Qualifying Leads Quickly and Passionately

How can you get to the heart of the matter quickly and thoroughly when facing a great design opportunity? I wrote about lead qualification for design firms here not too long ago and here I expand the list of questions that are often helpful to bring up — the earlier the better.

1. Is this a transformational opportunity for the client?

2. Is this a transformational opportunity for our firm?

3. Do we have an advocate inside the client organization?

4. Will our portfolio resonate with the client? Which projects, specifically?

5. Can we meet the basic requirements of the RFP, such as the right number of built projects in a certain sector?

6. Do we have the right internal team to bring to the interview? (It’s wise to think thoroughly about roles and responsibilities from the client standpoint early on.)

7. Are the right subconsultants available?

8. Do we have a unique approach or other differentiator given the likely competition?

9. Is there enough lead time to get the proposal done?

10. What would you add to this list?

Database Administrator or Minister of Culture?

Many keepers of corporate culture complain: how can we “force” (their word choice) project managers to log data points and narratives at various milestones and thereby keep good records that enable marketing and business development staff to field new client inquiries about relevant work? The answer is simple and can be found in the Lean framework so popular today. Hire a marketing manager to keep a marketing database that is driven by the marketing department’s needs, and tie it to client billing.

I have known three firms within the last few years that struggle with maintenance of a marketing database. All three lack a marketing manager, or marketing database administrator. A fourth firm that boasts a healthy, well-utilized database, as well as high retention in marketing staff, has a different process. This firm requires all project management staff to send client setup forms and project initiation forms — information that typically goes straight to the billing office — to a marketing manager first.

The marketing manager examines the project data carefully for quality, records it in the database, assigns the root project number, sets up files per protocol, and then passes the form along to accounting. Essentially he or she is responsible for the marketing project database, which requires 1-2 hours per day to maintain. The rest of his or her day is spent utilizing this rich database. This marketing output work provides feedback to the job of quality-checking the input data that comes from those responsible for profit and loss and their project managers. The marketing manager is the link between what clients require — the “pull” in Lean-speak — and what information the project staff provide about current and recent projects. As it grows in size, quality and relevance, the database serves all marketing staff very well, so they in turn can serve internal and external clients very well. Several goals are achieved: the marketing database facilitates nimble and thorough responses to new inquiries, while corporate culture keepers can breathe easier knowing that the firm’s intellectual property records are alive and well.

Change Agent in Town: Creative Initiatives

Many firms that seek to hire a senior marketing executive are looking for a change agent. The leaders often expect to soon be “taking our marketing to the next level” or acknowledge the deferred maintenance that has occurred to the collateral, website, or other key communications pieces. Here is an excerpt from a current proposal to a highly technical design firm:

“Relentless execution of the day-to-day must be balanced with creative initiatives that set the stage for growth. Based on a first pass at the existing marketing materials, one or more of the following larger initiatives would be considered.

  1. Visual Rebranding. This program makes use of the talents of an outside design firm to carry out a phased rebranding that includes office design (client areas), logo, stationery and business cards, website, and collateral. Doing everything together is more economical and cohesive.
  2. Digital Strategy Overhaul. This initiative brings on a sophisticated web design consultancy to bring modern capabilities to the firm’s website. In-house, a keyword strategy is implemented to connect the firm’s excellent blog to its website and brings engagement data to marketing staff who pass it to sales and business developers. [This program can be carried out separately from the above or wrapped into it.]
  3. Research Training. Creation and development of a comprehensive research program for all three offices, kicked off by an outside consultant. Given the firm’s expertise in highly technical sectors, it’s all the more critical to leverage information we have on clients and their needs to ensure our solutions are relevant and to close deals.

“After carrying out a comprehensive survey, addressing mission critical needs, and gauging relative interest in the above special initiatives (as well as others that emerge), it will be possible to sketch out a marketing plan and budget for the next three years.”

Marketing Communications Toolkit

A friend and I are giving a talk soon on the basics of marketing communications. First, we will put the idea of marketing communications in their proper context of building business in professional services. Then, we will attempt to prioritize the list of communications in rough order of importance while giving examples of each type. The sequence is approximate, yet relevant whether working at a new firm, small firm, large firm, or established firm.

Level One: Essentials, or the Core Press Kit
1. Website, which is today’s (fixed) brochure
2. A print-on-demand (customizable) firm brochure
3. Stationery, including business cards, email signature, letterhead & notecards

Level Two: News and Press Releases
4. Project news via e-blast or newsletter
5. New hires at the senior level
6. Firm milestones
Must Have: Mailing List of Clients and Media Contacts

Level Three: Client Development 
7. Holiday cards

Level Four: A Going Concern
8. Focus brochure: market sector or methodology

Level Five: Modern Social Media
9. Blogging
10. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest
Must Have: Keyword Strategy

We will probably wrap up with a few statements about lessons learned. We may finish on a note about tying the above items into an annual marketing budget and plan.

In Praise of Inconsistency

I went to a conference hosted by the Massachusetts Hospital Association the other day. My intent was to commune with C-suite leaders of health care organizations in order to build relationships with them and thereby help my design clientele build business. One of the workshops was on managing up and down, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. The speaker, an up-and-coming vice president at Lowell General Hospital, identified several areas of leadership. Of course I rated myself on all of them because someday I would like to be a CEO. I give myself good marks for attitude, presentation, commitment, communication, vision, ownership, appreciation, accountability, and timeliness. The only area that I could not give myself high marks was consistency. I was never the girl who could get to work at the same time every day. Not the one who can treat every situation the same, every person fairly at all times. My executive coach leapt at this revelation. “That’s great,” he said. “You have identified a key weakness!” Not so fast, Mr. Coach. I waved in his face this passage from a piece in the New York Times entitled “The Perils of Perfection,” about machine learning and all that Google glasses promise us, like enhanced self-insight and auto-correcting our daily behavior:

In his brilliant essay “In Praise of Inconsistency,” published in Dissent in 1964, the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski argued that, given that we are regularly confronted with equally valid choices where painful ethical reflection is in order, being inconsistent is the only way to avoid becoming a doctrinaire ideologue who sticks to an algorithm. For Kolakowski, absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism.

“The breed of the hesitant and the weak …of those …who believe in telling the truth but rather than tell a distinguished painter that his paintings are daubs will praise him politely,” he wrote, “this breed of the inconsistent is still one of the main hopes for the continued survival of the human race.”

So you see, Mr. Coach, Ms. Hospital VP, inconsistency, chameleon-like adaptation to the particulars of the day and the person, the mood and the weather, are the creative and beautiful strokes on this painting we call life. I may be the very hope for your continued survival. {Chuckle.}

Erasing the Author

One thing that I like about managing is that the project list gets pretty short. Recently, I had only two large projects to manage, both of which were largely run by outside consultants. Besides these, I had only to manage the team. Of course, if any team members bailed out or their projects derailed, I had to pick up the pieces. My point is that the daily checklist contains a fairly small number of items, each of which is quite large in scope.

At times, I have found that large projects in my jurisdiction have been questioned by others. A jealous manager from another group might say backhandedly, “What is that controversial project you’re working on?” Or, “What are you working on? Isn’t that your special pet project?” (Innocent questions are one thing, but a full-on assault could follow!) In order to defend important projects from attack, they need to be constantly defined as originating from the owners or the principals of the firm. I have always managed to get sign-off and buy-in from the top for new marketing initiatives, but sometimes that still isn’t enough. The project might last a year, and the selling process might be required for the whole time. There are three points to consider when creating the message about a new or controversial project: the desired outcome, the progress metrics, and the lasting value.

A project to launch a new database might have been brilliantly assembled by an upstart manager, but the origin, the need, surely came from an objective of senior leadership — i.e. to have better access to customer and project data. That leader should have identified the measure of success or metrics of progress, namely, how the firm will measure that the database is improving the practice. And finally, that leader or leaders should have indicated the value and the impact of the project. This database is worth x to us. These leaders’ names should be attached to your plan. You can even add names as the project grows in acceptability. But one name that should be minimized is your own.

To sell a plan internally, recognize the ongoing process of messaging and consider erasing yourself as author of the plan.


(With appreciation for the work of Scott Berkun and Alan Weiss.)

Can We Party at Work?

Once upon a time, when I was a foolish and inexperienced manager, I thought that scheduling birthday celebrations for team members was a silly idea. Why should we stop work and celebrate birthdays like a bunch of toddlers, I thought? (I love my toddler, but he doesn’t work with me yet.) I mainly avoided team lunches and disdained birthday celebrations. Then, one day, after a long slog through difficult projects that had mixed results, I noticed on the calendar that one of our newest team members had a birthday coming up. What fun it would be to make a real party out of his birthday, I thought, and we really need a break right about now. The rest of us huddled together and planned a party based on his favorite foods and things we knew he loved to do outside of work. We rearranged the furniture in a conference room and plotted how to install decorations before whisking him into the room for his surprise. Our conversation was fun and wide-ranging and we completely forgot about work for awhile. We got ludicrous, too. As a boss, I believe I demonstrated how much I genuinely appreciated the team member as a person, not as a worker. And the party cost next to nothing.

From a management standpoint, the benefit of ritualized celebrations for workgroups is that titles temporarily dissolve, which in turn allows bonds to strengthen.

Out of My Sandbox!

Good fences make good neighbors. My uncle is a rancher, so by profession he is always repairing fences. Here in my city condo, the space between one unit’s ceiling and another unit’s floor is common area. Respect of that common area is just like a fence: treat it well and you will always have good neighborly relations.

In working groups, the fence equivalent is clear roles and responsibilities. I had a colleague whose friendly wrath served as a very effective warning. When someone was messing around in her area of responsibility, she would say, “Get out of my sandbox!”

Promotion with a Powdered Wig

One of my first marketing jobs required me to travel to various U.S. cities promoting a line of European flooring. It was not a high volume product for the company, rather it served as a door-opener for the products that drove more revenue and profit. Niche specialty products of excellent quality can accomplish this because they provoke interest even if their price point or perceived maintenance requirements keeps them relatively unknown outside high design circles. For a trade show of a couple days’ duration, I had to wear an 18th-century-style dress made of the flooring product. The European stylists gave me a powdered wig to complete the look. That was truly memorable marketing.

War & Peace in Business

I am working on a conflict resolution project. In my early career I worked at a lot of nonprofits, or as they are often called abroad, non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The teams in these places are often influenced by the Quaker model of consensus building, which in turn is connected to the peace movement. The corporate world, on the other hand, is highly influenced by war and its strategy and tactics, as parlayed in such books as the Art of War (see Sun-Tzu). Can models for peace and war coexist to shape corporate culture?