Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

The good 1% and the bad 1%

I send my compliments to Mark Suster on Putting Tom Perkins Comments into Context.

Perkins opened his Wall Street Journal letter Progressive Kristallnacht Coming? with the headline:

I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’

Really?

Boorish entitlement has never worked, at least not in public.  It never ceases to amaze me that many well educated successful people can stoop to third grade name calling and be so insular and oblivious to the rest of the world.

Suster, a self-professed one percenter himself, called the letter insensitive and tone deaf.  That’s far too mild.  He did a terrific job on his comprehensive post.  So I’ll skip further pontification and just recommend you click on his link above.

Take Networking to the next level

Vish Kokkonda writes that Networking Is a Waste Of Time. He states that much networking is a waste but it’s not if “you are willing to work at building solid professional relationships.” Absolutely. I’ve written about networking practices, expectations, and objectives for 10 years at MyLinkWiki. Hundreds of other social media gurus have said the same.

This is easier said than done.  How can we look at the networking challenge in a way that brings insight and more importantly results. How can good networkers become even better?

Let me share a few thoughts.

Much networking is weak.

I refer to the kind that doesn’t generate results that Vish was talking about and which encompasses both the networking activity and the nature of the person-to-person connection. This includes:

  • Open online networking
  • Networking events where the primary activity is drinking
  • Connections where there is little communication after the initial interaction

This isn’t your granddaddy’s or even your daddy’s business world.

Today’s technologies have fundamentally changed how we relate and communicate. Before the Internet, executives averaged 150 connections. These were strong personal relationships. Services like LinkedIn now enable networks with thousands, or tens of thousands, of contacts. While the network is much larger, it’s also far more diffuse and difficult to engage. You have permission to contact these connections (sometimes). But that doesn’t change the fact that they barely know you. As a result we vastly overestimate the value of the large network.

It’s just like the Sales funnel

Sales, just like networking, is all about the depth of a relationship. A strong networking connection, comparable to a qualified lead ready to buy at the bottom of the funnel, enables you to reach your objective, whether it’s finding  prospects for your business or a new job. A weak networking connection is at the other end, at the top of the sales funnel. Expecting a weak network to help you is like expecting to close cold calls. It rarely happens.

Building the relationship is just as critical as creating it.

In sales one qualified lead is worth 100 or even 1,000 prospects. That logarithmic value is similar to networking. Yet people spend only a tiny fraction of their networking time, energy, and money in building their relationships.

One Solution is the Un-Cold Call.

Yes, it’s that time of the program for a short commercial pitch. At Revenue Typhoon we applied the Pay It Forward approach of networking to the beginning of the sales process. It’s not longer a cold call. It’s an Un-Cold Call, which effectively moves your prospects down the sales funnel so they’re more receptive to a call or meeting.

The same happens in reverse. In the Networking Un-Cold Call we apply similar marketing automation and sales techniques to effectively build your relationship with your connections. The result – you can have a large network AND expect it to be more responsive to your requests.

Support Uber and competition

The Internet has finally come to Dallas.  This is the one time it’s good to be in a red state, though it is a blue city.  Uber is here  and getting a nasty reception from the Dallas City Council  and local gendarmes.   The Dallas City Council wants to kick them (and Lyft, which is coming soon) out.

Now the local taxi companies have a point.  Uber is violating the law and clings to silly semantics to get by where they can.  Of course we’re lucky the regulations support motorized carriages.  You might as well forget about anything having to do with the Net.

The right solution is promoting competition, accommodating new ways of doing business, and allowing businesses to better serve the public.  The government should be promoting the welfare of its citizens, not sheltering legacy businesses.

Please join me and sign the petition to say No to the Anti-Uber proposal.

The Russian Tea Party

Not to gloss over the titled intent of the article Understanding Russia’s homophobia, the most interesting part for me was the history lesson on Russian culture and how similar it is to the U.S.  You could have changed countries and names and easily been reading about our version of ultra-nationalists, including American exceptionalism, ruling oligarchs and corporatists, conservatives, Tea Party, fundamental Christians, NeoNazis, and old white men (and some women) still pining for the fantasy of the “Good Old Days”.  It was only two years ago that our own national homophobia was still institutionalized.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.   Case in point, as documented in the piece – fancypants liberals from Russia – or the US – spouting French.

Sales Scalability for repeatable, reliable, and rising revenues

The startup mantra is scalability.  Build your product and IP.  Leverage it for high growth that attracts investors.  Repeat for the next funding level and continue until you exit.

Tech scalability is well known.   Code is the ultimate example of reusing a resource at virtually no cost.

Sales scalability though is still a mystery.  Marketing and sales are a custom, personnel-intensive, and thus costly part of company operations.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

In Scaling Sales: From Craft to Machine Jeff Bussgang writes about successful sales models.  Sales teams though are just a part of sales and marketing process.

Here is how you engineer  a complete solution.

1. Avoid sucky marketing.  Scalability happens with accelerating returns, not the linear marketing like advertising that Wilson warned against.

2. Understand customer sales psychology. A typical product sale is actually a series of customer buying decisions. This Point of Decision approach requires separate marketing and sales processes with appropriate offers.

3. Manage the entire funnel.  Every step of the marketing and sales process needs to be optimized from prospecting to lead gen to lead nurturing to sales conversion to repeat or upsales.

4. Employ a marketing system.  Just like the tech investment in reusable code, a marketing investment in Point of Decision automated campaigns for direct or rep-closed sales features a low recurring cost.  Incremental sales have a much lower allocated marketing and sales cost that hikes margins and accelerates profitability.

This is what we do at Revenue Typhoon and Power CMO.

Strategic marketing breakthrough – Point of Decision

Earlier I commented on VC Fred Wilson’s smart quote “Marketing is for companies who have sucky products” and the failure of companies that focus on tactical programs when they should be thinking strategic.  I wrote:

Marketing is THE customer expert and advocate. … Marketing ensures that the product has the right features, optimal positioning, pricing, packaging, and promotion, and a market and customer-oriented product roadmap.

That’s only part of the solution.

For far too long marketing has been a custom, personnel-intensive, and thus costly part of company operations.  The lack of coupling between marketing and sales is the single largest failure, if not albatross, of Marketing today.

This is especially so at high performance companies that develop tech products that generate exponential returns or tighten the supply chain to wring out a magnitude of inefficiency and costs.  How can the Marketing department be just as responsive and productive?

The answer is not the “sucky” marketing that Fred Wilson so accurately wrote about.  Yes, you’ve got to have tactical marketing programs like a web site, newsletter, blog, social media, PR, etc.  But they’re akin to the modules of a software program – necessary but not the strategic organizational driver that’s going to make your business a huge success.

Let’s step back and look at this from an evolutionary perspective.

  • Fair marketing is product-driven.
  • Decent marketing is sales-driven.
  • Good marketing is customer-driven.

There is a clear trend that’s moving from me the provider to you the customer.  The next step is to dive even further into the customer to understand not just what he wants and needs, but how he makes decisions.

A typical product close is not one decision but a series of customer buying decisions that have their own individual marketing and sales processes.

The implementation of this Point of Decision  (really, Decisions) approach  is through a marketing system with  campaigns that  automatically and seamlessly work the lead through the sales ladder, deliver the offer, and promote the customer to the campaign on the next level and ultimately your target market.

One example that scratches the surface of Point of Decision is the free version of many software and web services today.

Point of Decision avoids the brute (and blunt) force trauma associated with much of today’s marketing with sales conversion rates that are a fraction of a percent. It’s a natural customer-centric process that puts the customer in control, while subtly selling at the same time.  As your prospect and then customer naturally arrives to and makes each individual buying decision, he gains trust in your company and product and becomes increasingly engaged.  The result is hugely more leads, more closes, and more revenues.

This is what we do at Power CMO Consulting and the Revenue Typhoon Marketing System.

LinkedIn – another design failure

Here is yet another example of LinkedIn updating a feature that is one step forward … and two back.  They continue to use an architecture that fails its top users.  It stuns me that a billion dollar company can release code like this with insufficient testing.

Here’s the challenge.  I’m trying  to send an update to my local Dallas LinkedIn connections.  I have over 4,000.    I’d be happy to simply export my connections and send it directly via my email marketing service.  But LinkedIn hasn’t allowed top users to download their own connections for about 5 years now. The process times out.  LinkedIn has never fixed this or provided a solution.   Even if you’re a paying customer.

So I’m forced to use LinkedIn’s own messaging.  LinkedIn limits messages to 50 recipients.  You can do the math.   That’s a LOT of group sends.  Previously, unless your tag or filter results were under 50 you had to individually click each connection to add him to the recipient list.  Yes, you can see how wonderfully yummy that was.   It would take several hours to go through the forced machinations to  reach a few thousand of your own connections.

Note that one of LinkedIn’s many limitations in connection filtering is that you can only apply one at a time.  So if you have a filtered group like my Dallas connections there is no way to have Location is Dallas AND Last name is ‘R’ connections, or Location is Dallas AND Industry is Recruiting.  To message or tag connections in a filtered group,  you have to run the filter and page through it repeatedly.  This is painful if the group is large.

There’s been a recent update.  Now when LinkedIn displays a page of connection results you can click a box to select all of connections on the page.  Yippee!  No more individual clicks. …  But not so fast, buckaroo.  They also hugely reduced the number of  connections displayed in the results from 50 to 10.

So let’s say you’re contacting 1000 people.  Bear with me so you can see the insanity they force on their users.  To select the first 10 connections  is just one checkbox click. Hey, that’s much better than clicking each connection individually, right?  For a moment. It only goes downhill from here.

The next ten connections require a scroll or page down in the filtered results, click Next, click the checkbox. That’s three clicks. Repeat for five pages to select the 50 recipient max. That’s 13 clicks. Not bad. Be sure to tag that group if you may use it again in the future.

After you send your message to that group does LinkedIn return you to filter state and display you just had?  Of course not, you have to start from the beginning.

So click your filter, scroll or page down, click Next, repeat 5 times to get to the next batch.  That’s 11 clicks plus the 13 to select 50 recipients once you get on those pages for a total of 24 clicks. We’re already nearing one click per connection.

Let’s fast forward through the process to the end of 1,000 connections. You just sent your 199th message to a batch of 50 connections. You start at the beginning of the list again. There are 95 pages that you have to wade through, or 196 clicks. This batch of 50 connections requires 209 clicks, far more than one click per connection.

But it only gets worse.  LinkedIn’s filtering and connection display remains highly unstable. The display can easily freeze, time out, or quit. What’s common here is that you click Next page.  Instead of displaying a new page the connection results pane blanks and the connection detail pane displays “Quickly view and organize your connections? Select a category or individual to see contact info, send a message and more.”

When this happens you’re screwed in this AJAX display where the display state is lost and reset. There is no way to go back and redisplay the last connection page, to resume and try to go to the next page again, or otherwise recover where you were. Your only option is to start all over again. So whether you were on page 1 or 100, you have to start back on page 1.  All those clicks you spent time on to get to page 1 or 100 are totally wasted.

I tested this with about 200 searches and over a thousand Next page clicks on two different browsers. The blanking error appears to happen randomly. It has happened on the first Next click. It virtually always happened by the 15th page displayed. And to get to the 10th or 15th page means dozens of tries and hundreds of clicks in addition to the many clicks required if it worked without error.

That’s not all.  Given that the error forces a page restart, that’s a hard limit. So the discussion on the ridiculous amount of clicks to reach 1,000 connections, much less the 4,000 that was my goal, is moot. The effective capability of contacting your connections in one filter is 10-15 pages or only 100-150 connections.

You will never be able to reach the connections in a group after that, whether it’s to send a message or just to tag them.

More like one step forward and ten backward. Oops, LinkedIn reset that at seven.  Gotta start all over again.

UPDATE: 10:16 pm.  The random error where clicking Next resets the filter display and forces you to start over again is fixed.  For now.  Paging works quickly and smoothly.

On the flip side an annoying problem that’s been around for several months (a few years?) has returned – duplicate listings, apparently random,  in the filter results.  While a page may display 10 connections, only 8 or so on average are unique.  Now when you select the page LinkedIn doesn’t select the phantom dupes (which it used to do), but the dupes do require additional pages of filter results to get to the 50 maximum and they do screw up the tag counts, which are inflated.

An efficiency tip to reduce time and clicks – LinkedIn resets filter results on message sending but not tagging.  So you can avoid the annoying filter reset and paging described above.  The optimal strategy is to work your way one time through the filter results to select 50 connections, create a tag even if you’ll never use it after this, clear the selection, and then repeat so that all filtered connections are tagged.  Then click on each tag just created to send a message to that group of 50.

UPDATE: 7:30pm CT April 15. It’s baaaaaaaack.  The random error where clicking Next resets the filter display and forces you to start over again has returned.  This flavor of flakiness, where  an error happens intermittently or more typically and in this case most of the time, has been around for five years or so on LinkedIn.  It unfortunately shows both the brittle nature of its architecture and the lack of care by the company in letting such problems persist.

 

The Civil War anew: U.S. economic slavery 150 years later

The New York Times commemorates the Civil War’s 150th anniversary with an ongoing series called Disunion.  The closed patriarchy of slaveowners clashed with the freedom and opportunity of the West.  The article Mitchel Thompson’s War documents the strong support for the war in the Union Midwest.

Slave ownership made for bad economics …

[F]uture governor Richard Ogilvy told how, as a young laborer in Kentucky, he could charge only $6 a month, lest he lose out to slave labor, which could be rented out at $75 a year.

… and bad culture.

Rev. Charles Beecher  said the question was not “ whether black men are forever to be slaves, but whether the sons of Puritans are to become slaves themselves.”

The country was growing up and recognizing the externalities of an unjust and imbalanced socioeconomic system.

Northwest Illinois farmers’ mantra became “free territories, free homesteads, and protection to free labor.”

Is it any different today as billionaire industrialists have created their own plantations of wealth, often squirreled overseas to save every last penny … where their enterprises are too big to fail … their jobs are guaranteed with golden parachutes … their adverse actions have no consequences?   Their money has bought the political power to increase their holdings at the expense of the rest of the country.  They’ve destroyed the middle class, weakened the social network, gutted job security, increased poverty, and cheapened life for those who are not privileged.

150 years ago:

[A] new Republican Party alliance was struck between Western free farmers and Eastern industrialists.

Where is the alliance, Republican or otherwise, that will break today’s slavery?

When will the technology and innovation industries meet their social obligations and join with the people to make the US great again?

LinkedIn is stupid, part 265

In our last chapter our hero discovered the unknown country of tags wherein he thought “Aha!  I don’t need to click every single freaking connection to send a message to the same group.  I can just create a tag and use that in the future.”

In today’s episode he learns how naive he truly was …

It was a sunny Texas winter day, the kiss of warmth on my forearms a promise of the luxurious heat to come in a few months.  I was excited to try out my sexy new LinkedIn tags.  I’d click a tag of 50 connections, click Send message, write and send my note, repeat a few times, and be done in a few minutes.

That LinkedIn was quite the complicated lady.  You’re sailing the seas of business.  A friend charts you a new path to her moist island.  From afar she’s a goddess, easy on the eyes, mysteriously alluring.  You couldn’t keep away.  But as you sailed closer and got friendly, you knew something was up.  That sexy black dress was festooned with razor wire and spikes.  You could feel it in your bones.  She was a dangerous siren, not a plucky mermaid.   Get too personal and she slapped you back time and again with restrictions and limits.  Too many invitations.  Too many connections.  Too many messages.  You can’t download your own connections.  She was in control, not you.  You had to play by her rules.  Treat the dame right though and you can sail on by to the land of new opportunities.   Yeah, I learned the hard way.  Crashed a few times on her rocky shoals.  But I had her mapped out.  I knew her game.

And so I started with a smile.  The only happy moment of my miserable experience to come.

View connections.  Find tag.  Click Send message. See, it’s easy.

But LinkedIn says there are too many recipients.  It will take only the first 50.

But there WERE 50.  Because that’s how I created the tag. Click. Click. Click. Until Linked says 50 are selected.  Click to make tag.  Find tag. Click tag.  Click Send message.  And it worked fine.  LinkedIn wouldn’t have sent that original message when I created the tag if there were more than 50.

Not today.  So I sent the first 50, or whatever number LinkedIn thought it was.  Back to connections.  Find tag. Now it says there are 60 connections (give or take a few).  Hmm.  Click tag.  Examine tag contacts.  Several contacts were duplicated.  So the original tag of 50 unique connections had suddenly expanded to 60 connections with phantom LinkedIn-created dupes. WTF?

The irony is that when I first created the tag several days ago I clicked the same 60 or so contacts with some phantom dupes. LinkedIn ignored the dupes.  It displayed the 50 real selected contacts.  When I saved the tag there 50 contacts in the tag.  When I used the tag to send the message, it put the 50 real contacts in the recipient field.

But now LinkedIn magically added dupes back in in the tag count and connection display.  Even worse, LinkedIn went amnesiac on me.  It suddenly lost the ability to ignore the dupes in the tag member count and when Send message was clicked.   Tags and messaging have been out for years. Did ANYONE do real testing on it?

I thought I had it figured out.  But now I was back in a fairy land where unicorns kissed, pigs flew, and the acrid odor in the air was your skin being eaten alive by the acid of LinkedIn’s twisted logic.

Deep breath.  Press on, soldier.

I had sent the first “50” connections, which really were only 40 or so.  I had to determine which connections were missing.

Back to connections.  Find tag. Click tag. Click Send Message. See the message again with warning that only the first “50” were used.  Find the last name in the recipient field, right?  … Of course not.  The names are not ordered alphabetically.  It’s impossible to eyeball the last alpha name when you’re looking at 40 of them.

I refuse to quit.  Lesser mortals would have poured a tall scotch,  smoked a joint, or made love with a partner or handy pet.  Me?  LinkedIn will have to pry my frozen fingers off the keyboard. I copy all the names on the message web form.  Paste them into a spreadsheet.  Convert to columns.  Delete cells where people have middle names or use funky characters.  Finally get last names in a column.  Sort.  Now I know the last name.

Back to connections. Click on the tag.  Does LinkedIn display 50 names at a time like the regular connections pane display? … Of course not.  LinkedIn intentionally makes it hard.  Only 10 at a time are displayed.  Scroll down.  Click Next for the next page.  Scroll down.  Click Next. Scroll down.  Click Next.  Scroll down.  Click Next.

Find the last name that was sent.  Click the selection checkbox on the next name on the list.  Click the rest of the names in the window. Page down. Click more names.  Click Next. Click more names, page down, repeat to the end of the tag connection list.  Click Edit tags.  Write and save a new tag name.  So I now have a 2nd tag with a subset of connections from the first tag.  Thanks, LinkedIn.

Back to connections.  Find new tag.  Click tag.  Click Select All.  Send message. Message displays but NO addresses.  Doesn’t work.  B. U. G.

Back to connections.  Find new tag.  Click tag.  Don’t click Select All.  Just click Send message.  That works.   Create and send message.   Finally the LinkedIn fog lifts.

Now we have a process, no matter how contorted, that works.  Don’t think.  Just do.  Repeat for all tags for original mailing.

I’d accept these technical problems and dreadful customer experience from a bootstrap startup beta.  LinkedIn though is a multibillion dollar valuation mature company.

Is your startup too old to fail?

I review several hundred startup business plans a year.  Many ventures have been fighting and struggling for years.

I especially see that here in Dallas where the pressure and the cost of living is much lower than the West Coast.  It’s easier to drift in a zone where your business is making progress but slowly.  You’re trying to survive and so may have other work.  Your venture gets just a slice of your mindshare.  You learn to survive without funding and bootstrap.

Compare that to Silicon Valley where entrepreneurs are more apt to deem their effort a failure.  They move on if they haven’t had huge traction and funding in 1-2 years.

What is your goal?  Is it a true hypergrowth startup,  a linear growth venture, a small business that will provide employment for you, or a lifestyle (hobby) activity?  If your choice is the first, are you truly focused on that?  Are you committing 100% of your time and effort to your startup?  Managing your startup is not about velocity.  It should be about acceleration.

Startups stand for change.  That includes your own business.  As the saying goes, you have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.   While it’s critical to engage your passion and invest yourself, don’t drown to the point that you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and will never leave.  Listen to the universe and the cards you’re dealt. Sometimes you have to exchange a few cards and pivot.  Other times you need to deal yourself a whole new hand.

Most successful entrepreneurs have had to brave a few failures before they find the right combination of concept, timing, team, and, yes, luck. If you never let yourself fail, you will never get that shot at the big win.

While the entrepreneur’s determination and persistence are to be admired, they also can be your enemy, as Jason Calacanis writes in Moderate Success Is the Enemy of Breakout Success.


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