Anatomy of a “Strawdog”

Originally published via LinkedIn April 10, 2017

Strawdog: n. American. First known use: January 2017. Aka: Strawman 1. A framework of a plan, a project shell, or loosely thought-out strategy. 2. A recipe for a cluster. 3. An idea, that despite all odds, can turn into something amazing.

The following is written in jest and for fun to bring a little humor to a situation so many of us have been in. Any resemblance to an actual project is purely coincidental. Huge shout out to those teams who know how to hustle and, most importantly, have the ability to bring an idea to life against whatever challenges are thrown their way.

Day 1:

Hey, I have this idea. Check out this plan I drew up on this Etch a Sketch. Let’s take this to the CEO and ask for some outrageous amount of money to fund it.

*chorus of ‘great idea!’ erupts*

Day 31:

Great, we got this approved. I may have over-promised on the ROI, but that can be someone else’s problem later. Anyway, I added some more meat to the plan. I wrote it on this bar napkin. Take this and create a vague presentation that we can use to launch this to the 12 other teams that this project will impact.

Day 43:

Did you make that presentation yet? No? OK, good. On second thought, I think it’s best if we waited to provide any real information until things become critical. We’ll add a sense of urgency this way. In the meantime, use this project plan I put together. Looks pretty good, right? I dropped a plate of spaghetti on a piece of paper and had my kids trace it.

Day 55:

How did the presentation go? Yikes. Well, tell them to relax. We’ll get out an FAQs doc that will answer all their questions. Oh, that reminds me. You know that crucial part of this plan? The piece the whole thing hinges on? Let’s get that new girl to own it.

Day 62

Hey, what’s this call about? What project is that? Sounds like a mess. Oh yeah, I forgot about that thing. I can’t make it. Best of luck, though. I’m sure it will be fine.

Day 75

Hi team, I’m the new guy and I’m freaking PUMPED about this project. Sounds awesome. Let’s dig in and get it done! Who’s with me?


Day 82

OK, team. We’ve got six weeks to launch this thing. Surely by this point, we are 90% of the way there, right?

*more crickets*

Day 90

For today’s status call, I need everyone to list their risks and roadblocks.

*two hours later*

Alright, we got through one person. Let’s circle back next week and see how much has resolved itself.

Day 97

Hey, so I’ve learned the one group we’re depending on to drive this project isn’t totally on board. Turns out no one asked them how we should structure this project so it would work for their customers. But, no matter, we can still do this. It’ll be a great success despite the complete lack of confidence from our primary stakeholders. They’ll be drinking the Kool-Aid in no time! Let’s do this!

*sheer panic ensues*

Day 106

Wow! This is the best meeting we’ve had in weeks! Two out of the 517 things we need to accomplish in the next three weeks are done. Nice work, team. Keep it up!

Day 117

OK, so noticed a weird thing. I looked in the system and the budget isn’t showing up. Must be a glitch. I’m sure it will be fine. We should move forward despite this glaring concern. Also, has anyone tested this process to ensure it will work when we launch?

*IT team ‘accidently’ gets cut off from call*

Day 120

Guys, I’ve got bad news. New VP saw the art and messaging. She wants to change it. I know we just printed 8,000 T-shirts, 20,000 flyers, blasted this out on social media, and designed 42 different web banners, but we have four days to do it all over again. I know you can do it. Go team!

*muffled sobs heard over the WebEx*

Day 124

Congratulations, team! We made it and it’s actually working! I can’t f-ing believe it, honestly. Anyway, the executive team is so impressed, they’ve decided to roll this out worldwide. I told them we can hammer this out in a few weeks. All we need to do is translate 312 pieces of collateral into 27 languages and slap it up on individual landing pages. Piece of cake!

*muted weeping in the distance*

Day 126

Hey, I have this idea.


Originally published via LinkedIn Feb 20, 2017

I find myself avoiding Facebook like the plague lately so I still like my friends and coworkers when I see them in real life. As we all know, things have been a little cray cray in world of media and politics and it feels like everyone is sharing their feelings about it. My 6-year-old comes home from school and tells us the word on the playground is that Trump is a bully and Hillary is a liar but Miss Scarritt has the best Fun Fridays.

Tension and negativity have crept into our daily lives like they’ve got seats at our dinner table.

My dad once told me that politics and religion are two topics of conversation to avoid when talking with coworkers or good friends. But he didn’t warn me that ‘husbands’ should fall under one of those categories.

The last conversation I had with my husband about politics resulted in one of us sleeping in the guest room. (Hint: it was me.) We both have strong opinions and unfortunately, they are opposite of each other. We’re still trying to figure out how we actually continued dating after our first conversation. But for the record, I’m so glad we did!

Thankfully, we actually do have a lot in common. Otherwise the last 14 years would have been really awkward and really miserable.

And the thing is, in real life, not on Facebook, we all actually have a lot in common.

No one likes the Reply All feature. Not a soul. For the love of Peter, there are like three times it should be used: confirming a giant multi-million-dollar budget, notifying the company of the need to evacuate, and possibly when someone says something during a presentation that warrants a “That’s what she said.”  

We all believe in something. Maybe it’s a Higher Power or that we are not alone in the universe or that you should fast for days to cleanse your soul. Maybe it’s the Boogie Man or the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, or that karma is a bitch (and she is!) or that ridiculous conspiracy theory your friends make fun of you for, or that Michael Bolton is the greatest singer on earth (hey, I don’t judge). Whatever it is, we all believe in something that we know to be true.

We have all experienced the agony of being hangry. And it isn’t pretty. There, there brethren. Here’s a cookie.

We want to be respected. Everyone wants to be respected for their thoughts, their beliefs, their education and intelligence, their self-worth and value, their talents, their ability to juggle.

We all have a ‘thing’. Perhaps you think s’mores are overrated, or you clean your house before the cleaning lady shows up so she doesn’t judge you, or you are brought to the brink of insanity when you hear loud chewing. Actually those are my things, sorry, but the point is we all have pet peeves that drive those around us bonkers.

When you eat something terrible, you have to share it. Possibly the most innately human characteristic known to man is insisting that your buddy smell or taste something immediately after you discover how horrible it is. “Oh my God, this is awful! Taste it.”

We all have a junk drawer, own a piece of Pyrex, and say Wed-nes-day in our head when we write it.

We all have the capacity to love others despite their flaws. My husband snores. Loudly. I know what you’re saying. How loud can it be? Imagine a wildebeest. Wait. No, they’re too quite. Imagine a pissed off grizzly bear. Now imagine that bear on a riding lawn mower with a running chainsaw in one paw and a radio blaring pipe organ music in the other. Oh, and a screamapillar on his shoulder. It’s that loud. But, despite that, I still really dig this guy and I always will. We all love someone that much.

Here’s to spreading a little more love around. See y’all on Facebook!

A Year in Cities

Originally published via LinkedIn Dec 22, 2016 

If you travel for business, you know the gift of experiences it gives you. Seeing new places, meeting new people, bonding with coworkers over shots of vodka and a bowl of pickles. Traveling internationally, especially, reminds you that the world is at once both very big and very small. By this I mean you may be half a world away in Bucharest, Romania when a local cracks the most perfect “That’s what she said” joke and every barrier you ever thought may have separated you instantly melts away in the laughter.

In 2016, I visited several cities both in North American and across the ocean, each one offering me a new experience, a new perspective, and an appreciation of the parallel lives we are all living out across the globe. Below are just a few.

Atlanta: I traveled to Hotlanta approximately 8,000 times this year. For my most recent visit, I stayed in the heart of downtown. Three days into a grueling conference, the weight of the trip was heavy on my heart: guilt from being away from home, exhaustion from lack of sleep and a mild hangover, the uncomfortable bloat of constipation (we’ve all been there people!) I sat there, starring at my reconstituted scrambled eggs and instant oatmeal, slowly letting the misery begin to swallow me whole. And then suddenly, there was Miss Shirley. She had greeted me like ray of sunshine every morning. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Baby, let me make you a waffle.” I could have cried at that moment. Her simple act of kindness renewed my soul. Thank you, Atlanta, for showing me kindness when I needed it most, and God bless you, Miss Shirley.

Boston: I spent a few days in Boston at a B2B marketing summit in October. I had looked forward to that trip for several weeks and it did not disappoint. I feel like this city doesn’t get enough credit for how cool it is. Maybe they want it that way, honestly. All the cool cities inevitably fall victim to overexposure and an influx of riffraff. I’m surprised Portland, for example, hasn’t built a wall around itself. The history in Boston is enough to keep you busy for a week. History is everywhere there. Literally. You cannot get a beer without a colonial-dressed dude spontaneously pointing out exactly where some super historic famous person also had a beer before dumping a bunch of tea in the ocean. I stood on the steps of the Harvard library and immediately felt smarter. Then I tried to hork down a giant cannoli from one of those North End bakeries with a line out the door and felt like a dumbass. But whatever, that thing was amazing. (That’s what she said.)

Bucharest: There is a massive shopping mall in Bucharest and in the center of this mall is one of those rope course adventure gimmicks. When a teammate suggested we try it out, like an idiot, I immediately said, “Sure, I’ll do it!”. Why the hell did I agree to this? Partially because I was looking to do something active, dreading the 14+ hours on the plane ahead of me. Partially because I wanted to see if I could actually do it. I mean who doesn’t like a good challenge now and then? It’s also possible a part of me just wanted to prove I was indeed a badass chick and I’m gonna tell you, I think I did. Now, none of these are really good reasons to strap on a questionable safety harness and climb 100 feet in the air on rope that in some places appeared to be held together with electrical tape. But I didn’t die and when I got to the end I felt like a freaking champion. In the short time I was in this city, I experienced some pretty amazing moments (besides conquering the rope thing). In the middle of a hallway in our brand new Veeam offices, I witnessed the genuine surprise and pure gratitude of a young tech writer accepting our ‘thank you’ gift for the many hours of his day he had devoted to being our tour guide. You know those videos where a deaf child hears for the first time and their face lights up with immense joy? Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, it was a gift card for goodness sake, but still: there was joy. His reaction was priceless and real. It made our small gesture feel like something so much bigger than I could have anticipated. Near the end of my trip here, I participated in a meeting with the sales leader of the office. That 30-minute meeting inspired me perhaps most of all. He spoke about the task of unifying his 200+ employees, 40 of which were expats from St. Petersburg and whose cultural differences were stark compared to the Romanians. His approach was simple: learn from each other and understand that for every one problem, there are 10 different ways to solve it. I can only imagine how the world would work if we all thought this way. Or if we all made “That’s what she said” jokes. Either one.

Columbus, OH: One of our VPs who works out of our Columbus office happens to be one of the nicest guys I have ever met in my life. Like ridiculously nice. This guy is so nice I’m fairly certain that if you punched him in the face, he’d pop right up and say, “Wow, you really got some knuckle on that one! Nice work!” Every time I travel to the Midwest, I fantasize about moving there. Unless I’m there in the winter and then I’m like, screw that! But there is an enormous appeal of the Midwest that’s tough to put into words. It’s a calmness, a friendliness, a sense of community, a politeness. Somehow the Midwest is both trendy and traditional, homey and modern. I can show up in Columbus grouchy as shit and someone would say, “What a firecracker you are!” and then take me to lunch for an organic, gluten free, quinoa avocado bowl. I’d feel better and appreciate the way they told me to get over myself without actually telling me to get over myself.

New York City: In late November, I attended the Women of the Channel event held at the Sheraton Times Square. New York City is like a beacon in the night, burning bright with a fierce, unparalleled energy found no other place on earth. Just walking down the street makes you feel like a badass. It’s a tough city, but a united one. Even though I dread the entry into LaGuardia (keep your barf bag handy) and the insane taxi lines, I visit NYC every chance I get. It’s loud and boisterous and exciting and as long as you can keep pace with the rush, you’ll leave there wanting more. Kind of like a drug or like the food at Felida’s. OMG I dig that place.

St. Petersburg, Russia: Seeing the Palace Square at midnight on a snowy night was something I didn’t know I should have had on my bucket list. Holy. Bananas. It was almost surreal, in the quiet stillness of the night, walking through a city that in the 1940s Hitler’s army systematically starved nearly 1M people to death. At one point in our shared history, Russian was considered a mortal threat to the US and yet there I was posing for pictures in front of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and posting them on Facebook like, “I’m in Russia, yo!” In St. Petersburg, I learned that a pickle is the traditional chaser for a shot of vodka and a lot about cultural awareness. I was advised not to smile, not to make eye contact, not to expect a man to shake my hand, don’t speak in the cab, don’t draw attention. If you know me, you already know I failed miserably here. I talked too loud. I smiled. I waved. I oooh-ed and aww-ed out the cab window when we passed The Hermitage. I was wearing a freaking bright red sweater for crying out loud. While my more seasoned US coworkers probably wanted to slap the smile off my rosy f-ing cheeks, to my deepest, appreciative surprise some of my Russian counterparts did shake my hand, some even hugged me, and nearly everyone smiled, breaking their own cultural rules for the comfort of their jet lagged American teammates.

Toronto: I visited Toronto for Microsoft’s WPC event in July. My Canadian friends will likely want to punch me in the throat for what I am about to say (although they would do it politely), but I when I visit Canada, I essentially feel like I’m in another version of the United States. A classier, more tender, more liberal, trendy, hipster, kinder, and wiser version of course. I find Toronto to be one of the most international cities I have ever been to. From the food, to the people, to the culture mix, to the dozens of languages bouncing around every street corner like a chorus of a familiar song, the hum of the city makes you feel like you are standing on the pulse of the world. When I was there, we caught a Second City show. Canadian humor is brutal, painfully dry, wiseass, cutthroat, and freaking hysterical. Also: The Eaton Centre. Four floors of H&M. Yes, please! I had more fun in this city than is probably appropriate for a soccer mom/cub scout leader like me, but good gravy and French fries, life is short.

Growth is Uncomfortable: Surviving a New Job

Originally published via LinkedIn Aug 26, 2016

You know that lonely, overwhelming, what-in-the-actual-hell-am-I-doing, part of a new job? I’m there now and holy mother is it uncomfortable.

This happens to most of us when we get a new job. It’s rough to go from running your business like a boss with an amazing team to asking where your red stapler is while trying to remember people’s names. Dealing with a new job or role can be painful, but it’s exciting, too. New starts always are.

Recently, Veeam made a big announcement. We’ve reached a critical inflection point as a company and we wanted to share it with the world. Like any strategic directional change or launch of a new product, things were batshit crazy tense in the days and weeks leading up to big event.

Conveniently, these days and weeks overlapped with the first few weeks in my new gig. (Yay!) It was nearly enough to lead me to drink. Tito’s of course. But growth is uncomfortable. Learning can be uncomfortable. So I’m dealing with it in the best ways I know how.

Exercise. I love working out. Pfffftssssss! Sorry, that is a complete lie. I cannot even say that with a straight face. Now I do love the way I feel after working out. Sometimes I like to run. And by run, I mean propel myself forward in a sporadic lurching motion that is somewhere between a seizure and a reaction to a sudden onset of explosive diarrhea. Similar to the way I dance. But whatever, I have a great time.

Typically during my run-lurch, I listen to music. It distracts me from the feeling that death is standing there waiting for me to keel over on the treadmill. Lately though, I put on my headphones, tuck my phone into my super cool arm band thing that makes me look like I know what I am doing, and take off without hitting play. Quickly my breathing becomes labored, my heart practically beats through my chest and without “Pillow Talk” to take my mind off how out of shape I am, all I hear is me. My tortured breath, my pounding heart, my slapping feet. It grounds me, all that noise, rather than distracts me. It places me in the moment in an intensely poignant way because the only thing I can think about is not dying.

Believe the good. Right before I got this new role, I was told these things: You’re not technical enough. You’re not smart enough. You’re not what their looking for. I was also told these things: You’ve got this. You’re talented. You’re exactly what we’re looking for. Believe the good things people say about you. The truth is, they are always right.

Stay quiet the first 30 days. This advice was actually given to me by an executive as I was moving from one company to another. It’s much harder to do this when you move from one role to another in the same company (oddly, people expect you to talk!), but the root of the advice is the same: listen and learn. Understand who thinks they make decisions and who really does. Get to know team members’ personalities, the dynamics of how they work together, who to align yourself with and who to avoid like pumpkin spice anything in August. Determine whose opinion matters and what those opinions are before sharing your own. All of these things are part of a company’s culture and knowing that culture (before you open your mouth) can make or break your time there.

When responding to a question, start with, “I would say…” When I do talk, sometimes I find I need a minute to get my thoughts together especially when my thoughts are about to introduce something new or different. I’ve noticed some people, mostly women, doing this so I’ve been trying this out and I can’t believe how well it works. The first thing this does is give you a second to think about what you are going to say without having that I’m-thinking-for-a-second pause. It also prepares your audience to shut it and actually listen. Helpful if you’re a chick sitting at a table or on a WebEx with a bunch of dudes. Secondly, it automatically legitimizes what you’re about to say. Who would say that? I would! BOOM.

Wear lots of clothes. Jackets, long pants, tall boots, sweater vests, long sleeve shirts, scarfs….I’m a fan of all those things. Especially scarfs. The scarf situation in my closet borders on a state of ridiculousness. I get made fun for my scarfs. The more covered I am, the more confident, comfortable, and put together I feel. When I was packing for my first formal trip to meet my new team, my husband asked, “Is it cold up there or something?” Potentially I have some self-conscious issues that I’ll work out in my next therapy session, but really I think it’s just because I look way better with lots of clothes on! All my flaws are covered and I feel fierce in a crisp suit jacket and my nerd girl glasses because I’m a fierce nerd girl. There’s also this mystery of “What is she hiding under two shirts, a jacket, AND a scarf?” Could be a rocking body. Could be a mess of cellulite and spider veins. Ain’t nobody gotta know.

Be yourself. The older I get, the more my concern over the opinions of others diminishes. This is a beautiful bonus of growing older and wiser. You are the most brilliant when you are yourself. No one likes a fake and it’s exhausting maintaining that façade. I feel lucky to have found opportunities that appreciate and respect who I am. But I walked into them with a “this is who I am” attitude and expected nothing less.

Tears, Flaws, and Success: When you see your Weaknesses as Strengths, you Win

Originally published via LinkedIn Aug 11, 2016

There is a quote from Augusten Burroughs’ Magical Thinking that I find eerily self-descriptive: “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” It’s like a really nice way of saying, “I totally mean well, but sometimes lose my sh-t.”

I have some stellar qualities, no doubt, like my sense of humor, a strong work ethic and the genuine desire to help others. These qualities have served me greatly throughout my life and my career. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

But my flaws…ugh…are there, too and are sometimes overwhelming. One in particular.

I cry about everything.

Now, I don’t actually cry about everything just…Publix commercials, weddings, VPK graduations, funerals (who doesn’t?), births, kindergarten plays, Subway tuna sandwiches (there’s a story there), girlfriend reunion dinners, returning soldier videos, my kids’ birthdays, my parents’ birthdays, old pictures from when I was thin and tan, those damn SPCA starving animal commercials—you’re killing me, Sarah Mclachlan!, when my husband unloads the dishwasher and folds laundry, sad movies, happy movies, movies based on true stories, movies that say they are based on true stories even if they really aren’t, when my children play peacefully, when my children fight, when I run out of coffee creamer…you know, regular stuff.

For the longest time, I felt like being an emotional person was by far my biggest weakness, my deepest flaw, and something I tried to hide (unsuccessfully for the most part because: cry face, gah!). Being an emotional person can be incredibly difficult and potentially damaging. No one wants to cry in the office bathroom or worse yet, in front of everyone.

Being an emotional person can also mean other feelings are heightened. Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger…..wait, never mind, those are characters from Inside Out (which we have seen no less than 3 million times!). Anyway, the feelings I’m talking about here are: Passion and Confidence. The same fire that inspires my quivering lip when my 5-year-old climbs into my lap unprovoked also fuels my drive to succeed.

Recently, as I was interviewing for my current role, the hiring manager let me know he had asked around to get the scoop on me (how nice of him to give me the heads up!). One person, who he refused to name even after I asked him 27 times, described me as “intense”. My first reaction was to cringe and resist the urge to gag. “Intense” is one of those descriptions that can carry a negative connotation. I could just picture some jack wagon telling him, “Dude, that chick is intense!” And not in the awesome, badass way, but in that shiver down your spine, look over your shoulder, Frau Blucher way. (P.S. If you don’t know who Frau Blucher is, I question our friendship.)

Thankfully, my new manager translated “intense” into “passionate” which I attribute, in part, to helping me get the job. Let’s just hope he doesn’t regret it after he learns I cried on my kid’s LAST day of VPK. Who does that?!

Many people are emotionally heightened. We are just wired this way and I have found that instead of trying to fight it, I have more success by embracing it. That being said, I don’t encourage crying during quarterly planning sessions or sending scathing emails to trolls who really need to find a hobby—not that I have done either of these things—these are just examples, people. Purely made-up examples.

Instead I’m all about focusing on the positive of my emotional side.

Play to win. At Veeam, one of our core values is Compete to Win. At Tech Data, it was A Passion for Winning. At your company it might be Kick Ass and Take Names. Whatever it is, know that not everyone understands how to do this. It takes emotion to want to succeed, to want to win. Just watch the Olympics. Not a lot of blasé people chilling around, casually cruising over the finish line. Thanks to my ‘intensity’, if there is a competition my team or I could win or a goal to accomplish, I’m on it like white on rice. Veeam recently launched their inaugural women’s leadership initiative. Only 30 women were chosen from all the female employees of Veeam across the globe. Guess who snagged a spot? A select few group of women who play to win—including me.

Genuinely care. I have been told by more than one person that I am the best person to tell good news to. Why? I will literally jump for joy, shout from the rooftops and yes-of course-shed a tear over your awesome news. People enjoy being celebrated and I enjoy seeing others succeed. On the flip side, it’s important to be there for people when things aren’t all roses and sunshine. I have a colleague’s chemo schedule on my calendar to remind me to reach out when she is at her most vulnerable. I also appreciate people who care enough to correct or guide someone junior when the need presents itself and I try to do this myself. This is, IMHO, the hallmark of a good leader, a mentor, and a friend.

Manage up. This is a form of protecting your sanity by speaking up. This requires confidence and the ability to rationalize your standpoint without sounding like you’re not a team player. A good manager will actually teach you how to manage up appropriately. Managing your workload (and your team’s if you are a manager) involves pushing back, questioning, filtering, and sometimes saying “no” (or at the very least, “not now”). Many people worry that this approach makes them appear less valuable but I find the contrary. Managing up demonstrates your awareness of what is important on your playing field, what matters to your stake holders, and what needs to be done to hit your goals. That’s called strategy and that’s how the game is won.

Say what you think. Rarely will you not know a passionate person’s stance on something. Certainly those obnoxious “Let me tell you something!” [insert dramatic neck gyration] people are annoying AF, but I find it best for all parties to avoid that ambiguous complacency that doesn’t help anyone when I’m asked a question. I assume when someone asks for my thoughts, they actually want my thoughts. Clearly, it’s important to temper your response to suite the audience, but wavering or agreeing to something you know is a bad idea, is not a good idea.

If we had lunch, this is what I would tell you.

Originally published via LinkedIn July 25, 2016

I think lunch meetings are sorely underrated. I don’t mean ‘lunch and learns’, or fancy, butt-kissing lunches with a customer to close a deal, or painful interview lunches where you can hardly eat because the last thing you need is a mouthful of salad when someone asks you how you would deal with some stupid, hypothetical situation that would actually never happen.

I mean casual, safe-zone, venting, advice-swapping lunches between friends.

Every other week or so, I have a standing lunch with a friend and former colleague. I find these meetings valuable for a variety of reasons. One, he is senior to me in terms of professional experience and title. His work advice and executive insight is extremely helpful. Second, he is very complimentary of my skills and ability, which is a nice ego boost and that, too can be invaluable especially when I’m wavering on a big decision. The fact is, we are all more successful when we have support.

In between these regularly scheduled lunches, I have one-off lunches with other former colleagues, current coworkers, and friends. The topics of discussion during these lunches are almost always the same: how are you and what we can talk about to make your situation better?

I almost always walk away feeling like a champ and if I don’t… then you’re removed from my lunch circuit and life goes on.

In recent weeks, I have had some folks reach out to me for a lunch meeting and, frankly, I feel privileged that someone thinks enough of me to put me on their calendar. Unfortunately, between travel and meetings and the daily grind, it can be hard to schedule a get-together at Smokey Bones (one of my favs).

While everyone’s situation is unique, I have found that some of the questions I get are the same. So until we meet in person, here is what I would probably tell you if we had lunch.

Stay current. In the IT world, things change by the minute and it is crucial to stay on top of industry trends, new marketing tactics, product launches, and up and coming manufacturers to remain relevant and valuable to your current employer and prospective employers. Follow industry news outlets like CRNCNETThe VAR GuyMSPmentorChannlenomicsGartnerWPP, and blogs by leading vendors like CiscoMicrosoft, and Veeam (of course!) just to name a few. Or make your life way easier and just sign up for Owler. They filter out the news and then send you an email each day with abstracts and links to top stories in your industry based on pre-set filters. Don’t forget to follow mainstream news outlets like CNN and Forbes, and niche, under the radar sites like Reddit. Understanding what is going on in the world is crucial as IT both impacts and is influenced by everything.

Find the advantage in every situation. Many of the lunches I have are triggered because one person feels stuck in their current situation or there has been a change in their situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. I believe there is always an advantage to capitalize on. Seeing the positive in every set of circumstances is key for survival, but take it one step further: how can this situation benefit me? Let’s say you get a new boss. He totally sucks and trashes the marketing plan you spent weeks building. Use the opportunity to meet with him and get his insight on creating a new plan that meets his expectations. Then use that plan to create a case for more marketing budget, another headcount, or leverage for him to put a boot in your collective sales team’s ass to follow up on those leads. Speaking of leverage, never discount what you can use to get what you want. Been at a company for 10+ years? Holy bananas, you should be running it or at least a department within it. Not highly technical? Your creativity and social ability are crucial aspects needed in the role you want. Don’t have enough experience? Leverage your incredible work ethic, quick learning ability, and the fact that you will not be influenced by legacy ways of doing something. Just got laid off? You have been given a great gift: a fresh start.

Stay educated. Getting your MBA is great, but for the love of Pete who has the time? Nearly every vendor in IT offers some type of certification. If you work at a distributor, you have access to like 1,000 certifications! Every chance you get, get certified in something. Doesn’t have to be technical. Sales and marketing certifications are also ideal. Don’t overlook seemingly obscure or less popular certifications. I worked at Home Depot when I was in college. I got my forklift license, because why the hell not? A few years later while interviewing for a marketing role, I noted that on my application. It was a conversation starter at the very least and demonstrated a piece of me not immediately evident as I sat there in my formal dress suit.  Also, get your company to send you to marketing and sales conferences. Sirius Decisions and MarketingProfs put on some great workshop-style events. Attending events like VMworld,  WPC and Cisco Live are also fantastic ways to stay educated on current trends and what your competitors are up to, as well as staying in touch with your partners. Don’t think your boss will let you go? Leverage the experience you will gain by attending and how that will impact the business you drive.

Don’t pass up an opportunity. Opportunities aren’t always obvious. Sometimes an opportunity might look like a step down. It might look like something you think you’re not 100% qualified for. It might look like a lot of work and a bunch of unknowns. Opportunities do not always look like the ideal situation at first glance but always remember, no matter the situation, you remain in control of the course of your journey. Every new situation offers the ability for you to leverage (I like leveraging, people) your skills, abilities, unique talents and gifts to influence the situation you are in for your best benefit. Change can be hard. It can be frightening and give you heart burn because you’re just not that young anymore and you ate that spicy coconut curry thing because it was so freaking good….but the difficult period will be worth it in the end.

Invite someone to lunch. Just do it!

Fresh Out of Ideas? That’s OK. The Marketing Tech Landscape is Full of Them. Part of LinkedIn #BringItOn Series

Originally published via LinkedIn July 7, 2016 

Got a good idea about a marketing story you want to share? Write about it as part of LinkedIn #BringItOn series.

Hello, my name is Erika and I’m suffering from writer’s block. It has been 119 days since my last blog.

Last week a friend and former Tech Data colleague, Jeff Salanco, reached out via LinkedIn wondering where my latest writing was. In the recent weeks, several friends and contacts have reached out to me wondering the same thing.  I’m actually shocked that many people (like 5) noticed I hadn’t posted a blog in a while.

I’ve been making excuses to make me feel better. Busy travel schedule. Obligations to my family. Managing a big team. The crush of EOQ. Yoga class. Each night I lay there sorting the hurricane of thoughts in my head. Often, the last thought that enters my brain before I fall asleep is what an imposter I am. Ugh.

In the past 119 days I’ve written enough emails, meeting recaps, and Power Points to fill a really long, painfully boring novel, but as a marketer, I feel like my job should be to come up with new ideas and here I am struggling to think of a topic to write a blog about! Hence my imposter syndrome.

It’s occurred to me how much a marketing manager’s role is changing.

More than ever, the digital marketing age is exploding with unparalleled opportunity. In 2011, there were approximately 150 companies that could offer meaningful marketing services to manufactures. In 2016, there are over 3,500.

Back in May, I attended the Sirius Decisions Summit in Nashville. This summit had some of the best marketing vendors in the industry all under one roof, some of them fledgling start-ups still gathering backing for their genius idea. The influx of cutting edge marketing strategies was overwhelming. I took more notes during that week than I did in four years of college.

While the summit was thick with marketing jargon (net waterfall throughput, anyone?), there were some absolute gems of brilliance. I walked away with a stack of business cards, 20+ invites on my calendar for follow-up meetings, and pages of other people’s ideas for how to drive my business.

I noticed some trends in the marketing strategies presented at the summit and in many of the current marketing articles and industry blogs I read. In the conversations I had with vendors during and after the summit, I’ve found some shine brighter than others. Below are the trends I find most intriguing and the vendors I feel are doing a good job taking advantage of them.

Personalization: Expanding target customer base is a huge part of driving more sales. Duh. Customers buy for different reasons. A CIO wants something cost effective. An IT manager wants to reduce the time he spends doing PITA, time-consuming tasks that eat away at his weekend. Understanding those personas and personalizing the content they consume drastically increases the likelihood they buy your product. The ability we have today to personalize content to accomplish this is an amazing thing. Remarketing tactics have been utilizing this technology for years. Well beyond the suggestion of a product that matches your recent Google searches or a ‘personalized’ email, manufacturers have the ability to pinpoint exactly who is visiting their website and then redirect them to the content they find the most valuable. In essence they use data and algorithms to create thousands of unique experiences in one website. Companies like Triblio are doing just this for their clients as part of their account based marketing strategy. They use data gathered by companies like KickFire who provide real-time company information, social profiles, currently used services, and IP addresses. Manufactures who offer trials often find users with email addresses like and (yes, some people still use AOL, ahem, me) downloading trials. This makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly who the user is, but knowing their IP address can offer more details, like what company they work and their location.

Video: According to a report published by Forrester, including video in an email leads to a whopping 200-300% increase in click-through rate. People love to watch videos. They are easily consumable, entertaining, funny, emotion-provoking, and have the ability to show rather than tell more than other media. Many manufacturers still use YouTube, which is excellent, but it’s not the only option. Brightcove, for example, offers video cloud services that house your videos, create custom players, and optimize your videos so you can gather data to better understand your customer. Another choice is Vidyard. Their software integrates with tools like Marketo and Eloqua, making data analysis streamlined.

Predictive Marketing: In itself, this is not new. But harnessing all the pieces, content, tactics, and media to accomplish a full-fledged strategic content marketing approach can be daunting. Companies like MRP have the experience, software, and data to execute meaningful campaigns. Prior to building your marketing campaigns, Sirius Decisionsoffers advisory services that can guide you in choosing vendors and the data to ensure your predictive marketing strategies are on-point.

Breakthrough marketing: This sits on the same realm with ‘disruptive technologies’. Companies like Bulldog Solutions are creating ‘killer content that engages and converts’.  Their technical approach is helpful for channel-based IT businesses. One day, these are the guys that are going to create an app that implants ads in customers’ brains. Personalized ads of course.

Orchestration: This is the synchronization of purposeful interactions into coordinated plays that align to account plans and goals. In other words, the maestro that helps guide your customers through their buyer’s journey. Companies like Engagio use the ‘account based everything’ approach to drive multi-threaded and relevant contact to targets, both to expand and land named accounts.

Marketing is a hi-tech business. I’m learning it might not always be my role to be the ‘idea’ person. I’m finding I’m now more the person who gathers the ideas  and technology of others and applies them to our product. And, thankfully, the ideas out there are endless.

To Have and To Hold in the Channel

Originally published via LinkedIn March 10, 2016

Being married to someone who also works in the channel can be awesome. Except when you re-introduce your husband to someone at an event and he says, “Oh yes, I remember. You hit on my wife last week.” That was less awesome.

Anywho, the pros and cons of working together are something many couples deal with. Here are just a few.

Travel is the absolute worst.

There is literally nothing more heartburn-inducing than conflicting travel schedules and trying to secure child care.  I’d rather listen to Michael McDonald singing “Yah Mo Be There” on repeat for a month straight than struggle to arrange a sitter while both my husband and I are on the road.

On the other hand, time away certainly gives each partner more 1:1 time with the kids or the dog or the plant or whatever needy thing lives in your house. Our travel schedules have helped my husband and I have more respect for all the other does to contribute. For example, he is now able to locate our dishwasher and laundry room, and he has experienced more of those tender moments with our boys like wiping snot from their faces repeatedly or explaining where babies come from. I’ve learned how to start a go cart, dispose of a dead rabbit, and be a stand in Cub Scout leader and soccer coach.

Beer + Our Back Porch = Best Ideas Ever

Friday nights are pretty wild at the Irby compound these days. By ‘wild’ I mean we sit on our back porch, have some beers, and talk about our week. A few Yuenglings in and my husband and I are practically shouting, “And then I just repeated what the engineer said but REALLY SLOWLY!”  We even have a notebook where we jot down some of our better ideas. (Yes, we are huge nerds.) A true reflection of the night is how well I can read our writing the next day.  Probably some killer ideas will never see the light of day because we can’t read what we wrote. His sales perspective shapes the way I approach marketing and I am willing to bet he has pitched one of my ideas to his team who now thinks he is some kind of a marketing genius. These nights help strengthen our relationship and make us better at our jobs. Everyone wins.

We’re true partners….a disproportionate amount of the time.

When either of us is traveling all the housework, the Cub Scout meetings, the soccer practices, the lunch-making, the car circle scramble, is placed on the other’s shoulders. Bearing the same burden can be a catalyst for those Kumbaya moments that seal a relationship like Gorilla Glue. It’s the same reason everyone likes the song The Weightby The Band and quotes Psalms 55:22. No one wants to carry a burden alone.

The issue is we’re true partners a disproportionate amount of the time. The closest my husband and I have come to getting a divorce was the time we installed a new dishwasher together in our circa 1970 custom-built kitchen with old school plumbing. The second closest time was after I returned home from a 10-day travel stint that also included a girls’ weekend. When I walked in the door, he handed me a child and said, “Hope you enjoyed your vacation. I’m out.” And he didn’t come back until the wee hours of the next morning.  But he did come back, ya’ll, and that’s what really matters!


Basically our entire job is to talk. Talk about the product, talk about marketing, talk about our companies, talk about our alliance partners, talk about our partner programs, talk, talk, talk. Sometimes I’ve repeated Availability for the Modern Data Center so many times I start to hear it in my sleep. It is a great comfort to have someone soothe me when I wake up yelling, “No, we don’t do physical!” and not think I’m a complete weirdo.

The downside is we sometimes find ourselves communicating solely through head nods and hand gestures because we can’t stand the sound of our own voices. Of course, if we’re being honest, my husband sees this as a pro rather than a con since he thinks I talk too much anyway.

Understanding the Lingo

If you work in the IT field, you know that you could have a 30-minute conversation with someone composed entirely of acronyms and marketing jargon. Understanding it all helps you to confidently nod and say things like, “Excellent strategy, Bill.”, “That’s exactly the right call, Pam.” and “Yes, that is correct.” When someone asks if WAFL operations act at the 4 KB-level of granularity, and provide the ability to thin-provision and de-duplicate as an efficiency benefit for an SMB leveraging NetApp Storage with Veeam.

But it’s easy to fade when someone is speaking in acronyms and marketing jargon. You probably stopped reading at “WAFL operations” in the above sentence because OMG, what?? Therefore uses of these items are banned from our house. Unless we’re on the porch with a beer in hand having way too much fun retelling the sometimes ridiculous moments of our week.

Real Estate and Writing: How Selling Homes Helped my Marketing Career, part of LinkedIn #CareerLaunch series

Originally published via LinkedIn March 3, 2016

With summer jobs on the horizon, professionals recall the first jobs that launched their careers. Read more, then write your own #CareerLaunch post.

During the summer between high school and college, I worked in a Century 21 real estate office as an administrative assistant. I stuffed envelopes, showed homes, called prospective home buyers and sellers, took out the trash, brought the agents coffee, answered the phone and filed paperwork. I was 18 years old and making $7 an hour. I thought I was big man on campus. My mother had purchased me several professional outfits to wear before she, my dad, and my brother moved to Germany where my father was being transferred. I felt so proud in my 5/7/9 black polyester skirt and blazer, with a pencil tucked behind my ear and my pager clipped securely to my waistband.

In that job I learned to have a professional phone voice, to be meticulously organized, and to understand that the customer was always right even if they were a huge PITA. But the best part of that job, the part that really made my day was the writing.

I wrote all the copy for the houses we advertised. The agents were so busy between phone calls, home showings, and working with the title company that they gladly handed over this job to me. I relished it. I was given MLS reports and was tasked to transform home stats into descriptions that sold in 50 words or less. The 900 square foot fixer upper became the cozy hidden gem needing just the right touch of TLC. The circa 1970s kitchen was vintage and chic. The questionable neighborhood was up and coming. I loved the challenge of it and I loved it when a potential home buyer walked in, holding our ad, pointed to a house and said, “I’d like to see this home.” I believed my writing helped bring that buyer in.

If a house didn’t get any attention, I’d rewrite the description until I found just the right words. The words that I hoped would speak to somebody.  Of course some house just sold themselves, if they were beautiful and perfect. But most homes needed some help.

Near the end of the summer, some of the agents let me come along with them as they showed homes to their customers. One agent even let me show homes on my own. I was able to talk about the house like I’d write about it. “Over here we have a spacious lanai to enjoy the nature that surrounds this beautiful home.” By “nature” I meant overgrown back yard, but that’s just semantics.

By the end of my stint there, I was contemplating getting my real estate license. But as anyone in real estate knows, the job is much more than showing some homes and saying nice things about them. It’s a demanding, long hours, working weekends kind of job.

Instead, I started college that fall with a major in Civil Engineering. Which I promptly changed to English Education the next semester realizing I couldn’t answer calculus questions by writing engaging copy.  I continued writing, later earned a Master’s in Mass Communications, and eventually found myself on a career path in marketing.

Fast forward many years later, as my husband and I were home shopping, we came across the home we eventually bought. The description sounded fantastic. White on white kitchen, spacious living areas, backed up to the golf course. When we pulled into the driveway for the first time, I nearly told the agent to throw it in reverse and head right back out. The house was a mess inside and out. But that ad had certainly gotten us there. The house had “great bones” as they say and it was beautiful, once you saw through the 37-year-old carpet and four layers of wall paper. Eight weeks of renovation later, it was livable and has become our forever home with several projects still to complete; thanks in part to a well written ad and great real estate agent.

Lessons from Puke Skywalker

Originally published via LinkedIn Jan 26, 2016

I started writing this blog in my head during the 30-minute rest intervals of my youngest son’s recent barfathon. His name is Luke and he had caught the dreaded stomach bug.  He wasn’t named after Luke Skywalker (a cool cat nonetheless!), although my husband said, “Luke, I am your father” at least 1,000 times a day for the first year of his life.

I’ve learned many lessons being a working mother, and sitting on the bathroom floor at 3:00 AM comforting a miserably sick child was no exception.

I’m a Just-in-Time Mom and I’m OK with that: I had been gone nearly all week at my company’s 2016 kickoff event. I returned Thursday, picked up my boys around 4:00 PM and by that evening, was holding Luke’s head above the commode. I had missed Boy Scouts, four days of school, a park outing, ice cream with Grandpa, and soccer practice. But Luke didn’t need me at those times. He needed me when he was tossing his cookies and I was grateful (mostly) to have been there. I’ve learned to toss my “mom guilt” in my toilet along with those cookies. We cannot always be at every partner event or every work meeting or every activity our family is involved in (preferably the non-barfing ones), but if we are there when it really counts, that’s what matters most.

Sometimes you have to deal with shit: Remember in the movie Jerry McGuire when the late great Dickie Fox says “Roll with the punches. Tomorrow is a new day”? It’s one of my favorite parts of that movie because it’s so true. Sometimes life is literally a handful of poop (sorry!), but if we fell to pieces at those times, we’d get nowhere. I’m not the most patient person in the world. I’m not the strongest either. It got down to a staggering 41 degrees here in Florida and I couldn’t find enough sweaters to put on as I frantically prepared for the imminent apocalypse. I have talked myself off a ledge more times than I can count.  I’m truly inspired by people who roll with the punches, who overcome obstacles, who get fired, get divorced, fight for their life and come out on top.

For others to succeed, you may have to be uncomfortable: Laying on towels on a cold bathroom floor with a shivering five-year-old’s puke breath hot on my neck is not my ideal sleeping position. But my options were limited. The goal was his comfort, not mine. I try hard to be a mentor to others, help good friends with a job search, and share my ideas with my counterparts. Sometimes discouraging thoughts creep in the back of my mind. What if they’re better than me? What if they succeed first? What if they get credit for something I thought of? What if I bust my ass only for some yahoo who hardly knows how to send out an Outlook invite to get the promotion I wanted? What if……I won Marketing Manager MVP of the year because I helped my team succeed? That last one actually happened last week. Giving my time and ideas and support to others was sometimes hard, but totally worth it. When your team wins, you win.

Be prepared to make the call: When Luke was in the thresholds of that miserable stage of the stomach flu when nothing you do makes you feel better, I had to make the decisions on what we were going to do next.  Sit down. Kneel. Go back to bed. Try to drink some Gatorade. All hoping whatever choice I made was the right one. Because God knows choosing to kneel when you should sit down is the worst decision in the history of decisions. Sometimes the hardest part about anyone’s job is having to make the choices. What events should we attend? What messaging will have the most impact? Which partners should we invest in? Where will we find net new customers? Should I really use this #annoying hashtag? Every day we’re asked to make a choice about something. Sometimes we choose poorly, most of the time I think the majority of us do alright. Because in the end the fact that you stepped up and made the call counts more than anything.