Does the Visitor Center Truly Represent the Brand?

Customer Experience. One obvious expression is the way a brand designs their “visitor center” and on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, I sampled two very different styles.

On my first trip to Seattle in more than 10 years, I knew I was going to visit the Starbucks Roastery. Despite my preference for independent coffee houses, I’d seen the social posts of gleaming copper vats and glass piping, and couldn’t miss it (I’m a recovering engineer, after all). But before I reached Seattle, I stumbled on the Tillamook Creamery visitor center in Oregon. The contrast between the two was notable. And I’ll tell you now – Tillamook won by a landslide.

TL;DR. Tillamook showed their love for all things cheese, and shared that passion. Starbucks eagerly took my money and left me with some instagram-worthy snaps…and a bad taste in my mouth.

 A Taste of Tillamook

A big, friendly cow greets you as you approach Tillamook’s new visitor center. That one image says a lot: They know where their product comes from; it’s beautifully staged, showing the quality and attention to detail they pride themselves on; and it promises a level of quirkiness that is delivered inside.

Tillamook Creamery Visitors Center

As you step through the doors, the first thing they want you to do is take the tour of the factory, including a well-curated history of the company focusing on the farmer-owned business model. It’s self-paced, shows the factory actually manufacturing product, and gives a good appreciation of what goes in to the product.

Next, you can grab lunch at the food counter downstairs. This is very on-brand – almost all of the menu choices showcase their cheese products; and the ice-cream choices are ridiculous. The soda fountain offers Stubborn products, a low-additive craft-style brand (albeit PepsiCo), while the coffee bar serves Five Rivers beans, from the independent roaster in their community. Everything about the food screams “fresh local ingredients”, and clearly demonstrates the quality of the Tillamook brand.

I’m not a fan of gift shops, but if you’re going to have one, make sure it’s full of high quality, reasonably priced, unusual items. Sure, there were Tillamook branded shirts and mugs, but they also had a range of outdoor goods and locally-produced food items to make the gift shop an actually pleasant experience.

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Here’s the bottom line. We dropped in at the Creamery for a quick/quirky lunch break. I wouldn’t describe myself as a cheese fan. And yet, we spent 2 hours and close to $80 (lunch and gift shop) living the Tillamook experience, and came away as brand advocates. I’ve told multiple people about it since (including you!). Most brands would kill for that exposure.

The Starbucks Storefront

Before I start, yes I know Starbucks (as with all companies) exists to make money, and any claim to great coffee went out the window a long time ago. But even with a fairly jaded view of Starbucks, I was still surprised by the blatant money-grubbing at the much-lauded Starbucks Roastery experience in Seattle.

Starbucks Roastery, Seattle

I’ll admit, from a design perspective, the Roastery is gorgeous. If Instagram designed a coffee shop, this would be it. It’s all copper pipes, pneumatic tubes and various industrial-chic components. But here’s the thing. At no point did I encounter any attempt to educate me – whether on the coffee process, the source of beans, the taste profiles, the farmers….nothing. It was a full-on money-squeezing enterprise.

You walk in through a retail area. High-end (expensive) brewing, cocktail-making and general lifestyle merchandise, all branded with the “Reserve R” logo. I was about to buy a half-pound of a temptingly-named “Knob Creek Bourbon Whisky Barrel-Aged Guatemala” when I realized it was $40 (compared to $13 for a standard bean). Moving on……

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You can grab a map and decide which of the three magnificently designed bars to go to for your beverage (cocktails, coffee “experience” and the main coffee bar). Since I was short on time, I went to the main coffee bar, ordered a pour-over Ethiopian roast, and sat on an ergo-dynamic wooden counter stool to wait for it to be prepared.

That small cup of coffee cost me $6, but to be fair, it did take extra labor to make, and it was a good cup of coffee – much better than the usual Pike Place drip.

Look around you and it’s primarily tourists, and everyone is taking photos. So yes, it’s an experience. But beyond the gleaming copper, what that experience said to me was “Starbucks wants your money. As much of it as possible.” And they don’t really want you to think about the source or the quality. They don’t care how much you know about their products, processes or philosophy – which used to be one of the defining elements of the company. They just want you to love Starbucks for the shininess, and the social proof. And that’s a tough sell when there are a ton of independent roasters all vying for attention [Start with Seattle Works and Storyville coffee if you’re in town – both have great coffee and a great atmosphere]

Is it fair to make a judgement on an entire brand based on a quick tour of their showcase? Maybe not. But I do think the Customer Experience at that level has a lot to say about the overall brand identity.

And on that basis, Starbucks lose.

Top Five Sales & Marketing Books to Drive Your Strategy

Were you at the beach this summer? Did you take a good book with you? While most people grab the latest John Grisham, or maybe a good historical novel, you’ll find me with my nose in a business book (I know….how sad!). So now that we’re headed into cooler days, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from this year, particularly with an eye toward sales and marketing.

#1 Sprint. Three guys from Google Ventures outline a novel way to test new business ideas in a five day sprint. If you’re looking for a different approach to generating ideas, getting quick buy in from customers, or developing a new feature set to grow sales, this book is worth a read. It’s packed with real-life examples of sprints they ran with Blue Bottle Coffee, Slack, and others. And I’ve got to believe that anyone involved in one of their five day sprints would come out of the experience with a much stronger connection to the brand and the product. (Sprint by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky & Braden Kowitz)

#2 The Sales Acceleration Formula. Mark Roberge outlines how Hubspot grew from a start-up to a $100M organization through constantly adapting their sales strategy as the company grew. Of particular interest is Roberge’s description of the evolving sales compensation model, as their success metrics changed. If you’re wondering how to maximize your sales plan, take a look.  (The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge)

#3 Originals. Adam Grant, professor at Wharton, pulls together a treasure trove of research to support the notion that anyone can spot opportunities for change, and make themselves heard. It’s not always the “natural born leaders” who make things happen. Using interesting, believable examples backed up with research data, he highlights some unusual approaches to success, including a favorite of mine – the value of planned procrastination! It’s an easier read than the bio might suggest, and will give you some useful thought starters. Plus, the final chapter is a handy summary of “Actions for Impact.” (Originals by Adam Grant).

#4 Hacking Marketing. Written by the creator of the ChiefMartec blog, this book compares the evolution of Agile software development methodology, and how it can apply to digital marketing. The author discusses many of the techniques honed for fast, flexible software development, and shows how to apply them to build a more effective marketing process. It’s a skimmable book, but packed with ideas on streamlining your current practices. If you’re not familiar with Agile, this is a good read. (Hacking Marketing by Scott Brinker).

#5 Made to Stick. OK, so this is an old one. But I keep coming back to it, because it’s still one of the best books out there to talk about memorable messaging, and standing out from the crowd. An alternate choice is Contagious by Jonah Berger – a similar theme and style, but coming at it from a different angle. Either one will challenge your standard ideas on how to promote your products. (Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath).

If none of these appeal, there are plenty more on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. What’s on your list?

[Note: This article was originally published on the Next Level Performance website]

“Start with Why” to Build an Inspired Team

Simon Sinek has a theory on what makes companies great – “Start with Why.” And 26 million views of his TEDTalk video, titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action, suggests that he has something interesting to say.

In a nutshell, Sinek’s theory is “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” For example, Apple is known for their design ethic – for thinking different – more than the products they make. They’re not a PC company, or a phone company, or a music seller. They’re an organization that designs products that people love to use. And many people will “invest” in the latest Apple phone or tablet without even comparing to similar products. They just believe that it’s the right product for them.

Southwest may be an airline, but they’re not just any airline – they love their customers (the ticker symbol is LUV), and they make flying fun and easy. A large number of loyal flyers will book a Southwest ticket without a second thought, just because they believe in the company.

Now what if we applied that thought process to building your team? When we hire people, we spend a lot of money placing ads explaining WHAT the person will be required to do. But how much space do we give to describe WHY we want them to do it. And what do we focus on during the interview – skills or character?

If our guiding principles are truly core to the company culture, does our process ensure that we hire people who will live those values? How do we attract the right type of candidate, and how do we make sure they thrive in the interview process?

In Sinek’s book “Start with Why,” he shares the job posting for Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to the South Pole:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and Recognition in case of success.”

That’s pretty clear. Only those in search of an adventure would apply. Someone looking for a paycheck and an easy life will move on to the next opportunity. So when Shackleton assembled his team, he knew that everyone was there for the same purpose, and with the same dedication to the cause.

Now take a look at your most recent job posting. My guess is that it has a preamble that uses words like “market-leader,” and “world-class.” It probably closes with a promise of “competitive vacation policy, health benefits and 401(k).” And sandwiched between these two sections is a dry description of responsibilities and requirements. Hey, we all do it. I’m guilty too.

Before you draft your next posting, pause and read your mission, vision and value statements. Reflect on the company culture, the character traits you’re looking for, and what a candidate could aspire to achieve in your organization. Then mold those into an enticing, energetic invitation to your potential recruits.

When interviewing, focus in on the character and the personality of the candidate. Ask questions that give you an understanding of how they approach challenges, and how they interact with, and inspire, their peers. The Corner Office column in the New York Times is a great resource for different approaches to interview questions. Here’s an excerpt from their interview with Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox.

“I’m drawn to people who really love their craft, and treat it like a craft, and are always trying to be better and are obsessed with what separates great from good. And so I’ll ask a lot about those things. Like who is the best in the world at what you do, and who are your influences?”

Take this path, and you’re much more likely to hire a candidate who is driven to move the company or project in the direction it needs to go. Which means you’ll be building a stronger and more committed team, and significantly increasing your odds of success.

As Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines said “You don’t hire for skills, You hire for attitude.”

Do you?

[Note: This article was originally published on the Next Level Performance website]

How Hubspot Evolved Their Sales Incentives

Sales compensation plans are at the heart of your sales strategy. The way your sales team sells will be driven by the way their pay is structured. And the same goes for those around them. At one company I worked at, sales management was paid on revenue, and marketing management was paid on profit margin. Do you think there was friction between the two groups?!

Your comp plan, and particularly bonuses and incentives, should match the overall goals of the organization. If you’re an early-stage start-up, then customer acquisition is king; if being on Fortune’s Fastest Growing list is the aim, revenue beats all; and if you’re in an established market leader, profitability leads the pack.

Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot, describes how the company adapted their sales plan as the company grew, in his excellent book The Sales Acceleration Formula. Hubspot sells a monthly subscription to marketing software.

  • Mark-Roberge-HubspotAt the start, they paid $2 commission for each $ of the first month’s revenue (so a new customer paying $100 a month would result in $200 commission check)
  • Then, they moved to paying $4 per $ to their “top” 25% sales team, sliding down to $1 for their lower performers
  • Next, they switched to paying out 25% of the commission each month for the first four months of the subscription payments

The first program was focused on signing as many customers, as quickly as possible. Customer Acquisition was the goal. But after a while, they realized that their churn was high – too many were canceling after a few months. So they boosted payments to the sales reps who had the lowest churn rate (the “top 25”), which forced the team to narrow their focus to the prospects they felt really needed the product, and would stick with it. And finally, by linking commission payments to the revenue velocity, they motivated the sales team to sign annual contracts (and get 100% commission immediately) rather than monthly deals.

The best approach will depend on your product type, industry, sales structure, and corporate goals, amongst others. Here’s a personal example:

In a previous role, at Panasonic, I was marketing a broad range of products through a rep network. The problem we had was that our largest, and best known, product line also had low margins (negative, even). It’s difficult to pay 3rd party reps on profitability, since they typically don’t control the pricing. So we set up a commission program that paid a different percentage on each product family. The low-margin commodity product paid half the commission of standard products; our new technology, higher-margin products, paid double. I’ll be honest, it only worked halfway – sales of the commodity product didn’t go down much. After all, they were easy to sell, and much of it was legacy repeat business. But it did boost the sales of the newer growth products. So without revealing our overall price structure, we were still able to shift the product mix through a profit-based commission plan.

When Sales Incentives Should Be Based on Profit, Not Revenue, from Harvard Business Review, offers four approaches to sales programs (including the one we used at Panasonic). The authors show how to structure a plan, based on the level of influence the sales team have on pricing, and the amount of information you’re willing to share.

The bottom line. If you’re paying your sales team only on revenue, they’ll sign deals all day long that may not make sense for the company overall. It’s not their fault – they’re behaving the way you’re telling them to.

You may not want to change course overnight. Start with a sales contest for a month or quarter, to nudge them towards a particular behavior (number of proposals in a target vertical); or pay a kicker for a deal that matches your “perfect” account.  And when you do decide to change their entire comp plan, give them plenty of notice, and explain clearly why this makes sense, and is aligned to the overall goals. And, of course, keep it simple.

[Note: This article was originally published on the Dittman Incentive Marketing website]

Getting Ready for Marketing Automation

If you’re thinking about diving into a Marketing Automation project, there are some steps you should work through before you take the leap. When we decided at Dittman that we were ready to take our inbound program to the next level, we started to prep for the journey to automation. In this post, I’ll outline the steps we went through – hopefully they’ll help your journey.

1) Do you have the ammunition?

Marketing automation is a wonderful thing, so long as it’s built on a firm foundation of quality content. We had spent the previous twelve months creating a library of white papers, articles and videos, targeted at our major personas, and aligned to the buyer journey. And we had an established editorial calendar, to keep new material flowing.

Make sure you have enough content to support multiple nurturing campaigns, otherwise you’ll be churning out repetitive or uninteresting emails.

2) What will Automation do for your business?

As with any major investment, you need to know what success will look like. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, this could range from a few qualitative goals, to an ROI analysis full of metrics. We set out with a 12 month plan, including some top level goals focused on the theme “Improve the Quality & Velocity of the Sales Funnel”; a set of funnel metrics to track; and some basic goals for the first 90 days:

  • Send our monthly newsletters out through the system and track responses
  • Move all of our calls-to-action on the website into the system
  • Set up at least one nurturing campaign, based around our most-downloaded piece of content

Recent research suggests that the majority of marketers are using automation as a glorified email program. At the other extreme are companies with dedicated “Marketo mavens” who live and breathe automation, and tweak the heck out of every feature. A clear set of goals should avoid either fate (unless you can afford a team of mavens!)

3) A Mini or a Maserati?

There are a lot of technology solutions that claim to make marketing easier. Scott Brinker, in his  Martec landscape chart, identifies 18 “backbone” platforms (Hubspot, Marketo, ActOn etc) and 80+ pure marketing automation & lead management providers. So which one to choose?

marketing technology landscape jan2015With our list of goals (12 month and 90 day), we ran through many of the contenders, and narrowed to a shortlist. All of them provide either canned or live demos, so we spent some time learning what each had to offer.  It became a Goldilocks challenge. The big-names – Marketo, Hubspot et al – have a slick sales process, and can clearly fulfill any marketer’s wishlist. But they also have a huge breadth of capability, and the inevitable complexity that comes with it. Plus, they’re not cheap.

At the lower end of the spectrum, many of the offerings were bare-bones or only covered one or two of the areas we had identified in our needs.

Act-On, however, found the middle ground – just below the Top 5, with a fast-growing capability set, and the attitude of a plucky contender (remember the Avis“We’re #2, so we try harder” ads?).  Their demo, and subsequent conversations, made them the “just right” solution for us.

4) All for one, one for all

Before we began, the sales team was used to receiving a steady stream of “marketing qualified” leads, pulled through our various campaigns on Linkedin, Google and our website. Much of this would be drying up, as we steered those leads into our nurturing campaigns, and it would be a while before stronger, warmer leads started pouring out the other end.

So we had to explain the longer term strategy, show how it would help with their process over time, and refocus the efforts in the meantime. Plus, we shared our demand gen metrics with the leadership team, to show what success would look like, and how we would measure it.

5) Ready, Set….Go?

Integrating marketing automation is a significant undertaking and for us, as in most companies, it was no-one’s full-time task. Every member of the marketing team would be contributing, but they also still had their daily tasks. We set up a 1 hr daily team meeting for the first two months, with the Act-On dashboard on the screen. Depending on the phase, we used this hour for planning, for working through a problem, or for tracking progress. We also thinned down the editorial calendar, and cleared the decks of any major marketing projects for the launch period. Without this discipline, and support from executive management, I doubt our 90 day goals would have been possible.

So that’s how we got started. And I can assure you that once you’ve used marketing automation, you’ll never want to work without it again.

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