Sunday, September 25, 2011

5 Keys to Preventing Marketers and Developers from Pissing Each Other Off.

For almost three years, I was privileged to lead the web marketing development team (or WMD's as we liked to be called) at the Lampo Group. That provided a unique opportunity to better understand what often trips up communication between development and marketing teams. More often than not, I was the one doing the tripping, so I learned a lot. I shared a few things with some marketing folks over burgers recently and figured it might be helpful to others as well.

Without further ado, here are 5 reminders to keep your marketing and development teams working together smoothly:

  1. Don't let your lack of knowledge for the technology details come across as not valuing them.
    If you say things like "nerd stuff", "geek stuff" and "code magic" with a roll of the eyes or a hint of condescension, it will be picked up on and it will hurt your credibility with the developer team. They may have spent years in school and countless hours researching and learning online to understand the "tech stuff" while others were out doing more socially interesting things. Respect that investment and be sure to communicate how much you value their abilities and the complexity involved.
  2. Don't say things like, "It's just copy/paste, right?"
    80% the same can be very different than 100% the same. It can be like saying, "Remember that Ferrari we had you build last month? We'd like to use it to transport about 40 people at once. What's that you say? A Bus? No, we can just use the Ferrari. It has wheels, an engine and a steering wheel and you already built it. That should be fine." If you ever need a reminder of what's really going on "under the hood" have them show you a few thousands lines of code every once in a while. Just for fun, have them show you how if they mistype even one character the entire thing will no longer compile.
  3. Include the developers when planning out the project.
    Developers are often like artists with a wide range of brush types and paints to work with. Involve them in the process, communicate what your ultimate goals are (not just your immediate ideas for reaching them) and let them work as partners, not order takers. The timelines, the budget, the objectives... those all need to include the development's point of view. For example, if you didn't schedule time for testing and remediation in the project plan, you're probably going to miss the deadline.
  4. Learn what is expected of you and treat it seriously.
    If you're given an admin interface that is confusing or you're having trouble figuring the system out, make sure you let the developers know and ask them to help you learn it. Take notes, write procedures or ask them to make changes but no matter what, don't simply abandon it. Few things frustrate a developer more than building something and then finding out later no one is using it. In my experience, developers love helping people and solving problems. If it doesn't get used, the problem hasn't really been solved which makes them feel like their work wasn't valued.  Or worse, that those making the priority decisions didn't think things through.
  5. Developers are usually very specific.
    If you ask them to do X, Y and Z and assume they will understand that (obviously) 1, 2 and 3 are also needed to complete the project, don't be surprised if you only get the last few letters of the alphabet. Be specific. What you may see as skipping a few annoying, unimportant details a developer may see as a critical lack of planning.
In a nutshell: Respect is the currency of knowledge-workers. Pay well.

  1. Don't assume you're the only one who cares about the user (and, thus, the user experience).
    Most developers like to be arm-chair marketers, but notice how few marketers try to tell you how to optimize that recursive method you've been working on? Bring your opinions and experience but keep in mind there is probably a lot to a marketing campaign that you know nothing about. There may be 20 different plates spinning all at once and, if you happen to see one crash to the floor, give the benefit of the doubt and assume the other 19 plates were more important.  
  2. Develop a deep, genuine respect for your marketing team and communicate it often.
    The marketing team's ability to promote your work pretty much pays for your salary. Don't ever assume they are ignorant or unintelligent. Chances are, they know more than you, just in different areas. For example, they probably understand people better than you. You work with code all day, they work with people all day, that's just the way it is. That means every gesture or comment you make, subconscious though it may be, communicates to them how you really feel. If you don't completely respect what they do or if you don't know how to communicate that respect, it will seriously hinder your ability to work well together.
  3. If you get invited to a brainstorming meeting, GO!
    Yes, you'd rather be coding, but meetings are important. When invited, participate, but don't say things like "can't", "won't", or "not possible". Remember, you're the miracle worker so just about anything is possible given the right budget of time and money. It's your job to let the marketing team know what's reasonable given all the parameters. More often than not you have a solution that is not only faster and cheaper, but it also better meets the needs of the campaign. Also, don't get frustrated if they are bouncing around 10 different ideas before landing on something and needing your input, that's just how they work.
  4. Don't go into the details unless you have to.
    Even then, have some metaphors to explain what you're talking about. I honestly suck at this. It's not uncommon for me to go way overboard with technical details either to stroke my own pride or to say, "see how hard that was?" Usually it's best to have the details on hand and ready, but just communicate the summary in a way that fits the audience: not too watered down so they feel patronized and not too technical so they feel stupid.
  5. You are employed to help generate profit or further the cause, not just write code.
    It's very frustrating for a marketer to hear you missed the deadline because you rewrote the application 3 more times just because the code "didn't feel right" the first time. I'm all about refactoring when it improves performance, security or maintainabilty for constantly changing components, but keep in mind that even 1.0 code released to serve your customers is far better than perfect code no one ever uses.
In a nutshell: Good marketers work their asses off. Give them a break and serve them well. 

Want more on this topic? When thinking about this stuff, I stumbled upon a similar post from 2009 written by Jon Samsel.

This post is already too long and there are way more than 5 things to keep in mind. Got some great ones of your own? Please include a comment!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meeting incredible people, building real friendships: how BarCamp Nashville got me out of my shell

Hello and welcome to my addition to BarCamp Nashville's Blog Tour. Hopefully you've already read Kasey Lawrence's great post followed by Nashville Scooter's recent addition.

It's no secret I'm a geek. I was a geek before it was cool to be a geek (as in, before they were making all the money). After moving to Nashville in 2006, one of my biggest challenges wasn't my anti-social geekdomit was my split focus. I worked for a ministry organization, followed by the Lampo Group (Dave Ramsey's organization), all the while building my own company with my business partner, Brett Florio.

I worked really hard to stay "under the radar" about having a company. I couldn't let everyone know because I was unavailable to help our customers during the day. I chose not to connect with my peers which put me in a self-created shell, locked up tight.

That split focus has recently improved as I've become what Jon Acuff calls a Quitter (but you can read about that story later). What I want to blog about here is how last year's BarCamp brought me out of my shell and into some great relationships.

My BarCamp experience started with a regular meeting of entrepreneurs including Joel Widmer, Kenny Silva and others. Last year Kenny was in charge of obtaining sponsors and, as the master influencer he is, he not only convinced our company to sponsor, but also convinced me to speak. I could already feel my shell starting to crack. With barely enough courage to attend the SpeakerUp, I was honestly feeling way out of my league. How could I consider speaking at an event I've never attended? What about the fact I've never spoken anywhere else?

That night at SpeakerUp I took a big step and wore my FoxyCart t-shirt. Mitch Canter was one of the first people to greet me at the bar and he was not only super friendly, he was actually a fan of our company! Right away, I started feeling more comfortable. The SpeakerUp team was convincing. BarCamp is perfect for people like me. I just needed to get out there and speak.

So day of, who do I see outside? Mitch is again there to greet me with a firm handshake and a big, friendly smile. I'm now thinking, "I know one person here. I might be ok." My session was in the first slot of the day, some of my Dave Ramsey developer team members were there, and I somehow stumbled through my first try at public speaking. Afterwards, I started meeting all kinds of really cool people who had more ecommerce questions. As the day progressed, I met up with Bill Butler who took me under his wing like a little lost puppy and started introducing me to just about everyone. Later I connected with Billy White via his awesome Arduino presentation. I saw Travis Robertson, Justin Davis, Mitch Canter and Joel Widmer throw underwear at the crowd while giving incredible advice about being entrepreneurs. By now, my shell was in pieces on the floor.

I met even more people at the after party including Travis and Justin who, it turns out, were not only FoxyCart fans, but also huge Dave Ramsey fans. That gave me an excuse to set up lunches with them and others over the next few months. Keeping up via Twitter, LAN parties and face-to-face meetings, I started building real relationships that I value so much today. BarCamp was the catalyst for building those relationships and bringing me out of my shell.

This year I'm looking forward to seeing people I've had the privledge to hang out with and learn from like Kacy Maxwell, Joey Strawn, Laura Click, Tyler Clark, Tim Moses, Nathan Hubbard and others. I also hope to build some new relationships with people like Chuck Bryant (who convinced me to write this post), Cal Evans, Kate O'Neill, Ben Ramsey, Jacques Woodcock... I could go on and on. If you're reading this, come find me and say hello on October 15th.

"All this and more!" can be yours too... if you're willing to show up with a smile and a handshake. Life's too short to stay in a shell. Come to BarCamp on October 15th and meet some wicked awesome people who are crazy smart and fun to hang out with. You'll be glad you did.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to hit up Laurie Kalmanson's blog tomorrow for the next stop on the blog tour.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunkmanitu Tanka Owaci!

If you've seen the movie Dances with Wolves, hopefully you're familiar with the emotional scene I'm about to refer to:


Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist have reached the head of the trail leading out of the winter camp. They have just begun to ascend when a voice, calling from afar, brings them to a halt. The sound echoes through the canyons, through the village.


Dances With Wolves...


His pony is jacked up and, as always, Wind In His Hair looks the perfect warrior. But now his face is full of stress as he screams out the message he could not deliver in person.


I am Wind In His Hair...


Everyone in the camp has stopped to listen.


Can you not see that I am your friend?


Dances With Wolves looks ready to crack.


Can you not see that you will always be my friend?

Dances With Wolves lets the unhappy echo of these words fade away before he starts his pony again. We follow for a few yards. Then the call comes a second time. If anything, more urgent than before.


Dances With Wolves...

Dances With Wolves stops. He drops his head painfully as the sound of his own name booms through his head.

I love this scene. It makes me feel something deep in my gut every time. It reminds me that true friendships are the most valuable thing in the world, that they are rare and they are worth fighting for. Professional relationships and acquaintances are great, and I truly cherrish them as well, but true, deep friendships are life-giving. Unfortunately, we often wait until we're in a crisis to discover who our true friends are.

Hopefully you have examples in your life that come to mind. I know I do. Times when my friends have carried me and times when I've done all I can to carry others.

With all our Facebook and Twitter "friends", it's easy for that word to lose meaning. Don't let it. Fight for your friendships. Let those in your life who are important to you know how much you value them. Let them know you are there for them in their moments of crisis. Let others be there for you. The deep richness of life is fully known by sharing it with others.

There's more I could say on this topic, but honestly Simon Sinek said it better. Check out his post on True Friendship.

If you have any thoughts on friendships, please share them below. I'd love to hear them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Be Human, It's Good Business

If you've listened to Chris Brogan, Derek Sivers or Gary Vaynerchuk for more than a month, you already know what I'm about to say (but probably could use the reminder). Today, successful businesses have to be human. They have to be approachable.

I snapped the screen grab to the right because it's a great example. Some guy on Twitter wanted to get in touch with THE Gary Vaynerchuk. Like most of us, he safely assumed unless you're someone important or you know someone important, you have to be introduced to get noticed. Gary's response shows this is no longer the case. The CEO's email address is no longer a company trade secret.

Derek Sivers is another great example. If you haven't read his book, Anything You Want, go buy it. You can read it in an hour and a half. He talks a lot about business being human (funny non-corporate emails, asking customers to buy pizzas for change requests and even including sticks of gum or a squid (?!) in the outgoing package if necessary).

Derek ends his book with this:
"The coolest people I meet are the ones who find me through something I've written. So if you made it this far, please go to and email me to say hello. I get really inspired by people's questions, so feel free to ask me anything, or just tell me what you're working on. I'm glad to help."
"I'm glad to help." He really means it. A couple of those 4,469 emails were to me and I'm nobody important. I get encouraged every time I remember his first reply:

Hi Luke -
Thanks for the GREAT email!  Wow!  Very cool to get to know you more. Sounds like we're kindreds! :-)
You didn't ask for a response, but just wanted to let you know how much I loved your email.
I'll definitely keep in touch. By the way, is this ( also you?
What's your twitter url?

Like Gary and many others, he generally cares and is interested in the people he connects with. He understands how people want to feel validated and important. If Derek Sivers, a man who some say changed the music industry forever, calls me a kindred then maybe I really can be successful. Even the nobodies want to feel like somebody.

Businesses and CEOs have an incredible platform to do exactly thatwhether that means delivering a steak to someone at the airport or just replying to an email to tell them you enjoyed reading their story. It sounds so simple, but it's actually very difficult to do consistently.

When FoxyCart first started, I used to get frustrated with my business partner, Brett Florio, because he spent hours and hours responding to customer support emails and forum posts. I used to think, "Dude, we can't scale that. We have to focus on marketing and sales and the website and, and, and..." Instead of firing off a quick answer to someone's pre-sales question, Brett took a look at the company's website, got an understanding for their product and his responses were usually personal and specific. He not only answered their questions, but he also asked some of his own and often included advice on how to improve their online presence.

He knew long before I did that what he was doing is marketing. A brand is the perception of your service in the mind of the customer and he was willing to build that perception one human at a time.

As we continue to grow and bootstrap this business, I never want to lose that human focus. I know there are only so many hours in the day, but our fans love us and rave about us because, hopefully, they understand how much Luke and Brett care about them. We care about their success. They are not just another cog in someone's profit wheel. They are humans and they want to work with a business made up of other humans caring for their users, validating them and making it known that they are somebody important.

What are you doing to make others feel important? How are you making your business more human?