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There were 72 million news articles written in 2016, according to Google News. And the volume is growing: 18.4 million stories were published in the first quarter of this year already.

It’s known by many names: content shockwave, glut, squeeze, tsunami — the over-saturation of material competing for views and clicks. Throw in today’s machine-generated content and shorter-than-ever attention spans and the challenge to stand out and be heard becomes self-evident.

If you’re a marketer today, you’re also a publisher. You’re the medium as well as the message. So how do you deliver relevant messaging that doesn’t get drowned out by today’s content deluge? The good news: there are time-tested ways of going about it.

A case in point: The creative brief has stood the test of time, having been a mainstay of marketing for generations. But never has it been more critical to successful communications than in today’s deafening environment. Crafted properly, the creative brief can guide the development of highly nuanced content that targets intended audiences with laser-like precision that can capture a fleeting viewership.

You know a great creative brief when you see it because it reveals a high-definition profile of the buyer, or the customer persona, at the right stage in the buying process.

Recently, a client of ours in the cyber-security industry, GuardiCore, wanted to reach three distinct types of buyers within the same target company — the business decision maker (BDM), the technical decision maker (TDM) and the technical influencer (TI). The brief we used carefully delineated each role in the buying process, including job function and title depending on company size.

Below, the descriptions of each of these functional personas was used as the basis for writing blog posts, case studies, FAQs, white papers, use cases and more. The more finely-drawn profile of your reader, the more finely tuned (read: useful) you can make your content.

BDM: Aligns the goals and objectives of the business with industry trends and requirements for security, and draws on technical teams to translate the broader business requirements into technical requirements. In a medium-size enterprise (250-1000 employees), they are CIOs or VPs of info security. In organizations with headcounts of more than 1,000, they are CISO, chief security officer or VP cloud network security.

TDM (target buyer): Translates the business requirements into security requirements, leads/drives designing, testing, implementing and maintaining systems, and partners with manufacturers and services providers. Typical title: manager or director of IT security.

TI: Performs the technical evaluation of systems/solutions and advises/guides the TDM with specific input. May be known as a security administrator in a medium-size company; in a large enterprise may carry title of security architect/engineer, security administrator or security operations director.

Keep in mind that each stage of the buyer’s journey calls for a slightly different slant. At the awareness stage, your target is gathering basic information. This means that videos, blogs, eBooks and “Questions to Ask Vendors” serve the best educational purposes.

At the consideration stage, you’re moving into territory where it’s appropriate to present your business and/or technical case for consideration. Webinars, case studies FAQs, whitepapers and third-party reviews are appropriate tools at this stage.

Buyers who’ve reached the decision stage are prime for a free trial, ROI analysis, demos, and consultations leading to estimates and quotes.

By pre-defining your intended audience with this level of granularity, your writers, producers, videographers and creative directors can tailor their respective content initiatives with greater efficiency that delivers optimum results.

Another way to look at the marketing challenge in a world awash in content is to remember the old science and engineering measure of the signal-to-noise ratio: you strive for a desired signal level to overcome the background noise. It so happens that a great creative brief is key to sending audible marketing signals in a noisy world.

So before your next foray into content marketing, start with an audience profile informed by a killer creative brief.

If I’ve learned anything in my marketing career it is the fact that we’re all in sales. Because if you work for a living, no matter what you do, you’re trying to sell something to somebody. Whether it’s a product, a service, or even an idea. Yes, when you’re trying to persuade someone to consider something or making a case for or against something else — you’re committing the act of sales.

It’s just that some people do it a lot better than others.

Since most of us spend so much time and energy selling, it seems logical to want to get better at it. We can start by considering the traits associated with sales success.

Fierce need to achieve. Most people want to be liked and well thought of. Many of us want recognition for being good at what we do. The most successful salespeople take this to much higher level. They don’t let up. Ever. They are steadfast and relentless when it comes to winning in competitions of all kinds and being seen as winners. Growing up most of us are taught to be gracious losers for a good reason. You can’t win everything, every time. And there’s nothing attractive about winners who gloat, flaunt and exult. It’s unsportsmanlike. But make no mistake. Successful salespeople are all about winning and they don’t apologize for it. They thrive on competition and winning. They revel in it. Success is oxygen. Why? Because what they crave most is the approbation, admiration and respect of their peers. Of course they want the money, the bonus and the gaudy awards and prizes handed out at the the recognition events. But it’s the recognition, not the event, or even the reward, that drives them. And the most successful salespeople I’ve known, without exception, let this recognition–the word of mouth–do all the talking.

Mental toughness. Not to be confused with thick skin, a term I disdain because it implies the opposite of sensitivity which is a trait that sales kings and queens possess in abundance. In fact, effective salespeople are hyper-tuned to the needs and sensibilities of others. They know when to change course and how to tack. They can read people. They are active listeners. Still, to paraphrase Jason Wesbecher if you have what it takes to be told no on 50 consecutive sales calls and you can get to yes on #51, you’re on the path to a good career. Persistence means treating rejection as a learning experience. In sales it’s known as “loss analysis” — finding out why the deal didn’t go your way and how anything from a minor tweak to a major course correction might lead to better outcome next time. They persevere and persist. And they don’t let up.

Steadfast optimism. Pessimists don’t invent, they don’t create, they don’t start companies, build brands or become good at selling. People are naturally more attracted to optimistic, upbeat individuals. Optimistic people exude confidence, credibility and inspire trust. You want to sit next to them at dinner parties. And when they ask to make a sales call you’ll usually put on your calendar.

Calm in the storm. The guy who ran the Asia-Pacific region of a very hot tech brand where I worked some years ago got his introduction to Asia during the Vietnam War — as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot. He got shot down twice. Shot-at innumerable times. He said he learned then that whatever he would face in the future would seem like kids-play by comparison. He was right. In his sales role, as everybody else was losing their heads over deals gone sour or customers in revolt, he stood out like a beacon. And showed the way with cool, clear thinking. Inspiration personified. Sports and athletes are overused as analogies here but the fact remains that the very best performers are at their very best when the pressure is the most intense. When everything’s on the line. They find a way to make the play the team needs. They win.

Problem solver. In sales this means customer problems, first and foremost. Active listening is a developed trait. When you’re ill and visit the doctor she doesn’t pitch a treatment before she finds out about your ailment. She asks you where it hurts and how long you’ve been sick, and so on. Only then does she write up the prescription.

In the same way, customers tell you about their own aches and pains. The superior sales pro will latch on to this need, drill down, do the analysis and fulfill the customer’s desire for practical information and insight. Suddenly, the salesperson is selling solutions and is seen as a fixer and a partner — the prerequisite for success with that customer.

Selling is listening, analyzing, and communicating. Ultimately it’s more about solving problems than getting orders. And super success in sales — as in almost anything else — is the result of the masterful application of those skills.

 

(This article first appeared on Linked In.)

Good piece here by Travis Bradbury. With apologies to him, here’s my point-by-point take on its relevance to vendors. Even content creators.

Just as a you should strive to make your boss always feel like the smartest dude in the room for having hired you, the culture of every organization should preach the gospel of making their customers/clients feel that same way. Customer satisfaction? Meh. Customer loyalty is what we’re about here! The ad agency where I got my start used to say something to the effect that we weren’t necessarily experts in the business of our clients but that we were ad experts. OK, but no way should this ever stop anyone from learning, constantly, about that client’s business. The more you can learn about any industry, the more value you bring and more valuable you become to the client. And the more you enlarge your understanding of the role you play. Thus, your potential for adding value that constantly grows.

Client/customer management, AKA herding the cats, is underrated. Indeed, it’s quietly appreciated and deeply valued by customers and clients. Manage expectations, of course, but anticipate and pre-empt process bottlenecks and friction. You’re not a valet, exactly, but an instinct for full-service keeps your radar sharp and effective. Become a force-multiplier and your brand reputation for adding value in unexpected places will grow. Brand-building mission accomplished. We couldn’t have done it without those guys!

Crisis communications training places supreme value on owning up to miscues and screw-ups that led to the crisis. When your brand gets whacked, for whatever reason, the worst thing you can do is to emulate the NFL with vague, weasel-worded excuses and “apologies” that are anything but. Be pro-active, man-up and call a screw-up a screw-up. Then make good. Be an old-fashioned good human being who might not be perfect — just perfectly accountable.

“Visionary” is an overused term but customers love vendors who go the extra mile. Or even a few hundred yards. Which is what vision enables. It’s another form of anticipation and it reaffirms your commitment, enthusiasm and initiative. In this way, you become a trusted member of the family. Or at least a closer family friend. Sometimes this is even better.

Branch out. The best ad account executive I ever had was actually the president of an agency that had plenty of AE’s running around. But he just liked sticking his nose in his clients’ business. In a good way. He was a gear-head and loved hanging around engineers and technicians. They were flattered that a guy in his position could be genuinely interested in the science behind their products. He built relationships. It paid off.

If you can keep your head when everyone’s losing theirs, you attract admirers — and more customers. Just as the best salespeople are typically the best problem solvers, vendors who stay cool and calm when the inferno is raging will stand tall. This one is a variation on the accountability trait described above but the difference is in context. When a customer or client references your “professionalism”, this is what they’re talking about. They are loyal customers because you exceeded their expectations.

(This post originally appeared on Linked In)

 

So what’s being done with all the data we record today with our wearable technology? From here, it doesn’t seem like it’s enough just to be able to glance at a readout from time to time to check calorie-burn or blood pressure. Numbers are just numbers. To be valuable, the data must be transformed into actionable information.

One of the problems is that today’s wearables cannot transmit that data in compliance with the patient privacy required by government HIPAA regulations. And this is too bad because the technology exists that would allow the application of this data to drive down a least some of the onerous costs of chronic diseases. Think type-2 diabetes and some cancers. We’re familiar with the depressing numbers. According to the American Diabetes Association, for example,, this disease accounts today for one out of every five dollars spent on health care in America. Between 2007 and 2012, cost of treatment rose 41% to $245 billion. Diabetes is just one example.

So what do do? For starters, we could develop and embed those ubiquitous wearables with the firmware that would enable a secure, virtual network compliant with HIPAA rules. This network could transmit the readings through a secure wireless link to the wearer’s smartphone and then on to a back-end cloud where, utlizing machine learning, the data could be analyzed to determine the inflection points in the monitored data. Then this could signal the onset of trouble such as as a critical reading in a diabetic’s glucometer. Receiving an alert in real-time, the appropriate clinician could take steps immediately to mitigate any complications.

The per-patient cost savings of reduced diabetic complications amount from $67 to $105 per month in the U.S. for the non-Medicare population and $99 to $158 per month for Medicare patients. Beyond diabetes, cancer treatment presents another opportunity to drive down costs by enabling chemo pumps to collect and transmit important patient data between the patient’s home and hospital.

So, for a for a major HMO such as Kaiser with nine million subscribers and an estimated 20% of them suffering from diabetes, this kind of secure network and back-end cloud employing machine learning algorithms could represent savings of $180M per month in the treatment of complications.  That’s a sizable dent in the cost of treating and managing chronic disease for a single HMO.

 

There’s an old truism in venture capital that the worst answer from a would-be entrepreneur to questions about competition is anything along the lines of “Well, we really don’t have any.”   Because, the thinking goes, if there’s no competition there’s really no business.  And if there are competitors, which is probably closer to the truth, the entrepreneur has done shabby diligence and what else is he unaware of?

Know your competitive landscape like your backyard.  Know where you fit into it. Know who’s out there, and who’s doing what with whom. Know them better than they know themselves. Or, at least try to. The old saying was that “IBM can’t think of everything,” which was (and still is) true.  But never lose sight that, at any given time, there’s somebody wanting to solve the same problem you’ve identified. Especially if it’s big. And the bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity and the bigger the pay-off.  Get your head out of the sand, whip out your binoculars focused on the horizon. Make no mistake. Somebody’s out there and the faster you find out who it is and what they have (and don’t have), the better. Nobody said it more succinctly than Intel co-founder Andy Grove. Only the paranoid survive.

Bad apple in the bunch© Dvmsimages

 

The typical tech start-up, right out of the blocks, consists of a close-knit team, a handful of individuals who know and trust each other. Before it attracts investors, this team will work tirelessly to get traction. Once the traction is established, the team begins (or continues) its quest for funding. But there are various other permutations of team and timing.  Let’s say the founder needs to bring in additional team members sooner than later, in other words, sooner than the money’s in the bank. Or he/she needs to recruit someone in the pinch of needing a specific skill-set.  The rule here is to vet before you bet. Very carefully.

The ugly truth is that there are more wannabes than ever before in the recruiting pool who may look like a decent fit on paper but, in reality, redefine the word misfit.

In the words of basketball coaching legend John Wooden, “Be quick, but don’t hurry” when it comes to extending the offer than leavens your team. Above all, don’t make commitments in equity or anything else assuming the best outcome. And if you’re hiring a developer, be absolutely certain that your code lives on a server controlled by you. In the event of any misunderstanding, you don’t want to tempt a good boy to go bad (as your parents may have said).

As distasteful as they are to some rugged individualists, the standard hiring techniques of big companies and non-startups are relevant here:

1. Use Linked In. Not just to do the obvious outreach to the appropriate groups, but to study the background (and references) of the people who look like good fits.  It’s amazing how naive an otherwise street-smart founder can be when he or she becomes smitten with a particular candidate or feels the squeeze to bring someone aboard ASAP.  Caveat Entrepreneur.

2. Ensure that the whole team has a chance to talk, at length, separately, with the candidate. Not voice-to-voice or via Skype, but eyeball to eyeball across a desk or a restaurant table or at a bar. Or anywhere in close proximity. Get to know this person. To the best extent that you can, find out who they are, who they are not and what drives them.

3. Have a candid, in-person conversation with people the candidate has worked for, with, or has supervised.  Candor is critical here. Raise issues relevant to your specific situation and challenges.

4. Trust the collective instinct of your team, but listen closely to your gut.

As obvious as these guidelines seem, they are often overlooked or even scoffed at. The bitter aftertaste of a poor hire lasts long after the immediate sweetness of bringing them aboard in the anticipation that they were who you thought they were and how they represented themselves. In the hiring process, there are fewer things worse than buyer’s remorse.

 

When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn oversees customer development and marketing at RightOn Mobile, a medical data security start-up in stealth mode; separately, he collaborates with agency partner Peter Davé at Write Angle, Silicon Valley’s premiere content-development specialists for the tech industry.

Full house poker hand.

© Arenaphotouk

 

You want to “get to yes,” no?

You want to “always be closing”.

You want a “win-win” outcome.  Trouble is, most of the time it doesn’t t work out the way the books you’ve read promise that it will. How come? To expert negotiator Jim Camp, it’s simple. Most people don’t understand the principles at work in a negotiation. This includes authors and business school faculties.

Successful negotiators understand the way people make up their minds about the things that are important to them and listen carefully for the signals that reveal these things. The pros want to pick up everything that’s said. Everything. Because what is most important may have little, if anything, to do with the issues, or to what people say is important.

Negotiating is about understanding human behavior more than obsessing on some compromise.  Whenever compromise for its own sake is the objective, according to Camp, bad deals follow.

Superior negotiators see what they do in terms of learning and discovering things.  So they assume nothing prior to the process.  An unskilled negotiator’s assumptions about the things that people may want are deal killers.

Key to success: discovering what matters most to the other party. It may be a desire for better service and speedier delivery, not lower price. In other words, no amount of logic, reason and facts about price are ever going to work if your proposal doesn’t alleviate the real pain. When the real concern is finally uncovered, you’re on your way to a solution — and not before then. Camp’s recipe has four ingredients:

1.  Understand how decisions get made. Unless your proposal solves the real problem, you’ll go nowhere (see the example above).

2. Consider questions as your tools.  The best tools get the best results. Master negotiators ask tactfully sensitive, open-ended questions that begin with “what”, “how”, and “why”.  Make the questioning all about the other party: “How do you see this?” What is your biggest problem?” When did this issue become a concern for you?” Why do you think this is wrong/right way to go?”

3. Listen closely  and observe. Close, careful listening to what’s said and not said combined with scrutiny of body language and facial expressions are indispensable to a productive negotiation.

4. Stay neutral.  Never easy, of course, but absolutely mission-critical. When we’re emotional we do the things that kill deals: speaking too loudly and too soon are death to a good deal. Practice the inscrutable poker face and calm voice. It will pay off.

When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn is an inscrutable VP marketing at RightOn Mobile, a Silicon Valley-based developer of health-care industry IT security apps.  Actually, he tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve too often.