Silicon Valley Deja Vu All Over Again…But Something to Learn Just the Same

Now I know how my grandparents must have felt. “Everything old is new again.”

There are a lot of “new” sales, marketing and product management techniques coming out of the tech world today and being touted as groundbreaking, when they are actually fundamental marketing principles at work, enabled and turbo-powered by advances in technology. Bear in mind that I’m all for packaging your thought leadership and unique approaches into methodologies and promoting them. This is a major tenet of the Apollo Method for Market Dominance™. But I address this mostly to students of marketing when I urge you, however, to proceed with caution before jumping on some of these bandwagons.

The ultimate example is “Growth Hacking,” which is floating around the tech scene these days. Synonyms include hacking marketing, growth hacker marketing, etc. If you haven’t heard of this, you’ll find this definition on Wikipedia: “Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.” Anyone who has been in the marketing world for more than a day can tell you there is nothing new about using creativity, analytical thinking and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure. Fortunately that first sentence of the article is followed by the very accurate statement that: “It can be seen as part of the online marketing ecosystem, as in many cases Growth Hackers are simply good at using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing which are already mainstream” (italics are mine). Elsewhere, I found the following comment that tries to make Growth Hacking sound revolutionary, which genuinely made me laugh out loud: “A growth hacker doesn’t see marketing as something one does, but rather something one builds into the product itself.”  This is just silly. Any marketer worth a grain of salt sees marketing that way.

I really love this post by Muhammad Saleem on Marketing Land, “Growth Hacking is Bull.” He does a beautiful job of articulating what is not new about Growth Hacking. More importantly, he provides a nice marketing lesson and a good introduction to terminology that non-marketers might enjoy learning about.

On the other hand, you’ve got to love the brash, enthusiastic, I-just-invented-water! attitude of some of the folks touting these supposedly groundbreaking techniques, which are essentially new words for old methods. And you definitely have to admire their talent for self-promotion as gurus and stirring a movement. Many of these people are instinctively good marketers who figured things out on their own and therefore think they have invented these techniques. Forget the thought leadership content of these gurus and just study them. Notice how appealing it is to the market place when a person or company packages their approaches into a methodology, even if the approaches aren’t new. These methodologies give the audience something to latch onto, which is especially helpful when you’re dealing in esoteric concepts, business strategies and intangible tactical activities. Notice how the gurus promote their thought leadership. Notice how they seem to ignite the market place and lead a movement. Notice how they rally people around themselves and ideas. Therein lie the great lessons!

From CNN: How TED Got Famous

Source: cnn.com

Source: cnn.com

Anyone involved in spreading ideas can learn a lesson from this terrific cnn.com article, “How TED Got Famous.” It talks about how the TED Conference exploded its influence and brand awareness by essentially giving away its intellectual property. Or perhaps I should say, “sharing it freely.” It started offering free, online access to videos of talks given at its conferences and then doubled the price of its conferences, only to sell out a year in advance.

If that sounds completely counterintuitive to you, read the article. Notice the statistics. Ask yourself how many people knew what a “TED talk” was 10 years ago vs. now.

TED has become the GO-TO in its space.

A natural inclination with thought leadership and content marketing efforts is to hold back, particularly for organizations that market intangibles and/or expertise. They fear that if they give away their ideas, talk freely about their methodologies, or teach people how to fish, then they won’t be needed. Why would anyone buy what I’m giving away for free? Well, you’d be surprised. Think of your thought leadership efforts as free samples. For the people who need what you’re selling, they are going to read/watch your material and want to know more. And guess what? Even if you teach them to fish, you’d be surprised at how few people have the time to fish and would just as soon hire someone to fish for them. When they read about your unique style of fishing and why it’s more effective, and when that resonates with them, they’ll call you in.

Yes, some people will read your book and white papers or watch your online videos and never call you in. But they were probably never buyer candidates for your services anyway. However, they could become evangelists for you or send your material to someone who is. Yes, competitors could get their hands on your material, but if what you do is unique enough, they won’t be able to duplicate you on the basis of what you’ve published. They won’t be able to execute like you do.

Who can learn from this? How about content marketers, technology entrepreneurs, enterprise solution marketers, anyone selling to the C-suite, universities grappling with the perceived threat of online learning, other educators, and professional services organizations, for a start?

Reco: Steve Blank’s Customer Development Methodology

Many people in the tech entrepreneurship community, particularly in Silicon Valley, already know about and follow Steve Blank. But many in the enterprise solutions arena may not, even though you have likely heard of one of his home runs as a serial entrepreneur, Epiphany, Inc. This was an enterprise software company that saw its heyday during the dot com boom. Its success ensured that Steve will never have to worry about paying the mortgage. I’ve come to know Steve through our mutual involvement in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.

Over the years, Steve developed some observations about the differences between product development and sales at a startup vs. an established company. He developed a methodology around this called Customer Development and began to teach it as a class at UC Berkeley. He eventually wrote his class notes up as a book in The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Most recently, he has teamed with Eric Ries, a former student, to promote the Lean Startup movement, which incorporates much of Steve’s customer development methodology. In fact, here is a quick overview of the methodology in Eric’s blog. A key component of the methodology in developing a new offering is to iterate in conjunction with conversations with prospective customers. Also, think of the development stage as a search. And know that it’s going to be a little sloppy and seemingly inefficient.

What does this have to do with enterprise solutions sales and marketing, you ask? Lots. Working with a large solution provider and trying to package and take to market an innovative, complex offering a few years ago, I realized that the same, seemingly sloppy and iterative process we were going through mirrored what Steve advocates in his methodology. There were people in the company who were uncomfortable with what they perceived as inefficiency, but only because they were unfamiliar with the Customer Development methodology.

At the high end – with complex business solutions aimed at senior executives – often you are offering something quite new to the market. You are trying to lead companies into new ways of doing things that address not only their immediate business issues but prepare them for the future. These solutions are often quite innovative and new, even within your own company. In other words, the conditions, both internally and externally, are similar to those of many startups. So we have a lot to learn from what makes startups sink or swim.

Here is an 8-minute snippet of Steve talking about why he saw a need for the Customer Development methodology and providing an overview.

 

To go deeper, here is a 20-minute mini-lecture.

If you are in sales management, solution or product development, or marketing, I do recommend that you learn about his methodology and subscribe to his blog. You may also want to read the book.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Moats (yes, the castle kind)

There is so much to say about this LinkedIn blog post by Bill Gates that I don’t know where to start. First, the humility of it is marvelous. He’s essentially self-made and at a very young age, at that – an entrepreneur. On and off, he’s been the richest person on the planet. His foundation is so effective that Warren Buffet decided to hand his wealth over to it rather than start another. And yet, Bill Gates decides to use his first official blog post on LinkedIn to talk about what he’s learned from someone else – Warren Buffet. Beautiful.

I also love the nuggets he picked out. One is the moat metaphor. Warren Buffet taught him to think of a company’s competitive advantage as a protective moat and to look at whether the moat is shrinking or growing. He talks about it through the eyes of an investor, but we should all be doing it for our own companies. Are we adequately differentiated? How sustainable is it? How quickly are other companies catching up? How is the market changing and what will that do to our moat?

Another interesting aspect of this post is that it demonstrates LinkedIn’s strategy of providing useful content to increase engagement. Judging from the number of views, likes, comments, etc. on this post already, I’d say the strategy is working. LinkedIn wants to be more than just a tool you use while job hunting. It wants to draw users in on a daily (or more) basis. It was a coup getting Bill Gates and similarly high-profile people to agree to participate. IMHO, LinkedIn has only begun to scratch the surface of its full potential, particilarly as a B2B sales and marketing tool. That will come with time, esp. once they break out of the recruiting mentality and really open up their thinking. I can see a day when it replaces Salesforce.com. But I digress…

Back to Bill Gates. One more observation, and then I’ll make myself stop: The hook is great. He gives you a two-fer – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The post is almost impossible to resist. And the title promises big value: Three Things I’ve Learned From Warren Buffet.

It’s a quick and easy read. But you’ll get more out of it if you take a few moments to really think about how you could apply each of his three tips to your business, job and life. Enjoy.