Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Social Adopter, Adapter or A-Lister: where do you fit?

Six degrees of separation is rapidly shrinking.

Only twenty years ago, the launch of Netscape Navigator democratized the world wide web, which was often referred to as the "information super-highway". Navigator was a free browser that allowed anyone with an internet connection to look for anything that was available on the web. Admittedly, back then it was a lot less than today.

Service providers then started offering low-cost access to the new online communication tool - email. 

Younger people loved this stuff, especially college students who saw their peers developing and deploying these things. Now those students are professionals and executives themselves.

For those who were around back then, you may recall the resistance of company management to take this seriously, using this tool for business: email was going to be the biggest time waster ever, along with the "information super-highway", which was full of useless stuff. 

Only a very few B2G industry executives had the foresight to understand the value that would come to our market. Dendy Young, then CEO of Falcon MicroSystems, built the first e-commerce web site in the government market. He was also an advocate of email, stating in a keynote at one of my mid-1990s conferences that one day email would be an integral part of the government procurement process.

In Dendy Young we have the first B2G example of the internet trifecta: adopter, adapter then A-Lister. 

He adopted early, possibly in part because of Falcon's relationship to Apple, which meant Dendy more than most in DC had exposure to Silicon Valley.

He then adapted quickly, putting Falcon on the leading B2G edge of e-commerce.

He is an A-Lister because of his continuous appetite for learning and sharing information. 

Still, while Dendy forged ahead, most doubted. And waited. Email and company web sites did not catch on until later in the 1990s as a real business tool and it changed the way we do business. 

Then we faced the "irrational exuberance" of the dot-bomb era.

Eleven years ago social networks started popping up in a significant way, In May 2003 LinkedIn launched; in February 2004 Facebook followed. Others have come and gone.

LinkedIn, always my focus point, has 300 million members, over one-third in the US and about 2.5 million in the DC area.

There is absolutely no doubt that the migration to social networking platforms rivals any of the great human or animal migrations in history. Each hour, tens of thousands of business people and others are joining LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and other social networking platforms. Adoption of these platforms is ubiquitous.

But what happens then?

For many, little or nothing. Newton's First Law kicks in - a body at rest tends to stay at rest...

Why does little or nothing happen?

It is in part a herd mentality, and in part an assumption that your mere presence on a social networking platform will cause something to occur. 

During the past decade, as social networks have grown exponentially, the resistance to joining them has disappeared, but the actual use of them for business purposes for most companies still lags behind.

Research shows that companies that leverage social networks grow faster than those that don't; companies that develop social media strategies grow faster than those without a strategy; and that companies that train their personnel how to use social networks win more business as a result. Each of these three steps moves a company closer to those it needs to reach: buyers and influencers.

Six degrees of separation is shrinking as I write. Virtually everyone is now connected to at least one social network, probably more, so reaching out to anyone has become easier.

For those leveraging social media as a business tool and doing a good job of it, the results are palpable. For those waiting on the sidelines, well, keep waiting or give me a call. I train companies like yours.

I am not certain what the next big tech shift will be, but it will not replace social networks. 

Maybe it's time to call Dendy...

*I do coach companies and individuals on all aspects of LinkedIn. Drop me a line for details- 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gatekeeper or Guide? The Role of Executive Assistants

Executive assistants (EAs) are often viewed as obstacles, gatekeepers whose sole job is to keep you from getting through to the executive who can lead you to untold riches.

I have known many EAs over the years and these people can be your best friend and guide when you treat them with the respect they deserve. Treat them poorly at your own risk.

Having said that, I started to do some research on EAs and found that JD Kathuria of WashingtonExec had already laid the groundwork by starting a WashingtonExec Assistant group on LinkedIn. He put me in touch with them and the following is advice, directly from them, no editing, the straight, unadulterated advice. Only the names are changed to protect the...

Pay Attention to it.

Having come from a sales background, I am sensitive to the role of telemarketers and salespeople and I actually do try to help.  I try to learn more about what it is that the person is trying to sell or what their goal is so that I can point them in the right direction.  By the same token, coming from a sales background, I’m also a little peeved that I’m doing the salesperson’s footwork for them.  Because that’s not how I did business back in the day.  Back in the day, I took the time to qualify all of my leads and targets and did extensive investigation to learn exactly who my target was within a company.  

Sales 101 tells you to get to the decision maker.  It is completely inaccurate to assume that the CEO is the decision maker.  The CEO has direct reports that get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to make most of the decisions salespeople think the CEO makes.  If the CEO sat around mulling over our long distance phone service, leases  on copiers and printers and optimization software, he’d never get anything done.  

In my 25 years of doing this, NEVER has the CEO gone to our SVP of Biz Dev and suggested a personality evaluation tool and training program for our sales people.  Never has he made a suggestion on switching to a new health plan after a call with a telemarketer.  It’s the other way around.  It is the job of his direct reports to be on the lookout for ways to save the company money, to fully investigate a new plan or tool, to meet with the representing company and to then decide if it is something that deems the attention of the CEO. 

So, the answer is, you never start with the CEO.  And trust me, we EAs don’t just shut people down that call the CEO’s office.  At least not initially.  Sometimes, we will actually politely jot a message down and give it to the CEO.  It is always immediately rejected.  It is rejected for the reasons I stated above.  All of what people are trying to sell to a CEO are typically not even within his level of expertise or in the realm of his knowledge.  The quickest way to get your product ignored is to try to show it to someone that doesn’t have the first idea or the time or patience to even realize how the product might help them.  That’s where CIOs, CTOs, CMOs, Chief Talent Officers, CAOs and so on come into play.

But, if you insist on calling the CEO’s office – or even the receptionist’s desk, or anyone for that matter, pretend you are calling your neighbor.  Let’s think about this.  Let’s say you just saw an infomercial on a great grill cleaning product and you wanted to tell your buddy next door about it because the two of you really dig cooking out on the grill and sharing ideas.  When you call next door and the wife answers, would you just dismiss her and say, “Lemme talk to Joe”?  No!  You’d be polite to her and after some cursory niceties, you’d probably then say, “Hey Mary, I just saw this great commercial about a product you just spray on the grill and with two swipes of this nifty sponge, the thing is clean.  I thought Joe would like it and I want to tell him about it.”  Now, that’s assuming you have manners. 

Manners are important.  But here’s what we EAs get on a regular basis.  Every single time.  Every guy I’ve worked for.  These are the calls I get from strangers:

“Yeah, lemme talk to Fred.”
“Is Fred around?”

Calls from people who know Fred:

“Joan, this is John Smith from ABC Corp.  Fred and I met recently at the Titans breakfast and we both agreed to try to get together for lunch.”

“Joan, this is Chuck Walsh.  Fred and I attended Darden together and I was hoping to get a few minutes to chat with him about…..”

Advice to cold-callers – LISTEN to the name of the person who just answered the phone and use it.  If they didn’t give their name, introduce yourself and then ask their name.  Then state your business.  If you are trying to sell something, understand that you should not be starting with the CEO.  So now you are starting with the EA to the CEO, an incredibly busy person, and you are about to ask them for their help.  Be respectful.  And when I say be respectful, I mean respect the fact that they have been hired in the role they are in because they are smart enough to help the top guy run the company.  So take the time to actually tell them about what it is you are trying to sell!  Callers seem to dismiss the fact that we have brains!  Sell me on your stuff and I’ll know where to point you.  How refreshing to have someone actually say, “Joan, I know starting with your boss isn’t the right starting point but I’m hoping once I tell you about my product that you’ll know who I should speak to.” 

Also, why should it be a one-shot deal?  Whatever happened to relationship building?  There’s a guy, Dave C., who has called the various offices of execs I have worked for my entire career as an EA supporting CEOs.  The guy doesn’t call with that fast, dismissive “I’m more important than you so put me through to your boss” tone.  He’s in wealth management and it just so happens, he dings all the CEOs I’ve worked for.  By the time I got to CEO #3 and he called, I was like, “Dave – it’s Joan.”  It’s been 20 years and I’ll still take Dave’s call and I’ve even arranged for him to meet with one of my CEOs because he and I built a relationship.  Bosses will meet with people their EA asks them to.  I’ve literally said, “As a professional favor, would you meet with this guy?” 

Salespeople think they are supposed to throw the hook in and pull out a fish.  Fishermen know that never happens.  They toss the hook in and they wait.  They toss it again and they wait.  They get a snack and they wait.  They pop open a beer and they wait.  And eventually, they get their fish.  And, sometimes they don’t and they move on to another fishing hole.  How is business any different?

Know this:

If you never introduce yourself to us but you keep calling in hopes of catching our boss, we still remember your voice.

Don’t ask us if we know where our CEO is.  Of course we know.  That’s none of your business.  To this question, you will get the curt answer, “Yes.”  Can I tell you?  “No.”

People who the CEO doesn’t want to speak to act like they know him.  Please don’t be the same and say, “That’s OK, I’ll call him on his cell.”  No you won’t.  I know your voice or I know everyone that calls that has business with him and they never say, “I’ll call him on his cell.”  For what it’s worth, I used to use this one too back in 1991.

The other oldie, “I’m about to run into a meeting myself.  I’ll try him later.” 

Just be honest.  State your name, your company, what your company does, what you’d like the person on the other line to help you with.  It’s that simple.  Don’t lie.  Be honest and respectful.  It is refreshing and you’ll have good results.  If the assistant pointed you in the direction of the CTO and you haven’t gotten anywhere, call that same assistant back and say, “Joan, hello, it’s John Smith again, from ABC Corp.  You might recall we spoke the other day and you were so kind as to direct me to your CTO.  I’m not having any luck connecting.  Do you know of anyone else in his org that might take my call so I can try to tell your company a little bit more about what we offer?”  No, not everyone is helpful but some people are.  From there, you try the same thing with the receptionist, back in the day, I even called the guy in the mailroom!  I got traction!  Different fishing holes!

OK, there you have it.  A tome of information. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

May 5 2014 Deadline: Chief Acquisition Officers Council Opens a procurement Dialogue- Join In!

Offer your thoughts by May 5, 2014  at 

Direct from the CAOC web site:

The Chief Acquisition Officers Council, in coordination with the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, the Chief Information Officers Council, and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), is conducting a national dialogue to discuss burdens and barriers associated with the federal acquisition process and ways to address them.  This dialogue is part an effort to improve the economy and efficiency of the federal acquisition system by identifying impactful steps that can be taken to make it easier for agencies to do business with the best companies and enter into contracts that allow these companies to provide their best solutions for the taxpayer.
We are anxious to hear from you.  In order to engage in the Open Dialogue, you will need to register as a participant.
To Register, enter your email address in the indicated box on the landing screen.  The Open Dialogue is anonymous, but you must enter your email address to register for the software to enforce its own processing rules.  Your email address is converted to an algorithmically determined identifier by the software and your email address is discarded.
Once you are Logged In or Registered, you may proceed directly to the Tab which best describes your desired action:  Submit a Comment, Browse the Comments (which also allows youto comment on existing Comments or it allows you to vote on Comments for which the moderators have added Voting options.
When you complete your session simply exit the Open Dialogue site.
The following sections will direct you to either the full Federal Register Notice, FAQs that we’ve generated to help you answer questions that might be of interest to you.  The final section is your link to joining the National Dialague.

and here is the Federal Register Notice:

[Notice-GSA-OFPP-2014-01; Docket No. 2014-0002; Sequence 15]
Open Dialogue on Improving Federal Procurement
AGENCY:  Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), General Services Administration (GSA).
ACTION:  Notice.
SUMMARY:  The Chief Acquisition Officers Council (CAOC), in coordination with the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council), the Chief Information Officers Council (CIOC), the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), is conducting an open dialogue to discuss improvements to the federal acquisition process.  This dialogue is part an ongoing effort to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the federal acquisition system by identifying impactful steps that can be taken by agencies to improve the way they do business with the best companies and enter into contracts that allow these companies to provide their best solutions for the taxpayer.
DATES:  Effective:  [Insert date of publication in the Federal Register.]
ADDRESSES:  Interested parties may participate in the dialogue through an online platform by reviewing the information and participation dates posted at
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:  Mr. Jim Wade, OFPP, 202-395-2181 or; or Mr. Mathew Blum, OFPP, 202-395-4953, or
The President’s Management Agenda lays the foundation for creating a 21st century government that delivers better results to the American people.  This foundation includes an efficient and effective acquisition system that maximizes the value of every taxpayer dollar.
The federal acquisition system is governed by a myriad of rules, both administrative and statutory, that are designed to help agencies maximize results from their contracts, make sure that contractors are qualified to do business with the federal government, and ensure consistency with key economic and social policies.  Efforts to streamline, modernize, and improve requirements may allow contractors and agencies to execute in a more efficient and effective manner, while still supporting the execution of these policies.
The CAOC, in collaboration with the FAR Council, the CIOC, GSA and OFPP, seeks to conduct an open conversation to identify specific rules and requirements, tools, procedures, and practices that impact the efficiency and effectiveness of federal procurement and ways to improve them.  The CAOC is interested in hearing about proposed improvements that can be accomplished through executive (regulatory, administrative, or management) action, as well as potential legislative proposals where requirements are based in statute.  Dialogue will be encouraged in each of the following areas:
  • Reporting and compliance requirements – e.g., opportunities where collection processes and systems can be reengineered or automated, duplicative reporting can be eliminated, the frequency of reporting can be reduced, and outdated compliance thresholds can be changed.
  • Procurement practices – e.g., opportunities where acquisition strategies can be modernized (to support more efficient and effective acquisition of IT, in particular), where best commercial practices can be utilized, as well as efforts to promote greater consideration of innovative solutions and contracting practices.
  • Participation by small and minority businesses, new entrants, and non-traditional government contractors – e.g., opportunities for improving existing technical or strategic assistance programs, making buying platforms for finding business opportunities and bidding more user friendly, and lowering the cost of doing business.
To facilitate feedback, an online platform is being launched so that interested parties may submit ideas, respond to questions posed by moderators, and comment on other ideas – including those that they think are most promising and impactful.  Information on the platform and the dates for participating in the dialogue are posted at

William Clark,
Acting Senior Procurement Executive,
Office of Acquisition Policy,
Office of Government-wide Policy.

Offer your thoughts by May 5, 2014  at 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Are CEOs exempt from participating on LinkedIn, part 2 (The Waldo Factor, part 25)

"The most important thing is to forecast where the customers are moving and be in front of them."  Philip Kotler

Last September I posed the question "are CEOs exempt from participating on LinkedIn" and I'd like to revisit that and answer the question -

The simple, direct answer is no.

At this point, no one can successfully dispute the fact that LinkedIn has integrated itself into not only the B2G market, but the entire business landscape. This is not to say that some won't try to dispute this, but arguing against using LinkedIn more fully across your company is simply not defensible. 

The market is here,
your competitors are here, 
your customers and prospects are here, 
and if you have a minimal presence you will lose marketshare.

In my 29 years as a B2G marketing consultant, I have never seen or envisioned a platform as robust as this: 

- a marketing tool that can be used for sales and business development support; 

- a platform for positioning you or your company as a subject matter expert or thought leader; 

- a mechanism that allows you to grow, manage and communicate a targeted network of business professionals; 

- a lead generation and appointment making machine; 

all this and more.

In the September blog post I pointed that some executives still ignore LinkedIn, have minimalist profiles or have someone else manage their social networking. Each of these is dangerous and short-sighted.

Executives have a definite role on LinkedIn, different than that of their sales, marketing, BD and HR people - all of whom need to be active on LinkedIn and encouraged by executives to use it well.

The role of the executive in social networking is to look and act like a leader, to showcase what your company offers and the quality of leadership that company has in your market. A bad profile and little or no legitimate activity diminishes your role in the market.

A minimalist profile shows a lack of respect for the market as if you are assuming they know who you are and what your company does. This is dangerous ground to tread.

LinkedIn is the ideal platform so showcase your company and your role at the company. As you leverage LinkedIn to display areas of expertise, not only can you solidify your position with companies and agencies that you already have relationships with, you can develop relationships with other executives and federal managers who may require what your company brings to the table.

You can do this online and for minimal expense.

This is not a plea to get you active. It is a shot across the bow of your ship, warning you that if my clients are your competitors, prepare to lose customers.

To paraphrase Philip Kotler, "LinkedIn will create the winner(s) and bury the laggards."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Does Your LinkedIn Profile Have a Pulse?

Is your LinkedIn profile working for you while you sleep? Is it a tombstone or a cash register?

Every marketing research study I have seen over the past three years has shown a steady increase in people relying of social networks when it comes to researching employees, employers, business partners, suppliers, consultants, clients and more. The more recent studies show social media in the top two or three. 

Hinge Research ( will be releasing a new study shortly called Beyond Referrals: How Today's Buyers Check You Out. The research clearly shows the rise of social media as a research tool and the dominance of LinkedIn in that category.

LinkedIn had 5.7 billion internal searches - searches inside LinkedIn - in 2012. 5.7 billion!

Now I am not a math major, but that is a pretty big number. And I am anxiously awaiting the stats for 2013.

I hear you out there muttering - What's your point, Mark?

My point is simple. If we are all using LinkedIn more and more, why is it that so many profiles are written so poorly?

Are some so vain that they think everyone knows them? 

Are there those who still don't realize how important LinkedIn can be for them and their company?

Or are many just too lazy to be bothered by actually thinking before they write? 

I have seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of profiles that look more like tombstones than profiles of professionals. 

They simply don't have a pulse.

Here is my point: if you are not fully leveraging LinkedIn and other carefully selected social media, you are losing business to those who are, and they hope you still don't get it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lessons Learned: Amtower & Company - 29 years and counting

I started Amtower & Company January 1, 1985. After stints at Government Computer News (circulation director), the Gary Slaughter Corporation (management consulting and training), Earle Palmer Brown (ad agency), I had come to two conclusions:

    - I did not like working for other people, and
    - no one was treating marketing to the government as a distinct discipline.

So I thought I'd go to work for myself. Not that I had a choice...

I started by compiling lists of key feds in certain disciplines: IRM (now known as CIO), financial, procurement, training and a few others. None of these lists were huge (the largest was about 1,200). I had a dBase software package written so I had a way to deliver the data (floppy discs!). The software produced 3 different label formats. I kept these lists up-to-date via telephone and a few key government connections, and sold them as annual subscriptions, with updates for each.

In the 1980s, direct mail was a mainstay in marketing, even in marketing to the government. After a few years of doing this I discovered a few more things. I had developed a very narrow knowledge base that few possessed- I knew how to get mail delivered inside federal agencies and I had developed a bit of a reputation ( I was the "government direct mail guy") and had started meeting a few key movers in the government contracting arena.

Around 1989 one of my list clients said she really enjoyed talking to me because I never sent a bill. Apparently my knowledge of direct mail was important to more than a few people So the consulting side of Amtower & Company was born.

In January 1991, I hosted my first B2G seminar.

The four major components of marketing in the 1980s through the early 1990s were space advertising, PR, events and direct mail.

And along the way we had FASA, FARA, ITMRA - all manner of procurement reform and the advent of the purchase card program, each of which impacted B2G marketing.

In 1994 I was retained by PRC to advise on the marketing of the 2nd GWAC ever awarded, Supermini, a 9-year $11 billion contract.

By the mid-1990s my lists started including email addresses, and my best seller became the IMPAC (now SmartPay) mailing list, which became quite large. The web was pushing its way into B2G. Netscape changed everything in August, 1995. Not only did web sites become important, but email and e-commerce gained a foothold, led by Dendy Young and Falcon Microsystems.

Fast forward to the dot-com bubble, where venture capital firms were looking for B2G portals that offered a "one-stop" shop for feds. Bad idea...

Then the bottom fell out and we started over. Except that for many in this market the bottom did not fall out, because most government contractors were not fascinated by the shiny rocks of the dot-com era, knowing full well their biggest customer was a slow adopter and would continue doing business the usual way.

My skills, however, were morphing. Lists were becoming a much smaller part of my business and the consulting side, helping companies figure out the best ways to reach key audiences, was growing. Over the years I have advised hundreds of companies and helped them earn tens of billions of dollars.

So what about those "lessons learned"? Here are a few of them:

    - There is no marketing magic bullet. Each client and situation is different, defined by the nuances that occur with the passage of time, people involved on both sides, the current procurement and budgetary environment and more. So "one size" does not fit all and never has.

    - Differentiation is now and has always been key. Your company has to demonstrate superiority in one or more ways that resonates with the customer.

    - It is possible to develop a "subject matter expert" status in virtually any niche.

    - "Content is king" is not new and has been important all along. Hardcopy newsletters to key federal audiences were used by several companies as early as 1984, and probably before that. Bohdan's TechLetter helped Compaq grow quickly in the federal arena in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    - GSA Schedules have never been a panacea, even for products, and will be less so now.

    - Being "#1" is not a lifetime gig. Witness GTSI, the major reseller for more than a decade (1982 through the mid 1990s).  GTSI developed an attitude that bordered on arrogance. They got lazy, were bumped out of the #1 spot, then bought.

    - Marketing methods morph, and you have to provide information to influencers and buyers in multiple formats.Web 2.0 tools are critical moving forward- learn to use them.

    - Often it is necessary to tell the CEO that his concept of marketing is literally from a different era- the Montgomery Ward catalog model is dead.

    - White papers will never die.

    - Doing anything here without first doing the research is just plain dumb. Stay educated on the market nuances and trends.

    - Even with the difficulty we are currently experiencing with conferences and other events, face-to-face remains a key ingredient and events will not go away.

    - Social networking has come of age and is now an integral part of the B2G marketscape. LinkedIn especially has been adopted by feds and contractors alike and is now not simply a "must do", but a "must do well".

    - Educated salespeople are the best marketing tool. And as Fred Diamond says, if marketing is not aligned with sales goals, you are wasting money.

    - This is, and always has been, a relationship driven market. Your relationships and reputation are key to your growth as a company and as an individual.

    - The biggest lesson is not to become myopic, stuck in a marketing rut. Watch what is happening in B2C and B2B and be prepared for it as it is adopted into B2G.

And as my friend Bob Davis once said, "marketshare is rented, never owned".

29 years is just the beginning- I am not yet done...

If you are interested in seeing what works in B2G now, the now 15 year-old Government Marketing Best Practices seminar is back in February- and I hope to see you there!

Feb 11 – Government Marketing Best Practices 2014, Columbia MD -

Feb 12 – Government Marketing Best Practices 2014, McLean VA

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

GovCon Directions for 2014: Yahoo, Katie Couric, PlanetGov and Contractors

Yahoo announced that it hired Katie Couric as "global anchor".  Yahoo's CEO, Marissa Mayer, has said all along that the end user experience would drive her decisions. Ms Mayer is a data-driven executive who happens to be a social media maven, so it's safe to assume she knows what she is doing.

Some will undoubtedly see the hiring of Katie Couric as simply bringing on a celebrity. This would be selling both Ms Mayer and Ms Couric short. Couric is a media savvy content maven who happens to be a celebrity. She is smart and deep.

What this does for Yahoo is provide a deeper, broader content bench.

So what does this have to do with GovCon?

I open Selling to the Government with the "Tale of Two Companies", vignettes about two companies from the dot bomb era. (

One of the companies, PlanetGov, got venture funding to create an information and sales portal for the government market. PlanetGov hired about 20 journalists, including Mike Causey from the Washington Post (now with Federal News Radio) to create an information portal that would attract all Feds, then have an e-commerce side which would supply those Feds with everything they needed to buy for work.

The plan was interesting, but did not make it past the demise of the dot-bomb crash.

But the company survived, and emerged as APPTIS, and now IronBow.

Content is deservedly huge in our market, and with some of the publications in dire straits, it has become necessary for contractors to generate more of their own content. This content takes the form of white papers, enews programs, webinars, podcasts, even TV and radio shows.

If the content is germane to the buyer, and helps them makes decisions about what to buy and perhaps where to buy it, the company generating the content wins.

Perhaps it wasn't the PlanetGov plan that was bad - just the timing.