Articles We Like

Never fluffy and definitely not clickbait.

We’re not full enough to think we know it all; we’re constantly learning. Out of the dozens of articles we read each week, these are the ones we believe you should read. They’re practitioner case studies, new vantage points, and thinking that challenges conventional marketing thought. They’re decidedly not fluffy, “me too” marketing, clickbait.

R.I.P. Good Times

The Iron Horse Insight: It’s on a random page on the Sequoia website, and it links out to a DropBox, but trust us when we say it’s a really good read even though it’s buried. We’re highlighting this digital misstep because this presentation was given by Sequoia in 2008 right before the financial crisis, and before knowing how long and sharp the downturn would be. After chuckling at the tombstone opening, go to slides 44-49 and 52, where it highlights the new realities, increased challenges, and a checklist for survival. COVID-19 might be new, but the way to think through and persevere through Black Swan events is well established.

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Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020

The Iron Horse Insight: Why Sequoia doesn’t have a blog on its website, is beyond us. We don’t follow the logic of that decision because what it posted to Medium about black swan events was quite insightful. We particularly loved the observation about how “nobody ever regrets making fast and decisive adjustments to changing circumstances. In downturns, revenue and cash levels always fall faster than expenses.” This sentiment rings true as does the guidance it gave to the founders and CEOs of its portfolio companies about managing through a storm of uncertainty. Cash runway: Do you have as much cash runway as you think? Sales forecasts: Even if you don’t see immediate exposure, assume your clients will revise spending habits. Capital Spending: review if your spending plans still make sense. Marketing: Pull in the cost of customer acquisition.

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How Sales Hustle and Automation Can Hurt Customer Experience

The Iron Horse Insight: If you’re a B2B buyer, odds are you get generic, irrelevant cold emails that create terrible first impressions. The flood of poorly crafted, impersonal emails is driven by automation tools. This can hurt relationships with prospects/customers, especially at scale. How do you prevent this? Go through your sales experience as a potential customer. Fill out marketing forms, receive emails from reps, and listen to voicemails from SDRs from the customer’s perspective. As Brian Carroll notes, “this is eye opening and changes everything”. We agree. Additionally, this exercise can provide guidance on how to use tools like Outreach, SalesLoft, HubSpot, etc. properly in the first place. One effective way to do this is by highlighting examples of automation done wrong to the sales team when training them on the tool. Moreover, when rolling out sales automation systems, be sure to build checks and balances into your processes to monitor customer outreach and engagement.

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How to Fix Bad Writing Before You Type a Single Word

The Iron Horse Insight: As marketers, we rely on the written word to get our point across. Lindsey Quinn breaks down three things to consider before you start writing. 1) Audience. Think of one complex person and write to them, and only them. 2) Objective. Pick one thing you want that one person to think, feel, and, better yet, do after reading your content. Remember, readers, don’t care about your objectives; they care about their own objectives. Help your readers achieve their objectives and they’ll help you achieve yours later. 3) Takeaway. What do you want your readers to remember? Choose one takeaway, put yourself in your readers’ shoes, and deliver what they came for and what you promised.  We’d also add a fourth item. 4. Presentation. Keep in mind where and how your reader is going to read and access the content as this directly impacts content size and format. Far too often marketing content is too broad; it tries to appeal to the masses and suggests that the solution can do everything and solve everything, and as a result, it falls short. Use these tips to focus in on your message and maximize the impact of your words.

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A New Study Should Be the Final Nail for Open-Plan Offices

The Iron Horse Insight: When you walk into an office you’ll undoubtedly see an open floor plan. The idea and hypothesis behind the open office design is simple: an open-plan office allows for more interaction and collaboration. However, a recent study shows that open-plan offices have led to a 73% decrease in face-to-face interactions and a 67% increase in email usage. Has there been an over-rotation toward open-plan offices? Sander would argue yes. Product, sales, and marketing should collaborate, but at the end of the day, people still need to focus and do heads down work. Our take: there is a reason we always wore noise-canceling earphones in open offices. Good office design is aesthetically pleasing and provides spaces for collaboration BUT also needs to provide space for intense concentration.

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Lessons from the CMO’s Inbox

The Iron Horse Insight: You and everyone else is trying to get in front of the CMO; however, it’s unlikely. In fact, Rohrs explains in his blog that “6,892 technology companies [are] trying to sell something to CMOs.” That’s a lot of competition. Instead of targeting a CMO directly, Rohrs suggests that BDRs should target front-line marketers. Their inboxes are less cluttered and they’re more likely to understand the value of your product, service, or solution because they are the end-users and they’re the ones feeling the pain in their daily jobs. We agree with (and really like) Rohr’s idea. In building on it, we urge you to take into consideration the size of the company that your BDRs are expected to target. For instance, it’s more likely to get a response from a CMO at a <$25m company than get a response from a CMO at a major enterprise so, if/when BDRs are targeting a SMB, we suggest they target C-level execs in addition to front-line personnel. If they’re targeting an enterprise, we suggest following Rohrs’ advice.

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HBR: When Sales and Marketing Aren’t Aligned, Both Suffer

The Iron Horse Insight: Marketing and sales alignment is a concept familiar to all of us and is featured in marketing and sales articles daily. Unfortunately, in most of these articles, the “marketing and sales alignment” is spoken of in high “strategic” levels and it’s impossible to execute against the recommendations. What particularly catches our attention in this article is the level of depth it goes into regarding marketing and sales alignment in sales compensation and pricing decisions. For example, a “lack of alignment around product pricing and sales force compensation strategies…demotivates salespeople and inadvertently encourages them to sacrifice company profits to meet their own goals.”

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Why We Published a Book as Part of Our Content Marketing and Branding Strategy

The Iron Horse Insight: Every B2B company publishes white papers, case studies, and the like, but relatively few put out an actual book. Publishing a book is daunting for any marketing team because it takes a substantial investment of time and energy – time and energy that can be applied to faster turn marketing goals and objectives. That said, publishing a book can bolster brand awareness, generate higher quality leads, and it creates credibility for the author(s) as a thought leader. In addition, this process and it’s end deliverable (a book) generates a wealth of content that can be repurposed to create derivative assets such as presentations, blog posts, briefs, and infographics.

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A Survivor’s Guide to Risk Taking

The Iron Horse Insight: At Capstone we believe that, as marketers, if you keep running the same plays from your old tried and true playbook you’re going to be left behind. It’s imperative to try new tactics and evolve with technology to help our organizations stay competitive in the market. This article is in line with our thinking and discusses how to “treat risk as an asset – for both you and your team.” If risk is nurtured, new opportunities are taken more seriously. Being comfortable with change and risk is a tool is necessary for growth and expansion.

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The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Transformation Leaders

The Iron Horse Insight: “Digital transformation” is a B2B buzz phrase that refers to the ways in which technology is changing how companies operate and deliver value to their customers. In this article, Burnham highlights what separates good leaders from great and how evolving processes and a great technology stack are what makes good companies great. Here at Capstone Insights, we don’t subscribe to the idea that “process proceeds technology.” We believe that processes need to adapt to technology in the same way effective leaders need to adapt to changes in technology and customer expectations.

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The Anti-Portfolio By Bessemer Venture Partners

The Iron Horse Insight: This is easily in our top five favorite articles. It’s easy to dwell on past mistakes and bone headed decisions. Why wouldn’t you? No successful company makes stupid mistakes, right? The reality is that successful companies make mistakes and do so with regularity. If you need reassurance, this post from Bessemer Venture Partners will do the trick. It highlights the anti-portfolio of BVP, a very successful and storied venture capital firm. This anti-portfolio includes companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Apple, Airbnb, and even Tesla which it chose not to invest in because their business cases weren’t there. As an example, it delivered the sage advice, “Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!” to Facebook in the early days.

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How To Score a Perfect 100% on Google Pagespeed Insights

The Iron Horse Insight: Patel’s blog post is long. Very long. But, it’s worth the read if you’re looking for a cost effective way to optimize your website. Patel painstakingly walks you through how to increase pagespeed load times and even includes screenshots. According to Patel, Google rewards websites with fast pagespeed load times by putting them closer to the top of search results. When was the last time you clicked on something after the first page of search results? If you’re anything like us, it’s probably been a while (if ever). You’re also probably quick to hit the “x” at the top of your browser if the website takes more than a second or two to load. Website pagespeed load time should be a top priority for any company building a website from scratch or one that is in the process of optimizing their website. Doing so improves customer experience, increases marketing conversion rates, and increases the number of organic search results your site receives.

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Marketers: Stop Complaining About a “Noisy World – “Noise Is Not Your Problem”

The Iron Horse Insight: If you’re overly broad with your messaging and you try to do what everyone else is doing, it’s going to be very hard (if impossible) for you to differentiate yourself from your competition. Rather, Acunzo suggests using creative thinking to find some “white space” and to “own something outright.” It’s easier to be creative with your messaging when you’re acutely focused on a target market. In a “SmartCompany” article, Seth Godin shares a similar sentiment to Acunzo and explains that, with a narrow focus, “problems [a company will] face and the solutions [they] can offer become much more specific, too.” The idea of a narrow focus allows you to move quickly, make mistakes quickly, and iterate quickly, which helps you stay ahead of your competition.

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Fast Company: How to Create A Handbook Employees Actually Read

The Iron Horse Insight: If an organization wants a strong brand, it needs a strong culture. Unfortunately, one of the main ways companies document their corporate culture is through employee handbooks, which are usually written by HR and focus on things like vacation days, travel, and expense policies. Employee handbooks decidedly don’t help build and create company culture. Rather, or in addition, create a book of culture, a book of stories about ways the organization lives up to its aspirational values, written by real employees (not HR). This makes it more genuine to the company experience of all employees and easier to relate to.

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The Secret Sauce That Made These 7 Blog Posts Go Viral

The Iron Horse Insight: There are plenty of reasons for an organization to start blogging. The primary reason is to generate exposure. What we like about this article is that it discusses how to frame blog content and present it in a captivating way. Though writing on a topic for a specific audience is critical, it’s equally important to frame your content so it’s easily shareable and attention grabbing. Although the old saying says not to judge books by their covers, it certainly helps your content get seen more if it’s eye catching.

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The Triumph of Coal Marketing

The Iron Horse Insight: Marketing and advertising permeate culture by influencing people’s perspectives. Even when people are presented with hard facts they may not believe what they are seeing or hearing because they’ve heard a more persuasive story. Godin demonstrates the power of storytelling in this blog post by sharing a bar graph that compares the “death rate per watts produced” for nuclear power, oil, and coal. Based on the stories that are told about each of these power sources, you’d think the death rate per watts produced would be highest for nuclear power, however, that’s not the case. In fact, coal has the highest death rate followed by oil and finally nuclear. Even if you don’t have the number one product, service, or solution in your industry, you still have an opportunity to beat your competition through “deliberate storytelling.”

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