Two heroes that embody missionary vs mercenary styles. Or something.

Famous billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins has been talking about the difference between Missionary and Mercenary entrepreneurs since about 2000. According to Doerr:

“Mercenaries are driven by paranoia; missionaries are driven by passion. Mercenaries think opportunistically; missionaries think strategically. Mercenaries go for the sprint; missionaries go for the marathon. Mercenaries focus on their competitors and financial statements; missionaries focus on their customers and value statements. Mercenaries are bosses of wolf packs; missionaries are mentors or coaches of teams. Mercenaries worry about entitlements; missionaries are obsessed with making a contribution. Mercenaries are motivated by the lust for making money; missionaries, while recognizing the importance of money, are fundamentally driven by the desire to make meaning.”

I won’t pretend to have much insight into the various types of entrepreneurs and what makes them successful. My background has not really been in that space. I have however, spent a lot of time as a member or leader of influential teams inside larger organizations. Because of that background, I look at these two styles from the lens of culture, and how it affects employee engagement and productivity.

There is rarely a single culture within medium to large businesses. It really comes down to different teams – or perhaps tribes is more appropriate. Groups of like-minded workers tend to find each other, collaborate and support each other. The most cohesive and effective teams are made up of these people – with the same kinds of principles guiding their work. Ideally, the whole organization is united.

But that’s almost never the case, once your organization has multiple teams. There seem to always be clashing groups who value different ideals and focus on success in different ways.

I wouldn’t say this is a terrible thing – after all, different types of work require different types of people. Head into the software engineering department for example. You will undoubtedly find a very different culture compared with the sales team – appropriately so. Is a Missionary or Mercenary mindset right? I think it depends.

I have tried very hard on my teams to develop aspects of the missionary culture described by Doerr. I consider it the right approach for customer-centric marketing, and it matches my style.

It’s not too hard to bring in people with that mindset when you hire the team. Transitioning an existing team into that mode requires some effort for sure. The hardest part is broadening that culture to the rest of the organization.

So how do build a team of missionaries? Here are my thoughts:

  • Lead by example. First and foremost, ensure that you have and show the qualities you want your team or colleagues to adopt. Funny how this one has to be said.
  • Be Explicit. Have a conversation with your boss, your team, your coworkers, etc. Discuss the culture you all want to have, and get on the same page.  Hold each other accountable.
  • Hire them. Make sure that when you bring people on board you are hiring for those qualities. It sends a clear message to the existing team that these are desirable traits too.
  • Praise the right things. It’s sad how often folks talk about these high ideals, but when bonus time or promotion time comes around, it’s the cut-throat mercenaries that get the credit. It’s fine to praise results, but if you want the how to change you can’t ignore it.
  • Know when you are beat. If you are working for a mercenary leadership team, you may have to come to grips with the fact that it isn’t going to change. Sure your team or your tribe may be able to operate as Doerr describes, but you will always be at odds with the rest of the company. They will take their cues from the leadership in place, and you trying to change that may even feel threatening to them.
    The long and short of it is that you may have to recognize that this isn’t the company for you. “It wasn’t a good fit” is not the worst thing to have to say at your next interview.

What about you? What do you do to try to build the right culture in your business?

If rain is the problem, you can't just complain that it's impossible to solve. Sometimes you have to invent an umbrella.

Some wise advice offered by my boss today:

Not all the problems you have are in your control. So control what you can and think of solutions instead of complaining that you can’t fix it.

I recently had a thought.

I know, shut up.

My thought was this – Any task you request of someone, you should send in writing.

Skeptical BabyThe reasoning behind it is that, although you may *think* you were clear in your verbal communication, putting it into writing solidifies the request enough that the chances are much greater that you will be understood. On top of that, now there is a paper trail and a conversation can be had if more clarity is needed. It gives the team member something to refer back to.

But more than anything – it makes sure both you and your team member know what you are asking of them.

It’s something I have down as a goal to do more. I think it’s more fair to my team. Also, by sending requests in an email, I can include my task management system (Todoist) as a recipient. This adds the request to my task list so I make sure and follow up. If I get the syntax right, I can even tag it as “followup” and add a due date.

Since I am a bit of a verbal thinker, I will usually assign tasks in a meeting or in person, and then follow up with an email reiterating that task. Both my team and I get the benefit of being able to process that information by hearing and reading – which should aid in retention. Good things all around.


Over the last 6 months, I have spent a lot of time at my new job learning and growing as I have been challenged with all sorts of new projects and programs. I went from being a focused specialist to being the “buck-stops-here” point for all things digital within the company – and those are two very different roles.
I’ve learned something though, as I have expanded and gotten involved in projects ranging from landing pages for print ads to entire website redesigns and overhaul.

There are two kinds of…

If you stick a bunch of digital marketers in a centerfuge and spin them around, they will separate into two different groups. Yes, I know it’s silly to distill people down to two groups, but hang in there.


Some marketers are builders. They start from the ground up, building programs, websites, projects, etc. They have the unique ability to look at the thin air in front of them, and envision the end result. They are heavily entrepreneurial, vision-driven individuals who can identify the opportunity, and put the plan and steps in place to seize it.


Some marketers however, are optimizers. They can take a look at a program, site, project, etc, and identify ways to make it significantly better. They can see the goals and the existing paths to accomplish those goals – but then find new paths as well. They take something already built, and make it more efficient and effective.

Ok so there aren’t two kinds.

Really though, I think most marketers fall more heavily in one camp or the other. The people I know that can build great programs and sites are not necessarily the same people that can take existing sites and maximize the opportunities.

Looking back at my own career, I have fallen most often in the Optimizers camp. It has been a fairly significant adjustment in my new role, since I now have to spend much of my time building programs from the ground up. I have had to think about sites and programs in an entirely new way – and it’s been hard.

All marketers should spend time doing both – because the skill sets are completely different and equally important. I won’t say one is easier than the other – just different.

Where do you fall? Where do you want to?

I am approaching my final day at 1-800 Contacts.
“What? Didn’t you just start working there a few years ago?”
Why yes I did. Almost exactly two years ago. But as it turns out, even though I wasn’t looking an opportunity found me that was too good not to pursue. So my last day as Associate Director of Search Marketing at 1-800 Contacts will be this Friday, and my first day as Director of Digital Channel Development at Blendtec is Monday.

Image Courtesy of
Image courtesy of

If you aren’t familiar with Blendtec, they are the makers of extremely high-end blenders and mixers. You see them often at Costco, demonstrating their awesome blenditude. You may also likely have seen them on, turning rakes, golf balls  and iPhones into dust. Pretty awesome.

My new role will be broader than it is today – I’ll be overseeing the digital presence for Blendtec. It includes the eCommerce, the wonderfully fun WillItBlend, and all the digital marketing channels. I am SUPER excited – it’s going to be awesome.

But it’s a little bittersweet – I wasn’t really ready to leave 1-800 Contacts behind just yet. They are a great organization, with a lot of awesome potential still, and a fantastic place to work. I really like the people I work with there, and am sad to leave them.

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?

An extremely wise friend of mine shared with me his perspective on what employees need to be happy and productive in their job. It’s fairly sage advice, and I think it’s worth sharing! In his own words, direct from an email he sent me (with a few omissions and some formatting and punctuation added by me):

From my perspective every employee needs three things… That’s it, just three.

Fun / Friends

Work is stressful, people want to be surrounded with others who can laugh at it. Out of the three, this one is the most impactful, and the most important! If an employee feels they are not valued, paid enough, or have to scrape toilets everyday, they will stick through it – if they feel a personal genuine friendship with their co-workers. Most employees will describe it by saying “I love the people I work with”.

Accountability / Responsibility

I’m not talking about… “Hey, you need to get this done by 5 today!” It’s more about feeling like what you do contributes to the whole objective. That what they have been asked to do is important. That it matters. That if they themselves were not doing it, other processes, teams or products would fail. And in almost all of the positions I have observed in corporations, its true!

To Learn

I believe no one applies for a job thinking, “I am the best person for this position. I am an expert at everything they have outlined on the job posting”. Rather, I believe they apply with a hope to become what is stated. If an employee stops learning, they will move on.

That’s it. I truly believe in one simple equation:

“The Business takes care of the employees, the employee takes care of the customer, the customer takes care of the business.”

Build communities, not cubicles.

Trevor Dow

See? Wise right? I tend to agree. I think we can pick this list apart and come up with other things employees need to be happy and productive, but they will likely distill down to these three. What do you think? What would you add to the list?

Trevor is also working on a pretty intriguing project to change how creative freelancers collaborate and find work. You can find out more information about that at

Stormtrooper New Years ResolutionGiven the time of year, you might think that it’s fairly cliche to put a post up about goal setting and resolutions… But you know what? I’m good with it. Why not take the time that everyone takes for a little introspection and stock-taking of your life?

I actually started thinking about goal setting a few weeks ago because we were gearing up to go into full “employee review” mode at work. I realized right away that the goals that I had set for myself and with my team were less than ideal. Not all of that is my fault – there is a lot of bureaucracy in that process at my work and our goals have to fit inside a particular set of checkboxes. But letting the bureaucracy get in the way of benefits of setting goals is crap, and that’s what I did.

What I SHOULD have done is check those boxes with the numbers and goals that fit the requirements, and then augment those requirements with goals that better fit my team and my specific needs and strengths. So that’s what I’m looking into now – setting the goals I need to set, but not neglecting the goals I should set.

I’ve also been thinking about a few resolutions, and some things that I could do better. I’ve found that I’m not good at the little, daily things that I know I should do but somehow never get around to. The type of things I wish were habits, but I haven’t been able to make stick. So I’ve added a category to my task list (I’m a bit compulsive with the to-do list) called “Daily” and added a few things to it that I want to do every day. So far it’s helped to have the daily reminder show up on my phone and tablet and laptop and everything (he says, 4 days in). I’m going with the Seinfeld Don’t Break The Chain method of motivation, because it adds personal accountability, and that’s what I believe it takes.

Nothing too drastic, and really not too specific. I’m leaving myself the option to change out what the daily tasks are, so I guess my resolution is to actually have the list of daily habits that I stick to. We’ll see how it goes.

What about you? Resolutions?

A Schedule Defends from Chaos & Whim

Everyone likes to think of themselves as spontaneous. But building predictability and planning into your business operations is critical to success. Without planning and scheduling, you are subject to whim (as my fortune cookie says) – you work on what you stumble across or what you think of. But so much more can be accomplished by building a schedule of optimizations. How?

Building a Schedule Requires Planning & Critical Thinking

When you take the time (and it can take a considerable amount of time) to build out a schedule of optimizations or tasks to accomplish on your program, you are forcing yourself to think critically about what is required for success. I’m amazed at how many programs are being run without that thought and effort. If you are doing it right, you are looking at your goals and putting together a plan for regular changes and work to help you achieve those goals. You have to decide:

  • What optimizations are you currently making, or wish to make?
  • How often does the account/campaign warrant each change?
  • What are your success metrics & best practices for each optimization?
  • How can the process be streamlined?
  • What are the outputs from each action?

Defining the answers to these questions up front can help you save a ton of time and make real progress towards your goals.

After you have determined what optimizations you need to make, you should determine how often to make them. Don’t forget to plan for changes in seasonality! If you are a retailer, you probably have to optimize more frequently in Q4.

Create Checklists and Processes

Once your optimizations and tasks are defined, creating a checklist and process for those tasks helps make sure they get efficiently accomplished. As I mentioned in my post on building reporting, everything you build should be scalable and repeatable, with focus on speed. Automation is key!

Another key to success – don’t try to have every process built perfectly. Take a page from product designers, and start with a minimum viable product. Get it out the door, and then every time you fulfill that task or process, iterate and improve. That way with minimum amount of time up front, you can be up and running, learning what you need to change and how to improve.


It’s been 3 months since I presented at SMX West in San Jose, and about 2 months since I presented at Pubcon New Orleans. At both shows, I spoke about building an efficient reporting product, as well as another few specific ways to do some common and necessary Paid Search tasks. I thought I would post a recap of that content here, and am finally getting around to doing it. :)

Quick side note – both shows were great. If you are interested in attending a conference about search marketing and social media, both the Pubcon and the SMX series are FANtastic.

Now, without further ado…

Efficiency is key to Search Marketing. There is no end to the amount of time you can spend optimizing and analyzing, tweaking and testing your accounts and programs. You have enough to do just figuring out enhanced campaigns or whatever the new algorithm update is all about – you don’t have time to spend hours every week pulling and massaging numbers. Don’t get me wrong – effective reporting and tracking is vitally important to success in search, and should be in every marketer’s utility belt. But the best reporting is both comprehensive and FAST. Continue reading