Content Marketing Customization: How to Get Past Information Overload

In 1969 you could walk into a car dealership and get swindled. The dealer had all the information about the car and all you had was a glossy brochure and your sister-in-law’s personal endorsement. When the salesman said the car was safe, powerful and reliable, you didn’t have any counter-information. Hence, the salesman had all the information power and a whole generation of car-salesman-hating shoppers was born.

But now the balance of information power has shifted and consumers walk in often knowing more than the salespeople. Information is rampant. In fact, 27,000,000 pieces of content are shared every day. It’s so readily available, it’s not really valuable anymore. This presents a conundrum for marketers.

It’s not enough to just do content marketing. If you sell vitamin supplements, you might have content about health and fitness to attract the audience most likely to be interested in your product. The problem is that that internet is FULL, and I mean FULL, of content about health and fitness. So while your company is taking a viable, time-tested content marketing approach, it’s probably not working all that well.

The value is no longer in the information itself. It’s in the customization of the information to the people you are trying to reach. Here’s how you can make it happen with your content:

  • Find the nichey-ist of niches – Focus your content on a subset of your possible buying market. Write your blog for CrossFit moms who want to lose weight. If no one else is customizing for this audience you’ll stand out to them. Great example: TinyCartridge – this blog focuses on mobile gaming as a way to stand out in the overcrowded gaming space.
  • Write your content in a new way – While your topic might be common, your voice isn’t. Consider this blog from Trust Tree, a trademark law firm. Their blog, The Root, focuses on the wacky, weird and fun happenings in trademark law–the result is anything but boring.
  • Be ultra personal – Even if you’re creating content for a super-large Fortune 50 corporation (or maybe especially so), making your content vulnerable, personal and individual will win you friends in the cyber world. By creating content that reveals a personal story, you’re offering something no one else can. For example I love the Twitter stream of @herdyshepherd1 – it’s the photo-driven personal story of what it’s like to be an actual shepherd in rural England. It’s beautiful and feels like you’re getting a personalized tour of someone’s pretty interesting life. Oh and they sell lots of products related to their sheep because of it.
  • Be the gorilla – If you have the resources (and I mean a lot of resources), produce loads of great content and out-produce everyone else in the space. HubSpot has done this admirably in the crowded area of marketing blogging. And, to take another trick from their book, if you want a new audience, purchasing an existing blog could be the way to go–HubSpot wanted to reach the agency audience so they bought the Agency Post an existing well-trafficked blog and voila, insta-audience.

It used to be that information was power. Now, information is cheap and pervasive. So the job of providing real value is more difficult than ever. You cannot phone this one in though, even generic content marketing takes a lot of time and effort. Before you spend a dime or an hour of your valuable time, make sure you’re really going to bring something of true value to your prospects. Otherwise, you’ll be lost in the noise… No ever said this would be easy.

Photo by Cobalt123 via Flickr commons

7 BTB Marketing Musts to Do Right Now for a Killer 2016

If you’re like many marketers, you’re knee deep in 2016 budgeting and planning already. Yay, everyone’s favorite time of year (kidding). So I’m here to pile on some more to do’s you should be knocking off your list to hit 2016 running. Your future self will thank me when you’re killing it on January 2.

1. Map your customers’ sales journey – This can take some time but it is SO valuable. I can’t stress enough, how important this is. How does your customer buy? What is their path from awareness to purchase? Where do you lose prospects and sales? What can marketing do to prevent it? How many touches from marketing does it take to get a prospect engaged? What touches are converting most regularly?

Understanding the answers to all these questions will fine-tune your marketing to a new level. You have to take ownership of that entire sales funnel, not just the awareness part. Marketing can and does continually add value through the entire sales process. Mapping that prospect experience and using the information to continuously drive demand will directly add dollars to your bottom line.

2. Test your nurture emails! – If you’re like most of us, you’ve put some automatic programs in place that are running happily in the background, nurturing those slow prospects. It’s time to test those babies. First, benchmark your results for the year. See which ones are performing well and not so well. Start fixing.

If the poor performers are long, shorten them up. If the subject line is ho-hum, make it sharp and actionable–try something that is 2-4 words only. Then run some A/B tests to pit your new version against the old version. If you see an uptick, keep the new version, but maybe test a couple of other elements to try to make it even better. If nothing gets results, then perhaps it’s time to ditch that email and replace with something fresh. Which blog post performed the best in the past couple months? Feature that one.

3. Plan an editorial calendar – Yeah, I know. It’s tedious. But content marketing should be your highest priority tactic, so mapping for the year will keep you on top of it all year long. I like to do 4-6 week sprints with different content topics, coordinate these with product launches and you’ll have a winning content plan. When conference season hits, you’ll be the pro who coordinated his content before, during and after shows. Just be sure to leave some flexibility in your schedule to take advantage of market changes and hot topics that might pop up unannounced.

4. Research your tech purchases – If your budget gets approved for that new automation system, document management program or whatever tech gizmo you’ve been hankering for, start your purchase process now. It can take a while to select the right vendor and negotiate a smokin’ deal. By starting now, you can be ready to sign once your budget is primetime on January 2nd. If you wait until the new year to start your process, you could fall victim to the budget yank that sometimes happens after a lackluster first quarter. Spend your budget while you have it! Or, if you can swing it, signing by December 31st often gets you some sweet deals as sales reps are trying to meet their annual sales goals.

5. Make a great piece of content to launch Jan 2 – There’s no better feeling than starting the year with something awesome. Lots of research reports and surveys come out at year-end, use the data to create a killer white paper and infographic. If you’re budget challenged, there are some new graphics programs and tools that can make DIY look totally pro. Try Piktochart and Canva. HubSpot also offers free Powerpoint templates for creating your own infographics.

6. Don’t have a blog yet? Get one ready to launch in the new year. If you’re not yet blogging on your website, start getting that going now! There’s no time to waste. Blogging is the single best driver of SEO to your website. You can’t afford not to do it. If you start writing posts now, you can launch with a good library, so your blog won’t look like a newbie wasteland. This recent post from HubSpot sums up exactly the reasons you should be blogging, like right now.

7. Develop a platform content strategy – LinkedIn, Medium and now even Twitter are dying for your content. And, there are many great reasons to post content on these platforms. They often get a lot more eyeballs than the posts on your own blog. While, you definitely want to get people over to your own blog to drive the SEO mentioned in #6, you can’t ignore the power of the audience on these other platforms. Before the new year begins, map out a strategy of which of your content will go where. Make it part of your #3 editorial calendar. Hint, you should not put everything everywhere. More about Twitter getting in the long-form game here in Contently’s article, Twitter Dropping its 140-Character Limit Signals a New Era in Content Marketing.

With all the planning and budgeting and just plain finishing the year strong, it can be tempting to focus on the NOW. Don’t let it happen to you. Januaries and first quarters are often the toughest time of the year for marketers. If you get ahead of it now, you can not only make it easier for yourself next year, but also up your game significantly. I’m cheering for you!

Photo by: Sarah Ackerman

How Big is Content Marketing in 2016? BIG. [Infographic]

Where are companies nationwide putting their marketing budget dollars this year? Content. With  more than 50% expecting to increase their budgets for content in the next 12 months, we can expect to see the trend hold well into the future.

Why is content marketing so popular? Because, unlike a flashy new social media platform or subject line trick to get people to open your emails (emojis anyone?), content marketing is truly effective. It demonstrates your subject matter expertise in a way that no amount of advertising or promotion can do, which builds trust.

I love this quote from Paul Mandeville in a recent Marketing Profs article, “Customer Experience Must Be At the Heart of Your Agile Marketing“:

“A customer that feels valued beyond his or her wallet is a customer more likely to respond to your next message or offer.”

Paul is absolutely right, we cannot trick consumers into thinking we care about them with some clever copywriting. We have to demonstrate we understand them and give them information that makes their interactions with us worthwhile. Once you’ve given them something worthwhile, they’ll be more likely to buy.

So now let’s see just how big content marketing is going to be in the coming year. Big props to Writing Experts for this excellent infographic that lays it all out so nicely.

The-Big-Content-Spend-How-Where-Are-Brands-Placing-Their-Content-Budgets

 

Heading photo by Marco Verch via Flickr Commons

32 B2B Marketing Ideas for Maximizing Periscope

Have you been hearing about Periscope but aren’t sure what to do with it? Ack, another social media platform to figure out! Don’t worry, Periscope is easy to get to know and love. It’s the perfect blend of Twitter and Youtube.

For those of you who are new to Periscope, it’s a live streaming app (you can only use from your mobile device), that allows you to film with your phone and broadcast whatever is happening in front of you right now. Your followers will get  notified that you’re broadcasting and can watch live. They can also comment and interact with each other as your broadcast progresses. Your recorded video will stay up in the platform for 24 hours and then it’s gone. You can save it and republish to other places if you’d like to keep it. It’s genius.

Why is it so great? In a nutshell, it’s live! Which means your videos have flaws and they could end in disaster, but that’s what makes it so engaging for the audience. So much of today’s content is mass produced and it often has a nice polished sheen to it. This is great for the perfectionists in us, but it can make your content smell like marketing. And when something smells like marketing… guess what, people stop listening.

What Periscope does is help you keep the immediacy and authenticity that you often lose on the editing room floor when perfecting your content pieces. So you have the opportunity to be open with your audience, have fun and show them who you really are. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to build a relationship with them. Plus, you don’t have to spend hours editing to perfection. Win win.

So how can you use Periscope for B2B marketing? I have some ideas (32 to be exact):

  1. Interview your conference attendees like HubSpot is doing at their Inbound Conference right now (#inbound15)
  2. Announce a new product feature with a live reveal and demonstration
  3. Feature your CEO commenting on an industry change or event
  4. Showcase a client using your product
  5. Film a company party (great for recruiting too!)
  6. Interview employees about what they love about what they do (also great for recruiting)
  7. Show something unique about your office space or location
  8. Ask employees what they think is the best thing about your company’s clients
  9. Feature product managers excitedly talking about what’s coming next for your products
  10. Launch a contest for the best new lyrics for a popular song, featuring your company name
  11. Interview kids of your employees on bring-your-kids-to-work days
  12. Share facts from a recent survey your target market will be interested in (bonus points for a flipchart with graphs)
  13. Interview industry experts from outside your company
  14. Feature a new marketing piece, logo or campaign and ask for feedback
  15. Draw a flowchart of how your product, service or offering works
  16. Show the atmosphere behind the scenes at a major event or product reveal
  17. Interview customers about what they think about a new product or feature
  18. Answer common support questions
  19. Q&A with a celebrity related to your business
  20. Feature a segment of info you’ll cover in an upcoming webinar or event to drive interest
  21. Show off your team’s ping pong (or office golf, or nerf ball throwing) skillz
  22. Interview the office dog
  23. Show how your product is made, how your developers come up with ideas and work together
  24. Give tutorials on how to do a particular procedure with your product
  25. Live stream your in-person events
  26. Broadcast a panel discussion with your execs and feature customer questions
  27. Answer common industry questions–what do your prospects ask you first?
  28. Ask a survey question–with Periscope’s live interaction, you’ll get feedback on the spot
  29. Make a product offer or run a pricing promotion
  30. Develop deeper relationships with industry influencers by interacting with their Periscope broadcasts
  31. Build an email or contact list by asking participants to leave their info in the comments
  32. Run a charity campaign that benefits your company’s favorite cause–be sure to film the recipients of your donations

Did I miss any? How are you using Periscope? This is an exciting new platform so get out there and try some stuff. And, if it doesn’t turn out great, no worries, it’s gone with the wind in 24 hours. Marketing is all about trial and error so give it a whirl!

 Photo by Suzie Tremmel via Flickr Commons

 

How to Bounce Back Strong Like Serena Williams

Serena Wiliams

It’s day nine of the US Open Tennis Championship. It’s hot. It’s humid. The matches are long and physically grueling.  But it’s not the heat or fitness that defeats the players. It’s something far more difficult to train for. Resilience.

Tennis is such a personal sport. It’s one person against another mano e mano. These days you can see every emotion play across the competitors faces in full up-close HD TV coverage. When a player is down a set or two, you really see what he or she is made of. Some wear their frustration like a suit and let that suit guide their every movement. Others allow their frustration its moment of release and let it go. They move on without it. It’s easy to see which method leads to more wins.

As I experience, in all its glory, the life of an entrepreneur, I think about the outcomes of each of these types of approaches to any game. Those who carry their disappointments around with them just don’t win in the end. For those who have resilience, it’s not that they don’t feel the impact of loss or disappointment, they just don’t let it own them. And the best of them use their losses to get better.

This past week I was in grave need of a pep talk from my friend and mentor, Kevin McKeown. Wisely, he told me that it’s ok to wallow, but just for a little while. You have to put an expiration date on it. When you’ve given it its due time, put it away and move on.

I saw this in action on Serena Williams’ face. In her 3rd round match against fellow American Bethany Mattek-Sands, she clearly wasn’t happy with her performance. She showed her frustration with herself in short bursts, but shook it off before the next serve. After winning a tough three-round battle, she went straight back out to practice her serve so she would be ready for the next match. My idol.

I love this quote from Entrepreneur by Eric Greitens:

“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength — if we have the virtue of resilience.”

No one ever said it would be easy and Kevin reminded me of that fact this week. So now I’m going to go work on my serve.

Photo by Mirasha via Flickr Commons

5 Things Content Marketing is NOT

5 things content marketing is NOT

It’s all the rage–all marketers have to be doing “content marketing” or they’re  just not going to be successful, right? I admit, I’m a big fan of content marketing, I’m even building a business around it. But I do believe that there is still a place for more traditional channels and I believe the traditional methods actually complement content marketing quite nicely. But that’s not what this post is about, this post is about getting to the bottom of what content marketing actually IS and what it most certainly is NOT.

As with any buzzy kind of marketing trend, the moniker “content marketing” is getting slapped on all kinds of marketing so people can feel they are doing the latest and greatest, without actually changing their strategy or methods.

I think Marketing Profs says it best:

 “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

The key points in this definition are about delivering valuable and relevant content to your audience. The whole idea is to give them information that (in the BTB world) helps them do their jobs better. And if, along the way, that helps them gain a better opinion of you as company, start a relationship with you and perhaps want to learn more about the stuff you actually sell, then you’re getting the right idea of how this all works.

So what is content marketing NOT?

1. It’s not new. Content marketing is the latest name for something savvy marketers have been doing for years. Bi-lined articles, newsletters and magazines are just a few ways this has been done in the past. The advent of the internet, blogging and social media have just made this process easier, cheaper and more far-reaching.

2. It’s not about you. Brochure is kind of a dirty word these days. It sounds dated and like it’s a long, involved paper thing that no one reads or cares about. What sounds new and fresh is an ebook. I’m seeing some companies make brochures and call them ebooks. So let’s set the record straight, an ebook should not be about your company or your product. You can skirt it a little by talking about your category in broad terms, but you shouldn’t be talking features/benefits. Your ebook or content piece should be educational and show your target market how much you know about their industry and the particular pain points they are suffering from.

3. It’s not just a pretty face. We’ve all seen the beautiful infographic or video that while gorgeous, leaves you feeling like what was that all about? Make sure you don’t forget the content part of your content marketing, it has to have substance that makes it “valuable and relevant” for your target market. Don’t forget, this is a strategic approach.

4. It’s not a one-way street. The whole idea behind content marketing, and particularly the kind that takes place on a blog and on social media, is that it’s a conversational media. It’s an ice breaker. It’s a “hey, we totally get you and what you’re going through” media. So keep it relational and encourage the two-way communication so you can create real connections with your audience. This is the fun part!

5. It’s not one and done. While you can eat out on a great piece for a while, you gotta keep the engine rolling. One piece doesn’t and shouldn’t speak to every pain your audience is dealing with. Ideally, you’re creating content for the different personas you sell to, you’re creating content that supports different stages of the sales cycle and you’re creating content that keeps your audience coming back for more. Sounds hard and it is. There’s a lot of marketing noise in the world and now more than ever it takes consistency and perseverance to stand out. Good thing content marketing is so much fun!

To get your content marketing program off the ground, start with strategy. Know your audience top to bottom and what they struggle with day-to-day. Evaluate where in the sales cycle you can support your sales team or attract new prospects with that valuable and relevant content and you’ll be off to the races. Just keep it up!

Photo by 10ch via Flckr Commons

Facing the Copywriting Mountain – How to Write with Ease

Snowboarding image

I’ll admit, writing comes easily to me. I know many people struggle when they stare at the blank page. Where to start? What should those first words be? It’s particularly difficult if you don’t write often.

A few years ago, my husband tried to teach me how to snowboard. He is athletically gifted and things like snowboarding come naturally to him. Not so much for me. He had a difficult time breaking the process of snowboarding (without face-planting) down into doable steps for me. He just did it right, without thinking about it. For him it was like explaining a sneeze. The result was a very long day and some sore body parts.

Getting started

Writing can seem like standing at the top of a steep mountain for some people. I get it. Scary. But there are a few very important differences with writing (besides no risk of broken bones):

  • Unlike the mountain, you don’t have to start at the top. The beginning of something is often the trickiest to write. Your kernel of truth is usually more toward the middle, so write that first since you feel most confident about that idea
  • It’s ok to suck at your first draft. Unlike snowboarding, no one needs to see that first run. Just get it out on paper. It’s so much easier to revise than to start from scratch. Plus, once you let go of that dream of perfection, you’ll find the words flow much more easily
  • There’s no right way to do this – if outlining your thoughts first works for you, then do it. Here’s an outlining tutorial if you need one. If it’s painful to outline, don’t. I like to think of all the rules we were taught in school as mere suggestions. If your process brings you to a good result in the end, then it’s a good process for you.

Facing critique

One of the hardest parts of writing is knowing your work is going to be read and critiqued. But getting feedback is important for ensuring you’re getting it right and at the risk of sounding like my parents (both teachers), important for becoming a better writer.

When it comes to getting feedback, there are two camps of thought. The first says you should get feedback as early as possible on your first draft. This ensures you’re on the right track from the start and since it’s only a first draft and you haven’t agonized over it yet, you’ll be less emotionally attached to it and therefore more open to the feedback.

This first method does not work for me. It took me a number of critique classes to realize this. I find that it gives me writer’s block because I want my first draft to be worthy of being read by someone. So the second method is to only give a final draft for review. You risk being totally off course and forced to start over, but if you do your homework ahead of time that risk is minimal. You also have to put on your big girl pants and take criticism on writing you labored over.

That said, not all criticism has to be followed. If you’re just getting started in your career, you might get edited more than someone with more experience. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it’s not. If you find you’re arguing with every single edit someone makes to your work, you’re probably wrong. But likewise, if you’re making every change that others’ suggest, you might be losing your own writing flavor. Find the line of how much of the critique you need to follow, but be ready with a good reason if your boss wants to know why you didn’t make the edit she suggested.

 Finishing strong

Many of your readers won’t read every word of your piece (gasp!). I know, hard to believe. Research shows they read the headline, the first sentence, any bullet points and maybe some words you bold throughout the piece.

You might think that the conclusion doesn’t really matter when the vast majority of the non-scrolling public won’t ever see it. But conversely it actually matters more. So maybe only 25 percent of folks are reading all the way to the end. But these people are really engaged with you. They put time into actually reading what you wrote. These are your people (hi, people!). Don’t disappoint them at the end!

Your conclusion is a great place to crystalize the idea you presented in the rest of your piece. Summarize it in a sentence or two. So for those who only skimmed the rest, they’re still getting the gist of your point. You should also tie back to any stories you told throughout your piece. Just like good snowboarding technique, you need to stay consistent with your form and try to enjoy the process (see what I did there?).

Writing doesn’t have to be an avalanche-prone slope of terror. Give yourself a break, get the words on paper, get some help along the way and keep doing it. I might have quit snowboarding after that first try. Don’t be like me.

Photo credit: Markus Spiering

Monday Matters: Planning for a Stress-free Summer Vaca

It’s almost here. The birds are chirping, the kids are counting down to the end of school and you and your staff are counting down to fun summer vacations. Vacations are awesome and everyone should take as many as possible. But how do you get ready for your time off without feeling like you have to work all the extra hours you will soon be taking off?

How can you take a relaxing vacation without stressing out to the max getting ready? The key is to start preparing now so it’ll be smooth sailing when you saunter out the door.

Even if your trip is planned for late August, start preparing now. Follow these steps.

  1. Make a list of everything that will need to be done before you go. Make it realistic, don’t put your entire year’s deliverables onto your plate.
  2. Break it down into weekly increments depending on how long before you go. This way you can do a couple extra items each week, without having an avalanche to do in the few days before you leave.
  3. Be sure to check in with your co-workers and  other critical participants in your projects for when they will be out of the office. Plan around those schedules.
  4. Recruit other team members to pick up a couple of the extra items that might push you into working too much right before you go. Your co-workers want you to have a great vacation and be prepared for your time off as well, so you’ll be surprised at what others will help you with if you just ask.
  5. The week before your vacation (or longer if you’ll be gone for an extended period), start notifying everyone that you will be out. Ask them if there is anything that is critical for them before you leave.
  6. Ask a reliable person to be on your email out-of-office auto responder, give that person a thorough update of any communications that would be vital while you’re out and what to do with them. It’s great peace of mind if you know there is a capable person to respond to things in your absence.
  7. Plan to leave early on your last day in the office. This is a mental trick. I’ve spend many late nights at the office trying to finish everything before I go. By planning to leave early that day, you’re more likely to actually leave at the normal end of day, when you remember the ten last-minute items that must be completed. And if not? Then you’ll start your vacation a couple hours early. Win win.

What you don’t want is to get to the first day of your vacation and think, well, I’ll just take my laptop with me so I can check in on that project. Don’t do it. Your vacation is the only time you have to completely turn off work, don’t sully it with “occasional” checkins. They might not take much time, but then you’ll be thinking about work when you should be thinking about sunscreen, surfing and sightseeing. Just don’t. The world won’t end.

Some other tips for a stress-less vaca:

  • Disconnect your work email from your phone
  • Tell everyone you are completely unplugging (a nice way of saying, don’t call me)
  • Leave your laptop at your desk at work, that way you won’t be tempted to throw it in your bag last minute

Not taking a vacation soon? Shame on you. Even if you can’t afford a big trip somewhere, taking time off from work and completely unplugging is the best thing you can do for your career. Your boss and co-workers do not want to work with a burn-out. Take care of yourself. Devon Merling says:

“One of the most comprehensive studies on vacation time and health was the Framingham Heart Study, a cardiovascular study that began in 1948 to follow people who were at risk of heart disease. The researchers found that the women in the study who took at least two vacations a year were almost eight times less likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than women who only vacationed every six years or less. Similarly for men, a 2000 SUNY-Oswego study that followed 12,000 middle-age men over nine years found that taking a yearly vacation decreases the risk of a fatal heart attack by 32 percent.

So basically, you’re avoiding a heart attack by taking a vacation. Just go!

About Monday Matters: Monday morning is a great time to think about some big picture strategy. You’re hopefully rested from the weekend and ready to come out swinging. Don’t waste this glorious freshness on your in-box. Before you get into your tactical to-do list for the week, take this moment to pause and think about strategy.

Photo by Kim Seng, via Flickr Commons 

Turning Your Team into a Hive of Productivity

There is so much help on the Internet to help you improve your productivity. Google it and you’ll find 20 articles written in the past two days on this subject. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have a passion for marketing efficiency. Marketing teams are notoriously underfunded and over-taxed, so every minute counts.

While managing your own productivity is one thing, managing your team’s is quite another. How do you coach someone to be more organized or productive? It can sometimes feel like an “you either got it or you don’t” situation. And it can be frustrating if you’re uber organized and linear, while some of your staff might be much less so. So how do you turn simple busyness into productivity?

I wish I could say that there is a secret silver bullet, but there really isn’t. But that is not to say that there aren’t some tactics and tools that can make a BIG difference. You just first have to get to the heart of the friction to be able to resolve it properly.

The first step is to get to know your staff and where their real stumbling blocks are coming from. It can be easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s a personal flaw of the individual causing all the roadblocks, but there can be a number of factors contributing to the person’s situation. It’s up to you to get to the bottom of it. Some common issues are:

  • Poor workflow – Are requests coming in to your team from all over the place? How does your team member prioritize? Are they authorized to say no? Or push back? An inexperienced person, might think they have to take it all on. Creating a centralized process for taking requests will give you, the manager, insight into the requests and allow for easier prioritizing.
  • Poor education and organization – If requests from outside departments are burying your team in fire drills, it’s up to you to educate the requesters as to how much time your team requires to complete certain tasks. AND, importantly, it’s up to you to stick to your rules about lead time, don’t let your team or yourself get bullied into breaking your own guidelines. They’ll just keep doing it and you won’t get any productivity improvements.
  • Goals and prioritization – Your team will have a difficult time deciding what to do next if you haven’t clearly laid out the goals to them. Add in overly-full plates of tasks and you have a recipe for disaster. Continually reminding them of what you’re fighting for will keep them working on the most important items without you having to continually coach on what’s next.
  • It’s not you it’s me – Are you organized enough? Are you giving clear direction and helping your team understand what needs to get done? Changing your mind frequently or constantly throwing urgent requests to your team can be very frustrating for them and will push them off their top games. Take a hard look at your daily habits and make sure you’re as efficient as you can be before working on your team.
  • Youth and inexperience – Some of your team members might simply be un-used to juggling multiple projects and tasks. We’ve all been there. Be patient. Work with them on different techniques to manage their to-do lists and how to work more efficiently through their day. Good habits take a while to develop. With your guidance you’ll get them off to a great start.

And speaking of some techniques to manage tasks and projects more effectively, I’ve found some tools and methods I’ve use throughout the years that might help you.

  • Strengths Finder – This isn’t so much of a productivity tool as what I think of as a team-enhancing tool. This book is great for helping staff and managers discover their best strengths are and get themselves doing work suited to those strengths. It’s invaluable for a manager who wants to build a team with varying strengths for top performance. It also helps individuals learn to work well with others, capitalizing on respective strengths. And, it’s so POSITIVE, which I love.
  • Smartsheet – My favorite productivity tool. Smartsheet is a cloud-based spreadsheet and project management system. “Sheets” can be shared easily for collaboration. And, you can even create forms that connect to the sheets. I’ve used these forms to collect all those requests your team gets from others and then be able to quickly and easily disseminate and prioritize tasks. It’s awesome.
  • Kanban agile marketing – I stole this idea from my developer friends. Why should they get all the uber organization?? Kanban is a project management method. It’s best for larger projects that involve a lot of moving pieces and participants. It involves tasks assigned and a master board where projects can be moved through a defined process. I haurgent-vs-important_thumbve used Jira in the past, though there are many products out there that are quite capable and some are even free. It makes my organized heart go pitter pat.
  • Trello – For the smaller day-to-day task lists, Trello is organized in a kanban kind of way but simplified. It’s a great way to keep a cloud-based to-do list. And it’s pretty and easy to use, great for your newbies.
  • The Eisenhower Matrix – If you’re helping  your team member figure out where all their time is going, this graphic can be a helpful tool. Ask them to map out which of the boxes they are spending most of their time in. They should be spending as much time in box two as possible. If they’re stuck in three or four, you’ve definitely got some work to do.

No matter what method you choose to get your team organized, it’s important that you stay involved and support that method yourself. Don’t go outside the process because you’re the boss and can do what you like. Sometimes these processes take a little time and effort to get off the ground, but if you’re the rock solid supporter and the enthusiastic cheerleader for them, your team will follow and I promise you’ll see a rise in productivity (and happiness!).

Photo credit: Jordan Schwartz via Flickr Commons

Monday Matters: The Key to Starting (Anything) New

Whether you’re starting a new job, a new position or just a new project, it can be overwhelming figuring out where to begin. How could you possibly know everything you need to know to get this right? Even if you’re an old hat at your current position, a new project that pushes you out of your comfort zone can be daunting (but exciting, right?).

So here’s the key. Are you ready? Shut up and listen.

Nothing could be more important to successful completion of your new mission than information. You’re correct if you’re worried that you don’t have all the information you need. Hint, you’ll never have it all, that’s what makes this so exciting! But you can get more than you have today, probably a lot more if you dig. Start here first:

  • Your immediate team – Who on your team just knows stuff? Talk to them, get their take. Don’t just ask surface questions about how things work, dig harder–why is it this way? Has anyone tried to change it? Why not another way? What else should I know about this? And finally, who else here has information that could help me?
  • Sales team – This group of people couldn’t be more important to pretty much any task you’re trying to accomplish in any company, particularly for marketing. No one knows the customer better. No one knows the challenges your company faces in the marketplace better. And in my experience, no group is more willing to share their thoughts and expertise. Plus buy-in and cooperation with your sales team will make you a far more effective marketer. Period.
  • Customers – Whenever possible, go straight to the horse’s mouth. Sometimes corporate culture can create what I call the “market fairy tale,” the internal story that you hear over and over about what customers think. It usually happens because one anecdotal story gets told and repeated throughout the organization. And then suddenly, this becomes a false truth applied to the entire marketplace. Talking with customers and prospects, will give you first-hand insight you can’t get elsewhere.
  • Your data – Listen to your numbers. They tell a story like none other. Just as a market fairy tale can happen anecdotally, so can untruths about what’s working, what’s not and which clients are profitable and which are not. Data is your friend. Don’t leave him hanging.
  • The inter-webs – There is oh-so-much info out there when you start listening online. Follow your clients on Twitter, dial in your RSS reader to the topic you’re wrestling with and buckled down and start listening to the experts of the universe. They’re sharing at an unprecedented rate. We’re so lucky to have them on our side. More on tools and methodology here.

Now you might be thinking that all this questioning and listening takes a boatload of time. And, you’re right. It does. Listening can be like that uncomfortable silence psychologists use to get you to spill your innermost thoughts. If you pause and wait expectantly, the world can’t help but fill the void.

If it makes you feel better in that timeframe where it feels like you’re not “doing” anything, the second part of your project or objective WILL go faster and oh so much better once you’re armed with all the information you learned from listening. You’re not losing as much time as you think.

And if you’re starting a new position, it’s the time to listen more than ever. When beginning a leadership role, it can be tempting to think you need to show up and start making changes, proving your leadership, put your stamp on things immediately. But you must resist that temptation. Christine Comaford of Forbes advocates a five to one rule. Ask five questions for every mandate. So smart.

“Ask tons of questions—focus on 5 inquiries (questions) per each tendency to advocate (give orders). You must show the executive team from the start that you don’t support a culture of order takers. You support a culture of leadership, and you create them and grow them via inquiry.”

In all cases, you’ll find that asking questions and learning before you leap will not only generate the information you need for a more successful project or job, but will create better relationships with those around you. Everyone likes to provide their take on a situation and no one likes when someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing comes in and makes sweeping changes without learning first.

Conquer the week!

About Monday Matters: Monday morning is a great time to think about some big picture strategy. You’re hopefully rested from the weekend and ready to come out swinging. Don’t waste this glorious freshness on your in-box. Before you get into your tactical to-do list for the week, take this moment to pause and think about strategy.

Photo credit: Brenda Clark, via Flickr
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