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Social media fails during a crisis

March 25, 2020

I covered this not 6 months ago but feel that the situation each and every one of us finds ourselves in today, calls for us to revisit social media and the way it has changed the way we learn about, share and react to big events – good or bad. We rush to it to celebrate but we also rush to it when the world is in danger or a tragedy has occurred, whether it’s a natural disaster like a hurricane or the situation we are in today, the spread of the Coronavirus or COVID-19.

For many of us, social media has replaced traditional media and news sources for that initial alert. I don’t know about you, but I learn something new every day about the Coronavirus on-line. It’s true that I, and many of you, still turn to our more traditional news outlets for ongoing news and updates, but Facebook and Twitter seem to not only inform us of the minute by minute happenings but social media uniquely reflects the sentiments and the humanity of the situation.

When we’re in crisis, we want more than the facts. We want to share the experience. We want to express our outrage or sympathy. It’s the emotion of the moment that pulls us into the social channels and keeps us there, eager to participate.

That’s why people react so strongly when a gaffe occurs. The emotions are so heightened that when someone does or says something insensitive or self-serving, people go nuts.

So, how should we handle social media when the country or the world is in crisis? The truth is, if it’s not handled well, you can create your own crisis. And where will it explode? On social media, of course.

When your brand stumbles on a regular old day, you may get blasted for it, but it passes. But when you fail during a heightened time of emotion and scrutiny – that can stick on your brand forever.

Here are some social media fails to avoid when the world around you is focusing on something serious.

Curb all regular postings: This is not the time to share articles, post photos or promote your business. And by the way – doing any sort of hybrid posting where you speak of the situation AND your company just smacks of borrowing from someone else’s sorrow for your own gain.

Pause all auto postings and auto-tweets: Many people use tools that auto-populate their feeds with great content. But accidentally acting like everything is normal when it most definitely is not can make your brand look at best, out of touch and worst, insensitive.

Don’t use the tragedy to get social cred: This is not the time to solicit likes or followers, even if you offer donations or some other support for whoever is suffering. Profiting in any way from the circumstance makes you look petty.

It’s never funny: I’m sort of stunned when it happens but it seems like some moronic brand always tries their hand at humor. Trust me, it’s never funny. During Hurricane Sandy, Gap joked in a tweet that everyone should just stay inside and hit gap.com for some retail therapy, not unlike some other brands doing the same right now since we are all supposed to be staying at home as much as possible.

Make sure you know which profile you’re using: There have been many incidents where a social media brand manager thought they were using their own personal account to comment on a tragedy or social happening and instead, embarrassed their brand and got themselves fired.

Do all of these faux pas mean you have to stay silent during a national or international crisis? Absolutely not. Share authentic emotion. Let them see the humanity behind your brand.

Be a resource. Be encouraging. Be genuinely helpful. Be real.

Just don’t be a social media failure. This isn’t the time to promote, profit or proselytize. It’s time to be human.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Where are you listening?

March 18, 2020

Do you still have a customer service number that you promote on your product packaging, website, or collateral material? Do you get many snail mail letters from disgruntled customers? How about drop-ins, asking to speak to a supervisor.

That’s how people used to complain when a product or service didn’t live up to their expectations. Depending on your target audience, odds are, you’ve noticed a decline in these particular methods. But that does not mean people have stopped airing their grievances.

If anything, consumer complaints are on the rise. It’s not an if, it’s a where. My worry for businesses is that they’re not listening where their clients are venting their concerns.

A recent study done by Sprout Social shows that 46% of consumers have used social channels to call out a brand. 55% of consumers say that the reason they reach out to a brand on a social channel is because they want resolution or a response. What do you suppose their reaction is when they get silence in return?

Only 3% of the respondents said they didn’t want any sort of a reaction or response from the brand. This is a key insight for us all. They are not complaining just to complain. They are complaining to get something in return.

What are they getting from you?

The same study revealed that consumers believe that social media increased the accountability of a brand by:

  • Uncovering unfair treatment (80% of respondents)
  • Giving the consumers power (75% of respondents)
  • Encouraging transparency (70% of respondents)
  • Amplifying issues (65% of respondents)
  • Helping employees share experiences (55% of respondents)

When we don’t respond to their publicly aired grievance – how do you suppose that plays? I’d argue that at best, it makes us look out of touch and at worst like we have something to hide. None of those are going to win us any prizes in the customer service hall of fame.

Don’t be fooled by the suggestion that this is just a millennial behavior. Yes, they will shift to social faster than their older counterparts, but customers of all ages will use any tool at their disposal to get the attention they need. I’ve seen many 50+ consumers (myself included) use Facebook, Twitter, and other channels to get some action or reaction.

While the Sprout Social study focused on social channels, that’s just scratching the surface. Review sites for your industry, general review sites like Yelp.com, consumeraffairs.com, the Better Business Bureau’s site, your website, and, of course, Google and Facebook reviews are all fair game.

How big is your risk in this area? Who monitors all of these sites and channels for your company? How quickly do you notice when one of your customers raises an issue or asks a question? Do you respond, and do you have a protocol for your responses?

It’s not like the internet is a new concept or that anyone thinks people are going to cut the cord anytime soon. So why wouldn’t a business recognize how critical it is to monitor and respond to what’s being said about and to you on social channels and other online locations? I understand that it’s daunting. But that doesn’t mean we have the luxury of ignoring our customers simply because we’d prefer they use another method of communication.

The good news? When you respond well to an online complaint, you can not only solve the issue but actually earn a reward. 45% of people will reinforce the positive outcome by posting about it on social, telling their circle of influence about the resolution. They’re also more likely to do business with you in the future.

Be sure you are actively listening where your customers are most likely to be talking. And talk back.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Go Old School – Email Marketing

March 11, 2020

Even though it seems a little old school in the days of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and bots – email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing tactics available to us. A recent study by SmartFocus looked at over 1.4 billion email marketing messages to identify best practices to drive engagement and customer impact. Let’s take a look at what some of those are:

  • If you want your audience to take action, click on a link or respond to an offer, then Tuesday should be the day you launch your campaign. The study revealed that click-through rates were 30 percent higher than other days.
  • If you’re sending out a more educational, informative email and don’t care if your audience clicks on anything in your correspondence, Sunday is your go-to day.
  • The time of day was also reviewed in this study. Interestingly, most marketing emails were opened between six and nine pm. And the time that was least likely to lead to an unsubscribe was 6:30 pm.

Naturally, when you send the email is just one element of a successful email campaign. If you send the wrong content or take the wrong tone, even sending it at the perfect time won’t help. Here are some other best practices that you should keep in mind as you plan your campaign.

Create a relationship: Email can be a reliable way to actually create a relationship between you and your audience. But that requires consistency. Have you ever known someone who only reaches out to you when they need something? That’s what your sales emails feel like to your audience if that’s the only time you write to them.

If you’re going to write on a consistent basis, be sure you invite your audience to write back or to generate more of a dialogue. It’s pretty tough to feel connected to someone if the conversation is just one way.

Be mindful of your tone of voice in your emails as well. A super formal tone isn’t going to help you create a connection. The biggest compliment you can get when you finally meet someone on your email list is that you sound just like your correspondence. That means you’ve successfully adopted a conversational tone in your emails.

Be interesting: Sure, you’re interested in your sale. But your audience may not be. Never hit send if you aren’t confident that your content is going to be useful, interesting or entertaining to your recipients.

The only way to be interesting to anyone is to know them a little bit and put them front and center before you communicate. Building personas of your audience is a really smart way to make sure that your content is truly aimed at being beneficial to them. Personas help you think of your audience in a more personal way – which makes it much easier to talk to them about topics that they actually care about.

Be generous: I know you are sending the emails because you want your audience to do something (click on a link, download a coupon, sign up for a free assessment, etc.) but before you ask, give. Be helpful without asking for anything in return. If you’re consistently providing value, they’ll stick around and eventually, they will be ready to shift from being the recipient of your generosity to a paying customer.

Email is one of the most effective marketing options that you have. But it can backfire in a hurry if you aren’t careful about how, where, how often and what you include in your communications. Think of your email list like your best pen pal. Find ways to create a genuine connection and keep nurturing it, so it can grow over time.

Email isn’t a quick fix, so be ready to settle in for a long, good conversation with a friend.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Are you hiding in plain sight?

March 4, 2020

Who doesn’t want to be found? Whether you have a retail shop or sell your time and talent – every business needs to be findable. There’s an expression that says “if Google doesn’t know you exist, then you don’t exist” and in today’s world, there’s a lot of truth in that statement. You need to make sure you’re not hiding in plain sight.

We know that 80+% of people use the internet to do research before making a purchase. That number gets even larger when the purchase is expensive or is business-related. If Google doesn’t offer you up as an option, you may never get the opportunity to try to win the sale.

For many businesses, their circle of influence and potential customers are within a certain radius of their physical location. If you’re a dry cleaner, then you know your radius may not be more than a couple of miles. But if you’re a financial planner or lawyer, it may be 100 miles or more.

There are some strategies you can employ to make sure you’re found when someone in your local market conducts a search for your kind of business. None of this is a promise of first-page placement but the more of these tactics you put into place and keep updated, the better your search ranking will be.

You absolutely can spend money on Google Adwords or other paid search options. But before you do that – make sure you have a strong foundation laid.

Make sure you are listed: Go to https://www.google.com/business and search for your business. You can claim your business (you’ll have to verify it through the mail or by phone). Be sure to include quality photos of your business, your team and even a few of the items you sell.

Even though Google is the king of search, don’t neglect Bing, Yelp, Apple Maps, Facebook and any other directories specific to your industry.

Establish citations: Citations are websites where you can list your business. There are a bazillion of these sites, so don’t try to do it all by hand. There are sites out there called aggregators that will provide your information to all of these citation sites. Or you can use a service like Moz Local (https://moz.com/local/overview) or Yext (http://www.yext.com/).

Actively seek reviews: Most business-to-business organizations dismiss reviews as being “a retail thing.” And most retail businesses dread the review discussion. The truth is, you’re going to trigger reviews, whether you want them or not. So why not influence them so you can invite your happiest, best clients to speak out?

Unless you’re in an industry that has a very well-known specialty review site, focus on Google and if it makes sense for your business, Yelp. Don’t waste a lot of time on obscure sites that don’t get a lot of traffic.

Credibility links: Are you a member of the local Chamber? Or is your company profiled on a trade association’s site? Think about all of the places your business exists online and link to them within the context of your site. Whether it’s a membership, an award or even a media story – take advantage of the power of the other sites’ credibility and Google juice by linking directly to them.

Build your site with search in mind: Some of the basics really matter. As you write or add content to your website, remember to be smart about keywords, the number of words on each page and other organic search basics.

No matter what your company does, search is incredibly competitive. You can’t afford to ignore this marketing playing field anymore. But, before you spend a dime, make sure you’ve done everything you can for free to impact your listings. That will become a much stronger platform to launch from.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Slow down!

February 26, 2020

One of the more common and popular patterns of today’s lead generation and nurturing tactics goes something like this:

  • Offer something for free or low cost in exchange for an email address
  • Nurture the relationship to earn the prospect’s trust
  • Over time, offer them something of more value and with a higher price tag
  • Continue to provide value and, as needed, continue to offer more services

On paper, it makes perfect sense and in practice, when done properly, it works very well. It’s built on the understanding that no one will buy anything from us until they know, like and trust us.

Trust is built over time, as the initial purchase (for a few dollars or in exchange with an email address) proves valuable. From there, the buyer’s confidence is boosted and they stay open to considering the next level of both purchase and trust.

Unfortunately, it’s often not done properly. This weekend, I saw an ad on Facebook for an information product that looked like it might be useful. I clicked on the ad and watched a brief video about the product. It held my interest, had some credible testimonials from people I recognized and so I made the first purchase for $37.

Before the site brought me to the cart so I could check out, they offered me several other, more expensive products that I passed on, because they hadn’t earned that level of trust from me yet.

Right after I checked out, on-screen, I was told that I’d be getting an email with a log in link so I could access the information. Within minutes, I did receive that email.

So up to that point, they’d executed the tactic well. They’d earned my attention, held it with some valuable information, reassured me with some credibility elements and led me to make my first purchase.

But then, they went off the rails in a hurry. Within five minutes, I got four additional emails. Three of them tried to convince me to buy the more expensive offerings I had just passed on a few minutes before. That was bad enough. But the fourth email is the one that really ruined any chance they had with me.

The email was from the CEO and he wanted to tell me about a special beta program they were just launching. The email went on to say that because I was clearly the kind of leader who could really contribute to the beta, just yesterday he had gotten special permission to invite me into that beta. Of course, he had no idea who I was yesterday. I wasn’t on their radar screen until ten minutes prior.

Both the volume and the insincerity of their emails cost them any future purchases from me. I went from being interested to feeling bombarded. My next thought was that I needed to harvest all of the information from the site I’d paid to access as quickly as possible because if I got four emails within the first hour – what would the first week be like?

Their heavy-handedness had the opposite effect of what I am sure they were going for. Instead of growing my trust slowly and giving me time to get to know them and value what they offered, they put me on guard. Even worse, the flurry of emails also tainted my opinion about the content I had already purchased from them. They got my $37 but they lost my confidence and any future purchases.

Email sequencing can be one of the most effective marketing tactics available to you. But a misstep can not only cost you a customer but it can cost you your credibility.

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Watch the world change

February 19, 2020

Now that we’re a few months into the new year, I hope that you have more than begun to sketch out your plans for 2020 and beyond. As you push into 2020 and map out your plan for 2021, it’s a good time to channel your inner marketer and lean on your curiosity and imagination. You’re going to need them.

Think you don’t need to look ahead and anticipate how your world will change in the next year or two? Consider this: According to the World Economic Forum (in their report The Future of Jobs) 65% of the children entering primary school today, will end up working in completely new job types that do not yet exist.

Another example? According to Forbes, Airbnb is valued at about $25.5 billion, which is more than hotel giants Marriott ($20.90 billion), Starwood ($14 billion), and Wyndham ($10.01 billion). Hilton Worldwide is valued at $27.7 billion. Keep in mind — Airbnb doesn’t own a single hotel room.

The biggest mistake we can make as business leaders and marketers today is assuming that tomorrow will resemble today. That was probably never a wise position to take but today, it’s the kiss of death.

We must be purveyors of what’s coming next. We can’t afford to be surprised. In some cases, businesses have not survived being surprised.

If you want your curiosity and imagination to be firing on all cylinders, you need to keep feeding them new ideas and connections. This is especially true if you’re going to be considering what trends and cultural shifts might influence your company, your customers, your employees or the marketplace.

Here are some books, websites, and podcasts that will give you some additional food for thought as you march through 2020 and work on your 2021 plans.

Books

  • The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross
  • A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
  • Abundance by Diamonds & Kotler
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Inevitable: Understanding 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly
  • The Truth About Your Future by Ricin’s Edelman

Websites/enewsletters

  • Trendwatching.com
  • Trendhunter.com
  • Springwise.com
  • PSFK.com
  • JWTintelligence.com
  • TED.com
  • Coolhunting.com
  • Web.SparksandHoney.com

Podcasts

  • Trends with Benefits
  • Trend Following with Michael Covel
  • Small Business Trends
  • Stuff You Should Know

I’ve just scratched the surface but you should be able to find a handful of new resources here that will help you and your team explore what’s coming ahead and how you can take full advantage of it.

You might want to keep a few of these as a part of your daily diet. Things are not going to slow down any time soon.

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The DNA of a marketing pro

February 12, 2020

I may be biased, but I think it takes a unique kind of person to excel in marketing. There’s a specific blend of skills and personality traits that equip someone to do the job well. Unfortunately, that particular combination may be difficult for others in the organization to tolerate, especially if they are risk-averse or not as open to change. No great surprise, most marketing pros typically clash with the CFO and CIO roles.

If you find yourself in the market for an agency or an internal CMO type of team member, you’re going to want to interview for these specific traits to make sure they can get the job done. But you may also have to steel yourself to deal with them on a daily basis if you tend to be more methodical and measured in your day-to-day activities and decision-making.

A study by Russell Reynolds Associates looked at over 5,000 data points, comparing CMOs with other C-suite roles and identified these trends and commonalities among those who shared the role. They found that CMOs have an extreme leadership and behavioral profile that included these attributes:

Growth minded: Marketing people love metrics, goals and chasing after a defined target. The drive to cross the finish line is admirable but may need to be tempered if it clouds bigger picture judgment.

Bold/risk taker: This trait is essential, but it can cause a lot of anxiety in the C-suite. It’s always been a vital aspect of most marketing professionals, but in today’s environment, it’s essential.

Rule-bender: CMOs are not particularly beholden to rules and guidelines. They’re used to being in undefined territory and having to figure it out as they go along. They’re far less about convention than many others in their organization. Limits and boundaries are more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule.

Tenacious: Stubborn, persistent, unrelenting. While not entirely flattering, these are words that are often used as descriptors for those who choose marketing as a vocation. To be successful, they have to be willing to stick with a new idea or unconventional tactic to give it time to work.

People people: People tend to like CMOs and other marketing types. They’re outgoing and inclusive. They want everyone to come along for the journey, and they can usually persuade their peers to do just that.

Imaginative: This trait probably doesn’t come as a surprise. But actually, this skill isn’t so much about the marketing itself but instead about the organization’s overall business position, and the creative problem solving that is needed today.

Curious/abstract thinker: Marketers ask a lot of questions, and some of them feel a little random or unrelated. Don’t shut those down. Seeing how seemingly disparate elements influence one another or connect is one of their unique gifts. It helps you identify opportunities that others will miss.

If you’re a marketing professional, I’m guessing that you recognize yourself in at least some of these skills and traits. You probably also recognize that there are aspects of how you show up at work that may cause your peers to struggle with your methodologies. One of the ways we can get to the goal line quicker is to find ways to bring the rest of the team with us as we move closer.

If you plan to hire someone to handle your marketing (either as an employee or as a business partner) or you just want to get better at marketing yourself – these traits are the common denominators that will get your company the exposure and growth you want. But you have to decide if your organization is ready for the disruption that comes as part of the package.

This was originally published in The Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Do you keep score?

February 5, 2020

In marketing, keeping score matters. There was a time when being funny or memorable was enough. Back then, there was an obvious line between marketing and sales and we marketing types didn’t need to worry as much about ROI.

Today, that’s how a CMO or agency gets fired. Every dollar spent needs to contribute to either increasing the bottom line or cost savings somewhere along the way. Big data and digital made it more possible and the recession made it mandatory. Knowing that we need to keep score is different from knowing how to keep score. It’s an area where mistakes are easy to make and expensive to fix.

No matter how large an organization is — no one has an infinite budget. Every dollar spent has to get the company closer to their defined finish line. That doesn’t always translate to more dollars. Sometimes the yield is that we learn something new about our prospects. Sometimes it’s that we get a repeat sale from a happy client. And often, it’s that we’ve moved a prospect a little further in the sales funnel towards their first purchase.

Marketing is an imprecise science for sure. But that doesn’t mean we can’t measure. To survive and thrive, we must start every new client relationship and project by defining what we are going to measure. If we don’t determine what success looks like, how will anyone know if/when we get there?

There are some obvious and easy to calculate metrics like new client relationships and an overall increase in sales and profits. New customers are a win for sure. But we need to dig a little deeper.

It’s easy to get so enamored with chasing after the prospects that it becomes a volume game. Unless you’re the Wal-Mart of your industry, it has to be more refined, or you’ll lose your shirt. If you cast the net too wide, it’s easy to catch prospects that are not a good long-term fit. Sometimes we forget how expensive those first sales can be. The win is exhilarating, but it’s costly. The real profit comes from cultivating an on-going relationship with someone that aligns with your brand and offerings, so they quickly become a repeat customer and a loud referral source. When you land a bunch of “one and done” sales, you can actually lose money in the long run because you never have the opportunity to level out the cost of acquisition.

That’s why you shouldn’t set those success metrics before you define who your ideal customer is and what they need and want from you. Take a look at your current client list. Identify which ones are the top 20% in terms of both profitability and repeat business. It isn’t helpful to build your target audience profile on the very profitable but very occasional client. It’s also not smart to create that profile based on the frequent buyer who cuts your margin too thin.

The other element of realistic goal setting is that your budget is going to have a significant impact on how quickly you can get to your goals. I know this sounds rather obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many organizations do not connect those two data points. It might be awesome to double your customer base, but if you have a meager budget, that’s going to take a while.

We have to keep score, there’s no doubt about that. But there are some pretty costly mistakes we can make if we don’t factor in the understanding that every customer is not a good customer and that the resources we have are going to play a significant role in timing. Combine those elements wisely, and you’ll be much closer to scoring a win.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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The Mechanics of a Successful Webinar

January 29, 2020

When I’m talking about a webinar, I am not talking about a one-on-one web-based demonstration or sales meeting. I’m talking about an event you would promote to a larger audience, and the event itself is intended to be a group experience.

Webinars are a smart tactic if you want to:

  • Educate prospects or customers
  • Field objections and questions in a live environment
  • Demonstrate aspects of your product or service in an interactive way
  • Establish your thought

Note that “drive sales” is not on that list. A webinar is not a hard-driving sales tool. It’s higher up in the funnel and serves more of a marketing function. That doesn’t mean you won’t garner sales from the webinar. But it shouldn’t be your focus. Webinars are successful if they’re helpful, if people connect to the presenter and feel like they walked away with knowledge or insights that are valuable.

Here are some mechanics to consider as you think through your webinar strategy:

Tools: There are many good webinar tools out there and the right one for you will depend on price, number of attendees possible, the ability to record and other factors.

Timing: Assuming you mostly serve North American clientele, shoot for 1 or 2 pm eastern. The east coast attendees aren’t so close that they’re wrapping up for the day and at the same time, the west coast is up and into their productive zone by then.

Promotion: Webinars are not a “build it and they will come” sort of thing. You need to get the word out and issue multiple invitations. Give yourself at least a 30-day window for promotion. If you already have a list of prospects, that’s a smart place to start.  You’ll get your biggest flurry of sign-ups around ten days before the event. If you make a big deal out of the fact that they’ll get access to a recording of the webinar whether they attend or not – you’ll get more takers.

Leave behind: I think of my PPT deck as a leave behind when I am working on a webinar. I’m always going to offer it to the attendees at the end, so I build it with that in mind. Unlike a deck for a speech, where I might have a single image and no words, I use a lot of bullets and text for my webinar decks. I know I am in essence taking notes for the attendees, so my slides are a little denser in content.

Format: As you think about constructing your webinar, explore easy to grasp “packages” for the information you want to share. Like:

  • Five mistakes to avoid
  • Ten questions to ask before…
  • Four unexpected benefits of…

This style of formatting will help you tease and promote the content. It will also help you avoid trying to pack too much information into the webinar. It lends itself to a strong wrap up for you as a presenter and gives your attendees something to grab hold of and remember.

No matter how or when you deliver your webinar, be sure you know what you want to happen once you sign off. Do they get a “thanks for attending” email? Do they get a link to deeper content on one of your key points? Don’t lose the momentum. When the webinar wraps, it’s not the end, it’s the beginning.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Now can we get to work?

January 22, 2020

Well, here we are, a few weeks into January and everyone is raring to go and ready to work hard for a few weeks. Until some distraction surfaces to take your eye off the ball. And before you know it, it’s June 1st and the summer holiday hits with vacations, the 4th of July and company picnics and then it’s back to school and Labor Day. You would think that with the official wind down to Summer that, in theory, we would all be ramping up.

And in September, people will gear up. Until early November and then the holidays will be looming and people will say, “once Thanksgiving is over, we’re going to push hard to the end of the year.” About December 10th, people decide no one is listening to them anymore so they shut down for the rest of the year.

The reality is – whether it’s because several of your team are on vacation, or you’re traveling or it’s not your company’s peak season – we can excuse away going at half speed just about any time of the year and many people do.

It’s a little like dollar-cost average investing. If you wait for the optimum time to deliver your messages, advance your next project or launch something new – it will never happen. It’s impossible to time your marketing precisely. Sure, there’s a seasonality to some work and messaging, but for the most part, it’s about being in front of your key audiences every day, delivering help and insight whether they are actively listening or not.

How do you keep the momentum going, even with all of the holidays, vacations, Super Bowls, and general sports excitement going on all around us?

One of the answers to that question is to operate in sprints. A sprint is a defined period of time (typically 2-6 weeks) where the entire team is focused on a single objective or project. It doesn’t mean they stop doing their day-to-day jobs. It just means that the entire team is working together on a new initiative as well.

The beautiful thing about sprints is that they force us to take action. Many teams get stuck in the discussion/discovery stage and never seem to be able to move from talking to doing.

To work through a sprint, you need to include these five elements:

  1. A set time frame for your sprint
  2. A planning meeting to determine goals and assign roles
  3. Daily stand up meetings to keep the team on track
  4. A tracking system that everyone on the team can access and update. Keeping it visible (like a big whiteboard in your conference room) is ideal.
  5. A post sprint review

Some best practices you should implement include:

Once you set the sprint’s length, you can’t change it.  Otherwise, you will find yourself in one never-ending sprint as you allow excuses, distractions, and surprises derail your efforts.

You can’t kick off your sprint until you have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific) goals defined.

In your daily stand up meetings (which should not last more than 10-15 minutes) each team member should quickly answer three questions. What did I do yesterday? What will I do today? Are there any issues/impediments that the team needs to know about?

A side benefit of working in sprints (all part of the scrum methodology) is that your team is likely to love their work even more. They feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in moving things forward.

The point of these sprints is that you and your team get into a groove every 2-6 weeks, regardless of what the calendar says. You may adjust timelines or team members based on vacations or a company-wide holiday, but you don’t let the “seasons” become excuses to get in the way of your progress.

Be productive no matter what distractions are trying to steal your focus.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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