By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

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This week’s episode is entitled Incremental vs Exponential Thinking: Why It Matters & How to Do It“.  It’s just me and our MC and producer, Paul Roberts of OC Talk Radio.  Find out what wave machines and authors Hemingway and Chandler have to do with anything.   

The topic today I’ve been thinking a lot about is this difference between incremental and exponential thinking and what that difference is, what it means, why it’s important.

Sales and marketing folks talk a lot about small tactical problems that provide incremental change.

We’re not always taking the time to step back and think about the monumental changes that may be in front of us that if we could think more strategically about those, we might be able to move forward more efficiently.

Among other things, we also tackle the notion of a world without email.  If we assume email is no longer a channel, how would we think about other channels? How would we think about other means of communicating? If we could envision a world where something is no longer true, does that help us think not just incrementally but exponentially? And it’s not to say that email is going away.

Listen in and/or read the full transcript below.

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Matt:   Well thank you everyone for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. I’m very excited to have you here today. If you are new to the show. Thank you so much for listening. If you’re listening to us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thanks for making us part of your work day today. We are here every Thursday alive, 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. If you’re listening on the podcast, thanks so much for subscribing. Just excited as always to see our listeners grow and the impact. I think we’re heaven for a lot of people that are listening in on the show, so thanks very much for doing that and ever if you’re wanting to check out some of our past episodes, every episode is available past, present and future at

Paul:  I have a question for you today because it’s just you and I bantering here, shooting the breeze a little bit here and I don’t get a chance to do this with you very often, but I wonder if as people are listening to the show and taking the advice, whether they’re doing incremental change or exponential change? What are they getting out of this?

Matt:  Oh my goodness, someone read the show notes. That’s phenomenal. Yeah, no, we normally for Sales Pipeline Radio we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in sales and marketing. Normally I say today is no different.

Paul:  Today you got me.

Matt:  But it’s just you and me. So today’s very different. Yeah, no we had a guest cancel last minute and I was traveling beginning of this week and I think we should probably do more episodes like this because there’s so many things that just I think come up that I think about that I think would be fun to just kind of explore.

Paul:  I love it.

Matt:  And I think the topic today that I’ve been thinking a lot about is this difference between incremental and exponential thinking and what that difference is, what it means, why it’s important. And part of the reason this came up, and I’d love to get your thoughts on this as well, Paul, as we talk through this, but part of the reason this came up is we’ve been doing a series of these CMO breakfasts around the country and we’ve been doing it for about a couple of years. And you know, we basically get 20 to 25 B2B CMOs in a room and we talk about sort of things that they’re struggling with, things that are challenges right now.

And we did a handful this fall with a partner, LeanData, and the topic was specifically around revenue operations and the idea that most companies in B2B have some marketing operations, they’ve got sales operations, these are the teams that are managing the tools and the systems behind the scenes. Companies should be thinking about a unified revenue operations strategy. And I think most people that were in the room were really challenged with how to do that. And what we found is part of the challenge is that despite the interest in the topic, we had a lot of people that were working through it incrementally and not really thinking through the exponential changes strategy required. And actively, what that means is day to day, week to week. We are facing our fire drills on a regular basis and so we’re making tactical decisions.

“Well, what are we going to do to fix this problem that we had in Salesforce?” Or “Hey, we don’t have anyone following up with the trade show leads. What do we do with the trade show leads?” Or “Our drip campaigns aren’t working as well. Who fixes that? And how should we fix that?” So these small tactical problems that provide incremental change, but we’re not always taking the time to step back and think about the monumental changes that may be in front of us that if we could think more strategically about those, we might be able to move forward more efficiently.

Paul:  So let me ask a challenge question here. You ready for a challenge question here?

Matt:  Bring it.

Paul:  Do you make incremental change to make big changes? In other words, do you just start taking little steps and that leads you towards a big change or do you have to take a big leap to make a big change?

Matt:  So it’s a great question and I don’t know that you can design exponential change. I think it does happen kind of slowly. I mean what was the quote from Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises? He basically said “Gradually and then suddenly.” And you think about exponential change or you think about technology. Like technology, you think, “Oh my God, email just showed up. Oh my God social media just showed up.” Like no, these things had been around for a while. Just slowly improving. And then there is a tipping point for new ideas, for new technologies that tends to happen fairly quickly and we feel like it’s happening to us quickly. Whereas when you look back in retrospect, it has been happening slowly over a long period of time.

Paul:  Now you had me at when you said Hemingway, because I’m a big Hemingway fan and I think this is the first time in 10 years of me doing shows here on the network, 20 some shows, that anybody has ever quoted from Ernest Hemingway. So kudos to you here. And I will point out that interestingly enough, Ernest Hemingway did dramatic, revolutionary, exponential change to the field of writing because he started off as a newspaper reporter. And of course he was reporting from the battlefields, World War One originally, and then the Spanish Civil War. And he didn’t have much time, the bombs are blowing. So he started writing in this kind of journalistic style. Bullet points, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.

Not this long, flowery prose that people had been practicing for hundreds of years, and it changed. Now everybody just assumes that’s the way a novel reads. But that was new. That was exponential change when he did it. I don’t know if he set out to do that or if that was just his style. But there was novel writing before Ernest Hemingway, long flowery extended sentences, and then there was after Ernest Hemingway, which continues to this day, short and to the point.

Matt:  Well and we in retrospect, decades later, look back at this and we’re like one of the greatest novelists in I don’t know how much time, and he revolutionized the genre. I wasn’t around when he was writing books.

Paul:  You weren’t? Oh I was. I’m old enough to remember dirt.

Matt:  No, but I imagine that all of a sudden, seeing a different style that might’ve been jarring, he might not have been immediately popular for that style.

Paul:  I suspect not because it was what you expected to read in the news. Even newspapers tended to be kind of flowery and exaggerated, but he got right to the point. It was what you expect to see now when you see a novel, very short, very punctuated sentences. Later on you had the great crime writers like here in Southern California and the Mike Hammer kind of series. And all this kind of stuff. Who am I thinking of?

Matt:  I don’t know.

Paul:  Well anyway, but those kinds of things, “It was a dark, stormy night. He walked in, he saw this.” It’s very punctuated, very a short sentences like that. And that was Hemingway really started that style which came out of writing for newspapers.

Matt:  Gradually and then suddenly.

Paul:  Yeah.

Matt:  Yeah. I think if you think about sort of this incremental versus exponential thinking, I mean you can also think about this in terms of the difference between innovation and disruption. Those are different things. You could innovate things and make things better. The idea of disruption is to make things obsolete. I posted something on LinkedIn yesterday that got a lot of attention and a lot of, in some cases, quite a bit of debate.

I made the mention that it’s possible we might have to prepare for a world in which we are not able to use email for marketing. We have GDPR.

Paul:  Say that again now? Wait a minute. No you lost me.

Matt:  Well yeah, see right there.

Paul:  What?

Matt:  What if we had to prepare for a world where email was not a marketing channel we could use? And my point is not that email is not effective. As marketers, we know email is effective, buyers want to still get email. I don’t think email as a channel is going away. But in Europe we have this thing called GDPR, which is significantly restricted the ability for companies to send unsolicited email.

Paul:  Right.

Matt:  There’s a version of that that is coming to California in 2020. There are several other States that are looking at adopting that and I think it might not be that long before the federal law replaces canned spam, which basically just puts restrictions on how you can send spam, it doesn’t can anything. But that there may be a federal law that significantly restricts how people can use email as a channel.

So I’m not saying email is going away. What if we started to think about a world without email? If we assume email is no longer a channel, how would we think about other channels? How would we think about other means of communicating? If we could envision a world where something is no longer true, does that help us think not just incrementally but exponentially? And it’s not to say that email is going away. I had a number of people say they’re doubling down on email, and the people saying that were those that have permission based lists, so they’re doing email the right way. As long as that consumer wants to hear from you, I think that channels like email are going to be fine. But gradually and then suddenly, if we are gradually seeing email be restricted as a unregulated communication channel, whether we like it or not, whether we think it’s a good idea or not, doesn’t it make sense for us to sit back and say what would happen if we couldn’t use email? What would our marketing in 2020 look like, feel like, if we couldn’t use email?

Paul:  It’s hard to imagine because again, we’re used to, marketing is partly reaching out to people. Maybe it’s all the time reaching out to people when they didn’t ask to be reached out to. A bus drives by with a sign on it. You go to YouTube and you want to see how to change a tire, but first you’ve got to watch a video. Emails come unsolicited. We’re always trying to find a way to stick our message in front of people when they’re not asking for it. And maybe that’s the bigger question. Can marketing get to a point where it’s only permission-based or are we always going to have to be intruding?

Matt:  Well and look, I mean, sometimes that incremental thinking comes from asking sort of kind of crazy questions. It might be a little silly for me to say, “Hey, what if you couldn’t use email next year? What if you couldn’t use email in five years?”

Paul:  Right.

Matt:  I don’t see a world where that scenario is true. Let’s just be clear. But if you can no longer buy any lists you want and spam people all you want and just wait for them to unsubscribe, if that is no longer the primary way you’re going to drive leads, the primary way you’re going to communicate with prospects. If that scenario were in fact true, what would you do? And even if that scenario won’t happen, the thinking that goes behind that, wouldn’t you expect that it would come up with new ideas and new perspectives to test? That could mitigate the impact of email on your business, that could actually improve the overall effect of your marketing independent of what happens to email.

Paul:  So let me again, I’ll double down on my question. Could we ever get, because I think that’s at the core of what GDPR is and that was certainly when we went through these do not disturb lists on a phone calls. People feel bombarded by unsolicited marketing messages. You’re calling me, you’re emailing me, you’re texting me, you’re doing all this stuff here. And more and more, they’re pushing back through governmental organizations saying, “Stop it. If I want to go find you and ask a question, I will.” That’s a frightening aspect, because then we’re all just sitting there waiting for somebody to ask us a question, to walk into our store, to go to our website and raise their hand and want to learn more. And I think that’s kind of the way the world is moving. I don’t really like intrusive messaging. And yet if they didn’t intrude, would I ever know that they existed?

Matt:  Well it’s a good point. And I guess the question comes down to, I think we all get unsolicited email, right?

Paul:  Right.

Matt:  I occasionally, and I don’t know about everybody, but I occasionally get unsolicited email that actually is useful, that I actually appreciate, that has a message that either intentionally, precisely or opposite, accidentally something that was actually interesting to me. So there’s a value in that. Like, I mean, you want to watch TV, you’re going to watch a few commercials. And I think that’s also uninterrupted, because I just want to finish my damn show, but we just accept now that part of the cost of watching TV for free on a network channel in particular is that we have to watch some commercials.

Paul:  Right.

But there are people that are saying “Then I’ll subscribe.” That whole idea of subscription. That was what cable was supposed to be. Take the commercials out and just pay for a smattering of programming here. Again, I just think more and more people, I think in my own life I really don’t like unsolicited stuff. I appreciate why they’re doing it because they’re trying to get my attention. Maybe it would be a combination of artificial intelligence. I always say the YouTube ads would work better if I’m looking to change a tire. If I’m going to YouTube and say, “Show me a video on how to change a tire,” and a toilet paper ad comes up, I’m angry. Stop, stop, stop. But if a piece of content, if an ad appeared that said, “Before we show you how to change a tire, let me tell you about tires that never need changing, that are better and lasts longer, whatever.” I might watch that because it had some relevance to what I’m looking for.

Matt:  Yeah. And I know we’ve got to take a quick break here in a second and pay some bills. But I mean I think that it’s amazing, you think about these incremental changes that we all thought were silly and ridiculous, that became reality. Like Kodak. Imagine someone would have had the audacity in a meeting room in Kodak up in upstate New York to say, “What if people no longer needed film?”

Paul:  Right.

Matt:  What if Blockbuster would have said like, “What if people actually don’t need physical devices anymore?” I remember when Netflix first started offering… I mean I was a Netflix subscriber from early on, getting the CDs right or the DVDs, and then all of a sudden they’re putting stuff online. Like who would ever watch, I mean like it’s just seems ridiculous.

Paul:  Yeah.

Matt:  And so that’s where things like that concept of gradually and then suddenly. The fact that what is now in the past that we just assume. Like when you go on a business trip and you can watch whatever movie you want. What was now in the past was once in the future and was hard for us to conceive and so those crazy questions that you could ask yourself for your business. What would happen if no one needed to go to a retail store to watch a movie anymore? What would happen if we no longer needed to film? What would happen if email went away? Does that help prepare us for what’s to come and does that help us at least have a set of scenarios that can mitigate some of those future change? I know we got to take a quick break here. We’ll drive back. We got more. We’re going to talk a little bit about this idea between innovation and disruption. Incremental versus exponential thinking. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Paul:  Well there’s a perfect example of what you’re talking about. Your advertiser here, Intercom. They made an incremental change, a little chat bubble that allowed people to react in real time to what people are doing and look at the disruption it’s done. Look at the exponential growth it’s caused from kind of things like that.

Matt:  It gets more meta than that. I mean, look what we just did, people are listening to us prattle on about incremental versus exponential change. We interrupt the conversation for an advertisement. So people that are listening, I mean look, Intercom has been phenomenal. They’ve been a great partner for Sales Pipeline Radio. I love their product. I think it’s a phenomenal tool for B2B marketers and I’m not just saying that. We do curate, we get a lot of people that ask about being part of the show.

Paul:  Sure.

Matt:  We get a lot of people that pitch they want to be on the show as a guest. We get people to say, “Hey, can we sponsor it?” And we do curate. I mean we think about who is our audience, who’s listening and what are some sponsors, and participants, and some guests that we think would be relevant? But we’re choosing that, not the audience.

Paul:  Right. I mean, we didn’t plan this out and I thought you and I are talking about this, and then we break to take this commercial. And I thought that commercial is exactly what we’re talking about here. There’s a company that came along and said, “Okay, how can you react quicker? How about a little chat bubble seems like a very incremental change. Not a big deal.” I don’t know what their service costs, but I bet it doesn’t cost that much and all of a sudden they’re giving examples, and I’m sure I could come up with other ones too, where just by having that there, exponential growth happens from an incremental change.

That’s what I often think. We had somebody on, we have a much more philosophical show called The Next Chapter here where we talk about kind of what’s coming. It’s more like personal growth and how do you make changes in your life? And they said basically it’s really just a sum total of small steps. Too many people want to make a big leap and that’s too often too difficult or it isn’t sustainable. I’m going to suddenly transform the organization. I’m suddenly going to radically rethink how we do everything here. That often isn’t the best way to do it according to, at least this author that was on. Lots of little steps that lead up to big change.

Matt:  Yep, I agree. I mean it’s announced a good example. You think about what is a chat bot is an intentional way of trying to get more engagement and conversion off of your website. And I’ve seen companies where email still exists. Email is still a tool we can all use. But I’ve seen companies where they get blacklisted. I mean I worked at a startup where the company had been blacklisted, couldn’t send emails anymore. And so all of a sudden, emails at the time was a pretty big channel and source of leads. What if you can’t send emails? What if you can’t send mail? In that scenario we were forced, in the moment, in a very big fire drill scenario, say like we get a lot of traffic, what can we do to get better leads off of our traffic? What do we do with the rivers of content, with the rivers of traffic that we have to get a higher conversion on that?

Matt:  So that becomes a forcing function that if you would have thought about in advance, maybe you would have mitigated the risk of having a singular channel in the first place.

Paul:  Well, I’ll tell you again, we’re going to interrupt the conversation with somebody we didn’t expect to call in, but somebody’s listening and Jim Obermayer himself wants to pipe in. Hey Jim, what do you got to add to the conversation? Are we off base? Are we hallucinating or are we onto something here?

Jim Obermayer:  I thought for sure that Matt had read the article this week from the Wall Street Journal about how email is going to be, and the internet itself is going to be controlled more and more by governments. And as you started it, and let’s face it, the internet is email. Email is the internet to a great extent. But China already controls the internet.

Paul:  They do. It’s frightening.

Jim Obermayer:  It’s horrible. Korea controls the internet. And after GDPR, many parts of Europe are starting to control it and they’re looking at doing it here in the US, as you mentioned, California. So Matt’s question is very, very timely. What would you do with you didn’t have internet capability that we do today and the email? Let’s face it, politicians love to solve problems that aren’t problems.

Paul:  That’s how you get elected. That’s the definition of how you get elected here. You find some problem and you blow it up and then you solve it. It’s a lot easier to do that than it is to solve a real problem. You know, sometimes here. How are we going to solve? How do we solve the debt?

Matt:  Remember back in the day when Congress was first tackling the idea of unsolicited email, people saw this enormous problem, we’re getting inundated, we’re getting too many emails we don’t want, so we are going to get rid of the spammers. And that they had this great idea that we were just going to make it so that people can’t send email. People can’t send unsolicited email. And the term, I mean the very term canned spam implies that they’re getting rid of spam.

Paul:  Right they canned it.

Matt:  Did they? I’m still getting a lot of bad email. I don’t think they’ve canned anything. And what happened in this is that we didn’t get rid of spam. We basically just gave people conditions with which they could send email. Which did get rid of some particular nefarious people that weren’t doing it well, and there are now some rules that allow the government to go after certain players. I believe canned spam was not an exponential change. It was an incremental change. I think GDPR is maybe somewhere in the middle, like the fact that it is now giving consumers complete control over whether you will forget them as a customer, having double opt ins and ensuring that you actually have permission to send someone an email. In many parts of Europe you cannot directly contact a customer and unless they’ve contacted you first. That comes to the US, that is exponential change.

Paul:  We had somebody on the other day on another show, and I don’t know if they’re just trying to be bomb throwers and again, like Matt’s doing, the what if scenarios. But they felt that this was actually an intellectual property attorney or something like that, and she said, “If you really want to be compliant with these GDPR rules, particularly as they come to California and other places here, it isn’t just email.” Every time you ask for data, you’re at a trade show and you want to scan their card, you better show them your policy of how you’re going to store this data and how are you going to protect their data and ask permission for it. It isn’t just enough to say, “Hey, can I scan your card” without telling them what you’re going to do with that scan and how you’re going to not abuse it and how are you going to protect it from being stolen. How about that?

Matt:  Well there’s a significant amount of confusion, even in the marketplace in B2B about what canned spam is. There are plenty of people that think that it prohibits unsolicited email and there are many legal departments for companies we work with and talk to that want to interpret it that way, because they want to keep themselves entirely protected even for people that misinterpret the rules. I mean this is actually a really good example then of incremental versus exponential thinking because simply saying, “Well, you have to put your physical address at the bottom of the email. Well, you have to have a very visible unsubscribe link.” That’s not fixing spam.

Paul:  Right. But my point, isn’t GDPR, not just permission to opt out, I thought it’s also you have to have a policy in place and you have to disclose it at the time of collecting the data. “Here, I have a way to protect this and it’s not going to get broke. Your data will be safe.”

Matt:  You do. You do. But the one thing it doesn’t completely rule out, it doesn’t say you can’t send unsolicited email. Under GDPR rules, technically you can still email someone unless they tell you that they want to be off the list and they tell you they want to be forgotten. This is why it’s such a big deal, is because it’s not just, “Oh unsubscribe.” It’s like, “No, take me out of your databases entirely and take me out of all of your databases.” And the other reason people have taken it so seriously is that the punishments are incredibly severe.

Paul:  Oh huge. Yeah, right.

Matt:  And I know there’s already an enormous backlog of complaints that could make some of this a moot point because it’s going to take forever to get to some of those. But the idea, that still is incremental, but we’re putting greater restrictions on email versus saying, “Unless someone asks for it, can’t send it.” That still doesn’t exist today.

Paul:  But what does exist, a time clock that we’re up against here. Jim’s got the last word here.

Jim Obermayer:  The article I saw in the Wall Street Journal, The Rising Threat of Digital Nationalism. All about is the global internet coming to an end. So great discussion, gentlemen. I’ll bail off as you finish up.

Paul:  Okay. I’m going to leave with one more thought here and that is I did find the author I was talking about, couldn’t think of it, Raymond Chandler, the great Raymond Chandler wrote all the Phillip Marlowe series, and his favorite one was The Big Sleep. Maybe that’s where we’re headed towards here.

Matt:  Oh man. Well we started with Hemingway, we ended with Chandler. This was fun. We should do this more often.

Paul:  I agree.

Matt:  You got to find some good topics and relate it back because I think there was some good back and forth here. Well I appreciate everyone putting up with a different format today on Sales Pipeline Radio. If you like this conversation and want to share it with others on your team, maybe encourage others to think about exponential thinking in their business, definitely catch a replay of this on in here just a couple of days, and we’ll have a transcript of this conversation on in about a week. Thanks again for listening. For my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. We’ll see you next week on Sales Pipeline Radio.


Sales Pipeline Radio is hosted by Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing which is a program on the Funnel Radio Channel.

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Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel.  I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing.  If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.