Failures Don’t Plan To Fail, They Fail To Plan

Consumer focussed social media mega stars Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare, YouTube, Facebook and Google have smashed open doors for small businesses over the past 4 years. Arguably two of the most important breakthroughs are:

  1. A leveling of the playing fields – the recent viral success of the Dollar Shave Club launch video is a great example of how a small business, with some creativity and a great product/service, can reach millions in a matter of days and stand alongside an established brand with a significantly larger marketing budget.
  2. A feedback loop – feedback from customers is a great way to improve your products and services. Yelp reviews, for example, give restaurateurs immediate free feedback and provide a previously lost opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

With these new possibilities more readily available, it’s important for businesses to skill up and understand how to take advantage of them. Successful social campaigns are great to see, however many small businesses I run into locally appear to be either focusing on the wrong measurement of success, such as total followers/likes, or not setting one in the first place.

It’s hard not to bump into a ‘Like’ sign as you go about your day. Now synonymous with Facebook, ‘Like’ bridges the digital divide by establishing a bi-directional throughway between the online and the offline. In doing so, Facebook has successfully branded an everyday verb in an interesting twist on the marketing nirvana of yesteryear which was ironically the exact opposite – to turn a brand into a verb. Notable wins went to FedEx (where FedEx-ing became a substitute for shipping in the US), Google (synonymous with search) and Hoover (where hoovering became a substitute for vacuuming in Europe).
Whether it’s a shopping mall, a restaurant, a clothes shop, you name it – we’re asked to ‘Like’, ‘Follow’, ‘Plus 1’, or ‘Check-in’. Even the lettuce in a grocery store wants to be friends according to the message printed on its cellophane wrapping.

Yet as with any other marketing campaign, a successful social campaign has a goal. It also requires an investment of time and resources and needs to be scalable. Any small business owner will tell you time is precious and ruthless prioritization is paramount to success.

So how do you go about running a successful social campaign? Personally I find it beneficial to look at some examples of best practices – the how to’s, and their opposites – the how not to’s. With this in mind below is a tale of the good, the bad and the not so pretty which looks at 3 businesses and their use of social media.

The Good

If you happened to be in a Sprinkles bakery on Monday and whispered, “Happy birthday Shakespeare” to one of their cupcake associates, chances are you would have received a delicious free vanilla cupcake with sprinkles. If you didn’t know about this you are probably not one of their 346K followers on Facebook or 83K followers on Twitter – both of these social channels are used to propagate a secret phrase every day to the cupcake following. The first 50 people to go into their nearest store that day and mutter the phrase receive the free cup cake offered. It’s a win/win. If I ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ Sprinkles on Facebook or Twitter, they provide me with free cupcakes – assuming I make it to the store in time. There is a purpose clearly established.

As the cupcakes are handed over to their new owners, the cupcake associates adds a count to their clipboard. The tally, no doubt reported back to corporate along with any sales and basic demographic information, allows cupcake HQ to measure the effectiveness of the social campaign. The secret pass phrase provides a degree of exclusivity and is more of a tactic in the overall campaign objective to drive more foot traffic into stores and ultimately sell more products. Overall the campaign is genius – once you are in the store not only do you feel compelled to buy something – a cupcake for the other half, kids, friend, colleague or yourself, you also get to try a cupcake you might not have typically tried – most of us after all are creatures of habit.

Sprinkles social campaign was proven so successful it continues to be used even after the campaign was scheduled to end. Having established a following, Sprinkles also invites feedback asking connections to vote on their favorite cupcake. The end result, an engaged following, increased social conversation, and revenue funding growth in the form of Cupcake ATMs and 10 stores in North America.

The Bad

The other day I stopped by a local breakfast place for brunch. On the table was a nicely designed flyer asking patrons to, “Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.”

As I read this sign the age-old CRM adage, “What’s in it for me?” sprung to mind. There was no reason cited as to why I should ‘follow’ them. There was a QR code taking you to their Facebook page. Perhaps to see nutritional information – that could be a good reason, to access a secret menu or a word of the day for a discount. Yet there was nothing. So why would I pull out my phone and go to their Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare page when I’m in the restaurant having a bite with some friends? Perhaps curiosity was the tactic but it’s a stretch.

What is concerning is the tremendous waste especially given the other demands on a small business owner’s time. Think of the effort to have the promotion sitting their on the table and the lost opportunity cost of perhaps using the space to market patrons a new smoothie, menu item or special which I could buy right there and then. Instead this flyer encouraged me to disconnect from my physical presence for a minute and ‘follow’ the restaurant. Out of curiosity I went to their Facebook and their Twitter pages later in the day and found a daily post demonstrating some effort being put into a social campaign yet also missing the mark. Their .com site on the other hand is packed with great information including nutritional information and sign up to their club, which provides a number of two-for-one style benefits.

What is the cost of printing the flyer, maintaining the social sites, placing the card at each table? What is the opportunity cost? What is the distraction value of taking someone somewhere else when they are in front of you and ready to spend? This company is clearly going through the motions and checking the boxes yet are failing to go the last mile at this time. They have all the costs and none of the return.  I fear this company is measuring success by total followers as opposed to new customers or increased sales, which is all to often the mistake.

And the… (not so pretty)

Picture a local pizza joint. There is a sign on the shop frontage and by the register asking patrons to, “Like us on Facebook.” If you go to their Facebook page and scroll back to the date of joining in 2010 it all started with what appears to be a picture a day. The pictures were a good tactic – a packed restaurant, a heart shaped pizza marking Valentines Day but the cadence of these posts dropped after a few months. Over the last 6 months they average less than 3 per month. It’s a local store, posting a picture of the fresh pizza just out the oven at lunch time is not a bad idea. Certainly worth a try.

Establishing a competitive advantage

The shift in how we both find and consume information yields many opportunities for small businesses to leverage social campaigns and platforms for increased revenue. However with so much choice (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+ etc.) not to mention maintaining a website, establishing and building a presence on each of these social sites must feel like the equivilant of carrying 5 or 6 different cell phones at the same time. As an industry we should be able to address this issue and we’re seeing it happen – consolidation through acquisition, the creation of standards, the advancement in tools such as HootsuiteatomkeepSeesmicping.fmtwitterfeed, which allow the management of multiple social profiles or at least the ability to post to multiple profiles, and further innovation. In the mean time, there are some creative examples out there which justify the investment and demonstrate that social is able to provide a distinct competitive advantage.

The key take away – have a plan and work towards a clear goal. As businessman and columist Harvey Mackay once said, “Failures don’t plan to fail, the fail to plan.” Research and discuss techniques and tactics with others including your customers. Adjust your tactics based on your wins. Create a new social experience – something which is unique to your business and resonates with your customers – make the connection. Recognize the advantage over your competitors and know that many will give up. Don’t give up. Solicit feedback from your customers and act on the information accordingly. Data is your friend – remember how Sprinkles is collecting data and sending back to head office. On the tool side both Facebook Insights and Google Social Analytics provide some great dashboards – understanding this data will help you measure engagement along with your own sales information. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Image credit: flickr/55His.com

Outbound Product Management

Wearing multiple hats is common practice in the modern organization, and no more so than in small companies. In the marketing domain this can mean outbound product management is either merged with inbound or occasionally lost all together. This post looks at a number of reason why outbound product management should be of equal if not more importance than inbound; especially when you consider the success of your product or service often depends on its penetration, adoption, and usage.

Consider these quotes from some of the leading experts in our domain:

  1. Executive Chairman of the Board at Google, Eric Schmidt (Ph.D) stated at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce 2011 (see 0.33.47), “Apple proves if you organize around the consumer the rest will follow. And that’s something I did not understand until Google. Google runs in a similar way. Try to figure out how to solve the consumer problem and the revenue will show up.”
  2. In a July 2011 Ted Talk economics writer Tim Hartford shares the surprising link among successful complex systems – that they were built through trial and error.
  3. David Heath, Vice President of Global Sales at Nike inc. (ret.) stated in 2011, “the days of relationship selling frankly are over, and the days of bringing in the solution to the buyer and doing the buyers work for them are going to separate the winners from the losers.” See Developing Challenger Sellers – a new book from Corporate Executive Board.
  4. Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com starts all his keynotes at customer events such as Dreamforce by thanking the attendees – the customers for making Salesforce.com what it is today.
  5. Caroline Michiels, of custom software business ThoughtWorks stated, “60% of functionality in packaged solutions is never used.”
  6. Mike Heilman, a former colleague and veteran sales leader, responded to the HBR article, “Are top salespeople born or made?” I reposted on LinkedIn stating, “I have seen people of many, many different personality types succeed in sales. I believe that the only absolutely required characteristic is empathy. You simply must be interested in other people or they will reject you. Humor and intelligence are really good as well.”

While each of these quotes are recent, they are also pulled together for this post from different sources. The context is different, yet they all have a consistent theme – listen to your customer.

What can we take away from this when bringing new products to market? Here are a few questions worth considering:

  1. Does your product or service address a customer need and also the need/s of prospective customers – i.e. market needs? Which well known need/problem is it addressing? Have you defined the opportunity upfront? Think how Google took on Microsoft Office with Google docs – significantly less functionality yet with an unmatched collaboration capability addressing a well known market need. What are the 2 key points you use to market your new product? Forget features – can you frame the issue in the mind of the customer?
  2. Have you built a business model including market share? What are the objectives? What does success look like?
  3. Are you able to synthesize what you have heard in the market, communicate this in the user stories, and ultimately simplify your product offering tailoring it to resonate with your customers?
  4. Are you confident you have provided your salesforce with the right material to enable them to target the right buyer and subsequently empathize with the buyer? Think buyer scenarios (like user scenarios but focused on the buyer – profile and pain points) and customer success stories (or testimonials) which enable the sales team to identify the right buyers, teach the customer something new about their business and take control of the sales process. This is such a critical step. If sales are unable to penetrate accounts, you risk the team dropping the new product and falling back onto others which have historically delivered (won business) for them.
  5. Have you set your new product or service up for success? Recognizing adoption is key and iterations will evolve – think Google Docs, Google Mail and more recently Google + which all launched with feedback mechanisms, and a dedicated team behind the product enabled to release iterations based on the feedback. Eric Schmidt also said at Dreamforce 11, “…you are much better off if you organize around a continuous iteration model”.
  6. How will you react to a competitive play?

Does goto market planning start before or after development in your company? Does your company separate many of the outbound product management functions into a Product Marketing function? What questions do you ask when developing your goto market strategy? Use the comment box below to share your experiences.

Agile and Product Management

The purpose of this post is to provide an insight into working with Agile from a Product Management perspective. Given Agile recognizes Product Owners not Product Managers (more on this follows) the prevailing challenge we’ve faced in Product Management is time.

Below are 6 recommendations for a Product team to ensure true product management continues.

1. Change approach and find the right balance

First and foremost when your development team switches to Agile, the product team also needs to make changes (or risk drowning). Assuming the Product Managers perform the tasks of a Product Owner, its important to remember these responsibilities are a subset of the overall responsibilities of a Product Manager. With tight deadlines being an inherent characteristic of Agile, planning next months sprint along with performing tasks in the current sprint can quickly absorb all the hours in a day leaving little time for the other functions in Product Management.

Finding the right balance between being available to perform the responsibilities of the Product Owner such as:

  • creating and maintaining the backlog
  • prioritization according to business value or ROI
  • conveying the vision
  • representing the customer
  • participating in daily scrums / retrospectives and sprint planning
  • inspecting the progress and subsequently accepting or rejecting the deliverable
  • communicating externally to all stakeholders etc.

and executing other inbound and outbound Product Management responsibilities such as:

  • understanding market problems and your companies unique ability to address them
  • creating an integrated product strategy
  • formalizing plans to deliver profitable solutions
  • translating plans to user stories for technical implementation
  • creating go-to market plans aligned with the buying process
  • ensuring organizational readiness to sell and support deliverables
  • supporting the sales channel with market and product expertise
  • not forgetting bugs, meetings, webinars and of course powerpoints

means creating an environment where Product Mangers are not involved in every single tactical decision. This is an important step towards a successful implementation of Agile within your company.

2. Build to scale 
One of the greatest aspects of product management is the cross functional interaction. Throughout my career I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with customers in addition to every single function in an organization – from Legal to Finance, Sustainability to Operations, Marketing to Sales, HR to Client / Customer Services in addition to Research and Development and Executive roles. Product literally touches them all. This however can also be one of the greatest challenges as each of these groups has a different view of what a Product team does for example:

  • Sales require support for RFPs (often with tight deadlines), pitches and ad hoc meetings.
  • Marketing require product insight for positioning and pricing.
  • Executive team require a product portfolio which meets the overall company goals, in addition to justification in the form of detailed market analysis and a well thought through roadmap defining the path to get there.
  • Development/engineering require the PM to be Product Owners (this can easily become a full time role given monthly sprints and releases).

As the Product Manager goes about their day skillfully switching conversations, between customers, executives, engineering, sales, marketing and client / customer services to name a few, it’s possible to see how the responsibilities of Product Managers are not insignificant. As an example conversations may range from:

  • competitive landscape and analysis to build, buy or partner decisions and goto market strategies,
  • business cases and driving ROI to portfolios and roadmaps,
  • star wars, black holes and unicorns to personas and user stories
  • value based selling and understanding market problems to pricing and positioning,
  • thought leadership and support to training and collateral.

Each of these responsibilities demands time and more importantly a detailed understanding. Ironically with all the meetings, coordination and communication these responsibilities bring, being available to each stakeholder group and department often places challenges on the product managers time given the accelerated timeframe and demands of the sprint.

Depending on the size of your team, think about supporting roles such as Product Marketing Managers, and Product Specialists who can support Product Managers and provide the appropriate coverage to ensure a well delivered and adopted product. Helping everyone understand the domain so you don’t need to be involved in every decision is also of value.

3. Don’t short change market research
Research (competitive, market and end user) is a source of credibility for Product Managers. As mentioned, an Agile environment will create new demands on time which may well eat into research time which was previously accounted for in the creation of the large business requirements specifications/documents.

Work to find solutions to avoid this, for example – share your research and create many voices for it. This will help free up time as good product management begins before a user story is written. It always starts with solid research – understanding the market problems, assessing the competitive landscape and identifying opportunities to differentiate. Support qualitative research with quantitate.

When conducting research, a Product Manager is looking to answer a number of questions:

  • How does this product become part of the everyday workflow of its user base?
  • What are the needs of the untapped or potential market?
  • How can we differentiate?

This level of understanding takes time, do not short change your research time which ultimately is paid off in the clarity and robustness of user stories. Some of the best and most successful sprints at Toolbox.com have been ones following several months of research by the team.

4. Be prepared to validate 
Armed with this research and analysis, the Product Manager arrives at the table with a wealth of information valuable to each of the groups mentioned earlier. For the executive group it includes direction and insight into the roadmap and definition of the market, for sales and marketing this includes critical research for positioning and placement. For development/engineering this includes the very validation that is demanded often so vigorously in an Agile world – and rightly so. It is neither fun nor efficient to change direction based on a miscalculation once troops are mobilized.

It’s very healthy to work in an environment where teams challenge each other. If this isn’t the case, look to foster this type of environment certainly within the Product and Development groups. Developers bring strong product and environment knowledge to the table and will either help shape a solution to be more robust, or recommend alternatives which may better meet business goals.

This type of validation is paramount to the process – with finite resources, time bound velocity, competitive pressures and business goals – focussing on functionality which does not drive the business forward is not an option. This type of validation provides a valuable check and balance.

5. Avoid feature bloat 
In an Agile environment it is very easy to bloat products with features as there is a tendency, and organizational, desire to keep development busy. If you are not ready – try handing a sprint over to the dev. team to focus on bugs, infrastructure or technical debt.

In the case of a launch, being ready means understanding:

  • the goto market strategy
  • how products drive returns to the business
  • and how a product fit into the business model

Defining a model to score requirements will help you understand and rank what delivers the highest return for the least effort. We’ve invested velocity recently removing features resulting in significant improvements to user experience.

6. Over communicate
Agile provides quick iterations – it moves fast. Supporting functions such as Marketing and Design, require insight and runway to ensure plans are executed. Sales often need training and collateral – getting the latest information to the front line will likely help close deals. A Product team has the luxury of knowing most if not everything which is taking place within the sprint and is responsible for external communications. The accelerated pace significantly increases the need to keep stakeholders regularly informed. It is easy to assume everyone else is on page when this might not be the case. Other teams may not be able to support a release – this information upfront will help with planning.

Share planning, go to market strategies and roadmaps frequently. Articulate the market problems to all stakeholders (Sales, Marketing, Executive and Development). Get everyone aligned and work to enable these groups have sufficient information to answer their own questions.

Product Managers need to be scalable. Providing the context of market problems along with evidence of this problem in user personas and scenarios enables a development team to go above and beyond producing great products.

Hopefully this posts provides some valuable pointers for any product team looking to transition to Agile alongside their development team. I’ve certainly enjoyed the transition from waterfall to Agile and learnt some of these lessons along the way. Please share your thoughts using the comment box below.