Stop Confusing Technical Knowledge with Market Knowledge

I frequently hear an expert on a product or technology described as a “market expert,” or as having great “market knowledge.”

As an investor, this is a dangerous thing to hear or say!

It conflates technical knowledge – the knowledge of how a product or technology works – with market knowledge – the knowledge of customer needs and wants, and implies that existing technical knowledge is a good substitute for market knowledge. It’s not, and conflating these can lead to overconfidence, poor strategic decisions, and lower returns (or worse).

A founding CTO is likely an expert at the technology the company sells – at how to implement it, how to use it to accomplish different things, etc. But that knowledge doesn’t give any true insight into the motivations and needs of buyers, especially when selling a non-technical product.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

This really deserves to be a longer post, but I'd like to get it out there.
One of the services Loud Dog offered was a value and culture practice (this was part of our branding practice – a well-defined corporate culture is a cornerstone of a sustainable corporate brand). Although I no longer do this, our portfolio companies still have to address this, and I figured I'd document Loud Dog's process in brief.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, aka Execution is 80% of the battle.

Why focus on culture? It's simple, really. Success is all about execution, execution is conducted by people, and people work in the millieu that is culture. Without a good culture, you won't have a functional team, won't execute well, and won't succeed.
Every company has a culture. It may be fragmented, it may be dysfunctional, or it may be amazing, but like a brand, it exists, even if it hasn't been defined. An organization consists of people working together, and that inevitably leads to a culture.

Your culture isn't what you think it is.

Our projects were usually initiated by the C-Suite. The challenge many companies face is that the executives think they know what their culture is. This is especially the case in SMB, and especially the case with he CEO. If you ask any CEO of a small company if they have a strong culture, and they know what it is, they will say that they do.
They don't.
For a variety of reasons, executives at larger companies are less inclined to make this claim, but it still happens.
Because of this, we began every culture project with confidential employee interviews. We wanted to uncover what the real culture was. Each interview lasted about 35-45 minutes and dove into how the employee described the culture, the values, etc.
This was all documented in a report for the executive team (all answers were anonymized) that described what the real culture was.

Culture can be defined.

Although culture often occurs organically at companies, it doesn't have to. You can define what you want it to be and shape it.
We'd conduct a values exercise with the executive team to define what culture they wanted, using a series of exercises.
In the end, this took the form of a series of value statements.
Some of these values would match what we discovered with the employees. Some would not. A simple gap analysis reveals shortcomings.

Now make it real.

Most companies stop at defining their values. It's great. Maybe they define value statements that describe what the values mean in the context of the company. Maybe they'll even print out some big signs and hang 'em in the cafeteria.
However, that's not good enough.
To make culture real, we'd work with the executive teams to define specifically what they'd do to make these values real in the organization.
For example, if "collaboration" is a defined value, what will a company enforce to make that real? How will they measure how collaborative they are? How will they make sure executives are encouraging collaboration and being collaborative themselves?
A colleague conducted a values project at a very large company that will remain unnamed. The executive team defined "respect for others time" as a value. But after a while, it was clearly not taking hold. Follow-up interviews revealed that the COO was consistently 30-45 minutes late to meetings. You can't sustain a value if you aren't willing to live up to it yourself.
Getting back to our example, a company that wanted to create a culture of collaboration might have periodic teamwork exercises that require cross-functional teams to collaborate to succeed.
The company should define a number of specific ways they intend to make each value "alive" within the company, to promote it and incentivize it.

In summary

  1. Determine your real culture
  2. Define your aspirational culture
  3. Conduct a gap analysis to identify areas of work
  4. Define specific methods to cultivate your aspirational culture, focusing on the areas highlighted in the gap analysis.

All about Webinars

I group webinars into three categories: lead generating webinars, product demo (sales) webinars, and customer success / expansion webinars.

Lead generating webinars

Lead generating webinars appeal to a broad audience and are intended to attract people earlier in the sales cycle, convert anonymous people into leads, and help establish the company as a leader in the industry.

These play a similar role as whitepapers, etc., in terms attracting new leads and building marketing lists. These are typically higher-effort than some of the other materials, because they require good content and presentation skills, and are less able to be outsourced, but can be great.

One benefit of webinars is that they are date driven, which can be both a marketing boon and an extra challenge. Unlike a whitepaper or other lead gen piece, when you commit to doing a webinar, you need a solid marketing plan as well. Even though it'll be available as an on-demand webinar after, to take advantage of the time pressure, you want to have as many people in the initial audience as possible.

Product demo webinars

Product demo webinars are just that – demos of a product or an aspect of the product. These are typically for people later in the sales cycle.

Every company should do these, if possible, on a standing, periodic basis. I love the idea of having a monthly 20-min demo of the product led by sales reps/SEs. It forces the company to really nail down demos, and get the sales reps good at giving them.

Promote these as part of your outbound lead gen efforts, in SDR email signatures, as a lower-commitment option for people earlier in the sales cycle.

Customer success product webinars

The final big bucket of webinars is aimed at current customers and generally focus on helping customers optimize their use of the product. We always want our customers to maximize their use of the product and leverage all its features – the more they use, the more committed to the product they are, and the lower our churn is.

There's plenty of overlap between these categories, but they have specific and definite audiences, different marketing requirements, and different goals.

As companies grow and begin webinar programs, it's important to have clarity around the goals and audience to ensure its success. Hopefully this helps.

A corporate mission should do more than inspire the brand

During the branding process, I usually begin with foundations: an organization's Mission, Vision, and Values. Unfortunately, for many companies, these are used during the branding process, documented in a brand guide book, and then referenced occasionally in an annual report, or board meeting.

But they should be used for far more! If they really underpin a brand, they should be "made real" in the organization. Today, I want to discuss the Mission statement, and how it can be made real.

First, what's a mission statement? If you've been around corporate leadership for any length of time, you've probably seen a bunch of different definitions. Many of them are more internally focused ("to deliver value for our shareholders", etc.). These are lame. If you want to deliver value for your shareholders, go put their investment in an index fund and do something else.

A organization's mission statement should capture the organization's reason for being – its story.

Once you have that story down, you can do all the standard stuff with it – put it in your brand guidelines and your annual report, but you can also use it to guide your marketing efforts and make them infinitely more inspiring. Your marketing efforts are no longer about just convincing people to buy your product, but they are about convincing people to change their lives for the better, whether they buy or not.

And of course, if you're able to convince people to change their lives, you'll also convince them to buy your product along the way.

Demand gen and lead gen and when to use them

Marketers often use the terms “demand gen” and “lead gen” interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct concepts, with some overlap. I’d like to clear up what they are and how they differ.

Demand generation is focused on building awareness of the problem a product solves and the solution it offers, and guiding prospective buyers through a journey. Demand gen ends up relying almost entirely on content generation in a variety of mediums.

Lead generation, as the name says, is focused on generating leads (sales ready and not) and qualifying them. It includes a variety of methods, including inbound marketing (using content and SEO), advertising (PPC), content syndication, purchasing leads, outbound email and telephone marketing (SDRs), etc. 

For purposes of this distinction, lead gen is concerned with the initial conversion activity – getting someone into the funnel, regardless of qualification. Once they are in, demand gen efforts nurture them along to increasingly qualified stages (by raising their awareness of the problem and solution), and eventually they are sales-ready. 

You could have some lead gen overlap here, as you may want to proactively qualify them during the nurture process. Although nurturing is a demand gen activity, qualifying them is lead gen. For practical purposes, the distinction is meaningless here.

One way to think about the distinction that does make a difference is to consider the content used for each. The goal of lead gen content is to get someone to give up their contact information (convert) and download it. The focus is on the content piece itself – it’s what the prospect wants. It needs to be attractive and interesting, but doesn’t need to lead back to the company. All we know is that we’ve offered something of value in exchange for the opportunity to talk to you in the future.

Demand gen content, on the other hand, is all about spreading awareness of the problem the product solves and the solution. It must be focused on the solution, but it should be spread as far and wide as possible. Demand gen content is less likely to be gated – the goal is getting the word out, not getting leads.