From SXSW to ISBM: Where Tech is Leading Us

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two conferences that spanned the horizon of marketing. I went from “hoodies” at SXSW to “blue blazers” at the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) Winter Member Meeting

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Attendees at SXSW Interactive were young digital marketers, at the early stage of their careers. The ISBM crowd was comprised of mostly senior-level executives with 20 to 30 years of experience working for established companies.

Below are some insights from both of the events:

  • Marketing is a tech wonderland. I had the chance to wander the event floor at SXSW, marvel at all of the new technologies, play with new apps, as well as attend a couple ofsessions by new tech vendors. The theme of the ISBM event was Analytics & Analysis, and I got more than my fair share of data analytics, business intelligence, econometric modeling … you name it. If you still think that half of your marketing budget is wasting away, but you don’t know which half, you’re behind the times.
  • Analytics and dashboards are foundational. I saw a great presentation by Dell, which showed how the company has now mapped buyers across the buying process, complete with understanding their needs, time spent at each stage and how to optimize the experience. Likewise, Wesco and Teradata shared a wonderful journey of how Wesco put into place the tools needed to become a data-driven marketing group, enabling the company to tie its activities to business outcomes, or in this case, revenue. From what I heard and saw, companies have built the foundation to pull, analyze and report marketing performance data. Some have even made the leap into forecasting and predictive modeling.
  • Investment is still a challenge. A thread ran through the ISBM event concerning the challenge of securing the funding to buy new marketing tools and/or staffing teams. Despite several speakers presenting solid case studies with clear ROIs, they were still challenged with getting the support and funding needed to continue making progress.

After having time to digest the week’s sessions, I still had a few lingering questions in my mind concerning what I heard and saw. For example:

  • Is there a lack of organizational acceptance and/or appreciation of marketing insight and activities? The question that popped into my head regarding the funding challenge was, “Are marketers able to make the business case in a way that makes executives want to fund their request?” The other issue was marketing’s ability to communicate effectively across the organization based on itScreen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.13.16 AMs culture. One speaker, Bill Rozier from Ciena, provided insight into how to do it effectively. Bill created a lead generation report in an easy to understand PowerPoint slide. As Bill said, “The sales team has to be able to get all the information they need in 30 seconds or less, or we’ve lost them.” Since Bill’s new report launched less than two months ago, lead reconciliation rates have gone from 13 percent to over 70 percent.
  • Is there, or will there be, a communication gap between the “Hoodies” and “Blue Blazers”? It’s not necessarily a generational one, although there is that. Rather, it’s one based on what they view to be important and valuable. I saw some great social media tools at SXSW that provided deep insights into audience engagement and buyer intent. But close to half the marketing executives at the ISBM meeting had revenue targets, and almost all had lead targets. It made me think that there may be, or may soon be, a potential communication issue between the digital-savvy “engagement and intent” crowd and the “lead and revenue” veterans. From what I saw, there is still work to be done to close the gap between social media results and the connection to key performance metrics valued by marketing executives.
  • Will marketing overplay analytics? Perhaps my biggest concern reflecting on the week is twofold. In business-to-business companies with strong product (and engineering) cultures that are empirically driven, will the utilization and reliance on new marketing tools and data limit an organization’s creativity, and/or innovation? The second concern has to do with organizations where marketing feels like they are under attack. Will marketers use their new reporting capabilities as a defense mechanism, hiding behind the data, instead of using it proactively to provide the organization with new insights and opportunities?

Despite these and other questions still weighing heavily on my mind, I did reach two solid conclusions. The first, Austin is by far the best food-truck town in the United States, and the second is that Tampa’s weather is the salve for the burn of the harsh Northeast winter — a point brought home to me as I returned from Tampa just in time for our first-day-of-spring snowstorm.

The Secret To Quick Execution

Over the years I’ve marveled at the speed at which some organzations are able to go from concept to in-market execution…and those who can’t seem to get out of there own way.

Dell, for example can “turn the ship on a dime”…changing promotions, campaigns, and the sales compensation plan for telesales reps within a day or two in order drive greater revenue or profitability based on quarterly performance projections. Other companies struggle for years to get a campaign or product out the door.

So why does this happen and what are the keys to quick execution? Beyond corporate culture, which is a major contributor to the ability to execute, there seems to be four essential elements that I like to refer to as the CRAP Process:

  • Create – one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is how efforts can stall or be delayed at the starting point. Getting past the starting gate is typically the hardest and most difficult point in the process. Anxiety builds, expectations are high, everyone is looking for the “big idea”…it all adds up to a huge speed bump slowing the creative process. Lower expectations by getting something-anything into a first draft, no matter how ugly right after the initial discussion or at some point on the first day.
  • Refine – after you have the draft, send it around for comment, refining the concept as it goes from person to person. The chain is email and the document is in word; it’s important to use the edit feature. It’s like a game of “hot potato” – you only get so much time to hold onto the email and then you need to through it to someone else.
  • Act – the most important point in the process is getting it 70% completed and then get it into the market and/or to a customer and let the market/customer complete the other 30%. Define the “70%” mark early in the process so you know how far to go. Give the team an expectation on the timing (within 3 weeks, etc.) to be in market.
  • Perfect – yes, perfect the product or campaign after it is in market. Sounds counter intutive, right, but companies do it all the time…Microsoft comes to mind immediately. The key is setting the expectation on peformance before you launch. Define performance at each stage of the process so that you know what to go back and refine/fix. Too many companies get caught up in trying to create something “perfect” internally without customers or market input. The age of what I like to call the “Incremental Perfectionist” is upon us.

You’ll also need to build your teams around this concept. You need to identify the skills sets and personailities of your team and designate a couple of “starters” (the creative types), the “refiners”(usually specialists – product, industry, etc.), and the “perfectors” (anal types who love the detail). You may find that this approach trumps any typically”Org Chart” approach in creating a high performance team.

The other important thing to remember is if you are afraid that someone is going to scream about a mistake or poor performance then you don’t have enough going on inside your organization. The key is to have lots of activities at various stages of execution, if some fail, folks may not notice because high performing (Perfected Stage) programs will give you air cover to refine the underperformers.

As someone at IBM once said; “if you are going to fail…fail fast”. The real key is go fast at every stage, the best companies learn more from failure than success…they also know how to get CRAP done.