What can make you feel like a CEO?

Being asked by the BBC for a response to allegations about supporting sweatshop labor through our supply chain made me feel like a CEO. I’m not going to dwell on that story here; you can read about what’s occupied a good chunk of my time since Sunday in my note to our community on the situation. What I will dwell on here is that feeling, because I told you I would share these things. I described it to a friend tonight as walking a tightrope without a net but with:

  • the confidence of knowing what’s right (Bennett would call this True North),
  • the reality that “what’s right” doesn’t always win,
  • a fear that the group misrepresenting facts could be the one you are trusting, (would they really lie to your face?)
  • an unsure audience watching every move,
  • some nay sayers hoping for a fall,
  • the press looking for a hook (and sometimes taking the bait without investigating), and
  • a family (our team) looking for a successful end.

The first and last points create the net for me. The rest of it makes the holes in the net bigger. While it isn’t over, as we still have more investigation to do, what makes the holes feel smaller is a comment like the one I received this afternoon from a team member, Lindsay Patross who said, “You know, we don’t talk enough about why we are proud to work for Spreadshirt. This answer and what’s behind it is one of the reasons I’m proud to work for Spreadshirt.” That “what’s behind it” is my first point, and her comment is the last.

And with that, I’ll leave you with my shirt for today…

Inquiry is
fatal to certainty
(a quote from Will Durant)

I wish more reporters practiced inquiry, like the BBC did. Because of our core values, I’m happy to answer the questions… the questions just need to be asked.

Do you know what drives your business?

For the past few months, we’ve been working on driver-based analysis and planning for our different business units at Spreadshirt. The effort reminded me of why so many businesses do not attempt such an analysis. The main reason: lies, damn lies, and statistics. What happens is that you start at the highest level. Like most retail businesses, for us, we can start with traffic, conversion and basket size for each of our business units. Kind of feels cold, huh?

The next step for the drivers is to get to what makes each business unit special to its customers. For us:

Shop Partner. Number of selling shop partners and sales per shop is where you head next. And, once you have that, you start thinking about the different levels of shop partners used to judge sales per shop. For example, major accounts, power sellers and then the “long tail” are typical classifications. Then, what about recruiting of those different partners? Lead generation and direct advertising can be broken into impressions, click through, registration, activation, and shop set-up. What about shop traffic and customer WOW (I believe in Net Promoter for this measure)?

For each of these, you then argue more critical drivers. And, we haven’t even gotten into regions, and their maturity, which has a big impact on the drivers.

The question is where do you stop? When do the numbers matter and when do they become details that are distracting? My experience… stay at 5-7 drivers. No lie. Pick 5-7 and stick to them. Period.

Team members can focus on levers that impact these drivers, but don’t let those levers become drivers themselves. Keep the team focused on the drivers for their business, which will help you focus on the business as a whole versus get stuck on one number.

Another recommendation… be careful not to let drivers be self-referencing. For example, we could define major accounts as accounts over a certain level. The problem with this is that you don’t know if an account is major until it becomes major. You want to be able to target leads as having “major” potential. We did this at QuickBase by defining major accounts as Fortune 500, with a special emphasis on Fortune 100, as an example. While not all Fortune 100 accounts turned major, the hit rate was higher than going after accounts with “potential”, than waiting and seeing if those became major to define them as major.

What are your thoughts and experiences with driver-based analysis and planning? When have you seen business drivers used well and when not?

What am I wearing on my shirt? To bring some levity to a serious post, I’m going to turn to one of my favorite mood lighteners, Yogi Berra.

Don’t make the wrong mistake

Eating peas, stepping on toes and other things you don't know about me

Dear Chris Shipley tagged me a few months ago and I’ve been remiss in responding. I reached into the depth of my memory trying to think of things that even Evan (husband) didn’t know about me, that I learned from, and that were amusing. So here goes:

  1. I was on the Seventeen Magazine’s Teen Advisory board. They had a three-pronged program: work, volunteering, and fashion, of course. It was a good program that taught balance and community service. Bet you didn’t expect that did you?
  2. I stepped on a church school kindergarten teacher’s toes once in a fit of kindergarten rage. I still feel guilty about this. I learned that I needed to control some of my passion, not letting it boil over in this manner.
  3. I started using Optima C Dual Action Firming Serum this year. I learned I need to take care of my skin; it takes care of me. And, oh, I work with youngsters now!
  4. I like Buckcherry. Can you imagine me singing “I love the cocaine”?! Still freaks me out. OK, I can’t think of anything I learned from this one, but admit it, you laughed.
  5. I eat peas first. This one needs a bit of explanation. I love Just Tomatoes’s Just Veggies. The peas are my least fav of the veggies included, but I always eat them first. I carry this theme in much of my life. I often do the least fun or least appetizing things first, which regularly means that I run out of time or energy before I get to the fun stuff. I actually was not conscious that I did this until I started getting Just Veggies. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to modify this habit, but maybe now that I’ve confessed it publicly, I can start my recovery.

One form of recovery (I hope) will be getting back to posting more often. I enjoy blogging, because of the learnings that I get from it. Blogging starts conversations online and offline, and that is where I learn. THANK YOU!

And now I get to tag five folks:

  1. Jenny Spadafora. Jenny is the brilliant Community Evangelist at Intuit’s Innovation Lab. She always teaches me something, and this is the way I thank her.
  2. Steve Mann. I just met Steve yesterday, and I have a feeling I’ll be learning from him. I thought this was a great opportunity to start that learning.
  3. Adam Fletcher. Adam works at Spreadshirt with me, and not only do I appreciate his perspective, his writing amuses me.
  4. John Hagel. I’m not sure if John will do this or not, but I hope he does. I learn from his writings regularly. One of my favs is the data section of his Halloween Goblins post.
  5. Nuts about Southwest. I’m sure I’m breaking some rule by tagging a blog versus a person, but that’s me. I love Southwest’s blog, attitude, and company. I’m hoping that one of their great bloggers will pick this up and teach us all some things we don’t know about Southwest.

What is on my shirt today? I am honoring the folks with whom I spent the last 2 days. (I’ll blog on this over the next few days.) I am part of Creative Good’s Customer Experience Councils, specifically Council 10. We are a 20-person group that bonded and shared years of experience quickly and efficiently. I’m very grateful to be part of this group, and they’ve really shown me how:

10 > 20

3 things I bought in the month I wasn't posting

Ack! How has it been more than a month since I posted? I’m sorry! Let me get started with this post on three things I bought while I wasn’t posting. Then, this week, I’ll also answer the tag from Chris Shipley, as I do have my list of five things created. (Three before five, right?)

  1. Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson tickets. Evan and I had seen Luther at a blues festival in Portsmouth, NH years ago. The crowd would not let him go… Luther kept playing past his time slot, and the organizers literally pulled the plug… to many boos from the audience. We’ve been fans since. As soon as I saw tickets for Luther at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, I bought them! The show was AMAZING… truly amazing. I highly recommend grabbing tickets yourself if you get a chance.
  2. Nana’s (vegan) cookies. I really don’t know why, but I did buy a Nana’s chocolate chip cookie in the Newark airport. My thought… something sweet, but not sugary would be a good idea on the overnight plane ride to Germany. Now, I’m a convert. I ordered a few dozen to have for traveling. While they don’t taste like the original Toll House cookie recipe (hats off to the engineers view of this recipe!), these cookies are amazing. I love Nana.
  3. Clocky. I read about Clocky, as it was being developed, and something recently jogged my memory recently to see if it was in production yet. Lucky me, it is! And what fun Clocky is. He does run away from you, and plays a lovely tune while doing it. I have to admit to not using it regularly for myself yet, but it is fun to give to guests. 🙂

What is on my shirt today? Well, still in the afterglow of the concert on Friday night:

I wish to be as happy as those that
                sing the blues

It is easy to catch a cold, not create one: Thoughts on viral marketing

Most viral marketing ideas go something like this:

a) We’ll create something really funny (outrageous, edgy), so people forward it around

or

b) We’ll add our logo and link to the bottom of every message our customers send from our product

Both of these end with:

…and we’ll sell lots/make lots of $$

Both of these techniques can be critical components of a viral campaign. But most often they become the focus — above the message or action you want taken — and that’s why 98% of viral marketing campaigns fail.

P&G has an example going viral, but missing the messaging/action point:

P&G’s ThermaCare Heat Wraps team created a campaign that went viral, because they listened to customers. (YAY!) They were looking for a way to promote their menstrual cramp relief line. In talking to women about menstrual cramps, the team learned that top issue from women is that they wanted men to get what having cramps felt like. The team had the idea that they could use this information to create something viral… something that hit the exposed nerve they had found. So, they created, MENWITHCRAMPS, a website devoted to the (fictitious) study of male menstrual cramps.

This campaign did hit “viral” status. Lots of talk, lots of website visits. But… people didn’t have any idea what it was selling. A typical quote:

“I am not quite sure what they are selling at menwithcramps.com, but I am buying it as soon as I can.”

Nice sentiment, but if you don’t know what you are buying, it is hard to buy, and you definitely can’t tell others to buy it. So, this team “sold” the site, but not the product. And most folks, thought it was funny and shared it, but wondered why someone had made the site, as they noted how professional it was. (Note: For awhile the site didn’t even link to the ThermaCare site, as it does now.)

Dove and Live Vault each have great examples of ads that became viral and got their message across:

Dove’s Evolution video hits both the emotion of how people feel, and goes to the core value of Dove’s message… real beauty. Even if it hadn’t gone viral, it would still be an awesome ad that got across their message, which has to be the foundation of your campaign.

Live Vault’s John Cleese video (requires registration) shows you can be funny and get across your message. They used Cleese as a doctor at the Back-Up Trauma Clinic. Every IT manager (their target) relates to this and it gets across the message of the pain that’s associated with “out-of-date, tape-based back-ups”.

So here’s my 3-step recipe for making something going for viral without wasting $$:

    1. Talk to prospective customers to find out:
      1. What is important to them about your product? E.g., ThermaCare’s [missing message] “relief”, Dove’s “real beauty”, Live Vault’s “easy, up-to-date recovery”
      2. Is there an emotional trigger for them around your product? E.g., ThermaCare’s “men understanding”, Dove’s “fake beauty”, Live Vault’s “out-of-date back-ups”)
    2. Make a campaign that you know nails what is important to prospective customers about your product.
    3. See if you can come up with a simple, unexpected, and concrete story around the emotional trigger. (For those of you that haven’t had a chance to read Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, these qualifiers, including emotional, come from that book. This is the clearest set of qualifiers I’ve seen for viral yet.)

And if this doesn’t work, you can always attend the Viral Learning Center. (Thanks to the Church of the Customer blog for that one!)

So, what’s on my shirt? Well, I have an idea for small business marketing that may or may not be viral. It gets across a key message that many small businesses want to get across to their customers and it brings up a funny childhood emotion:

I know something you don’t know

See most small business owners start their business because they have an expertise that they want to share/live… something they are passionate about. I believe, if they created fewer logo shirts, and instead wore a shirt like this, they would be better marketers. This shirt would spark the conversations that they want to have… telling people about their passion.

I’ll tell you how it works! I’m going to be wearing this one at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival this weekend. Evan got me this trip as a Christmas gift (we are foodies), but we will also be talking to the chefs about working with us on culinary cruises for SureCruise.

Other shirts we’ll be wearing this weekend say:

Ask me about sea + food

Sea the world
Eat the world

Of course, I’ll also be sharing that Spreadshirt is what enabled me to get these targeted messages across simply, unexpectedly, concretely. See… I have several of the points going for viral on this idea! 🙂

Baby, it's cold outside: 3 things I bought while shivering

Last week, I got a nasty cold; and this week was freezing here on the East Coast. I thought I’d share a few things that helped me survive.

1. Halls Defense. With my sore and scratchy throat and cough last week, I was looking for relief. I bought several different cough drop products, and Halls Defense worked the best for me. While Halls product comparison does not have put their Defense line as the solution to my symptoms, I found them to work great without the medicine-y, menthol taste. They get my thumbs up! (Halls Bursts did not pass my tests. Too small and traditional cough drop-ish.)

2. Tetley Drawstring tea. I love tea, and while I’m not likely to abandon my fav brands of Revolution and Mighty Leaf, I appreciate this innovation from Tetley. I didn’t buy this, it was in my hotel room this weekend… but I would have bought it to try it out. What is so cool? Tetley’s taken care of a customer problem… you don’t always have a spoon to quickly squeeze the excess out of your tea bag. Their drawstring bag worked great, and I recommend it, if you enjoy tea. I’m also hoping that Revolution and Mighty Leaf will learn from Tetley. Kudos to the Tetley team for solving this problem elegantly!

3. Tati from YES Watch. While I was avoiding the elements outside, I remembered to look at YES watch to see if they had released a much anticipated “low profile” watch I’ve wanted. Let me explain… I’ve had a Cozmo YES watch for years, and I LOVE IT! It it is a great geek watch, showing you when the sun and moon rise and set. This is terrific for photography, deciding when to run, and a host of other reasons. The biggest problem for me has been its profile. It is a “male” watch… heavy and bulky… so I can’t wear it with evening wear. The dear folks at YES have now come out with a lower profile watch, the Tati. YIPPEE… mine’s on order now. 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this edition of three things!

What is on my shirt today? I’m actually wearing this one, as I had made it early. Today, I’ll wear it in honor of the Tetley team:

Walk in your customer’s shoes

Knowing when to stop

I’m someone who craves quick and thoughtful decisions. (We called this “think smart, move fast” at Intuit.) Balanced with that, I’ve always been a believer in stopping meetings and conversations that are not moving forward; sometimes you just need the break to change the way something is progressing. Lately, the number of meetings and conversations I’ve stopped for this reason is more than I want. (Not an extreme, just more than the “rarely” that I like.)

My general guideline for knowing when to stop is if I find myself repeating the same thing in a different way a fourth time, it is time. The key point is “in a different way”. Make sure you are listening to understand the other party well enough to change your response to answer their objections, or clarify your position. You should also listen to hear the differences in their explanations. Overall, if you are both just repeating yourself, then you likely won’t move forward at all.

So that’s how I approach it… do you have any rules that you use for when something isn’t moving forward and how you solve that?

For what’s on my shirt, I have a line that is appropriate for this story, but actually happened to me a week or so ago. I was paying for parking at an automated machine. I swiped my credit card, and on the screen it said:

Waiting for an answer

Here I sit now waiting for your answer… and looking forward to the conversations this t-shirt starts when I wear it. 🙂

Nature vs Nurture and the Art of Customer Service and Product Innovation

I’ve been silent for the last week because in my spare time rather than blogging, I’ve been banging my head against the Windows logo. Short version of the story… I started getting a Windows error (svchost for you geeks), which I was able to diagnose as an Auto Update issue. After some amount of playing around, I found a Knowledge Base article stating there was a hot fix, but it was only available from Microsoft support. They had an option for online chat support for $35, saying it would be faster than the email run around. I’m an optimist and went for it. The chat went about as you would expect… back and forth that wasn’t focused on my problem, but rather about them filling in their customer database. Then, the remarkable piece happened, the support agent came back to say, and I quote:

“That hot fix isn’t available any more. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 Many responses came to my mind, as you can imagine, but the most important and immediate one:

“Oh, hmmmm, that’s too bad… well, in that case, maybe, at least, TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM I JUST PAID YOU TO AT LEAST TRY TO FIX?!”

However, being more patient, I said, “Any other ideas?” After 30 more minutes (really), the chat hung up and I heard no more. Sigh.

Alas, I will fix my own problem, but it reminded me of an on-going discussion that I had with Scott Cook when I was at Intuit. The short title, “Can you train people to understand customers?” While some people are naturally good at seeing the hard to see, or being empathetic, I believe that people can be trained — or nurtured — to see. Continuing my optimistic tendencies, my top tips for nurturing listening, understanding, seeing and/or empathy… that fit for both customer service and product innovation:

  1. Slow down. The biggest limiter I’ve seen is jumping to conclusions. Take the time to pattern match at a more detailed level to get the true picture, not the general one that “everyone can see”.
  2. Work at disproving your theories. When you have a theory, many things you see will fit it because our minds work that way. If you actively work to find the holes, you’ll typically do a better job at proving them.
  3. Be there. For customer service, take the time to understand the full situation… not just what the customer is saying now. If you are in innovation, actually go and sit with your customers. I always say, “See around the problem.”
  4. Relive your time with customers. Reviewing what you think you’ve learned is important. What surprised you in the case or the visit? Surprises provide the biggest opportunities. (Caution: Surprises aren’t all good, but the ones there are… really are.)
  5. Go for the fun. While the obvious might make us feel like we solved a problem quickly, it usually isn’t fun. Let customers teach you… rather than you teaching them. This opens your mind and makes you think differently.

Do you think my MS rep would have benefited from these tips? I do. What are your experiences on nature vs nurture, and product innovation or customer service?

OK, I’ve already ordered this shirt. I’ll be wearing it often… 

T-shirts are user friendly
         (PCs are not)

P.S. Yes, I almost put “Computers are not”, but well, you know I tip my hat to Apple with that adjustment.

On my way to PBR, I bought three things

What is PBR you ask? Well, Professional Bull Riding, of course. Yes, you can take the girl out of Arkansas, but she still likes to watch those cowboys riding bulls! We went to see the top-level tour “Built Ford Tough” in Worcester this weekend with our friends, Peter and Christine. Went to shoot guns at the gun range before that. (Thanks to Peter!)

And what does one wear to a PBR event? Jeans, of course, and that’s the subject of my #1 most recent purchase:

  1. Adjustable-hem Radcliffe jeans. I can say this because it isn’t me, but the jeans… everyone who sees me in these jeans says they look awesome… not just polite “you look great”, but “W-O-W, you look great”. Again, definitely the jeans, not me. All of that aside, what I really love about them… they have an adjustable hem! Flats to heels to capris with a simple little cufflink-like innovation. My hat is off to Suzy. On the sizing if you want to order online, I read the charts and recommendations and whatever they said, I did. No problem at all.
  2. On Target: How the World’s Hottest Retailer Hit a Bull’s-Eye. I’ll likely be blogging a bit more on Target and include some info from this book, but I did buy it when I saw it recently. I’ve always liked Target, as I remember them featuring kids in wheelchairs just like regular models in their ads years ago. I liked that about them. I’m enjoying learning more of the history and culture. One clear indication on their culture: Corporate “jetiquette” is for the most senior executive to serve everyone else, “taking orders, setting up, handing out trays, cleaning up”.
  3. Mayan Chile Chocolate cake from Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe. Woah, this cake is amazing! I got to chose a cake recently while visiting Santa Fe… and as soon as I read about this one, it was mine. It has a wonderful chocolate flavor with just enough chile that you notice the hot and smoke, but then kind of wonder what that taste was… as you smile pleasantly and take another bite. You can’t get their cakes shipped, so I’m going to have to keep dreaming about it for awhile. You can hold off the urge a bit by ordering their Mayan Chile Hot Chocolate online!

Hope you enjoyed this list. I’m thinking of making “I bought three things” a series based on nice response from my first “3 things” post. What do you think?

Besides spilled hot chocolate, what’s on my shirt today? I imagine I’ve surprised a few of you with the whole PBR and gun toting thing. No, I don’t own my own guns; I don’t actually even feel comfortable in a house with them. But, yes, I do like to experience different things; and as long as they are handled safely, I don’t object to guns.

And, while I enjoyed watching rodeo and bull riding as a kid, it wasn’t until I read Josh Peter’s Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour that I was really hoppin’ to go. This book is well written and really covered the people and business of the PBR. A fascinating life.

So, for the “out of character” info I shared with you today, on my shirt is what I say to Evan whenever I surprise him by doing something odd… shoulders shrugging, I say:

I’m diverse

Experience: The good, the bad, the ugly

Experience is a hot topic around Spreadshirt. Over the past few years, Lukasz, Michael, and Matthias have built a terrific team that exemplifies the Gen Y workforce described by Jay Adelson in Business Week’s “Digg This: Talking to Gen Y”. A few weeks after I joined, I wrote to Harry Nellis, “our” partner at Accel, and told him that I could feel at Spreadshirt what Adelson describes as the ideal for Gen Y:

“…create an excitement about the company’s achievements, but more important, help employees recognize their role in accomplishing that mission.”

I love seeing and feeling this at the company. So, what’s the hot point? Well, Gen Y also means younger, which means fewer years of experience. Since we have a great, motivated team… why do we need experience? Our discussions have led me to these thoughts:

We know the good:

Experience brings us the possibility of learning… from mistakes, from success… mostly from mistakes. Mistakes can give us that “hand on a hot stove” imprint in our brains… you remember not to do it again from the OUCH. The important thing is that you step back to learn from your experiences, and [Alert: hard part here] do your best to — without bias — understand why something failed. It is only then that you can actually apply your experience… and not be doomed to repeat history.

We know the bad:

A fun example of the curse of knowledge is given by Stanford professor Chip Heath in Made to Stick (which gets an A++ rating from me… I’ve followed Chip’s work for a few years and am a believer). In a Stanford study, participants were assigned either a “tapper” or “listener” role. The tapper would tap out a very well-known song and the listener would have to guess the tune. Before the answer was revealed the tapper had to say whether the person would guess the song or not. The tappers said that the listener would get it right 50% of the time… reality… the listeners got it 2.5% of the time. The reason: The tappers had the curse of knowledge; they heard the full song in their head with complete accompaniment, while the listener heard some form of Morse code. When you are applying your experience, remember that you are hearing the full symphony, while others could likely be hearing you tap on the table… or it gets bad.

I’ve recently discovered the ugly:

Closely related to the good and the bad is my recent discovery of the ugly. With the Spreadshirt exec team, you are rarely lacking in critical analysis, which is awesome 95% of the time. The ugly is the 5% of the time when you just can’t explain why something is wrong. But, you have seen it so many times in so many different ways that you know what will happen — and, you don’t want to stick your hand on that stove or see others go through it. Ugh. While your gut (which, IMHO, is your inner self expressing your experience) tells you it is wrong, you can’t justify why. And, the arguments contrary to your gut are compelling. When this happens for me, I try to get to what experience is driving my gut. When that doesn’t work… call it ugly, decide whether you can live with the decision either way, make your case, and move on.

Along with my intro story, another story goes well with what’s on my shirt today. Harry recruited me for this position. As I talked to him more about the opportunity, I admit to being surprised when I realized that they were recruiting me as the gray hair for the org. I did think that I had a couple more positions (not just a couple of years, but a couple of positions!!) before I was the gray hair. But, alas… here I sit as a:

gen X geezer