Tell Them No, Just Never Use that Word

I was at an agency meeting some time back, when the head of the company addressed the sales team requesting they take programmers to client meetings as needed. It was at this point I witnessed a lead salesman turn to his colleague and say, “not a chance.” This event didn’t go unnoticed and got around the IT department fast which led to a few conversations. The one concern we got back from the sales team is that the IT people always say no. There is a solution to this, but we need to understand the problem first.

From the time we are little kids, we live in a world of no. No dessert until you finish your vegetables. No, you didn’t clean your room. There’s a lot of big frustration around such a little word. We all want to run around and do what we want. As children, the first part of being punished for misbehaving starts with your parents yelling the word no. It takes our heads out of the clouds and puts our feet back on the ground.

As adults, no gets internalized. We don’t kick and scream when we hear it, although that would be funny to see a board room full of executives “expressing” themselves. Under the calm veneer of professionalism, we are all emotional animals that get mad when we don’t get what we want. That’s not to say we are all boiling under an icy exterior, but telling someone no has real consequences.

No comes from the head, but goes straight to the heart. A programmer rationalizes why something can’t happen because of logically based perceptions. These opinions are not formed out of malice or petty dominance, but far too often are treated like they are.

Before you whip out the big N-O, remember it’s an emotionally charged and potentially damaging word. People are scared to hear it. In the world of business, you will be judged for using that word and the negativity will come right back at you. People will make up all kinds of reasons why you told them no without diving in to deeper issues. It can be a little ridiculous, but it’s the world we live in and we need to adapt.

There are ways to disagree without saying no.  And before you call me out on being manipulative, I am not advocating any level of political doublespeak and clever misdirection. Not because it doesn’t work, but because programmers are smarter than that and we don’t need to lie. So you take no out of your vocabulary, but what happens when you find yourself in a no situation?

The two situations I normally encounter are when requests are literally impossible to achieve and the other is when they makes no business sense whatsoever. Programmers are problem solvers. So use your talents and think about what can happen and what does make sense. Focus on the reasons why something won’t work and develop a solution that fixes those problems.

A common situation is being given an unrealistic deadline. So instead of saying no, tell them about what you can accomplish in that timeframe. Figure out how to stage multiple releases and let the client know that you will concentrate on getting the core functionality right. This helps the team focus on what’s important. If you come up with a better solution, everyone wins.

It’s an educational process that involves the programmers, account service, and the clients. Don’t be mad at them for not knowing. You have to educate them about what reasonable possibilities are and they will educate you about what their problems are. When you fully understand the problem, you should have the confidence to offer up an alternative if what they are asking for doesn’t make sense. And remember, you’re employment depends on your company’s ability to sell something. I would rather be coding than playing salesman, but a good team has to help each other out.

Sometimes a dumb request can be a smart one with a little work. And sometimes despite everyone’s best effort, our clients won’t be persuaded at all. Even if you fail, the best part is you learn what will and won’t work. In time you find ways to shelf the word no in favor of a conversation, at least that’s what works for me.

I love the responses I get from my posts. What I would like to do this week is for those of us out there who have had success in dealing with these situations to post how they handled themselves to help others who might be struggling. After a week, I will take my favorite top three and repost to the main blog as guest entries. Thanks!

Mobile Coupons are on the Rise

Why Mobile Coupons
Coupon use is on the rise. Businesses issued 367 billion coupons last year and consumers redeemed 3.3 billion. Redemption grew by 27% in 2009.~The Nielsen Company

The redemption of internet coupons is leading this trend, rising 263% in 2009.~The Nielsen Company

When it comes to measuring market performance, digital coupons have proven to have a greater effect on purchase intent, awareness, memory retention, and emotional engagement.~The Nielsen Company

Right now, paper coupons account for the bulk of coupons distributed and redeemed. This is changing radically though.

Why Now
The number of consumers who can use mobile coupons is growing by leaps and bounds. The use of mobile devices for connecting to the Web is outpacing personal computers. Today, the majority of coupons are distributed in Sunday newspapers. But, U.S. newspaper circulation has hit its lowest level in seven decades and is projected to continue to decline.~The Washington Post

By 2013, mobile phones will overtake the PC as the most common Web access device worldwide.~Gartner

Currently, 58% of online consumers own a mobile phone capable of connecting to the Web.~PriceGrabber

By 2011, over 85% of new handsets will be able to access the mobile Web.~Gartner

And in 2011, over 87 billion dollars in sales will be generated by 3 billion mobile coupons.~Juniper Research

The trends are clear. The preferred channel for coupon distribution is going away. Consumers are using more coupons. Mobile access to coupons will be omnipresent and in the new future, billions of dollars will be spent creating and distributing coupons on mobile devices.

The Value of Social Currency in Social Networks

One thought I was having recently has been about the value of social currency within social networks. You’re social currency is the information you share. And like currency it has a value. If the information is of high value, meaning it’s engaging and relevant; it gets consumed. If the information is of the highest value, it gets passed along. So you can define the value of social currency as the frequency in which someone will respond to you and the number of people they will pass on your message.

Value of social currency = (frequency of response) x (number of people shared with)

That maybe a little pointless in and of itself, but as we consider that social content is openly shared with no immediate monetary gain, I think there should be a deep interest in what does motivate someone to take the time to either create a blog or pass something along.

When I post to my blog and it gets a lot of hits, I am excited. No one is paying me anything to do this. But, increasing the value of my social currency is what I am interested in. When someone posts to Facebook they anticipate a response. They look for validation, just like in the physical world. Even the most introverted people want that acceptance.

Reputation scores are how the blogging aggregator site Technorati works. The more people who link to your blog (along with some other things), the higher the rating you get. and other social bookmarking sites and even Google work on this principle. What we are not seeing on sites like Facebook and Twitter are these ways to judge the value of social currency even if it is somewhat implicit. The mayor feature of Foursquare is an excellent example of new ways to handle this.

Socially, we judge quality all the time. We look at how a person is groomed, what clothe they wear, and the car they drive. Aside from your mother telling you not to judge a book by its cover, evaluating other people is ingrained to our very existence. Who should I listen to? Who is my friend? Does this person know what they are talking about? It would be interesting to see more social media account for this.

Lately researchers have pointed out that social media in essence is simply the digital version of our physical relationships. We have strong, weak and temporary ties: We essentially communicate with a very small group of people on a regular basis. And with this high level of frequency comes a high level of trust. The value of social currency is tied to frequency of conversations.

As the social Web grows in sophistication we will really see this take on greater meaning. Designers will find more and better ways to display it, users will more easily find relevant content, and marketers will have new ways to target and proposition their sales based on it.

Lateral Movement

Bruce Lee, as he taught martial arts, lectured about the economy of motion. This is the belief that no effort should be wasted. Every ounce of your energy should be direct, to the point, and with no extraneous movement. It’s about cutting out what’s not essential. To do this, is to be efficient, or economical. And to be economical, you need a goal. Without a goal, you might as well sit there and swing your arms around like a three year old.

This idea is just as relevant to business today. Even though it seems obvious to have a goal, I don’t know how many times that mistake is made. People start to work on things without really thinking about what they are trying to achieve. I know it’s not easy to clearly define goals. It does take some time to sit down and hash it out.

So if you have poorly defined goals, or as I have seen lately no goals, and a room full of people who are working with no clear direction, what happens? I call it lateral movement. Everyone is doing something, but the work is not moving towards a real solution. Since there are no goals and therefore no clear way to qualify an idea, any idea is fine, just as long as it suits someone’s sense of contribution. In that situation, you could pull anyone in off the street and ask their opinion and it would be valid.

The point is if you can’t tell me how an assignment, a task, or even an edit gets us closer to our goal, then it’s not worth pursuing. It’s not how a business should operate. It gets worse when someone dumps a ton of lateral movement work in your lap at 5:00 pm that’s due the next day. Not only is it pointless, it’s also stealing away your personal time now. I am actually involved in the process right now with a client who doesn’t seem to understand that the computer screen is horizontal, but the vertical comp she sketched for some reason doesn’t fit right. Got to love marketers like that, they don’t have an ounce of design skill, but they don’t let that stop them.

Back in the day one of my Web sites I designed was featured by Communication Arts Magazine online. It was right up there between and This happened when I was working for Dan O’Saben. I learned a lot from Dan. The day he reviewed that design he had nothing to add to it. There were plenty of designs that did need his help, but not this one. No lateral movement and our reward was a site that got national attention.

Good direction will lead to good work and it starts with a goal. But, it’s the bad creative directors, account directors and executives that are driven by ego and control more than goals and leadership who are at the root of lateral movement. Clients can cause it too, but it’s hard to complain too much about the people who are paying you.

The Software Adoption Funnel

Getting people to use the software you have written seems to be a crucial step marketers tend to ignore. I say this from experience in working with Microsoft, Intel,  AB, and Coke. Obviously, there are serious efforts within those companies to make sure people use the applications they create, but I have not witnessed it for anything I have produced for any of them. Of the 34 million dollars or so spent on BudTV, I think I saw a single 5 second mention of it on TV. That was it. No  concerted effort to drive people to the site, certainly no advertising platform.

Budgets are completely spent in making applications. This is odd to me because an application is like a product, and products need marketing. This is why I created the software adoption funnel. It’s similar to the retail purchase funnel, but essentially it’s a guide on how to segment, target, and proposition marketing communications contingent to where a user is in the process. Each part of the funnel should be driving the user to next phase.

This conversion should be nurtured as studies have shown that delays in moving users down the funnel leads to an attrition of the adoption process. Information recall is chief among issues that arise from any delay.

The process starts with awareness. Strategically, this is addressed like mass advertising and communications should have a very creative appeal to spark interest.

Once a user signs-up or a downloads the application you now more towards a more direct marketing model. Lifecycle e-mail marketing can begin. Communications should focus on getting the users to play with the application.

Now the user is in the evaluation phase, test driving the application. This is the most crucial phase where usability can make or break an application. If the experience is relevant to their needs and it’s easy to use, the users will come back. Communications should focus on helping the users get past any sticking points. It’s about customer service and reassurance.

Through repeat trial our primary conversion goal is achieved, we have breached that cultural penetration threshold with a user who has made it to adoption. Strategies to drive frequency are now considered. Both putting out fresh content and marketing it are important. But we can go further and should.

The final stage is advocacy, where super-users become software evangelists promoting by word of mouth and social media. These people need to rewarded for their dedication or least have their voices amplified through any channel available. They can effectively drive other users through all phases of the funnel.