I Never Planned to Be a PowerPoint Savant

I’m quite judgmental of marketing content.  Well, all content, to be honest, I’m judgmental of all content. I want content to communicate and serve a purpose, and I judge all content I encounter with a critical eye. 

I’ve been involved with persuasive content my entire professional life.  Heart and soul, I’m a practicing B2B marketing and content strategist that has watched the need for more human-centered, intelligent, content design explode. As B2B buyers become more digital, content becomes ever-more important to buyers and sellers.  I saw this trend early and became focused on content and message strategy because of it.

But many of the clients I work with in sales know me only as their presentation secret weapon.   

The truth is, I’m no PPT savant. I am a daily power-user, but competency is expected, and no one cares about my technical chops.  What they care about is winning the deal, and winning and losing is determined by how well you communicate business value.

It’s a bit ironic, because I’ve never promoted myself as a PowerPoint expert, in fact, I avoided it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy creating presentations, I do, but it was not a B2B niche I expected to serve when I began consulting. I also did not want to be pigeonholed and commoditized.

It found me anyways. It’s surprising in some ways, and not so surprising in others. After all, a PPT presentation is content, and content is one of the things I do best.  


PowerPoint didn’t even exist when I entered the workforce.  As a designer in the commercial production industry, I enjoyed the work and learned a lot about simplifying messages into 0:30 second commercials. I also had a deep interest in being involved in the strategy and creative developed by the agencies.  I not only had my own opinions on the creative, but I wanted to understand the bigger ideas driving the strategies.

My first exposure to Microsoft was circa 1990 on early Macintosh desktops in a small design and marketing agency in which I was a partner. At the time, business software and hardware were emerging markets and start-ups were everywhere, fueling our own growth. I was now helping shape and execute brand and marketing strategies. It was also my entry into B2B technology.

Fast forward a few years, and much to my surprise, I’m managing marketing teams in a global technology enterprise.  By now, PowerPoint has become a ubiquitous tool. Unfortunately, too many presentations were hopelessly boring energy bludgeons.  Corporate life quickly taught me the meaning of “death by PowerPoint” and I swore then I would never inflict such suffering upon anyone subjected to a slide deck I was associated with.

During my years in corporate marketing, I wore many hats, from content to strategy.  I also became the go-to guy for executive keynotes. I was good at them, not only from a design perspective, but also because of my instinct for persistent audience focus complimented my ability to simplify complex messages and create continuity.  Keynotes were an omen, I just didn’t recognize it at the time.

Hurricane Maria’s lasting impact

I left the corporate marketing world for consulting in 2017 and creating keynote presentations and sales decks was not my target market. Then Hurricane Maria came barging through Houston one Friday night and turned it into a lake. The following Monday morning, an unexpected phone call modified my trajectory.

John Heimann, who at the time, was director of commercial marketing at Anthem of California, was calling.  John and I worked together at Alcatel many years prior. He started the call by saying “I don’t know if you can help me, but I’m in a jam.”

He explained that he received a call from the account manager at the Houston agency he was working with and was told “our studio is underwater. Literally, underwater.” They were not going to be able to meet several deliverables because of the hurricane and flooding.

On that Monday, the most critical deliverable to Anthem was an RFP finalist presentation required for a key account within the next 10 days. The ask was a PowerPoint presentation of approximately 60 slides, and the content had yet to be created. Though I felt a bit rusty as a designer, I knew we could make it work. 

Anthem won the account and I’ve been working with healthcare sales leaders to pitch key accounts consistently ever since.  It’s a role I never saw coming.

While I also help these same organizations define and produce various strategic programs and content, those contributions are invisible to most.  For many salespeople I work with, the finalist decks for key accounts are the only work they know me for, so they just see me as the PowerPoint guy.  Commoditized by assumption.

But, while many just see a slick presentation, I see an engaging, clear, and relevant message designed for the only people that matter – the decision makers in the room. This is what it takes to keep an audience engaged.  This is how I help sales win. This is why I have become their presentation secret weapon, even though I’ve never promoted myself as a PowerPoint expert.

It happened because I met a need, and that need is to help salespeople be successful, especially in front of an audience. And, while many salespeople just see a slick communication tool, I see a lot more.  Strong messaging and positioning are a byproduct of understanding what your audience cares about.  As with all content, when coupled with well-choreographed creative design and delivery, a good presentation helps presenters be more persuasive. 

Most importantly, my experience helps me, help them, win key accounts. And because I help them win, I’ve become a top gun for key account pitch decks and executive keynotes.  

I guess I have become a PowerPoint savant.  Bring it on. 

This article was originally published on Medium.

B2B Personalization — Does It Mean What You Think It Means?

Personalization is the holy grail of marketing and sales today, driving ever greater investment in marketing technology (MarTech) platforms, data and digital commerce. How important is it to marketing leaders? 92% of B2B marketers say it is a must, according to Adobe’s 2019 report Progress in personalization. How B2B brands are keeping up with rising demands for personalization. The same report reveals that 91% of senior decision makers say their companies need to improve personalization capabilities. That sentiment is striking in several ways.

Effective personalization — one size does not fit all

In marketing today, the topic of personalization is ubiquitous. Exploding your inbox, the media, LinkedIn, and beyond, the volume of personalization chatter feels incessant. Analysts pontificate about it and MarTech vendors promise outsized growth because of it. Organizations are prioritizing it and striving to collect and leverage the data required to deliver it. Marketers define programs around it and spend millions of budget dollars to track and push their offers to prospects across their omnichannel ecosystems. There is a flood of examples.

Inevitably, it seems, Amazon becomes part of the conversation as the idolized best-practice model, the ultimate success story of digital commerce personalization done right. Facebook, on the other hand, has become the poster child of personalization abuse, unleashing the unintended consequences of personalization engine algorithms.

Business loves “best practices” and there is no shortage of “marketing personalization best practices” to be discovered via search (“About 23,000,000 results” according to Google). Analyst and vendor case studies are abundant.

There is one problem though — personalization “best practices” is discussed and consumed in aggregate, as a one-size fits all discussion and with a heavy reliance on technology over context.

The B2C model of Amazon is one retailers and digital commerce marketers dream about, but B2B is not retail. And, frankly, “Dear <firstname>” is not personalization, at least not to any senior B2B decision makers I know. Without consideration of the distinct differences between B2C and B2B buyers, purchase paths and other criteria, B2B marketing personalization is commonly misaligned and misdirected — and your audience recognizes it.

What does personalization mean to B2B buyers?

In the movie The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya is the Spanish henchman to the Sicilian criminal Vizzini. Throughout the movie Vizzini, upon encountering unanticipated events, repeatedly declares “Inconceivable!” Montoya finally says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

B2B marketers often use tactics they consider to be personalization best practices, applying whatever data they have, but often fall short of their audiences’ expectations as well as their own. It’s not a small problem.

The inevitable question is this — what does true personalization look like for your organization and market? More important, what does personalization mean to your prospects and customers?

Poorly done, superficial personalization can look a lot like stalking. And, unless vendor personalization attempts are meaningful and add true value, they are just background noise. B2B buyers are different. Full stop. High-dollar B2B transactions are very different, possessing long and complex sales cycles among multiple decision makers. This changes the meaning of personalization.

B2B buyers want personalization, in human terms, within the context of their roles and priorities. Putting your target’s first name in the emails you keep sending to them is not personalization in the way you think it is. Business decision makers want and need trustworthy information, perhaps more now than ever. They do not want or need more emails and programmatic ads shoved into their browser based on information your organization has acquired. Rather than validate the trust you think you are building, cheap “personalization” tactics undermine it.

Personalization is powerful

Personalization is powerful and the data confirms it. 87% of marketers report a lift in success due to personalization according to data reported by outgrow.co. However, personalization is not the same for all, and again, the data point lacks clarity without some definition of “personalization” tactics and some understanding of the audience reporting improved performance. In other words, the context matters, which is largely the point.

Buyers of commoditized products behave much differently than the buyers of complex business solutions and services. Those differences matter.

Meaningful B2B Personalization

How do you design meaningful B2B personalization into your marketing and sales engagement? Begin by defining what personalization means to your prospects and customers. Place the emphasis on their needs, understanding the context and priorities of their roles, how their buying process works and the kinds of outcomes and information that is relevant to them. The right content, at the right time, for the right buyer is the goal of personalization. Defining what that means at each stage takes work, but it’s the secret to doing it properly.

Define your brand value and story — Every successful B2B organization has a customer value proposition. Define what makes yours unique — and what does not. Make sure everyone in marketing and sales understands it and how to use it. It defines your brand. Your prospects don’t care about your brand, your product or service, until they have a reason to care.

Historically, before digital transformation engulfed the universe, the role of giving B2B prospects a reason to care about your business solutions was done almost exclusively through personal interaction. Helping people buy has traditionally been the role of salespeople. That has changed.

Today, B2B buyers rely on a significant percentage of digital discovery, education, and interactions before engaging with sales. Buyer information needs haven’t changed, in fact, they have grown, but their methods have changed. Personalization helps make potential buyers care.

Define your audience. Understand the context of their business roles and priorities — The first thing to recognize is that you are not selling to a business. You’re selling to a person (likely multiple people) and there is a high likelihood that your product or service is not on their list of top priorities. How well you can position your solution to align with their priorities depends on how well you understand them and where your solution fits into them.

Creating Buyer Personas allows marketers to identify and understand the human being behind the role. By understanding the context and complexity of your prospect’s role, business needs, challenges and frustrations, you can develop messages and content that supports sales interactions by filling the digital chasm between a buyer’s identification of a need and buyer’s decision to engage a salesperson.

Identify how your business value aligns with your target audience’s business priorities — Consider where customer value resides in the context of the customer’s workday, professional interests, and primary function. What are their priorities and what big problems are they responsible to solve?

Every business has a formal set of objectives that cascade from the top, guiding the priorities of each department leader and their teams. This is what your audience is focused on. Whether formal or subconscious, every executive decision maker has a list of their top needs, challenges and frustrations. How and where do your value propositions intersect with the broader objectives? Find the contextual relationships and prioritize those with the strongest business impact.

Understand your B2B buyer’s journey, needs and timing

The fundamental buyer’s need for information has not changed. What has changed is that B2B buyers prefer to educate themselves before engaging a salesperson, using a fractured discovery process of many micro-events triggered by self-guided navigation and research. Digital due diligence helps buyers refine their business needs and objectives. It is standard buyer behavior and proportional to the cost and complexity of a project.

While there are several models, segmenting buyer journeys into progressively active pre-sales discovery stages is common. But beware, though the stages may seem linear, B2B journeys are neither linear nor concise.

Develop and deploy content accordingly

What do B2B buyers want and need to make informed decisions? Relevant information. Trustworthy content and guidance that helps them solve a business problem. Buyers have been telling us this for some time as evidenced by the recurring Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact studies.

It’s important to also recognize that your “buyer” is a group of individuals. No two of those individuals is moving at the same pace nor will they participate in each stage with the same interest. Each decision maker and influencer endorsement will require a clear value proposition and they will educate themselves as required by their business role and the stakeholders they represent.

Marketing teams that personalize content and messages to meet the needs of individual target prospects throughout their decision-making process, demonstrate authority in their space and earn trust as a potential partner understand B2B personalization.

“Dear <firstname> <lastname>,” is not personalization to B2B decision makers. Providing the right information and guidance, at the right time and helping decision makers become smarter buyers, is personalization.

This article was first published on Medium on Feb 11, 2022.

To Gate, Or Not To Gate? A Question As Old As Digital Delivery

Marketing Charts — https://www.marketingcharts.com/industries/business-to-business-108001

Why gate content? Leads. Gating content is about generating leads say 62% of B2B organizations as recently reported by Marketing Charts. And, though the answer to “why” surprises no one, the summary of the research they published highlights some interesting responses and related metrics worth deeper consideration.

Several of the highlights are intriguing:
“45% of respondents believe gating content adds an air of exclusivity to it.” I think users have quite an opposite reaction to gated content and see through that.
• As for the leads generated at the gate, the data is never as clean as hoped. 47% provide personal email (or a dedicated junk mail account address)
31% refuse the transaction cost of providing personal information for content. 45% of VP-level decision makers refuse.

Gating is a barrier to audience trust and the mission of your content. Period. Full stop.

Gating is as old as content marketing. It is the digital descendant of event raffles and the aggressive corralling of wanderlust trade show attendees for badge IDs. Tactically speaking, it is what marketing has always done — support sales and generate leads. I understand the rationale.

But the conversation and decision about gating content must go deeper. In fact, the simplicity of the question — to gate or not to gate — betrays a strategic and deliberate approach to the role of content today. Too often, the check-mark is defined simply by content classification rather than audience personalization such as role, journey stage and opt-in alternatives. Consider first how and where your content fits a prospect’s discovery path; does it meet their specific needs?

Faced with the question to gate or not to gate content, the first and most important question to consider is if, in the eyes of your audience, the content is worthy of the transaction cost. Most content is not. In fact, the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study concludes that quality thought leadership is scarce — only 18% of business leaders consider vendor content excellent or very good. But take note, the impact of quality content is real and has a measurable impact on trust and reputation. 70% of decision makers will follow an author or organization that brings value (and not promotion). Conversely, “done poorly, it can harm business.” 60% of decision makers will stop following authors or organizations after reading thought leadership while 29% decided not to award business because of their thought leadership (or lack of it). Your content better be in that 18% of excellent/very good or risk the disappointment and loss of trust from your audience.

Gating is an internally focused tactic that ignores emergent trust and relationship challenges every digital business faces today. It also over-simplifies buyer behavior in complex sales cycles. But I understand the rationale, marketing is doing what marketing has been trained to do — support sales & generate leads.

There is an ironic and important paradox here. The chorus of business leaders and analysts evangelizing the importance of a more personalized and empathetic, customer experience — from end-to-end — has been rising for years now. Gating content is a contradiction.

Is there a place in the engagement process for requesting and acquiring prospect information? Yes, absolutely. Generating interest and sales opportunities is the heart of the marketing mission. Webinars are an example of a registration-required format that users readily accept. They understand there can be logistical limits and requirements when “live.” It also demonstrates legitimate audience interest by the act of registration and a calendar commitment to attend.

I’m all for strong content that informs prospects and can drive well qualified leads for sales. To be clear, it’s vital to create opportunities for users to provide personal info, but how and when you do it matters. Invoking “pay to play” access early in a prospect journey, before trust or authority has been earned, will close many doors that would otherwise remain open.

The Takeaways
1. Demand generation is a marathon. Slow down, nurture digital relationships and allow them to evolve. Trust and authority are earned, it’s not an algorithm.

2. Show, don’t tell; inform, educate and demonstrate why your solutions matter. Stop selling and stop talking about yourself; let your subject expertise be the star. Your trust and authority scores will increase immediately.

3. Be creative in creating opt-in opportunities like webinars that will demonstrate expertise, insight and customer value. Give your audience a reason to want to explore a relationship with your business. The prospect data you earn will be cleaner, will yield more productive nurture programs and increase lead quality.

Building trust and relationships have always been the first rule of sales success. Just because buyers don’t engage with sales until late in the sales cycle doesn’t mean prospects aren’t judging you. The importance of developing buyer-seller relationships based on trust and authority remain, but how those relationships evolve has been redefined. Until a buyer decides to speak to a salesperson, your digital behavior and your content is your salesperson.

This commentary was first published on Medium on Apr 17, 2019

New Marketing Landscape, Same Old Marketing Conversation?

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

If you’re involved in marketing, it’s no secret that change is everywhere. Technology has had a profound impact on all aspects of human behavior personally and professionally. The media we consume, how we consume it, and how we interact with brands – not to mention each other – has changed. The emergence of digital has altered everything, and marketing’s role today is not the marcom of yesterday. It’s a new game, with new rules, and an overwhelming number of new media, channels, and tools.

If you’re currently in a marketing leadership role and you find change scary and uncomfortable, now would be a good time to consider a career change. Conversely, if your personality is one that thrives on uncertainty, exploration, and opportunity, know this: Success will be elusive, but you will probably enjoy the ride. This is the reality of marketing today.

The need for transformation

There is endless analysis and conversation today about business transformation and innovation. It is a dominant theme among analysts, technology media, and executive management. Marketing is no exception.

Many of today’s B2B marketing conversations are data-rich, wrapped around annual surveys of marketers and buyers summarizing sentiment, budgets, and priorities. When done well, they capture the preferences and pain points of a profession in transition and have legitimate benchmark value. They clearly document changing trends and challenges, and the best of them deliver true insight. Yet at the same time it feels like something is missing.

The trend of “more” – content, measurement, and beyond

“More” is a recurring theme in recent years for marketing. More media choices, channels, and formats are complemented by the need for more leads and measurement. And, of course, more content. Seventy percent of marketers surveyed in 2015 by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) plan to create more content, but only 8% of B2B marketers rate their content efforts as “very effective.” That’s not a great return on investment. Given the continued challenge over measurement and attribution, one has to wonder about the 8%. Is it tightly measured? Or is it based on circumstantial evidence, or worse, is it assumptive?

This is one of the troubling trends that CMOs are being pressured to correct. Only 5% of marketers surveyed by CMI rate their organization’s efforts to track ROI as “very successful,” and a 2016 DemandWave survey says a full 35% of marketers don’t even have an attribution model, let alone one that is working well.

Content Science reports a couple of equally disturbing success metrics that seem to have survived the analog age of marcom – 27% gauge success by the creation rate of content, and 71% gauge success by “meeting deadlines.” Though no one will dispute the need to hit delivery dates, these metrics do not reflect the performance of content. In fact, they suggest a highly quantitative checklist approach at a time when quality and scalability matter more than ever.

This is all part of the ongoing conversations marketing is having among themselves. But as relevant as these conversations are, they are beginning to feel a bit like redundant noise. That may sound harsh, but most are rich in describing how digital customers have changed buying behaviors, the urgency of digital transformation, and the latest assessment of marketing tactics. Yet, when considered in aggregate, something is missing.

Changing the conversation inside and outside of marketing

Are the conversations around content, marketing, and advertising too narrow? Are they focused on the right things?

This recent Advertising Age article titled “The Big Agenda” is encouraging. It highlights the need to replace short-term thinking for the longer view and reflects a focus on “making marketing work better.” From readers surveyed, these are the top three priority issues in 2016:

1. Making marketing more efficient (55%)
2. Improving creative excellence (54%)
3. Finding new ways to reach consumers as they block or skip ads (52%)

What is missing from the conversation today is the important new role marketing must unequivocally accept – marketing is now a direct and substantial part of the sales process. The new role is not about creating more content and publishing more often; it is about being more effective at earning audience attention and driving demand.

The 2015 B2B Marketing Trends Report from CMI highlights a key organizational challenge that must be part of the new marketing conversation. It is the wide distribution of accountability across organizations for content marketing: C-level (23%), product marketing (19%), demand gen (18%), PR (15%), social media (6%), or the omnipresent “other” (14%).


The distribution metric is significant because it documents a fractured model aligned to traditional internal structures.

Unfortunately, most attempts to adapt and improve marketing performance have been tactically iterative, constrained by legacy assumptions and habits. Technology, consumers, and communications have changed too much for incremental evolution.
Everyone needs to turn off autopilot and re-think the entire approach, right down to organizational structures and processes. Process is key to efficiency, but a process based on an old set of rules is industrialized disaster. For many, this is the status of B2B marketing today.

Until organizations accept this, marketing execution will be marginalized by the lack of a holistic vision and execution strategy. New, operationally sustainable strategies will need to break old habits, processes, and role-based silos. Digital business requires transformation at every level, perhaps most of all in marketing.

As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” Are you ready to change the conversation of marketing?

This article was originally written for and published by Content Science Review.

Tools of Ignorance or Masters Degree in Strategy?

Many baseball fans are familiar with the expression “tools of ignorance.” It is credited, with some uncertainty, to both Muddy Ruel and Bill Dickey. If the phrase is new to you, here is one definition found in the April 4, 1944 issue of The Sporting News:

Muddy Ruel tags out Bing Miller.

“Players call the catcher’s armor the ‘tools of ignorance.’ Outfielders contend that no one in their senses would clutter themselves up with a mask, a heavy chest protector and weigh down their legs with shin guards. All of this when the mercury is trying to climb out of the top of the tube, and those outfielders are on vacation, waiting for something to happen.” 

photo – “Bing Miller tagged out at home plate by Muddy Ruel 1925” – image courtesy of Wikimedia

Avid fans are also likely aware of the fact that ex-catchers dominate the managerial role in Major League Baseball.

The 2014 MLB World Series is upon us. Both managers in this years fall classic are ex catchers – Bruce Botchy of the San Francisco Giants and Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals. It’s not a coincidence. Catchers are accomplished strategists and team leaders.

Baseball loves statistics so let’s start with some numbers.

  • 43% (13 of 30 teams) – Former catchers in 2014 managing MLB teams.
  • 42.5% (17 of 40) – Former catchers recognized as American or National League Manager of the Year over the past two decades
  • 52.5% (21 of 40) – Former catchers who led their teams to the MLB World Series as managers in the past 20 years

Surprised? I’m not. The “tools of ignorance” are anything but.

Catchers play a unique role on the team. Analysis is a constant – every pitch, out, inning and game. They spend their careers behind the plate evaluating a series of “what if” questions, instantly profiling scenarios and making decisions designed to reach the best potential outcome. Like chess, baseball is a very situational game but with a much higher degree of personal interaction. Experienced catchers see the little things that make a difference in a game and in a series, both physically and psychologically. Those that pursue, excel and embrace the position are rewarded with an advanced education in tactical strategy and relationship management. Ned Yost and Bruce Botchy are this year’s World Series examples.

Nothing in this world has universal appeal. For some, watching baseball is the equivalent to watching grass grow. I’m not in that camp. I watched the grass grow from behind home plate where I grew up, matured and reached middle age. I’ve loved baseball for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the endless summers of Southern California where rain is rare and the worst of winter is the equivalent of fall in most other parts of the United States. Borrowing liberally from Roger Kahn’s book title “The Boys of Summer,” I was one of those boys, playing virtually every day as a kid. And I didn’t stop until I was forty-something.

Not everyone appreciates the impact participation in sports can have on a life. Athletics teach many, many things and the lessons are different for each sport, and each participant. I can only speak for myself, but in retrospect I leverage what learned from decades of baseball and catching every day – professionally and personally.

Here are many of the things catchers understand that help them excel at their position and as they adapt to new challenges:

  1. Teamwork – success and winning is directly proportional to how a team works together. Take care of teammates and they take care of you.
  2. Model scenarios quickly – every action has a reaction. Consider your goal, the likely outcomes of alternative options, and then make a decision.
  3. Leadership & communication – as catcher you’re view is unique to your role and position. Decide on the plan, communicate adjustments and ensure everyone understands the situation. Achieve this, and everyone is a better contributor.
  4. Trust your instincts and improvise when needed – situations often do not go as planned.
  5. Let go – learn from mistakes but don’t dwell on the past or what you can’t control.
  6. Perseverance – don’t give up, anything can happen even if it seems highly unlikely.
  7. Watch for and recognize the little things – they are important clues to improving future decisions.
  8. Adversity – it happens. Deal with it.
  9. Confidence and optimism – believe in yourself and your team. Fear of failure cannot guide you.
  10. Trust – in team, teammates, family and friends.
  11. Respect and empathy – everyone is doing their best. Bad days happen and those having them feel as crappy about it as you do when you have them. This includes umpires.
  12. Relationships matter – particularly pitchers and umpires. The better your relationship with each, the better the outcome.
  13. Managing up – Umpires can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Pick one.
  14. Make everyone better – it’s part of the job and by doing so, the team is better.

Please share. What are the important life-lessons athletics have brought you?

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on October 25, 2014 during the World Series.

Every Shade of Grey – The New Reality For CIOs


It wasn’t long ago that the CIO mandate was simple to define.  The role was clear and operational, customers were internal and IT was transactional.  CIOs managed a necessary cost center; not yet the competitive differentiator it has become.  The role of business IT was “clear,” well defined, and not particularly ambiguous. It was black and white.

All of that has changed. Continue reading “Every Shade of Grey – The New Reality For CIOs”

Open letter from a CMO to a CIO

Dear IT,

You and I both know the history of our relationship has not been particularly close over the years. A decade ago we shared few interests, but things have changed. Where once we had little in common, today we need each other to be successful. I hope you agree.

Lately, I‘ve felt the need to share some disturbing visions I keep having. Understandably, your first thought might be “I hardly know you, why bring this problem to me?” Because you too are experiencing tremendous pressure and change in your role as CIO, which tells me you can empathize. And frankly, I need to share it with someone who can appreciate my pain.  I hope you’ll hear me out.

Sleepless Marketing Leader

I haven’t slept well in months. I keep having recurring dreams that when I’m at work, I have blocks of cement on my feet. Every time I try to affect change or adapt to changing customer trends, I can barely move. And, I’m not alone. My team is wearing lead shoes, as are so many others. The dream has different outcomes, but none end well. That’s when I typically wake up.

Again, you ask yourself “Why me?” I’ll explain.

As I was reading Forrester’s Digital Business Imperative report the other day, I was painfully reminded of the growing impact digital everything is having on our personal and professional lives. Traditional marketing tactics are no longer relevant and plug-and-play is no longer enough for either one of us. As CIO, you appreciate the steep challenge of digital evolution; after all, you and your teams are on the front lines, defining and managing technology.  Lets be honest with each other, both our classical measures of value are barely relevant today.

Forrester pointedly states how urgently business leaders must harness digital technologies, not only to deliver the digital experience customers expect but also to increase competitive market position. Digital is transforming our business in every way, at a pace that feels like it’s virtually overnight. Though the analysts refer to it as “transformation,” it feels a lot more like revolution.

How’s this for revolution – Gartner predicts that by 2017, marketing will control more IT budget and technology than you will? As a marketing leader I find that prediction staggering. I don’t mind telling you that we are not equipped to go it alone. Though I remain unconvinced of their prediction, I do know that we need each other to be successful. We need to work together. I’m convinced it’s time for a reset.

I’ve come to realize lately that we hardly know each other after all these years. In fact, I suspect that our perceptions of each other, our roles and our organizations, are fundamentally wrong.   Though our professional paths have been quite different, customers, technology and digital business are common threads redefining both our professions in ways we never imagined, and insisting we redefine ourselves. To be honest, I welcome the challenge.

Most important, we need to get ahead of the curve strategically, or we will slip further behind operationally and financially. There is a lot of change for us to manage and we cannot continue to bolt new technologies onto old models. So the question before us is how, when and where do we begin?


Your new best friend,

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on June 30, 2015.

Why? The delta between innovation objectives and abilities.

Innovation. A bridge too far?

A recent survey by the Palladium Group found that 93% of respondents believed that excellence in innovation would be critical to their success in the coming years. However, just 36% of the almost 1400 companies surveyed believed that they were good at innovating. In fact, most felt that they were poor at all forms of innovating – such as product/service and process innovation as well as business model innovation.

Innovation, a bridge too far?
A bridge too far? Can innovation be achieved in risk-averse cultures?
© Mikhail Shifrin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Why is there such a massive gap between the importance of innovation and perceived abilities? Innovation means change, and change is hard.

What must organizations do to close this gap, and how can organizations manage innovation better?

The ability to execute on innovation in any form – whether the design of new products, services, processes or business models – is proportional to the ability of the collective team or organization to think and act in new ways.  Conceptualizing new models and designs is difficult, requiring creativity and commitment to see beyond current and historic influences. Execution on those designs, particularly in the context of organizational change, is infinitely harder.  Why? Human inertia; the same reason new years resolutions go unrealized.

Change is also culturally hard.  Who defines change? People.  Who executes change? People.  What defines your culture? Your people do, in combination with the context of your market.  Business cultures are uniquely complex and inherently resistant to change.  As Palladium’s 2014 survey states clearly, the inability to overcome internal resistance to change is a genuine problem. It is a human problem.

Palladium’s 2014 survey concludes, “Leadership for strategy execution is not confined to the top echelons of the enterprise but must be inculcated at every level.” Success will depend on instilling in everyone the need for change and committing to it at every level. This begins with “why.” Why is it important? Why do I care, why should I act differently? Capture the heart and the mind will follow; or at least begin to follow.

Active communication of why, consistently, transparently, and with conviction is the critical beginning which must be sustainable throughout the journey.   It must be open and ongoing, supporting “why” with what, how, where, when, and who, all of which must be clear and concise, measurable and connected like a song returning to the refrain of “why.”

Even with commitment from the heart – the intrinsic belief across the corporate culture of the need for innovation – and the all-important compass pointing to that destination, there are significant obstacles.  The journey begins with the roadmap of what must be done to execute on innovation.  However, there will also be a set of decisions that must be made collectively and individually that often prove more difficult.  It is the decision of what not to do, and the need to over-ride autopilot.

Autopilot is your worst enemy, making it hard to see things differently and think in new ways; autopilot is anti-innovation.  It is not as conscious and overt as “this is the way we’ve always done it,” rather it is the subconscious sibling, perhaps more insidious because it is silent and hidden. Autopilot thrives on past training, learned behaviors and legacy circumstance.  Innovation requires businesses to break that mold and make yesterday’s environment unrecognizable, so the focus on new objectives and patterns is clear and untainted by old habits.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  -Albert Einstein.

This article was originally written for the Palladium Group, appearing on their website in April, 2015.