Category: Startup Marketing

The Difference Between Sales People and Marketers

It’s a well-known fact that both sales people and marketers are the worst-of-the-worst in the working world. I should know – I fit both of those descriptions.

During our morning ritual of discussing the day’s upcoming events, someone expressed frustration that what they’d read on a website in no way lived up to the reality of the product. Hmpf.

We inadvertently stumbled upon a subtle difference between sales & marketing types.

A sales person lies stretches the truth on a one-by-one basis.

The marketer lies stretches the truth to thousands at a time.

There are good people that work in sales & marketing. Most are well-intentioned. Some are shucktsters. And I use the word “lie” in jest. We don’t lie. You can trust us.

What a RIoT!

RIoT3bevlineThis post originally appeared on WRALTechWire.

DURHAM, N.C. – We held the third NC RIoT last night. That’s the North Carolina Regional Internet of Things meetup, co-hosted by the Wireless Research Center of NC and StepLeader. Over 200 hundred people packed into the swanky PNC Triangle Club at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Billed as the 2015 IoT Kickoff Extravaganza, the festivities included 11 companies displaying their hands-on Internet of Things (IoT) products, five speakers, and a giant, portable 106’ radio tower, welcoming attendees as they entered the ballpark.

The background of who attends a RIoT falls into two broad categories. The people that have been working the space for years, and those that are getting started and eager to learn more, with a common connection between both groups. There’s a palpable sense and a shared belief that we’re at the very beginning of something important. That sentiment held true across the RTP based companies, as well as the teams traveling from Charlotte and Smithfield.

The evening began with presentations by Thingovation and Advanced Compliance Solutions covering a high-level overview of the IoT market and it’s opportunities and challenges. Companies Bright Wolf and MiPayWay shared their own case-study of moving from idea to product to market with the help of the local startup and IoT communities. I finished off the formal pitches with “The State of IoT in NC”, sharing the past, present, and future of what’s happening here in our state. The presentations are available for download at

As an organizer, the most exciting part of the event was quietly witnessing so many “aha” moments throughout the night. People swarmed the demo tables to see, touch, and feel IoT in action. They saw inventory tracking solutions from Entigral Systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones) by PrecisionHawk, connected medical devices from K4Connect and PharmAssist. They experienced behind-the-scenes peeks at the hardware and software powering the technology from Telit, Connected Development, Device Solutions, Logical Advantage, and many more. They unabashedly asked for introductions to companies and individuals they wanted to meet. They had a “light bulb” moment realizing that this is a growing community of over 500 people and over 150 companies in our state.

At the end of the evening we tasked the audience to “start something”. The consensus is that we are starting something and indeed after the same goal: to help each other make our state a global hub for IoT innovation. That’s no simple task, but we’re on the way. Let’s see what we’ve started and what all these like-minded members of the RIoT community will start.

Nothing To Add? Stop Talking.

stoptalkingLet’s file this under completely random unsolicited conference call advice…

If your colleague just finished a thorough explanation, and out of courtesy turns to you and asks “Do you have anything else to add?”, and you respond “No”, what should you do?

The obvious answer is to stop talking.

What I find myself guilty of, and what occurs on almost every conference call ever, is that a “No” response is typically followed by repeating everything already said, and wasting everyone’s time to hear oneself speak.

If, and only if, you have something so INCREDIBLY valuable to add that it will completely change the course of discussion for the better, should you say “Yes” and then share your opinion.

As we approach the end of 2014, I realize I’m becoming I am a communication snob.  It’s a challenge to myself as a person and as a marketer: In how few words can I convey the most meaning? Less is more.

Malsurement: Measuring The Wrong Thing

measurement-by-seamstressMusic industry pontificator Bob Lefsetz highlights how incredibly easy it is to be lured in to measuring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

The quick summary:  Billboard, the company that lets you know Katy Perry is again at #1 in the charts, recently announced plans to include downloads and streams when calculating the Top 200 tracks.  Sounds great, right?

Here’s where we learn about measuring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Part of Billboard’s new calculation is an attempt to squeeze the new into the old: Ten downloads of a track equal one album purchase.  When was the last time you purchased an album, let alone a physical CD?

Lefsetz captures the essence of this mistake. In an online world, streaming equals listening equals the right thing to measure…

“The only thing that counts is listens. Sales are irrelevant. Especially of albums…”

“But the whole [music] industry is based on albums so they don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater…”

“Do you see Netflix telling us how many views equal one DVD? Come on.”

Yikes.  He’s right.  I work in mobile today, which suffers from malsurement (that’s bad measurement) everyday.  Almost every data point measured in mobile is measured because that’s the way it’s always been done on your desktop website.

Best example: click-through rates.  You see an ad, you click on it.  This breaks down so fast on mobile, it’s just outrageous. Somewhere between 30-50% of all clicks are accidental, because you’ve got fat fingers, or you’re two martinis deep while checking tomorrow’s forecast.

Easy fix. Have everyone in the entire global ecosystem of mobile adopt better metrics.  Dammit.  That ain’t gonna happen, at least this decade.  Billions of dollars, millions of ad campaigns, and thousands of sales pitches all hinge upon click-through rates.

My point, if I have one, is that marketers, product managers, sales people, and the big bosses at companies large and small all struggle to measure the right data for the right reasons.

Measuring the right thing for the right reasons sometimes isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be.

But you should still try.


Startup Hats From The Trenches

HatsEntrepreneur David Gardner recently published a book on the many hats that startup founders must wear.  Exit Event is posting excerpts from his book,  and they’re worth the read if you’re considering starting a company or in the midst of being a founder.

But what if you’re not the CEO? What if you’re #2 or #3?  What about the various hats you’ll need to wear?  Here’s a few that I wear:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Account Management
  • Interviewing new hires
  • Customer Service
  • Systems Administrator (yikes!)
  • Project Manager
  • Product Manager
  • 3-6-9-12 Month Planning

This is a very tactical list, which differs from the business founder who is thinking about fundraising, team building, partnerships, and board management.

More important than listing any of these items out is the underlying message to any one considering working at a startup.

  • This is your reality.  You can’t be a specialist.  That’s good news for us Expert Generalists.
  • Embrace the uncertainty that comes along with doing jobs you have little experience doing.  That part takes mettle and moxie.
  • Believe in your company, market, team and product to know that you won’t have to perform these tasks for eternity.  You’ll grow the company and get help.
  • You will have fun and you will learn.  You’re forced to pick up new skills, and despite the short-term angst and stress the learning curve may cause, it is fun.

Asking For Permission Vs. Posing

IoTfridgeWe’re one week away from the second RIoT Meetup. The Raleigh Internet of Things group casts a wide net to anyone working in, interested in, or hoping to be in the business of getting inanimate objects on speaking terms with each other.

The group grew in size and scope since our first event in June 2014.  With help from my pal Larry at the Wireless Research Center of NC, we’ve added sponsors, new speakers, and upgraded the venue to the swanky and boisterous HQ Raleigh.

In late May, our company was dabbling with beacons, little devices that can wake up an app on your phone and (in theory) add value to your life. I saw a West Coast IoT meetup scheduled, and in a rash move, decided to schedule our own Research Triangle Park version of that.

Here’s where I struggle.

  • I work in mobile, about as bleeding edge for tech as you can get, but not involved in the day-to-day of IoT.
  • Many RIoTers have been in IoT for a decade. I’m a newcomer.
  • I’m leading a Meetup where I have little industry expertise.

On one level it feels like posing, pretending to be something you’re not. My post here is a half-assed attempt to acknowledge this shortcoming.

On a different level, who gives a shit? No one needs permission to start a company, start a band, start a Meetup, start a church, start a new product, or do something creative.

Okay, I feel better now.

The Chapel Hill Police Know Social

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.54.23 PMThis post originally ran on, and lives here, too.

The entrance to my neighborhood sits atop one of the many large hills in Chapel Hill.  As you crest the hill, there’s a good chance you’ll see a squad car perched at the intersection. It points out to Highway 54, with the radar gun leveled across the window sill.  And if you follow @ChapelHillPD on Twitter, you already know to slow down.

That’s right, the Chapel Hill Police Department frequently, but not always, tweets out when and where they’ll be enforcing the speed limit.

Sgt. Walker
Sgt. Walker

To figure out why the CHPD might do something so awesome yet so unconventional, I sat down with Sgt. Bryan Walker, who manages their social media presence. As I planned for the interview, I realized that this was the first interview with a police officer where I’ve been asking the questions.  How the times have changed.

Within minutes of our conversation, Sgt. Walker starts dropping lesson after lesson on marketing.  All of us tech-savvy, startup prima donna, self-proclaimed “gurus” were getting schooled.

Here’s what we can learn from the Chapel Hill Police Department about social media and marketing.

Go Against The Grain
Public offices and officials historically see little value in marketing and branding themselves.  Why should they? There’s no immediate, visible incentive.  The Chapel Hill PD felt compelled to go against the grain.  They wanted community outreach, new audiences otherwise untapped by law enforcement, and positive ways to engage the town’s residents. Think about it…most interactions with the police usually aren’t positive.  Going against “conventional wisdom” allows them to reach thousands of people a day and noticeably stand out.

Get Buy In
Both the town and police department leadership support social media to re-shape the town’s image.  This is no accident.  While the town may be considered “progressive” by some (go ahead, insert your favorite Chapel Hill joke here), Sgt. Walker built buy-in initially, and repeatedly over time.  Buy-in means better chance of success.

Chart your own destiny
No one grants you permission to come up with new ideas.  You only need permission from yourself.  Sgt. Walker wrote the job description for which he ultimately was promoted in to.  This is a fantastic strategy.  If you want something from someone else, tell them everything you’re going to do to help them, instead of asking for a handout.


Don’t feel compelled to build every new concept and creative idea from scratch. Emulate your peers whom you admire.  Prior to launching their social media strategy, The Chapel Hill PD discussed at length what attitude they wanted to convey.  Admiring how Seattle’s police force uses social media, they borrowed their helpful yet playful style.  What style?  At a 2013 marijuana rally, Seattle’s finest gave away bags of Doritos adorned with “you might be hungry” stickers explaining the new rules about legalization, while tweeting out #OperationOrangeFingers. Genius!

Master 1-2 Channels First
Every month, a new social media channel springs up.  Marketers have a temptation to do them all, spreading too little peanut butter over too much bread.  The CHPD focuses on two channels:  Facebook & Twitter.  They realize they still have enormous potential with just these two.  They’re going to go deep instead of going wide.  Smart.

Find Audiences In New Places
Twitter & Facebook allow them to reach audiences they never have before.  The few conversations I’ve had with police are usually in-person.  Now they reach me, and thousands of residents, every day with positive, helpful, and valuable messages. Twitter becomes their primary vehicle to reach the college crowd, with Facebook leaning towards longer-term residents.  As a marketer, where are new places to find your audience?

Massage the Message By Channel
All marketers know this, but not everyone does it, including myself.  Treat different platforms, and their audiences, differently, because they expect different content. Twitter is the department’s medium for instant, real-time updates like traffic accidents, breaking news, speed enforcement.  They use Facebook to tell deeper, richer narratives.

Include Your Personality
The CHPD likes Seattle’s approach because it humanizes the department.  It shows that they do indeed have personality, a sense of humor, and are regular people.  Is it all personality all the time?  No.  It’s just the right amount. I love bringing this concept to marketing as well.  Your marketing should include your personality, just not all of it.

Tell The Story You Want to Tell
Social media allows anyone to be a media company, no longer dependent upon others to spread your message.  This is incredibly helpful for police departments, who sometimes find themselves in the media because of a giant shit storm.  Now, they get to tell their own story.

Stepping back from marketing, this is an incredibly valuable lesson for startup founders. It’s easy to focus on the insanely challenging parts of your business and whine about that to anyone within ear shot. I complained, a lot, when my first company was melting down.  In reality, the startup experience remains a life changing event for me, which is a better story and much more enjoyable to share.

Remember the True Goal
Sgt. Walker initially received push back on tweeting out the location of speed enforcement. On the surface, it seems contradictory.  Isn’t the goal to catch speeders?  Nay.  The true goal of tweeting speed enforcement locations is to improve the safety of driving through our town. If a few hundred people slow down as a result of a tweet, mission abso-freaking-lutely accomplished.

The ultimate goal for Sgt. Walker? Reach people.  The most effective policing of a community comes from a partnership with it. That’s what every company is after also; a partnership with their customers.

There you have it…ten lessons any marketer or startup founder can learn from the Chapel Hill Police Department.

The Startup Marketer’s Tool Stack

Over a pint of Boylan Bridge Brewpub beer, Jonathan Stephens shared an idea for a new post.  He’s my former business partner, but now does something important for Republic Wireless.  At least that’s what he tells me.

Jonathan politely observed that The Expert Generalist’s audience needs a go-to resource for the types of startup marketing tools available, and examples of each.

toolboxAround here we call that list of tools a “tool stack”, which is fun to say.  Kind of like the word “sconce”.  Or “taco” or “booyah”.  They roll off the tongue nicely.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us remember that marketing begins with a great product.  Many of the tools below help with the outer circles in the “Circles of Marketing“.  If your product stinks, no fancy-pants tool will overcome that.

Here’s my list of best marketing tools for a startup, based exclusively on my own experiences, hearsay, and conjecture, and slanted towards B2B marketing.  If you’ve got other suggestions, comment or email me, and you’ll get an e-booyah in return.

Click on any header to sort.

The Startup Marketer's Tool Stack

AnalyticsGoogle AnalyticsYou can only improve what you measure. NowFree
AnalyticsMixPanelThey allow you to get absolutely freaky with your data.Established product-to-market fit accompanied with healthy budget.Multiple price plans from ~$0/mo up to $2,000/mo.
Customer Relationship ManagementSalesforceYou've outgrown Excel and have more than 500 prospects or customers.Early product and small budget. Multiple price plans for $5/mo per user up to $300/mo per user.
Customer Relationship ManagementuservoiceThey provide fantastic tools to gather product feedback and manage customer support ticketsNow$0/mo to $95/mo per user
Customer Relationship ManagementExcelIt's cheap, easy, and does the job. Until it doesn't.NowFree, if pre-installed on your computer.
Email MarketingBrontoBronto is the dino-fied king of ecommerce email marketing. Own your relationship with your customers.Established product-to-market fit accompanied with healthy budget.If you have to ask, you can't afford it.
Email MarketingMailChimpEmail marketing remains the best way to own your relationship with customers.NowFree to paid plans
Event HostingEventBriteA simple way to keep track of who attends any event you hostNowFree to paid plans
Event HostingMeetUpA fantastic way to build community by finding like-minded professionals in your area.NowAffordable monthly paid plans
Marketing AutomationMarketo / Hubspot / PardotReduces the noise of by ranking hundreds of in-bound leads, allowing your team to focus on & nurture the leads that matter most. Established product-to-market fit accompanied with healthy budget.Multiple price points ranging from free trials to thousands per month.
Office ToolsGoogle Apps For BusinessIt's dirt cheap and provides excellent email functionality with basic docs, spreadsheets, presentations, and forms [surveys].Now$5/mo per user. Best deal in town.
Office ToolsAdobe IllustratorCreate PDFs and sales collateral. Requires learning. Otherwise use PPT.Early product and small budget.$30/mo through Adobe Creative Cloud.
Paid AdvertismentsTwitterCrazy, ridiculous targeting capabilities to reach exactly the audience you desire.Early product and small budget. Priced on a per campaign basis.
Paid AdvertismentsFacebookCrazy, ridiculous targeting capabilities to reach exactly the audience you desire.Early product and small budget. Priced on a per campaign basis.
Paid AdvertismentsLinkedInCrazy, ridiculous targeting capabilities to reach exactly the audience you desire.Early product and small budget. Priced on a per campaign basis.
PodcastsGarageBand by MacEasily create podcasts about your industry or your customer's industry to drive more brand awareness and leadsNowFree if you've got a Mac. My apologies for lacking a PC solution.
PresentationsPower PointA simple way to present your ideas to customers, prospects, investors, family, pets.NowFree if you've got MS Office
PresentationsPreziVery cool animated presentation tool, but takes a little getting used to.NowFree to $5 to $13/mo
Press ReleasesPRWebIf you feel like a press release will add value, use PRWeb.Only when you have something truly worth saying.$200-400 per release
Project ManagementGoogle DocsEasy collaboration by using their docs or spreadsheetsNow$5/mo per user. Best deal in town.
Project ManagementBasecampYou've got multiple projects going and need a more sophisticated tool to track them.Early product and small budget. Starts at $20/mo.
Screen Sharing & Conference CallsFree Conference CallJoin multiple people together on the phoneNowFree
Screen Sharing & Conference CallsGoTo MeetingRock-solid reliability for screen sharing your PPT or Prezi.Early product and small budget. Free Trial. ~$20/mo.
Screen Sharing & Conference CallsJoin.meThe best free screen sharing and conference call tool around now.NowFree
Screen Sharing & Conference CallsGoogle HangoutsShare screens and see each other in person. Great for remote employees.NowFree
Social Media ManagementHootSuiteMakes sense out of Twitter's various feeds and streamsNowFree for a single user. ~$10/mo for additional users.
SurveysSurveyMonkeyGain quick feedback from customers, end users, and prospects to make better marketing and product decisions.NowFree to affordable tiered pricing plans.
SurveysGoogle FormsGain quick feedback from customers, end users, and prospects to make better marketing and product decisions.NowPart of the Google Business suite, which is $5/mo per user.
Website ManagementWPEngine.comTo run a site and host, you need hosting engine.NowStarts at ~$30/mo
Website ManagementWordpress.orgIntegrated in to everything, and thousands of plugins.NowFree

Spreading The Word About Your Survey

Screaming loudly is one way to spread the word

With your survey data looking sharp, you’re ready to spread the word about it.  I prefer starting the “spread” by presenting a webinar of the results. A webinar brings you a captive audience for 30-45 minutes. There’s a whole series on how to do webinars starting here.

You’ve got two primary ways to drive registration for your webinar.

  1. Pay to advertise it
  2. Promote it yourself for free

For the startups that have marketing budget, test a few paid approaches.  These are listed in order from cheapest to most expensive.

  • Purchase small campaigns on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook targeted directly to your audience.  Target by title, company, location, and whatever else works. You set the budget here.  Start with a minimum of $100.  Expand them if they generate lots of registrations.  Kill them if they don’t.
  • Purchase advertisements on online industry publications.  This can range from $500 to $10,000 depending upon which sites you’re purchasing it from. This approach worked well for me in the past.
  • Hire a PR firm specific to your industry.  These folks ain’t cheap, but the good ones have established industry relationships nurtured over years.  They can get you and your data published in more places more quickly than you can.

Don’t have budget to promote your webinar?  Try these ideas.

  • Take each topic or main point from the survey and write a blog post about it.  This should give you 10-30 blog posts and fill your marketing calendar with great, sharable content for 2-6 weeks, depending upon the how frequent you post.  Use this promote webinar registrations.
  • Build a schedule of tweets and LinkedIn posts sharing valuable data nuggets from the webinar.  Link to the webinar’s registration page.
  • Email your existing customers notifying them of the webinar. I schedule a series of at least three emails spaced over a few weeks.
  • Email your prospects.
  • Email your advisors, mentors, investors.  Ask them politely to share with people who will find the content valuable.  Make it easy for them.  Ghost-write the email you’re asking them to send to their people.
  • Do the PR yourself.  Huh?

Months in advance of any “ask” for PR, track the names of journalists writing about similar topics.  Comment on their articles.  Add value to the discussion at least 5 times per author.  Now that you’ve got something valuable to share in return, your past history with them serves as a reference point. This doesn’t guarantee, but greatly increases the likelihood they’ll write about your data, or publish your own analysis of the findings.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.43.56 AM

After the webinar, shift the focus to promoting the whitepaper.  The same techniques described above work just as well for driving downloads of the whitepaper.

You’re also armed with fantastic content to submit to conferences for speaking engagements.

In a round-about way, this is how I got to be on TV [sort of] to discuss our findings.  A customer referral to an industry organization six months ago led to presenting our survey data to an audience of 800 potential customers via a live broadcast.  Not too shabby.

We’ve reached the end of this series on how startups use surveys for content marketing, and it’s time to move on. Next up, let’s dig in to the “tool stack” available to startup marketers.  FYI – “Tool stack” sounds cooler than it really is.



Marketing Double Whammy – Guest Post & Meetup

This post originally appeared on, the southeast’s startup focused news site.  I’m including it here and sharing as “startup marketing” for two reasons.

  1. This guest post serves as an example of building relationships ahead of time with publications to spread the word about your updates.
  2. We’re hosting an event that provides no direct sales & revenue benefit to StepLeader. Instead, we’re hoping to build a community that can learn from and support each other in a very new industry. In Seth Godin’s “circles of marketing“, building a tribe and your story becomes a key component of startup marketing.



Internet of Things Enthusiasts Unite & RIoT

I’m incredibly lucky to work at a company that isn’t afraid to try new things. Ever sinceStepLeader started building apps for the old school clamshell phones back in 2004, we experimented with new mobile tech.

The drive behind this experimentation is a belief that mobile should be easy, relevant and incredibly personal. Isn’t that the promised-land of mobile? The computer in your pocket, on your wrist, or stuck on your face gives you exactly what you need, when you need it most. Right?

We’re not there yet. Nobody is.

The easy + relevant + personal equation is ridiculously hard to solve. Here are a few paths one might take to begin solving it:

*Serve personalized content based upon past behavior and location by collecting, storing and analyzing a shit-ton of data.

*Wear your mobile device to gather information about you and your physical surroundings.

*Make the offline world more digitally connected to the online and mobile world.

This last bullet is where our latest round of experimentation begins—using beacon technology (StepLeader’s test gadget pictured above). Apple branded its approach to this as iBeacon. iKid you not.

The concept is simple. Stick a little bluetooth low energy [BLE] device—or beacon—on something. It broadcasts a signal. Your phone receives that signal, and through an app, tells your phone to do something.

Here are a few examples to illustrate the concept:

Walk into a grocery store and the store’s app loads your pre-built list. It tells you the fastest route to grab your milk, bread, Tostitos and Dale’s Pale Ale.

Visit a new home for sale and receive expanded information beyond the single-page, printed brochure.

Stroll through an MLB park and receive additional information about the team, special offers and stadium history.

One way to think about it: beacons assign physical locations their own URL, thus bridging the offline and the online.

Immediately after we began researching this topic, we noticed a growing community of like-minded individuals exploring the “Internet of Things”.

Wikipedia does a nice job of explaining that term’s past, present and future. My simple description is that IoT gives physical objects an Internet connection. Large companies, small ones, startups, ourselves and academia are all getting their hands dirty here. Bringing everyone together can only be good.

To accomplish that, we’ll be hosting the first Raleigh Internet of Things Meetup, which shrinks down nicely to RIoT. We’ll look to share with and learn from others in this space, to build a community of people who are cozy sitting on the bleeding edge of technology, and to continue establishing this area as a thought-leader in the tech world.

The first Meetup takes place at StepLeader’s downtown Raleigh office Wednesday, June 4th at 6pm. Official details are here.

Aside from being the best buzzword since “Big Data”, the “Internet of Things” represents a new wave of innovation, opportunity and entrepreneurship. There’s no better time than right now to start exploring.

Join us.