HBR: What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

“The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek and Cara France:

What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

What makes marketing creative? Is it more imagination or innovation? Is a creative marketer more artist or entrepreneur? Historically, the term “marketing creative” has been associated with the words and pictures that go into ad campaigns. But marketing, like other corporate functions, has become more complex and rigorous. Marketers need to master data analytics, customer experience, and product design. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?

To explore this question, we interviewed senior marketing executives across dozens of top brands. We asked them for examples of creativity in marketing that go beyond ad campaigns and deliver tangible value to the business. Their stories — and the five wider trends they reflect — help illustrate what it means to be a creative marketer today.

  1. Create with the customer, not just for the customer

Everyone likes to talk about being “customer-centric.” But too often this means taking better aim with targeted campaigns. Customers today are not just consumers; they are also creators, developing content and ideas — and encountering challenges — right along with you. Creativity in marketing requires working with customers right from the start to weave their experiences with your efforts to expand your company’s reach.

For example, Intuit’s marketing team spends time with self-employed people in their homes and offices to immerse themselves in the customer’s world. Through this research, they identified a pain point of tracking vehicle gas mileage. Based on these marketing insights, Intuit created a new feature within its app that combines location data, Google maps, and the user’s calendar to automatically track mileage and simplify year-end tax planning.

Brocade, a data and network solutions provider, created a “customer first” program by identifying their top 200 customers, who account for 80% of their sales. They worked with these customers to understand their sources of satisfaction and identify areas of strengths and weakness. Brocade then worked with sales teams to create and deliver customized packages outlining what Brocade heard is working or not working, and what they would do about those findings. Later, Brocade followed up with these customers to report on progress against these objectives. The results? Brocade’s Net Promoter Score went from 50 (already a best in class score) to 62 (one of the highest B2B scores on record) within 18 months.

  1. Invest in the end-to-end experience

Every marketer believes the customer experience is important. But most marketers only focus on the parts of that experience under their direct control. Creative marketers take a broader view and pay attention to the entire customer experience from end to end. This includes the product, the buying process, the ability to provide support, and customer relationships over time. That takes time and resources – and it also requires bringing creative thinking to unfamiliar problems.

Kaiser Permanente believes that as health care becomes more consumer-oriented, the digital experience becomes a key differentiator. The marketing team instituted a welcome program to help improve the experience for new plan members. Members are guided on how to register for an online member portal, which provides access to email your doctor, refill prescriptions, make appointments, and more. The welcome program required coordination with many areas of the business. As a result of this program, about 60% of new members register within the first six months. These members are 2.6 times more likely to stay with Kaiser Permanente two years later.

Like many retailers, Macy’s has traditionally spent 85% of its marketing budget on driving sales. Each outbound communication is measured individually for immediate ROI. However, recently they began to take a more holistic approach, focusing on lifetime value and their most profitable segment, the “fashionable spender.” This group looks across the business to gather behind-the-scenes information on the runway, newest clothing lines, and aspirational fashion content. The metrics also changed. Macy’s started evaluating engagement per customer across time and platform instead of per marketing message per day. The results? In the last year, customers in the top decile segment increased digital engagement by 15%, cross shopping by 11% and sales by 8%.

  1. Turn everyone into an advocate

In a fragmented media and social landscape, marketers can no longer reach their goals for awareness and reputation just through paid media and PR. People are the new channel. The way to amplify impact is by inspiring creativity in others. Treat everyone as an extension of your marketing team: employees, partners, and even customers.

Plum Organics gives each employee business cards with coupons attached. While shopping, all employees are encouraged to observe consumers shopping the baby category. When appropriate, they ask a few questions about shoppers’ baby food preferences and share business cards with coupons for free products as a gesture of appreciation.

For Equinix, surveys revealed that a third of employees were not confident explaining its company story. The company introduced an internal ambassador program for its more than 6,000 employees. This program gives employees across all disciplines and levels tools to educate them on the company, its culture, products and services, and how they solve its customer’s needs. More than 20% of employees took the training online or in workshops in the first few months of the program, and employee submissions to its sales lead and job candidate referral programs were up 43% and 19% respectively.

Old Navy has traditionally dedicated their media budget to TV, particularly around back to school. However, over the past few years, they’ve focused on digital content to engage kids around positive life experiences and giving back. Through this approach, the 2016 #MySquadContest led to 32,000 kids sharing their “squads” of friends for a chance to win an epic day with their favorite influencer, creating 3 million video views, a 60% increase in social conversation about @OldNavy, and a 600% increased likelihood of recommending Old Navy to a friend (versus those that viewed TV ads only). In addition, the program led to record breaking donations for their partner, The Boys & Girls Club.

  1. Bring creativity to measurement

The measurability of digital engagement means we can now know exactly what’s working and not working. This gives marketing an opportunity to measure and manage itself in new ways. In the past, marketing measured success by sticking to budgets and winning creative awards. Today, the ability to measure data and adjust strategies in real-time enables marketing to prove its value to the business in entirely new ways.

Cisco has created a real-time, online dashboard where the entire marketing organization can look at performance. The leadership team conducts a weekly evaluation to assess, “Is what we’re doing working?” This analysis can be done across different digital initiatives, geographies, channels, or even individual pieces of content. The result is an ability to quickly adjust and re-allocate resources.

Zscaler, a cloud-based security platform for businesses, created a Value Management Office. The Office helps each client define, quantify, and track their unique business goals associated with Zscaler implementation. Zscaler and their clients hold each other accountable to specific, measurable, time-based results.

OpenTable recently launched a companion app just for restaurants to make better use of the data they’ve been collecting through their reservation system. Restauranteurs can now get a handle on their business right from their smartphone, allowing them to easily answer questions like “How did your last shift perform?” The app can tell them if they are running light on bookings, and soon they’ll be able to activate marketing campaigns to increase same day reservations. More than 50% of restaurant customers on OpenTable’s cloud-based service are already using the app, visiting an average of 9 times a day, 7 days a week.

  1. Think like a startup

In the past, marketers needed to be effective managers, setting goals well in advance and then working within budget to achieve those goals. Today, creative marketers need to operate more like entrepreneurs, continuously adjusting to sustain “product/market fit.”

The start-up Checkr represents a trend we are seeing more of in the Bay Area in particular. Marketers are adopting the business practices of entrepreneurs such as lean startup and agile development. For its background check solution, Checkr wasn’t getting the results it wanted from traditional sales and marketing tactics as it expanded into new market segments. They realized they had to think beyond marketing as promoting an existing product. Adopting an agile method of customer testing and rapid iteration, they worked with engineering to rethink the product and bring a “minimum viable product” to market for these new buyers. As a result of this integrated, agile approach, the company easily hit some early 2017 revenue targets with conversion rates that are four times what is traditionally seen in the industry.

 

The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. The measure of marketing success isn’t the input, whether that’s the quality of a piece of content or a campaign, but rather the value of the output, whether that’s revenue, loyalty, or advocacy. Marketers of the past thought like artists, managers, and promoters. Today’s marketers need to push themselves to think more like innovators and entrepreneurs — creating enterprise value by engaging the whole organization, looking out for the entire customer experience, using data to make decisions, and measuring effectiveness based on business results.

 

 

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/03/what-creativity-in-marketing-looks-like-today

 

 

HBR: Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

Sales can be full of double-edged swords. How do you leverage the edge you want and blunt the ones you don’t? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

HP announced in March that it was combining its printer and personal computer businesses. According to CEO Meg Whitman, “The result will be a faster, more streamlined, performance-driven HP that is customer focused.” But that remains to be seen.

The merging of the two businesses is a reversal for HP. In 2005, HP split off the printer business from the personal computer business, dissolved the Customer Solutions Group (CSG) which was a sales and marketing organization that cut across product categories, and pushed selling responsibilities down to the product business units. The goal was to give each business unit greater control of its sales process, and in former CEO Mark Hurd’s words, to “perform better — for our customers and partners.”

The choice — to build a sales organization around customers or products — has vexed every company with a diverse product portfolio. It’s not uncommon for a firm such as HP to vacillate between the two structures. And switching structures is not always a recipe for success.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2005 at HP, before the CSG was eliminated. Most likely, those responsible for the success of specific products (say printers) were often at odds with the CSG. The words in the air may have been something like “Printers bring in the profits, and our products are not getting enough attention” or “The CSG people want customer control, but we have the product expertise.” And from the CSG sales team, we can imagine the feelings, “We are trying to do the best for HP and for customers. The printing people are not being team players.”

Especially when performance lags, people in any sales structure see and feel the disadvantages and stresses that their structure creates. But they often see only the benefits of the structure that they are not operating in. The alternative looks enticing. Unreasonably so.

HP’s dilemma illustrates one of many two-edged swords of sales management. These swords are reasonable choices that sales leaders make that have a sharp beneficial edge, but the very nature of the benefit is tied to another sharp edge that has drawbacks. Unless the undesirable edge is dulled, the choice cannot work.

Consider a choice like the one HP made recently to organize its sales force by customer rather than by product.

  • The beneficial edge: Salespeople can understand the customer’s total business, can cross-sell and provide solutions (not just products), and can act as business partners rather than vendors for their customers.
  • The undesirable edge: Salespeople will have less product expertise and focus. And it will be difficult for the company to control how much effort each product gets.
  • Dulling the undesirable edge: The company could create product specialists to assist customer managers (although this would add costs and coordination needs, and would work only if salespeople and the culture were team-oriented). It could also use performance management and incentives to manage effort allocation.

    Sales is full of such double-edged swords. For example:

  • If you hire mostly experienced people, they will become productive rapidly. But they will come with their own ways to do things and may have trouble fitting into the new environment.
  • If you drive a structured sales process through the organization, things will be more transparent and organized, and coordination across people will be easier. But out of the box thinking will be diminished, and managers might use the defined structure to micro-manage their people.
  • If you give salespeople customer ownership and pay them mostly through commissions, you will attract independent, aggressive salespeople and encourage a performance-oriented culture. But this will discourage teamwork and create a brittle relationship based mostly on money.

The effective sales leader recognizes the two edges of each of these (and other) choices. He or she works to sharpen and leverage the good edge, while dulling the impact of the other edge. The overly optimistic leader who sees the benefits of only one choice will lead his or her sales force into peril!

We have offered a few examples of double-edged swords of sales management. There are many, many more. Do add to our list, and tell us how you leverage the edge you want, and blunt the one you don’t.

 

HBR: Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Is your vison or strategy going in the right direction? Are you retaining the right talent? Are you serving your customers? Or managing your sales team badly? Is your culture wrong for your vision and strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Success in a sales force requires having strong talent up and down the organization. A weak salesperson will weaken a sales territory, a bad sales manager will damage their team and dampen results in their region, and a poor sales leader will eventually ruin the entire sales force. For even the most seasoned among us, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a poor sales leader and the possible damage the person can do — especially when they appear to do some good early on.

Consider two examples.

An education technology startup hired a sales leader who came from a large, well-respected firm. He had extensive market knowledge and a stellar track record. Although good at scaling and operating a sales organization, the leader was unable to succeed in a rapidly changing environment that needed experimentation and nimbleness. The mismatch between the startup’s need and the leader’s capabilities set progress back at least a year.

A medical device company hired a vice president of sales with an intimidating management style. He ruled by fear. Achieving goals was everything. He tolerated (and even encouraged) ethically questionable sales practices. Results looked excellent at first, but the sales culture became so unpleasant that good performers began leaving in a trickle, and then in a flood. The average tenure of salespeople dwindled to just seven months. The damage to the company continued for years after the VP was replaced.

The reasons that sales leaders fail fall into four categories:

  • Direction. Poor understanding of the business, leading to errors in vision and strategy
  • Talent. Inability to pick and keep the right people for the team
  • Execution. Poor processes serve customers and manage people badly
  • Culture. Inappropriate values damage the very core of the organization

When such failures are coupled with a leader’s egotism or lack of self-awareness, it’s unlikely that the leader can lean on others to overcome his own deficiencies.

Yet ineffective leaders can do some good in sales organizations. They can bring about needed change quickly. Leaders who lack sensitivity have an easier time eliminating poor performers. Leaders who are intimidating can use their muscle to implement difficult changes that past leaders avoided — for example, an organizational restructure that disrupts an existing power hierarchy.

But unless a poor leader can overcome or compensate for his deficiencies, eventually the bad will overpower any temporary good. A tyrant, for example, may fix some things in the short term but create other problems at the same time. For every gain, there are likely to be multiple missteps with the sales force’s vision, team, execution, and culture. A key and very visible marker of ongoing or impending trouble is when talented people on the leader’s team become frustrated and depart the company.

It can take years to repair the damage done by an ineffective sales leader.

First, it takes time to replace the leader and reconstruct the sales team. When a health care company hired the wrong leader for a sales region, it took more than three years to rebuild the team and recover from the initial error of putting the wrong person in charge.

Second, it takes time to reverse the questionable decisions that ineffective sales leaders make, especially decisions that affect sales force structure or compensation. Weak leaders at a technology company made a decision to restructure the sales organization using a model from their own past that did not match the current situation. Again, it took more than three years to undo the damage.

Third, it takes time to rebuild the culture a poor leader creates. Poor leadership at a medical device company had allowed an unhealthy “victim” culture to pervade the sales force. Salespeople had no confidence in their leaders, and managers were willing to accept salespeople’s constant excuses for poor performance.

Bringing about change required replacing the company’s president, followed by more than two years of sustained focus on transforming the sales force using the following process:

  1. Create a fresh vision, reflecting a culture in which salespeople trusted their leaders and in which all salespeople were held accountable for results.
  2. Communicate the vision using every opportunity, including sales meetings, videoconferences, and the company’s intranet.
  3. Rebuild the team starting with a new vice president of sales who had integrity and judgment, and was willing to replace anyone on the sales team who could not adapt to the new culture.
  4. Realign sales support systems and rewards by overhauling the systems for recognizing and rewarding performance and creating accountability.

These four steps are a good starting point for any company seeking to recover from poor sales leadership.

Bad sales leaders can sometimes bring about change in a broken environment and make temporary gains. But they will wreck a sales force unless they are replaced quickly.

S+B: What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Are you maintaining a high level of performance? Are you aware of new and innovative products on the market? Below is a blog from the STRATEGY+BUSINESS Blog by Matt Palmquist.

What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Bottom Line: For companies, sustaining a consistently high level of performance requires unique capabilities that may differ sharply from the strategies they used to succeed in the first place.

Leading firms set themselves apart by achieving a high level of performance and meeting or exceeding consumers’ expectations relative to the competition. It’s usually an arduous, years-long process. But sustaining that level of performance is a completely different challenge — one that few companies can overcome in the modern business landscape.

There’s plenty of substantive advice available on how to attain high-quality performance in the first place. Researchers have variously touted the ability of firms to create barriers to entry for competitors, for example, or to draw (pdf) on unique capabilities to differentiate themselves. But rivals learn quickly, once-novel strategies can eventually be duplicated, mistakes can be made, and complacency can set in. What it takes to sustain top-quality performance, therefore, is also deserving of study — but it has received comparatively little attention from researchers. Indeed, most analysts have implicitly assumed that the capabilities required to attain high-quality performance are the same as those needed to sustain it.

A new study aims to shed light on the issue by analyzing which capabilities enable companies to sustain a consistent and high level of performance. It should be noted that for the study, the quality level and consistency of performance are two distinct concepts. Whereas a firm with a high quality level outshines its competitors in the short term, consistency involves maintaining that high level with minimal variance for a five-year period.

The authors analyzed data on 147 business units within large companies in the manufacturing sector that were based in either the U.S. or Taiwan. The reason to zero in on U.S. firms is obvious: They tend to set the tone for the global economy. The researchers chose to study Taiwanese firms as well in order to consider the differences between Eastern and Western cultures in their management approaches and assess any impact on performance. (In the final analysis, no significant differences between them appeared.) Taiwan also has a well-established reputation for advanced manufacturing.

To assemble a sample, the authors reached out to executives whose companies had won awards or earned acknowledgment from associations dedicated to recognizing high-performing businesses. The authors conducted surveys with quality or operations managers at the firms, who could speak to the specific strategies employed, and with general managers, who could field questions about the firm’s overall performance and the nuances of its business environment. For a subset of companies, the authors also obtained financial-performance data from the business unit’s accountant as well as internal audits that gauged the quality of its products and services.

After controlling for firm size, competitive intensity (pdf) of a given industry, and level of uncertainty faced — in the form of rapid technological developments or changing market conditions — the authors found that four particular capabilities emerged as integral to sustaining high-quality performance:

Improvement. This capability was defined as a firm’s ability to make incremental product or service upgrades, or to reduce production costs.

Innovation. Defined as how strong a company was at developing new products and entering new markets.

Sensing of weak signals. Defined as how well a company can focus on potential banana peels in order to improve overall performance, including analyzing mistakes, actively searching out production anomalies, and being aware of potential problems in the surrounding business environment.

Responsiveness. Defined as a business’s ability to solve problems that crop up unexpectedly and to use specialized expertise to counter those complications.

But these capabilities influenced different aspects of sustaining high performance, the authors found. For example, innovation capabilities primarily help firms maintain a certain level of quality, whereas the capacity for improvement affects mostly the consistency component. That’s probably because innovations are typically unique events that meet customers’ immediate needs and establish a certain level of quality, whereas incremental improvements are geared toward ensuring the long-term reliability of products and services, which translates into consistency.

Meanwhile, a firm’s capability for responsiveness had no significant effect on consistency, but had a decided positive impact on its level of quality — presumably because responding to quality-related problems quickly and efficiently is also a way of exceeding customers’ expectations in a one-off way.

Sensing of weak signals had a strong positive effect on consistency, but a moderately negative impact on the level of quality. This suggests a potential trade-off, the authors note, because maintaining both a high quality level and consistency is essential to sustaining performance. The authors speculate that a focus on sensing weak signals mandates that firms spend a lot of time collecting data and analyzing the occasional blip, which could cause them to get mired in minutiae and distract them from the more important tasks associated with sustaining a high level of performance. Although the benefits may pay off over time, a concentration on preventing failures rather than seeking out successes could also lead firms to take a short-term view and be overly conservative, too concerned with simply surviving, and to thus shy away from taking chances.

Intriguingly, the capabilities that increase consistency (improvement and sensing of weaknesses) are unaffected by the level of competitive intensity or uncertainty surrounding a firm, whereas those that affect the level of performance (innovation and responsiveness) depend heavily on the external context, the authors found. Presumably, the value of innovation and responsiveness is higher in the face of unanticipated external shocks, whereas improvement and sensitivity to failure are capabilities that are more internally oriented. As a result, firms may need to invest in certain capabilities more than others, depending on their business environment.

Source:An Empirical Investigation in Sustaining High-Quality Performance,” by Hung-Chung Su (University of Michigan–Dearborn) and Kevin Linderman (University of Minnesota), Decision Sciences, Oct. 2016, vol. 47, no. 5

 

GT: 7 Ways to Outsmart Your Competition

How much do you know about your competition? Below is a blog from the Growthink Blog by Dave Lavinsky:

7 Ways to Outsmart Your Competition

“Knowledge is power.” This is a well known saying commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, who was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist and author.

In business, knowledge certainly is power. For example, if you knew where your market was heading, you would have a massive leg up on your competition.

So, how can you gain more knowledge to outsmart your competition? Here are 7 ways.

1. Learn from your customers.
Marketing consultant Jay Abraham once said, “your customers are geniuses; they know exactly what they want.”

Because your customers know what they want, speak to them. And don’t just speak to your current customers, but speak to your competitors’ customers too. Learn to listen deeply to your customers and to ask probing questions. And when you hear consistent feedback (and not just one customer saying something), take action.

2. Learn from your competitors.
Watch your competitors closely and learn from them. What do they seem to be doing well, and how can you better emulate them in this respect? What are they doing poorly that you can capitalize on?

Importantly, don’t just copy your competitors until you know that what they are doing works. For example, if a competitor starts offering a 25% off discount for new customers, don’t copy them right away. Rather, wait and see what happens. If the competitor stops offering the discount quickly, then the promotion probably didn’t work. Conversely, if the competitor is still offering the discount 6 months later, it probably did work. Only copy the competitor’s “winners.”

Also try to figure out what competitors are saying about you. And, if criticism from a competitor gets back to you, don’t become defense or dismiss it casually. Rather, engage critically with it. The criticism may prove to be quite helpful. A competitor may be aware of your weaknesses in a way a friend or customer cannot be. So don’t disregard negative feedback, but rather consider it carefully, and take corrective action as appropriate.

3. Learn from your employees.
Oftentimes your employees have a lot more information than you do. They are the ones who are interacting with customers, and they are the ones that are building your products and providing your services.

Speak to your employees and get their feedback, ideas and suggestions. As an example, nearly all new innovation at Toyota comes from front-line employees. Encourage your employees to come up with ideas and give you feedback. They may also alert you to changes in the marketplace and customer behavior that you need to understand in order to adapt.

4. Learn from your community.
This is particularly true for local businesses. Find out what is going on in your community. For example, if your community is heavily involved in recycling, or if the local high school football team just won a championship, then you need to know about it since these are things your community cares about. Importantly, leverage this information. In these two examples, you could offer a sale related to the football team’s victory. Or post signs explaining how your business recycles. These actions would position you as part of the community and cause customers to flock to your business.

5. Learn from coaches and consultants.
The right coach and/or consultant will have lots of knowledge that you don’t. They will have worked with other business owners and “been there, done that” – that is, they will have seen challenges and overcome them already. Because you won’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” these paid experts can allow you to make the right decisions, avoid mistakes, and grow more quickly. Plus, paid experts can give your business a reality check and keep you focused and accountable.

6. Learn from mentors.
The right mentor serves a similar function as a paid coach and/or consultant in that they have experience, expertise and connections that allow you to avoid mistakes and grow your business more quickly. The challenge is finding the right mentor, and setting up the appropriate structure to get ongoing feedback (this naturally happens when you pay a coach or consultant).

7. Learn from other business owners. In previous articles, I have mentioned the massive power of mastermind groups. Mastermind groups are groups of business owners who work together to grow everyone’s business. Mastermind groups are incredibly powerful since other members of the group will have already overcome the challenges you face, and thus can give you the answers you need.

Likewise, in many cases, skills and knowledge that have taken other business owners months or years to learn can be transferred to you in minutes. So, you gain massive knowledge quickly, and gain a support group that all shares the common goal of building a great company.

Knowledge certainly is power. Leverage these seven ways to gain knowledge, and you will be able to outsmart and dominate your competition.

 

HBR: A Guide to Cold Emailing

Have you ever used email for cold calling? If not, this article may be useful to learn how to use email to attract new clients. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Tucker Max.

A Guide to Cold Emailing

Cold emailing is harder than most communication for two reasons. You have no relationship with your audience yet, and you lack non-verbal feedback, so you can’t modify your approach in real time. As a result, most cold emails fail.

But they can work well. People have built careers and launched start-ups with little more than cold emails. (By the way, I am not talking about sales emails, which tend to be sent in bulk. This article is about cold emailing a specific person.)

There isn’t much research on cold email, though Shane Snow did an interesting experiment for his book Smartcuts. He sent 1,000 cold emails to executives and got almost no response. So he tried again with a smaller slice of the same group and got better results by applying a few principles that line up with my extensive cold email experience and some great advice from people like Wharton psychology professor Adam Grant, and entrepreneurs Tim Ferriss and Heather Morgan.

An effective cold email does five things. It should:

  1. Tailor the message to the recipient. You need to do your research. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.

I’ve received about 25,000 cold emails since 2004 (yes, I do keep track). Many of them make a generic mention of something on the first page of Google results for my name, then launch into a ridiculous, tone-deaf request, like “Hey, can you read my 300-page novel, give me extensive notes, and then get me an agent?” That is not personalization.

Personalization means that you’ve thought about who this person is, how they see the world, what interests them, and what they want — you’ve developed a “theory of mind” about the recipient. This shows them you have put work into understanding them.

You also make it clear why you are emailing them as opposed to anyone else. Research shows that people are far more motivated to help others when they feel uniquely qualified to do so. By outlining precisely where they fit in, you can tell a story that makes sense to them.

It’s also important to make sure your request isn’t easily fulfilled another way. I cannot tell you how many emails I get asking for advice on how to write a book, even though I literally wrote a book on that exact subject. Through personalization, you avoid that, because you’ve read up — you know the book’s out there.

  1. Validate yourself. When we meet a stranger or get an email from one, we want to know who that person is and why that person matters to us.

Remember that when you’re the stranger. You’ve already done a bunch of research on the people you’re emailing, but they don’t know anything about you. You need to show them you’re credible and they can trust you.

Knowing someone in common is the strongest form of social proof you can offer. If you have any direct connections, mention them. A mutual friend means you are no longer a stranger.

Lacking that, if you have any authority, credibility, or social status that is relevant to this person and your request, mention it quickly — a line or two should do it. The more “important” you are, the more likely you are to get a response.

If you have no real status, that’s fine. Find a commonality. Being part of the same group, especially if it’s a personal group, is a core human attraction. Look for unexpected connections, like hometowns and unusual hobbies. As Adam Grant points out, “Similarities matter most when they’re rare. We bond when we share uncommon commonalities, which allow us to feel that we fit in and stand out at the same time.”

The point is, you want to find a way to go from “stranger” to part of the recipient’s group.

  1. Alleviate your audience’s pain or give them something they want. Why should the recipient care about your email? Why should this busy person take time to respond to it? What’s in it for them?

Remember that people will go much further to avoid pain than to acquire pleasure. If you’ve done your research and found a major pain point for the recipient, and you can offer relief, highlight that. Consider this example: A VC friend of mine once complained on Twitter about how his car was constantly getting tickets because the street signs were misleading. An entrepreneur looking to pitch his start-up started his cold email with a link to a robo-calling service that took care of parking tickets. The VC used the service and was so thankful that he not only took a pitch meeting but also connected the entrepreneur to several other VCs, two of whom ended up investing.

If you can’t solve a problem, give people something they want. Offer to connect them with someone they’d like to meet — that stands out, since almost no one gives before they ask. But your gift needs to feel appropriate, from one stranger to another. An Amazon gift card would be super awkward and weird. I know, because someone sent one to me once.

  1. Keep it short, easy, and actionable. The opportunity to help someone is very enjoyable for a lot of people — it may even qualify as a “want.” By asking for help, you are giving them the chance to feel good about themselves. But make it easy for them.

You probably know this, but short emails are more likely to be read than long ones. And emails that request clear, specific action get a much higher response rate. Long-winded, rambling cold emails suck.

One of the best ways to keep things short and direct is to write the way you’d talk. If you met this person at a cocktail party, you wouldn’t just walk up and start pitching them. You’d introduce yourself, say something nice, connect with them over a shared friend or interest, and then make a request that makes sense.

I would recommend reading your email out loud before you send it. If it sounds natural, then it will read well. This is how I edit my own writing.

To make your “ask” easy and actionable, do as much work for your audience as you can. “Let me know if you want to meet up” is terrible. This forces someone to exert mental energy to make a decision for both of you, and it puts the onus on them to sort out the details. It’s short, but not easy or actionable.

Compare that with this: “I can meet on Monday or Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Compass Coffee on 8th. If that doesn’t work, tell me what does, and I’ll make it happen.” That gives them a clear, easy action to take, with specific bounded options.

But there’s more to a good “ask” than just telling people what you want. How you tell them matters a lot.

  1. Be appreciative — and a little vulnerable. I would even go so far as to say you should be slightly submissive.

I’m not saying to grovel before your audience like they’re a feudal lord. You are asking someone who does not know you for a favor. By expressing gratitude and some vulnerability, you give them the feeling that they are a good person if they choose to help. You also give them a little rush of power and status, because you’re approaching them.

This gets results. Even just saying “Thank you so much! I am really grateful” to a request doubles response rates. And tell people it’s fine if they are too busy. Giving them a way out actually makes them more likely to help you.

All this may sound obvious, but again, very few people do it. I’d say about half the people who have cold emailed me expressed no appreciation beyond a perfunctory “thanks.” And the other half either sounded brusque or entitled. Really — strangers asking for huge favors say things like “Lemme know how quickly I can expect you to get this done.” Clearly, they don’t feel like waiting around. But that tone has repercussions: I don’t feel like helping them.

Finally, don’t use a template. If you Google “cold email template” you will find a LOT of them. I looked through dozens, and though some were very good for mass email and sales, I could not find a good template for a personalized cold email.

Which makes sense. By definition, if something is personalized, it doesn’t come from a template. That’s why this article lays out principles but has no scripts.

I did find some good examples of cold emails (this one, for instance, and this one), with breakdowns of how and why they worked. You’ll notice they each used almost every principle here.

 

JMM: The Little Known Habit Of Productive Leaders

Are you scheduling time for yourself? Below is a blog from John Michael Morgan.

The Little Known Habit Of Productive Leaders

For the strongest leaders, this works like crazy. Yet very few people realize that the most productive leaders have this habit. The reason is because it’s counter to what you would typically think of a busy leader.

The truth is the most productive leaders are extremely disciplined with their personal time.

On the surface, it doesn’t always look this way. A leader is busy and typically doesn’t work a 9 to 5 schedule. But what they know that you don’t, is that they have to be fed too. If you’re not focused on self-care, you won’t be able to serve people for long. 

It’s the classic airplane scenario. I travel so much I feel like I could recite it verbatim. In case, of an emergency, put YOUR oxygen mask on first. Why? Because if you’re not okay, you can’t help anyone else.

This is true of leadership as much as it is anything in life.

If you want anything in your life to improve, you must improve. Think about it, income improvement follows self-improvement. Marriage improvement follows self-improvement. If you want your business to be better, you must be better.

That’s why the strongest and most productive leaders never stop working on themselves.

The challenge is that the more successful you are, the greater the demand on your personal time. Your time must be guarded and protected. Everyone expects you to be available when THEY need you. Your to-do list will never end. Beware falling into a cycle of never taking time for yourself.

You have at least a general idea of what recharges your batteries. For some, it’s reading an interesting book or watching a good movie. For you, it might be exercise or hanging out with friends. Regardless, you must protect this time just as you would an appointment with your best client.

How To Take Your Personal Time Back

Now that you understand the importance of taking care of yourself and protecting time for self-care, let’s talk about how to make this a habit.

– Don’t Leave Yourself For Last

I get it. You don’t want to let anyone down and you’re spending your days meeting everyone else’s demands. Stop it. If you leave caring for yourself until you’re finished with everything else on your schedule, you won’t have anything left. Start making yourself a priority.

– Schedule It & Honor It

I’m not the most rigid when it comes to my schedule. But one thing I’ve learned is that if I don’t schedule personal time, I won’t have any. Set appointments with yourself. Schedule time to read, workout, nap, or whatever. Then honor that time just as you would an important appointment. Don’t show up late. Don’t cancel. Respect yourself and this time.

– Make Personal Time A Priority

When setting your schedule for the week, don’t rely on extra time for yourself. If self-care isn’t a priority you purposefully set, it will never become one.

My friend and Achiever, Robbie Green has found reading to be a great use of his personal time. But he wanted accountability with this time. So he challenged himself to read 100 books this year and is sharing each book he reads publicly. This forces him to keep going in those moments when it would be easier to put everyone and everything first.

– Try Starting The Day Focused On You

Your morning routine is a great time to take care of yourself. Before the hustle of the day begins, you can read, meditate, or go for a run. I like starting the day this way because then if the day gets busy or I have a few challenges pop-up, I’ve already been disciplined with my personal time.

– Set Boundaries

This is the hardest to do yet the most productive. Don’t take phone calls and texts at night. Protect your personal time. My clients know that I’ll respond to them quickly when they need something, but they also respect my personal and family time. Because we have boundaries set, they don’t send me texts or phone calls that could wait until the next day.

Ultimately, you have to understand that you’re not being selfish when you take time for you. The stronger you are and the more you improve, the better you serve your family, team, clients, and those in your life that you care about.