The Agile development process is all the rage in delivery solid software development but I’ve recently noticed a trend by software developers and development companies to leave the account management to PM leads. From what I’ve seen, the results from an account management perspective have been less than optimal when there has been no client management presence on the engagement. In the past year, I have seen several large accounts who originally committed to long-term work streams of multiple projects cancel before the original term of the engagement.
Why? All were run by exceptionally strong teams from strong PMO’s, but two common factors resulted in failure: the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) concept for initial delivery and the lack of strong account management oversight. The first of these is baked into the Agile process and typically delivers a stable, on-time product to market but with a reduced feature set than the business initially agreed to. The second seems to be a vestigial tail left over from the project delivery mindset of software development which is short-term, driven by production efficiency and deadlines, and forgets about long-term value and post-launch customer adoption.
Managing business client expectations (not just from an IT delivery perspective), especially when the sales team has sold in a much broader feature set, is a mission critical piece of account strategy work that neither the PMO or the sales team addresses. It is a relationship and communication piece that comes with a truly integrated and aligned team. The alignment piece is about allowing the PM to make sure short-term delivery goals are met in conjunction with an account management or strategy relationship that makes sure the client business understands the tradeoffs in the Agile process. Without this later piece, disappointment is built in. Some of my worst new business wins were soured by a sales person’s admonition to “remember this is sales, not delivery”. That was the canary in the coal mine for unmet expectations and account churn.
From a software business perspective, the choice comes down to style: Do you have a combine harvester business or a sustainable agriculture model? The combine harvester model depends on always having new fields to move on to while the sustainable agriculture model is one that tends and cares for what exists. If you believe in the second but practice the first, maybe it’s time to invest in some real account strategists to manage your accounts.
I was talking with a client the other day who had just run a panel discussion about wearables, big data and retail. Years ago at Nike, I had tried to get the NBA to let us have the statistical data for the players. I was a bit naïve and the NBA turned me down. They owned the league where the athletic performance had taken place, they not the athletes, owned the data was their argument. (I had envisioned a way that consumers could compare their basketball stats with the players.) It was something that irked me but they had a point, if the league didn’t exist there wouldn’t be any performance data.
So what does that have to do with consumers and retail? Well, think about how much data retailers are collecting on you when you shop in any of their channels. Should you, the consumer, “own” your shopping data and be able to chose to allow retailer to use it to help sell you. Should they pay you to use your data? For that matter does Experian “own” your data? When consumers signed away the rights to their financial data it was a different computational era. We had a different understanding about just how personal data could become.
Having spent some time in Europe, where there is much more emphasis on personal privacy—including transaction data. Permission must be explicitly asked for and given (not that fine-print language that we Americans see all the time and ignore).
So as big data becomes big personal data, Ashley Madison aside, perhaps it’s time to start thinking more closely about just who or what business should “own” your digital persona.
I first read Transtromer as a graduate student of James Tate. Transtromer's book Truth Barriers, literally introduced me to the world of words and images in a completely different way. It was a window into the same world I lived in but a different view. Appropriately since windows and walls were images he used often. But most importantly, then and now for me was the way he captured human truths. This from “Preludes”:
Two truths approach each other
One comes from within,
one comes from without — and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
It still resonates to me as a marketer. Companies like to tell their truth from within but many are not yet prepared to accept the truth that comes from without. Great brands have met themselves in their customer’s eyes and reimagined what might be.
What a crazy experience it was working with Apple, iTunes U documentation or lack there of and tweaking the marketing of the collection across a global audience. What started as a simple idea: share the retail marketing, trends and opportunities that The Store curates over a year became an ultra marathon of good intentions bouncing off good intentions. More on the process later but let's just say, I understand the David and Goliath myth MUCH better now. There's some great information in the collection from a white paper by Jon Steel to a presentation by Kantar's Bryan Gildenberg that has some great counter-intuitive thinking. Please check out the material: http://tinyurl.com/nb956jd
It started when I heard about an ex colleague who works for a car company now and his bonus is solely tied to the likes he gets the company page on Facebook. Then I thought about Occupy Wall Street. And then the modern primitive movement as it relates to the “sharing economy” and whether primitive “values” work in the modern world.
What is one culture’s currency is another’s utility. Consider that Dutch settlers bought Manhattan for some iron kettles, axes, knives, and cloth. (Whether the tribe they bought the land from actually owned it is another discussion.) But Occupy and the traders of Wall Street they thought to shame had the same sort of challenge: they basically valued different currencies. And so neither really respected—or cared about—what the other held dear. The occupiers in the park had nothing but time since they were un- or underemployed so the time they spent had no value or opportunity cost and thus no impact on their target audience.
Currency is a system of money that has a mutually agreed upon value. Where there is no agreement, there is no value. So what is the value of Facebook “like” or a retweet? As a marketing guy, it seems highly subjective and very hard to defend because for some users/people, it’s as disposable as Kleenex for others, invested and believing in the sharing economy, it reflects on their reputation and is very valuable.
So when clients ask, what their social media presence or strategy should be, I say it should always begin with their customers and understanding their relationship to social media. Is it a click or a reflection of the value they hold dear? Do they choose reputation over quick money? Who are the stakeholders in their business model? Which tribe is your or client’s audience? Create the strategy that fits.
I was asked the other day for a capabilities deck for the work that we do. I asked for 30 minutes of the asker’s time to understand what he/she what their focus was for an audience so I could focus the case studies on the business’s need. The response was, “very busy” just send your generic deck.
I was stumped because at a certain point in your career, there are just too many projects, market verticals and tools in the marketing basket to not know what to send. Spray-cap or fire-hose?
Generic these days seems like a guaranteed vertical file entry. So I chose to send work that reflected what we enjoy doing most: telling stories that connect business with an audience using a variety of tools. But is that what she wanted? She had only seen a short video of a presentation that we had done, not the strategy leading up to it, not the style guide that went with it for other editors.
Well, we’ll see what happens when it’s clear strategy comes before execution.
I’ve been doing marketing and content creation for a number of years and recently had a discussion with Craig Sabina of Summit Projects about experience that comes with well, experience, or as some would call it age. When I’ve had surgery, I have been pretty happy to have someone that looked like they’d been around the block a few times looking down at me as I went out.
There are some things, like the basics principles of marketing (ROI, KPIs etc.), where you want a person that actually knows how to deliver because they have done it for real not in an MBA or MFA environment where it is pure simulation and there’s no skin in the game (read REAL money). Enthusiasm is critical in both cases btw, but enthusiasm untethered is often an ego that feels it’s crashed landed on the island of the dumb and it’s here to save us.
However, creative when guided toward a business goal is a beautiful thing. Creative when it’s unguided by business and is in pursuit of the NEXT cool thing isn’t marketing usually but something akin to the horse designed by a committee, or bad art. I can say this with some confidence having been a group creative director at one point in my “experience”.
This isn’t an indictment of creative or new eyes on old problems, but an argument for balance. Yin AND Yang. Because business for all it’s ups and downs, purpose driven or even NonProfit, has to bring in money or it isn’t in business any longer. So while the new, new thing may catch the customer’s eye, it’s best in the marketing world if that eye is attached to a hand that’s reaching for a wallet. And seeing how to make those connections happen, is what experience brings to the table.
Matthew has just returned from the TED conference, which moved to Vancouver, B.C. this year. One of the things that struck him and became a conversation topic this morning, was that there are multi-taskers and then there are the people with focus. Very few overlap. Good multitasking is not equal to multi-focus.
What does that mean? Sara Lewis, a professor of biology at Tufts, is a focus person. She can tell you about the 2,000 different types of fireflies in the world and how there are basically three types: the survivalists, the procreators and the killers. She is WAY deep into fireflies. With good reason since they are an industrial day canary in the coal mine. She is the equivalent of the modern, passion-drive entrepreneur.
Then there is the multi-tasker: They are on their phones while the talks are going on and staring unseeing at the simulcast screens. They are making deals to buy this company or get that funding. They are driven by a different passion: to beat the odds. The multi-tasker is hedging his bets, no VC or marketer actually invests in only one company, because her job is to see both potential success and the many risks involved in supporting those passion-driven entrepreneurs.
Each needs the other type both to create the story and then to help tell it to a broader community.
I’ve had great opportunities in my career, from director to SVP, and I’ve found that the higher the title, the less connected I am to the work that actually touches people--which at the end of the day is how we change the world. I’ve worked on some amazing brands: Burt’s Bees to Zales, eBay to Nike. But in almost all of those companies’ career tracks, there is that inflection point where you end up spending more time with excel spreadsheets looking for insight than you do with the customers you want to create useful products or services for. And for the love of all things sacred, I am not talking about focus groups.
Don’t get me wrong, there is huge insight to gain from understanding the overriding themes from big data captured in Excel or from listening to a focus group, but in both cases turning these themes into things you can test in the wild is critical. I was doing some positioning work for a brand that hangs its hat on its special technique for piercing ears. After interviewing a boatload of folks at corporate, I went into the field and yes, got my ear pierced as a typical consumer. It was nothing like the process that corporate had described. In a different state, I took my young daughter to have her ears pierced at the same brand. Another non-standard process piercing. The end result: three pierced ears (two on my daughter), no brand technique used. But, it gave me real, unassailable experiences to talk with my client about—and some real upsell and cross-sell opportunities to bring to the table outside the positioning process.
When I’m talking with someone about a smaller job or mid-level engagement, sometimes they wonder why I’m interested in working with them. The reality is that I simply enjoy working for and with real people AND developing strategy that works in real life not just in really big spread sheets.
So many times in an advertising career, the new new thing is requested or suggested and we… acquiescesce because it’s cool or we want to be cool or it’s just easier. And then it becomes a game of who can fire, ready, aim fastest. David Kottkamp a legend at Nike for his level-headed composure once told me to take time away from work to gain perspective. As counselors to brands, one of the things that clients don’t often know they’re asking of us, is to provide just that perspective. It’s not easy but it leads to better experiences for our brands customers’, which means better brand perception, if we put customer needs before the bright shiny advertising fad.
Bill Bernbach once said, “Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you're saying it like it's never been said before.” With new technologies and techniques arriving every day, it’s often easier to focus on the latter half of the quote than the first. And that is a case of the emperor’s new clothes rather than a valuable partnership with a client or a commitment to customer-centric marketing. Just to be clear, I have been guilty of the “new technology looking for a client to test it on” syndrome because I fell in love with the shiny object. My goal now is to invert the equation and ask first, what of substance can I help my clients offer a customer before I consider how I’m going to offer it. (This of course means, I better have a pretty darn good idea about those customers and their lives and what the value.)The what before the how seems like a no-brainer but it’s easy to forget on the road to awards.
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