Inbound 2016 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wrong
If you’re a marketer in the Boston area, you’re probably still trying to recover from the miles of walking you did at Inbound two weeks ago (not to mention the deluge of post-event reports and “IT WAS GREAT TO MEET YOU” emails). If you know a marketer, you’re probably sick of being reminded that they got to meet Anna Kendrick and you didn’t. And if you’re neither, you probably have no idea what Inbound is or why traffic was so bad around Southie for four days.
In short, Inbound is Hubspot’s annual marketing conference, where someone with mad hookups is able to get a host of A-list celebrities and marketing bigwigs to teach you how to create a personal brand that will launch you from obscurity. They also have a pretty sweet setup in terms of perks: massage chairs, free lunch at a dozen of the city’s best food trucks, and actual big name concerts/stand-up performances (Trevor Noah anyone?).
It’s not just glitz and glam and backrubs, though. There is a reason that I take Inbound as my annual professional development retreat: the lessons I learn there tend to be very coherent, consistent, and provide actionable steps to help get me through the next year of my development as both a marketer and IT professional. Sure, they love to hawk Hubspot’s latest products, but I’ll take the pitch if it means getting to understand more about what I should be aiming for in my career.
Anna Kendrick signs copies of her new book “Scrappy Little Nobody”
What I Learned, and Why You Should Care
This year, I found that there were some very specific themes that had a lot less to do with marketing and a lot more to do with how you treat yourself as a professional and as a person. I’m not sure if it was just the talks I chose to attend, but I ended up leaving with three major takeaways that stuck with me, and will hopefully continue to guide me as we enter 2017.
1. Cut yourself some slack; you’re doing better than you might think.
Over the course of the week, I exposed myself to a plethora of ideas for running my marketing department. What surprised me most, however, is that much of what I was being instructed to do were things that I was already trying. Prioritizing people over sales, saying “No” if the fit wasn’t there, asking coworkers to help create content and be company advocates, and listening to a person instead of just pitching to them are all skills I’ve worked on honing over the past year. It was certainly validating to know that I was at least on the right track, even if our growth hasn’t suddenly propelled us to the top of the Boston “Up and Comers” charts.
I think this is an issue a lot of people deal with; they look at other companies that have exploded from out of nowhere and are suddenly receiving all the money and accolades. Well, a lot of these companies already have significant backing or advantages, and to truly bootstrap takes more than just a year or two of getting lucky with your exposure. It’s important to keep perspective; obviously, if you’re stagnating, then you need to figure out what could be improved. But most of the time, your growth might be just fine but you’re so busy comparing yourself to the industry leader that you can’t see anything but how far behind you are.
2. You need to be a little afraid or you aren’t going to push yourself.
One of the pervasive themes throughout the conference was the idea that while too much fear can paralyze you, a little dose of it can be a great indicator that you’re doing something worthwhile. You may have heard of the “Fail fast, fail often” method of innovation, but few people ever address what it takes to be willing to do that. Failure isn’t a pleasant experience; I’ve tried campaigns before that were total flops, and I felt like a loser afterwards. Because of my own self-doubt, I figured John would tell me I was bad at marketing and I should feel bad, but that never happened. We moved on, learned something valuable about our market demographics or approach, and kept going.
Obviously, it’s no good to just start recklessly throwing time and money in random directions in hopes something sticks, but if you do your homework and put together something novel, it’s worth seeing it through. And in fact, I found that in times when I got too caught up in my fear and tried to allay it by playing it safe, I actually had worse results than if I’d just accepted that I’d be afraid and pushed through with my ideas anyway.
So the moral of the story, I suppose, is to give up on “Fail fast, fail often” and start embracing “Fear fast, fear often.”
The five key takeaways from Andrew Dymski’s presentation: “The Top 5 Lessons We Learned Interviewing Over 70 Inbound Agency Owners”
3. People are too smart for your tricks, so just be yourself.
Alright, I’m bringing up Anna Kendrick again, but not because I have massive girl-crush on her (well, not just because of that). In her keynote, she addressed some very personal points regarding vulnerability and authenticity. She spoke about how her first posts on Twitter were very sanitized and inoffensive, because she was afraid to make waves (aha, again with the fear thing). And what she got from those nice, clean posts was…bupkiss. Nobody cared because there was no substance to what she was saying, just the same old fluff. It wasn’t until she started sharing her daily embarrassments and random shower thoughts that people started identifying with her words and paying attention. She had to be willing to extend her true self to the world in order for anyone to relate to her and want to engage.
It’s the same with business. Over and over, people reiterated a point she made: people can smell when you aren’t being authentic. You’ve been there; someone came up to you with their fresh suit and business card, feigned interest in the prerequisite small talk, then flung their own pitch and life story at you. Nobody wants to interact with that guy, yet a lot of us are guilty of being him. When I first met with my sales team and showed them our value prop as an IT vendor (which went along the lines of “We’re reliable and trustworthy and will make sure your systems are protected”), I was told in no uncertain terms that this was worthless as a differentiator because every IT company tries to bill themselves as that. It wasn’t until they pressed me on what really made me want to work that I realized our value doesn’t come out of just being a dependable outsourcer; it comes from our nerdy, puzzle-loving brains.
Want some real vulnerability? Here’s my answer to “What got you where you are today?” from the Inbound Story Booth
Putting it Together
Since realizing just how important it is to treat not just my leads and customers like humans, but myself as well, I’ve taken on a few new initiatives to improve my quality of work life and help market Deep Core Data using a more genuine and transparent approach.
For one, I’ve started turning my LinkedIn into something of a professional Facebook. I too used to be very sanitized and superficial with social media, reserving LinkedIn for sharing our company blog and giving obligatory congrats when other companies hit an important milestone. Over the past week or so, I’ve started becoming more active on the site, posting things that interest me (like stories about cool tech or emotional intelligence), sharing my own experiences, and posing questions to people as thought experiments. It’s still early, but it does seem that I’ve been at least getting more people to take a look at what I have to say and respond in some manner.
I’ve also tried to treat networking events as more than just an awkward pitch-off. Starting at Inbound, I’ve begun approaching people at events with a simple question: “What is one positive thing you’ve experienced today?” It’s a question I often ask myself and my friends, just as a way to brighten someone’s mood or let them share something they’re proud of. I figured I might as well try it with strangers too. I’ve actually gotten a good reaction from it so far; people are surprised that I’m inquiring about them the person and not just them the business card title. It breaks the ice and gets us on a deeper level.
Lastly, I’ve finally sat down and put my money where my mouth is. As soon as I got back to the office last Monday, I created a huge to-do list for everything I wanted to accomplish by mid-2017. At first, it looked overwhelming, but once I realized that I could break it down into actionable tasks over the next 7 ½ months, I really only came down with 2-4 items that I had to get through each week. And some of them are pretty flexible, so I’m not going to be ruined if I have a rough couple of days. I’ve already gotten through all of last week’s tasks, and things are looking good this week despite the Thanksgiving break.
So, to wrap it all up, the biggest thing I learned from Inbound wasn’t a new lead generating tool or tip for how to create the shiniest whitepaper ever. I learned to treat myself like I would treat someone I wanted to work with, to express myself, to embrace that what I do might turn out to be wrong, but it doesn’t matter because I tried and didn’t let my fear hold me back.
Maybe in a year I’ll be as famous as Anna Kendrick, and maybe not. But all that really matters is that, like my fellow New Jerseyian Frank Sinatra, I did it my way.