July 28, 2017

Jobs Don’t Give Us Purpose and Meaning, Helping Does

photo for Koch help blog smallFace it, few of us can say that our work has a high degree of purpose and meaning in the greater scheme of things. True purpose and meaning implies a degree of selflessness that few of us can afford when considered against rent, mortgages, college funds, or car payments. It’s one of the unstated frustrations in all the recent surveys that show how unhappy most employees are in their jobs.

That’s why it’s important for companies to provide an extra boost on the purpose and meaning fronts.

Companies Must Make Room for Helping
When you boil purpose and meaning down to their essences, you get helping. We want to feel like we’re contributing not just to our own or our families’ wellbeing but also to something bigger. You see it when a disaster happens – we instinctively rush to the blood bank or (often ill-advisedly) to the scene itself. We become desperate to do something to help.

A quieter sense of desperation follows us to work each day. But we often don’t have the opportunity to get that sense of helping on the job – unless we get a little help from our employers.

A few years ago, I was given the day off from work and walked with about two dozen colleagues into a huge warehouse that was filled with broken boxes. The boxes were filled with medical supplies that had been rejected for a bunch of different reasons, none of which included damage to the actual supplies themselves. We spent the day taping up those boxes and stacking them on pallets and wrapping them up with shrink wrap. They would soon be on their way to Africa, where they were desperately needed.

Helping Beyond the Job Builds Engagement with the Job
Now, I’m not going to tell you that suddenly my life was filled with purpose and meaning. But I did do something to help that I will never forget and got to bond with some colleagues that I had never met before. Kudos to my employer, SAP, which offers programs like “October Days of Service,” as well as a more ambitious program in which employees can work in developing countries for months at a time.

Doing good deeds like that don’t just make me feel good and help build bonds with colleagues; they also bond me more tightly to SAP. I’ve never had an employer offer such programs. All other things being equal, why wouldn’t I now feel more loyalty to SAP? Obviously, there’s a lesson for companies here.

Helping Can Happen on the Job
But we don’t need to help the world to feel like we’re helping. When I was a journalist, I mentored young writers who asked for it. Trouble was, they had to ask for it. I can’t imagine anything worse than mentoring people who don’t feel they need or want it (even if they do). That’s why such programs need a push from above to succeed. Research by my colleague Michael S. Goldberg has found three examples of how companies can do this:

Intergenerational learning. American Express piloted a phased retirement program to allow some older Cobol programmers to work part-time instead of retiring so they could train younger programmers, act as mentors and coaches to younger workers.

Peer recognition, amplified. Macy’s reported higher employee engagement after implementing an in-house portal for retail associates to post stories celebrating peers’ good work. Recognition occurs at store, regional and national levels.

Purpose and public service. IBM offers sabbatical programs for employees to work on pro bono projects in developing countries. Employees get to ply technical and management skills while having a meaningful experience, strengthening bonds with employer. Starbucks paid for its associates to contribute 631,000 community service hours to local neighborhood projects in 30 countries and runs a website with a list its employees can join.

What are you doing to give yourself or your employees a greater sense of purpose in their work? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

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6 Freaky, Funny, and Scary Abilities of Computer Organisms

robot picture for Koch blog 300I intended to write this blog about some of the amazing, helpful, and scary things that robots can do today, but even a quick look at the information out there demonstrates that robot is already an archaic term, like calling a car a horseless carriage.

There’s simply no way that everything we’ve come to expect from robots in sci-fi novels and movies will exist independently within whatever bodies we put robots in for the foreseeable future. They are as dependent on the computing environment that surrounds them as living organisms are on their ecosystems.

Robots can’t do anything better than a computer except move. And the various species of computerized electronic devices now covers a spectrum comparable to that of living organisms: We have everything from the equivalent of one-celled animals, such as microscopic, single-function sensors, to highly-evolved super-computers and computers that, when moved around on a dolly, can visit TV sets to humiliate humans on game shows. In other words, robots are one of just many species of life-like computer organisms.

Here are just some of the behaviors in the computer kingdom that exist today:

  1. Tap into your subconscious. Electroencephalography (EEG), which has been around for almost 100 years, records brain activity through electrodes on the scalp. However, as scientists point out, only a small part of the brain activity measured by the EEG is under the sensoree’s voluntary control. Other parts, like emotions and likes and dislikes, are also captured. And everyone’s EEG happens to be as unique as a fingerprint.
    Traditionally, that hasn’t been an issue because EEGs have been the exclusive domain of research labs and hospitals. But in 2009, EEG escaped from the lab and out into the wild, in the form of a an EEG device intended for gamers to levitate, Luke Skywalker-style, an object in a Star Wars simulation game using only their minds. A publicly-released programming platform followed (there are now over 40 different games developed for it) and a Jurassic Park’s worth of unintended consequences suddenly became possible.
  2. Hack your thoughts, beliefs, and your bank PIN. Recently, researchers successfully launched a mock spyware attack through an EEG game in which they were able to reveal information about the user’s ”month of birth, area of living, knowledge of persons known to the user, PIN numbers, name of the user’s bank, and the user’s preferred bank card.”
  3. Support life for lower robotic organisms. One of the problems with tiny computers is that there’s no room to store a lot of power. Anyone who’s had a first-generation GPS-equipped phone remembers how quickly these tiny chips sucked the life out of their phone hosts. But a French company has deployed a sub-internet in San Francisco that would let simple sensors send data frequently and far distances without requiring much power and at a much lower cost. It opens up many more possibilities for monitoring technologies for health, business, fitness, and other activities because the sensors can essentially live longer and more independently without an external power source.
  4. Make humans shed tears. Japan is the capital of cute, so it’s no surprise that this little computer with the face and movements of an infant but the brain of an astronaut caused his Japanese co-pilot to nearly lose face in tears when he left the computer alone to run the ship while he returned to earth. But a much-uglier computer had the same effect when it imploded while exploring some of the deepest ocean trenches known to man.
  5. Move like animals. They’re not not the smartest chips in the fab, but there are now four-legged robots that have mastered one of the most difficult tricks that animals perform – balance – and can run and carry more weight than a cavalry horse while trailing their masters like loyal dogs. But walking on two legs is a much tougher challenge. There are still no robots than can move anything like humans, even with external assistance.
  6. Carry out assassinations without remorse (yet). We all have opinions about whether killer drones are right or wrong. I’m not going there here. But the military is experimenting with giving robots a basic moral compass. Because besides being weapons, robots are also rescuers and explorers. To carry out their duties, they should know whom to rescue first. But when it comes to knowing whom to shoot first, researchers are highly divided as to whether robots can ever be trusted not to act like mass killers or terrorists.

What’s your favorite computer organism?

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The Robot I’d Have a Beer with – After He Takes My Job

The robots are taking over. I know, sounds like a teaser for a 1950s sci-fi movie. But it’s happening. It’s really happening.

Actually, it’s starting with just two robots. One is named Baxter. If you haven’t heard of Baxter, he is to our traditional perception of robots as a salt lick is to a gourmet meal. Most robots are single-function creatures, welding roofs to cars or drilling holes or some other basic operation.

But Baxter is a robot of refinement. He multitasks. For example, he can be programmed to pick and sort as well as any college kid at the UPS or FedEx distribution megaplexes at Christmastime and unlike his primitive forbears, who freak out when the bolts aren’t in exactly the same place they were the last time they reached for them, Baxter is cool with uncertainty. He can find stuff if he needs to, though if he drops a tool out of reach (proof of his amazing dexterity, not his klutziness) his expression (he has a simple, kindly monitor face) turns to one of confusion and he throws up his arms (well, actually he puts them down and shuts off and waits for a human to help him).

Baxter’s Kind of a Wimp
See, that’s the problem I have with Baxter. He is, to be perfectly honest, a bit of a milquetoast. He’s kind of afraid of humans – his software DNA tells him instinctively to avoid bumping into humans when working on an assembly line, for example. And he lets humans invade his personal space whenever they want to manipulate his arms to teach him new things to do.

And he just lets them do it!

What a wimp. I’m not having a beer with Baxter anytime soon.

Victor Has Got Some CPUs on Him
Now Victor, this guy, uh robot, is another story entirely. His monitor face has got prematurely gray hair tousled in a kind of I-don’t-care-but-I-care-enough-to-spend-$200-on-this-haircut kind of look. And he’s got a soul patch and a pair of glasses that look like they came off the rack at Armani. I’m sure that beneath his screen he’s wearing a black turtleneck that would have made Steve Jobs proud. In other words, Victor’s got attitude.

And man, can he trash talk, especially when he’s playing Scrabble, which is his favorite game. First he tries to amp his cred and intimidate his rivals with bombast like, “I am the correct king of Scrabble, Victor the mechanical marvel – that’s Victor the brilliant for short.”

Then he goes after his opponents. He’s currently hanging at a university proudly known for its nerdiness, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), so he goes right for the awkwardly protruding Adam’s apples of the students who challenge him: “Your words scored less than a CMU student at a party.”

Man, this dude’s got CPUs, huh?

Robots Are Learning to Fit In
But like most trash talkers, Victor’s abilities don’t quite match up to the words. In fact, he sucks at Scrabble and he’s a really bad loser. And he gets down on himself when he loses, looking really pissed off and revealing a vulnerability that is, well, kind of human.

And that’s the point. Scientists are realizing that for robots to co-exist with humans, they have to be a little more like us. So you take Victor and give him some arms (hey, who needs arms to work a virtual Scrabble board?) and a better education and now you’ve got a robot that could fit in at any Silicon Valley startup.

Lose the goatee and glasses and put a baseball cap over that hairstyle and he might be ready for a few boilermakers at a dive bar with the gang from the loading dock – if he doesn’t replace them first, that is.

What Happens When They Really Do Fit In?
And that’s the other point. Robots are already able to do a lot of things that humans can do. And that has major implications not just for factory workers, but for, let’s say, home health aides who lack a sense of humor, or journalists who can’t write like Hemingway (and even some that can). Business leaders and politicians need to get ready for the wave of job displacement that’s going to come when robots like Victor and Baxter get their mojos really working.

This is a big issue that MIT researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee tackle head on in their fascinating book The Second Machine Age. You should read it. It will change your view of the internet, economics, and robotics forever.

Are you ready for a robot to replace you?

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Why Brand Journalism Must Die

There is no such thing as brand journalism. I was a journalist for 25 years, so I should know.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh here goes the burnt-out old journalist on a self-righteous rant about the sanctity of his beloved profession” (some prefer not to put journalism in the rarefied company of the medical or legal professions and therefore call it a trade; if you’d seen my SAT scores you’d probably agree).

But really, what people refer to as brand journalism really isn’t journalism or anything close to it. It’s marketing.

“It’s just an analogy!” you retort.

Well, okay then, it’s a terrible analogy. We don’t report on the state of the world, we don’t investigate corruption, we don’t take controversial positions, and we focus only on the subject areas that further the interests of our companies’ missions to sell stuff. That is marketing. It is branding. But it is not journalism.

Even if you do the heavy lifting, idea marketing kind of kind of stuff like the big services companies do, for example, where they interview people and do surveys, it isn’t journalism. You can say that you use journalistic techniques in order to create the materials, but it is still marketing.

Even if you interview external experts who don’t even work for your company and do not pay them and quote them word for word in your company’s materials just like a journalist does – no self-promotion at all. And even if you’re as objective and factual as all get out in what you produce, it still isn’t journalism because the intent behind the work is different. The intent behind journalism (in theory anyway) is to get at the truth, without commercial interests interjecting themselves into the process.

The best idea marketing is conceived, funded, created, and disseminated by a commercial interest in a commercial goal. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just don’t call it journalism or put that word anywhere near what you call it.

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Why Companies Must Hire for Potential, Not Skills

???????????One of my former bosses said she literally fished my cover letter and resume out of the trash. Frustrated that HR wasn’t sending her the right people for a writing job, she demanded that they turn over the submissions that they had already discarded.

The problem wasn’t that HR was sending her unqualified candidates; it was that those qualifications included a very specific skill: experience writing about computers, which I didn’t have. My former boss was flooded with letters from technical writers and Marcom people from computer companies who knew something about technology but didn’t have the ability to write the journalistic-style materials she was publishing. She knew that a writer with journalism experience could learn about computers, but a computer expert who couldn’t write the materials she wanted would not work out.

Where’s the Flexibility?
Today, the kind of flexibility that my former boss displayed (or maybe it was just sheer frustration; she did the dumpster dive after an overzealous candidate had dozens of balloons delivered to her tiny office that made it impossible for her to reach her desk one morning) doesn’t seem to be happening.

My former boss helped me learn about the technology industry, yet few companies are addressing such skill shortages with a strategy that makes mentoring, corporate training, or development a core piece of the solution. My colleague Elana Varon recently dug up research from temporary labor company Manpower that said that when asked to choose among a variety of hiring and training practices they used to address skills shortages, only 23 percent said they provided additional training and development to existing staff. A mere 7 percent redefined job criteria in order to hire people who weren’t completely qualified, but who were able to learn the necessary skills. (No dumpster diving going on there).

Companies Can’t Always Get What They Need Off the Street
Yet hiring malleable employees and investing in training to bring them up to speed and keep their skills current is going to become more necessary over time. Here are two reasons why:

  • Schools can’t keep up. It’s unrealistic for companies to assume academia will keep pace with their specific, and at times unique, needs. “We cannot expect universities, or high schools, or vocational education systems to turn out out people who exactly fit the job,” says Markus Schwartz, global head of SAP Education. “We can expect those institutions to provide the baseline education, some foundation of knowledge, but that’s about it.”
  • Workers will walk if you don’t help them learn. Employees demand more than a paycheck to keep them engaged. In a study by Deloitte, lack of career progress topped the list of reasons why people leave their jobs. Meanwhile, a survey by PwC of millenials found 81 percent either actively looking for a new job or open to offers. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents to the PwC survey said they choose their jobs based on opportunities for personal development.

My job worked out because my former boss gave me the opportunity to learn about an industry that was taking off. It meant more than a paycheck; indeed, the tech industry became my second home. I discovered that I loved the constant change and the people. I left journalism but I never left technology.

Have you been given the opportunity to learn and grow in your company or created that environment yourself like my former boss? Please tell me about it.

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Sports Analogies Suck, Right?

How many times have you rolled your eyes at CEOs who use tired sports analogies like “getting to the goal line” or “our numbers show that we’re punching below our weight,” or “somebody dropped the ball on this one”? There are tons more like these. (Please tweet your “favorite” or put it in a comment below.)

But every once in awhile, sports analogies work. The example I’m about to give focuses on the fact that if you think of sports fans as business customers, they are the most loyal in the world. For example, what customer do you know of that would be willing to sit for hours in sub-zero temperatures just to get your product (okay, maybe Apple fans do that somewhere, but other than that, it works. See if you agree about this post that I worked on with my colleague Rob O’Regan:

“Professional sports teams have two problems that most businesses will recognize. The first is rising costs: The steady increase of player salaries (average Major League Baseball salaries, for example, rose 5.4% to a record of $3.39 million in 2013) puts pressure on teams to increase revenues at the same pace or risk becoming less competitive. The second is fan loyalty – and no, that’s not a redundant term. Fans by their nature are loyal to their team, but many sports organizations do a poor job identifying and rewarding their most dedicated supporters.

“It’s often not a question of winning or losing fans,” says Mark Lehew, SAP’s Global Head of Sports & Entertainment Industry. “Obviously if you’re a fan of a team, you’re not just going to switch loyalties because you get a better offer somewhere else. But sports teams often have a massive global fan base. Deepening loyalty through better engagement with all fans – not just the small percent who attend games – is a significant untapped revenue opportunity.”

Capturing this opportunity requires stoking fans’ passion not just during game days, but 365 days a year, through every conceivable channel – in person, on the web and through mobile and social media. What’s the best way to deliver a more engaging experience to season ticket-holders and casual fans alike? Beyond wins and losses, we’ve found that fans generally are looking for three things from the teams they support:

  • Engagement. For fans attending a game, waiting for the action to start back up after a TV timeout used to be wasted space. No more. For example, the Uphoria app from Major League Soccer’s Sporting KC gives fans access to live video streaming during the game, with a variety of camera angles and replay options along with real-time stats. Improving the in-game experience extends beyond apps. Some teams have set up “war rooms” that monitor social media to engage with fans. The NHL’s New Jersey Devils, for example, created Mission Control – a room in its corporate offices staffed in part by its most passionate fans – to track conversations about the team and its arena and interact directly with the fan base. Importantly, mobile or web apps can increase engagement before and after a game by giving fans new ways to interact with their favorite clubs. The NBA’s stats.NBA.com, for example, gives fans access to 67 years’ worth of player and team statistics – an engagement magnet for fans and media alike.
  • Convenience. Contemporary sports fans can luxuriate in man caves equipped with 65-inch HDTVs, instant replay, abundant WiFi and no waiting for the restroom. Combine these comforts of the couch with the rising costs of attending a game – a family of four pays an average of $444 to attend an NFL game, for example – and you can see why sports teams are scrambling to improve the experience for those few are are willing and able to shell out the big bucks.
    “Teams are looking for ways to create what we call ‘the best day of their life’ for fans attending a game,” said Frank Wheeler, global VP of sports and entertainment at SAP. Improvements include using technology to decrease the logistical friction that fans often face when attending a game: fighting traffic, getting in and out of the stadium, standing in long lines at the concession stand.
    For example, the New England Patriots’ Game Day Live app features a notification system with updates on traffic, parking and weather. Once fans reach their seats, they can even use the app to find the closest restrooms with the shortest wait times. An app for Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, lets fans in certain sections order food from their phones. Other team or stadium apps include options for purchasing tickets or upgrading seats.
  • Recognition. In the past, fans’ loyalty to sports teams was primarily a one-way street. Teams’ interactions with the most loyal members of their fan base – season ticket-holders – consisted mainly of contacting them once a year for renewals. Sports teams are looking to change this dynamic by embracing metrics that help them quantify the value of loyal customers beyond ticket purchases – and reward those customers for their loyalty.
    Recognition programs can be as simple as an usher greeting season ticket holders by name as they take their seat. Membership and loyalty programs extend the relationship beyond game day and provide a more personalized connection between a brand and its fans.
    Despite all these advances, few teams have all the information they need to get truly personal with their fans. Mobile apps are just the first step in this direction. The next phase – and the bigger challenge – requires utilizing detailed fan data to extend engagement, convenience and recognition well beyond live events. Creating such a connection would be a clutch win for any sports team and its fan base.

Okay, so “clutch win” is a sports cliché but by this point we’ve earned the right, don’t you think? What are your rules about using sports analogies in your idea marketing?

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How to Grab Readers’ Attention: Be Counterintuitive

3D printed bust

3D printed bust (Photo credit: Gastev)

How do you take a subject that’s been written about to death, 3D printing, and give readers a fresh approach? One way is to be counterintuitive. Here’s an example of a post that will run soon on SAP‘s blogging channels that I collaborated on with my colleague, Stephanie Overby:

The True Workhorse Behind the Maker Revolution (Hint: It’s not 3D Printers)

 3D printers are cool, new, and fun. And they certainly have a lot of potential. Building something unique out of nothing, layer by material layer in front of our eyes is no small feat, right?

But research by my colleague Stephanie Overby has found that the real workhorse driving increased customization of manufactured goods on the production line is the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machine.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, bankrolled by the U.S. Department of Defense, developed the first numerically controlled machine tool (the archetype for the modern CNC machine) more than 50 years ago. But the high cost of computing power at the time meant that the machine offered no cost advantage over human beings. But as processing power became cheaper, CNC machines gradually replaced human-operated alternatives like mills, routers and lathes.

CNC machines make it easier for companies to customize products; alterations are just a matter of reprogramming the software. While traditionally used to cut or remove material, computer numerical control is the real power behind a number of increasingly affordable production technologies fueling the make-for-me movement of manufacturing:

  • Laser-Powered Machines. Laser cutting machines use computer-controlled lasers to cut through materials including wood, acrylic, plastic, marble, and fabric, leaving a high-quality finish. Once limited to large-scale manufacturing operations, their use by individual makers and start-ups is increasing. Laser engraving machines use the same approach to engrave, etch or mark materials including wood, acrylic, plastic, glass, leather, fabric, coated metals, anodized aluminum, ceramics, Mylar, Corian, pressboard, and more.
  • 3D Scanners. These use multiple lasers to capture objects in three dimensions in order to digitize models for production, often on a 3D printer. The popular NextEngine 3D scanner retails for $2,995. MakerBot’s portable Digitizer scanner hit the market in October at $1,400.
  • Single-Ply Cutting Machines. Capable of cutting a wide array of materials, single-ply cutting machines are an efficient option for smaller job lots such as prototyping, made-to-order and supplemental production.
  • 3D Printers. Sure, don’t get me wrong. 3D printers are important. But mostly for their future potential. Employed by manufacturers for years to cheaply produce prototypes, 3D printers can create a three-dimensional object from a digital model by building it up by layering material (known as laser sintering) – most often plastic, but also ceramic, stainless steel, bronze, sandstone and sterling silver. And experiments have also been done with organic materials; meat for example (spoiler alert: most study participants weren’t crazy about Burgertron v.1). In 2014, key patents on the most advanced laser-sintering 3D printers will expire, further fueling competitive pricing in the market. The cheapest 3D printers cost as little as $1,000.

 But it’s not just big business that’s benefitting from the next generation production tools. TechShop, which offers paying members access to 15,000-square foot shops that have everything from 3D printers and CNC machines to a textiles lab and water jets, is one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. Startups like i.Materialise, Kraftwurx, Ponoko, Shapeways and Sculpteo operate brisk 3D printing services and communities connecting makers, buyers and sellers of unique items, from gadgets and games to jewelry and housewares. Shapeways has gone from producing approximately 7,000 unique printed items a month three years ago about 70,000 a month today. Manufacturers no longer have a monopoly on the methods of production; these new tools of industry may soon be available to all.

 Have you tried the counter intuitive approach in your writing for customers? Tell me about it.

 

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I have seen the future of B2B marketing. It’s on Forbes.

I’m sure I don’t need to introduce you to Forbes’ “BrandVoice” program (used to be “AdVoice). The guy who manages the platform at Forbes, Lewis Dvorkin, (if he also created the platform he’s a freakin’ genius) recently wrote about its power to disrupt traditional journalism, citing my new employer, SAP, as one of the companies that sometimes get more hits for the stuff it posts than Forbes’ own journalism.

He concludes that journalism (what little is left of it) is safe from the assault of brands like SAP. I agree (journalism’s future will be determined by its ability to create a business model that pays better than the current one: giving away content for free and charging way too little for ads), but I think he missed the more important disruptive power that platforms like BrandVoice really do have: to disintermediate traditional marketing.

Reinforcing the no-pitch rule
For the past few months, I’ve been one of the authors of content on SAP’s little corner of the Forbes platform and I’ve become a big fan. I’m especially fond of the effect it has on my colleagues in SAP marketing: they understand that they no longer need to pitch products to get the attention of customers and prospects. Indeed, there is a sense among my colleagues (that has been voiced to me as a rule), that Forbes frowns on stuff that shills products or links back to stuff on our company’s website that does.

As a practitioner of idea marketing at SAP, that’s music to my ears. Our group’s mandate is to research the business issues that SAP’s customers and prospects care about and write exclusively about those issues—not our products and services. The Forbes platform is Exhibit A for marketers who think what we do is a waste of time and money. That’s because customers and prospects actually come to the Forbes site and read our stuff. More importantly, they see smart people from SAP featured in it and that helps everybody.

What’s Wrong with BrandVoice
I don’t see everything SAP is doing on the Forbes platform as contributing to the education of customers (and thereby hopefully increasing their loyalty to the brand). A lot of it still brags about how great the company is, even if there’s no direct link to our stuff. And some of it is, to my taste anyway, pure link bait (links that we’re sending to Forbes rather than SAP). But hey, I’m a known crank. I give us a B- overall—not bad for a product company.

A Step Toward Better B2B Marketing
So the temptation is still there for marketers to market themselves or their companies rather than ideas. But the Forbes platform is an important step in helping companies understand that there is a time for selling but there is also a time (generally much earlier in the sales process) when customers and prospects are simply looking to be informed, educated and entertained. Proving that this kind of engagement helps make customers more likely to consider the company is the next big hurdle that marketers (myself included) have to cross.

 

P.S. Forbes has an profile section that BrandVoice authors are asked to fill out. I filled mine out today and thought the questions were really fun and interesting. I’ve enclosed them and my answers below in case you’re remotely interested. I’d love to hear how you would answer these questions.

Cool profile questions Forbes BrandVoice asks authors (and my answers)
I’m Watching For…

Great ideas to help businesses and IT

This Is Annoying Me…

The costs of change

This Is Making Me Worry…

The freakin’ weather in the Northeast

This Is Bringing Me Joy…

My family and cycling (in that order!)

I’m Running From…

Crappy, self-serving marketing content

This Is Helping Me Create…

Awareness that there many smart people within SAP who do more than install software

This Is Making Me Think – Hard…

The melding of business, IT, and personal life

This Makes My Teeth Itch

Selfishness and lack of compromise in Washington

Can’t Do Without

Beer

Favorite Voices

John Lennon, Robert Plant, and MLK

My Most Awkward Moment

Don’t know where to start

My Secret Ambition

To raise a moral, thoughtful, and funny child who will change the world

I’m Known For…

Journalism and marketing

My Current Project

Build a library of library of interesting and fun stories that plumb the minds of smart subject matter experts to help companies make better decisions–without shamelessly trying to sell stuff

My Greatest Achievement

Besides standing around while my daughter was born and being smart enough to marry my wife, uncovering a cover-up of doping in cycling in the US–in 1984

My Biggest Regret

That journalism is dying

I Truly Respect

People who do stuff for others without telling anyone or expecting anything in return

Moments I’d Like To Forget

Pretty much all of junior high, high school, and college (I was a nerd before it was even remotely cool to be one)

How I Pay For This Wardrobe

Two suits bought 25 years apart!? Myself, thank you very much.

Blocks I’ve Been Around

Liars and phonies (interviewed two (that I know of) C-level executives who were later convicted of white collar crime)

Things That Really Happened

Sent to the hospital four times by drivers who hit me while riding my bike legally and carefully in traffic (one of whom told me to “use the f-ing sidewalk next time” before gunning it and leaving the scene)

Where I’d Like To Be 10 Years From Now

Living in a country that leads the world in promoting freedom, compassion, and honesty (hope it continues to be the US–I’m beginning to have my doubts)

Why Forbes

The Forbes platform is truly unique–a way for companies to add to the conversation about the future without having to resort to shameless self-promotion

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Is ghost writing in social media right or wrong?

This week, I posted the first of what may prove to be a series of controversial blog posts on the SAP community network (known to members as SCN).

The posts won’t be controversial so much for the content itself (although I hope that that happens eventually) as for the way I’m presenting it.

I’m going to channel other people’s ideas, not my own. You can read the entire post here. It introduces me to the community and explains what I’m planning to do.

They may not like it and you may not either.

But I think what I’m proposing is a necessary blend of realism and good ideas. Others call it ghost writing.

As I say in the SCN post and as I’ve mentioned here plenty of times, I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that many of our best SMEs are going to take the time to blog. And many who do would be better off getting some help.

I wanted to present the core arguments here to see what you think. I think that if we limit the discussion only to those subject matter experts who have the time and skills to blog, we’re missing out.

Here my arguments for letting me present others’ ideas from the SCN post and adapted for your consideration here:

  • Most people—even really smart people—can’t write worth a damn. Why do we assume that anyone can channel passion into his or her writing?
  • Social media is biased toward English. Most of the people I speak to at SAP are German and while most Germans are amazingly skilled at English, that skill rarely translates to the written word.
  • It’s not about the style, it’s about the ideas. One of the best aspects of social media is the opportunity to put ideas to the community and gather feedback. I’m excited about the prospect of not just presenting ideas to the SCN community but also in building ideas with this community. As I interview SMEs around SAP and external influencers like analysts and customers, I want to be able to share the raw ideas in their earliest stages so that I can inform people and get their feedback.
  • Transparency is the “hidden” problem. I think what people object to most about ghost writing is that the real people behind the prose are hidden. I will always blog as myself, introduce the ideas myself, and will always reveal whose ideas I’m channeling. I will attempt to respond to all comments myself, based on the work I’m doing with the SMEs. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll go to them and get the answer and come back with it. I’ll also name the writers that I have working with the SMEs as we are doing interviews and working towards the “final” products: white papers, videos, etc.

What are your arguments (for and against)?

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Why salespeople should sell ideas: an FAQ

We all know the increasing importance of ideas in B2B marketing. But idea marketing doesn’t start and stop with marketers. For the program to be successful, those ideas must find their way into the hands of salespeople. And I’m not sure that salespeople share the same passion for ideas as we do. I think they need to be convinced. Please tell me if you think the following does the job:

  • Relationships are what matter in selling. Why should I start selling ideas instead?
    Relationship selling skills matter more than ever. Idea selling isn’t a replacement for any current selling skills. It is an additional tool.
  • But why are ideas so important now?
    Buyers are spending much more time online than they used to. A (fairly old) study by Forbes and Google found that 80% of C-level executives perform at least three web searches per day. That was in 2009. No doubt that number has continued to go up—especially with the rise of mobile and social media.
  • What does online search have to do with selling?
    As buyers do more searching, they are stretching the buying process earlier and earlier, to the point where they may not have a specific product or service in mind when they search. They are looking for inspiration and guidance on the business problems they face. Increasingly, they are going to the internet for that guidance before they speak with salespeople.
  • So you’re saying there’s a part of the buying process that doesn’t involve salespeople?
    No. I’m saying there’s a new part of the buying process that comes before buyers have decided what they want to do. They assume that salespeople can’t help them at that point. And for the most part, they’re right. Most salespeople are still focused on selling specific products and services.
  • C’mon, nobody goes in pitching anymore. I ask them about their pain points and work with them to resolve them.
    Well, ask buyers and they’ll tell you that you should know their pain points before you even walk in the door. They want to start the conversation with their pain points and work forward from there—without talking about what you have to offer them. They are looking for good ideas, facts, and data about how to solve their specific business problems. That’s what they’re looking for on the internet—why shouldn’t they expect it from their providers, too?
  • But I don’t have access to that kind of information.
    Maybe not, but someone inside your organization does. Every B2B company has subject matter experts (SMEs) who are working with customers to solve problems and have deep backgrounds in customers’ processes, industries, and functions. The trick is to discover those sources of ideas in your organization and capture their wisdom for wider distribution.
  • How do we find and tap into those sources of ideas inside the organization?
    Sales and marketing need to work together to develop an idea network—a group of internal and external SMEs that can help develop and vet new ideas and put them into the hands of salespeople. The big strategy consulting firms have been doing this for decades. But it’s only since the rise of search that buyers have begun to expect this kind of original thinking from all their providers. In a recent ITSMA survey, 88% of B2B buyers said that ideas are important or critical for providers that want to make it to their short lists.
  • How do I get these ideas in a form I can use with customers?
    Besides creating idea networks, B2B companies also have to become publishers. With the decline of B2B trade publishing, B2B providers have to pick up the slack. But it can’t be with warmed over brochures. Traditional forms of marketing are still incredibly value later on in the sales cycle, but at the early stages, companies must produce articles and surveys that can compete with what the journalists used to provide. The management consulting companies have built small publishing engines—with dedicated editors, writers, and other publishing experts—inside their four walls. B2B companies that are serious about idea selling need to do the same thing.
  • Great, so you want me to dump a bunch of whitepapers on my customers?
    No, you have to work with marketing to get those ideas translated into a form you can use with customers—whether that be idea salescards, demos, etc. Sales and marketing need to work together to figure that out. This is where many marketing groups fall down; they stop short of translating the ideas into usuable sales materials. Companies need to become as good at idea sales enablement as they are at idea publishing.

Does this look like a realistic list? What have I left out?

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