I’ve been on a customer discovery journey over the last couple weeks. I haven’t dug deep on Mom Test-esque questions. Instead, I’m setting a baseline on the e-commerce space for myself.
Below are highlights from my discussions so far –
  • Initial round of 7 folks from the e-commerce space representing directors and managers of marketing with a couple in sales. Companies were each in the $1B+ category largely in consumer, but also having B2B opportunities.
  • Primary levers for growing e-commerce businesses:
    • Customer acquisition
    • Fulfillment
    • These two levers have the greatest effect on net revenue
  • To achieve higher sales, too, companies are evaluating:
    • Shortest path to revenue — “click-to-checkout”
    • Building an “optimal” customer experience
  • Customer experience for companies range from custom, and temporary, showrooms to shortening the path to revenue with engaging design elements (e.g. imagery, product information consistency)
  • The Amazon Effect has affected some of the longest-standing fundamentals of web. That is, time on site used to be a valuable metric. Amazon has proven that a winning strategy can be the opposite — get in, find what you want, check out and get out. Fast. Come back again
  • Combating the big players in customer acquisition can be difficult as they spend millions upon millions in advertising, especially, on Google and Facebook. Smaller players have to focus on niches and aiming for the repeat buy
  • There are big opportunities, still
    • Most folks still believe less than 30% of the market value (10%, more likely) is still uncovered in e-commerce (“Everyone’s gathering data, but how do you use it?”)
    • There is a lot of data being collected; however, most companies still don’t know how best to utilize the data to deliver good value
    • Dynamic pricing is highly sought after with most folks seeing this as a prime opportunity for customer acquisition and revenue growth (new and recurring)
    • Exceptional customer support and returns processes are vital to keeping customers. When you consider the difficulty of acquiring customers, keeping customers should be an ongoing strategy top-of-mind

I’m still digging into the space as it’s largely unfamiliar outside of my personal shopping. Any take-aways standing out for you that surprises you? Anything contrary to what you thought?

Finally, I wrapped up Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. I was recommended the book years ago to better understand psychology. Understanding psychology has many benefits for entrepreneurs, sellers, marketers, and others – better understand people improves interactions within teams, with customers, and even provide hypotheses for product direction.
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow
Let me start off with: this is a dense book. The paperback copy spans 499 pages. It’s both conceptual and technical. I’ll likely need to read this book multiple times to truly appreciate its depth. As it stands, I feel the book could have (should have) been split into multiple books with the latter half diving very deep into sampling (sizes).
The two concepts I took away most from the book:
  • System 1 vs. System 2. This is the most renowned principle of the book – the systems that think “fast” and “slow”. System 1 is the mind’s reactionary processes. System 1 relies on heuristics such as recency (a recent event prejudicing the current situation), anchoring (think about the first number thrown in a negotiation), and others. System 2 is a more deliberate, limited-resourced process of the mind. Solving a math problem like 34×27 being an example. It requires a slower, deliberate thought process.
  • Sample sizes. Especially the latter half of the book, Kahneman makes several points about understanding sample sizes when deliberating biases, results, and even research (psychologists and economists most notably studied). Too often, statements or actions are based on limited sample sizes (read: not statistically significant). Instead, they are influenced solely by “what you see is all there is”.

There’s a lot more covered in the book. I am limiting the concepts here in these two broad concepts because they’re absolutely key to my take-aways. But also, there was so much discussed in this book that sticking to the highlights help influence change.

And what’s the change? Kahneman consistently reminded the reader that the research he and his former partner Amos was applicable to everyone. Though the situations hypothesized often drew criticism or defensiveness from others (readers included), the findings were widely accurate for readers – myself, included. The change then becomes more self-awareness of the fast thinking that occurs, and the necessity to slow down, when more scrupulous attention is needed.
System 2 is a limited resource. It was not hard to realize in my own life how often my System 1 jumped into action to save even just seconds of System 2 “work”. It’s true. Viewing optical illusions within the book or even evaluating double-digit multiplication, my System 2 was lazy. It was easy for my System 1 to take a quick glance and draw a conclusion (usually incorrect as was designed to throw me off) or even renege completely on the problem in front of me. It’s shocking.
I can couple this thinking and need to slow down with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of my greatest challenges is slowing down and stop being immediately reactionary (read: impulsive). Perhaps because of recent events with people and challenges, it’s no wonder being more mindful is one of my main take-aways.
The book is great. It reinforces (or rather, puts a foundational view on) many other literature I’ve read recently including Dale Carnegie’s book as well as Never Split the Difference and others. Helpful to set that foundation. Though, the book is quite long, and half-way through, I wanted to skip to my next book with more actionable tactics. Choices, choices… need some time to slow down and think about this. J

There’s a Greek parable I heard recently from a VP of Sales about the Hedgehog Concept. The parable goes, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

In essence, the fox uses his cunning to pounce, sneak upon, play, etc. to attack the hedgehog. However, the hedgehog needs only do one thing and do it well – defend itself. Against the cunning fox, the hedgehog simply rolls into a ball with its spines pointed outward in all directions.
Jim Collins, author of From Good to Great, took the parable and related it to organizations. He suggests companies should find the one thing they’re good at to beat competitors. There are three factors to consider what a company is good — illustrated below.
Copyright © 2001 Jim Collins. Originally published in the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t.” Image source: https://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/Hedgehog-Concept.jpg 
The VP of Sales I spoke with goes on to share how his sales organization must also be the fox. I couldn’t agree more in today’s age where companies are rising from every corner of the internet. In fact, Chief Martec posted last year its annual Marketing Technology Landscape. They mapped almost 4,900 companies. This is a significantgrowth from the 2012 landscape of roughly 150 companies.
Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, May 2017. Image source: https://cdn.chiefmartec.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/marketing_technology_landscape_2017_thumb.jpg
The environment for startups is both exciting as well as daunting. Great startups must do one thing well to survive. Really, they must do one thing well to earn customers. But as they compete against the budgets of their much larger counterparts, startups must also be cunning and use their agility to outmaneuver larger companies.
To that point, people must also think about their own abilities as a hedgehog and as a fox. How are folks surviving and growing beyond themselves and their counterparts?
Consider your now… like a hedgehog, what is the one thing you are truly great at? How are you (or can you be) cunning like a fox?

Creating an effective landing page (or website for that matter) can be both art and science. Landing pages are used to test interaction and interest in a product or service. They are used to iterate towards higher conversions (whatever the call-to-action (CTA)).
The art of the landing page is the combination of several characteristics including images (or, literally, “art”), copy, call-to-actions, and user forms. It can be difficult to determine the right detail. Thank goodness for variant-testing from services like Landing Lion and Unbounce.
For today, I’d like to hit home on key aspects of the user form as it is oftentimes the critical step of conversion.
  • Know the audience. As in any marketing, product, or sales initiative, knowing and understanding the market is critical. It’s step one. Knowing the audience enables a landing page builder to employ the right semantics & style and ask for the right data points.
  • Ask for what’s needed. Per Eloqua’s benchmark data from 3Q 2011 (see image below, provided by Hubspot), 61.4% user forms have 5-10 fields and convert ~40% of unique visitors. Too few fields (assuming the “right” ones) hampers sales from engaging the visitors with personalization while disabling marketing from iterating their efforts for high conversion. Too many will scare off visitors from taking the time to enter info.
  • Check the CTA. Impact Boundsuggests making the CTA be both action-oriented and benefit-oriented. Help the visitor know what s/he is getting by completing the form.

The user form is just one part of a landing page/ website, but it’s the critical piece to converting a web visitor outside of direct contact (i.e. email, call). As mentioned before, test the user form with a landing page builder service.

What is your “why”? It’s a question I’ve blogged about numerous times; “purpose” included. It’s resonated to me from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why to Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi’s Primed to Perform. So when I started reading Blue Apron’s S-1 filingfor an IPO, their mission made me think to the why –

Blue Apron’s mission is to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone. 

We believe that sharing home-cooked meals with our families and loved ones is an important way to demonstrate our values and affection. It is at our kitchen tables, over a meal, where we often celebrate our milestones, acknowledge our setbacks, and appreciate the comfort of each other’s company. Modern life has made this more difficult—many of us are too busy to grocery shop, lack the skills or confidence to cook, or cannot easily find the quality ingredients that make home cooking enjoyable.

I spent a few minutes thinking about “incredible home cooking” and accessibility wondering about its place as a purpose. Then, I recalled one of my old MBA professors who talked about “universal human truths” as the driving force behind company missions.
Real quick – from Nigel Hollis, EVP of Kantar Millward Brown, a global marketing agency, said this when trying to define universal human truth –

often heard in marketing in the context of global branding, where the accepted wisdom is that your brand’s positioning should be based on a motivation that transcends cultural boundaries. (Nigel, “What is a universal human truth?”)

I couldn’t place my finger on the validity of home cooking as a universal human truth. Perhaps an alteration to accessibility of healthy foods could’ve been more human truth oriented – being able to provide food to everyone, everywhere. After all, all humans must eat. Providing healthy options, then, would further that necessity to yield greater benefits.
Here are a few other mission statements. Do they align to a universal human truth?
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Facebook (newly released, too!): “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
  • General Electric: “to usher in the next industrial era and to “build, move, power, and cure the world.”
  • Telsa: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

·        Apple: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.”
Of course, companies do not need a universal human truth. It’s arguable that it’s also a marketing ploy. However, many companies are incepted not to just make money, but because there’s a deeper desire to solve some pain. Many companies aren’t even started to build behemoth companies. Instead, they start with a problem, and they are approached by entrepreneurs – some ideological, some profitable, some competitive, or some other reason.
If you were to build a company (or are building one now), is your mission aligned to a universal human truth? Do you care? Does it matter?
Sell, sell, sell. That’s what you’re going to do, and that’s what you’ll aim to do. But, your prospect will need more assurances. They need to know they’re not the only buyer. They need proof. Enter testimonials and case studies.

“Nobody gets fired for choosing IBM.”

Ever heard that before? The notion speaks to risk mitigation for the buyer. The subtle message: IBM is a reputable company with thousands of customers. As a buyer of IBM’s products or services, if it doesn’t work, surely it wasn’t because you chose a bad partner. (Versus choosing a riskier partner.)
Testimonials mitigate risk with social and professional proof – who they are, why they chose you, and what were benefits have they achieved.
Here are 7 keys to be mindful of when creating case studies and testimonials:
  1. Who is the case study coming from? Who is the buyer (person) and company? You want this person to be reflective of your target persona(s).
  2. 90% about the customer’s experience and how you enabled them.
  3. Pain-Solution. Tie everything to the pain and what the benefit(s) was. Note: think about primary and tertiary pains and solutions. Hit home with the primary, and layer any tertiary.
  4. Numbers are worth a thousand dollars. Like a resume, quantifying the benefits is key. If you can’t find one, try again… early on, maybe that’s a SWAG.
  5. How do you share? Distribution channels? Are you recording video? Are you just looking for a quick quote to share on a website or marketing collateral? Are you creating a one-pager?
  6. This is your learning experience, too. If your product/ service has truly helped the customer, you’ll hear anecdotes. Be acutely aware of details – they matter.
  7. Sometimes, you must ask for it. People are busy, but they want you to succeed.

Have fun with customer testimonials and case studies. Make them conversational.

I recently had a couple interns work for me at SalesWise. They were great resources to help in marketing, sales, prospecting, support, etc.
However, the interns were straight out of high school (or still in). They did not have much experience in any particular area. It was a challenge, at first, to get them ramped up on what to do. Luckily, I leaned on my experience as a co-op back at Georgia Tech to help me lead my interns.
My biggest advice to the interns, and indeed, the same understanding I wanted them to be grounded on: “Absorb as much as you can, even if the work seems ‘simple’.”
My biggest advice to them after their time? “Re-read and re-absorb everything you did.”
One of my regrets from my internship at UPS Supply Chain Solutions back in the day was not absorbing as much as I could about logistics, transportation, the contacts I interacted with, their interests, etc. As I look back, there were hundreds of connections I wish I kept in touch with. (LinkedIn makes it much easier to do this today.)
I had my interns research our various customer profiles — their functions (i.e. sales operations, sales enablement, marketing ops, other), the challenges of each persona, how our solution could benefit these individuals, etc. By the end of their time, they could rattle off what was important to each person and could write messages or communicate with each person in a meaningful way.
I feel my co-op experience gave me great insight into being a professional and working with others, especially communication. However, I missed out on some of the “tribal knowledge” because I didn’t think much about it.
For my interns, I felt it was important (as each wanted to enter some role in business) to understand the people on the other side of the table — customers, internal stakeholders, etc. I wanted them to understand the WHY of each task. These interns were very bright, hardworking, and self-starters.
They will run up against many other students who are just as bright, hardworking, and self-starting. What will set them apart is their ability to immediately contribute and have accelerated growth. It’s this tribal knowledge, these concepts around understanding audiences, etc. that will make these interns highly valuable as they seek their next opportunities.
What are the pieces of advice you give to interns? How have you helped nurture interns? If you were an intern, what was some of the best advice or best take-aways from your experience?
I’m surprised by how many people believe creativity is reserved to the arts or perhaps marketing. In reality, there’s so much more creativity happening in the everyday whether that be in writing, in coding, or in sales.
When I do code, I love how there are so many ways to accomplish a task. It’s up to me how I implement that code and find a solution. Some ways are more elegant than others. Sometimes, it’s about creatively hacking a solution so you can survive the week. So yes, developers/ engineers are a creative bunch.
Sales is one of those areas where I love to see creativity, too. I remember hearing a story of how a sales professional finally got in front of a VP he’d been chasing for a while by literally sending the VP his shoe. The message was about walking in “his shoes”. Or a story how to get someone to read a cold email by bidding on a pair of shoes and an apartment.
There’s a lot of creativity happening around us. Creativity is just finding a solution to a problem in some unconventional way. It happens all the time and all around us. It’s not just reserved to pretty plates of food or catchy songs on the radio. It happens when we’re left to our own devices… and stepping out from our own seeming “limitations”.
This is art… I don’t know what it is, but it’s art, right? Kind of like when someone non-technical looks at code… beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Photo from the Atlanta Beltline.
To be fair, too, creativity doesn’t mean it’s never been done before. Sometimes, creativity happens when we’ve just never done it this way. We have our vision, and we make that approach in our way. If someone else did it similarly, that’s okay. What counts is that we did something different, and the more we do that, the more creative we become.
When I asked Kelly what challenges she’s had to overcome as part of Tuesday’s Entrepreneur Interview Series, I thought about how I overcome my own timidity.
As a recap, Kelly, founder of Jade Marie’s Beauty, said she was forcing herself to be more extroverted to grow her brand. She has a difficult time accepting, let alone bringing, attention to herself; though, it’s not out of lack of confidence.
Like Kelly, I grew up shy of the spotlight. Today, I force myself to be comfortable being uncomfortable (i.e. I uncomfortably do a bit of self-promotion). As I type this post and you read this, I’m behind a digital wall, and one where you’re reading this later than I’ve typed this.
My friends will say I’m a great “deflector”… seamlessly shifting attention onto others. This, I realize is how I overcome my timidity. This is how I get over the fear of making cold calls, pitches, and the like.
When it comes to approaching others about a product or person, I’m not talking about myself at all. Instead, I’m deflecting or promoting something or someone else I love (maybe “love” is a strong word… hmm…). It’s a classic “recommendation” strategy that everyone does already, even those who are shy. Think: a great new restaurant, the new techno-widget, or a great friend.
By deflecting, I’ve given myself a chance to open up and talk openly. Gone are moments of shyness because the focal point isn’t on me. Instead, I’m a narrator or connector to someone or something I love/ like.
Entrepreneurs with a tendency to be shy or introverted could shift their focus on the self, and deflect by promoting their products or team instead. 
How else could those shy to talk to others learn to open up? What other personal challenges have you overcome as an entrepreneur? How did you overcome those challenges?