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Archive

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Loyal but not faithful

By Philip | September 18, 2019

Quick tophat: A previous client of mine unexpectedly lost a whale client and is looking for some fill-in dev work (Shopify or general front end work). If you’re able to help connect him with any opportunities, please hit REPLY, let me know, and I’ll connect you with him.


The work I do allows me to see a dramatic change happen in some of my clients. I call it “the loyalty switch”.

The loyalty switch is when your primary loyalty switches from doing excellent client work to building an excellent business.

This switch is painful, because the new primary loyalty causes trouble for the existing business. You’ll hear yourself saying things like “This is the last effing time I $THING”, where $THING is the main revenue driver that got your business to where it is today.

The loyalty switch disrupts your business. I’m never worried when I see a client undergo the loyalty switch, though, because I know the old service-driven business needed to die, to rise again as an innovation or expertise-driven business. In fact, expediting this transition is probably why I was hired in the first place by this client.

The loyalty switch leads to rebirth. You change from believing that serving clients is the most important thing to believing that future value creation is the most important thing. Those are two very different kind of businesses!

Frida Kahlo is said to have told her husband Diego Rivera that she expected him to be loyal, but not necessarily faithful. This describes the transition period of the loyalty switch. Of course you’ll have to “cheat on” your new loyalty to future value creation by occasionally prioritizing client work. It’s an awkward period where you can’t fully lean on the new loyalty (future value creation), so you have dalliances with the old one (immediate revenue-generating client work in the old style).

The new loyalty will probably have you doing unusual, unpleasant things. Getting up earlier than usual. Taking more risk than usual. Getting outside your emotional comfort zone more than usual. Trying things you know you need to do but have no idea exactly how to do.

If you’re in the midst of or all the way through this switch, you don’t need me to tell you it’s worth it.

But for the rest of you… it’s worth it.

-P


Here’s what’s been happening on my paid Daily Consulting Insights email list:

  1. I have written some things I am not proud of. -> https://pmc.substack.com/p/pmc-daily-consulting-insight-my-use
  2. What happens when your loyalty switches from direct response marketing to brand marketing? https://pmc.substack.com/p/pmc-daily-consulting-insight-my-first
  3. Does a bigger yard around your house lead to a more satisfying sex life? https://pmc.substack.com/p/pmc-daily-consulting-insight-the-d41

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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Survey marketing wrap-up

By Philip | September 10, 2019

Back in May, I started an experiment I referred to as “survey marketing”. Today I want to wrap that all up in a bow. This will be what I hope is the kind of naval-gazing email at least some of you can learn something from. A “learn from my mistakes” email. 🙂

What I did

I figured that if I undertook some research, I could get permission from folks not currently in my audience to market to them by sharing back the results of the research.

I still believe this idea is sound. My first implementation of it could be improved.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I chose a question I wanted to answer.
  2. I designed a survey. It was OK, but could have been better.
  3. I recruited participants in my study from LinkedIn and my email list.
  4. I turned the survey results into a brief(ish) report, which I’ll link to momentarily.
  5. I shared the report back with survey participants last week.
  6. Now I’m sharing the report, along with lessons learned, with y’all.

So that’s the process that took about 5 months (of very part time work) to complete.

The results of what I did

Here’s a link to the report that came out of this survey marketing process: https://drive.google.com/file/d/195-JqXKQWZqldOIhZmezXGi-cOuuXhd6/view

I directly emailed this report to all the survey participants who, when they filled out the survey, indicated that they wanted to receive this report.

You’ll notice the final page of the report credits me for the work, briefly describes my business, and links to my site. Did this soft CTA result in a torrent of leads or new business for me?

No. 🙂 It might have generated a few email signups at most. Maybe.

So by the numbers, this first iteration of research-as-marketing was not an impressive success. It’s fair to say it was slow and did not move the needle very much.

Even so, I believe it’s the start of something good. It’s something I can learn from and iterate on, and I think a lot of successes start out in the same unimpressive way.

What I should have done instead

As I say in this episode of the Expertise Incubator podcast, if you’re going to conduct research, your question is everything: https://share.transistor.fm/s/7f8c489f

Ask the wrong question, get un-interesting or irrelevant results.

Ask too big a question, get crushed by the work of answering it.

Ask too small a question… actually, I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. It might provide limited insight set you up for additional research, but that’s fine. In fact, building up momentum from small wins might be ideal for folks like us. It might help us complete our research in less than 5 months. 🙂 So don’t be afraid to start small.

Iteration

My client Bob illustrates what I need to do with future research: own a question (and incidentally, own the right one):

I think I’m doing justice to Bob’s insight by simplifying it to this: become the best and most authoritative resource for answering a question that matters to your audience. In fact, this might be the best way of serving that audience and — as a second-order consequence — furthering your own mission. That’s the essence of what “owning a question” means, and you should still read Bob’s writing on it because my brief summary of the idea necessarily glosses over important detail. Furthermore, this idea is just so relevant to folks that want to become advisors rather than implementors. Bob’s articles are for research-driven organizations. Read. them. anyway. You’ll see the relevance.

The question I’d like to own is this: How do implementors become advisors? How do you marshal the credibility and access needed to change your market position from implementor to advisor?

I’ve been dancing around this question for years. Time to own it.

One category of answer to this question that I find completely unsatisfactory is this one:

Alan’s a smart cookie, but his answer here is incomplete and evasive. I think I can answer this question better, at least for folks who need more than a “Just Do It” slogan in response to the question of moving from implementor to advisor.

There are also related sub-questions. Here are just a few of many:

  • How do advisors bootstrap lead generation? For example, the folks at Newfangled have been very clear in their message that an email list smaller than ~2k won’t help your firm thrive. Why is this? Why do I know people with much smaller lists who have no problem generating advisory services business? Can I gather, organize, and interpret data that better answers this apparent mystery?
  • How do established self-made expert advisors identify opportunity? How do they know where to focus their expertise cultivation efforts? How do they measure progress? How much will they invest before calling something a dead end?

Answering these and many related questions in a transparent, applicable way using data that meets a reasonable standard of integrity is where I want to direct my future research effort.

You may have noticed that the question I asked in my first round of survey marketing was not the question I want to own. It has almost nothing to do with the question I want to own. 🙂

My question was a not-terrible first attempt, and it is an interesting one, but not for the purposes of helping my audience and inspiring others to join my audience. It was an interesting one for me. As Lyle Lovett sang, it was then I knew I had made my first mistake.

This research wasn’t a waste, it just was more useful to me than my audience, and so it’s no wonder it didn’t move the marketing needle for my business.

Still, I learned something useful.

According to my research, books, courses, and email lists are the triumvirate of reaching developers. My business needs to place much more emphasis on books. 1 Courses are a nut I (and a lot of others) haven’t satisfactorily cracked and so it’ll be a while before I consider trying again with a course. And — at least within the confines of my imagination — I’m already doing a decent job of using email. 🙂 So the findings of my research on my first question are a useful feedback mechanism for me and others trying to reach self-employed software developers. My research will lead to better decision making in my business. The immediate decision making change is that I need to get systematically better at conceiving, writing, and publishing books.

Future research that I conduct, however, will be organized under the umbrella of what will become the question Philip Morgan Consulting owns: How do implementors become advisors?

By the way, all of my Expertise Incubator participants are doing an excellent job of aligning their research questions with the question they want to own:

  • One is in the throes of writing up a killer report on what his study found.
  • Another is in the throes of coding some survey and interview data.
  • Another is implementing a GraphQL data store to help spot patterns in scraped data.
  • Another is collecting qualitative data for a solutions clearinghouse to serve her target market.
  • Yet another is building a software tool based on his study’s findings while also finding speaking opportunities to share those same findings.

This is an impressive group of people, and they have avoided the mistake of asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question I asked served as a warning to them. 🙂

-P

PS: If you’re new to this list and curious why I’m so into research, it’s because I hypothesize that using research to build decision making tools for your clients is one of two accelerants on the journey from implementor to advisor. The other is publishing.

A client recently told me that 2 months of the right kind of weekly publishing to an email list has increased his acceptance rate for talk proposals something like 50%!


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Notes

  1. And I’m pretty sure these do not need to be traditionally published books. I think the self-published, self-distributed book model works quite well for reaching devs. F500 CEO’s? They might need more in terms of what signals authority, including the imprint of a traditional publisher. But self-employed software developers? Self-published, self-distributed books as the mouth of a respectful, well-intentioned direct response marketing campaign work very well in both my personal experience and — to an extent — this method is supported by the research I’m writing about here.

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] The Google squeeze

By Philip | September 4, 2019

I’m a big fan of disintermediated lead generation approaches, or ones where your access to an audience is mediated via a personal relationship with the human being who is the audience gatekeeper. Google leveraging it’s monopoly position in search only amplifies my appreciation for disintermediated lead generation approaches.

This, from Seth Godin, talks about Google as a monopoly abuser: Sooner or later, the shark gets jumped https://seths.blog/2019/08/sooner-or-later-the-shark-gets-jumped/

The Seth Godin piece references this Rand Fishkin piece, which seems well-researched: Less than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click https://sparktoro.com/blog/less-than-half-of-google-searches-now-result-in-a-click/

I’ll excerpt a few things for you that create a good-enough summary of Rand’s article:


We’ve passed a milestone in Google’s evolution from search engine to walled-garden. In June of 2019, for the first time, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google.com resulted in zero-clicks

Google is almost certainly even more dominant than the chart above suggests. That’s because mobile apps, which Jumpshot doesn’t currently measure, aren’t included — this is just browser-based search data. The Google Maps App, Google Search App, and YouTube are installed on almost every mobile device in the US, and likely have so much usage that, if their search statistics were included, Google’s true market share would be 97%+.

1. The percent of searches available as organic traffic from Google is steadily declining, especially on mobile.

2. Paid clicks tend to increase whenever Google makes changes to how those results are displayed, then slowly decline as searchers get more familiar with spotting and avoiding them.

3. Google’s ongoing attempts to answer more searches without a click to any results OR a click to Google’s own properties are both proving successful. As a result, zero-click searches, and clicks that bring searchers to a Google-owned site keep rising.


This is the entelechy of every super-Aggregator. As the Aggregator moves towards monopoly position in its space, the Aggregator gradually favors its own interest over its supplier’s interests.

In a search engine, you (your website, really) are a supplier, and those searching the web through Google are Google’s users. As Google figures out ways to make the experience better for users, it will. If these UX improvements involve things getting worse for suppliers, Google will make that tradeoff. Not every time, of course, but here we are almost 22 years later (September 15 is Google Search’s birthday), with Google capturing over 50% of the clicks that might have previously been sent along to their suppliers. So Google makes this supplier-user welfare tradeoff often enough, and in an incrementally increasing fashion, and as a result suppliers get squeezed. Technically, the value Google creates is simply being re-allocated away from suppliers (towards Google itself, which arguably reduces user welfare because it makes the web less open and diverse and wonderful). But still, if you’re a supplier — especially one who is dependent on Google search traffic — you’ll feel squeezed.

My response to Google’s (and other super-Aggregators) squeezing is somewhat reactionary: “Just get into a position where you don’t rely on Google!” This is not easy, but we providers of valuable expertise do have it easier than, let’s say, the typical SaaS or e-commerce business do. They tend to be much more reliant on organic search traffic than we need to, and much more constrained in how they can invest in connecting and building trust with prospective customers.

There are more nuanced responses, though, to the “Google squeeze”. 🙂

This is one that’s impressed me. How Long Does It Take for Content Marketing to Work? A Case Study.: https://growandconvert.com/content-marketing/how-long-does-it-take-for-content-marketing-to-work/

Grow and Convert’s writing on SEO strikes me as significantly more thoughtful and grounded in experience than most.

In particular, reading some of Grow and Convert’s thinking has got me 99% of the way there to embracing this admittedly dogmatic position: “If your advice isn’t contextualized in where a business is in its growth/maturity, then I’m ignoring your advice.” It’s a dogmatic heuristic, but I’m finding it such a useful filter for identifying and ignoring crap.

A client of mine also has a thoughtful approach to content marketing: https://contentaudience.com. Jim’s thinking about content and SEO is specific to relatively mature info-product businesses. For example:

and

The bottom line

  1. If you want to play the SEO game, know what game you’re playing.
  2. SEO, and other lead generation approaches, should be evaluated in the context of what kind of business you have, where your business is now, and where you’d like it to go.
  3. The business model dynamics that have a 22 year-old Google capturing >50% of search clicks will have every other super-Aggregator doing something similar at some point. Facebook/Instagram, Youtube, and others are not far behind Google.
  4. There are people who are thinking deeply about how to respond to the “Google squeeze”. If your business relies on SEO, pay attention to these people. If your business relies on SEO, you wish it didn’t, and you have or can develop expertise assets, I might be able to help.

-P


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Why daily? (pt2)

By Philip | August 27, 2019

One more email about daily publishing. For context, here’s the previous one.

There’s a whole other area to explore here, which is the question of how daily publishing is received by your readers. And also the question of when in your career to embrace this daily publishing practice. And there’s also the other question: “Does it have to be writing, or can it be video, audio, etc?”

Let’s dig in.

You’ll read daily AND YOU’LL LIKE IT!

When it comes to marketing, we don’t get to choose what our prospects will accept and enjoy. They get to make that choice.

Granted, sometimes what your prospects accept and enjoy is somewhat invisible to them and so they can’t tell you about it because it was never a discrete, conscious choice for them. Fish evolved to live in water; they wouldn’t see this as a conscious choice they made. CEOs have “evolved” to accept and enjoy certain forms of marketing and reject or ignore others. They may not consciously understand why.

Is anyone “evolved” to prefer receiving daily emails? Some observations from my experience:

  1. Some folks who would ordinarily reject daily emails temporarily gain an appetite for them when faced with a painful, urgent problem the daily emails might help solve.
  2. The solution to some problems involves a mindset shift, and daily emails can be like drips of water wearing away resistance and effecting a mindset change. In these cases, emails with a blend of entertainment and information help avoid burning folks out while you apply the water drip therapy to their problem.
  3. Some desired outcomes are best accomplished with steady, incremental effort. Daily emails can help folks acquire skills with this kind of learning curve.
  4. Some domains that people want to be informed about are large enough and change frequently enough that daily emails can be a useful way of delivering informational updates or analysis without risk of reader burnout.
  5. There will always be some “email frequency fundamentalists” who will reject daily emails even if one of the above situations applies to them. They aren’t responding to the value proposition of your specific daily emails, they’re responding to their judgement about daily emailing in general.
  6. There will be folks who subscribe to daily emails out of curiosity or because they think the emails might be useful, but quickly stop paying attention to them because the volume of content is high and the relevance to their needs is not high.

I think your takeaway from this list should be this: for readers, the value of daily emails is contextual. A CEO who happily subscribes to a high quality daily briefing on their sector might reject a high quality daily marketing email. It’s less about frequency and more about the relevance of the content to their needs.

Daily publishing gives you more “at bats” than a weekly or lower frequency, so it gives you more opportunities to connect with your list members. The flip side is it gives you more opportunities to demonstrate irrelevance to their needs. 🙂

It’s important to understand the points I made above. If you want to be effective at reaching your market, it’s also important to understand what forms of marketing they will and won’t accept.

However, there may be times that you ignore what your market wants because creating future value for them involves a tradeoff. You might choose to — for a time — engage in marketing activities your market doesn’t accept in order to create future value for them. In other words, you might serve your market imperfectly now so you can serve them more perfectly later. That future perfected service is enabled by the current imperfect service.

This is how I tend to view daily publication: it’s a method for cultivating valuable expertise more quickly than client work alone would. The publishing applies productive pressure that accelerates your thinking and learning. Writing alone doesn’t apply this pressure — you have to publish. The rapid cadence gives you more opportunities to think “out loud” about things and forces you to become more opportunistic about finding interesting ways to convey your insights. And finally, using email for daily publication rather than a social media platform provides a confidential feedback mechanism for your readers.

Bottom line: yes, what your market prefers matters. But your ability to use effective means of cultivating expertise also matters, and if daily publication is one such method for you, then you can feel confident about using it to create future value for your market, even if only a small segment of your market wants to receive a daily email from you.

It might be obvious, but in case it’s not I’ll say: I’ve never heard anyone talk about marketing as a vehicle for expertise cultivation. Why not? We’re not F500 brands with huge siloed marketing departments and lawyers paid to keep us from making visible mistakes. Why shouldn’t we use our marketing activities to simultaneously deepen our expertise? 1

“I’m so glad I waited until my 50’s to get in shape!”

^^^ Said no one ever.

Is there a terrible time to embrace the daily publishing challenge? Is there an ideal time? Well, it’s like planting a tree. Generally, the earlier the better, except you do need to know where to plant that tree. Too close to the house, and it’ll grow into a nuisance, and too far away and it won’t provide shade or privacy.

If daily publishing is an effective marketing vehicle for your market, and you’re not using it as an expertise-cultivation tool, then start doing it whenever. Preferably now.

If you’re using daily publication to create future value through expertise, then think about when to start it using the following guidelines:

  • If you’re not clear on how you might focus your business, consider daily publication as a “stress test” for your level of interest in various ways of specializing. Don’t use daily publication as an expertise cultivation tool (yet). Instead, use it as a way to understand how deep your level of interest in a potential area of specialization goes.
  • Aside from the previous situation, consider daily publication after you’ve decided how to specialize, after you’ve gotten some traction with your specialization, and when you’re ready to work your ass off deepening your expertise.

Must it be writing?

My podcast partner Liston and I occasionally ask each other this question: does modern marketing demand that you use writing, or get better at writing?

Liston says, yes, you ultimately need to be a competent writer to optimize your marketing. The hippy part of me wants to imagine a big tent of all the freaky people doing great marketing, some of them writing but some of them doing things like turning on a podcasting microphone daily, verbally riffing, and producing extremely interesting, compelling, relevant stuff that their audience loves receiving.

I think the jury’s out on this question 2. And I also think for most of us, Liston’s right. Your daily publishing needs to be writing, or if it’s audio or video, it’ll rely on the same things that make for good writing (good structure, interesting verbal patterns, etc.), or at least rely on a solid written outline.

Must you have an audience?

No, but it makes things better.

This is one of the expertise bootstrapping problems. It’s easier to cultivate expertise (and opportunity) when you’re in contact with others. An audience’s questions help direct and focus your efforts. Their questions provide a useful reality check. An audience makes things better.

Publishing daily to a tiny or non-existent audience can be dispiriting, even if your original motivation was to deepen your expertise. You can even take the tiny audience size or slow audience growth as a condemnation of your expertise.

However, nobody outside of the children of monarchs or celebrities is born with an audience. The rest of us have to build one.

And yet, if you invite the goal of audience growth to the dinner party of expertise cultivation, you may find audience growth to be a very obnoxious dinner guest, constantly interrupting the expertise-cultivation conversation.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about reaching more people with your expertise, but the tension between that goal and cultivating the actual expertise can be an uneasy one. If you had to choose only one of the two, I’d choose expertise cultivation until a robust foundation of expertise is in place, then I might choose audience cultivation. The reality is that we don’t have to make either/or decisions like this, so I’d start out focusing on expertise cultivation primarily and audience growth secondarily until a robust foundation of expertise exist, then I might elevate the importance of audience-building.

I haven’t come across an easy mode for audience cultivation, so I believe we have to live as best we can with this tension between wanting an audience, suffering from not having a large audience, and starting out with a tiny or non-existent audience. I realize that this will cause some who could benefit from daily publication to avoid the practice, which is a shame.

Quitting

When might you transition out of daily publication into something else, or quit daily publication entirely? Quit when:

  • You start seeingdiminishing returns on expertise cultivation. You’d observe this over multiple months, not a shorter timeframe. What appear to be diminishing returns over a shorter timeframe of days or weeks might just be noise rather than signal.
  • Mission accomplished. You’ve built a foundation of functional expertise and daily publication was always more beneficial to you than to your market, so you’re now ready to channel that expertise into marketing that’s a better match for your market.

Wrap-up

There’s actually a lot more to say about daily publication. It’s a rich topic, and there’s more to say about the emotional challenge it represents, and more to say about the logistics of actually doing it.

I say some of those things here, in the first 9 episodes of this podcast: https://theexpertiseincubator.transistor.fm/episodes?utf8=✓&year=2018&month=

I know daily publication is not for everybody, but I hope more of you are seduced into trying it. Aside from specializing, it’s been the single best thing I’ve done for my own expertise.

-P


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Notes

  1. I know the answer to this question (fear of vulnerability) but I’ll leave the question hanging and move on rather than talking more about fear of vulnerability, which really deserves a separate treatment.
  2. And I think there’s an interesting research question embedded in there!

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Bonus Issue: Profiles in expertise

By Philip | August 23, 2019

Cultivating self-made expertise is a messy, iterative process.

It’s not like getting a graduate degree, which by comparison is a more tidy, linear process.

I think those of you on this track benefit from examples of in-progress self-made expertise.

David C. Baker, in his excellent book The Business of Expertise, has an expertise diagnostic he calls “Drop and Give Me 20”. Can you, on the spur of the moment, list out 20 insights or non-obvious observations about the clients you work with?

An Expertise Incubator participant, Jim Thornton, very recently shared the results of doing this Drop and Give Me 20 diagnostic:

https://contentaudience.com/strategy/insights-exercise-part-1/

Here’s a partial excerpt from Jim’s list:

Again, the full list is here, and well worth a look: https://contentaudience.com/strategy/insights-exercise-part-1/

If you want to look over the shoulder of someone who is cultivating super-valuable self-made expertise — specifically in the area of businesses that use content to serve an audience — then Jim’s email list is a good place to do that: https://contentaudience.com/emails/

-P

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Why daily?

By Philip | August 21, 2019

I advocate publishing something online, and doing so daily.

I advocate doing this during a certain phase of your career, but not necessarily for the whole career.

Why this madness?

What is daily publishing?

In pharmacology, there’s this concept of the minimum effective dose. Wikipedia defines MED as “the lowest dose level of a pharmaceutical product that provides a clinically significant response in average efficacy, which is also statistically significantly superior to the response provided by the placebo.”

The MED for daily publishing is 3x/week.

The reason I compare daily publishing to a pharmaceutical is because both of them change you, hopefully for the better. At its best, daily publication is steroids for your thinking, but without the negative side-effects.

Daily publishing involves publishing. If you write or create but don’t publish, you don’t get all the benefits because you’re not exposing your thinking to others in the same way. Publishing what you write or create builds a sort of honesty into the process. It raises the stakes.

You can’t just think or write any old shit; if you’re publishing what you write, you’re willingly subjecting yourself to feedback — perhaps from anonymous randos — so you feel pressure to maximize your performance, which is to say you feel pressure to maximize the quality and coherence of your thinking and your articulation thereof.

If you’re publishing something that you’ve written or created online 3x/week or more, you’re practicing daily publishing.

Again, why this madness?

The expertise enema

I advocate daily publishing for folks that need to cultivate a functional foundation of expertise, and would like to do so quickly even if the speed creates emotional discomfort.

What’s functional expertise? 1) It’s relevant and valuable in the marketplace. 2) You can articulate and apply it proactively in ways that help your clients.

I think of expertise like the human skin, which has three layers. The exterior layer of skin — the epidermis — is thin and somewhat lifeless compared to the others. Thank you, Wikipedia, for this illustration:

Most of us live in the “epidermis of expertise”. We understand how to do things, and call that expertise. Which, to be clear, it is. But it’s a kind of expertise, and it’s not the only kind nor is it the most valuable kind.

The dermis and hypodermis are the much thicker, much more alive layers of the skin. And in my model of expertise, these deeper layers represent deeper, more valuable expertise.

Daily publishing moves you from the “epidermis of expertise” to deeper layers, and it does so by forcing an “expertise enema”. (I’m loving the medical analogies today!)

Most folks who accept the daily publishing challenge start by sharing what they know about how to do things. This is good, but eventually you’ve shared basically everything you know about how to do $THING. What the heck do you do then? Do you quit this high frequency publishing?

If you’re following my advice, no, you don’t.

You keep going. You’ve “hit the wall”, and you keep digging, keep pushing, keep thinking, keep publishing, and keep striving.

What happens next, in most cases, is that you move through the epidermis of expertise and you enter the dermis. This isn’t an overnight state change; it’s a multi-month metamorphosis.

The “dermis of expertise” is the domain of knowing why, of seeing subtle distinctions, and the beginnings of mastery. In the dermis of expertise, you become aware of how context and second-order consequences interact with your area of expertise. You abandon simplistic ideas of how things work, and embrace the complexity and chaos of the real world and seek to cultivate an expertise that can at least survive this complexity and ideally work effectively within it. To do this, you engage in “side quests” where you recruit complementary forms of expertise in order to make your own more effective. You also keep working hard on cultivating your own expertise. You don’t lose focus either. Those complementary forms of expertise are secondary in nature, and organized around yours in order to strengthen your focus, not dilute it.

To move past the epidermis of expertise, you need the expertise enema. You need to quickly flush out of your system all the simplistic models your expertise is based on. You need to pick the low-hanging fruit of teaching what you know so that you can feel in your bones that you do not know enough and you must know more. You hit the wall quicker if you practice daily publishing, thanks to the expertise enema.

Hitting the wall hurts like hell. What lies on the other side of that wall, if you’re willing to push through to it, is the rewarding combination of power, pleasure, and humility that comes from exploring the dermis and hyodermis of your expertise.

That’s why

There’s a whole other area to explore here, which is the question of how daily publishing is received by your readers. And also the question of when in your career to embrace this daily publishing practice. And there’s also the other question: “Does it have to be writing, or can it be video, audio, etc?”

I’ll tackle that stuff next week.

In the meantime, if this idea of an expertise enema is interesting to you, check out http://theexpertiseincubator.com, where you join a small group of business owners and willingly embrace this challenge, and 4 subsequent challenges, that truly function as an incubator for your expertise.

To conclude, I ask you: was Marcel Proust talking about daily publishing here?

A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of the Earth. The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we do, with great artists; with artists like these we do really fly from star to star. — La Prisonnière, Proust


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Popcorn and toothpaste

By Philip | August 14, 2019

Is selling your services more like popping popcorn or pushing toothpaste through a tube?

Hey, it’s Philip, and I’m back with the last installment of a short series on the idea of CRMs. Not a how-to article on CRMs, but one on the thinking behind them.

No regular buying process

There are several reasons why a linear sales pipeline — or even a choice between multiple linear pipelines — doesn’t fit how my business works. The first is that my clients have no regular, standardized buying process for what I sell.

The easiest way to conceive of a regular buying process is to think about a business that has a procurement function. This is a highly professionalized function that has processes, expertise, and performance metrics oriented around buying stuff. If you’re ever dealing with procurement, it’s because your client has (or believes they have) a regular buying process for what you sell.

I find that if you’re selling consulting that facilitates change or innovation, then what you sell doesn’t fit into a regular buying process. Your change/innovation consulting services are sufficiently exotic to your clients that they can’t fit into their standard process for procuring services.

Your services may not fit a client’s regular buying process. And in turn, they may not fit into a pipeline model very well at all.

I think popcorn is a better model for how these sales work. Your leads are all kernels of popcorn in a pan, exposed to the “heat” of your marketing. Some combination of that marketing heat and other factors cause a kernel to pop, resulting in a sales conversation.

Could you have known ahead of time which kernel would pop? Nope! What value would there be in that knowledge anyway? We know that if we apply the right level of heat for the right amount of time to a pan containing oil and popcorn kernels and we stir it enough, we’re going to get delicious popcorn. Who cares which kernel pops first, third, or fiftieth?

High importance, low urgency (until it’s not)

I think a lot about how where your clients might place your services on an Eisenhower matrix:

Services on the Important row are easiest to sell, or at least easiest to sell at a premium price. But services in quadrant A are hands down the easiest of all to sell because they combine importance and urgency. I have to believe that the cost structure of running a hospital emergency room is not the only reason those services are priced high relative to other medical services. I think it also has something to do with the combination of importance and urgency creating latitude for premium pricing. Rush pricing for client work is predicated on the same combination of factors.

You don’t get to decide where your services land in the Eisenhower matrix; your clients do. You can try to use marketing to shift your clients perception of your services from one quadrant to another, but marketing’s ability to create shifts like these is quite limited compared to reality’s ability.

My clients see my services — and other change/innovation consulting services — as important but not urgent. Until, that is, they become urgent for reasons outside my control.

No amount of sales pipeline-ing can cause my services to become urgent for a client. No amount of willpower or “persuasion” on my part can cause my services to become urgent for a client.

Again, it’s like popcorn. I’m doing my part by applying the right amount of heat and stirring to the pan, but factors unique to each kernel of popcorn (moisture level, etc.) determine when that kernel pops. If you’re doing change/innovation consulting, these are examples of the kinds of factors that could cause a lead to “pop” and become a prospective client:

  • A competitor company gets some press for rolling out a new product. This triggers fear or anger in your lead and they say some version of “screw it, we need to act now” and reach out to you.
  • Your lead reaches some sort of breaking point and decides the pain of change is less than the pain of the status quo.
  • Your lead is new to a job where the expectation is that they’ll drive some kind of change.

I think you get the picture. There’s some triggering event that causes your lead — who already viewed your services as important — to also view them as urgent.

A CRM pipeline feature might be useful once a lead “pops” and becomes a qualified prospect, but before that point the pipeline feature isn’t very useful.

Simple sale

Most of my services are a simple sale because the service is packaged and priced beforehand in a standardized way, so the sales conversation is usually not about creating a totally custom engagement for that prospective client, but instead checking for fit between the prospect and my well-defined service. After 30 to 60 minutes on a call, most prospects have enough information to decide if my services are right for them. This is another factor that makes my sales more like popping popcorn than like pushing toothpaste through a tube. The state change from lead to prospect to client is quite fast in most cases.

The complete opposite could be true of your business. You could frequently face a lengthy, complex sales process. Some of your prospects might have significantly larger potential value than others, meaning you have reason to prioritize them over the less valuable ones. Despite differing deal values, your sales process might look roughly similar across multiple clients. This is the pushing toothpaste through a tube sales model. In this case, using a CRM where the model of a pipeline is a central part of the CRM might make a lot of sense.

Weird CRM

Quick recap: three aspects of my sales process made CRMs that heavily use a pipeline model not ideal for my business:

  1. No regular buying process
  2. High importance, low urgency
  3. Short, simple sale

If you’re thinking about starting to use a CRM, do consider how your typical sale works, and think about those three aspects of your sales process: Does it fit into a regular buying process? Where do your clients place your services on the Eisenhower matrix, and what implications for your sales process does that have? Is your sale short and simple, or lengthy and complex?

Most CRMs are designed for a somewhat lengthy but regular/standardized buying process, and if that’s not how your services are sold, then those CRMs are going to be a poor fit. They’ll feel clunky and over-featured. You’ll be fighting them each time you use them.

This kind of thinking led me to Affinity, a CRM meant for VC/PE investors and commercial real estate agents. Here’s a link to the product: https://www.affinity.co. That link, since I’m too lazy to monetize every drop out of my email list, is not an affiliate link (none of the links in my emails are affiliate links. See aforementioned laziness).

Affinity is a “weird” CRM for a consultant to use! It does have a pipeline feature but, critically, the product is not totally oriented around this feature. In Affinity, a pipeline is not a first-tier part of the data model.

Instead, Affinity is built around the assumption that your network is kernels of popcorn in a pan that you are “heating” through regular communication and looking for opportunities to join nodes of the network into mutually profitable deals.

I find this freeing. I can focus on my prospects’ needs rather than trying to fit them into a standard buying process that doesn’t really fit their reality. I can very easily spin up what Affinity calls lists to respond to known or emergent needs in my audience.

For example, I have 4 lists set up in Affinity, organized around the 4 main issues I help my clients with:

  • Seeking to specialize
  • Learning to generate leads
  • Seeking to cultivate deep expertise
  • Seeking to commercialize IP

As I become aware that people in my network are working on one or more of those issues, I’ll add them to that Affinity list. And I’m starting to apply additional effort to helping the folks on each of those lists.

One of the ways I’m doing that is the free quarterly roundtables I invited y’all to a few weeks ago. Because I’m bootstrapping these roundtables, I invited folks on my Affinity lists and this entire email list, but once I’ve gotten this system up and running, I’ll be able to fill those roundtables just from inviting folks on the Affinity lists.

Each quarter, I’ll create 4 e-book “anthologies” of the best emails from my paid email list and send the relevant e-book to everyone on those Affinity lists.

This could be done with other CRMs for sure. But there’s something about how Affinity is designed that makes this kind of focused “heating” of the “kernels” in my network easy to set up and execute. This is applying marketing “heat” in a more targeted way.

Lest this read like an advertisement for Affinity, I’ll close by saying: choose tools that fit your business. Don’t use Pipedrive or Copper or Salesforce or Affinity or whatever simply because it’s what “everybody else” seems to be using. Understand how your services are best sold, then pick a CRM that fits that approach.

If you sell change/innovation services, it’s especially likely you’ll be poorly served by conventional CRMs with their elevation of the pipeline model to first-tier data model. Good luck finding an alternative! Despite the CRM category being incredibly, incredibly crowded (ex: PieSync currently supports 66 CRMs, G2Crowd has 381 entries in their CRM category, and Producthunt has 1,769 entries for CRM web apps), there aren’t a ton of non-pipeline-oriented CRMs out there.

Happy Wednesday,

-P


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Does data modeling lead or follow business strategy?

By Philip | August 7, 2019

I’ve recently chosen a CRM. Note: If you just instantly, uncontrollably fell asleep upon reading the letters C R M, I get it. Give this article a chance anyway; this issue is way more interesting than CRMs themselves are.

When you really dig into this issue, it touches on several things that might seem to be un-connected, but actually are connected: genre, business strategy, and product positioning.

That I’ve recently chosen a CRM means I spent some time evaluating different CRMs, and that process was fascinating, despite the narcolepsy-inducing nature of CRMs in general.

Evaluating CRMs was fascinating because my goal wasn’t to choose the best normal CRM, it was to choose the right CRM for my business. And that’s where the idea of genre starts to show up.

Genre

As far as I can tell, “normal” CRMs are a software tool that use contact management and reporting to help you shephard prospects through a pipeline.

Some normal CRMs let you set up multiple pipelines, but the main idea of a pipeline is that it’s a linear process, with distinct stages in the process.

This is where the genre of “normal CRM” impinges on business strategy.

Business strategy

For businesses like ours, business strategy is a combination of mission and focus.

Some combinations of mission and focus will imply that a linear process describing how someone moves from anonymous to lead to prospect to client is the ideal way to structure the sales process. In other words, a pipeline will be a good data model for these businesses.

I definitely understand the appeal of this model. It’s simple. It promises that you can understand and control your sales process using a really simple model. The marketing funnel is another such simple, appealing model.

And then some other combinations of mission and focus will imply that the pipeline model makes no sense at all. Same with the marketing funnel model. This is where genre impinges on business strategy.

For some businesses, the genre of “normal CRM” will be a terrible fit.

I think this is why I’ve resisted using a CRM up until now.

It’s not that I haven’t tried! It’s just that most CRMs — because they’re trying to fit into the genre of “normal CRM” — use this pipeline model that seems ill-suited to my business strategy. I’ll use the next article in this short series to explore why the pipeline model is ill-suited to my business.

Positioning

Product positioning, which is distinctly different than services positioning, is (sometimes) the task of making genre explicit. Software products succeed and fail at this to varying degrees. The usual approaches fail.

The first usual approach with software marketing is to focus on feature completeness, believing that a robust enough description of features will telegraph clues about genre, and from that faint, implied signal about genre, prospective customers can make up their own mind about whether the software is for them or not.

From this perspective, it’s arrogant to make declarations about who the software is for.

From this perspective it’s believed that emphasizing the product feature mix in the right way will telegraph that “this fits in the normal CRM genre” or “this is the best option within the normal CRM genre”, and potential customers will have no problem deciding what “normal CRM genre” means and whether that’s what they want or not.

I believe but can’t yet prove that this approach to positioning comes from how enterprise software is typically sold.

This first usual approach works fine where the market is not saturated with an overabundance of seemingly similar options.

The second usual approach is to differentiate through feature emphasis, or a unique feature-level design philosophy. For example, Copper CRM takes what might be the most valuable real-estate on their marketing home page to say the following: “Copper is a new kind of productivity crm that’s designed to do all your busywork, so you can focus on building long-lasting business relationships.” The rest of the home page elaborates on this statement by highlighting the product features that enable this “freedom from busywork/focus on relationships” design philosophy.

This second usual approach is one way to deal with a market that’s saturating with good options, but I’m not sure it’s the best approach in this kind of market.

Copper is getting closer to being clear about genre, but they’re still using feature descriptions as a proxy for being clear about genre. They’re being coy about who exactly their software is for.

I understand why Copper does this. It’s the same reason we all waffle on being emphatically clear about who our products or services are for: we’re hungry for more, and the seemingly obvious path to more is going bigger, and the seemingly obvious path towards going bigger is to say some variation of “we’re for everybody”. Going narrow and deep is the better path to getting from small to big, but it takes courage and discipline to pull off, so it’s easier to to believe that the right [design | marketing site copy | product feature mix | whale customer/client] will substitute for market focus + courage + discipline + time.

Secondarily, Copper probably doesn’t want to overhaul their marketing site every 12 or so months. 1 Yet, if they were willing to do that, they could start with a narrow focus and broaden over time as they gain traction and realize growth goals.

What’s pretty unusual in software marketing is to make genre explicit, rather than implicit.

If I wanted to give the typical SaaS founder nightmares with a chaser of heartburn for good measure, I’d suggest they heavily emphasize the following message on their product’s marketing site. Let’s cast this example as a CRM:

This is not a normal CRM. It’s quite unusual, in fact. It might not be for you. But… if the pipeline sales approach doesn’t work for you and instead you are seeking a CRM that focuses on relationships first, you won’t believe how well this CRM matches your needs!

This is the beachhead approach Geoffrey Moore documents in his book “Crossing the Chasm”. It’s sane and smart and bold, but under-utilized (except when I get hired to consult on product positioning).

I’ve left some loose threads hanging here. What CRM did I choose? (Not Copper CRM, FWIW.) Why is the pipeline model not a fit for my business strategy?

I’ll get to those in subsequent emails in what will become a short series.

-P


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Notes

  1. I want to be clear I don’t know the Copper CRM folks, so I’m making some generalizations and guesses here and using Copper as a way to personify those generalizations. Stereotyping, in other words. 🙂

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] At last, some survey marketing conclusions

By Philip | July 31, 2019

FINALLY. 🙂

Finally, I’ve fixed my inconsistent coding of the survey responses from my LinkedIn sample, and have something to say about this little bit of research.

Let’s start with the core question: how do self-employed software developers invest in their career?

Let’s focus on the top 3 methods of investment, and differentiate between my two sample groups. Remember1, one group was a convenience opt-in sample2 from LinkedIn, and the other was a convenience opt-in sample from my email list.

Overall numbers

To paint a more complete picture, let me pull in some numbers I’ve previously mentioned about this survey and my two sample groups:

  • 22 people from LinkedIn completed the survey.
  • 33 people from my email list completed the survey.
  • The median age of respondents is 42 (LinkedIn sample and 41 (list sample).
  • 64% of the LinkedIn sample have invested in their career in some way. 36% have not.
  • 95% of the list sample have invested in their career in some way. 5% have not.

So as you’re looking at the numbers below, keep these overall numbers in mind.

There are three sub-questions I’ll focus on in this quick write-up:

1) How do you invest in technical skills?

The full question was: “Please list ways you have you spent time and money for developing your technical skills.”

A response starting with “a-” is an action, while one starting with “s-” is a sentiment or belief. What you’ll see below are the top 3 responses, and how many of my respondents indicated that action, sentiment, or belief, and what percentage of the total number of survey completions that number represents (rounded to the nearest whole number).

LinkedIn Sample:

  1. a-online-courses – 12 – 55%
  2. a-reading-books – 4 – 18%
  3. a-irl-conferences – 4 – 18%

List Sample:

  1. a-online-courses – 22 – 67%
  2. a-reading-books – 16 – 48%
  3. a-coding-practice – 9 – 27%

2) How do you invest in business skills?

The full question was: “Please list ways you have you spent time and money for business or self-employment skills.”

LinkedIn Sample:

  1. a-reading-books – 2 – 9%
  2. a-learning – 2 – 9%
  3. a-experimenting – 2 – 9%

List Sample:

  1. a-online-courses – 15 – 45%
  2. a-reading-books – 15 – 45%
  3. a-email-lists – 6 – 18%

3) Where does opportunity come from?

The full question was: “Consider your entire career as a self-employed software developer and times you have gotten new opportunities, better projects, or other forms of career improvement. What do you think led to these improvements in your career?”

LinkedIn Sample

  1. a-networking – 6 – 27%
  2. s-perceptiveness – 3 – 14%
  3. s-persistence – 2 – 9%

List Sample

  1. a-networking – 8 – 24%
  2. a-relationships – 5 – 15%
  3. a-relationship-with-existing-clients – 4 – 12%

Conclusions

What conclusions can we draw from this slice of the data? Remember that I’m someone who is in the business of helping dev shops make smart investments in the owner’s career capital, so my conclusions are filtered through a sort of meta question, which is: “What changes might Philip need to make to more effectively reach and serve the people he’s focused on serving?”

I think the following are conclusions that are supported by this survey data:

1) Books and online courses are the best way to reach and help devs who are trying to invest in their career because those are the most common media that investment-minded devs seek out.

2) If you’re helping devs acquire new technical skills, operate from a hands-on learning perspective rather than a theoretical perspective. 3

3) If you use an email list to reach people, your best method of growing your email list might be via other people’s email list.

I’ll expand on this conclusion a bit, because it might not be self-evident.

There was a stark difference between my two sample groups here. No LinkedIn respondents mentioned email lists (like this one you’re probably reading this article via) as a method by which they would invest in their career. Six of my list respondents mentioned this method of investment, and it was listed both as a method for investing in technical skills and as a method for investing in business skills.

Of course, this is a clear sampling bias. If you ask enough members of an email list that focuses on investing in your career how they invest in their career, some of them are bound to call out… the email list by which you recruited them for the survey as one of the means of investment they use!

But it also suggests that if someone is on Email List A because they have a preference for that form of learning/investment, they might be very open to joining Email List B and Email List C and so on. They might be more open to doing this than the average person.

This suggests that if I am running Email List C, then finding a way for Email List A’s owner to expose my email list to their list members could be an effective way for my email list to reach more people.

In a way, this is super simple, basic stuff. We all know it’s easier and cheaper to sell again to an existing customer than it is to acquire a new customer. We all know it’s easier to deepen and extend a customer’s engagement with something than it is to introduce that thing to someone who has never considered it and has no context in which to understand or value it.

So of course it’s easier to attract a new list subscriber if that person already values being on an email list! But also… I wasn’t really thinking about other people’s email lists as a way I could attract more people to my email list, despite this seeming so obvious when faced with my survey data.

I have tended to think of growing my email list in the following terms:

Get on podcasts as a guest -> end with a call to action to join an email course -> let the email course do the work of inviting people onto my email list

This works well, and yes, it does resemble a digital marketing funnel, albeit one where the work of trust-building is pushed towards the front of the funnel. Front-loading the trust-building is somewhat atypical for digital marketing funnels which often entirely ignore trust building and seem to focus only on filtering for and selling to those who are desperate.

My survey data suggests that I might want to invest in a second — perhaps complementary — funnel. One that has a different “mouth” that involves other people’s email list.

Onward to my final conclusion:

4) Opportunity comes from relationships and market awareness.

As I often like to say: unfortunately, you’re in a relationship business.

My survey data bears this out. 🙂

The final conclusion

My survey focused mostly on inputs (except for the final question, which asks respondents to speculate about the causal relationship between inputs and outcomes). For example, I asked “Please list ways you have you spent time and money for developing your technical skills.” rather than “Please list the most effective methods you’ve used for developing your technical skills.” or “Please list the ways of developing your technical skills that you’ve found to produce the best result for the least time spent.” This seems like a flaw, or an important but overlooked part of answering my core question of “how do self-employed software developers invest in their career?”. It’s nice to know how they do this, but it would be even better to be able to say what produces the best ROI in terms of desirable career outcomes.

I’m now in a good position to get an answer to that question. I could design a second survey that uses my first survey (which I’ve referred to as the “de-biasing survey”) to scope and fashion the questions in the followup survey, which would have this as its core question: “Please rank these 5 methods for improving your career in order of effectiveness.”

I’m exaggerating only a little bit when I say I thought my initial survey’s questions were nearly perfect when I sent them out. It was only when I started seeing the responses that I got ideas for improving them and a general realization that they were not perfect. “20-20 hindsight!” as they say.

This is what experiential learning looks like. You 1) take your best shot, 2) facilitate meaningful feedback from those who are not incentivized to protect your ego, 3) iterate, and 4) repeat.

I do believe this survey has shortened the feedback loop from 1 and 3. For me, that might be its primary value.

Next steps on this project are:

  1. Take what I wrote above and tweak it to be less about me and more about my survey respondents.
  2. Send this report to the respondents who asked for it.

I’m on the fence about whether to ask some of the respondents for an interview in order to enrich my data set or whether to call this “sprint” done and move on to the next research question, or a refined version of this question using my 20-20 hindsight. Either way, I’ll take a break from this lengthy series and write about some other stuff that I’ve been experimenting with, most likely telling you about a sales/CRM experiment I’ve been running in my business.

I will end with this blatant pitch: I’m working on getting another Expertise Incubator group together. I need at least 3 people to start another group, and I cap each group at 5. I’ve got 2 folks who are in, so if you’d like to join a small group of folks who are pushing themselves to cultivate valuable expertise — and who in the second quarter of the program engage in a research project like what I’ve described here — then please hit REPLY and let me know. The cost is $2,100/quarter, and the program creates a lot of productive discomfort, so bear that in mind as you consider whether it’s a fit for you. If you reply, I’ll suggest we set up a short video call to figure out if the fit is ideal for where you are in your career.


Here’s an absolutely bizarre, yet oddly enchanting song I ran across recently: https://youtu.be/m276i7UIyNw It’s called “Taming the Dragon”, by Brad Mehldau, and it’s an offbeat spoken word thing with segments of heavy, trippy drumming and synthesizer layered in. Kind of like MMW’s “Whatever Happened to Gus” and “Your Name is Snake Anthony“.


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  • Unless we’re sociopaths, we maintain loyalties to people, groups, and ideas. Some of those are harmful.
  • What can you learn from superstar performers? Tim Ferriss thinks you can learn a lot. I’m not so sure.
  • Reality distortion fields: They are FOR SHIZZLE not the easiest way to make money. They are not “finding an existing river of money and dropping your fishing line into it”. They’re more like constructing the Panama Canal from scratch. Yet, some of us build our businesses this way. Why?

Notes

  1. If you want to read up on this experiment, check out what might be one of my longest — and potentially most boring — series of emails:
    1. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing/
    2. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-the-de-biasing-survey/
    3. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-recruitment/
    4. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-initial-data-from-the-de-biasing-survey/
    5. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-qualitative-analysis-of-the-de-biasing-survey/
    6. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-coding-and-counting/
    7. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-its-a-grind-grind/
    8. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-slogging-away-the-morning/
    9. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-coding-and-altered-states/
  2. A convenience opt-in sample is where you invite a group of potential survey respondents to participate in the survey. You may or may not incentivize their participation, but you are definitely not using statistical methods to attempt to control for or compensate for sampling bias. In fact, that’s the whole strength of convenience sampling methods: they’re fast and cheap compared to probability sampling methods or census sampling methods.
    Of course, the lack of statistical sophistication is the main point some will criticize if you use convenience samples. I have a TEI participant who is engaged in an interesting conversation with one of his list members who seems to see this as a huge deal. His list member seems to be saying that since a convenience sampling method has uncontrolled bias, it’s completely worthless.
    I disagree, because new information, even if it comes from a biased sample, can facilitate significant relative decreases in uncertainty, which can provide impressive value to a business decision maker. Furthermore, even if you’re not using strict statistical methods to control or compensate for bias in a sample group, you can be aware of what biases might be present in a convenience sample, draw reasonable conclusions about how those biases might influence the information you gather from your sample, and incorporate that information into your decision making.
  3. Anyone who has ever tried to learn something about coding, or tried to teach others about it probably understands this intuitively, but it’s nice to also see this reflected in the data.
    This also makes me feel more confident about my choice to teach business and marketing skills from an experiential learning perspective rather than a theoretical perspective. Just because the skills exist in a different domain doesn’t mean I should use a different learning modality for teaching them.

[PMC Weekly Insight] The tyranny of the easily-measured

By Philip | July 24, 2019

(Programming note: I’m taking a short 2-week break from my lengthy series on survey marketing to talk about today’s topic, which is contextually relevant, but is still a break from reporting directly on the research project.)

What gets measured gets managed (or improved), they say.

What does this mean about what is easily measured vs. what’s not easily measured? We have this conventional wisdom that in order to control or improve something, it must be measured. But does this actually mean what’s easily measured becomes more important, or will become institutionalized as more important?

Just the framing of that question suggests the answer: no, of course not. Ease of measurement doesn’t correlate to importance of what’s measured. In fact, I’d bet that ease/difficulty of measurement correlates directly to frequency of measurement, not importance:

It’s probably obvious: what’s most easily measured is what’s going to get most regularly measured. But tthis seems to me like a better way to decide what to measure:

Reducing the risk on high-impact things is a great way to think about what to measure. Even if all you knew about was actual impact — and the risk component was a mystery — you’d still have a good pointer to where to deploy measurement effort. Look for what’s actually impactful, and measure that.

Ideally, measure what’s high impact and high risk, even if it’s not easy to measure. Here are some examples of this combination of high impact and high risk:

  • As I’m writing this, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, a classic high impact-high risk project. In fact, the term “moonshot” has come to stand for high impact-high risk efforts.
  • Extending into a new market or wholesale re-positioning.
  • Building something new where that new thing might effect an important metric or aspect of the businesses performance. For example, imagine a large subscription-based business. Small changes could have large revenue effects, because those small changes are multiplied across a large subscriber base. This is the principle by which conversion rate optimization produces leverage.

If it’s not easy to measure this high impact-high risk stuff for your clients, help them measure it anyway! Or invent ways for them to measure it.

TEI participant Stephen Kuenzli has just published a very interesting piece of original research that illustrates inventing a way to measure the difficult-to-measure: nodramadevops.com/state-of-application-secret-delivery-and-audit-practices/

He started by asking some questions about secret key handling in a cloud environment, and found a strong correlation between how securely this is done and the level of satisfaction that DevOps engineers have with how its done. This suggests that you can ask the safer, easier-to-answer question “How satisfied are you with secret-management practices” and if the answer is negative, you can with some confidence believe that there are problems with the level of security for secret key handling at that organization.

In simple terms, Stephen has uncovered a useful, valid proxy measurement. This is a great example of what I mean when I say you can invent ways for clients to measure what’s important, even if it’s not easy to measure. Also… read the whole report! It’s interesting, and a great example of how you do a scrappy, self-directed research project: nodramadevops.com/state-of-application-secret-delivery-and-audit-practices/

Stephen took on this research as a speculative investment in his expertise and authority. If a client with decent budget had commissioned it, I could see Stephen charging $50k or more to do the exact same research, but with the client owning the resulting IP. Will Stephen doing this as in-house research produce a similar or greater ROI to Stephen’s business? We shall see! This is speculative stuff, after all, and research like this is an investment that takes time to pay off. But if Stephen’s client LTV is, let’s say $50k or greater, then all it takes is Stephen’s research influencing 1 prospect to become a client for it to produce ROI that’s similar or greater than if he had done this research as work-for-hire for a single client.

I’ve noticed a few places where the tyranny of the easily-measured prevails:

Email marketing software. Opens, clicks, subscribes, and unsubscribes are the most easily measured. But how valuable are they?

Here’s one suggestion of a not-so-easily-measured thing that would — in the context of your consulting work –be far more valuable: how many companies have 3 or more people at that organization on your email list? Or here’s a similar metric, but expressed as a time-based event: notify me when 3 or more people at the same organization join my list within a defined period of time, like 1 month.

Why is this not-so-easily-measured-thing 1 valuable? Well, ask yourself what it might mean if 3 or more people from the same org join your email list within a relatively short period of time. We can’t know for sure in every instance, but in some instances this would happen because Person 1 at Org A joins, finds your email list relevant and either forwards an email to someone else at Org A and that person joins your list, or Person 1 verbally tells others at Org A to join your list. Either way, you have your message and PoV spreading by word of mouth at Org A. What does this WoM mean? It might mean this org has a need that relates to what you talk about on your email list, and there’s an opportunity to serve that need more deeply with a paid engagement. 2

There are a lot of “might” and “may” qualifiers in the previous paragraph, but that’s OK. The core idea is valid, which is that the most easily measured stuff in email marketing software is less valuable than things that are less easy to measure.

The less easy to measure stuff also tends to be specific to a niche use case, which might also explain why it’s not baked into the software. For example, a retail e-commerce site might have no use for reporting or alerting that tells them when more than 3 people from the same organization have joined their email list. That might be noise to them, despite being valuable signal to a consultant. I could certainly see why a huge email marketing platform like Mailchimp might avoid baking niche reporting needs into the core software. It’s too wierd, or confuses the question of who the sofware is for (Mailchimp’s answer: “everyone!”), or creates some other undesirable second order consequence. If Mailchimp functions like a conventional platform, then even if they do recognize the value of measuring less easy-to-measure things, they’ll choose to leave the task of actually doing that measuring to third party integrations.

To summarize: I understand many of the good reasons why the not-so-easy-to-measure stuff is left unmeasured. There’s still significant value in looking past the easily measured to the important-to-measure. 3

Next example: social media. The easy-to-measure stuff here is: quantity of likes, comments, and re-shares. The not-so-easy-to-measure stuff is: actual impact of your thinking as delivered through social media posts or your commenting on other folk’s posts. 4

I could imagine a world in which a social network like LinkedIn deploys natural language processing to do a sentiment analysis of the comments on each post, and in addition to simple, dumb “engagement” metrics based on likes, comments, shares, and reach it adds a positive/negative/controversial sentiment analysis metric to their reporting on the performance of a post. This would not get us much closer at all to understanding the actual impact of the thinking expressed in a LinkedIn post, but it would be an incremental move away from the stuff that’s easy to measure and towards more important but harder-to-measure stuff.

There are certainly other places where what is easily measured wins out over what is important to measure, but those are two easily understood examples.

I want to encourage you to push through what’s easily measured to what’s important to measure.

Let me leave you with this, which I see as a wonderful allegory about the importance of knowing what to measure, which we could also think of as the importance of knowing where to look when things go wrong: www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/07/16/world/europe/notre-dame.html

-P


Here’s what’s been happening on my paid Daily Insights email list:

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…

Notes:

  1. What exactly is the threshold beyond which something is not-so-easy-to-measure?
    For most SaaS products, that will be measurement that involves a third party tool or custom code. In other words, if it’s built into the software, then it’s easy to measure. If it’s not, then it’s not easy to measure, again seen from the perspective of most users.
  2. Those who suffer from imposter syndrome will first invent a negative explanation for why multiple people at Org A are joining your list. The Resistance will say: “It’s actually so they can all laugh at this fraud with an email list!” It doesn’t take too long to begin recognizing The Resistance’s very distinctive accent and start to overlook its lame attempts at keeping you safe.
  3. Incidentally, I’m very proud of Paul Jarvis for turning off tracking pixels and link redirection on his Mailchimp account. He talks a bit about that in Liston and my interview with him: offline.simplecast.com/episodes/paul-jarvis-on-building-an-audience-and-a-company-of-one
  4. I’d say measuring social media’s role within a funnel is not trivially easy, but it’s also not as difficult to measure as what I’m about to propose in the next paragraph.
    But, critically, few to no high-dollar consulting engagements are actually sold using social media, or a funnel involving social media. So that’s why I’m avoiding talking about this exact measurement.