10 Tales from 10 Years At Velocity Partners

Celebrating 10 years in B2B marketing

This blog post was born of coincidence. It only exists because somebody arranged our annual company offsite, complete with Myers-Briggs personality test, on the same day as my ten-year work anniversary.

Think about it. Fifty people, representing double-digit personality types, can find many ways to ask the question: “What have you learned in the past decade?”

I went home extrovertly exhilarated with a mind bursting with memories of teams joined, personalities avoided, senses heightened, intuitions followed, thoughts expanded, feelings touched, judgements made, and perceptions altered.

And – bonus-time – the content for this blog post.

So, hopefully, with a little something for everyone, here are the ten things, based on at least ten colleague chats, about ten years of B2B technology marketing at Velocity Partners.

1. Tech products are never boring

This is the first thing I learned and the last thing I’ll forget. If you can get customers to research, buy and use your technology, you have a story just waiting to burst out.

Some clients arrive here downbeat: convinced they’re dull. Nothing beats watching them leave with their mojo restored, a story to tell and a plan worth measuring. It’s no exaggeration to call it thrilling.

I read this on the train on the way to my interview. It made me want to work here. I read it now. It makes me want to keep working here.

2. I really, really, really want my clients to win

Sometimes clients break my heart. And, no, not because they sometimes leave to put their marketing chips somewhere else. That’s business. That’s life.

Clients break my heart because they don’t realise how much I want them to win. Achieve every KPI. Dismantle their competition. Get promoted. Smash every sales record.

We don’t write plans, propositions and prices to maximize our profits. This isn’t a zero-sum game. We write them to maximize our clients’ profits.

You may not believe me. And, believe me, that hurts.

3. Culture actually is strategy

When I joined Velocity, Doug and Stan (the founders and, importantly, my friends) told me they were building a culture rather than a strategy. I thought they were either joking or bluffing (this may still be true). I knew I was sceptical.

And I was wrong. So wrong. There is only one thing that really matters: the people you rely on. You respect. Love. Get that part right and it’s remarkable what you can deal with going wrong.

4. Unintentional laughs are the best

There are only a few things in a business that everybody cares about: pay day, free stuff, web sites and what it’s called.

As a rule, I’d rather spend a day at a dentist in the middle of an anaesthetic moratorium than listen to obscure objections to name option #666. There’s a devil in every detail.

But I’ll never forget the day when a brainstorm shout for “Clear Torus” came under serious consideration. It lasted until somebody said it quickly and out loud (try it if you’re not in an open plan office) and left us all on the floor.

A subsequent suggestion (naming option #762), Four Play Technologies, barely raised a murmur.

Of course, inevitably, they settled on naming option #1. No change.

5. Intentional laughs are the worst

It’s important to remember that businesses are not designed to be funny on purpose. Our copywriters will tell us that voice should never be mistaken for comedy.

Anytime I talk to a client who thinks a bit of slap stick might endear them to the data analyst segment, I remind them of the words of the always divisive Milton Friedman:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it tries not to be funny.”

Laughing? No, I didn’t think so…

6. You can’t go under the radar twice

We’re lucky enough to work in an industry that’s consistently changing.

And, every so often, even in the biggest accounts, you get the chance to work with a progressive client on something new. Something the organization doesn’t understand or care about. Yet.

The best place in the world to work is under the corporate radar. It’s a quasi-mythical place where an established brand can work with the freedom of a start-up. I call it the success zone.

Success, however, rarely goes unnoticed or unfollowed. It won’t be long until you’re doing it again with three times the budget, resources, people, objections, sign-offs and compromises. And, all too often, a fraction of the value.

7. There are two ways to get fired by clients

In marketing agency land there are two sure-fire ways to get fired.

Obviously, you’ll be fired if you never want to do what your clients ask you. You’re in a mismatch if you’re contesting every request and arguing over every detail. It won’t last long.

Less obviously, you’ll be fired if you always do exactly what your clients ask you. You’re storing up trouble if you don’t provide them with the advice and insights that lead to stronger ideas, better implementation and improved results. ‘Complicit in failure’ is tantamount to ‘responsible for failure’.

The best relationships – and I can point to a couple of shining examples of these today – happen when boundaries between agency and client blur (somewhere between these two extremes).

The word “we” has such a nice ring to it.

8. Don’t be a fashion victim

I’ve always loved sport. And I’ve always loved words. But I’ve never loved sport and words.

When a swimmer hopes to “medal” at the Olympics it sounds like they should be arrested rather than celebrated. It’s a dodgy fashion.

In business, as in sport, fashionable words often lead to bad decisions. If you find yourself asking for “an infographic” without any data, “thought leadership” without any thinking or a “viral” with nothing infectious; maybe, just maybe, you’ve become a fashion victim. Follow outcomes, not fashions.

9. Saying you’re not doing it right, isn’t doing it right

Sometimes marketing is done badly so many times, people start to think bad marketing is good. The right way to do it.

My first experience of this came in press releases. How many times does an FT article quote three people starting a sentence “We’re delighted…”? I’d guess none. How many press releases did it? I’d guess 8,322,391.

My current bugbear is the blogs that give umpteen reasons why they’re not doing (just about anything we can think of) right. I mean who does love being told they suck in multiple ways. I know I don’t.

10. You need a decent hangout

For most of the last ten years our alternative office has been a pub called the Red Cow. It’s a place we’ve gone to think, forget, reflect and party. It’s where the people who used to work here come to meet the people who still work here.

It doesn’t have to be a bar. The new generation might prefer to crowd around breadless, fake-cheese, tomato-free pizzas. They key point is they crowd. And talk. And learn. And evolve.

Knowing work isn’t all work has made being at work so much more fun.

That’s all folks

So that’s the sum total of what I’ve learned. A coincidence led me to write it. But in writing it I realised it’s no coincidence I’ve been working in B2B technology marketing at Velocity Partners.

I don’t know much. But I do know it could have been a whole lot worse.

P.S. If you like the sound of working at Velocity, get in touch. We’re hiring.


Surely lesson number 1 should be – How to make a decent cuppa tea.

    8/10 for your brews, 10/10 for your comments.

Leave a comment