I Don't Want Your Referral Business - Said No One Ever

It’s not uncommon for one business development person to call one of their fellow agency partners and ask if it’s OK to send a prospect or customer their way. I’ve gotten the call more times than I can count. The sad truth is that, when I do get that call, I know at that moment that I have not done my job.

Of course I want a partner to send over a warm lead! Were that not the case, they wouldn’t be much of a strong partner. Perhaps it is just a matter of double checking to make sure, or giving a fair heads up. On the other hand, perhaps that’s my failure to communicate our business’s needs to someone who can help.

Why Referrals are Awesome

Before getting into how we solve the situation above, let’s look at why referral business is so important. From the perspective of someone who leads business development for highly technical digital marketing services, I can say without hesitation that the relationships we have with our partners are one of the most important parts of our ability to generate new business.

First and foremost, referral business brings in better customers at higher close rates. If you’re selling professional services with a consultative sales approach, you’ll likely agree that a warm introduction trumps a contact-form submit any day.

Beyond the partner providing a vote of confidence for your company, and warming the prospect up to your solution, the partner sending the business your way is screening the business for you as well. If you have shared clients in the past, there’s a strong chance that a good customer for you them is a good customer for you.

Sharing Details to Solve the Problem

When meeting someone in my industry, the first thing I want to do in a networking situation is to understand their business. Find the answers to basic questions: what services or products they offer and, importantly, if they are a competitor. From there I like to understand what types of companies they work with and what industries do the focus on. Finally, I love to understand how they generate new business.

The first reason why I like to dig in to these areas is that it fundamentally helps identify a strong partner. Second, it’s a great way to build a connection and foster a real exchange of business ideas.

If you feel nervous about digging in so early, remember that business development folks usually love talking about this stuff. With that in mind, and because I too love talking about this stuff, I’d like to create an opportunity to provide answers to these questions myself! Most importantly, I want them to know what type of customers we’re looking for.

Strong Partners Understand Your Business

Once you share each other’s business motivations, you’ll understand what will make each other successful. When you understand these drivers, you understand basic business needs, especially the need to generate new business. That shared mutual understanding should fuel the desire to help, and the desire to grow.

Everyone should want strong referral partners. Make sure that these partners know your business and know what you need to succeed. A strong partner will see that growing together is a worthy goal that can be achieved with strong communication. That way, no one needs to ask if it’s OK to send referral business over. And if someone ever answers “No, I don’t want your referral business” the chances are that one of you has bigger problems on your hands.

Skills as Inventory

Each of us has something unique, something that only we can provide, and which makes us attractive candidates to work in the employ of others. Much like a business providing a product or service to its customers, we all provide a marketable good. Also much like a business, value is created when we provide it well. But just what is this value built around?

Although we are often measured by the deliverable work we have completed, I suggest that the retained value is not built around the delivered work, but rather the ability to deliver.

The environment in which we do our work has a broad impact on the quality of work that will be delivered. An organization might have the best gear to help you better do your job or perhaps its managers are skilled leaders and can coach you to be more successful in a specific role or vertical. Then again, these features might not be there and an employee will work longer or more taxing hours for the same deliverable success. This reason alone highlights how important flexibility is. A more skilled person will be more valuable because they can deliver results in both environments, although the results themselves might not be the best measure of their value.

When someone graduates from college, they typically start to put together a résumé as the next step in their career. On paper, the measure of their value might at first appear to be the courses covered and the knowledge learned. Although a recent graduate might still remember much of the curriculum for their area of study, I propose that the real created value is the ability to problem solve within a certain area.

Perhaps I am biased as a student of Political Science and Philosophy who is now working in Marketing and leading a Business Development unit. My value was built around problem solving, critical thinking and persistence. Although the texts of Hobbes, Locke, and Roussseau might fade in my memory over time, my ability to process their work, draw real-world connections and express critical reactions still serves me today.

Much like a company whose unique value proposition is contained not by the goods it produces but by its ability to produce, a person’s professional value is similarly contained within their ability. Although a paper resumé creates a false sense of being measured by lists of experiences and proficiencies, much more realistic is the value measured by potential to succeed.

Whether you are evaluating a job applicant or applying for a new role yourself, understanding this distinction will help the right talent flourish in the right role. An inventory of experiences does nothing for a business. What these experiences do is to display how the more critical inventory of skills was put to use in the past. In a world of finite resources, converting inventory into value is at the core of what we do every day.

The Environment of Business Development vs Sales

Sales are the ultimate panacea. We’ve heard it before and in many ways it’s true: “Sales cures all ills.” Since recently moving into a primarily business development role, this point has been more clear to me than ever. Not only does it keep the lights on, but it also allows hard work to be rewarded, investors to keep capital flowing liquidly, and the limits of innovation to be pushed forward. But is it really the sale that creates that environment?

Although sales enables this to happen, it is business development that creates the environment. There are some great posts out there about the difference between business development and sales. Blog posts by Seth Godin and Andrew Dumont are a good place to start. What I am saying here is nothing new, and a recent opportunity I had to make some smart business development choices highlighted the difference.

With an opportunity to help a prospect cross the finish line and become a customer, I was naturally happy to close. Typically I wouldn’t be involved in a client making a payment, but they had a few last minute questions about our terms and I was pulled in before payments were processed. In this particular case, the environment in which this sale was happening was built with the help of a partner who we work with regularly. Suddenly I was faced with pushing the sale through, or taking a step back and considering what kind of environment that would promote. Had we built the confidence we champion with this customer? Were we serving our partner well by simply stepping aside and letting their customer enter our system without that trust? I held back, and, instead of passing them on to our billing department, I had a few long conversations with our new (soon-to-be) customer to build trust.

Focusing on making a sale would not have created an environment of success. Sales provides some very powerful medicine, effective against most business ailments. Without a long view, however, there are side effects and complications. Business development is that long view towards creating an environment in which the business can be successful outside and in.

Customers will come and go, but a strategic view along with strong partners help create an environment of more than sales enablement. This environment supports the long-term health of a company, and strengthens customer retention. A good sale is like a blip on the radar, but business development will create more blips, bigger blips and an environment where a business can thrive, create a strong team and push innovation forward.

Coding for Exercise

There is a range that exists between folks for whom code means a bucket of ones and zeros and those for whom programming is equal parts lifestyle and livelihood. I exist somewhere in the middle, with the novice understanding of ones and zeros still large in my rear-view mirror. For me, code has been a hobby; a way to exercise my brain and get outside of my comfort zone.

Focusing almost entirely on business development for our digital marketing agency, my daily interactions with code are usually limited to hitting “CTRL + F” to find a prospect or client’s Google Analytics code or some errant “no index, no follow” text. Hardly an engaging interaction with a programming language, and certainly a far cry from actually running anything I’ve written myself.

After spending the last 2 weeks working through an online introduction to javascript class, I am finding something curious happen. Sure, I’m thoroughly enjoying the course (thank you Code School), and having fun with the exercises. Coding for fun each night after work has helped me leave stress behind and fill my head with something that is both engaging and soothing.

My business development role gives me an opportunity meet new people every day and I am learning so much about both running an agency and the challenges that brand-side marketers face. Coding at home, on the other hand, give me an opportunity to challenge my perspective and apply critical thinking in a different way. I work through the problems in my head as I’m falling asleep and when I arrive at work the next day, I’m thinking more clearly and I have a broader sense of fulfillment than I did before. It’s been a great experience and I’ll probably even come away with some useful basic javascript skills.

Litmus Test Hot Tip: The Front Page Test

Every Social Media Conversation

A conversation about the use of social media for marketing vs. for personal use wouldn’t be complete without someone saying “Twitter, eh? Well, no one wants to hear about you taking a dump.”

Ok, I have never seen anyone tweet this. Maybe I just follow the right people, or maybe everyone actually did get the memo. Despite this harsh, perhaps unrealistic, example, the point is clear. You need to draw the line somewhere (preferably long before bowel movement updates).

Your Words, Front Page News

It was a colleague from my days in politics who once told me that I have to imagine every single piece of content being displayed as the front page headline of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. If your content gives you an uneasy feeling after this exercise, back to the drawing board.

Personal Goals for 2013

All this recent talk about goals and here I am without any set for myself. I’ve given it some thought and outlined 4 goals that I’m going to pursue in the next year. I’m not sure what metrics I’ll consider when measuring these; perhaps that will come as a later post. When the calendar says 2014, I want to be able to look back and know that I did the following.

Become more technical

During my time at VisionScape I took huge leaps forward in understanding the technology behind our web app, our desktop app and the API holding them together. Every time that a new challenge came up or a new feature was outlined, my goal was to understand the moving parts as completely as possible. I did have to be sensitive to asking questions that went outside my role; there’s nothing worse than a project manager that doesn’t know when to get out of the way and let developers develop. While VisionScape gave me a first-hand view into the implementation of complex web and desktop technologies, my future at DragonSearch promises to provide a much more comprehensive understanding of CMS technologies and foundational website design and structure. I’m fortunate to be working with a Conversion Rate Optimization and Landing Page Optimization specialists. Acting now on the strategic side of development, my new role places me in the conversation much earlier and this broader view has already proved itself to be a fantastic opportunity to learn.

Develop a more comprehensive understanding of running a business

Working with company that’s farther along in their growth means that I can see what the other side of the 20 employee threshold looks like. We have revenue goals, salary goals, infrastructure goals, technology goals, cultural goals, etc. In order to meet these goals, we need sustained growth and increased revenue. Taking a close look at the costs of acquiring new business, the cost of acquiring new talent, and the cost of creating greater depth in our company (rather than increasing head count to increase breadth) is an exciting challenge. I’m fortunate to be part of this part of the business. The experience is invaluable.

Kick ass at Business Development

Although technology really is fun and exciting (and much better cocktail conversation), business development has always been a natural fit for me when compared to coding and such. Every role I’ve held in my adult life has involved biz dev and, as sexy as technology is, my ability to offer something unique and excel in that area cannot be discounted. I believe that you should find what you do best and find a way to do it better. I want to kick ass at business development.

Stay hip to startup culture

Ok; this is a freebie (mostly since I read Hacker News to unwind). The reason I am making this a goal is because it is fun and I like being aware of what folks are doing to get their projects off the ground. Fun goals are important and it would be exciting to get involved in a startup again in the future. Certainly meeting the other goals above will point me in the right direction.

Goal Early and Goal Often

Goals are kind of a big deal at DragonSearch. Not only are they deeply ingrained in our company’s marketing campaigns for clients, but they also play a huge role in our company direction. In fact, the decision to create my internal marketing role grew out of strategic goals set long before I arrived. Actually, internal marketing is just that: a role reserved for working towards these strategic goals. At first goals seemed obvious to me. Everyone knows what the goals are so why don’t we get on with it and start achieving, right?

In my first few weeks in this new role I began to take the reigns of various projects, some already in motion and some as fresh as untouched snow on a powder-day. With these new projects came various kick-off meetings. We would sit down and discuss what we wanted to do. Having read Ric Dragon’s book, and knowing that by taking on these projects I am endeavoring to bring about the change that Ric wants to see in our company, I always knew that goals would be part of the conversation. I also knew that vision, objectives, and metrics would join as part of the larger process of identifying desired outcomes.

Then something interesting happened. I had the opportunity to reconvene a group of fellow team members as part of a second meeting. I had an agenda; I knew what we needed to get out of the meeting. I was ready and I went right into it, like race horse setting out as soon as the gate opens. “Whoa whoa whoa!” I heard. It was time to revisit our goals. But…we had already met once to discuss goals, why waste more time to review? And then it became clear. Every word that followed and every minute we spent in that room had to bring us closer to those golas. It wasn’t a waste of time at all. It would quickly become deeply ingrained in me - like a warrior becomes one with their sword or shield.

Setting goals may seem obvious, especially considering that goals are often things like “make a better widget A”, “improve our customer’s lives” or even “increase revenue”. Not only is it critical that we set these, but we also become stronger when we revisit them as they must shape every step we take. When we stumble, revisiting our goals can revive our creativity and conviction. When we have great momentum, revisiting our goals will ensure we’re heading in the right direction. Armed with your goals you’ll be equipped to combat scope creep and to zero in on good ideas. It’s a lesson I’ve quickly internalized and one that I can confidently apply to every situation. It seems simple, but take a step back and it can make a huge difference.

Posted In: internal-marketing

And Thus Begins My Startup Hiatus

I just started my third week at DragonSearch, a digital marketing company with an office in Kingston, New York. I’m incredibly excited about my role there, which is internal marketing. DragonSearch is a full service digital marketing agency whose CEO happens to have written a couple great books about social media. I’ll be helping grow our speaking program, which currently involves many events for our CEO and a few others, and soon will begin to grow the speaking prowess of anyone else in the company who shares that personal goal. I’ll also be helping with a variety of other core components of the company’s marketing and brand goals.

On my first day, the difference between startup life and office life were glaring. Being part of a startup is like being in the wild west. There is no play book. There is no person to come over and set up your phone for you. There is a lot of freedom to blaze your own trail to find an answer. One day you might be talking on the phone with the CEO of a major national brand, and the next you might be renaming image files so the API knows which objects they relate to. Would I regret giving up all that freedom and excitement for something more structured and rigid? I’m pleased to report I haven’t surrendered any of my freedom or passion. In fact, I’m motivated to blaze a trail even brighter than before.

I actually feel like I have just as much autonomy as I did previously. Sure we keep track of our time a little more diligently and we’re a bit less liberal with working from home, but if I need to find an answer to something, I go find it! There is no playbook for my role and I’m going to be able to do it my way. The opportunity to step up is just as critical, I just happen to have a much larger team working on a wide variety of projects that I can trust for support.

To be clear, I loved working for a startup. The passion drawn from developing one killer product and refining it (and refining it and refining it) really is something great. Luckily for me my new role is internal marketing, and because it’s a relatively new role, I’m still able to focus on growing one brand and I’m still empowered to innovate. I hope some day be part of a startup again, perhaps as a founder. For now, I’m looking forward to working with an office full of new people I can learn from and working for a company that highly values personal growth so I’ll never have to stop learning and developing new skills.

A Project Management Approach to Wedding Planning

My fiancé and I have used many project management systems for work. There’s so many great options to choose from and the companies that we have each worked with have used a variety of these tools. Between us we have experience with Asana, Basecamp, Harvest, Jira, Lighthouse, MantisBT, Pivotal Tracker, and Trello. This list is loosely defined as project management tools since MantisBT is really just used for bug tracking and Harvest is focused on time-tracking, producing invoices and getting paid. When it came time to start planning our wedding, we decided to go with Trello and we couldn’t be happier.

Trello is a simple, but powerful, system that lets you track each action and quickly see what stage each component of your project is in. Recent activity is displayed in an unobtrusive side-bar keeping you appraised of what’s going on without distracting you. Trello is a very customizable system meaning you don’t have to shoehorn your project into preset categories or states of completion. Each card can use a colored label which allows you to assign your own color-coding system. Boards, which are where the cards live, are used to indicate what state of completion the cards contained on that board are in.

Since our wedding is one big project with a great many components that will come together seamlessly over the course of a few hours this coming June, being able to take a global view of our progress is essential. Considering that Trello’s motto is “Your entire project, in a single glance”, it was a natural fit. We’ve labelled our boards based on what sorts of actions are needed, such as: “Deposit Needed” or “Choices”. Some cards contain checklists and some represent parts of the wedding that will undergo many different steps before they can be moved to the “Completed” board (wedding dress purchasing is a good example, apparently).

There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing the “Completed” board grow as cards move through the various stages that each board represents. Trello allows great collaboration as the discussion under each card includes conversations we’ve each had with vendors and links to cool ideas. Both of us can be pretty intense when it comes to making plans and putting our noses to the grind-stone. Trello has been the perfect tool for us and we hope that others consider it for projects like this.


Bugs and Sales: Why everyone should know how to report a bug

When you deal with customers on a day to day basis, there are a few reasons why being able to understand a bug and put together an effective a bug report can be very helpful. I’m not going to explain how to write a bug report (perhaps in a future post), but rather why knowing how is so important. It will help you close your sale, give your customers a better experience once they become users, and ultimately it will save your company valuable time and money.

For starters, in a sales role you’ll have plenty of opportunity to think on your feet. Sometimes this means coming across a bug when you’re on a demo and it’s very possible that a customer will be watching over your shoulder. When this happens, you’ll probably find the need to immediately explain what you were expecting to happen (and what should/will happen when they perform the action). If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s basically the core of what a bug report is - what happened in relation to what should have happened. Communicate how the current behavior is different than what’s expected and you’ll be turning the script back to the product and it’s functionality so your customers will understand how the feature will work when they use your product.

Besides being able to close the sale, showing your customer how to react to a bug can turn a sticky situation into a teachable moment. These things happen in software and let’s be honest, it’s possible there are more bugs in your live environment. With a calm approach and good communication, hopefully your customer will understand how they should approach, and ultimately report, a bug when they ever encounter one. If they are equipped to deal with it effectively then they will be more understanding when it happens and, more importantly, their feedback will help you get a fix into the works as soon as possible.

What this all translates to is helping your developers develop. No matter what bug reporting tools and process you’re company uses, at some point in the life of each bug someone is going to have to figure out what is actually wrong. Wouldn’t it be good to get that at the onset of the bug’s discovery? Whether the bug is discovered in the sales process or reported by a customer through support, the sooner a proper report of the issue is on paper, the more time (money) you’ll save. And after all, what we’re really striving for here is that everyone on the team should possess a complete and comprehensive understanding of the product and it’s functionality - truly understand your product and you’ll be better prepared for this and many other situations.