Words of advice to inside sales people prospecting busy CEOs

If you’re an executive at a company and are in any way accessible, you’re on the receiving end of dozens of email pitches for products and services every week. Most of these come from what are known as “inside sales” people, i.e. sales people who start at the top of the funnel to find qualified leads for the company. They tend to cast their nets really wide and send lots of emails and make lots of phone calls.

Here’s one pitch I got recently:

Hi Chad,

I’ve reached out several times to discuss your [type of software service] initiatives for 2013.

If you have just been busy, and this is something you would like to pursue, I am happy to set some time up based on your availability.
Otherwise I will reach out again in a few months.

Let me know

This particular inside sales person was unusually persistent (this had to be the 5th or 6th email with no new information, just asking for time), and he showed many of the same ineffective patterns that I’ve seen for years. I decided to write him back with some advice. I’m publishing my response on the hope that it will help salespeople produce better pitches (which will thereby reduce the number since they will have to be more thoughtful), and saving that, maybe my post will provide some cathartic commiseration to all of the other people who I know face a similar barrage of unqualified pitches every day (and I won’t even get into the cold phone calls). The subject line of his last email was “Just busy?”

 Hi [name redacted], 

I know you’re just doing your job, but I wanted to give you some feedback as a busy CEO you are prospecting. Please take the below in that spirit — I’m just trying to be helpful. It looks like [your company] has an excellent management team, and I’m sure the team is doing really interesting work. 

A few key points: 

1. Your level of persistence is verging on annoying. I admire persistence, but the tone of your emails suggests that you are more focused on solving your problem (finding leads for your product) than mine. There is nothing in your emails that suggest you have done any homework on Etsy’s business and what we might need. I’ve written a lot about what Etsy is doing and I’m surprised that sales people like you don’t at least try to pull some of the content for the pitch (https://www.etsy.com/blog/news/2013/notes-from-chad-2012-year-in-review/). I feel like I’m on a long list of people you are cold-calling, you’re just looking for a “hit,” and I’m just a reminder in your Salesforce.com database.

2. If you look at my background, my background is heavy on technology and my path to CEO included being CTO of multiple companies. Your emails are very superficial given that I know this space pretty well. I’ve received hundreds of pitches over the years, and the ones that stand out are the ones that speak to the real needs of people doing the work of running large-scale Internet companies. Your pitch doesn’t reflect any knowledge about me personally and what I might already know from past experience.

3. As a CEO of a growing company, I generally have no availability. Nothing in your emails has made me feel like I need to carve out time from my schedule to meet with you. Simple repetition is not a strategy.

4. I had to look at your web site to see that the management team did some category-defining work with [well-known company in this person's space]. You should sell that more. Don’t make your prospects do all the work of figuring out why they should answer your emails.

All that said, we’re not interested at this time, so you don’t need to email me again. Best of luck with your prospecting.

Keynote at Railsconf

I did a keynote at Railsconf yesterday entitled “Optimizing for developer happiness.” Huge thanks to Ben Scofield and Chad Fowler for the invite. It was a blast!

Below is the video and here are the slides on Slideshare.

I’ve got a longer post in me that builds on the themes in the talk — hoping to get that up in the next couple of weeks!

Update: just found a talk called “Optimize for Happiness” by Tom Preston-Werner (Github co-founder) about optimizing for happiness vs. money. Tom’s talk definitely pre-dated mine and looks at happiness from a somewhat different point-of-view. Definitely worth reading/watching.

The scourge of PowerPoint

Anyone who worked with me and others on putting the early hack days together at Yahoo! knows that one of the rallying cries was “No PowerPoint!” I’m pretty sure that the first invitation sent around inside Yahoo! back in 2005 said that explicitly, and presenters who started out with PowerPoints at those early hack days were enthusiastically booed. This theme continue to be reflected in future hack days, like the one we put together with Techcrunch just last year. The “No PowerPoint!” stance was a reflection of what I had seen or heard about in a number companies (not just Yahoo!) — seemingly endless twiddling with slide decks, with a disproportionate amount of energy devoted to aligning squares and choosing clip art. At its most pernicious, entire teams become obsessed with “the deck” and lose all sense about what they are actually trying to accomplish.

(And don’t get me wrong, I really love artfully-done PowerPoint or Keynote presentations. It’s absolutely possible and the best slide decks inspire and motivate.)

So, I particularly enjoyed this bit in Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s remarkable “burning platform” memo:

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

“Only partially in jest.” Ouch.

(Thanks to @finitor for his tweet!)

Investing in people: microcredit and Kiva.org

Inspired in equal parts by Greg Cohn’s experience with Kiva.org and the awarding of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their work in micro-credit, I decided to make a couple of small loans to enterpreneurs in the developing world. For those who are not familiar with the concept of microcredit, Wikipedia offers this description:

Microcredit is the extension of very small loans (microloans) to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty who are not bankable. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimum qualifications to gain access to traditional credit. Microcredit is a part of microfinance, which is the provision of financial services to the very poor; apart from loans, it includes savings, microinsurance and other financial innovations.

I made two small loans today using Kiva.org, which makes the process really simple:

  • One to a 43 year-old woman in Kenya to invest in her crafts business
  • One to a 42 year-old woman in Kenya to invest in her dairy business — mainly to buy two cows and feed.

For more about Kiva.org, read the FAQ. I’ll post later about how my loan portfolio is doing, though the repayment window is 10-18 months for the loans I extended, so it could be a while (one key note: these are no-interest loans, so it’s not a money-making opportunity). Kiva claims that their repayment rate to date is 100% and data from the United Nations Capital Development Fund say that the worldwide repayment rate for microloans is 97%. Even if you’re the cynical type, this seems like a good bet.

As the Nobel Prize press release says, “Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.” This is definitely a compelling use of the Internet.

Update: my good friend Andrew Leonard offers his take on Kiva in his Salon blog, How the World Works: “Do it yourself microfinance.” I am routinely astonished by the world as it emerges before me, but wrapping my brain around do-it-yourself microfinance has been one of those moments where I feel the earth move under my feet.

Apple sucks

Over the weekend, in getting ready for my trip Bangalore (via London, where I sit now with a long layover), I decided to download some episodes of “The Office” from the iTunes video store. I downloaded a few hours worth of video, dutifully paying for the video using the account I’ve used for all my iTunes purchases in the past.

After settling into my seat for the 10 hour flight to London, I booted up my laptop, ready to enjoy the videos I had downloaded and presumably paid for. Imagine my horror when I clicked “play” on the first episode and got this screen:

iTunes authorization screen

Of course, you have to be connected to the Internet to authorize, so I was out of luck for my whole flight.

Apple, you suck. (At the very least, build the authorization step into the download process — aren’t you known for obsessive user focus?)

Excited about Hack Day

We’re doing another Hack Day at Yahoo! tomorrow — can’t wait. I have no idea what’s going to happen. And that’s the best part (and absolutely intentional). We leave lots of room for emergence.

See Jeremy and my post for info on the last one, plus some Flickr photos. Expect more after tomorrow.

Bonus reading:

Disconnected from the desk actually means more connected

In Jeremy’s “where almost doesn’t matter” post, he mentions that I often gather my stuff and say, “I’m living out of my bag for the rest of the day.”

So why do I do that? Tim Converse nails it for me:

My hunch is that what being unchained from your desk makes possible is talking to more people face-to-face in more various places, which is really about greater personal control of the all-important Where (and the all-important face-to-face contact), than it is about making Where disappear.

This past Friday was a case-in-point. I left my desk in Santa Clara for the day at 11am to go to a meeting at our main Sunnyvale campus. I hopped the Yahoo! inter-campus shuttle and was soon instant messaging with one of my colleagues while going 60 mph down highway 101 (thank you, EVDO!) When I arrived in Sunnyvale, I IM’ed my colleague and asked him to grab another colleague and call my Treo from a conference room (we had something important to talk about). I was still connected to IM when I folded my laptop under my arm and stepped off the shuttle. My phone rang and I slipped into the landscaping for a little privacy (the mobile office does have its disadvantages). When I hung up, I got a text message on my Treo from Matthew with the room where we would be meeting. All of these communications were high-value, but none were face-to-face until I met up with Matthew. Oddly enough, by the end of the day, I had seen each person mentioned in the above scenario face-to-face for one reason or another. Living out of your bag doesn’t mean avoiding face-to-face meetings at all.

I think all the virtual communication is necessary in the era of Web Development 2.0. When you’re moving fast, lots of small decision points come up, and it’s best to get those decisions out of the way as soon as it’s feasible.

Side anecdote: if you live out of your bag, you have to make sure your bag is well-stocked for all circumstances. One of my great moments in bag history was a day when Caterina was asking around if anyone had a Treo charger because her battery was dead. I had the charger, but instead I pulled out a fully-charged spare Treo battery and traded for her dead one (which I charged later). It was the Silicon Valley high-tech office version of a Mentos moment.

I encourage everyone to pack an extra fully-charged cell phone battery in your bag. One day you will be sitting in stalled Manhattan traffic on a Friday afternoon on the way to the airport and need to make a critical call, and your phone will be dead. That’s when you will remember that spare battery and thank me.

Tactical is the new strategic

I was talking to a friend recently who works in a large Silicon Valley company about the expectations of managers within large companies and we discussed how big company managers routinely describe themselves as either “tactical” or “strategic.” Typically, those who say they are “strategic” talk down to those considered more “tactical,” directly or indirectly. This is wrong-headed. Marc Hedlund’s post about Web 2.0 development practices over at O’Reilly Radar firmed up my existing feelings on the matter:

More often, though, the developers and the CEO respond to the majority of the support email. One CEO told me he responds to about 80% of all the mail they receive. How better to know what people are saying about your product? he asked.

These days (especially in the web world), being conversant in “big picture” issues means knowing the details, as the anecdote above illustrates. I would bet that the fact that it cost a hundred dollars to FedEx a 30-pound bag of dog food was dismissed as a “tactical” concern by Pets.com board members back in the dot-com craziness as they pursued the larger “strategy” of selling pet food online. We know how that ended up.

“Strategies” are big and sweeping and inherently pass the task of implementation to someone else. Tactics are inherently about executing. The distance between “strategic” and “tactical” is measured in meetings, PowerPoints, conference calls, and, well, “not writing code.” Limiting (or even mostly eliminating) that distance is the key to making things happen.

I’m not saying that strategy isn’t important, just that strategy directly combined with tactical skill is the real killer combo. “Strategy” in the absense of tactical engagement is a loser’s game. If you’re a manager who gets down in the muck to make things happen (not to be confused with “micromanagement”), take heart: tactical is the new strategic.