I recently had a lively discussion on the state of Detroit and its emergence from bankruptcy with a few of my peers. I argued that bankruptcy was an extremely practical and timely pivot for the city. This resulted in a resounding debate on whether a government entity can pivot. My theory is that the idea of pivoting is not relegated only to the business world. Any person or entity can and should pivot to avoid complacency and increase their life or business ROI.
While in college, I worked at the Phonathon, where I called alumni and essentially asked for donations. Those conversations informed a great deal of my professional life. This is because over and over again, I talked to people who started their careers on one path and then completely changed it. Perhaps, the best conversation was with a former management consultant that left behind a six figure income to pursue his passion of owning a clothing store and designing a clothing line. What was initially a risky proposition has made him a millionaire many times over. He knew that his general dissatisfaction with his job and life was “sucking” the energy out of him, so he pivoted.
Even in my own life, I have made several pivots in my relatively young career. I began in retail management and made the decision in 2009 to actively pursue the technology sector. With that decision, I initially thought I would want to be a developer, but I quickly determined that the day to day work was not great for me. So, I moved into product management, vendor management, and account management. For someone like me, these different aspects of the business ensure I am engaged and challenged daily.
When researching “When to pivot?”, I stumbled upon the infographic below. In reviewing the infographic, I realized that this concept could be applied to the internal and external issues found in everyday life. This is a very small sample of some of the issues that might be present in an individual’s life. The key point is making a detailed list of the various internal and external issues and determining whether it is the proper time to pivot.
The idea of the pivot can be one that seems all encompassing or overly complicated, but it really comes down to determining what you want from your life, your team, or your work and then determining when what has worked in the past no longer applies. Ford said “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” This is a profound statement about the potential that lies within us all.
I recently had a one on one with a senior vice president at my company. The topic of conversation was how I felt about some changes happening with my product team. At one point, I said that my work strategy is to “actively curate my work experience and life.” His eyebrows rose a bit and he seemed a bit taken aback. this philosophy encompasses having a specific idea of what I would like to learn as well as other desired outcomes. I realized that most of my colleagues probably approach him with a very different attitude about their work life. This realization is the basis of this post.
I truly believe that you can work with a lot of great people and still hate what you do every day. The reverse is also possible. I have worked in both of these scenarios professionally. For years, I would become discouraged and simply not offer my best work each day. Upon acknowledging this fact 5 years ago, I decided to adopt a few personal principles to help me exercise more control over my worklife:
- Focus on Being a Leader Daily.
- Invest in 1 Activity Weekly to Better Yourself.
- Participate in Forums and Groups.
- Foster Great Professional Relationships.
- Make the Most of Every Opportunity
It is important to understand that many of the tasks I take on to help me achieve these principles are not huge under takings. However, I drive myself to do them each day to meet my own standards. Here are a few of the activities:
- I listen to at least 1 professional, financial, or political podcast a day..
- I volunteer for a non-profit at least quarterly.
- I maintain a blog to keep my writing skills sharp.
- I actively participate in conversations daily on Quora, The Academy, StackOverflow, and Linkedin.
- I routinely talk to personal and professional mentors to receive feedback.
- I take on additional projects at work that fall outside of my role.
By implementing these 5 principles, I am able to enjoy my day to day work. Even more importantly, my new and improved attitude and enjoyment of my work has led to numerous opportunities. In under 2 years, I have almost doubled my salary, picked up additional income sources from consulting, and been asked to lead major development endeavors with prominent non-profit organizations. This success is not a matter of “luck.” This success stems from my decision to be the CEO of my life.
I have had the privilege to work in different aspects of the affiliate marketing sphere over the last 5 years. This has included basic product support and agency manager at ShareASale then as a business analyst away from the front lines at one of the premier affiliate marketing agencies in the business, Acceleration Partners. As such, I think I have a unique perspective on what makes a great affiliate manager versus what some merchants find when hiring affiliate managers.
Here are some of the attributes of excellent affiliate managers:
- Availability: I find that the best affiliate managers are readily available to discuss issues with their clients.
- Hands on: A great affiliate manager generally is not handling 20 accounts by themselves; instead you have a team of managers and associates who know your account inside and out.
- Connections: I find that great affiliate managers know their affiliates (big and small) by name and can reach out in an instant to talk to them and help convince them to promote your business.
- Savvy: While not all affiliate managers are technical geniuses; they often utilize their networks, consultants and industry experts to ensure they are utilizing every tool to help win your business.
- Great Partners: This is often a quality that is not easily measured but great affiliate managers know your business goals and needs as well as you do. More importantly, they work in your businesses best interests to help you attain those goals.
- Results: One aspect that the best affiliate managers is the ability to show you the “real” numbers on how your program is doing and ways to improve upon those numbers.
One thing you’ll notice about the attributes of excellent managers is that all of these qualities are easily proven. One thing that I believe will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me is that there has to be definitive proof of performance. As a result, the qualities I normally find exhibited with the other types of managers are as follows:
- Quantity over Quality: The manager has way too many clients and literally launches new ones every day.
- Auto-Approve: The manager has so many clients, so they set everything to auto approve. This means that any affiliate may be promoting your products and you may be paying for invalid orders.
- Feelings: These managers generally give you really flowery language and tell you how hard they are working but can never tell you specifically how your program is doing.
- Bad Partners: These are the types of managers that when you begin to review sites like ABestWeb, FeedFront or other affiliate forums there will be a number of comments about the manager having had an issue with an affiliate or a network. This is usually a red flag because it will be difficult for the manager to build your program.
- Stone Ages: One of the coolest aspects of affiliate marketing over the last few years is that there have been numerous technology advances (container pixels, attribution, etc.), but the manager who is not the best will often not be utilizing those tools and may not even be aware of them.
- Too busy to Talk: One of the things I noticed often when working at a network was that a merchant may have wanted a call with the network and asked the manager to join the call but they might not show up. Often, I would hear that often that manager was too busy to talk to their client. Frankly, you are the one paying their fee, so it is more than reasonable to think they would be available for a conversation.
Ultimately, there is not necessarily a magic wand that will let you know exactly which program manager will be best for your business. After all, there are numerous other factors such as fees, specialty in a vertical, technical know how, etc. that may also be factors in your decision. The key here though is that affiliate marketing can be a great method to help grow your online business and the best way to ensure that happens is to ensure you have a great program manager who is going to be a genuine partner.
As a business analyst, I am often tasked with reviewing various tools to determine whether they will work for my company’s purposes. I generally utilize a pretty holistic approach. My criteria for any tool that my company may use is typical as follows:
- Cutting Edge
- Partnership Potential
- Not Cost prohibitive
- Excellent Support
- Keen Interest in Development
- Best in Class
- Great Consumer Reviews
With this criteria in mind, I go through numerous steps, such as compiling a list of potential vendors, collecting every review/data source possible, creating pro/con charts, etc. to develop a full picture of the competitive landscape for the particular product. This process has served me well through numerous companies and projects, but determining the best social media listening tool was a bit more complicated.
This complication stemmed from a few different factors that are atypical for most technology vendors. The primary issue was the fact that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Tumblr, and Pinterest are all continually adjusting how they allow their data to be accessed. As a result, a tool that may have been atop the food chain earlier in 2015 may have completely been deemed outdated by late May. This was due to the different partnerships many social media companies began making to better profit from sharing their data. Ultimately this led to a much different process for me in terms of how I had to evaluate potential social listening partners. The new criteria for social media listening tools is:
- Robust API
- Strategic Long Term Partnership
- Focus on Innovation and Continued Development
- Data Availability & Limitations
This new criteria allowed me to easily whittle down the initial list of over 20 different social listening tools (see the whole list here) to 4 that had a great deal of potential. I then created a chart to evaluate those 4 tools, which allowed me to easily see there was a clear winner.
While Crimson Hexagon is my pick for the best social media listening tool out there for my company’s needs, there will undoubtedly be debate amongst other organizations. What is important here is creating a process to manage vendor research and management to ensure that as a business analyst, one is seeking out a partner that will help drive the business needs forward of her organization. It was truly an intriguing process seeing the major difference in the social media listening tool world and adjusting my own processes to ensure effectiveness in my own research.
In the course of my career, I have worked for a technology company, a digital marketing agency, and a product team within a global marketing agency. What I have learned from all of these experiences is that both technology teams and the agencies who use them can be poor at communicating. What I mean by this is that the agency simply wants the technology to work, because they have a client who expects a deliverable. The technology team wants to build great software and needs the time to ensure it is tested and works properly. The need for that time is generally where the friction begins between the technology vendor and the agency.
With the experiences I have had professionally, I have often wondered what can be done to de-escalate these situations to ensure a much smoother and happier partnership between agencies and their technology partners. I have come to the following conclusions.
Choose your technology partner wisely. I outline some keys specific to picking a social media data partner here that are transferrable to other industries. The gist is that the partnership cannot work if the partner is generally not a good fit.Trust your chosen partner. Once you have done the research and are confident in the partner, you have to trust them to execute. If you constantly undermine your partner or second guess them, you will cause delays and friction that could have been avoided.Educate Yourself. It’s amazing to me that so many agencies spend thousands and even millions of dollars on technology tools, yet have no understanding of the technology. Every single agency needs to know enough about the product to ensure it is providing intelligence that is valuable to their clients. For instance, if you are receiving data from a partner, you should know how accurate the data is according to the vendor’s testing as well as independent sources.Plan Ahead When Possible. A last-minute project is often a developer’s worst nightmare because it will most likely be fraught with numerous pitfalls. Planning out what your agency may need six months, twelve months, or even longer periods will do wonders for the vendor and their ability to prioritize their backlog. For last-minute projects, I recommend collecting as much information as possible and collating it for the vendor. This ensures the development team with your technology vendor can hit the ground running on the last minute project.
Technology Vendors should…Communicate. As a tech person, it is often normal to hunker down behind some code and not communicate what is happening. This can drive an agency insane! Communicate often and in non-tech speak. This helps to allay fears on the agency side of things and inspire a greater level of trust.Set reasonable expectations. One of the developers on my team once likened development work to be a “G-d,” which might be true after solving a truly complex issue. However, at the outset of a project, it is better to under-promise and then over-deliver. Too often tech vendors promise the moon and can barely get a project off the ground. This is absolutely the worst type of partner. Don’t be that guy!Keep your deadlines. This will get some push back! But if you agree to a deadline, you have to hit it. One way I have accomplished this is by breaking down projects into smaller more digestible pieces so that while the overall project is not completed at least a portion will be done by the deadline. Also, if you absolutely cannot complete any portion of the project, communicate early and often.Less is more. There’s this constant theme in any company to do “all the things” at once, like enhancing old features, adding new ones, and developing new projects. Most times undertaking all of those projects at once results in a poor product. It is more important to focus on a few areas that will truly drive forward business and provide value to partners.
The best partnerships aren’t dependent on a mere common goal but on a shared path of equality, desire, and no small amount of passion.~ Sarah MacLean
If while reading through this you began to wonder if this was general relationship advice, you are not that far off. Agency and technology vendor relationships are exceptionally complex and fragile and it takes a great deal of care and communication to make them work effectively. Putting in the hard work to make them work though is where a basic business relationship can turn into a strategic partnership that ensures both parties prosper for the long term.