed under: Marketing, Uncategorized


Jan 202010

The Beginning of the DMA’s Next Chapter

The Beginning of the DMA’s Next Chapter


As I wrote a few months back, I recently joined the DMA’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee to try to help the association – one of the largest and highest profile groups representing marketers – advance its agenda in a few specific ways.  At the time, I noted that my interests would be on consumer advocacy and engagement, execution around interactive marketing issues and the internet community, and transparency around the organization itself.


Yesterday, John Greco, the association’s CEO, announced he is stepping down to make way for the next generation of leadership.  John has done some great work the past five years running the DMA and has advanced it materially from where the association was when he took over in terms of interactive marketing, but he recognized (the hallmark of a good leader) that it was time for a change.


There are all sorts of questions people have about this announcement, and I’ve already gotten a number of calls and emails from people trying to read between the lines and get some inside scoop.  Some of the questions have answers – others don’t at this stage or can’t given confidentiality agreements. 


That said, as a new Board member helping the DMA build some bridges to the interactive marketing community, I thought I would share a few perspectives on this situation:


          There is not a final search committee yet, nor are there final search criteria.  That said, there is a strong commitment to find a leader for the DMA who is not only capable of running a broad-based $30mm+ trade association and running a world class advocacy operating in Washington, but who also has deep roots in the Internet

          There are many, many initiatives in the works – some of which have been underway for quite some time now – for the DMA to evolve as an association to more effectively execute its mission in the interactive marketing arena.  These will start to unfold relatively quickly

          The DMA’s Board and Executive Committee are fantastic groups with very progressive, committed volunteers who understand the things that need to happen.  “Reform,” which probably isn’t quite the right word anyway, isn’t being pushed on the association – it is coming from within

          The DMA is committed in its search process, and in its new “operating system” going forward, to embrace not just its membership but the broader interactive and direct marketing community as it evolves its strategy, broadens its mission, and looks for a new leader


So the bottom line is – this announcement of one change is the first of many.  Stay tuned, and look for much more open and transparent communication from the DMA, including a lot more community-oriented dialog as opposed to just one-way statements, than you’ve ever seen before in the coming weeks and months.

Filed under: Business, Email, Marketing