Coach-Approach Leadership: 3 Steps to Make Your Teams More Effective

How can you get the people on your teams to be accountable? You can use quick tricks to fix behavioral symptoms, like being late, or you can take a coach approach to leadership and encourage your people to self-reflect so they can solve their real problems. Here are steps you can take to be a better coach.

I recently received an email with five tips to help my team get their work done on time, all the time. The tips were good: Schedule meetings 10 minutes early, don’t do “one more thing” before you leave, etc. The last tip, “trick your mind,” really hit home. It suggested changing your clocks to run ahead of the actual time so you will be less likely to be late (guilty).

These tips got me thinking about accountability, which is all about being effective. In The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman draw a line where those living Above the Line “see it, own it, solve it, and do it,” while those Below the Line ignore or deny what is going on, don’t take responsibility, wait for direction, and cover their butts so no one can blame them when things go south. In other words, Above the Line = being effective; Below the Line = shame and blame. But it’s not that simple – I find that most of us live somewhere in the middle.

Here’s the question: How do we get the people on our teams to be accountable and consistently see it, own it, solve it, and do it? You can use tips like the ones in that email I received, or you can take a coach approach, encouraging your people to do a bit of self-reflection so they can solve the problem instead of the symptom.

For example, being late is a symptom, and I am guilty as charged. I can change my clocks and trick my mind to increase my chances of being on time, or I can figure out the reason behind why I am late so I can choose to be on time. Pinpointing the “why” gets to the root of the problem, which allows me to transform. This is my approach as a transformational coach, rather than a facilitative coach, helping people to achieve long-term sustainable change from the inside out.

As a leader, a large part of your role is to be a coach to your people. I call this coach approach leadership. Let’s look at three steps you can take to coach your employees to find the root of their problems.

Step 1: Play the ‘Why’ Game

Asking “why” can be powerful. The key is to keep asking “why” until you get to a point of being stumped. This means you must ask “why” at least 3-5 times to get past the symptom to the root cause. That’s where the magic happens.

So, why am I late? I am late because I am always doing one more thing. Why am I always doing one more thing? Because my schedule is so full, I don’t have enough time to get everything done. Why is my schedule so full? Because I feel like I have to get everything done right now. Why do I feel like I need to get everything done right now? Because nothing is ever enough. Why is nothing ever enough?

Good question. This is what I need to reflect on. Doing it alone is scary and makes me want to walk out of my office and see what other people are doing – this is where you, the coach-approach leader, comes in.

Asking “why” gets below the surface and brings issues to light that have been simmering and possibly manifesting in ways the employee is unaware (see step 3). It starts to build awareness of their feelings, which builds emotional intelligence. It lets the employees know that you care about what is happening and, most importantly, why it’s happening.

Step 2: Be a Non-Judgmental, Empathetic Coach

It would be easy for me to say that I am late because I am being selfish and don’t respect other people’s time, or that too many people are pulling me in too many directions. I consider those answers to be the easy ways out, where I blame myself or blame other people. “I’m just a bad person and other people need to change.” Problem solved!

Notice how my answers in step 1 did not reflect any judgment on myself or others. My answers to the “why” questions were honest and non-judgmental. In getting to the root of a problem, the goal is to help people answer “why” with thoughtful insight rather than judgment. While judgment plays a very important role in our lives, it often results in shame and blame that can stop us in our tracks. The goal is to instead build awareness and be curious. As coaches, that means the buck stops with us. I can’t be non-judgmental with anyone else until I am non-judgmental with myself. As a coach approach leader, you need to walk your walk.

Coach approach leaders are vulnerable and sit in the uncomfortable spaces with their employees. They guide employees, support them, challenge them, and hold their hands. They are empathetic. But they also do not rush to turn on the light and make everything okay so that they can feel better. A coach doesn’t think about their own discomfort because it is not about them. Coaches are able to focus their energy on their players because they have already done (and continue to do) the work on themselves. My previous article, How Transformational Leadership Impacts Your Bottom Line, is a good place to start your own self-reflection.

Many times, what is going on in your employee’s world is a mirror for what is going on in your world. Yes, it may make you uncomfortable – there is a lesson here for you, too. However, being a coach approach leader is about serving. Your employee is also feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort will lead to growth for both of you.

Step 3: Teach Your Players to Look for Patterns

Once we get below the surface, find the root of the problem, and start exploring, patterns start to emerge. As I explored why it feels like “nothing is ever enough” for me, I realized that it’s not just about being late. It is also why I have a hard time eating only one Thin Mint, or why when I dive into a project, I work non-stop until my team and I are exhausted. Never Enough is a pattern that shows up in lots of places in my life. I also identified that I have another pattern, All or Nothing, that is closely tied to Never Enough.

Your role as a coach approach leader is to help your employees understand what patterns they have, and to work with them to establish new patterns. It is important to help each employee understand how their current pattern is an asset to their game as well. For example, my Never Enough pattern means that I strive for mastery in anything I do. My team and were able to produce some ground-breaking work because of my pattern. And yes, eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints requires mastery! The flipside of this pattern is that I am chronically late, I often over commit, and I spend a lot of time judging myself for my shortcomings.

Now you must work with the employee to identify a new pattern – if they could choose exactly how they want to behave, how would that be? This is called a power pattern. This is the new pattern that they want to live into. I have replaced my Never Enough pattern with a pattern I call White Space Is Golden. And I have replaced my All or Nothing pattern with This and That.

Take the Coach Approach

Now it’s time for the experiments to begin! This is where you, the coach approach leader, really start to build a deep relationship with your employees and work with them to say goodbye to their old patterns. Work with them to identify experiments they can try to adopt new power patterns, and empower them to do new things they may have not felt supported or challenged enough to do on their own.

Keep in mind: Your employees will not live into their new power patterns immediately. It’s like learning to ride a bike — it will take experimenting, falling, scraping your knee, maybe even cracking your helmet. It’s thrilling, exhilarating, and a bit scary.

As the coach, you will sit beside them, guide them, support them, challenge them, and hold their hand. You will be empathetic. You will be vulnerable. You will celebrate their wins, listen to their challenges, ask curious questions, and help them be non-judgmental so they can learn, be accountable, and be more effective.

3 Steps to Better Leadership in Today’s Clickthrough Society

Having a good leadership team means having one that is well rounded. It requires different types of people with different skills and personalities. Here are three steps that you can take to build better leaders on your team.

There is a conundrum in leadership in today’s clickthrough marketplace. Many are drawn to leadership to accomplish big things, which is great, but they often lack the patience to develop their leadership team slowly and carefully. Preferring to pick people they get along with best and are the easiest to work with, they tend to dismiss those who don’t have these two particular qualities because they require more work.

What’s wrong with that you say? Well, start with the fact that a well-rounded leadership team is just that. Well rounded. This requires many types of people with many different types of skills and personalities. Only choosing people that are the easiest to get along with is a terrible prescription to building a balanced leadership team.

Chief executives need to drive transformation differently today. Incremental changes do not lead to transformation. They need the full buy-in of their leadership team and they won’t get it if they are told what they are going to do. The leadership practice today is to let the team know what the desired result is and allow them to develop “How” they are going to achieve it. Since it is their planning that drives the desired result there will be far more buy-in and accountability to purpose.

This is often difficult for chief executives who prefer to micro-manage their teams. But anyone can change who wants to. One thing is for certain, micro-management leads to defection and high attrition and often stalls an organization dead in its tracks.

  • The two best things a chief executive can do:
    • Listening
    • Asking questions
  • The two worst things a chief executive can do:
    • Telling people what, why and how they are going to do everything
    • Intimidating people into doing what he or she wants

Here are three steps that you can take to build better leaders on your team:

  1. Stop being impatient. Don’t see yourself as the one who has to keep everything going and moving at the correct pace. See yourself as a coach, mentor and nurturer of people and their individual talent that you might miss if you don’t take the time to look. Providing confidence to your team members to continue to grow and develop their talent demands that you know what they are and how to develop them. Even with people who lack natural confidence, when a leader takes an interest to help them solve their challenges they can overcome them. This makes the team stronger.
  2. Listen, really listen. Stop what you’re thinking and listen carefully to what the team member is saying. Does this take longer? Yes. But this makes even the most nervous person more comfortable telling you what’s really going on, why it is and what can be done about it. Under pressure, this same person will not offer the solutions they see simply because they’re not being reassured by their leader.
  3. Stop being a producer, and start being a scout. If you see yourself as an impatient judge of talent, you will only be satisfied with the very best talent. But seeing yourself as a scout allows you the time to develop that talent into its full potential. Those you might overlook or those you prefer to have on your team should not necessarily boil down to who is farthest in their development. Why not take a chance or two on some less experienced, or even difficult people, and help them turn into the best they can be?

No chief executive has a 100% perfect success rate. So why not give the younger guys time to develop and lead? In the long run, this approach will allow you to do what you do best. Look ahead to what’s next and the best steps to get there.

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Tom Wants To Hear From You!

Tom Marin is the Founder and President of MarketCues, a national consulting firm focused on planning and driving both strategy and strategic growth programs. The firm’s expertise, scope and knowledge help clients solve complex problems by creating simple powerful solutions that deliver results. Follow MarketCues on Twitter. Tom also welcomes emails, new LinkedIn connections, calls to 919.908.6145 or visit www.marketcues.com.

Note: If you are a printing company or product/services company serving the print-media market, and would like to be considered for a feature in this blog, please contact Tom Marin for an interview.

Marketing Leadership: Where Women Lead, We May All Follow

As women assume expanded marketing leadership roles in our field, it’s well worth taking some notes. Recently, DMCNY held a Women in Leadership networking event, bringing women leaders and learners together to talk about their experiences, and provide a little coaching I believe we all might use.

As women assume more and expanded marketing leadership roles in our field and share their points of view for others to emulate it’s well worth taking some notes.

Recently, the Direct Marketing Club of New York held a Women in Leadership networking event, bringing women leaders and learners together to talk about their experiences, and provide a little coaching I believe we all might use.

marketing leadership
Photo: Stacey Hawes, president — data practice at Epsilon (standing); Dawn Zier, CEO of Nutrisystem; (seated left) and Adrea Rubin, president of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc.(seated center) discuss “Women in Leadership” at recent Direct Marketing Club of New York gathering. Photo by Chet Dalzell. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

Be Your Own Brand

Brands require care, purpose and promises fulfilled. By taking yourself, and working and living toward the brand attributes you seek that define you, you fulfill that destiny. You are the best steward of you. “You are the CEO of your own career.”

Seek Out Trusted Advisors

Mentors cannot be assigned; they happen through introduction, affinity and knowledge sharing. Which is one more reason why it’s important to have leaders in your organization who reflect all types of backgrounds and experiences.

Join an Industry Network

Meet a new person every week. Get involved with local marketing clubs, peer groups and ways to give back, for example, by developing the next generation of marketers. Marketing EDGE is a superb way to find and nurture industry talent, as well as participating in alumni groups and industry conferences. Try and meet one new person every week.

Be Aware of Your Wake

Self-awareness also means understanding the people you touch along the journey. While leadership styles may vary, all leaders motivate, impress and inspire. How you do so is up to you.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

The goal of parity between men and women comes down to defining objectives and measuring toward those objectives.

Hire for Emotional Intelligence

Hire individuals who enhance the culture of your company. Yes, skills and experience are vital and must be demonstrated but often, the choice between candidates comes down to how an individual contributes, not what he or she contributes.

When It Comes to Pay, Performance Is the Differentiator But Ask

Why are men paid more than woman, on average? It’s not because they perform on average better than women it’s likely that they just ask more often, and get it. Thus, being equal to the task doesn’t translate to parity in pay. So it’s best to speak up, because performance doesn’t always speak for itself.

Thank you to Stacey Hawes, president data practice at Epsilon; Dawn Zier, CEO of Nutrisystem; and Adrea Rubin, president of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc. for sharing their respective “cultures of celebration” during the DMCNY event. Yes, it does benefit you to get out and network and to listen and learn.

Business IS Personal, and Other Leadership Rules

“Business is one of the most human things in the world,” Simon Sinek said early on in his presentation during &THEN. He shared that when he hears someone say, “It’s not personal, it’s business” he just laughs to himself. No, no it’s not … business is personal. It’s human.

I have a new marketing crush. It’s Simon Sinek.

Simon SinekHe was the Monday morning inspirational keynote speaker during DMA’s &THEN event last week and I’m still running over in my head all the things he discussed in under an hour, a week later, because he gave us that much to chew on.

His wonderfully dynamic speaking skills aside, Simon was able to be upfront and frank with a hall full of marketers.

“Business is one of the most human things in the world,” he said early on in his presentation. Then he commented on that when he hears someone say, “It’s not personal, it’s business” he just laughs to himself. No, no it’s not … business is personal. It’s human.

business_personalAnd human is something we could all stand to do a little better, and a bit more often. Especially in leadership roles.

Simon spoke about how in this ever-connected world, technology shouldn’t replace human contact. Instead, it should bring humans together. And leaders need to take the charge.

Certificates Don’t Make a Leader

“[There’s an] incredible lack of leadership across the world today in every industry,” Simon said. It may seem harsh, but hang on before you brush off his point.

As humans, we like intensity because its easy to measure, and this is how leadership is often taught:

  1. Attend a leadership seminar
  2. Earn a certificate
  3. ”I’m a leader now!”

It’s the intensity we crave, but that’s not how it works. Consistency matters more than intensity. Good leaders are built over time, energy and actions.

Another point of his I really liked was that good leaders create an environment of vulnerability, which allows people to speak up and honestly ask for help and feel safe. If you know you can ask for help with a project and not fear a layoff or something else, employees will do so. This builds trust and stronger teams (trust me, THIS WORKS).

Put the Phone Down

We’re all saying this, but Simon both reinforced points and made some new ones.

When someone’s smartphone is out — whether in their hand, on a table or anywhere else visible — it makes the other person in the conversation feel less important. Why? Because at any moment it’s understood that a notification can go off, and attention gets transferred directly to the phone.

During a meeting, a smartphone on the table announces to all “you’re not important.” And yes, Simon let us all know that flipping the phone over in an attempt to be polite is still just as bad. And it’s true! How many meetings have you sat through with all the buzzing from phones being set to vibrate … or the phone with the ringer still on?

It’s distracting, but we all do it … and probably because a fair number of the people in leaderships roles are doing it. Not to be jerks, but because of this need to constantly be connected. Here, the tech gets in the way of the relationships.

Toward the end of his presentation, Simon said, “Whoever understands people the best wins.” “People” are our prospects, customers and even our fellow employees. Make it personal … because that’s just what good business is.

There will probably be a couple more blog posts in the future that will reference Simon’s presentation at &THEN 2016 … he gave me a lot to think about.

5 Practices That Grow Good to Great Marketing Leaders

If you’ve been in direct marketing, say, 20 years, do you have a career full of wide-ranging experience? Or are you stalled with only five years of experience repeated four times? Growing your value proposition to management is essential, because sometimes marketing leaders have to make difficult choices of whether the right people are “on the bus,” if they need to be “moved elsewhere on the bus,” or if there are people who need to be “moved off …

E-commerce for the B-to-B MarketerIf you’ve been in marketing, say, 20 years, do you have a career full of wide-ranging experience? Or are you stalled with only five years of experience repeated four times? Growing your value proposition to management is essential, because sometimes marketing leaders have to make difficult choices of whether the right people are “on the bus,” if they need to be “moved elsewhere on the bus,” or if there are people who need to be “moved off the bus.”

The bus metaphor comes from the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. In my last column, “Neuroscience, Leadership and 7 Challenges for DM Leaders,” I described a brain-adaptive approach linking neuroscience to leadership.

Today I share another requirement of leaders as described in “Good to Great.” This is where great leaders get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out the route to their destination.

If you’re not a direct marketing leader today, but aspire to be a well-rounded professional, in a moment I’ll share five growth practices you can adopt to position yourself to not only have a seat, but someday drive the bus.

But let’s begin with looking at what leaders are encouraged to consider as they look at their “team on the bus.” The concept of “First Who, Then What,” from “Good to Great” summarizes it well:

  • Good to great leaders begin organizational transformation by first getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it.
  • “Who” questions come before “what decisions” like vision, strategy, organizational structure and tactics.
  • When in doubt, don’t hire.
  • When a people change is needed, act.
  • Put the best people on the biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.

For leaders, seating your team on the bus, and in the right seat, they (you) must leverage individual strengths that will have the highest impact on an organization’s success.

For direct marketing team professionals, there are five practices where you can bring value to both the organization, and to yourself and your own future.

  1. Reinvent every few years. You don’t want to be the professional who has been in the workforce for 20 years, and suddenly realizes that it’s really only five years of experience, repeated over and over, like you’re on a treadmill.
  2. If you want to grow, ask leadership in your organization what you have to do to attain certain goals. Muster the confidence to ask someone you admire, and who’s successful, if they will be a mentor.
  3. Learn about what others are doing in your organization. Cross-train yourself. If you’re a marketing manager, learn more about product fulfillment. If you’re a copywriter, learn from the marketing manager. If you’re deeply rooted in direct mail, learn digital. Not only will you become more valuable, but you’ll enrich your understanding of the bigger picture.
  4. Attend events, especially local programs. Read every day. Challenge yourself, from time-to-time, to read about a topic outside your normal area of interest.
  5. Peer into the future. Anticipate what you can contribute to transform your organization’s direct marketing success.

For aspiring leaders: when you take charge of your career and your future with these five practices, you can improve the odds that you’ll be placed on the correct seat of the bus in your organization.

For leaders: evaluate your organization’s structure and the people on your team now to determine who should be on your bus and where they should be seated. This is your first step to grow from good to great.

(Read more about using neuroscience in marketing, along with left brain/right brain thinking in my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” )

Neuroscience, Leadership and 7 Challenges for DM Leaders

Leaders do make a difference. Maybe the explanation can be found in neuroscience. Over the years I’ve worked with many different leadership styles, and it’s apparent that some are more effective than others. Let’s take a look at the good and the, well, not-so-good leadership I’ve observed from direct marketing leaders, along with seven challenges that can deliver …

The neuroscience of great leadership.Leaders do make a difference. Maybe the explanation can be found in neuroscience. Over the years I’ve worked with many different leadership styles, and it’s apparent that some are more effective than others. Let’s take a look at the good and the, well, not-so-good leadership I’ve observed from direct marketing leaders, along with seven challenges that can deliver more results.

Where Neuroscience and Leadership Meet

There are two points of reference for this column. First, a column in Inc. Magazine titled “The Neuroscience That’s Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders.” The article summarizes concepts from “Neuroscience for Leaders,” a new book by Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis and Dr. Alexandros Psychogios. A few highlights that reveals the importance of emotion in leadership:

  • There is a neuroscience to leadership, one that allows managers to move from “good” to “great” by retraining our thought patterns, nurturing emotions and training yourself to respond with empathy.
  • The brain is primarily “a social organ,” and a great leader views the role as one of empathy.
  • The emotional brain is crucial for guiding our decisions and behaviors, and it is always on duty.
  • Empathy is talked about in companies but rarely practiced in management. Managers desire to lead with more emotion, but scanning through spreadsheets and charts all day, responding to stress by becoming more analytical, and overemphasizing certain emotions — such as happiness or fear of failure — make leaders only partially effective.

In other words, great leaders effectively blend the metaphorical left brain (logic and analytics) and right brain (creativity and emotion).

The reference about moving from “good” to “great” reminds me, of course, of the classic book, “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins. Even though it was released a few years ago, it’s still relevant. Every company leader, and aspiring leader who wants to take a business to a higher level should read it.

Here are a few nuggets from “Good to Great” about the most advanced “Level 5” leaders for taking an organization from just “good” to “great”:

  • Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. Their ambition is for the institution, not themselves.
  • Level 5 leaders display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated.
  • Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results.

Brexit Backlash and 7 Ways Bold Decisions Fail

The United Kingdom made a bold decision to leave the European Union on Thursday, the so-called “Brexit” vote. By Tuesday, news stories were already piling up that … maybe it wouldn’t? How many times have you seen that in a business?

The United Kingdom made a bold decision to leave the European Union on Thursday, the so-called “Brexit” vote. By Tuesday, news stories were already piling up that … maybe it wouldn’t?

Was John Oliver trying to describe Brexit ... whatever Brexit turns out to be?
Was John Oliver trying to describe Brexit … whatever Brexit turns out to be?

Now there’s talk of a petition to hold a second Brexit vote since the results were so close.* Beyond that, Prime Minister David Cameron is resigning without initiating the exit from the E.U., and it’s possible his successor won’t either. In fact, there are many ways that Brexit, despite success as non-binding referendum, might not happen at all.

How many times have you seen that in a business? There are conversations, meetings, you think a decision has been made! … only to find out no one’s following through on it and the “decision” wasn’t worth the breath behind its words?

We glorify bold business decisions, but it’s easier to get behind them than follow through on them. There are many forces that work against a bold decision, and in the Brexit backlash we can see some of them in stark relief.

Here are seven things you must do to support a bold decision, that the U.K has not done thus far in Brexit.

1. Get Broad Support — Brexit Did Not

Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Leave faction in the British referendum was its narrow margin of victory: Less than 4 percent. With over 33 million voters, the margin was less than 1.5 million. That’s not so close as to be illegitimate or demand a recount, but it’s not enough to support continued difficult action.

All bold decisions come with a price, and that price will chip way at support; 51 percent for becomes 51 percent against very quickly.

2. Manage Expectations

I’m not going to belabor this one, since it’s going to be one of the first takeaways on any list about sales or management. But I also don’t want to naively breeze over the natural tension here: You build support for a bold decision by talking up the benefits and minimizing the costs and other downsides. Many votes are swayed by the emotion behind your argument and your attitude, and not the simple pros and cons. That’s just the way people are, and just the way politics and business are done.

But there are limits to how far you can push that sunshine before it comes back to burn you. If you say “The money’s going here,” when in fact it’s going there, people who notice that will be upset.

This happened in the Brexit campaigning. An important campaign point for leaving the E.U. was that a £350 million payment the U.K. makes to the E.U. could be put to the National Health Service instead. Hours after the election, Leave leader Nigel Farage backtracked on it.

That’s exactly how 51 percent in favor turns into 51 percent in opposition.

3. Decisions Must Be Binding

This is another obvious one, but again, it’s an issue that’s epidemic in business. The Brexit referendum was non-binding, which opens the door to leadership simply ignoring it.

Now, theoretically that leadership would be voted out in the next election, assuming Brexit remains a determining issues for voters. But that’s a big assumption, especially when the majority is thin. Add some pain from the bold decision — people start to think about how following that decisions means losing revenue from another area, or workforce may be reallocated in ways that are unfavorable to them, or your political leader may immediately say you were stupid for believing his campaign promise — and non-bound supporters start wriggling out of the work it takes to enact the decision.

4. Be Moving Before the Hammer Falls

All births are painful, and your bold decisions are no different. The hammer is coming down, and if you haven’t taken action on the decision by the time it hits, then that pain is all your decision will be known for.

The day after the Brexit vote, markets crashed and the world economy lost $3 trillion over the weekend, with the U.K itself taking the hardest hits. There is speculation the British economy may slip into a recession from just this one vote. It’s being called “The Brexit Crash.”

Are CMOs Really in Charge? Should They Be?

If a CEO is responsible for overall company management and fiscal health, isn’t a CMO responsible for overall brand value and the health of their customer relationships? And if not the CMO, then who?

If a CEO is responsible for overall company management and fiscal health, isn’t a CMO responsible for overall brand value and the health of their customer relationships? And if not the CMO, then who?

Two recent blog posts hit this point home, and left me wondering if CMOs have the breadth and depth of experience, knowledge and expertise to accept responsibility for the total customer experience. Read on, and tell me what you think.

The first blog — on arstechnica.com — was titled “Best Buy has spammed me more than all of Nigeria’s princes combined.” The post from author Jon Brodkin should not only make Best Buy cringe, but generate an immediate response from Best Buy’s CMO, Greg Revelle.

It seems that during Jon’s purchase at Best Buy he unwittingly opted-in to a Best Buy email barrage. Within days, his inbox was stuffed with one or two emails a day from the ubiquitous retail store with subject lines like “4-HOUR SALE: Starts now,” “You’d be crazy to pass on this,” “Amazing deals end soon,” and “Jon, save 15% on ink and toner.”

Of course Jon did what any of us would do — he wanted it to go away so he unsubscribed. But when the emails didn’t stop, he went further: He complained on Twitter. He complained directly to Best Buy (and was told the emails would stop). But they didn’t. So he reported Best Buy to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violation of the CAN-SPAM rules.

As a marketer, my first reaction is “Why isn’t someone managing the Best Buy CRM system to create a set of rules that will ensure any single customer will NEVER receive more than X emails from us in a given week or month?”

I can’t imagine a situation where anyone would agree to that many emails from a single brand — so for all the investment Best Buy has made in technology and automated CRM systems, they’re only as good as the humans controlling those technologies. And who controls those humans? In Best Buy’s case, it should be CMO Revelle. It should be his team that manages the CRM system. It should be his staff who sets up and manages email rules. And it should be his team who monitors customer satisfaction with email — looking at open rates, clickthrough rates, conversion rates and unsubscribe rates.

The other example was a LinkedIn post by one of my colleagues, Denise Williams. Titled “Can’t control it? Don’t promise it. [Branding 101].” In it, she complained about an unnamed telecom who offered a rebate on a phone upgrade via a direct mail offer, with the OE teaser “You’re more than our customer. You’re our top priority. Thank you for choosing [our company].”

She took them up on the offer, upgraded and received her gift card/rebate. But, like most of us, forgot she had it in her wallet. So a few months later, when she finally went to activate the card, it was too late — the card had expired.

As she notes, the card act governs how long rebate cards need to be active, and she understands that, but it’s how the organization handled her when she complained that’s the real issue.
After being transferred around and around the call center and asking customer service agents who the President of the company was (they were clueless!), she finally went online, researched the Executive Team and decided to reach out to the CMO by email. Her faith in her ability to have a peer-to-peer discussion about a system failure was encapsulated in this comment: “surely the CMO would understand something this important: that the flawed promotional offer with the expired rebate left me feeling less than a customer who is ‘Top Priority.'”

But the CMO failed her by merely forwarding her inquiry to the executive resolution team — a group from whom Denise had originally tried to contact, but from whom she was shielded. Of course they saw the error in their ways and quickly credited her account the amount of the gift card.

But shame on that CMO. This is customer relationship management 101. Get your telemarketing team up to speed on your brand values. Empower them to solve problems. Teach them how to listen to the customer and help them reach a satisfactory conclusion, because it shouldn’t be this hard to get one little expired gift card reactivated or give the customer a credit.

I’m sure many CMO’s reading this will tell me that they are NOT responsible for the email CRM system, or they’re NOT responsible for the customer service team. But as a C-suite executive responsible for creating positive brand impressions that will ultimately result in sales and happy customers, shouldn’t these customer contact divisions be part of their strategic management team?

Yes, that sounds like the CMO has taken on a much bigger job, but not one that should scare people like the Best Buy’s Greg Revelle. With a BA from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard, I’m sure he’s more than capable.

5 Essentials for Every B-to-B Website

“If you don’t have a website, you don’t have a business.” By now, this maxim is well understood. But what kind of functionality does your website really need? What website strategies should you pursue for business marketing? Here are five must-haves for every B-to-B website.

“If you don’t have a website, you don’t have a business.” By now, this maxim is well understood. But what kind of functionality does your website really need? What website strategies should you pursue for business marketing? Here are five must-haves for every B-to-B website.

The five elements every website needs are:

1. Thought Leadership
Establishing your company as a knowledgeable authority in your field is job one for a B-to-B website. You want to be seen as not only up to date, but trustworthy and helpful—sort of like the Boy Scout law. So make sure your site is filled with useful, non-salesy information about your category and the problems your customers are looking to solve. This is a classic content marketing play, whereby you provide libraries of case studies, research reports, presentations, archived webinars, blog posts, how-to videos and all manner of information intended to help visitors learn, and to present yourself as their trusted partner in that task.

2. Help Your Customers Buy
As discount retailer Sy Sims used to say, “An educated consumer is my best customer.” You want your customers and prospects to be as knowledgeable about solving their problems as they can. And you also want to influence them as they move through their buying journey. When they are ready to make a purchase decision, they will better understand how you can help them—and why they perhaps should select you over your competitors. In some ways a subset of thought leadership, helping your customers buy means teaching them how to be a good customer for you. Oracle, for example publishes a Software Investment Guide to help prospects’ decision-making.

3. Lead Generation
The perennial number one goal of just about every business marketer is generating sales leads. If you make the effort, your website can be a productive source of high quality, low cost leads for your sales force. So don’t squander the opportunity to turn your website into a lead generation tool. There are basically two ways to approach this objective:

  1. Add an offer, a call to action and a landing page with a data-capture form. If the offer is of sufficient interest, a small but steady percentage of visitors to your site will fill out the form and leave behind their contact information. Treat that data as an inquiry, and run it through your normal qualification and nurturing process. Add similar offers throughout your site, varying the deal to suit the surrounding content.
  2. Install IP address identification software that allows you to observe the domain name of business visitors to your site. You won’t know their actual names, but you will know the firms they represent. You can do a look-up by hand, or use automated processes from such providers as NetFactor and Demandbase Real-Time Identification. Once you have a sense of which companies are researching information on your site, you can then reach out and offer to help.

4. E-commerce
As I discussed last month, e-commerce is fast evolving into an effective tool for automating all kinds of B-to-B sales and marketing processes. Even if a classic shopping cart is not suited to your offerings, you are sure to find pieces of your go-to-market that can benefit from e-commerce, from quotes, to purchase orders, to selling low-margin replacement parts.

5. Community
Business marketers benefit from connecting their constituents in myriad ways: sharing expertise, promoting word of mouth, enabling channel partners, informing shareholders-the list goes on and on. Some terrific case examples come from the Kinaxis community for supply chain enthusiasts, and the Cognizant Community invitation-only forum for senior executives at its top clients. Communities can be as simple as setting up a LinkedIn group or Facebook page, or as complex as Ingram Micro’s 15-year old peer-to-peer VentureTech Network for its U.S. and Canadian resellers. However you go about it, the pay-off in community connections is huge.

So, that’s the line-up. And here’s the bonus: Not only will you advance your business goals with these strategies, you’ll also improve your SEO findability. A win win.

Do you have any website essentials to add to my list?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology.