On Perseverence, in Plain Sight

It seemed like a treadmill I couldn't get off of or control. The harder I ran the faster the treadmill went.

"JANE, GET ME OFF THIS CRAZY THING!"

We had lost a couple of key accounts at work. The economy was in meltdown mode, and so were the revenue numbers my team was delivering.

I was staggering, trying to forge a new direction, trying to get a foothold that would get our numbers growing again.

And then, every month, the management meetings. Verbal eviscerations in front my peers for another number missed. The conference room was circular, like a Roman arena, and every month it seemed like all gathered round to watch the lions turn me inside out again.

It was humiliating. I was scared. Scared I was going to be tossed out, another piece of flotsam washed out with the economic tide, no ship in sight to throw me a line.

But, my team kept going. We added new accounts and new marketing tactics. We entered more industries. We got better at forging deeper, more meaningful relationships with our partners. We reduced our risk by diversifying, and eventually we grew.

And we grew and grew and grew.

That's hardly an heroic tale of perseverance. People push through far more every single day with much more at stake. Illness. Family issues. Financial struggles. As I heard recently in some song: "Everybody's going through something."

And it's true. We are all going through something, even a small something, all the time.

Visibility makes perseverance harder

In Fortune magazine, Adam Lashinsky wrote an excellent profile on Apple CEO Tim Cook. But the article is really a profile on perseverance.

As Apple founder Steve Jobs prepared for his death, he was determined to avoid the mistakes made by Walt Disney. Disney left the company without a contingency plan, forcing it stumble in the dark for years after his death.

Jobs developed classes and mechanisms to give permanence to Apple's critical cultural touchpoints long after he was gone. He groomed a successor in Tim Cook.

Still, all the preparation in the world couldn't smooth the inevitable turbulence that follows the loss of a legend, even when a company rests on a foundation of almost unfathomable success and cultural significance.

Apple stumbled a bit after Jobs died. Cook stumbled a bit in his new role. Issues piled up. The buggy Apple Maps app put drivers on the road to nowhere. Cook's first executive hire flamed out quickly. Siri was an airhead.

The media got noisy.

Still, Cook pushed forward, leading the only way he knew how -- by being himself.

Shareholders, the media, and hopeful competitors all declared doom. So many looked to make a buck off Cook's struggles, whether by shorting Apple stock, by writing click-bait headlines, or by introducing "better" copycat products into the marketplace.

As if this noise wasn't enough, Cook bravely shared that he is gay, and he continues to take a strong position on equality regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. He used (and still uses) his position to create a better world, unafraid of the added heat his advocacy brings.

Cook believed in Apple and who he was as a leader. He didn't let the noise slow him down or alter his path.

Now, Apple has the media buzzing again for the right reasons. Promising new products and services are emerging. A new watch, a TV service, a new way to pay for things at retail stores. It remains to be seen if all will be smash hits, but Apple is innovating. It is moving forward.

What to remember about ourselves and others

Persevering is hard enough. But when we know the world is watching and wondering -- whatever the scale and definition of "the world" might be -- it makes the journey that much harder.

"Everybody is going through something."

It's true.

We need to remember that when we are on stage, trying to push forward, we're not alone in our struggles.

And we need to remember that others are trying to persevere as well. Just a little more kindness might make all the difference to them. 

Posted on March 31, 2015 .

Ten rules for building strong partnership marketing relationships

Here's the good news: it's pretty straightforward to stand out as a good marketing partner. Here's the bad news: You have to be well-organized, dilligent, and consciencious. Also: It's hard work.

All I can write is what I know, what's worked for me. I'm definitely not good at doing all these things all the time and I fail regularly. As do the many excellent people I work with, which is why being forgiving is critical trait for success.

But working in this space over time, I've seen that if you can be consistent -- not perfect -- in these areas, you'll be more successful than not. You'll also attract better people and companies to partner with.

Do what you say
Don't say you're doing to do something by a certain time and then not do it. Don't offer up a communication component in your partner program and then leave it out when it comes time to execute. Do what you say and say what you do.

This is really about organization, not honesty. Most people are honest in their dealings. But you need to keep track of your commitments and then execute.

If you're going to miss a deadline (as we all do from time to time) send up a flare in advance. Let your partner know the miss is coming, and reach out share the date and time when you will deliver on your commitment. You'll be forgiven fare more often than not.

Underpromise and overdeliver
Exceed expectations in unanticipated ways. Leave yourself some wiggle room to overperform. Deliver ahead of schedule, or offer some extra value that maybe you didn't put on the table as part of the core negotiation.

Give more than people expect and you'll get more back than you expect. Very simple.

Hand-write thank you notes
This is a trick I learned from a former boss. No one does this anymore, because it's a pain. You need stamps, thank you cards, a decent pen, and penmanship that doesn't resemble hieroglyphics. So much easier to dash off an email -- which is why everyone sends the email.

I'm not always great about doing this, but when I do, it always has a positive effect. Try it five times and see what happens.

Listen
I'm an introvert at times, which is unique amongst many of my peers in partnership marketing. It also gives me an advantage. Because I'm not trying to dominate the conversation, I'm more inclined to hear what the other person says.

So just stop talking for two seconds. Ask good questions and hear the replies. You will craft a better partnership program and build more trust when you really hear what the other person is saying. They will see it in your actions, which will better align to their needs and goals. Listening pays off.

Understand your partner's business
Many of our best marketing partners could easily step in and pitch our business to someone else. They've internalized what PODS is about and align our business needs to their program.

Listening to your marketing partner is critical here, but so is a little research on your part. The internet is your friend. Read the partner's web content. What is their USP? Read customer reviews. Understand who else plays in their space.

In some ways, you're acting as an ad agency for your partner by providing them with marketing opportunities. Know their business and you will serve it better. Much better.

Understand what you accelerate
The only reason to enter a marketing partnership is to either accelerate or deliver more efficiently business growth and/or customer value. What are you bringing to the table that creates velocity for your partner? Why aren't they just doing it on their own? Think this through and be able to articulate it clearly and simply.

Jointly define success
You've put a new deal in place. You have your marketing plan and your action plan and you're ready to run. Where's the finish line? And is your partner's finish line in the same place as yours? How will you measure pace along the way to know if things are going well? Jointly agree on a set of metrics -- revenue, service level markers, lead conversion, whatever -- that sets a common and objective definition of success.

Say yes
Be open to new ideas and alternate ways of doing things. The best way to say yes and to be open to trying new things is to minimize risk -- the risk of wasting money, yes, but also wasting time. Develop a simple-to-implement testing framework that lets you address a subset of customers and see if it works. Your testing framework should let you ramp up and ramp down quickly. Sometimes we say no because doing a program seems like a ton of work and the return is uncertain. You can miss big opportunities that way, however. So set up your nimble marketing lab and always have petri dishes with interesting things growing in them. Some will grow bold and bright. Some you'll just toss in the trash. But you'll never blow up the whole building if you have your lab set up and experiment correctly.

Say no
Sometimes it's just wrong for your customers, for your partenrship strategy and capabilities, or for your company. And then you need to politely say no and move on. But in order to differentiate between what belongs in the testing lab and what belongs in someone else's lab, you must have a deep understanding of your customers, partnership strategy and program capabilities. Being able to say no quickly is a gift -- to yourself, your team and also to the other party, who, when you say no for the right reasons, will be given time and energy to work on something that will be more successful.

Be forgiving. Sometimes.
People make mistakes. They screw up. I do it daily. So forgive occasional transgressions and just move forward. Forgiving comes with caveats, however. Don't forgive patterns of mistakes -- the same issues over and over. And don't forgive bad or subversive behavior.

If you do forgive people for the same issues over and over, or tolerate unseemly behavior, then you get what you deserve: misery and a big drain on your time and energy. Know the difference between when to forgive and when to simply move on. When it's time to move on, do so without drama. You're not trying to win over someone else, you're trying to protect your time and energy.

Building great partnership marketing relationships isn't complicated. But it does take organization, strategy, and consistency. Start there and you'll have a strong foundation for your programs.

Posted on September 5, 2014 .