Consider the sausage. By definition “it is a cylindrical meat product usually made from ground meat, often pork, beef, or veal, along with salt, spices and other flavorings, and bread crumbs, with a skin around it.” (Wikipedia) The skin or casing is either manufactured or made from the intestines of other unfortunate animals who checked the donor box on their license prior to leaving us. “Manufactured artificial casings are made of cellulose, collagen or synthetic materials,” Wikipedia continues. I am not sure if those ingredients are worse for us or the casings. In the end, the casing serves as a funnel for the sausage to fill and get tied off like a drug addict does, prior to cooking.
With fennel. No fennel.
Fennel seems to be key in making sausage Italian. Fennel tastes like licorice but isn’t, or anise, which also has a similar flavor. Origin seems to play a major part in German sausages or wursts. For example, frankfurters come from Frankfurt, Germany. Find a place on earth, and they have a version of a recipe for sausage and a story to go with it.
Some have written about the similarities between writing our nations’ laws and producing sausage. Being a lawmaker notwithstanding, I think just about any job or career is easily comparable to making the tasty links. It’s hard work, requires mystical techniques and recipes, a dash of luck and some things you would rather not tell anybody about. For more pain, add to it the machines and noises that blend it all together. Once made, the phallic food just looks bad, like some of my greatest career successes and failures, which resemble the images of a terrible tractor trailer accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. I struggle to find a career bliss image that looks better than a big number on my W-2. Maybe that’s why so many divert their focus to job titles.
A title is the cheapest thing a company can give you.
It costs nothing for the business but the shrapnel and angst for the employee who didn’t get it. You have to be careful when you accept them. I learned this the hard way. I have been a Chief Marketing Officer, Advisor, Head of Marketing and Sales: Business Development, Global Support, Relationship Management, and any combination of all of them.
I do, however, describe myself as a marketing and business development guy. But you have to be careful with the title you accept.
First, access who the job reports to. I had an ambiguous title once that reported to the top guy. After leaving the company, I found it next to impossible to explain, kind of like explaining why we enjoy sausage so much.
Would you want to be a (add your own title here) to Ken Lay from Enron, or John Scully during his Apple years (he became famous for firing Steve Jobs)? How about Bernie Ebbers from Worldcom, Guccione from Penthouse, or anything Trump? Who you associate (and run with) is important. Don’t get sucked into the sausage casing of corporate titles.
Where’s the beef?
Your career has many ingredients. Many say that like a good sausage, your career has to have a foundation and direction. In the old days, it was something like this: You go to school, become an accountant, latch on to a big company, never even think about leaving, kill all your good ideas just after origination, and receive your award for filling the office floor with broken #2 pencil tips. Congrats! You now have a watch to tell you what time it is for the two or three years you have left before you donate your intestines to become the casing for someone else’s career sausage.
How about this one?
Try everything that interests you. Make that the basis of your own millennial sausage recipe. Who cares if you have the skill; just try it. Give it your best shot. Show up and try. If you have to, cut it and fly. Fill the career menu with your own authentic recipe. Beg, borrow, and steal whatever you can from others.
Next, add some of the you that makes you, you. And there you go. Sounds simple but it’s not.
In addition to the functional areas above, I have worked in the following industries: automotive, banking, recruiting, technology, insurance, and outsourcing. I have never built, marketed, or sold a car, or made a loan. I can’t read code, can only spell actuary, struggle with the balance sheet and its hidden meanings, and have never performed a service. I didn’t follow a script. My dad was a blue collar guy. He didn’t have any advice for me on how to become “the man.”
Accept that your work will be hard, contain pain, discomfort and some failure, too. You will learn a ton of lessons from the experiences you consumed. Happiness and success are easily forgotten. Like with a good recipe for sausage, we struggle to remember unless we write it down. I will bet you, though, that you will remember the time you added anchovies or Spam to your sausage and will never do it again.
Over the past few years I have figured out my “Why.” I spent real time thinking about what made me, me. I didn’t set out to answer the Why question until it was suggested to me by my friend, Sarah Elkins. Last year she invited me to the first No Longer Virtual session in Atlanta. Two days of workshops to meet, to learn, and to connect face to face with some super-talented people. I jumped at the opportunity. I went, participated, learned and made a couple of handfuls of new friends who shared a common love of communicating.
At one point in my career, I worked with a bunch of people who didn’t think marketing was important. It’s funny; one of the guys has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from a decent college. Other people, particularly those on the Board of Directors, didn’t believe either. They were believers in what they described as “hard core sales.” Hmmm, “hard core” sounds like a marketing term to me. Born in another industry, it must have passed by them.
So I thought about the company and its position in the marketplace. Losing money and no new sales for years were the headlines, followed by a blue chip client base and bad customer survey results. And last, high turnover in management and across the company. I joined to lead business development, which included Marketing.
Each quarter I would sit in the board meeting. I would look at the trail of successful executives walk through the door. One had a watch on his wrist that was so big he could have had someone along with him to carry his hand. I wondered if the exec was “sold hard” on that watch. Did the salesperson threaten or work him on price, delivery, or service? Was it a “deal he couldn’t refuse”? Or had our guy seen the advertising during the Masters golf tournament or the U.S. Open? Perhaps he succumbed to the messages from Madison Avenue or that cute shopping boutique in Vail, CO. Not sure, was it Marketing?
One day I bumped into another executive and board member on her way to the parking garage. We traded pleasantries as she climbed into her Porsche 911. I hopped into my Jeep and sat for a moment in the driver’s seat. I thought about the marketing Porsche did and how the product was a self-promoting machine in and of itself. I resisted banging my head on the steering wheel. Why hadn’t I been able to prove what had been so evident to me? That marketing activity enables sales. That the purpose of a business is not profits. That the purpose of a business is to create a customer. From customers, profits flow, particularly from happy customers. These are fundamental Peter Drucker truths they teach in business school. All of these guys had been to business school, except me. So why did I understand the central role of Marketing when they did not, or would not? The 911 buzzed out of the parking space ahead of me. I got the message loud and clear. For some, the pecking order even existed in the parking garage.
I thought long and hard about the people I worked with and their business principles. How they approached products, sales, and making money. I realized this was going to be a tough assignment for me. In fact, it was likely that I would get myself fired. Never a quitter, I decided to continue with the engagement.
I decided to go back to my roots. To hire the best people I could find and equip them with tools and information needed to perform their jobs. I had been part of a team that employed business case selling for enterprise sales before. We had great success with it in the past. So I decided to try it. I had also delivered a record $25 million sales year in a $100 million software business. I had used some of the same techniques and skills. So I focused on Marketing, the lead steer in business development. Over two years we built a real pipeline. The funnel included a prospect of significant strategic and financial size. We closed two deals representing the first new business in over five years. Sounds like success but unfortunately, it is not.
So the natural question is, why? How come a lot of activity turns out to be no activity? If you haven’t signed any new clients and you add two, why doesn’t that mean anything? Is this even possible? The answer is yes, and here are three reasons why. It is here where Marketing fails and why it often has a bad name with senior executives.
1. Good marketing can’t make up for poor marketing’s prior sins.
Apple’s marketing is legendary; so are Nike’s and Budweiser’s. Go hire the teams from these companies to come in behind the crew that delivered Sprint’s magic or the debacle that is Quiznos. You won’t have results in the same ball park. Why? The hole is too deep for even the best marketing in the world to change. Marketing takes it on the chin for being an expensive failure the first time around. Next, it is an even more costly effort to try to fix the failure. Add it all up and marketing is expensive and sucks. That creates a reputation that hangs around for a while.
2. Good marketing can’t hide poor products.
The lipstick on a pig analogy works here. People did this to fraudulently sell stock research back in the early 2000s. If your product doesn’t work, or you are breaking the law to pretend it does, marketing won’t fix it.
3. Good marketing can’t fix ineffective sales operations.
Sales operations are distribution. It’s how your products get into the hands and environments of your clients. Done well, it is the most important area of any company. However, poor sales performance can kill a product, brand, and company.
What did I learn from my experience? I had dealt with all three issues simultaneously. I had no chance, regardless of the numbers that I put up. But there is a silver lining to my story. Even at this point in my career, I learned some of the best lessons in my business life. At a minimum, I can share them here.
According to Wikipedia, coworking “is a style of work that involves a shared working environment, often an office, and independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization.” Further, “coworking is also the social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values, and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with people who value working in the same place alongside each other.”
Ok, now that we have a definition of what coworking is — beyond the obvious — let’s address the reality. Questions that often surface like, “What the hell do we do with all this office space we thought we needed from decades past?” are often the foundation of its existence. Remember the time when a bank branch was believed to be required on every corner and a local bookstore was expected to be in every town? It seems like Home Depot and Amazon solved this problem, and eventually, Amazon will be the cure for everything we need.
I take great pride in the teams I have built and led over the years. At the risk of sounding discriminatory, I have found that I have tried to hire morally good people. I often say in the workplace that “I hire people who are good out there and in here too.” I have high integrity, and I expect it from the people I lead. I have been fired for refusing to lower my integrity quotient. I have quit for the same reason. There are some things I am unwilling to do for money. I am a Marketing and Sales executive. There are ample situations where bending the truth or over stating something present themselves.
Pumping my head with someone else’s words helps me form my own. It’s that simple.
I read a lot and listen to music all the time particularly when I read. Even in the office. I have had a boom box under my desk for many years. I am respectful to others and will ask if it is ok if I play it during conversations. I have never had someone tell me no. I turn it off for conference calls and more formal meetings.
I have been around for a long time. I plan on being active in business for a hell of a lot more time, too. It is my belief that you can perform at a high level for as long as you want. You will have to maintain your health, if that is what you want to do.
Just Do It!
To read the rest of my article on working for decades click here.
Cervantes created our character as a guy who read too many books. He had too many stories in his head and started to live his life acting them out. Don Quixote, written in 1605; is regarded as the most successful commercial book ever written. At least that’s what Wikipedia says. Five hundred million copies sold; not bad.
So I wonder: Is it possible to have too many stories? Too much experience? Do our brains get filled up with them?
Do you think of your career regarding the decades related to your chronological age? You know, 20’s, 30’s and on to your what? 60’s. How about 70’s or 80’s? Beyond that? Do you have the nerve to think this way? Should you think of working and being active forever? You know, as long as you can and still be productive. I will bet you Warren Buffet (86) does, Pope Francis (80) too. How about Ruth Bader Ginsberg (84)?
Want to sell value to your customers? If you do, you had better make sure you have a rock-solid reputation in the markets you serve. Value-based selling in enterprise software and services sales is critical. Companies deciding about enterprise software know the benefits and consequences of their purchasing decisions. Partners and vendors selling to these companies know how important their reputation is. In fact, the good ones know a good reputation is essential to their survival. They also know that finding the value with the customer allows them to charge a premium. Many buyers can justify paying a premium. When? If they are creating value with a trusted partner with a strong reputation.
While there are many reasons why a sale can fail, the three most important legs of the value stool are:
· The Business Case
· Pricing and,
All three require that your company receive high marks from your customers and your prospects. If one leg fails, you will lose your sale and hurt your reputation as well. Rebounding from a poor reputation is not impossible, but it is hard. Think of Johnson & Johnson and their Tylenol brand back in 1982. It controlled 37% of its market. Several people died taking Extra Strength Tylenol that year. The product seal was compromised, and poison added by someone who would never be found. The result was Tylenol’s market share fell 30%. Over time, the drug maker regained 100% of their market share. It cost J&J money and time, two killers of business productivity. The case is a best practice in crisis management. Everyone knows the Apple story and how Steve Jobs brought the company back from the brink. It is now one of our most valued and envied corporations. These are extreme cases that illustrate how hard it is to rebuild a reputation.
In enterprise software, the software services the needs of the organization. The desires of individual users take a back seat to the business.
The needs of the organization are the most important that the company has. If the company is public, enterprise software supports those that drive shareholder value. Buying the right tools is essential. Many buyers use a business case to help construct the argument for a decision maker or team. The case should include quantitative and qualitative data. When summed up, the result is an overwhelming reason to launch a project or make a buying decision. No matter how good your business case is, if it is coming from a selling company with a weak reputation, it will be less convincing.
Pricing is one of the most important activities for your Product and Marketing teams. It is also a critical part of the business case. It should be fair, reasonable and justified. Sellers must be able to explain any premium to market prices. If you are launching a new product, you have some flexibility. It is a challenge to try to pick a point that will sell and maintain the desired profit for your company. Your price is an exchange rate for the sum of your business intelligence. It is the combination of your products, services, support, and research. Pricing is at the heart of where your reputation makes a difference. If your company has weak stature, your assumptions will face extra scrutiny from buyers. They may assume that if your firm has a questionable status, you are pricing to make up for other issues. That may not be the case, but the reputation of your business can reap undesirable consequences.
Delivering and supporting a company’s products and services is difficult. It involves the staff who implement and maintain what you have sold to your customers. They make the software work and ensure that the value you and your client agreed to is realized, day in and day out. The effort ebbs and flows as new business problems, bugs, and design failures surface. Customers expect there to be some amount of issues tied to supporting enterprise software. What they want is a partner that is attentive to the problems and that takes a proactive approach. If your company has a bad reputation with customers, it is likely that delivery will be a source of the dissatisfaction. These staff are responsible for fixing the issues and they are often maligned for being the problem. Rarely do they get complements for a job well done. If you have substandard delivery your reputation issue just got worse. It will become much harder to turn around marketplace perceptions.
Like your personal reputation and integrity, your corporate reputation is all you have. If you are trying to sell value at a premium price, a poor reputation will make your job that much harder. Your prospects will question you on every assumption. The sales process will become longer. Customers will demand discounts and doubt your ability to deliver.
If you are working in a company with a poor reputation, it is imperative that your senior management makes improving it a top priority. If you do not, they risk the long-term health and security of the business.