Friday, July 01, 2022

Subagent of the State




In the State of Washington, if you want to renew your vehicle license, you deal with someone other than the state.  You can visit a 3rd party licensing office or use the state's website.  Even if you use the state's website, the issuing and mailing of the tabs comes from someone other than the state.  The state has outsourced all of that.  The entity doing the work gets $5 to handle the work.  It might be a private company or it could even be a county - King County had an office - I guess they found a way to be profitable at $5 a pop. Maybe they did it around other work or something.  Anyhow, if you signed up to do the work, you became a subagent of the state.  You agreed to handle the paperwork without judgement and in return, you were granted a license to act on behalf of the state.  You wouldn't refuse to license electric cars or make Acura owners jump through extra hoops to prove they were really worthy.

At some point in our country's history, we blurred the lines between church and state and allowed churches to perform "marriages" - or rather, add a religious ceremony onto the act of signing a government document that gives people specific tax breaks.  The church thought they had the upper hand in the arrangement... until the government (by vote of the people) changed the definition of the word.

Suddenly, the church found it didn't actually have the power.  By becoming a subagent of the state, it lost ownership of the word (or at least its definition) and found itself in a position where it wasn't willing to unilaterally attach its religious ceremony to any and all legal executions of the government document.

Still, the churches dig in their heels and attempt to reassert ownership of the word "marriage" decide who can and can't get their government paperwork signed on the church property outside of the normal business hours of the county clerk's office by non-governmental employees authorized to provide witness to the signing of the governmental document.

Sadly, to hear statisticians within the church tell it, marriages performed within a church fail at the same rate as marriages performed elsewhere - the religious ceremony fails to improve the odds that a judge won't be later asked to revoke the special tax-status. 

So what now?
  • Should the church give up "marriage"?  
  • Should it find a new word?  
  • Should it perform religious ceremony devoid of the execution of governmental tax-related paperwork? 
  • Should it be like in France (I think) where you can have an optional religious ceremony if you want, but if you want the state to recognize it, you have to have a civil/legal ceremony?
  • Should churches be licensed to execute the paperwork only if they agree to perform the ceremony to anyone who meets the governmental description of marry-able?
I'm tired of this fight.

Legislation is the strong arm of force where love and common sense have failed.  

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Best Tool for Designing Journeys

Pretty regularly, I see the question "What's the best tool for designing marketing journeys?" The common suggestions are LucidChart or Visio, but I think it's much simpler: The humble whiteboard.  (In a video call, if you don't have a whiteboard, a large piece of paper taped to the wall will work.)

Journey Design is best done as a group exercise.  A lot of business requirements will surface and a lot of detail that would otherwise be forgotten will organically come up in conversation.  It may only be a first round prototype, but it'll go much quicker than if you just try to gather requirements and then go off on your own and try to draw it in some visual computer program.

Instead, gather people together (in person or virtually) around the whiteboard.  You want people to start talking about the "user experience" - getting business requirements for a journey can be one of the more fun collaborative efforts and is really helpful for uncovering expectations people forgot about.  I think I landed a job once because I did this with the CEO and CTO of a company during an interview. Here are some of the highlights to get people talking aloud:

  • How do people become eligible for this journey/flow? (What is the criteria or logic? Do we have the data? Where is it? Do we need to do anything to the data before we can use it? Are there any suppressions? (i.e., groups of people who would be eligible but we shouldn't send, such as someone with an open Customer Service case or someone who is a known hostile customer or an identified cohort which will perform better without the experience, such as whales?)
  • What happens to a user during the journey/flow? What marketing (emails, texts, ads, direct mail, phone calls, etc.) do they get? What's the timing or cadence? Are there any splits or testing?
  • How do they leave? In addition to just exiting at the end, can they be ejected early for any reason?  A status change on their subscription, a new purchase, a return/refund. Do we have the data we need to evaluate for that? Are there Customer Service reasons to exit or pause the journey?
  • What happens to other marketing efforts while someone is in this journey? Is there anything they should be suppressed from? Anything that should be delayed? Anything that needs to appear within the journey as optional content if it happens to the user mid-journey?

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Celebrate the 99 Sheep (A Work-Related Post)

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. -- Luke 15:3-7

One time when I heard this, I began to think of the 99 sheep who weren't lost.  While the shepherd was off looking for the lost sheep, who was making sure they were safe, cared for and protected from predators. I know there might be some answers to that (the design of the pen, other shepherds, how long the shepherd was actually gone, sheepdogs, etc.), but I also realized this is an HR problem.

In a lot of my experience, a lot of effort is made to find and recruit for an open headcount, but much less is done to actually keep the employees once they're onboard. There are sayings like "Date your wife" or "Don't stop courting just because you're married." and again, those same things can apply in the workplace -- I think too many employers think that because they've given you a job and now they give you a paycheck, they don't actually have to do much to keep you.  

Sure, perhaps there's a nice assortment of snacks and once a year they tell you all you're doing wrong, to soften you up before they give you a raise less than the rise inflation over the past year. 

And then they're shocked, surprised, disappointed when you leave. You might even get some Exit Interview theater, but only the myopic really think that's a useful time to tell them why you left - there should have been opportunities while you were still there to indicate if there's anything wrong, anything that could be better.

But I've rarely seen any cases where companies ask "Why are you staying?"  What are we doing right?  What could be improve? What business opportunities are we missing? How could we be doing better for our customers?  If you were CEO for a day, what would you change? 

Why aren't the 99 leaving? Are they staying for the right reasons? And the ones that leave, are they the right ones to leave or the wrong ones? Do you even know?

I think that employee retention is probably one of the things most companies do poorly because they've never had to. But in the midst of The Great Reshuffle, every good employee you retain is one less new employee to find a recruit.

And why is retention better than recruiting?

  • Lost opportunity cost. The work the employee was doing before they left is slowed or paused until their replacement is found.
  • Lost opportunity cost. The teammates and hiring manager are spending time in interviews instead of the work they had planned. They're also picking up the slack from the open headcount.
  • Knowledge loss. The best documentation in the world rarely gives you the full picture on how and will fail on the why. New teammates mean new opportunities to think differently, but if you embark on the new only because you don't understand the old, you may repeat past mistakes or throw out the good with the bad.
  • Disruption and Morale. The loss of a teammate is disappointing and may cause others to re-evaluate their own place in the company, especially if the extra work gets dumped on them.
  • Dissatisfaction. If someone's only staying for the paycheck, their work will decline over time. If the only reason you're keeping them is because it's one less headcount to keep, that's a loss for them and the company.
As cool as free hoodies are, retention isn't all about free swag, it's about making sure each employee knows why they are vital and valuable to the company, that they know how their contributions matter, and that they feel like they have a future they can be excited about.  Some people will seek this out on their own, some people are naturally motivated, but others need to be led. It's not that they don't care, but when they've got their head down in the work, it may not naturally occur to them.  

Let's do more to celebrate those that stay and make them want to stay even more. (Because, heck, someone who loves their job and loves their culture are also really great recruiting assets.)

Monday, February 21, 2022

Open Source Thanks

I've been forced to go back and clean out an old inbox and just rediscovered this email. A few jobs back I had created a small VBscript/ASP program to create Code39 barcodes as images and then I shared it as open source (it was super-simple, just parsed the barcode and then called one of two images).  Personal details redacted.  They went on to port it to PHP and which was later reshared for even more people to benefit.  

From: Marco _____ []
Sent: Monday, August 08, 2005 12:31 AM
To: James Lamb
Subject: Barcode Generator

Dear James,
Thanks a lot for your ASP Barcode Generator, which has been very useful for us. We are an Italian Local Government (Camaiore (Lucca), Tuscany, Italy) with the need to print out barcodes (code39 is right for us).
Best Regards,
Marco _______

Dott. Marco ________
Responsabile Sistemi Informativi e Statistica/IT Director
Comune di Camaiore/Local Government
P.zza S. Bernardino, 1
I-55041 Camaiore (LU)
Tel +39 ____ ______
Fax +39 ____ ______

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Google Ads: Creating a Hash from an email address in SFMC

Google Ads allows you to upload email addresses into Google Ads and then target (or suppress) ads to people who own those email addresses.  

If you want to protect your PII, you may be required to upload the email addresses as an SHA-256 hash.  Google Ads will allow you to upload in plain text, but if you don't like having that kind of data lying around on your end, you'll want to hash them.  (If you don't, Google will immediately hash them as soon as they're uploaded.)

If you're using Salesforce Marketing Cloud (ExactTarget), the query to do the hashing is a little different than if you were to do the hashing outside of Marketing Cloud.  

Anywhere else:

@EmailAddress),2)) as HashEmail

CONVERT(VARCHAR(100),@EmailAddress,0)),2)) as HashEmail
A second convert step is needed in the process or it starts with the wrong data for hashing and ends up with a hash that doesn't match anything. Took a lot of trial-and-error and research to get to this, so hopefully it's useful.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

AMPscript: Quickly Calculate Integers in SFMC / ExactTarget

There's no integer function in SFMC, but you can get there quickly with mod and subtract.

As a reminder:

mod(a,b) = remainder of a divided by b

subtract(c,d) = c minus d


= remainder of 5.5 divided by 1
= remainder of 5.5
= 0.5

= 5.5 minus remainder of 5.5 divided by 1
= 5.5 minus remainder of 5.5
= 5.5 minus 0.5
= 5


if your non-integer number is @numOriginal, your calculation 

set @numInteger = subtract(@numOriginal,mod(@numOriginal,1))

That's one fun secret... here's another: there are far more Email Marketing Jobs than there are people like us to do the work. Your next job may be waiting at

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Recent Reads

Some stuff I've read recently... these are Amazon links, you can buy the books and I'll get a few pennies in the process. (I used to say you were funding my coffee, but really, you're helping to buy me more books. If it's coffee, check out Drink Trade - and get a free bag of coffee!) 

Space Team (Volumes 1-12) by Barry J. Hutchison

These are popcorn books for science fiction fans.  I found myself devouring them at the start and then reading less and less as I got closer to the end, not wanting it to end. Incarcerated for identity theft, due to a case of mistaken identity, Cal Carver ironically is abducted from his cell by aliens. Up until that point, no one knew there was anyone else in the galaxy besides humans. Still processing this, Cal learns he's the last remaining human due to another clerical error. And thus begins twelve volumes of adventures, escapades, romps and capers across a galaxy filled with all kinds of interesting people, some of whom are nice. There are good books, not-as-good books, a few odd shifts in the "universe," some embarrassing titles and a good time I was sorry to see end. A satisfying set of stories with many, many laugh-out-loud moments.

Not One of Us by Debbie Herbert 

Years ago, high school girl's boyfriend and parents vanish. She finishes school, moves to the big city and starts her life. But now, she's back in the small town because her autistic brother's caregiver (her grandma) may no longer be able to care for her. Oh, and she has synesthesia -  she can see sounds. You learn this at the beginning and I really can't help you if it's not immediately obvious that this will come into play. The disappearance of that family isn't the only secrets the town holds and soon people start dying. And anyone and everyone is suspect. The protagonist is a middle-aged Matilda surrounded by cops whose lack of proper procedure (compared to what we see on TV) is astounding and, well, it's all just a mess. Halfway through the book we find out what happened to the family and you'd think it would have been a bigger deal, but it wasn't. 

A Deadly Influence (Abby Mullen #1) by Mike Omer

I liked Detective Abby Mullen. I didn't like most of the other characters in this book. You know how some stories constantly throw plot twists at you? I kept waiting for the plot twists here and they never came. Maybe some characters didn't play exactly the part I was suspecting, but apparently the detective was a superb judge of character. An interesting, modern idea overall, but I didn't much care for it.  I think I would give book two a try, though, since none of the prominent characters in this book would be back for a second call, as near as I can tell.