The Power of a Single Word

I am a firm believer in retrospectives. How can you expect to improve without looking back at what you did? I am going to do a series of lessons learned from my 9 years at Marketo. Doing one giant post will be too long, so I’m breaking it up. This is Lesson 1.

The Power of a Single Word
Early research (2007) led me to understand how Salesforce.com labels different core entities. The one that was most important was the word “lead”. In speaking with SMB companies, the word lead meant “a person”. When they went to a conference, they collected new names, each one was a single lead that represented a single human being.

Also, Salesforce had a word called a “contact”. A contact was also interpreted as a single human being. How could this be? There were two objects, each one representing a single person. I thought this must be a stupid mistake by Salesforce. So what I did was design the system so that leads and contacts were the same thing, a “person”.

This got baked into the very essence of Smart Lists in the Marketo schema. It was crucial to how the whole system worked. Duplicates were thought to be a problem that needed fixing. If you had a lead and a contact of the same email, that clearly was a duplicate.

Unfortunately, the enterprise market did not interpret the word Lead in the same way the SMB did. They interpreted the word the way a homicide detective would use it. “I am following up on a few leads.” In this usage, a lead is a clue. Several leads may lead to the same contact. So in other words, if someone downloaded 3 white-papers, there should be 1 contact and 3 leads. The enterprise would then merge the leads into the contact when the time was right.

I had a long-standing project that never came to life called Purposeful Duplicates. The whole point of that was to allow a single record to the parent “person” and then you could have many leads or even contacts underneath that represented manifestations of the contact. In other words, a “proper lead as clue” schema.

Because of the focus on people, my design of Marketo did not really support Accounts in an especially useful way. This led to many limitations with the product.

The whole problem started with the interpretation of a single word, Lead. If they had called it an “activity” or an “interaction”, I would have designed the system very differently and probably would have made the company more money. That is the power of a single word. It may have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in valuation.

English is a blunt language. It’s so blunt, in fact, that it had to borrow the French word for nuance.

Leave a Reply