Be like Mike!

Mike Troiano“All the pain in your life will be caused by distance from the truth,” said Mike Troiano, CMO and self-proclaimed “Communicator-in-Chief” at Actifio. Think that’s profound? Now think about how a company that’s only 5 years old is already worth $1.4 billion dollars. With Troiano and a group of seriously intentional leaders at the helm, it’s no surprise that the copy data management company is rapidly growing into one of Boston’s biggest success stories.

On Monday night, Mike joined’s Abbie Waite for a fireside chat about leadership with 200 members of startup community. Perhaps most impressive about Mike is how he commands a room, like that funny uncle who you deeply respect and are also a little afraid of disappointing. In spite of huge success, he maintains his humility and charisma- admirable characteristics of a seasoned leader.

During the evening, Mike relayed sound words of advice. As a new professional getting my career off the ground, I’m making them words to live by. The resounding theme was that people are perhaps the greatest (and sometimes most difficult) part of being in business, and as a leader you have to establish enduring trust and open lines of communication right from the start.

Mike broke effective leadership into three actionable buckets:

Be Human
“Understand people, what matters to them, who they love, and what they’re afraid of,” Mike advised. Starting with the human side of management helps leaders motivate their teams, foster healthy conflict, and drive results.

Mike entertained the crowd with an anecdote about the epic difference between Italian sauce and gravy; sauce takes 20 minutes to whip up, while gravy is an all day affair, that requires slaving over a stove, and putting blood, sweat, and tears into the final product, but is worth every ounce of effort. The effort Mike puts into his gravy is paralleled only by the thought he puts into building relationships with his team. Ultimately, good business is good people, and exceptional leaders understand what motivates and challenges each individual member of a team.

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Mike Troiano
Mike asserted that managers need to ask themselves, “What are the three most important things right I can do to grow our business right now?” Focus solely on doing those (and only those) three things. Take for instance, when Mike joined the executive team at Actifio. His first move was to identify key stakeholders, focus on understanding their needs and challenges, and create lists of each team member’s goals. Within the first week, he realized where the communication gaps were, and set a clear vision for moving forward. He asked himself, “What am I good at?” and set an actionable strategy for using his skills to fill in the gaps and add value to the team.

As a leader, you’ll have boundless opportunities, but Mike urged us to proceed with caution to avoid falling victim to the overwhelming choices that come with growing a company and a team. Choose a few areas where you can add value to your team, and give them all you’ve got. Prioritize.

Keep it Simple
Mike drove this home over and over: it’s a manager’s responsibility to set clear expectations for each team member right from the start. Communication should be clear, direct, and honest. This is the best (and if we’re being honest, only) way to retain employees for the long haul.

When a team member lacks success, leaders need to take a good hard look at the mirror and think about why this person’s results are not measuring up to the expectation. And then you have to think about what you can do to support each individual on your team. Do you need to clarify your expectations? Provide your team member with a tool or resource to improve their performance? Is there tension within the team? Whatever it is, it’s up to the leader to provide clarity. It’s as simple as that.

Preach, Mike. Preach.

Rachel WaldmannRachel Waldmann
Content & Community Specialist

10 Magical Marketing Resources

unicorn1. Seth Godin

Godin is the Godfather of Marketing. There’s no denying it. Forget Wheaties, start your day with his blog.

2. Avinash Kaushik

If you don’t think data can be sexy, think again. Avinash Kaushik’s blog pulls of the covers, showing you the naked truth on how to drive marketing results.

3. April Dunford

No frills, straight to the point, April Dunford’s blog, Rocket Watcher, gives you a cold hard injection of marketing truth.

4. Mike Troiano

Mike Troiano and his Italian roots are cringing at the fact that I gave Seth Godin the Godfather crown… When Trap speaks, you listen. Any questions?

5. Andrew Chen

You’re all growns up, and it’s time to market by the numbers. Let Andrew Chen show you the way.

6. Erika Napoletano

In case you forgot how fun marketing can be, The RedHead Writing Blog is no bullshit, and hilariously, belly-aching good.

7. Scott Brinker 

Marketing and tech got married. They had a baby. Scott Brinker is the nanny.

8. Ramit Sethi 

Ramit is brash, over the top, and one of the best email marketers you will ever witness in action. Get. On. The. List.

10. seomoz

SEO. No one’s good at it. Stop pretending and start reading.

10. HubSpot

The HubSpot blog is a marketing bible. ‘Nuff said.

Hit me up in the comments with your favorite blogs!

How to Create Brand Positioning That Breaks Through the Noise

Marketing is a conversation about value. Developing compelling brand positioning and messaging for your company that conveys this value is crucial to success. Forget the bells and whistles—features, competitors and anything that doesn’t focus on the core value your product brings to the table is just a distraction when your crafting you’re crafting marketing content. A simple framework is all you need to position your business and convey your strengths to prospects and customers.

When building a marketing strategy, the most important question to answer is, “What do customers need?” Consider both expressed (readily clear) and latent (under the surface) needs of your customers, there are two core tools you can use to build out your messaging and positioning: your brand essence and your product messaging brief.

Brand EssenseBrand Positioning

Brand essence encapsulates the vision, promise, attributes, and emotion of a brand. For a company like Apple, for example, where the vision is simplicity and the promise is a seamless, almost magical user experience, it’s no surprise that customers have had such strong negative reaction to the unreliable nature of the new Apple Maps.

Product Messaging Brief
To translate your brand essence into effective product messaging, you can follow a simple formula.

Brand Positioning

After you’ve articulated your brand essence, identify your category. Minor brands or products can inherit the vision, promise, emotion, and attributes of the larger brand. For example, Google starts with a whimsical brand name and matches it with a literal product category name such as Google Docs – the user understands both the product and the larger brand connotations.

Once users understand a brand and category, the next steps is to convey the product benefits. After you’ve explored your market and discovered user needs, make a list of customer needs and a separate list of product features. To develop a list of product benefits, come up with high level promises that bind those two lists together.

Aside from perfecting your positioning (check out Geoffrey Moore’s Positioning Statement), the most important piece of messaging is your 25-word, plain English, description of what your company does. This needs to be one to two sentences and easy to say so everyone in your company can repeat it as they talk to potential clients, customers, or partners.

Consistent and insightful positioning and messaging can be one of the most difficult challenges for any company. The Brand Essence and Product Messaging Brief provided here are great tools for new and established companies alike to form the cornerstone of a marketing strategy.

About the Instructor
Adam Berrey is an entrepreneur and startup executive. He began his technology career on the founding team of Allaire where he led product marketing and management from the company’s beginnings to an IPO, $2.5B peak market cap, and $125M in annual revenue. In 2005 he joined Brightcove (BCOV) and led marketing and strategy from inception through $25M in revenue. Since 2009, Adam has done stints as an EIR at General Catalyst and North Bridge, co-founded a smart grid company, and advised executives and entrepreneurs at a wide range of firms from early-stage startups to public companies. View Adam’s slides here.