The Six Worst Moments of the Week And How To Deal

Originally published via LinkedIn Dec 22, 2015

This time of year can get pretty hairy. With the holidays upon us and for those of us on a calendar fiscal year, closing out Q4 is liable to lead you to drink. On a Tuesday. At 10:45 AM. But really you can find yourself in some of these situation any time of year.

1. The misery of being caught not paying attention on a conference call: Nothing makes you feel more like barfing in your coffee cup than having a senior VP call you out for your thoughts when you’ve been shopping on Amazon answering emails for the last 10 minutes instead of listening to his latest idea of how to build synergy in the field.

How to deal: The best course of action here is to not respond for a minute.  Try to remember the last thing you heard and when you hear your name again, say, “Sorry, I was still on mute, Bob. I have some thoughts around this particularly related to the ideas you noted earlier. I think we should look at our ultimate goal and focus on working towards that.” And then say you have a hard stop and need to jump but would love to circle back later this week.

2. Suddenly forgetting where your mute button is located. How is it that noises carry on a conference call like nowhere else on earth? It’s like the microphone on your laptop was developed by a species of life whose technology far surpasses that of humans. It can pick up the sound of a toilet flushing behind a closed door across a 2000 sq. ft. house.  Even though you check that you’re muted at least 15 times, it never fails. That one freaking time your kid comes screaming down the hall or the dog goes apeshit over that God-bless-it squirrel, your line is not muted.

How to deal: First, lock your office door and/or hide in the closet depending on how important the call is. Close your windows, put SpongeBob on the TV for the kids and Fido in the backyard. Obviously, never, under any circumstances, take your phone to the bathroom.  And if an interruption does occur know that most folks have lives outside work and are hardly phased. Unless it’s your VP with no tolerance for squealing children while discussing the new comp plan. In that case, blame those damn neighbor kids and take the rest of the call in your locked car.

3. You were over-served at the company holiday party: It happens. Your ‘dinner’ of carrot sticks and hard salami was no match for the Hennessy-laced cranberry sangria.

How to deal: First, assess the damage. Would a simple acknowledgement and apology to the host suffice? Often if you are the first to step up and say, “Clearly, I had a great time at your party. Please excuse my table top dancing and I’ll replace your lampshade immediately.” forgiveness is soon to follow. If Stanley Steamer is involved or HR requests a meeting a meeting with you the following Monday, you might need to polish off your resume. At the next party, stick to club soda and a lime.

4. When you somehow get stuck with all the action items: Isn’t this the best Christmas present ever? You’re invited to a conference call to “provide some feedback” and 20 minutes later you’re getting assigned a task that will take hours to pull together because someone else’s vacation starts at noon.

How to deal: To keep my sanity, in life and at my job, I try to look at everything in a positive light. Kid pees the bed? 4:00 AM is a perfect time to do laundry! So quiet and peaceful. Husband forgets to pick up your prescription? Some fresh air and quick trip to the store will do wonders for your pneumonia! Colleagues dump work in your lap? They trust you to do the best job.

5. The meeting that could have been handled with an email. We all get thousands of emails. You know why? They’re a great way to communicate! You can refer to them later, you have a record of assigning tasks or asking questions, and you have the ability to reply should you wish to discuss the subject further.  Amazing right?

How to deal: A previous manager once told me he never attends a meeting unless there is an agenda. Clearly this isn’t ideal for the meeting your direct supervisor requests of only you, but if there is no specific reason noted for the call, consider passing. Or once you get on the call and realize the lameness of it, bail politely and ask to be updated should your feedback or actions be required.

6. You accidentally wish your Jewish colleague Merry Christmas: You were just being pleasant and festive!

How to deal: Chances are he or she is not offended in the least, however, we are all better off when we make ourselves aware of others’ beliefs and traditions. Take a glance at the calendar. You don’t have to sacrifice your own beliefs for someone else’s, but acknowledging them can make all the difference.

Men and Women are Both Responsible for How Women are Treated in IT

Originally published via LinkedIn Oct 30, 2015

Leah Weitz, a marketing manager for the startup Cloudability, recently wrote a blogabout the things men have actually said to her during events. As a woman who works in IT and in marketing, I could have written that blog. Probably a lot of my women friends working in the channel could have written that blog.

Leah brought attention to something unpleasant and as is the case with most unpleasant things, the reaction was 90% supportive and 10% people telling her she should kill herself. Literally some guy who was so offended by her calling out the fact that a man said something inappropriate to her said she should kill herself. What a douche.

Bringing attention to unpleasant things is exactly the way unpleasant things change. The fact is, there is a very small minority of men who cannot grasp the fact that a woman is a human being and therefore deserving of being treated with respect. That’s all we want. Not a medal for working in IT or a round of applause when we walk in the door. Shit, I don’t even care if you stand there and think I’m stupid but have a nice ass. Just keep it to yourself. Treat me respectfully, look me in the eye when you’re talking to me, and I’m golden.

And while we are on the subject, here’s the thing about getting those ‘compliments’ at events. It makes me feel small. It startles me. It makes me take a step back, figuratively and physically. Suddenly my attention is shifted from the product I’m selling to me. I’m not there to talk about me. I’m not there to impress you and I’m not nearly as concerned about my appearance as you think I am.

While the group of men who think it’s appropriate to make comments about a woman’s physical attributes (read: her boobs) or question her ability to do her job is in fact small, it is still dangerous. But there is another dangerous group that should be addressed as well: those dude’s douchette counterparts.

There is a very small minority of women in the IT industry (and other industries, I am sure) who are doing nothing to help our collective cause. They downplay their own worth, act out of jealously and spite, step on the necks of other women, and make men feel like they have to walk on eggshells not to offend them. That only helps the cause of men who think we are dumb, catty, needy, and want special treatment.

I once experienced a woman completely disgusted that a senior executive referred to me as his “right hand man” rather than his “right had woman”. I found this ridiculous. She was so focused on the minutia bullshit of syntax that she failed to notice the victory of that moment not only for me, but for other women in our department because when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.  A senior executive thought that I, a woman, was his go-to resource, the one he could count on, his problem-solving-save-my-butt-person. He could have called me his “right hand turnip” for all I cared because he didn’t say it to my male counterpart, he said it to me. And he said it in front of everyone.

Over the years, I have had some stupid things said to me. I’ve had a guy approach my booth and say, “Hey, pretty girl” like some deranged parrot. I’ve had a creepster stalker follow me to my hotel. When I worked in the trucking industry, I had a man tell me “I’m gonna need a picture of your ass next to that there truck.”

But one of the worst things I have ever heard was a female colleague say, “We’re just in marketing.” This comment made me want to puke. You know what an IT business is without marketing? Broke.

Women who discredit their role in IT are damaging that career choice for everyone in it. Whether you are in engineering, accounting, product strategy, finance, HR, customer service, or marketing you are playing a tremendous and valuable role in the growth of your company.

Don’t get me wrong, I am as #LeanIn as they come. I have a five year plan that includes me moving up the ladder as quickly and dominantly as I can while grabbing my younger female colleagues and pulling them up behind me. This is the type of woman I choose to associate with from a professional standpoint. My female friends in the workforce know how to conduct themselves in a male-dominated industry. They hold their head high, know their shit, and, if it happens, they can tolerate a crude joke. Typically by laughing at it. If some jackwagon makes an inappropriate comment directed at them personally or another woman, they handle it in the best way possible. They politely tell them to f–k off and then continue with their job. Because that is what a man would do and we just want to be treated like an equal.

Lately, I have noticed a decline in the uncomfortable moments I used to experience at work like being hit on, being called the “dumb marketing girl”, asking me if I can actually answer questions about my product, or having a colleague take credit for my work. Maybe it’s because I’m less hot than I used to be. Doubtful. Maybe it’s because I exude confidence when I speak so I’m less likely to get questions. Possibly. Maybe it’s because I try hard to work with my colleagues and not against them. Likely. But I think it’s because more men and women are becoming more aware of how their actions and words affect others and that being ‘that guy’ or ‘gal’ is not the person they want to be. Without each of us doing our part to educate others and correct our own behavior, I’d probably still be that timid “dumb marketing girl” rather than the badass IT marketing chick I am today. #Carryonwarriors.

What a friend’s lungs taught me about success

Originally published via LinkedIn Oct 12, 2015

Recently, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with  Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a progressive, destructive lung disease that strikes women, almost exclusively, in the prime of their lives. Based on research and studies of the disease, the prognosis is anywhere between 10-30 years. My friend’s children are five and eight. In 10-30 years they will be going to prom, graduating high school, starting college, moving into their first apartment, dealing with their first major heartache, getting married and raising children of their own. They will be experiencing life’s most awesome moments.  And these are the things she may not live to see.

Regardless of creed, color, ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference each and everyone one of us shares the common bond of having limited days on this earth.  All of us are aware we should live each of those days to the fullest, and yet how many of us do? We all know the cliché but find ourselves answering one more email instead of playing with our kids, staring at our phone instead of talking to our partner, taking that one last call instead of leaving early to meet a friend for a drink.  We let the stress of our work week eat away at us until I lash out at my husband because he can’t find the freaking BBQ sauce that could not possibly be any more in front of his face for the love of everything holy! Sorry. I digress.

Every night I lay awake staring at the ceiling and re-hash the day. Lately my thoughts drift to my friend and as is human nature, it leads me to questions. Do I live a full life? Have I been successful? Am I putting effort into the right things? I’ve thought about how I measure success and this is what I came up with.

How many days you wake up grateful. You know that meme “If Monday was a person”?  That’s me every morning. I am not a morning person. I am the most opposite thing there is to a morning person. If you woke up next to Medusa, you’d likely feel more comfortable than waking up next to me.

But if the mornings I wake up grateful to find that I am still breathing far outnumber the days I can hardly bring myself to face the world, I am succeeding.

What you have learned from managers. We all spend a lot of time at work.  If we’re going to spend 10-12 hours a day working, it better be worth it.  A paycheck is great, but what I find the most valuable is what I have learned.

I was fired once. The truth is I was miserable in that job. I disagreed vehemently with someone in leadership. I was sacrificing my weekends away from my young son. But I refused to quit.  My manager took that burden for me and she cried as she did it.  She taught me that sometimes a boss has to do tough things, but they need to be done because it is best for everyone.

The president of a previous company I worked for once asked our team, “What is a quality you value most in another person?” I don’t remember what I said, but I remember what he said. Humbleness. Since that day I have strived to be humble. When I’m praised for good work, I credit my team. When I’m told my children are well-behaved, I credit their ability to behave.  When I’m complimented for my appearance, I credit Neutrogena.

From yet another manager I was reminded about the importance of maintaining your personal brand. You are to others what your actions teach them to think of you. I learned this the hard way and it was a miserable lesson. (Thank you, alcohol!) But the point is, I learned it and thank you, universe, for new beginnings.

What you spend your money on. People often measure success by how much money they make. The more money you make, the more successful you are, right? But I’m not sure that’s true. I think how you spend your money, no matter how much you have, can be a better indication. To me to best thing money can buy is experiences.

Travel has been ingrained in my brain as a worthy if not necessary expense since I was a kid. I grew up a military brat.  If you know anything about the military life you know the pay is low but the experience is intense.  Not only did we move around a lot, but every chance we got my parents packed us up and hit the road in our used Toyota camper.

That wanderlust has never left me. We are currently saving for a trip to Germany. For a family of four on our income, the expense is significant, but to me, it’s worth it.  That experience will bring us more joy, more education, more awareness of all the world has to offer than any material thing.

Who you give your time to. Our time is the most valuable commodity we have.  It is not limitless. Just ask my friend.  I look back on the time I have given to crappy boyfriends, toxic friends, worthless co-workers, or complete strangers who were rude to me and I could just yak. What a waste. These days I keep a pretty tight circle of close friends and family. Folks are let in and out on a fairly strict basis.  We should all be this greedy with our time. Even at work. If you get 30 minutes on my calendar, you better show up on time and use every minute of it to teach me something, update me on a project, or take action items. And I expect to be held to the same standard.

The ultimate goal of course is to give the majority of your time to those who matter most. Likely that ain’t your boss, but if they’re a good one, they already taught you that.

To learn more about LAM, click here to visit The Lam Foundation.

Attitude and Timing. Everything Else is Grade A Bologna.

Originally published via LinkedIn Sept 23, 2015

I just Googled “How to Succeed in Business” and got 160,000 results in .51 seconds.  That’s impressive.  I should be promoted to CEO by the end of the week once I read all these tips.

People love to read tips on how to be better at their jobs, at their relationships, at their life, especially when they are at their most vulnerable. Who doesn’t want to be better?

Sometimes I think people (me) like to read those 18 Things Smart People Do blogs just so we can go down the list and check, check, check off all the things we do proving once and for all how smart we are. Then we share that list on Facebook to let everyone know how smart we are.  And then our friends hide us from their timeline because who really freaking cares?  Where are the pictures from the debauchery of the weekend, people!?  That’s what we want to see.

These types of articles can make us feel justified in our behavior or they can overwhelm with us with the 27 things we need to do by Tuesday just to survive until Friday without getting fired.  But I’m here to tell you, all that advice is really just Fluffernutter.  Sweet, gooey, delicious fluffy butter, I mean Butternuts, I mean Butterstuff.  Just kidding. (PS We’re surely friends if you can guess the movie I am trying to reference here.)

Look at every piece of advice you have ever read or every success you have ever had and I’ll bet you can boil it down to one of two things: Attitude and Timing.

Just over a year ago, I was in a role I enjoyed, on the biggest team in the company, and was not actively looking for a new job. One day as I was connecting to a new colleague on LinkedIN, I noticed another contact had posted a job with a company I never heard (timing!). Glancing at the qualification list, I could see I had about 85% of the asks under my belt. Remembering the statistic that the #LeanIn movement educated me on (men apply for jobs they are 75% qualified for while women typically apply for jobs they are 100% qualified for), I put on my big girl panties and shot an email to my contact just to see what might happen (attitude!).  Two days later I had an interview with HR and six weeks later I was the brand new East Regional Marketing Manager for Veeam Software, and, let me tell you, I am crushing it. Who knew, right?

I’m not saying we should stop reading advice blogs. (Then no one would be reading this and that would be awkward for me, but I’m willing to risk it.)  If others’ advice inspires us and make us want to conquer the world, that’s their worth and that is valuable. What I’m saying is, we already possess the attitude to be successful.  And that some of our success is beyond our control.

Let’s look at the last time you were promoted…..

“My boss left the company and I was promoted into her spot.” Timing. Literally the best timing there is. This happens more than you think in the channel as personnel shift from company to company. Your promotion is not any less deserving.  In fact you have to be very quick on your feet to step up to the plate. Taking advantage of these ‘perfect timing’ situations is an excellent way to move up the chain. The next time someone vacates a spot that you would thrive in, don’t sweat over the 10 Signs of Emotionally Intelligent People. Instead raise your hand like that overachieving nerd in 6th grade Algebra. You have the answer. It’s you.

“I spent five years driving to the goal of getting that promotion.” Attitude. You freaking rock. You knew what you wanted and you worked hard to get it.  You probably didn’t have time to read the 6 Ways to Make it to the Top. Your attitude brought you there.

“My manager respected me and pushed for my promotion.” Timing and Attitude. This is magical moment not everyone experiences. How many folks do you hear that don’t have a manager that pushed for them? They work their tail off but come promotion time, their manager doesn’t raise their hand at the round table and suggest their guy or gal get the one head count HR will approve for promotion that quarter. Having a great attitude helps tremendously, gets you noticed and respected, but having a manager that will shout out your name is key and you can’t always control that.

How about the last time a relationship ended…..

“He was a complete tool.” Attitude. ‘Thou shalt not date tools’ is like the 11th commandment that didn’t make it down the mountain. If you’re someone that’s compelled to read 17 Signs You Need to Break Up, it’s likely you need to break up. You already know this. But crap like this is hard to admit. I get it.

“We just wanted different things.” Timing. One person wants a commitment and the other still hasn’t figured out how to pull their head out of their ass. Probably because they missed the 8 Clues You’re Not a Grownup blog.

“She turned into a total psychopath once a month.” Timing and Attitude. Good call dipping out. Her schedule was not going to mesh with yours. That’s unfortunate, but it just meant someone with a better attitude at another time would pop into your life. Like the cool chick you’re with now.  See?

Or the last time you made a major life change…..

“I knew I wanted something better.” Attitude.  You valued yourself. This alone is a huge factor in your success at anything.  You don’t need a list of tips to know this.

“I lost my job so I went back to school.” Timing. Losing a job is a miserable experience, even if that job sucked. The loss of income and stability is a challenge on many levels. Investing in yourself is always a good idea.  Don’t believe me? This writercame up with 51(!!) reasons why you should go back to school.

“I wasn’t happy.” Timing and Attitude. You knew the path you were on wasn’t the right one for that time in your life so you busted out your machete and carved a new one. Some people can be consumed by unhappiness and can’t find their way out. Your attitude is like a beacon in the night, leading you to a better place.

If you are in a place of uncertainty, at a tipping point in your career or personal life, or on the verge of bona fide meltdown*, don’t reach for the 11 Ways Wise People Make Decisions blog. Take a moment to look to the one person who can really, truly help you: yourself.  Calm the noise around you and focus on having a positive, confident attitude. Then trust the timing of your situation. Now jump.

*Never be ashamed to seek professional help if you are in a serious dark place. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

Brutally Honest Travel Tips

Originally published via LinkedIn Sept 17, 2015

“Travel tips” blogs are a dime a dozen.  Everyone knows you should drink plenty of water, sign up for hotel and airline rewards programs, and get plenty of rest but in my years of traveling for work I have found there are some rules of the road that no one seems to write about. I’d like to thank my fellow road warriors, Matt Koehler, Veeam NA Cloud Marketing Manager, and Jamie Henderson, Veeam Corporate Reseller Marketing Manager, as well as the brutally honest Southwest flight attendants on flight #739 from Atlanta to Tampa for their input on this post.

  • Never pass up the opportunity to poop. You might be in a stall with 16 sets of feet surrounding you on your five minute ‘bio-break’. You might be in an airport. You might need to abandon your booth at the Gartner Symposium, but no matter what you do, get it out. You need constipation in your life like Donald Trump needs a Mexican mechanic working on his brakes.
  • Claim the arm rest. As soon as you get in your seat on the plane, wiggle that elbow over the arm rest like you are staking your claim on a sizable family inheritance. You paid for that seat and you should have access to every available inch of room, which isn’t much to start with.
  • Everything counts as exercise. People who work out every morning are overachievers. Running through the airport to catch your connection, standing up all day long behind a 6-foot table, and pacing the back of the room to stay awake during a QBR all count as exercise. The point is to move around. Sitting constantly is miserable.  Whenever you have the opportunity, get up. Especially if you have to go to the bathroom.
  • Never pay to check your bag. Even if you know that thing wouldn’t fit in the “Carry-ons Must Be This Size” box if you cut it in half, march it right on the plane. When they announce they need people to check their bags, don’t even flinch. Force the airline to pry it from your hands if they have to find a place to put it on the plane. If they make you check it, they won’t charge you.
  • Control the noise. For every trip pack one or more of these essentials: ear plugs, ear buds, noise cancelling headphones. Between the plane and the hotel room, you will treasure these items more than your TSA Pre-check status. Which reminds me….
  • Get your TSA Pre-check status. It cost around $85 and will save you something way more valuable: your time. Oodles of it. They literally yell at you to KEEP your shoes on, do NOT take your laptop out of your bag, and keep your ridiculous quart-size Ziplock bag of bathroom essentials to YOURSELF. Going through security will literally become the greatest part of your trip.
  • Pack extra underwear. You might need it, you might not. But if you do, this is not something you want to be scrambling for. There’s not really a substitute. Unless going commando gives you tremendous confidence during your presentation, throw an extra pair of skivvies in your bag.
  • Pack these things, too. Drink tickets (if you fly Southwest), granola bars, a clothes pin to clip your curtains shut at night, flip flops (do not even think of going barefoot in your hotel room, people), and sleep aid.
  • Avoid sick colleagues like the plague. No one wants to be rude, but if Sneezy McGee wants a seat next to you, get up and move. Moving chairs also counts as exercise! You’re exposed to an onslaught of germs on the plane, the last thing you need is to catch a co-worker’s cold.
  • Use saline nose spray unapologetically. This helps clear pollutants from your nose and keeps you from experiencing that extremely annoying unpleasant nasal dryness that can lead you to practically pick your nose in front of everyone.
  • Do not be disturbed. Hang the Do Not Disturb tag on your door from the minute you check in until you leave. You’re likely only staying a few days so don’t trash the place. Raid the housekeeping cart like you just won the lottery every time you spot it in the hallway, and keep the cleaning lady out of your stuff. This way you can keep your extra pair of underwear in plain view as well as your notes, receipts, and other worked-related documents and equipment.
  • Sanitize your remote. What could possibly be more gross than having something 14,698 people touched in your hand? Exactly. Nothing. After you notify the maid you’re just fine, thanks, give the remote a once over with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball.
  • Every hotel shower leaks. You could seal the curtain with super glue and still have a giant puddle of water on the floor. That worthless floor mat they give you will not handle it. Steal an extra towel from the unattended housekeeping cart for the sole purpose of sopping up all the water that you would inevitably step in with your socks on during your 3:00am bathroom trip. PS: While you’re in the shower, hang your shirts in the bathroom to steam the wrinkles out.
  • Check under the bed for dead bodies. Duh.
  • Nothing good happens after 10pm. No deals are made. No meaningful conversations occur. One more drink is almost never a good idea. At 9:59pm start packing up and heading out. You avoid drama and hopefully a hangover.
  • Text your partner/friend/mom every night. Don’t get me wrong, eating dinner without two little boys farting every five minutes is a fantasy I enjoy living out every time I travel, but being on the road can be tough. Stay connected to your home crew. A thoughtful message from a loved one will give you more confidence than going commando.

 

How Some Resellers Do It Better

Originally published via LinkedIn Sept 9, 2015

I have never worked for a reseller. I’m not going to pretend to know what it is like. I cannot imagine the stress of keeping your customers happy while trying to increase your credit line at your distributor and dealing with vendor certification requirements just so you can try to sell their product for margin equivalent to a slice of bologna only to have to rip it out six months later from your customer’s corrupt database.  If this is you, I’d switch to Veeam, by the way.

Like most vendors, at Veeam we strive to work by the belief that partner success is our success.  But sometimes we are blinded by all the ‘good things’ we think we are providing you.  Partner portal, anyone?  One of my favorite parts about my job is sitting with a partner in their office at their conference table next to their water cooler and hear how they run their business. I like to hear what they really need from us (leads!) and not what I think they need from us (best email campaign ever!). I learn a lot at these meetings not only about their business but how much vendors, distributors, and customers can drive or stall it.

Over time I have noticed some common threads in my most successful partners.  And by ‘successful’ I mean they sell a lot of stuff.  Not just Veeam.

  1. They have found their niche market. Did you know that according to The Poverty Initiative section 8.9.12B the U.S. government is mandated to spend 678 million dollars a year on technical companies that headquarter and employ in impoverished neighborhoods? I just made that up, but I am willing to bet 678 million dollars that there is a rule like that out there that a savvy reseller is banking on.  Now we all know dealing with the government is no picnic, but the point is successful businesses thrive because they fulfill a need, they meet a requirement, they fill a void, they solve a problem. Sometimes those problems or requirements aren’t as obvious, but a little research can open a revenue stream just waiting for someone to scoop up. Differentiate yourself from the thousands of other resellers out there by finding your slice of the pie.
  2. They have a dedicated internal marketing resource. If your Sales Director is your Vendor Relationship Manager and your Director of Marketing, I hope you’re giving him shares of stock in Rolaids.  Crafting your voice, building your brand, and telling the world who you are requires a special skill set, just like running a sales team, and is a full time job in itself.  Even if you just have a marketing coordinator whose entire job is to manage all your vendor portals, you’re winning and not like Charlie Sheen #winning.  If marketing is treated as an afterthought, it will become one.  Use outside resources to help you manage social media, procure lists, or cold call to prospects, but always have a marketing point person who provides the messaging, understands your business and knows exactly what you stand for.  Your value-add is what you are selling, and your customers need to know what it is.
  3. They build their own stacks. Sell them. And Repeat. Create three stacks (one for each tier-SMB, Mid-Market, and Enterprise) of best-of-breed products that you know like the back of your hand, you believe in and trust, and, if possible, you can demo, install, and service without requiring a vendor engineer every time. I see my channel managers hand over leads and approve deal registrations for partners who repeatedly champion our product and know what they are doing. Partners are both the trusted advisor of the customer and the face of the vendor.  Wield that power to guide the customer to the products that are easiest for you to manage in the long term and result in vendor actions that are beneficial to your business.
  4. They are loyal to their stack. Turning down a customer’s business can be bad for, well, business. So it can be easy to be reactive and jump on every order that comes in. Resist this urge and advise your customer that while you will sell them that product, since it is not in your recommend stack, you won’t service it.  Chances are the customer will buy the recommended product.  If not, you still make the sale, and when they come back to you because the product in questions has, ahem, pooped the bed, you can sell them the first product you recommended.
  5. They have a technical field sales team. This is not always the easiest to accomplish.  Some sales folks can sell salt to a snail but ask them one layer deep into the technicality of a product and they’ve got their engineer on speed dial. Some engineers can run a customer’s entire business for a week and half on a paperclip and silly string, but get them in front of a group to close the deal and they fold like a beach chair. Sales reps that are technically inclined and product smart can appeal to all the decision makers at the customer and seal the deal without having to call in reinforcements.  This can also cut down on staffing expenses.  Keep an in-house engineer for complex installs, a dedicated sales team on the phone, and, as I fondly call them, the best sales nerds you got in the field.
  6. They milk the system wisely. Like a Jersey cow in spring time, vendors are bursting with resources for their partners. Find the ones that work for you and take advantage.  I know partners that supply their entire sales team every holiday season with incentives they have earned from a vendor’s reward program.  Remember your coordinator from #2? She’s in charge of this, too. Don’t tell my boss I’m telling you this, but Marketing Managers have access to other budget besides their own.  Alliance vendors often offer funds to help push joint deals.  And don’t forget your distributor, whose entire job is to prove their value-add to the channel day after day. They have entire teams of Product Marketing and Sales dedicated to providing you everything from customer service, to technical support, to marketing dollars.

 

Rule #1 of the IT Channel: Don’t be Jerk. It Will Haunt You.

Originally published via LinkedIn Sept 1, 2015

“Incestuous” is a word often used to describe the IT channel.  Those who work in the channel know that while the word can have negative connotations, it is really meant to describe the swapping of personnel from one company to another (and the fact that somehow there is six degrees of separation between all of us).  Distribution, resellers, and vendors are like three sects of the same tribe.  And like any industry revolving around the sale of a product, the root of success is relationships.  For this reason, people frequently build their career by moving from role to role amongst several companies across the channel.  The ability to bounce from camp to camp is beneficial for several reasons.  Knowing the business (and decision makers) of one can help grow the business of another.  Manufacturers value experience gained from competitors and complimentary vendors alike while partners know that if you worked for a vendor, you’ll have no trouble selling that product to their customers. And nearly everyone in the channel has had a stint at a distributor, where being in the middle of partners and vendors gives you an invaluable understanding of how the system works. The beauty of this is that should you get laid off as an unfortunate result of downsizing, your next gig could be just a phone call away.

The ugly flip side of this coin, however, is that should you have a reputation for acting like an egotistical jerkbag, you might not work in the industry again or at least you’ll be about as welcome as pumpkin spice anything in September in Florida.  It’s still summer here, folks.

Last week, my team was approached by a group from a large alliance partner looking to plan a series of joint marketing events. I was eager to jump at this opportunity, but before I could hit reply….the warnings came streaming into my mailbox, my phone, my IM all with the same message: Watch out for this guy. One member of the other team was known to be difficult to work with and I was cautioned to avoid any dealings with him.  I heeded the warnings and proceeded hesitantly, not wanting to completely give up on the advantageous opportunity to co-market.  Three minutes into our call, the guy did not disappoint his foreshadowers.  It was like he had a list of rude and unprofessional things to say and he was tearing through them.  Even though his company had approached us, he drove the call as if we should be grateful they even breathed our name in public and basically suggested we commit to funding no questions asked.  Committing investment without justification is not a smart business move, and my team stuck to our guns, politely noting that without a rationale for spend, we would have no choice but to decline.  While his teammates jumped in to assure us they would supply the information we needed (like dates, people. A venue, an agenda. We weren’t asking for much here!), this guy got off the call in a huff clearly annoyed at our audacity.

After the call, we received an apology email from his team, sans their unprofessional colleague.  Naturally, we continued to work with the rest of the team, as the benefit of our union is greater than the negativity of one person but I can tell you that the chances of his particular territory getting funding from my team is slim to none.  And Slim just left town.  Like most short-sighted individuals, he neglected to consider the aftermath of his actions.  He most likely assumed a lowly marketing chick from a small vendor wouldn’t have the connections or clout to cause him any distress down the road.  But as luck would have it, five minutes on LinkedIn told me exactly how I was connected to him.

Now we all have bad days.  We all make mistakes.  I have had my fair share of apologetic moments for miscommunication, poor choices, and stress-induced grouchiness.  In my career I have also been blessed with patient managers and great mentors. More times than not, folks give others the benefit of the doubt. Our jobs are often a series of fires we are attempting to put out or at least hide until we get back from VMworld. Not everyone is going to get along, that is a given, but amongst the IT channel clan, the instinct to warn our brethren of a bad seed is strong, even between the fiercest of competitors. We all know it’s bad for business to hire a jerk and that in this industry what goes around comes around.

Partner Marketing Miracles! Just kidding. Only Suggestions.

Originally published via LinkedIn Aug 26, 2015

Nearly all my initial partner marketing calls start the exact same way: “So, Erika, what has worked best for your other partners in terms of marketing?”

This is a great question and one I wish I had a straight-forward, highly accurate, million-dollar answer to.  I’d be solving the world’s problems like Super Woman on steroids if I was smart enough to know the perfect answer.  Unfortunately, the real, annoyingly cop-out-implying answer is, “It depends.”

I’m not one to avoid work and like everyone else, I gag every time someone says, “Let’s circle back.” because you KNOW the only thing they plan to circle is the time clock at 4:59pm…..but the bottom line is there is not one answer that is going to work for everyone.

Over the years that I have been in channel marketing, I have discovered there are some common denominators in successful partner marketing.

  1. Partner involvement. I know, duh, right? But too often I see partners who expect the vendor to drive recruitment to their event, build the landing page, write all the copy, create the email, order the food, secure the venue, and man the table while they show up for 15 minutes, shake a few hands and then dip out still expecting to receive a list of hot leads. This doesn’t work for a few reasons.  In the chain of the channel, partners are closest to the customers.  Vendors cannot adequately express each partner’s value-add and that value-add is the key to clenching the deal.  Highly successful joint marketing efforts are almost always rooted in tremendous partner involvement.   Recently Veeam embarked on a multi-city tour with ExaGrid and Res-Q Services, a division of Corus360, a Veeam gold partner.  Nearly every city saw a packed house. Why? Because the Res-Q and Corus360 marketing team owned a large portion of driving these events to their customers and prospects. Owning a lion’s share or at least a 50% share of recruitment is key for partners because relying on a vendor’s database of leads to drive business can be risky.  Every prospect a vendor has is up for grabs.  A partner is also more aware of the nuances of their target market, both the customers and the physical attributes of the area. Global vendors’ corporate copy and idea of a great place to have an event might not be ideal for the target group a partner is trying to hit.
  2. Lunch-and-Learns are hit or miss. Some partners thrive on these: everyone shows up, the presentation is met with wild applause, and AEs walk away with 26 hand-shake opportunities that turn into closed deals three weeks later. But others fall flat.  Could be the weather, could be the venue, could be the presenter or presentation topic, could be the email copy, could be that a way more exciting event was happening down the street.  Or it might be that the same group of prospects was just at a lunch two weeks ago and doesn’t need to hear your story again. Combatting these pitfalls requires targeted copy, research on best venues (does parking suck there? Avoid it like the plague!), choosing dates that don’t conflict with other events, and ensuring the list you are blasting to is fresh.
  3. Focus on solutions vs. products. Customers need solutions not individual products. Appealing to customers’ needs equals butts in seats and high click-through rates. If a partner sells Cisco, NetApp, and Veeam, I suggest they focus their event on the FlexPod solution.  Maybe ExaGrid is a partner’s focus vendor, so my suggestion would be to introduce your customers to the VeeGrid.  If HP is the ‘house vendor’, put together a marketing campaign focusing on HP Converged Systems.
  4. Don’t bypass the low hanging fruit. Chances are every partner has customers sitting in their database waiting to be upgraded or introduced to another option that better meets their needs.  Partners can easily pull a list of folks up for renewal and build a campaign around switching them to a vendor that will earn more margin for them and offer a better solution for the customer.
  5. Explore other routes to market. Email, postcards, telemarketing, live events, and social media are go-tos for building a marketing plan. But don’t forget other options, like marketing through or with a distributor.  Let’s say the partner’s preferred disti is on-boarding Nimble.  If my partner sells Nimble already and/or a complimentary vendor, I would suggest they investigate acquiring MDF from the disti to hold an event or campaign that pushed both Nimble and the alliance as a means to drive business through that disti.
  6. Ask for vendor MDF wisely. I will hand out money all day long to partners who want to execute a competitive displacement online and appointment setting campaign. Add some social media in there and I am practically shoving $100 bills in your pockets.  My next choice would be an activity around training or product education like a hands-on lab day.  Holding a demo of our product is an ideal way to convince customers it just works.  Options like traditional lunch and learns and happy hours would be a choice further down my preferred list.  And unless you’re handing over a list of customers and their email addresses, please don’t ask me to fund your annual boondoggle.
  7. Don’t be a Play to Pay Partner. This is neither sexy nor smart. If I have to spend a million dollars in MDF to get to your customers that tells me you don’t put your customers first.  Customers are wise and if you aren’t trying to provide them the best options for solutions that will impact their business, they will look elsewhere.  Your vendors will grow weary of this game and focus on partners who are more in line with a true partnership.  And when your cash cow seeks greener fields, you will be SOL.  Just like your 401K, diversify your marketing and vendor portfolio to best grow your business and serve your customers.

Who can impact your business more than you can? Your Alliance Partners.

Originally published via LinkedIn Aug 19, 2015 

Remember the show Big Brother?  The key to winning that game was establishing key alliances from the start.  Forming a pack of trusted people to keep you safe…..until they turned on you for their opportunity to win $50,000.  In the channel, having the right Alliance Partners can make all the difference.  Of course the goal is to maintain those alliances, especially since we all have much bigger fish to fry than $37,500 in after-taxes prize money.

Why are your relationships with Alliances Partners so important?

  1. Because the channel is driven by customers looking for a solution, not a product. Companies that can provide everything a customer needs are as rare as a snow leopard in June, so it only behooves us to join forces with the vendors our customers also patronize.  The message then becomes, “Look at the solution we can provide you.” not “Look at the product that I can sell you and then you can figure out how it works with the other products you just bought.”
  2. Because Alliance Partners can legitimize your products. For smaller or newer-to-the-market vendors getting the ‘star of approval’ from a company like Cisco, for example, can mean instant acceptance from a lot of customers who trust who Cisco trusts.
  3. Because customers like shiny things. A great way to boost awareness of your product in the channel is to attach it to a shiny object, like a hot new product on the market, a visionary company, or an emerging industry leader whose grasp on IT trends can benefit your business.
  4. Because competition is fierce and there is safety in numbers. It’s easy for a strong competitor to take down a smaller vendor, swatting them out of the arena like a gnat on their cupcake, but it takes a tremendous effort to defend against a machine.  And that is what you can create with your Alliance Partners: a machine of tightly-aligned, solution-focused vendors united in their cause to outshine the big boys and dominate in their market segment.
  5. Because your friends can tell your story better than you can. Every smart company in the channel has an Evangelist.   And every smart Evangelist knows that having a counterpart at another vendor share their story, can often carry more weight.  Why?  Remember that person that asked you out on a date but you had little interest?  And then one day someone you knew spoke about that person; how great they were, how smart they were, how cute they were and suddenly that person was a lot more interesting. When others tell our story, it is more believable, reliable, and gives the impression we are indeed something to talk about.

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