How Your Leadership Bio Influences Your Buyers

How Your Leadership Bio Influences Your Buyers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Being overly formal makes people feel more negative about your company than you realize… at least in most cases. 

I won’t name the offending company because I feel embarrassed for them. I recently read a company’s leadership bio page on its website. They listed their leaders’ names exactly like this:

  • Phillip “Phil” Smith*
  • William H. “Bill” Davis, Jr.
  • James R. “Jim” Miller

Cringe. What, Phil, Bill and Jim aren’t worthy, or businesslike enough? Who are these people, descendants of Thurston Howell III?

Good marketing removes barriers between your company and your buyers. Yet, all the marketing in the world can’t change a stubborn or backward company culture.

It’s one thing to state the leader’s name as Phillip if that’s what people call him. However, if all interactions will be with Phil, then calling him Phillip “Phil” Smith is just ridiculous. I call this digital self-aggrandizement. The definition of self-aggrandizement is “the action or process of promoting oneself as being powerful or important.” In contrast, world-famous leaders go by their first names. You know many of them: 

So a billionaire named Jeff goes by his first name, but the VP of Operations in a small tech company is William H. “Bill” Davis, Jr.? Why do some leaders feel the need to be so formal?

Today, it shows a degree of insecurity and invokes negative feelings about you and your company. How off-putting can you be? One step worse than this is the overuse of Mr., Ms. or Miss. There’s nothing wrong with being formal, but in the right setting. Like so:

  • Receiving an award: “We’d like to congratulate Mrs. Christine Smith…”
  • … there aren’t many other situations in 2020 that warrant the use of these titles.

That old way of business, achieving status even if your work doesn’t measure up, has been replaced by creating and producing great work—at least in successful companies.

There has been a shift in business, for many years, from formality and hierarchy to flat organizations and informality. Note, I did not say unprofessional or uncivil. That would be equally bad.

I was fortunate to have an amazing boss for nearly 10 years. He mentored me and helped me become who I am in business today. Once, in a social setting, I introduced him to some friends and said, “I’d like you to meet my boss…” He interrupted me and said, “Nice to meet you. John and I work on the same team.”

The next day, he instructed me to never again introduce him as my boss. He owned the company. He was my boss, but he didn’t want to promote hierarchy. He wanted to promote collaboration and leadership development. I watched him listen intently to people who, on an employment level, were at the bottom. He implemented many of their ideas and the company benefited from it. 

There’s a much deeper issue than using formal names. It has everything to do with culture. I once worked in the home office of a sizable retail chain. For practical purposes, someone had a good idea to save money. That was to only print business cards for those employees who actually needed them. The majority of us rarely left the office. Some of us had outside visitors, but not often. Based on business card design, it was easy to see people who were given 500 business cards five years earlier still had hundreds left.

What was usually a positive culture turned a little ugly. Why, an employee of 8 years asked, would he not get new business cards since he’s had them from day one? It felt like a fight to prove one’s value and importance to the company, as if having business cards were validation of that. It was hierarchy at work.

That old way of business, achieving status even if your work doesn’t measure up, has been replaced by creating and producing great work—at least in successful companies.

Feel free to call yourself Thurston Howell III. Better yet, feel free to produce great work that makes a difference. Then you will have a name people remember. 

I could sign off here as Mr. John M. Centofanti, but people just call me John. 😉

* Last names changed to protect the formally uninformed.

Marketing’s Artificial Claims of Artificial Intelligence

Marketing’s Artificial Claims of Artificial Intelligence

Reading Time: 3 minutes

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is the new favorite word for marketers. Is Artificial Intelligence just a marketer’s fancy way of describing an algorithm or advanced automation?

What many companies call their AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is really just glorified Input/Output. AI makes for good marketing, but in many cases, it’s just not true.

This Conversation Really Happened

A buyer for a global company asked me a not-so-surprising question regarding our technology solution. I’ll explain here what I shared with him.

Buyer: Can you explain your AI?

Me: Excuse me?

Buyer: Can you explain how your AI works? We’re comparing the AI of each company we’re considering using.

Me: We don’t have any AI. Neither do they.

Buyer: Excuse me?

Me: AI is an overused, sometimes inaccurate, term, and many tech companies use it loosely. What many companies today have is highly complex IFTTT or input/output. In the tech world, IFTTT is neither artificial nor intelligence. It’s basic computer functions, even if it’s many happening at once.

Buyer: So none of these solutions are really AI?

Me: Correct. It just a marketer’s way of getting attention when presenting a solution. It’s the modern way of saying you have advanced technology.

This isn’t a slam to marketers. I am one. I’m simply calling for some honesty, if not accuracy, in how technology is marketed. 

Use human intelligence to share how you can make a difference instead of throwing AI around.

That’s AI: Actually Intelligent.

I had the pleasure (and brain strain) of hearing Dr. PG Madhavan share his expertise on Artificial Intelligence. He shared that most of what is called AI (Artificial Intelligence) today is really IA (Intelligence Augmentation). Here are some examples of what people call AI today, even though these are not really artificial intelligence.

  • Local Grocery Store: Your store may give you a coupon for dark chocolate. That’s based on your “market basket.” It knows, based on what you’ve purchased compared to all other shoppers, you’re 88% likely to purchase dark chocolate if offered a coupon.
  • Facebook’s “People You May Know” Feature: It’s not really AI at all, but a very basic algorithm. People act as if it’s magic. If 128 of your friends know Bob Smith, it’s a statistical probability that you likely know him too. Further, if your phone was in the same room as Bob’s, it’s even more likely you know him. That’s not real AI. Side note: most people have the same internal conversation with Facebooks People You May Know. “Sure, I know him, and that’s why I don’t want to be friends with him.”
  • A Grocery Chain: Might use an algorithm to discover for the past 3 years, most shoppers pay full price for Starbucks Christmas Blend. I’m drinking it as I write this. It takes a human to understand the cultural significance of Christmas, how it emotionally affects shoppers, and why many are willing to pay full price for Christmas Blend the week before Christmas. True artificial intelligence would have been able to log any new product and know whether it will sell full price in a given week without historical data.
  • Your favorite GPS App: If the shortest distance between point A and point B is through a dangerous neighborhood, you need human intelligence to make a good decision. I’m sure GPS technology will eventually help us steer clear of neighborhoods with high crime rates. Today, intelligence augmentation can only tell us how to get somewhere quickly. It can’t promise the journey will be safe. Wouldn’t that be smart?

AI: Marketing’s New Favorite Word

By definition, artificial intelligence is:

  1. the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  2. a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.
  3. the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.

Back to my conversation with the global company that asked about our AI. I knew a competitor was billing itself as an AI company, when the truth is that it was glorified input/output. True AI has a degree of good decision making based on historical information and can make decisions not previously programmed. Even better, true AI can make smart decisions without much historical data. If that is true AI, there is much less AI than what is being marketed today.

AI Does Exist

You may be selling technology that’s impacting an industry. It used to be referred to as high tech. Now, marketers, sales teams, and entire companies feel the pressure to talk about their AI.

Unfortunately, highly complex input/output can benefit so many industries, but it just doesn’t sell. Marketing 101 says to be truthful in advertising. Why? If a company doesn’t have the moral compass to be honest, then the other reason to be truthful is that buyers eventually discover the truth on their own. Isn’t it better to have the marketing messages be accurate than to explain that your solution is not “actually” AI, even though you sold it as AI?

Want to market your technology more effectively? Use human intelligence to share how you can make a difference instead of throwing AI around. That’s AI: Actually Intelligent.

Does PowerPoint Design Matter Only to Graphic Designers?

Does PowerPoint Design Matter Only to Graphic Designers?

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Learn how to develop slide decks for prospects based on their stage in your sales funnel, and how PowerPoints are much like shoes.

Graphic design is different than art. Its purpose is to persuade and communicate. The directions tile at the top of this post was one of many scattered across Chicago. Its purpose is to communicate. Yet, it is well-designed and pleasing to look at. The color, font, and overall style fit well in Chicago, a city where everything feels well-designed, from coffee cups to skyscrapers.

It’s very common for marketing teams and graphic designers to create corporate PowerPoint templates. These are then used by professionals in sales, operations, and other departments.

You’ve probably viewed a PowerPoint presentation where a company’s brand colors might be blue and red, but someone took the corporate template and modified it. He might have filled it with pale orange, green, and cartoon pictures found on a Google image search with the intent of getting more attention. It doesn’t really represent the brand as intended. Does it matter?

Here’s a better way to think of it. Does it matter if you showed up to lead a presentation in workout clothes, even though your delivery and content were spot on? Exactly. Of course it matters.

On a recent trip to Chicago, I took note of common things like signage, restaurant ceilings, and hotel carpet. These are functional items. Essentially, they do not need to be well-designed to work. Yet, well-designed items like these were everywhere I turned.

Stan’s Donuts, Chicago

These strips of fake donuts lining the ceiling are completely unnecessary to selling donuts. Yet, they help create an overall sweeter experience for the donut buyer. At least they did for me.

Over the years, we’ve created countless PowerPoint templates for B2B tech clients. These are designed to reinforce the company’s brand. They most often include the following types of slides:

  • Title slide, which includes company logo, colors and other branding, often leaving room for the prospect’s logo when necessary.
  • Slides for text-heavy content. Many have already written how too much text should be avoided in
  • PowerPoint presentations, but it still happens in some cases.
  • Slides for heavy graphics, graphs, or other images.
  • Slides for comparison (their service vs. our service).
  • Slides for detailed information, such as tech specs.
  • Slides for a simple quote or statement with a graphic, heavy or solid color background.
  • End slide, which includes contact info and next steps.

These PowerPoint templates restrict unnecessary variation or allow a power user to do whatever he or she wants. This is often determined by:

  • Size of the company
  • Technical skills of the PowerPoint creators
  • Technical skills of the final content creators
  • The company’s management style (tight or loose)

What matters to marketing teams and designers is that the integrity of the brand is not compromised. Rather, the brand should be effectively promoted. Good graphic designs for PowerPoint communicate the brand’s power, whether the company is serious, casual, relational or innovative. These things are communicated effectively, and very much silently, through good design.

When I was in college, I worked in a couple retail shoe stores. Over time, I could glance at a customer’s foot and know what size shoe they needed and get them from the back room. For better or worse, I got into the habit of observing people’s shoes and made some assumptions about them. Sometimes, I’d see a well-dressed man with scuffed up shoes. Sometimes the shoes were nice looking but way too casual for the outfit. It communicated that he didn’t really care about the details.

When it comes to PowerPoint, your audience will make some assumptions about you and your company. Of course, assumptions may be wrong, but at least consider the consequences before you alter your corporate PowerPoint. You do have a professionally designed PowerPoint template, don’t you?

Brand Colors & Style

If you alter the colors and they don’t fit with your brand at all, your audience can assume:
You disagree with your company on some level. You know a better way, and the company doesn’t listen to you, so you did your own thing.

You don’t know or understand your own company’s brand. You did your own thing because you’re clueless. Understanding your company doesn’t matter. What kind of service can I expect from you?

Number of Slides

I once worked with a tech client who, early on in our relationship, sent me a PowerPoint to review. This is not an exaggeration—it was 227 slides long. It was confusing, boring, and after viewing 50 slides, I still wondered, what’s the point here? I shared my frustration with the client and asked for the slide deck he used when pitching to clients. Unfortunately, that was the slide deck—all 227 slides. As the marketer trying to learn my client’s business, I was confused, frustrated, and not interested in the remaining slides. What were prospects feeling? Probably the same thing.

Needing dozens of slides to explain your solution tells me your solution is so complex, you can’t boil it down for the average person in just a few slides. Asking a prospect to view 227 slides felt a little like trying to sell a car, but first requiring the customer to understand how an engine works. I don’t care. Neither do you. Neither do your prospects.

Consider where you are in the sales process. Good sales professionals understand what to communicate based on where a prospect is in the sales funnel. However, PowerPoint presentations do not always match this.

Early presentations should answer two questions: What and Why. What is this solution? Why do I need it? It’s a mistake to explain how the solution works too deeply or to take more than one slide to do so. Consider how well luxury car companies produce commercials. They are much different than tech companies but the marketing principles are the same.

Here’s what they communicate.

  1. What is this? It’s a fast luxury car.
  2. Why do I need it? To drive fast in style.

It’s then up to the car salesperson, after the buyer has been persuaded they want the car, to explain safety features and even monthly payments. How would many tech companies create an ad if they had to sell luxury cars? Something like this:

  1. You need to get from point A to point B.
  2. There are many ways to get there.
  3. Trains are too slow. Flights are too expensive.
  4. Other cars don’t have the same power, style, or appeal as our car.
  5. The technical design of our engine makes it more powerful, because it was designed with an engineering team with 225 years of combined experience.
  6. Our facility where we designed and built this car has extremely high security, comparable to the security at Fort Knox. We can explain more about this if we go further, but at this point it’s highly confidential.
  7. Here are 7 subpoints on why our car is more powerful.
  8. Notice when the driver presses the gas pedal? The car immediately goes faster to get her where she wants to be—faster.
  9. Our car is available in 7 colors, including red. Choosing red is an additional cost because of our special paint process required to achieve candy apple red.

As much as that sounds ridiculous, who hasn’t seen a similar PowerPoint for a technology solution? I have lost track of how mnay times I have.

How many slides should a sales presentation have? Here’s a better question: how many slides can you cut and still answer the questions, What and Why? What information is valuable, but not critical, to an initial sales presentation? Can some information be included in a follow up, 2-page PDF instead of your PowerPoint? It can give you a reason to keep your audience informed enough to continue the conversation and intrigued enough to keep listening.

Design Matters

Design does matter. It doesn’t only matter to graphic designers. It matters to every person who has to endure, or enjoy, your PowerPoint presentation. Background images, color palette, font choices, and uncluttered design communicate something about your company and your tech solution. Good design communicates and reinforces your brand just like your polished shoes communicate something about you.

Design your PowerPoint presentations so they communicate you are easy to work with, not complicated, and your solution is enjoyable to use.

How Social Media Works in B2B Environments

How Social Media Works in B2B Environments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Is social media a waste of time for a B2B company?

I’ve been asked this question many times. The question stems from a lack of understanding of social media in general, or at least unrealistic expectations. Further, B2B marketing is different than B2C marketing. The marketing principles are very much the same in both cases, but the approach to gaining sales is different.

Real World Networking

In the B2B tech world, sales happen more slowly than anyone would like. I’ve worked with top sale teams, and its common for someone in sales to attend an industry event where they hope to make good connections and leave with a stack of business cards from prospects, or to scan badges at a large trade show. Some sales cycles for tech companies can take a year, even longer. The stack of business cards a salesperson collects at an industry event may literally be step two in a hundred step process.

No one, ever, is going to get a prospect to buy a $500k to $5M tech solution during a networking event based on the wonderful conversation he or she had with a salesperson. Ever. Most people in sales understand that scenario. Yet, that same salesman will look at months of social media posts and wonder why his phone isn’t ringing because of those posts. The answer appears to be that social media in a B2B setting is a waste of time. This couldn’t be more wrong.

Social Media Networking

Social media marketing and networking are very similar. Our impatience and wrong perceptions cause us to look at social media in B2B environments as ineffective. Social media is wonderful, amazing, nearly free, and can help us reach prospects from around the world. That said, it’s not a magic bullet. Like real world networking, it takes time.

Many salespeople in the B2B tech space say most sales come from referrals. That’s only part of the picture. Referrals from someone you know can be powerful. In reality, how is the person referred going to validate that referral? They will check out your website, see what you post on social media, read your case studies, and judge whether or not you’re the expert solution provider. Social media is, in many ways, the digital equivalent of a networking event.

Conversation on Their Terms

Unlike real-world networking events where your prospects may be tired and want to leave the event, social media let’s prospects learn about you on their terms. Of course, no one person will see the majority of what you post in a continual stream unless they intentionally look for it. That’s why you need a social media content plan and calendar. Over time, will a prospect who sees 6 of your social posts get an idea of how you approach an industry challenge? Maybe a little bit. If you post on a regular basis, prospects can learn how you think, start to see your values and feel the passion you feel for improving an industry problem.

The way you think, your values, and your passion can’t be communicated as well in a 4-minute conversation at a networking event. Social media lets your B2B prospects learn these things about you before they ever accept a phone call.

5 Guidelines for B2B Social Media Content

  1. Educate your audience. Don’t try to sell. I follow a B2B tech company on a particular social platform. Every single post sounds like this: “Have a problem with X? Try our new solution that eliminates this problem.” Every single post. Provide valuable content that shows your audience how you solved a problem for a client. Share some challenges and practical steps readers can take—without you—to solve a problem.
  2. Be consistent. It’s better to post one time per week, every week, than to have four posts per week for two weeks, followed by three months of silence. It’s nearly impossible to have consistency without a content plan.
  3. Be realistic. Social media marketing is part of a larger sales picture. It is valuable in itself, most effective when integrated into a well-planned marketing strategy.
Do You Have a Product, a Solution, or a Service?

Do You Have a Product, a Solution, or a Service?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Many tech companies refer to their offering as a product, others call it a solution, and still others refer to their service. What’s the best way to market your offering?

If you are routinely charging different rates or prices for your offering, chances are, you don’t have a product.

This may not sound like an important point to discuss, but it can influence a prospect’s perception of your company and affect whether he or she buys from you or not. I’ve worked with SaaS companies, software companies, and others who have some type of tech solution. Here are some common scenarios:

  • The sales team refers to the company’s products
  • Its website refers to its solutions, or even products and solutions
  • The operations team refers to the offering as its services

Often, these terms are used interchangeably, with no sense of consistency or clarity.