Well intentioned, but incorrect advice

Where Do I Start to illustrate confusion and the need for a plan in a project, a career or life

Recently, I was looking through some posts on a speaker group and I ran across a question from someone just starting out: I would like to start speaking, who should I be contacting and how?

One person replied that the person posing the question was getting ahead of themselves. First they should have a presentation written and know it backwards and forwards, then they should go out and give that speech for free to as many groups as possible to polish it, and after doing all that, then they should start thinking about contacting people about paid speaking gigs.

The advice was well-intentioned, but wrong. The first thing anyone with an idea should do is find out if there is a market for what they want to sell, be it a product, services, or in this case, a keynote presentation. Too often we are told (or convince ourselves) that we need to hone our skills or product until there is no question we have reached as close to perfection as possible. The problem with this of course is that if no one is interested in what we have to sell or say, we have wasted a grand amount of time, and we are going to be VERY frustrated when we start selling.

We still hear the old chestnut, “do what you love, and the money will follow,” or some variation on that theme. We are fed the stories of people who gave up the grind of being a lawyer or a stock broker to pursue their dream to create pottery, jewelry, or perhaps something even more exotic, and how this business grew to be even bigger than their previous career. A lot gets left out of those stories. One thing in particular that isn’t mentioned or gets glossed over is the person in question often has been doing this new business as a hobby or a sideline for years, and has developed a following. In marketing-speak: they identified their target market. In my terms: they have identified a key data point: will anyone buy this?

Simply put, before you decide to spend a whole lot of time developing your product, service, or speech, find out if people will actually pay for such a thing, and if there are enough of those people to sustain you. Don’t let your desire, belief in, or love for something allow you to ignore cold hard facts.

When is Internet Marketing NOT Internet Marketing?

Internet Marketing

“Watson, I would like you to consider a statement, and tell me what it makes you think,” The Effective Detective wasted no time in starting out the conversation.

“Go ahead, sir, I shall endeavor to do my best,” I replied.

“I’m sure you will Watson,” The Detective said before continuing on. “The statement I would like you to consider is that just because you market on the Internet does not make you an Internet Marketer.’

“Just because you market on the Internet, does not make you an Internet Marketer. My first impression is that it is a contradiction, sir,” I said, giving my honest first impression.

“Just so, Watson, but think a little more on what that statement is saying,” The Detective urged me.

I furrowed my brow and turned the phrase over in my head before I felt a sudden flash of inspiration. “Wait! I think I see what you are saying. Just because say, a brick and mortar store that sells confections sends out an email occasionally to its customers and has a website, does not make them an Internet Marketer – they are not truly trying to make a living from selling on the Internet, yet they are using the Internet to market!”

“Precisely Watson.  Why do you think this distinction might be of some consequence in our dealings with small businesses?” asked The Detective.

I thought for a minute, but at last had to admit that I was stumped. “I am not sure sir, the distinction is plain once you give some thought to it, but I am not sure I see what use it is beyond that.”

“Ah, Watson, we need to work on your skills a bit yet. You are thinking merely of the words instead of the what the words imply,” The Detective began.

“Imply sir?” I interrupted.

“Hush Watson, let me continue. You see you are merely looking at a play on words, I am thinking what is involved to actually be one of these two marketers.

“The key here is the tools and methodologies. When I review my daily bombardment of emails from the various lists I am on, I tend to see some common threads. One common one is using a funnel. In Internet marketing the end destination of the funnel is almost always the sale. However, if I am a consultant, I may want my end destination to be a complimentary analysis. The focus on an end sale tends to distort how to make use of the tool.

“I find it interesting that so many jump on a particular Internet Marketing bandwagon, only to jump off when they realize the tool doesn’t fit their situation. The shame of it is that in many cases some minor tweaks to the process might actually yield the results they desire, but they don’t look beyond the seemingly broken promise of purchases that don’t require the hard work of actually speaking with a prospect.

“Alternatively, a brick and mortar store misses out on the opportunity to use email because they know for their market email doesn’t work well as a direct sales tool, but completely forget that the backbone of their business is the true rapport they develop with their customers; a rapport that cannot be replaced by email, but can be supplemented by it,” The Detective paused briefly, and I decided to get in my usual interjection.

“So you feel people need to be more creative in using the tools that are out there, rather than blindly following a guru, who uses the tool a certain way that works well for them,” I ventured.

“Very good Watson! The secret is to not try to be an Internet Marketer if your business is not suited to it – which is really moving into a new business area, but to use the Internet and the various tools and methodologies in a way that suits your marketing style and market. Look to the Internet Marketing  experts for interesting techniques, but beware following them exactly if it doesn’t fit your market. At the same time, don’t discount the methodology if you can tweak it to fit your needs,” The Detective concluded.

“Excellent sir, I take it we should move on then?” I asked, letting The Detective have the last word.

“Quite so Watson, quite so.”


Another Cart, Another Horse Before it

Confused businessman sitting on a solid rock with so many question.“Watson, what do you think the best marketing tactic for a business is?” The Effective Detective asked, as he turned away from his frost encrusted window.

“Sir? I think I am missing some data here,” I replied, feeling like I was being led into a trap.

“Excellent Watson! There is hope for you after all! Pray tell, what is the missing data?” The Detective exclaimed.

Well…” I started out slowly, watching The Detective’s face for indications that I was going in the wrong direction, “what kind of business are we talking about, sir?”

“A good start Watson! How can you possibly know what tactics to use if you don’t even know the business? Every Door Direct Mail would be a horrible choice for an online business, no? There is another piece of missing data though, is there not?” The Detective responded, almost gleefully.

” Even if you know the business, the market could easily vary, even within a certain business type,” I ventured.

“You’ve hit the nail on the head, Watson! Who the market is, where you can meet them, and how you can reach them, these are the true drivers of your marketing tactics. It sounds obvious and yet, how often have we seen people creating Facebook pages when their market doesn’t use Facebook, networking at events where neither their market, nor good referral sources are in attendance, and of course, sending out emails with content that has no appeal to the people they are sending to. It pains me to admit I’ve done the same occasionally,” The Detective ended with a sigh.

“I think this is a landmark day then sir, you, admitting a mistake?” I pushed gently.

“Careful Watson, of course I admit to my mistakes, since they are so few and far between, it does no harm, but back to the point at hand. We could end the discussion here since the point is so simple, but there is a bit of nuance to using mis-directed tactics,” The Detective responded, then gave me my usual lead to ask him to continue.

“OK sir, I’ll bite. How could you possibly make using the wrong tactic work to your advantage?” I asked.

“Ah Watson, the trick is in knowing what you don’t know,” The Detective began, “if you are certain of your market, then using the wrong tactic, simply because it is popular or cheap is simply bad business. But what if you aren’t sure of your market, or at least you aren’t sure where they are or how to reach them? Then, running small controlled tests with some of these tactics may actually help you identify where your marketing should be focused, and certainly where it should not.”

“Taking baby steps before you start running sir?”

“That is one metaphor Watson. Another one, although I despise sports metaphors, would be how a football team starts out a game with a few running plays, and a few passes to see where the defense might have a weakness, before committing their game to runs or passes, or risking the big play that could backfire on them.”

“An interesting concept, sir,” I said, not sure I was supposed to come up with a new metaphor or to just put the game to rest.

“The important thing is that you must analyze the results. As usual Watson, the clues are there, but you need to get and look at the data to find them. Now let’s get back to work shall we?” The Detective finished.

“As you wish, sir.”


too_much_data“Watson, do you remember our discussion regarding too much segmentation?” The Effective Detective started today’s discussion.

“Of course, sir. It is hard to forget any of our discussions,” I replied.

The Detective cast a sidelong glance my way, briefly trying to decide if I was being sarcastic, then deciding  he didn’t care, and continued.

“I have realized there is a similar issue that requires some examination,” The Detective began.

“Which would be?” I asked, encouraging him to continue.

“We all know we are all deluged with data on a daily basis, Watson. What we often don’t realize is that even when we narrow down the data points, we may not be, how shall I say this? narrowing it down correctly.”

“You mean we are looking at the wrong data, sir?” I asked, concerned.

“Not actually wrong as in incorrect, Watson, I would describe it more as data points that are distractions versus ones that take us closer to our destination,” The Detective assured me.

“I am afraid you have lost me, sir. Distractions? If the data is correct how could it be a distraction?” Now feeling a tad confused by the direction the conversation was taking.

“Elementary my dear Watson, even the simplest data analysis – is this good, is this bad? requires time. If you are looking at data that, while quite correct and accurate does not advance you toward your goal, it is a distraction. For example, obsessing over the number of hits your website gets, and ignoring if any of those hits sign up for your list  or buy products that you had for sale. Wondering how you can increase your Social Media Klout without checking to see if all of that Klout is resulting in sales,” The Detective took his characteristic pause, and I, seeing a chance, jumped in.

“Weapons of Mass Distraction, sir?”

The Detective rolled his eyes, but couldn’t hide the smile from turning up the corners of his mouth. “A bit of a cliché, but still accurate, Watson. There is actually nothing wrong with looking for hits, likes, or whatever, the issue becomes when you become distracted by them and lose sight of what the real goal is. You must look at any data in concert with your goals, for example,’ my hit rate is up but my sign ups are flat’, then you can consider issues with the copy, or perhaps you are simply getting hits from sources that are not in your market. The data only informs you when looked at together. By itself, some of this data truly is just a distraction,” The Detective finished and gave me that look that told me it was time to move on.

“Something we should all consider, sir.”

“Quite so, Watson, Quite so.”

Too Much Of a Good Thing

pie_chart“Do you know how to destroy the usefulness of a technique, Watson?” This time it was The Effective Detective who began our weekly discussion.

“By misusing it, sir?” I replied.

“Close, Watson. You are still, on occasion, quite vague. There are many ways to ‘misuse’ a technique. I am looking for one way in particular,” The Detective’s response came back with a barely disguised tone of irritation.

“Over use perhaps?” I ventured.

“Perfect Watson! Even if it was a guess,” The Detective shot me a sideways glance. “It is possible to fall into the trap of thinking that if a little of something gives me great results, than a lot of it will give me fantastic results,” The Detective paused briefly.

“Was there a particular technique you were thinking of sir?” I encouraged.

“Yes, Watson, thank you for asking. There is one technique that is often used to a point where the data it provides becomes meaningless. That one technique is segmentation,” The Detective paused uncharacteristically here; usually expounding a bit more on the subject before giving me an opening.  However, even with the limited amount of exposition from him, I had formed a question or perhaps a challenge.

“But sir, isn’t it important, in fact, critical, to have as much information as possible?” I asked.

“An excellent point Watson. That said, there are two dangers in overuse of segmentation.

“The first should be rather obvious. It is possible to segment your audience to such a point that the segments shrink down to a size that renders them unusable. Unless you have a high ticket item that you are marketing to a group that you intend to try to reach at a premium price, who you have a high confidence level of engaging with,  segmenting down to less than fifteen or twenty individuals is most likely not going to produce results equal to or greater than the labor and cost  involved in producing those results.

“The second, and perhaps less obvious, but still deadly, danger is segmenting into sections that will have no effect on your message. If the appropriate age for use if your product or service is anyone older than sixteen years old, dividing your audience into a standard set of age segments like 18-24, 25-34, 35-54, 55-64, 65+ will largely be a waste of time in terms of getting that information, and a colossal waste of time and energy in crafting multiple messages for the different groups,” The Detective took his more characteristic pause here, and my mind raced to come up with an observation or question.

“So one only needs to segment down to the level where the message will resonate most strongly!” I exclaimed in a sudden moment of clarity.

“Precisely, Watson! Well done.  A more specific age example would be  if your product or service is aimed at adults aged 35-64, then you shouldn’t care if they are 35-54 or, 55-64, that breakdown isn’t needed. A tad simplistic I admit, and age is certainly not the only demographic you could over-think,  but you see the point.”

“Indeed I do, sir. So the trick then is finding that balance between too little segmentation, and too much.” I responded.

“Quite, so. That however, is a discussion for another day.”

A Matter of Context

firstplaceI began today’s discussion with a simple, direct question to The Effective Detective.

“Sir, what is the best software to manage your list?”

The Detective studied me for a moment, and gave a simple, direct response.

“You are asking the wrong question, Watson.”

“What could be wrong about such a question, sir? It is a simple inquiry as to what to use to solve a problem,” I replied, perhaps a tad indignantly.

“Elementary my dear Watson. The question you ask lacks context, which makes it impossible to answer, hence it must be the wrong question,” The Detective replied; cryptically, in my estimation.

“Begging your pardon sir, but where is this lack of context? The question is quite specific,” I tried again.

“Yes, Watson, the question is quite specific, and it is the type of question that most people would ask when making an inquiry regarding software. In fact, it is the type of question that most people ask regarding any product or service – what is the best?

“Specificity aside, the question still lacks context,” the Detective stopped for his normal pause here. Unable to help myself, I gave him his opening.

“Just what would this missing context be, sir?:

“Now you are asking the correct type of question Watson!” The Detective exclaimed with a smile.

“The missing context is the answer to a simple question: What are you trying to accomplish?” The Detective stated, warming to the subject.

“You see Watson, without an answer to the ‘what are you trying to accomplish’ question, you could go chasing down any number of rabbit holes in an attempt to answer the original question. In a sales situation, it could result in buying something that simply does not answer your needs, or getting confused and not buying anything at all. Without context, an answer to the ‘what is the best’ question is just a random guess at your intentions.

“This is why I ignore software reviews. ‘The Best’ for one person is not necessarily the best and may even be the worst, for another. Reviews reward comprehensive feature lists that in the opinion of the review author match the needs of some mythical group called ‘most users’. How the membership of that group is determined is beyond me. Now if you knew that certain features were actually relevant to your usage of the product, then knowing whether the software implements those features effectively might be useful,” The Detective paused again, looking at me expectantly, perhaps hoping for an interjection. I decided to oblige.

“So the question isn’t really what is the best, but rather what fits my needs the best.”

“Precisely Watson!”

“But what if you are not sure what you need?” I asked.

“That Watson, is the trick, and is a discussion for another time,” The Detective said, closing out this discussion.

Do what you love or love what you do?


Image courtesy of Somchai Som / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“Tell me sir, are you truly doing what you love to do?” I started my conversation with The Effective Detective today.

The Detective paused before answering, then replied, “Watson, I must say you have developed a knack for starting out with extremely probing questions these days.”

“Thank you sir. Are you avoiding the question?” I said, pressing what I thought might be an advantage.

“Not at all, Watson, are you so paranoid these days that you cannot even accept a compliment?” The Detective asked in reply.

It was my turn to feel caught off-guard. “No sir, I just… well…”

“Ah, I seem to have rendered you speechless, Watson. While you struggle to regain your verbal skills, let me answer your question,” The Detective interjected,  with a smile that implied he had at least obtained a draw in our perpetual battle of wits, if not an outright win.

“The direct answer is no, but that answer needs a qualifier, so shall we say no, not quite,” The Detective continued.

“What I would truly love to do is continually lecture on a common problem: the inability of some business people to understand the data in front of them, not just sales and marketing data, but the personnel data they have as well. How the processes they use to manage their businesses, and  market and support their customers are not based in the reality of the data. None of which is really their fault, they are simply doing what has been done in the past, following the conventional wisdom as it were.

“However there are some difficulties in that, the first and foremost being that few want some smart aleck, even if he is a rather convincing detective, telling them something they don’t want to hear. Often, people don’t want to hear what they need to hear, they want to hear what to do next. So I needed to ah, revisit my ambitions and readjust my own attitudes to provide what people want, not what I think they needed,” The Detective paused, waiting for me to respond.

“In what ways did you readjust sir?” I asked, giving The Detective an opening to explain what frankly I found a tad confusing.

“Elementary, my dear Watson, I isolated the basic thing that gives me joy – solving a problem using a combination of analytical and creative techniques, and focused in on what I could see was a problem that lots of smaller businesses face and can recognize: the issue of taking massive amounts of data that pour into their businesses and their lives each day, sorting out the noise from the signal, and taking the appropriate action to bring in the lifeblood of all businesses – leads.”

“Poetic, sir,” I responded sincerely.

“Quite, Watson. I love what I do, I love the challenge, I love the mental exercise. It may not exactly be doing what I love, but it is certainly a variation on that, and it is something that the people I work with can understand and apply in their businesses,” again The Detective paused.

“It is doing art, as one of your favorite writers says, but how is that different from doing what you love?” I asked, still confused as to the difference.

“Ah, Watson, you’ve hit the heart of it, you see. Unless doing what you love actually answers the needs and wants of others, it will only answer your wants. But loving what you do, even if it is some hybrid of your true love, can answer the needs of those around you and not only feed your ego, but your pocketbook as well. After all, you aren’t of much use if you are homeless and starving,” The Detective concluded. His point made, we moved on to our next item of business.

Lions or Tigers or Both? Oh My!


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“May we start off with a discussion of tactics today sir?” I began, hoping to get some specific questions answered.

The Effective Detective raised one eyebrow – a sure sign I had caught him just a little off guard, before responding.

“If you desire Watson, and what specific tactic would you care to discuss?”

“Should a business advertise on Facebook™ or Google™?” I shot out the question quickly before The Detective changed his mind.

“A nice direct question Watson, and the answer is also quite direct,” started The Detective with that half-smile that made my stomach drop; it would seem I had walked into a trap. “The answer of course is one, the other, both, or neither,” The Detective finished with a smile.

“That is hardly a direct answer sir!” I loudly objected, knowing that I had already lost and the conversation would move along the direction The Detective wanted.

“It is as direct an answer as your question allows, Watson. You provide absolutely no context as to the nature of the product or service this hypothetical business that is placing the advertisement provides. No context as to their market. Indeed, I would assume from the very question, this company has given no thought at all to their market, and certainly not to their marketing,” The Detective said in response.

“Yet, it is a common question that deserves an answer,” I tried again gamely.

“Rubbish I say!” exclaimed The Detective, “Besides the rather sarcastic reply I gave there are only two other appropriate responses to that question.”


“The first: ‘Well that depends, what is your product or service, and how do you know that anyone on either of these platforms will be interested?’  The second: ‘If you are looking to do a test to determine whether there is a possible market for your product or service on at least one of these platforms, than do both, but be sure to limit your investment to fit your research budget.’

“There really are no other effective answers,” The Detective quietly finished.

“That is it?” I asked, for some reason expecting more.

“Wait, yes, there is one other reply. ‘If you haven’t done the research, or aren’t doing research, then advertise on neither.'”

“Another sarcastic one,” I noted.

“I’m sorry Watson, but those are the only responses I could possibly give. After all, I am not The Social Media Detective, I am The Effective Detective. Blindly plunging into the latest marketing trend like Social Media is a terrible mistake. You need to give it some thought, acquire and analyze the data before you spend a lot of time, and possibly money.”

“Always back to the data eh sir?” I responded.

“Quite so, Watson, quite so.”

Weapons of Mass Distraction


Image courtesy of thaikrit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Tools, Watson.”

“Tools, sir?” When The Effective Detective started a conversation with a declarative statement like that, it was always best to merely repeat the statement as a question and prepare for a lecture.

“Yes Watson, tools,” The Detective repeated, with a look that indicated he knew the purpose of my reply.

“I have been reflecting on the use of the vast collection of sales and marketing tools available to even the smallest marketer. Unfortunately, too many of our marketing brethren buy into the software mantra of ‘more features are better'”, The Detective said, with an almost wistful tone.

“What is the fault in that mantra, sir?” asking the question that I know would get the most, shall we say, enthusiastic response.

“The fault is obvious Watson!” The Detective responded vigorously, “Instead of choosing a piece of software based on what they are trying to accomplish, they go for the software with the most features that they can afford. The result would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.”

“And that result would be?” I asked, jumping into the breach.

“Why nothing of course, Watson! They end up doing nothing because they get utterly confused when assaulted by the process of using said features. At that time of course, we hear that this software or that doesn’t work, or that the process they are trying to automate is useless to their business, etcetera, etcetera. This is the cycle, almost without fail,” The Detective finished.

“Is there an alternative sir?” I asked, genuinely interested by now.

“Of course there is Watson, it isn’t as sexy and certainly not as easy as buying the most feature packed latest  and greatest version of software. It involves figuring out what exactly you are trying to do, rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by the shiny new thing. It involves thinking through things, to write the process flow down on a piece of paper so you can see exactly what is needed,rather than what a software manufacturer wants to sell you.

“In a nutshell Watson, if you can’t do it or at least flow it out by hand, then you certainly cannot automate it,” The Detective completed his thought.

“An interesting viewpoint from someone who has been involved in software for most of his life, sir,” I responded, egging him on for some reason. Luckily, The Detective’s reaction was more restrained that I expected.

“Not really Watson. I have spent a chunk of my life designing and writing software. I have seen projects succeed and I have seen many fail. I have watched innumerable users  do what I have just described. It is simply the obvious deduction of years of observations.”

“Ah. Well played sir,” I congratulated him.

“Quite so Watson.”

The Mystery of Big Data

Sometimes I feel as The Effective Detective’s virtual (literally) assistant, I am led by The Detective from one mystery straight into another.

“Watson, have you been reading the technical papers lately – in particular regarding the issue of ‘Big Data’?”  The Detective asked.

“Ah yes, there seems to be quite the fascination with it now.” I answered.

“As always Watson, most writers have missed the point, and while larger businesses might be able to afford to dally with all of the mumbo jumbo discussed, many small business people and entrepreneurs are being left out in the cold and are missing an amazing opportunity.” The Detective started, jabbing his pipe in my direction for emphasis.

“How so?” I asked, encouraging him on.

“Elementary, my dear Watson. As always, our friends in the technical press have over-complicated the issue. Perhaps to impress everyone with their knowledge of jargon, or perhaps to help their advertisers sell their extremely expensive analysis software and database systems.

“Data is data my dear Watson, whether it is the ocean that pours into the largest of businesses or the stream that flows quietly into a smaller enterprise. The primary issue is not discovering new and fancy ways to organize, store, and access it, although that can occasionally be useful,” he paused briefly, building my anticipation for the main point.

“The primary issue is understanding what it is you are trying to accomplish with your data be it ‘big’ or otherwise, of course! Collecting customer and sales data has one purpose: to help you make more sales. You need to choose the data that is most important for that goal, not what some consultant or writer has decided is a best practice.” The Detective shot out the last two words and made a face like he had eaten a lemon.

“If you know what you are trying to accomplish, a bloody spreadsheet may turn out to be a perfectly acceptable way to store and retrieve your data! The smaller enterprises need to forget about ‘Big Data’ and start thinking about ‘The Right Data’” he concluded.

“And how do they go about identifying this ‘Right Data’?” I queried.

“Ah, Watson, that is a mystery for another day. Brandy?” replied The Detective with a slight smile.