Monthly Archives: April 2016

How to fail at reference selling (and how not to)

Back when I was a sales engineer, I’d occasionally re-read Rich Casselberry’s post entitled, “So you want to meet with me.” Rich was a customer of mine, and he had great advice for vendors who wanted time on his calendar.

Since September, I’ve been running marketing for Infinio, and in doing so I’ve gone from only thinking as a “seller” to also thinking as a “buyer.” My entire career has been in sales and marketing, but now I’m also a purchaser of marketing software and services. I have a new appreciation for Rich’s pain and preferences. And I have some of my own.

Today’s rant is on reference selling. Reference selling is, theoretically, a great idea. Rather than telling me about your product, tell me about someone who succeeded with your product. Instant third-party validation. It’s why when we’re selling we focus so much on customer stories, and why when we’re marketing we seek to publish case studies.

Reference selling can also be very useful in cold calling and cold emailing. But it can also be completely useless.

Exhibit 1: Ineffective reference selling

Today I received an email touting assistance this company had provided “…companies like Microsoft, Tinder, Reddit, and SurveyMonkey…”


It’s hard to fathom a list of companies that my company has less in common with. Sure, they are all well-respected technology companies (in Tinder’s sake, well-respected modifies technology). But not one of them is at the scale or size of Infinio, or in the same technology space as us. Sure, we aspire to be Microsoft (who doesn’t?) but it’s not apparent from a cold email that the fact this company helped Microsoft means anything to me.

Admission time.

The truth is, I’m a grump when it comes to cold calls and cold emails. I should be nicer, really. I work with salesguys all day and then I go home and my husband is in professional sales as well. But I can’t help it.

So there has been just a single cold email I’ve responded to this year. And it was this one.

Exhibit 2: Effective reference selling

A few months ago, I received an email from a conference exhibits company. They used the name of my industry’s biggest tradeshow in their subject line, and their short email included names of eight companies whose booths they had produced last year.

Of these eight companies, all were in our general space, two were roughly the same stage as us, four were bigger, and two were well-known large companies. I knew people who worked at two of the companies.

Of course I was interested. I immediately emailed Infinio’s Events Manager, and said, “Can you also take a look at this company?  The other booths they have done are relevant to us.” She met with them, and it was a great fit, and now we’re very interested in working with them.


Here’s the thing. I don’t have any idea if the first company had something I’d want. I have no idea because I don’t have time to follow up on every cold email I get (I’ve gotten nine, just today.) And that company didn’t take the time to learn enough about me to approach me in a way that would catch my interest

It’s a good lesson. And as a marketing leader, I have an extra arrow in my quiver – the experience of being a customer.

Where are the female tech evangelists?

A few weeks ago, Todd Mace posted the following on Twitter, about his blog post on tech evangelists:

Those are great examples of people contribute a lot to our community – and the rest of this post is in no way a slight to them.


One of Todd’s asks was for other evangelists he may have left off the list.  Twitter provided some more.

Again, those are great examples, and I follow most of those people, have hired some of them on a contract basis, and always enjoy seeing them in person.


In the ensuing discussion, which was a mix of “what do you mean by evangelist” and “thank you for including me,” as well as some more additional names, and not one woman’s name was added to the list.

Not one.

Is it actually possible, that there are NO women evangelists?  I get it, there are fewer of us. When you go to a tech conference, there’s never a line for the restroom (and when is there never a line for the restroom?)  But I don’t think that there aren’t women evangelists, I just don’t think we call them that.

There is a (post-feminist?) trope I’ve heard that says, women who work are balancing so much with work, family, home, elderly parents, that we don’t have time for work-related extra-curriculars.  We go out for beers after work less often, we attend fewer conferences, and we don’t have the time to collaborate on outside-of-work professional projects.

The thing is, I don’t think that’s true.  I am part of a professional networking group that meets monthly.  Two of our community’s podcasts (Speaking in Tech and Geek Whisperers) each have a female host.  And based on anecdotal evidence, I will make an educated guess that tech conferences have a male/female ratio of attendees that mirrors that of the industry.  Speakers, not so much.

In a post that she has since retired, Shanley Kane writes that men and women get different titles for doing the same job.  “When women do it, it’s community management.  When men do it, it’s technical evangelism…When women do it, it’s marketing. When men do it, it’s growth hacking.”  She’s exactly right.  I think there are many, many women in our community who are influencing and impacting and contributing, and I think we just don’t call them “evangelists.”

And since being an “evangelist” is sexy while being a “community manager” (or whatever the title is) isn’t, women aren’t getting as much attention for their contributions.

Do you remember when Mitt Romney referred to a “binder full of women” when explaining how he tried to bring more women into his cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts?  Well, I got out my binder full of women…women evangelists that is:

And Gina helped me out:

The point I made to Todd was simple:

And that’s the thing.  There’s a revolution going on around how people learn and communicate. Temple Grandin keynoted at SXSW about learning styles, and Susan Cain’s research on intro/extraversion is being considered groundbreaking in how people communicate at work. Isn’t it possible that evangelism can be a broader practice than was initially defined?

Here’s the other thing.  A lot of recent surveys and papers have pointed out that the single most important factor in job satisfaction is the feeling of appreciation and contribution.  I’ll posit that is true not just for job satisfaction, but for community satisfaction, too.  If we continue not to recognize the women in our community, they (we) will stop wanting to contribute.  And that will be a major loss.

Todd’s not a bad guy – he was happy to add these women to his list. It’s a failure by our community, I believe, to properly recognize everyone’s contributions. And it doesn’t escape me that I added women, but there is a lack of other kinds of diversity in this list as well.

Let’s see how we can get better at this, shall we?

Here’s something else Amazon could sell me

Amazon sells me a lot of stuff.  I read somewhere that you can pull a report of everything you have bought from Amazon, so I did, but I’m afraid to look at it.  In a given week, I probably place 4-6 orders, not counting my standing monthly “Subscribe and Save” orders, or the ones mrDiva places. Now we also have an Amazon Echo so we can just ask “Alexa” to order things for us from Amazon.

Here’s a list of what I’ve ordered from Amazon in the past week, and here’s where I would have bought it pre-Amazon:

  • Sneakers for my daughter (Stride Rite)
  • Water shoes for my daughter (Target)
  • Duplo (Lego) set (Toys R Us)
  • Measuring cup (Target)
  • Humidifier cleaner (Supermarket)
  • Book (Barnes and Noble)
  • Diapers for my daughter (Target)
  • Diapers for my son (Target)
  • Wipes (Target)
  • Birthday gift for friend (Toys R Us)

Needless to say, Amazon has captured a huge share of wallet in our household.

We know that Amazon plays games with prices – and that “list price” is a construct whose time may be over.  Of course Amazon offers me products they think I’ll like and follows me around the internet offering me items I’ve looked at.

But I think Amazon could be even smarter with their Big Data.

One way is with Amazon Pantry.  Pantry is for household and supermarket items, and you basically fill a box of a certain size, then pay flat rate shipping.

The thing is, I’m a great candidate for Pantry.  In fact, I make a monthly grocery store run to the “big” grocery store to get cereal, granola bars, microwave popcorn, cookies, chips, and all the things my local market charges through the nose for, and that my organic market doesn’t carry.  (I mean, it would kill them to stock Oreos?)  I’ve bought some of these items from Amazon in the past.

So I’ve looked at Pantry a few times.  I’ve even loaded up a box to see what it would cost.  But I feel like it’s hard to compare prices with what I typically pay, so I haven’t pulled the trigger.

And Amazon knows all this.  They know that I’ve put things in a Pantry box, that I’ve tried to search for the same items on both Pantry and non-Pantry pricing, and that I’ve given up with a half-full box several times.  So you know what would be compelling? Something like this:

“Hey Sheryl, we noticed you were looking at Pantry.  We combed through your orders in the past, and noticed that if you had bought these things in a Pantry box instead of a la carte, you would have saved $20!”

But that’s not my real idea for Amazon.  My real idea is around budgeting.  Personal finance is a huge online business.  Mint, Wave, and numerous others all have healthy businesses helping people budget. The thing is this: a HUGE portion of my budget is spent through Amazon.  They have a ton of data about my spending habits in different categories and my purchasing patterns.

There are also some things I don’t buy on Amazon.  But Amazon Payments could cover that. Theoretically, any online purchase I make could be tracked by Amazon.  And I would love to get that info – to know, where was I spending money, and what were the trends.  Were diapers really costing me as much as I thought?  How much did I spend on clothing last summer?

Not only that, but once Amazon started offering me financial information, I might be inclined to see what Amazon recommended for things like car insurance, or mortgage rates.  And they wouldn’t have to even sell that to me, but they could offer it as a referral.  I can already buy a cell phone plan, magazine subscription, and software contract from Amazon.  Why not insurance?  Why not my kid’s 529?

The point being, as I said earlier: Amazon has a huge share of our household wallet.  Their ability to provide information to me about my own spending habits would be valuable – valuable enough that I could turn to them for other purchases as well.  At this point, if Amazon doesn’t sell it, I probably don’t buy it.