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SneakyCards Week 5: Me and my big mouth

October 24, 2016

One benefit of traveling frequently for work was that my “leave it in a different state” challenge was easy to complete; I’m the only one of the three of us to complete the challenge we received last week. I was visiting a customer in Connecticut and intended to leave the card at the hotel for another traveler to pick up and take home with them; unfortunately, I forgot that I had it until I had to empty my pockets back at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Needless to say, a quick edit with a pen and short conversation with another airport guest and my card was on its way to Fort Lauderdale (tracking link) – three states in three days!

However, it would seem that this week I went and shot myself in the foot. As I shuffled the deck for this week’s draw, I saw the card at the bottom said, “Slip this card into someone’s locker.” I showed this card to my wife and remarked that this would be a really hard one – what grownups have lockers? I made a comment about the lockers we have at work, but nobody seems to use, so that wouldn’t be feasible. Wouldn’t you know what happened next?! Yep, I pulled that very card. Rebecca’s shows more promise as a fun challenge.

SneakyCards Week 5 Challenge

Our SneakyCards challenge cards for week 5

After thinking it through, I suppose I could still use the lockers at work, but it may take some time before someone finds it. We’ll have to wait and see!

On a side note, perhaps I was expecting too much of SneakyCards. It’s whimsical enough, but it doesn’t seem to provide ongoing excitement as a weekly challenge. My hope had been that it would push us to do things that challenge us emotionally, but many of the cards we have received do not appear to have done that. I’ll give it a few more weeks before I propose an alternate approach.

Week 4: A guest challenge-taker

October 16, 2016

We’ve arrived at week 4 of the Cynamon-Murphy SneakyCards challenge. Neither of us has yet completed our week 3 challenges, but I am proud to say that I successfully volunteered at my daughter’s school, which I will share about below.

Has anyone had to sit in the administrative office of an elementary school as a parent? Have you noticed that, no matter how old you are, it still feels a little bit like you are in trouble? Thus began my volunteering at my daughter’s elementary school. Once signed in, I proceeded to her classroom, where her kindergarten teacher gave me a bin of projects – photocopy these, collate those, staple that, etc. It was refreshingly mindless work that allowed me to have an almost Zen-like afternoon break from the stresses of work as a software salesperson – no emails, no meetings, just me, a photocopier, and a paper cutter… and two electronic staplers! I must admit that I was also surprised at the number of times – 3 – that school staff mentioned appreciation that a father (specifically) donated time to support them. Within a couple of hours, I had completed the work and handed off the books and projects to the teacher, along with my assignment card from Week 1. Should be fun to see how quickly that one passes – not quite so frequent an activity as tipping or taking a selfie.

Which brings me to week 4. Our friend Ginny is visiting, so my wife suggested that she join in the challenge. We drew our cards and received the following:Sneakycards Week 4 challengesRebecca: Take a selfie with a total stranger (C 665086-01)
Ginny: Give this card to the first person to say your secret code word (C 665086-10)
Jacob: Leave this card in a different state or region (C 665086-22)

I think Ginny’s going to have the toughest go with this set. For lack of a dictionary – really, who has a print dictionary these days?! – Ginny opened up our Usborne Book of Knowledge and the first word she saw was “canoeing”. I’ll be curious to find out how long it takes Ginny to hand off this card, as well as to what extremes she must go to encourage someone to mention “canoeing” in conversation.

For the time being, I have not experienced any amazing epiphanies as a result of playing this challenge game with Rebecca, but four weeks in, we can say the following

  1. Rebecca and I have something fun to look forward to every Sunday.
  2. Rebecca learned how to make an origami crane.
  3. I had the fun opportunity to give back at my daughter’s school and show my daughter and her classmates that fathers can, and do, take an active role in the classroom.
  4. I do not see celebrities with the frequency that I might enjoy.

SneakyCards Week 3: The hits just keep on coming

October 10, 2016

My wife Rebecca and I have entered week 3. We’ve each successfully accomplished the objectives on our week 2 cards, but I’m still sitting on my week 1 “volunteer for an organization where you have never volunteered” card. I’m on track to complete it on Thursday at my eldest daughter’s school, so more on that next week.

Our week 2 cards were fairly easy to achieve. I provided a generous tip to the Potbelly’s driver who delivered lunch to my customer briefing in Bloomington, IL – the next day, he had already registered the card, so we have a card that is trackable!

Now, this week may be the first week that Rebecca and I both accrue an additional card.

Rebecca: Give this card to someone dressed as a superhero (C 665086-15)
Jacob: Get this card signed by a celebrity (C 665086-05)

I think Rebecca has it a bit easier – as she pointed out, she just needs to wait a few weeks until Halloween and she’s golden. I don’t frequently run into celebrities, so we’ll see how I fare.

PS If you look at the original site of the tracking for these cards, it will look like a Home Instead Senior Care. That’s just a coincidence about the center of our zip code – we’re both still hale and hearty.

Week 2: Down, but not out

October 2, 2016
origami crane

My wife and I are only in the second week of our Sneaky Card challenge and I’m already one week behind. As you might recall, Rebecca picked a card about making origami for someone and I pulled “volunteer for an organization you have never volunteered at” (see Week 1 for details). Within 2 days, Rebecca had made an origami crane and delivered it, with the card, to the parent of one of our children’s classmates.

origami crane

My wife’s glorious origami crane


I, on the other hand, came up short. I’m no stranger to philanthropic organizations and volunteering; it is surprisingly hard to find an organization and give your time (freely, I might emphasize) within 7 days. I have determined that I can volunteer to be a classroom parent in my daughter’s kindergarten class, so it’s just a matter of time now.

While I am already in the hole one card, we have just drawn our week 2 cards:

Rebecca: Buy someone coffee (C 665086-29)
Jacob: Leave a generous tip (C 665086-36)

Neither one of us is particularly out of our element on these assignments, so I anticipate that we’ll be able to make fast work of them.

Reminder: cards can be tracked at with the card code, so as we distribute these cards after completing our missions, you can track how they travel.

Week 1: Cards that respect our natures

September 25, 2016

For those of you who did not see my original post about Sneaky Cards, I have acquired a deck of Sneaky Cards and will be taking weekly challenges with my wife (the introvert). True to form, I drew a card that is aligned with extroversion and my wife pulled one of the most introvert-friendly cards.

Jacob’s card: Volunteer for an organization you’ve never helped before (C 665086-45*).
Rebecca’s card: Make an origami animal (C 665086-50*).

In fairness, Rebecca then has to give the origami (along with the challenge card) to someone, but it doesn’t even have to be a stranger. I’m encouraging her to give it to a stranger, though, just to keep things interesting.

* These fantastically well-designed cards have tracking codes, so I’ll be posting the tracking codes along with the cards as we draw them, so anyone interested can see roughly where and when they change hands.

Getting out of my comfort zone (for the sake of others)

September 25, 2016

I was at a birthday party for the friend of my oldest daughter. It was science-themed and hosted at Moore Toy’s & Gadgets. While they conducted gummy candy and glow-in-the-dark ooze experiments, I had a bit of time to kill, so I went downstairs to the store level to explore. I was not disappointed.

Among the many toys, science kits, magic kits, puzzles, and games, I found a gem that I knew I could not leave without buying. Gamewright, maker of games that I’ve enjoyed such as In A Pickle and Forbidden Island, had a game of cards. Now, these aren’t your typical playing cards or even like any other card game I have seen. The objective of this game is to get rid of the cards… but not as in discard your hand. Each card has a task to complete, with the objective being to give away or leave the card once you have completed the task. Ultimately, you’ll have succeeded by giving away all 55 cards.

I almost didn’t buy this game. You know that nagging feeling in your head that makes you think you can’t do something or it will make you feel uncomfortable. I was hearing it in spades. A lot of these activities could take me out of my comfort zone. However, just as I found that potentially unpleasant, I also saw the amazing potential that it could do in pushing me to try things I never would do before. I knew that I needed to buy these cards.

The game is called Sneaky Cards and you are tasked with becoming “a secret agent of joy.” I decided that I would buy the deck and then coerce encourage my wife to participate with me. She is often reluctant to admit it, but appreciates me for pushing her to do things that are out of her comfort zone, as she is fairly introverted. She has agreed participate in this adventure with me.

Each week, we’re going to shuffle the deck, draw one card each, and then aim to accomplish the task as soon as possible that week. We’ll have the opportunity to trade, but both have to agree to the trade. Since she has her hands full with our three children, I anticipate that I’ll fare a bit better, but it’s not a race (something I have to repeatedly tell my children). We’ll aim to share updates on this site, beginning with our first draw later today.

Making PowerPoints more portable

January 19, 2015
View | Slide Master

I work at a company where PowerPoint is used *a lot*. In fact, I can’t think of a job I had that didn’t rely heavily on PowerPoint. They work great when I want to store it on my hard drive or USB flash drive and present to a customer, but I often run into trouble when I want to share one with a customer. Even though we have modern ways to share content through amazing tools like OneDrive, sometimes it’s just easier to email a file. Of course, if the file exceeds the attachment limit for a recipient (still often capped at 10 megabytes, or 20 if you work for a truly enlightened employer), you’re going to run into trouble. The good news is that there are a few handy tricks to reducing the size of a PowerPoint deck, without affecting the messaging.

  • Remove unused slide masters – this action can be the biggest space saver, and only takes a little while. Slide masters are an excellent way to define standard layouts and slide designs that can be used across the decks in your organization. What you may not know, however, is that every time you copy and paste slides from one deck to another, and use the “preserve original format” option, the original slide master is also being copied over to your new deck. Over time, especially if you reuse or clone decks, this can add a lot of unneeded bulk to your decks. Navigate to View | Slide Master and take note of how many slide masters you have in your deck – unless you created this deck from scratch, the number will probably surprise you.
    View | Slide Master

    Navigate to the Slide Master area of your deck. Note the “Preserve” button in the ribbon.

    Select the “header slide” of each deck and click on the “Preserve” button to unpreserved the slide master. For each slide master that is not actively used – i.e. no slide in your deck is using a layout from that master – you will receive a prompt letting you know that this slide master will be removed. If the slide master is utilized by slides, nothing changes. By taking this step for each slide master, you can significantly reduce the size of your deck… with no functional impact to your slides.

    Unpreserve dialog

    This is the dialog that displays if the selected slide master is not used on any of your slides.

  • Consolidate slide masters – after you have removed any unused slide masters (see above), you can cycle through the slides to see if you can change layouts on any slides to consolidate to fewer (ideally one) slide master(s). In the main view, right-click on each slide and select “Layout…” This will open up the slide master layout selector – in this pane, you can see which slide layout is assigned to this slide and from which slide master the layout comes. When I review decks in this fashion, I often find a few slides that use a layout from one slide master, but could easily use the same or similar layout from a more widely-used master. This process is a bit more time-consuming than removing unused slide masters, but can allow you to drop out additional unused slide masters.
    NOTE: Taking this step of consolidating slide masters may result in minor edits to slides to preserve layout, font, or color settings.
  • Discard image edits and/or compress images – when editing a PowerPoint deck, the application does an excellent job preserving the images that you embed, even if you resize or crop the images. This is helpful when you are continuing to tweak the layout and appearance of slides, but just adds to the file size once you have finalized the deck. You can navigate to File | Options | Advanced to access the Image Size and Quality options. By checking off “Discard editing data”, all of the cropped portions of images can be discarded, reducing overall file size. Additionally, you can uncheck “Do not compress images in files” and select one of three target image densities, measured in pixels per inch (PPI), to further reduce the size of images in the file. One thing to note, however, is that changing the image density can affect the quality of images, so be sure to test the changes before committing to a final copy.
File | Options | Advanced

Go to File | Options | Advanced to set image quality and retention settings.

    Completing these steps for a large slide deck can reduce the size by as much as 75% (according to my empirical data in a sample set of 1). They are a great first step to reducing file sizes and increasing portability. Even better is to share this post with your colleagues who also create and edit decks, so they can incorporate these best practices too. You can be the hero of the office!

Open for business: a Dynamics CRM app store that *could* replace Dynamics Marketplace

January 6, 2014

Dynamics Marketplace in the sitemapIf you recall, when Microsoft released Dynamics CRM 2011 in February, 2011, it included an integration to the Microsoft Pinpoint site for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, affectionately labeled Dynamics Marketplace within the CRM application.  Although intended to become a dynamic (get it?) catalog of add-ons, services, and solution providers, it’s been almost three years and the marketplace hasn’t really caught on.  If I had to pinpoint (get it?) the problems with the Dynamics Marketplace, I’d pin it on the following issues:

  • It is not actively curated, neither by Microsoft nor by the community.  On the Most Popular tab, the entry with the most reviews has 15; the next runner-up has 5 and it drops from there.
  • The process to purchase or deploy a solution to your Dynamics CRM server is very manual – there is no click-to-purchase or click-to-deploy capability and no centralized payment or licensing system, so you have to deal with each vendor individually.
  • It is up to individual vendors to support trial or demo options… and not all do.

Clearly, there is some room for improvement here, but this is not a high priority area for Microsoft – Dynamics CRM 2013 continues to show the same catalog of solutions and service providers, with no attention spent on enhancing the experience for CRM administrators.

While doing some research for a customer, I stumbled upon Prodware and their CRM App Store.  Like the Pinpoint site, the CRM App Store exists as a web-based catalog of Dynamics CRM solutions, but that’s where the similarity ends.  On their blog, I read about the Tax Calculation solution, clicked on the link for the product page, and clicked on the link to Try – I was redirected to a site where I could either request information about Dynamics CRM or download the CRM App Store managed solution (an integration that puts the online catalog right inside Dynamics CRM for an administrator to discover and deploy new CRM add-on packages).  I decided to give the whole system a test drive and here is what I found out:

  • CRM App StoreWhen navigating the app store, you might get a sense that it is familiar – the developers modeled the app store after the Windows 8 Store.
  • The solutions appear to be heavily biased toward a single publisher called FocusLive.  It’s not clear what FocusLive’s relationship is with Prodware, but there is definitely a link – the FocusLive website links to the same app store as Prodware, including a listing on the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace Pinpoint site.
  • Other solutions all appear to be paid offerings, most likely sold through Prodware as a channel partner.
  • The deployment process is fairly smooth.  I pushed the app store into a Dynamics CRM 2013 demo server and was able to navigate the catalog of solutions.  After selecting the Tax Calculation solution, the app store assisted me in deploying the solution directly to my CRM instance with no manual download required; the app store did, however, also need to deploy the App Store License and FocusLive Framework solutions in advance of the actual solution I was deploying.
  • Tax Calculation solution listing (after deployment)Installed Applications (in CRM App Store)The app store allows me to filter to just the solutions I have deployed, as well as statistics about each deployed solution – as an administrator, that makes it easy for me to track licenses and expiration dates, as well as if updates exist.
  • In full disclosure, I haven’t tried deploying a paid solution, so I can’t speak to the experience of payment processing and licensing.
  • I received emails when I registered, when I confirmed my account, and when I deployed the Tax Calculation solution.  Seemed like just the right amount of email – not pushy, but clearly there if I needed additional guidance.
  • CRM App Store in sitemapThe app store shows up as a top-level area in the new CRM 2013 navigation.
    If it was my call, I would have tucked it away in the Settings area, as a custom sub-area, rather than bulk up the root-level of the sitemap.  Call me a purist, but I like a very minimalist root-level on my CRM sitemap.

Considering that this is the first Dynamics CRM app store that I have seen, Focuslive and/or Prodware did a nice job creating a first-generation product to help CRM administrators automate the deployment and management of CRM solutions for their end-users.  I wish them well with this endeavor – it would be great to see a comprehensive catalog/app store for Dynamics CRM administrators.

Signals by HubSpot – find out when your critical emails are seen

December 30, 2013

Are you familiar with the “read receipt” feature of Microsoft Outlook?  Essentially, you check off a box that says you want to be notified when the recipient opens the email.  Sounds great, right?  In theory, it’s awesome, but in practice, recipients may not use a mail reader that supports the notifications or, if it does, they can often choose to suppress the read receipt.  Not so useful if you want confirmation of either receipt or viewing.

I just found out this week that HubSpot – a major player in the marketing automation space – has produced a tool called Signals by HubSpot, a 21st-century read receipt.  It integrates with Outlook (including Outlook Web Access!), Gmail, Apple Mail (OS X 10.8 and 10.9), and, allowing you to selectively track emails; when the recipient opens the email, you are alerted in the Google Chrome Desktop Notifier and the Google Chrome Browser Plug-in.  If you are a HubSpot customer or use, you can enable integration to those platforms as well.

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After taking some time to explore the solution, I do see some pros and cons that I have shared below.  This tool is by no means panacea, but it’s a great start to empowering individual sales and service personnel to track one-to-one and one-to-few emails with minimal effort.


  • Integrates with a variety of major email platforms, including Outlook Web Access
  • Free starter tier allows individual to adopt and use, without need to call in IT or start paying
  • Installation was fast and easy – the hardest thing I had to do was close Outlook (and I was prompted!)
  • Notifications can show up on my desktop and/or in my browser, so I’ll see them regardless of where I am currently working


  • Requires Google Chrome browser
  • Doesn’t allow users to easily see a list of emails that have been sent with tracking but not yet opened, only the notifications once the emails have been opened
  • Doesn’t integrate with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the major CRM platform that goes head-to-head with
  • Tracking can’t currently be enabled from mobile email clients on phones and tablets

All in all, Signals by HubSpot is a decent email-tracking starter kit that a salesperson or service representative could use to get proof of email opening and link clicking, without ruffling feathers in the IT or marketing department.  The support forum is full of great feedback on ways to enhance the tool, and it appears to be monitored actively by HubSpot staff, so I expect to see more good things coming in this product down the road.  If you are using Signals, or are inspired to do so by my post, let me know what you think of it in the comments section, below.

That said, based on my daily role, I would love to see the integration duplicated for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, showing sales pipeline and lead management notifications without any custom add-ons.  I would also like the Microsoft Dynamics CRM product team to take a page from HubSpot’s playbook and add Outlook Web Access integration for manual email-tracking – I’ve found a Microsoft Connect feedback post on the subject of CRM tracking from OWA – feel free to vote it up if you agree.

CRM Santa brought me something really nice!

December 25, 2013

OK, so I’m not a huge fan of the way the holidays are currently practiced in the States; I’m particularly fond of the ideals expressed in Krista Tippett’s post Why I Don’t Do Christmas.  However, if presented with a gift, I will graciously accept it.  In the case of the CRM 2013 Quick View Menu, I will do so with gusto.

I first discovered this little gem about a week ago, thanks to my colleague Blake, who shared the post at MSCRM Bing’d.  At first glance, I knew this was a gift – an enhanced navigation for the (relatively) newly-released Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013.  Since CRM 2013 sports a radically new navigation, which moved the static, left-hand sitemap to a floating drop-down, it’s taken me a bit of time to get the hang of the new layout.  The Quick View Menu serves to ameliorate my challenge by providing an on-screen visual of the sitemap.  Since the sitemap displays in a flow layout, I can see everything at once, versus the need to scroll with my finger or awkwardly position my mouse at the end of the navigation.

The best part is that this is an open source project, so we may see quick iteration through the slated improvements.  In the brief time that I’ve been aware of this project, the cross-browser testing and support has already been integrated.  This is a tool that is definitely finding a place in my demo toolbox.  If you or your users are struggling at all with the new navigation in CRM 2013, definitely try out the Quick View Menu (download).

CRM 2013 Sitemap (Before)

The native experience for the Dynamics CRM 2013 sitemap

CRM 2013 Sitemap (After)

The experience for the Dynamics CRM 2013 sitemap with the Quick View Menu solution