Career

4 Steps to Successful Vendor Management

A good vendor can be a Godsend.  A bad vendor can ruin your life.  But never fear, there are some easy ways to select and maintain a vendor.

Image result for designer cartoonKnow Where to Find Professionals

Finding professional vendors in the first place can be tough.  I highly recommend www.thumbtack.com for finding new vendors.  You simply submit your project requirements, deadlines and budget.  You pay nothing to submit a project.  Then, within minutes, vendors are responding with proposals and pricing.  There is no commitment to hire anyone.  You can read reviews, see their portfolio and ask follow up questions.

I have used this to hire bands for parties, caterers for grand openings and photographers in cities I can’t visit.  Highly recommend it.

Ask to See Their Portfolio

Most vendors worth their salt will show you their portfolio off the bat.  If they hesitate, move on.  Nothing to see here.  They’re not ready to be in the big leagues and you can’t afford to take that type of gamble.

Vendors that will likely have some sort of portfolio of work to share include:

  • Freelance writers
  • Graphic designers
  • Giveaway manufacturers
  • Printers
  • Developers
  • Photographers
  • Anyone who calls themselves a “marketer”

Be critical when reviewing portfolios.  Don’t just accept good as good enough.  Think carefully about what you need and can afford.  If $10 more an hour gets you 10x the qualify, pay it.

Make It Obvious Why Professionals are Worth the Investment

It is not uncommon to start at a job that is not used to paying for vendors at all.  They expect to do everything in-house.  You may have to start off by doing a lot yourself.  But once you’ve proven that out, I recommend calling your favorite photographer, graphic designer, developer – whomever – and ask them to do a trial project for you.  You do your version, they do their’s.

Here’s an example of when I’ve done this myself.  Guess which one was professionally done.  I rarely have to explain the value of vendors anymore.

Professional Comparison

Keep Your Friends Close and a Good Vendor Closer

Eventually you’re going to start a new job.  Established marketers usually have a stable of vendors they prefer to work with.  Why?  They’ve cultivated those relationships carefully over many years that are built on trust, mutual admiration, and consistency.

Image result for designer cartoonIf you find a vendor that you work well with, fits your budget and does consistently strong work, keep them.

But it goes both ways.  I know you’re paying for their time, but a professional relationship goes far beyond money.  If it were just about the money your boss could scream at you any time they liked.  But they can’t if they want you to continue to show up to work.

The key is to treat your vendors like coworkers.  Don’t be afraid to assign work, but don’t jerk about it.  Have clear deadlines and expectations and then say thank you when they’re done.  Did they go above and beyond at the last minute while on their family vacation?  A hand-written thank you note or a $5 Starbucks gift card could go a long way to preserving the professional relationship.

Another way to preserve a strong working relationship is establishing a “scratch my back” agreement.  Ask them if you could create some sort of referral credit.  If you refer new clients to them, you get a little discount in your next bill.  Everybody wins.

3 Metrics Every B2B Marketer Should Know

Razzled-but-not-dazzled“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science.”
– Sr. William Thomas, Lord Kelvin

The number one thing that has set me apart from other marketers throughout my career is my ability, and willingness, to do math.  It is not enough to make things look pretty or budget for events.  You must be able to express very clear and useful metrics that drive a business forward.  Here are 3 that I believe every marketer should know off the top of their head if ever asked.

ROI: Return on Investment

ROI

This is the basic of the basic.  You should be able to rattle off exactly what your ROI is for major initiatives and for your year overall.  Although we all know this is very basic, most marketers don’t actually bother to calculate it or share it.

If you have a negative ROI it could lead to negative consequences.  However, if you can get ahead of the question, report your negative ROI, and outline causes for this you will, most likely, be viewed as a professional in the eyes of your management.  Entry level marketers hide bad metrics.  Professionals address them head on.

Equity Value Creation

This equation literally tells the business how much more valuable you’ve made it.  Not how much money you’ve made it, but how much you’ve increased the company’s value.

This is a tough concept for many marketers.  We focus on the bottom line and how much deals are worth.  But how much is the company worth?  If you CEO decided to put the company on the market, how much more valuable have you made it?

This is a critical metric for marketers for two reasons:

  1. You’re communicating how your influenced deals affect the attractiveness of the company directly
  2. You’re communicating how your more fluffy work, like brand awareness and sales enablement, are contributing to the overall value of the company – if not the quarterly sales directly.

Equity Value Creation Formula

Let’s break this down:

  • Monthly Revenue – look at how much your influenced deals bill on a monthly basis.  If you’re measuring something like “brand awareness” look at your monthly revenue a year ago and compare it to now.  Calculate the difference.
  • Expense Ratio – What percentage of your revenue goes to cover expenses?  If you don’t know, a good estimate is 50-60%.  Expenses cover keeping the lights on, employees’ salaries, paying contractors, etc.
  • Multiplier – A multiplier tells a potential buyer of your company how much more than your annual profits they need to purchase you.  This one is tricky.  If your company is not publicaly traded, you likely don’t know what your multiplier is.

    Here are a few good rules of thumb I got from BusinessTown:

    • An extremely well-established and steady business with a rock-solid market position, whose continued earnings will not be dependent upon a strong management team:
      a multiple of 8 to 10.
    • An established business with a good market position, with some competitive pressures and some swings in earnings, requiring continual management attention:
      a multiple of 5 to 7.
    • An established business with no significant competitive advantages, stiff competition, few hard assets, and heavy dependency upon management’s skills for success:
      a multiple of 2 to 4.
    • A small, personal service business where the new owner will be the only, or one of the only, professional service providers:
a multiple of 1.

Essentially this equation takes your Annual Profits x your company’s multiplier and generates the value of the company if someone wanted to buy it.  You can use this to communicate how much more valuable your company is now that marketing is doing x, y or z.

NPV: Net Present Value

“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”

A dollar today is worth more than a dollar you make a year from now.  Marketers often report metrics based on the total value of a deal, which makes sense.  But to take your marketing game to the next level, start reporting on NPV instead.  Net Present Value is how much the deal is worth today.  For B2B marketers we often deal with more expensive, longer term solutions.   It could be years before our company realizes the actual full revenue from a sale.  By calculating your ROIs with NPV instead of total deal you’re indicating to your leadership that you understand the deal loses value the longer it lasts.  It shows you’re a professional.

Here is the actual equation:

Image result for npv formula

But only college students do it that way.  If your CRM doesn’t already calculate NPV for you, here’s a website that will do it for you.  There is an equation to calculate your discount rate, but here’s a cheat I found online for all our sanity:

  • 10% for public companies
  • 15% for private companies that are scaling predictably (say above $10m in ARR, and growing greater than 40% year on year)
  • 20% for private companies that have not yet reached scale and predictable growth

That being said, most CRMs can do it for you.  Just customize your opportunity page to include the field.

Women in Technology and Identifying Sponsors

I am planning for my upcoming quarter – as I tend to do.  While looking at events coming up next quarter that I want my product group involved in, I came across the Colorado Technology Association’s annual Women in Technology Conference.

My company, Zayo Group, is extremely involved with the Colorado Technology Association and is a proud sponsor of this conference.  I had the pleasure of attending this conference last year, with Zayo, and was blown away by the inspiring and incredible women I met there.

Speakers last year included the CFO of Comcast, VP of Analytics & Data Products at Ibotta, and VP of Risk Management & Managed Cloud Services at Oracle – among many others.  All of the speakers were incredible women who blew straight through the glass ceiling and are killing it in traditionally male fields.

This, of course, makes me think about marketing – which continues to leverage science more and more each year.  Marketing is largely even when it comes to gender ratios – which is really special.  I know I am fortunate to work in a field where my gender isn’t an issue at a company that values women’s contributions.  This is not always the case.

I wanted to share one of the takeaways from last year’s conference that stuck out to me, as many of you may not be as fortunate as I.

There is a difference between a mentor and a sponsor.

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, once said, “There’s a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.”

There was a small panel discussion at this event that looked at exactly what the difference is between a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor helps you along with advise and direction.  A sponsor pulls you up with them.  They help uncover opportunities for you to move up into.

While doing some research on this subject I stumbled upon a New York Times article on the very subject.  Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation in Manhattan and author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor writes, “To get ahead, women need to acquire a sponsor – a powerfully positioned companion – to help them escape the “marzipan layer,” that sticky middle slice of management where so many driven and talented women languish.”

She continues,

“Our two-year study, which sampled some 12,000 men and women in white-collar occupations across the United States and Britain, shows how sponsorship, unlike mentorship… makes a measurable difference in career progress… A sponsor can lean in on a woman’s behalf, apprising others of her exceptional performance and keeping her on the fast track.  With such a person – male or female – in her corner, our data shows, a woman is more likely to ask for a big opportunity, to seek a raise and to be satisfied with her rate of advancement.”

Hewlett does caution that sponsorship is a two-way street.  If someone’s going to stick their neck out for you, you’ve got to deliver fully every time.  You have to make them look good.  Otherwise you tarnish your brand and theirs.

At the conference, our table’s “luminary”, Roberta Robinette President — AT&T Colorado, lead a discussion about what the panel covered and stated that all of the sponsors in her career have been men – never women.    I think she had a point.  The only true sponsor I have ever had was a former male vice president.  That’s it.

How often are we really building each other up?  Not just emotionally, but professionally?  Rather than fighting to be the only woman at the table, why don’t we fight together?  It just seems a lot more productive if you ask me.

3 Ways to Dominate a Department of 1

Image result for stranded on an islandMarketers often find themselves on an island.  No, I don’t mean wonderful President’s Club trips (we’re never invited to those).  I mean working alone.  This is one of those skillsets we just have to master.  But we’re not alone.  A ton of B2B roles find themselves alone, especially in smaller companies.  Field sales, HR, accounting, legal – they can all be stranded on an island, expected to do the work of 12 people with the accuracy of IBM’s Watson.

But the big question is how do you do that?

This post is not about how to get your boss to hire more people or how to lower expectations.  It’s about truly dominating your field – all by yourself.

Image result for marketing plan funny1: Make a Plan

If you’re going to be stranded on an island, you should probably start making a list of what you need to do.

  1. Build a shelter
  2. Find food
  3. Figure out how to make fire…

You get the point.

In work it’s no different.  For marketing, that plan is fairly straight forward.  Their called “marketing plans” and you spent 4 years in college doing nothing but preparing for them.  In large organizations marketing plans are usually a luxury.  They are time consuming, cumbersome, and the only people who care about them are the people on your team.  Many small or medium B2B companies will tell you they are a waste of time too, but don’t listen.  When you are doing everything on your own, your marketing plan is your saving grace.

A well crafted marketing plan can do many things.

  • Create buy-in from executives on time spent, budget, priorities, etc
  • Define where you want to focus your efforts
  • Show exactly how big an undertaking many campaigns can be
  • Document your value to the company

It doesn’t have to be the massive business document you designed in school.  When you’re a department of one, you can skip a lot of the pageantry and get straight to the point.  Here is the outline I use:

  • What I accomplished last quarter/year.
  • My goals for next quarter/year.
  • Marketing Mix
  • Budget
  • Calendar

I don’t need to go through SWOT or Competitive Analysis.  I can just speak to those when asked.  The only people who ever read those are marketing anyway.  I dare you to find a small business executive who wants to read marketing’s SWOT analysis.  Go on, I’ll wait.

The other thing I highly recommend is writing them on a quarterly basis.  Business moves too fast for an annual marketing plan.  It normally takes about 3 months to throw them out anyway.  Do them in 3-6 month increments and they’ll be much more useful.

2: You are the expert – Act like it.

Image result for expert funnyIf you are running a department by yourself, it is your job to execute.  No one wants to babysit you and no one has the skill set to help.  You are the expert – act like it.

This is one of the reasons I love my quarterly plans so much.  I can take the time to think through what I want to do and why, rather than being put on the spot every 30 seconds when someone has a question.  Planning breeds confidence, which breeds trust.

Pro-Tip: Ultimately the trust of those around you enables you to dominate a department of one.  If they don’t trust you, you cannot lead.

Keep one thing in mind.  Experts don’t know everything.  They just know more than everyone else in the room.  I am not the world’s foremost expert on marketing.  But I am the expert on my team.  And if I don’t know an answer, my expertise tells me how to find it.  And 99% of the time, that’s good enough.

3: Know Your Limits

I had a VP once who called me “Wonder Woman”.  The nickname was so prevalent that for secret Santa one year he actually gave me a pair of Wonder Woman pajamas (they are insanely comfortable).  He gave me this nickname mostly because of the sheer volume of work I could churn out in a small amount of time.  This ended up being my downfall.  I got overconfident and determined to do anything and everything to succeed.  I over committed.  I made mistakes.  And because I moved so fast, it took a while before anyone (including me) realized.

Image result for exhaustionIt was embarrassing, but the entire experience taught me a very clear and simple lesson – know your limits.  Had I simply pushed back and told him I was going to start dropping balls if I took on any more work, he would have probably backed off or taken something off my plate.  Just because I’m the resident “expert” does not make me a superhero.  I can make mistakes and I can forget things, just like everyone else.  Part of being an expert is knowing how far you can go before you have nothing left to give.  It’s a hard lesson, but a critically important one.  Especially when you’re all alone.

Working alone does not have to be a death sentence.  You have all the creative and prioritization freedom in the world.  The question is whether you will rise to the occasion.

All marketers do is spend money… and other stupid crap people say.

Image result for eye roll memeI have no idea why marketing gets such a bad rap.  I’m sick and tired of it personally.  I can only guess that people are jealous because marketers have an awesome job where we get to throw parties and design cool stuff and don’t have to talk to customers every day.  I would probably hate me too.

But here’s the thing: No one’s job is a walk in the park.  Here are a few of my favorite stupid things I hear from non-marketers about marketing.

All Marketers Do Is Spend Money

I’ll admit, marketing can be expensive.  Especially at organizations that struggle to pay their employees regularly.  But here’s the thing.  Good marketers pays for themselves.  Marketers actually hate spending money, because we know we have to prove an ROI for every dollar we cost the company.  I have never met a B2B marketer who’s like “I have this massive budget.  I can’t wait to burn it on display ads and liquor!”  It just doesn’t happen.

Image result for marketing dilbert

If you have a marketer on your team that you feel “only spends money”, most likely they have fallen victim to a few shortfalls:

  • They didn’t state the projected return before spending the money.  Doing this results in two outcomes – (1) Stated goals keep them honest and (2) Helps them get everyone on board with the expense beforehand – which avoids uncomfortable discussions later.
  • You are making them buy crap for no reason.  (Yes, this is a real thing)  Don’t get mad at marketing for low ROI when you insist on buying thousands of pens to put at your $60,000 tradeshow booth that costs $20,000 just to ship.  No wonder your event marketing isn’t working.  You are setting it up for failure.
  • They’re not tracking or reporting their return in KPIs that mean anything to you.  Marketers speak marketing.  “KPI” stands for “Key Performance Indicators” and if you didn’t know that chances are you don’t speak marketing.  If marketing insists their campaigns are working and you’re not seeing evidence of that, most likely you have a failure to communicate.  Explain to marketing exactly how you define success and ask them to explain to you how they define success.  Without an agreed upon set of KPIs, you’re likely going to have a tough time understanding their value.

Those who can’t do, teach.  Those who can’t sell, market.

Image result for marketing liquor and guessing

I understand how this misconception would come to be.  I tried direct sales.  I did not enjoy it one bit.  I’m not talking about the cooshy stuff most B2B account reps do.  I mean I literally walked around Home Depot for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week trying to get people to sign up for in-home kitchen cabinet refacing consultations.  I was paid $25 a lead.  They called it “direct marketing” – I called it bullsh*t.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t sell.  I have been told by many sales directors over the years that I have the personality and ear for it (whatever that means).

However, I don’t like being called 400 times a day to see if I’ve moved the pipeline $2 further than yesterday.  I also don’t like to be in constant competition with the people on my same team. The stress of doing sales day in and day out is miserable.  But somehow the puzzle of click-through-rates is exhilarating.  It’s not that I can’t do your job – I just don’t want to.

Marketers are the drunk frat boys of the business world

Image result for marketing dilbert

Screw you.  We all know that’s sales.

Marketing isn’t a real business discipline

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Marketers have a bad rap for being stupid.  People claim we don’t know anything about how business is done and, I’ll admit, I’ve perpetuated that stereotype from time to time to get out of boring meetings.

But the fact is that statement doesn’t make any sense.

I graduated from one of the most prestigious marketing programs in the world, Penn State.  (WE ARE!)  At the time our marketing program was ranked 16th in the world – THE WORLD!  But they wouldn’t let me graduate with a business degree without also studying managerial accounting, finance, statistics, calculus and a host of other classes every business student studies.  I just took a few more marketing classes than you and a few less [insert discipline] classes.  That doesn’t mean I don’t understand business and you sound like a moron by saying that.

In conclusion, haters gonna hate.  Marketers are going to continue to be professionally awesome.  Also, I love Dilbert and you should buy all of their products.  (No they did not pay me to say that.)

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams

 

1 surefire way to make a marketing job application stand out

Image result for job application meme

I despise job searching.  During the summer of 2015 I was laid off and must have sent my resume to 200 companies up and down the Front Range and around the world.  After 4 months I started to lose hope. At month #5 I was struck by inspiration.

That summer was one of self-reflection and improvement.  I went to yoga every day – since I didn’t have anything better to do.  As a result, I lost 20 lbs!  (Don’t worry.  My desk job has caused me to gain it all back.)  I also had plenty of time to volunteer with local dog rescues – a cause that I take very seriously.

Around month #5 two interesting job listings came on the market for Denver-area companies.

One was for Sports Authority (RIP), working on their website’s customer experience.  Since I’d lost a ton of weight recently and now lived in yoga pants, Sports Authority had become a favorite spot to loiter and the role seemed very enticing.

The second was at Kong – the company that makes those red cone-shaped dog toys.  They have “office dogs” and employees get all sorts of dog-related perks.  What self-respecting, crazy dog-lady wouldn’t want a job there?!

I had applied to both companies multiple times already, without so much as a phone screen with HR.  Resumes were not working.  My online portfolio got clicks, but not enough.  I had to do something different – make myself stand out.  I was a marketer for crying out loud!  Certainly I could come up with Image result for brilliantsomething brilliant.

I thought about my experience.  What is something I could do to get their attention and highlight my strengths?  And then it hit me.  I will build a website specifically to show them how much I want to work there!

Okay, that’s not exactly true.  

My (now) husband sent me an article about a girl who wanted to work for AirBnB so badly that she did a special project and built an entire website to deliver it to them.  AirBnb was so impressed that she got an interview.

I thought, “I could do that!”

And I did.  I made each of them a custom WordPress website to talk specifically about how much their companies meant to me.

I talked about my weight loss journey to Sports Authority and included before & after photos.

beforeafter1

I also talked about ways I thought they could improve their website and what I was seeing in the market.

hannah-sportsauthority-suggestion

I told Kong about my lifelong devotion to their product lines and included photos of my dog, Delilah, playing with their toys.

hannah-delilah2

I also included a section on how I thought Kong could improve by targeting the millennial market more effectively.

kong_what_missing

It was aggressive and heart felt.  I put it all out there, desperate to make an impression… and it worked.

What actually happened

I tweeted, emailed, facebooked, and LinkedIn’d (that’s a verb, right?) both websites directly to their respective companies.  Somehow someone was going to see them.

Kong actually picked up the phone and called me.  Although they did not want to bring me in for an interview (they wanted someone more senior), the VP of Marketing did apparently see the website and was extremely impressed.  I will note that I was shocked they didn’t at least bring me in to meet me, but they politely said they’d keep my resume on file in case something more appropriate became open in the future.  Blah, blah, blah…

Sports Authority, however, did bring me in for an interview.  They were so impressed with the website that they sent it to the recruiter managing the account, who phone screened me.  When she was satisfied I wasn’t a crazy person, I was actually brought in for a face-to-face interview with real hiring managers at their physical headquarters.

It was obvious that the team was taken aback by me and my unexpected website application.  It definitely made an impression.  Someone let it slip that they were going to give the position to someone internally, but when they saw my website they had to meet me first.

Long story short, I didn’t get the job.  In honesty I wasn’t quite right for that job either.  But I got in the door and that was the whole point.

As marketers, we spend a lot of time thinking about pipeline development and how to increase opportunity volume.  In a way job searching is very similar.  The more opportunities in the funnel, the more likely you are to get a job.  But first you have to get in the door.  And sometimes that requires a degree of creativity and willingness to go above and beyond.

In case you’re worried, I did eventually find a great job – and it only took 6 months.

Image result for got a job

How to do market research with no time or budget

Image result for market researchMarketers get asked to do a ton – branding, sales enablement, event planning, content creation, lead generation – it never seems to end.  It’s even worse when you have to do it all by yourself.  Here’s one more skill any marketing manager worth their salt needs to master – market research.  Dun DUN DUN!

Here’s the thing.  You don’t have to be a big data or industry analyst to do it.  You already have all the skills you need to do basic market research.  You don’t even need a budget.  Just the willpower to try.

Here is my step-by-step guide so that you look like a marketing rock star at your office:

Image result for audience1) Determine your audience

Who will consume the information?  When I produce reports I direct them towards two groups – sales leadership and product leadership.  You may need to provide useful information to your executive team or business development.  Figure out who you’re writing for and it will direct every decision from there out.

2) Create a report template

Image result for reportI find it’s 12x easier to do almost anything when I have a framework to work inside.  Here is the framework I use for my reports – feel free to copy or edit it for your purposes.

Header – States title and date

Industry News – I use this section to focus on news that is relevant for the entire industry.  This could include shifts in the market, new technology, or any other trends that may be happening at a macro level.

Competitor News – This section breaks down each of our competitors and what they’re up to publicly.  This could include product announcements, executive changes, public filings, important customer announcements – anything I think my audience would find valuable.

Word on the Street – Finally I have a section dedicated to the rumor mill.  Nothing is substantiated and nothing is verified – it’s just a few people’s opinions on a particular topic.  This is by far the most popular section month after month.  This is the stuff you’ll never read on a Google alert and is the hardest to capture.

3) Sign up for everything

Image result for sign upThere is a smorgasbord of information out there.  It’s your job to compile it.  Sign up for daily or weekly email updates from the following sources.  They get delivered to your inbox regularly and you won’t have to spend whole days doing research.  But it will look like you did.

  • Google Alerts – I recommend starting with 3-5 keywords that are most often used in your industry.  Then setup a Google Alert for each one of them.  Also set one up for each of your top competitors.  Every day you’ll get a few emails automatically from Google and you can file them away until you’re ready to read through them.
  • Business Publications – Whether it’s the Wall Street Journal or your local downtown newsletter, these things are packed with the best and most useful information you can find.  Most are free and are more than happy to send you a daily synopsis email.  Sign up for publications that cover your industry or geography or however you breakdown your business.
  • Industry Rags – Every industry has super niche publications.  Do a quick Google search and find them.  “_____ industry news” ought to do the trick.  I used to do marketing for the B2B drug testing industry.  My team tested workers’ comp patients for opioid abuse and marketed to risk managers.  You don’t get any more niche than that.  There were actually 3 websites I used that discussed little more than just this topic.  Trust me.  There are resources out there for whatever you sell.

4) Set a reminder to plug and play

Image result for copy and pasteNow set two 1-hour meetings on your calendar a month; one in the first half of the month, one at the end.  Open up that folder holding all your automatic emails and skim through them.  Click the links that interest you and copy/paste the best content into your report.

Be sure to include a link that reads “Full story” in case your readers want a deeper dive, but catch the high lights in your report.  Don’t include more than 2 paragraphs for any listing.  I actually prefer 3 sentences or fewer.  My audience is mostly made of VPs or higher so they don’t have time to read everything.  Get to the point and give them a means to learn more if they want to.

PRO TIP: No email to an executive should ever take longer than 30 seconds to digest.  Why do you think people created “executive summaries”.

5) Do some custom research

I mentioned my final, and most popular, section is called “Word on the Street”.  It never takes me longer than 2 hours to complete and it’s the most fun.Image result for research meme

  1. Identify a topic
    -Competitor pricing in a certain market
    -How a certain vertical uses your product
    -A new technology that your readers need to know
  2. Identify an expert
    If you’re looking at how competitors are behaving in a certain market, call the local rep that handles that territory and interview them.  What feedback is he/she hearing from local customers?  Where is your pricing being undercut?  What product/solution/competitor do folks love and hate?

    If you’re looking at a particular vertical, go for academics.  Professors love to talk – it is what they do for a living.  Let them tell you what a vertical needs.  Here’s an example.  I was doing a piece on the video gaming industry one month.  I found that Carnegie Mellon has an entire school dedicated to video game design.  I went to the website, emailed everyone listed and requested a 30 minute interview about the topic I was researching.  Within 2 hours I got 2 replies.  One of them, I later found out, also ran her own video game design company.  She was a wealth of information, was happy to let me pick her expert brain and didn’t charge me a dime.

  3. Write it all down.
    Take everything you just wrote notes on and translate it into something useful for your audience.  Stick it in your report.  Done.

6) Format and Distribute

You’ve collected all this information and interviewed experts.  Now you just have to put in a form that’s pretty and distribute it to your audience in a way they want to receive it.


After a year, what you’ll find is that you actually become the expert on your industry and people will start asking you for your opinion.  That’s when you know you’ve created something valuable.

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