First, if you are involved in or oversee Sales, I recommend you check out Ian Altman’s fantastic Same Side Selling Academy group on Facebook. Ian, a world renowned speaker and expert on sales strategies and techniques, is building a group of enlightened executives who want to maximize their effectiveness without the tired and sometimes trashy practices of the past.

Go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/samesidesellingacademy and request to join the group.

Now, about this video–which was originally broadcast live on the Same Side Selling Academy. In it, I chronicle some of the most cliche questions that customers and prospects are still asked–as well as some fresh, proven alternatives.

As always, you can download my Customer Re-Discovery Playbook absolutely FREE at www.chieflisteningofficers.com/customer-discovery-playbook-2.

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The webinar started at 2 pm, promising useful, practical tips and tools. At 2:15, the expert was showing pictures of his “beautiful” wife and kids. At 2:25, he was talking about the abuse he suffered as a child. At 2:35, with not a tool or tip in sight, I logged off.

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Still asking customers, “what keeps you up at night”? Well, 1995 called, and they want their question back. When you ask cliche answers, you don’t get insights–you get cliches.

Instead, here are a few questions that will help you discover fresh, actionable perspectives from customers and prospects.

As always, you can download the Customer Re-Discovery Playbook, absolutely free, at www.chieflisteningofficers.com/customer-discovery-playbook-2.

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If I’ve learned one thing in several decades of hands-on marketing leadership, strategy and execution, it’s that great marketing starts with great listening.

And great listening means asking your customers questions your competitors haven’t asked.

In fact, one of the pivotal moments in my evolution from Chief Marketing Officer to Chief Listening Officer was when I started asking my clients’ customers (and prospects) this simple question during my “customer rediscovery” interviews:

What would make you a customer for life?

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Products are cool. They’re sexy. Useful. You can touch and feel them. They can change the world. Successful products (especially software) can scale rapidly and cost-effectively, so investors love them.

I get that.

Perhaps this is why software startups seem to get all the love when it comes to brilliant advice, frameworks and tools, such as:

The experts behind these frameworks have done a fantastic job of educating leaders on how to pinpoint and address customer and user needs before and during the product development process.

But It’s Not Always About the Product (heresy, I know).

By doing customer discovery that’s tied to a potential or existing product–and obsessing about UI/UX and features, you’re potentially missing out of valuable insights in areas above and around that product, such as:

  • Brand / Reputation: What does our target audience think we do well and do best? Is the product or service consistent with our identity? Does the audience view us as a credible purveyor of the product or service
  • Positioning / Differentiation: Are we talking about ourselves in a vacuum? Or positioning the brand/product in the context of the buyers’ needs? Do they agree our approach is unique/better?
  • Landscape: What is the full range of competitors, substitutes and alternatives (including building in-house or doing nothing) from the target audience’s perspective?
  • Sales Process: Do we make it easy to buy from us–or challenging? Do our frontline people have enough knowledge to add value, or do they have to bring in a SME right away?
  • Customer Experience:  Does the product or service deliver on expectations and promises? Where are the gaps and shortfalls? In the context of other vendors, are we “pretty good,” “far better,” or “behind the curve”?
  • Content: What insights do you need to do our job better? Are we providing those? Where else would you get them?

Inputs like these should not just be incidental by-products of your customer discovery efforts. They’re too important.

This is why I don’t necessarily believe customer discovery should be done by product teams (more heresy). Understandably, product managers and product marketers view the world through a product lens. After all, that’s how they add value to the company. But sometimes their perspective is too narrow–too product- or feature-focused–to see bigger picture insights. By contrast, a CEO, COO or CMO doing customer discovery with a much broader perspective can pick up information that is actionable across many areas of the business.

Try Agenda-Less Listening–at the Brand Level

To do customer discovery at the company or brand level (vs. product-focused) I’ve create the Agenda-less Listening Framework (see below) which I’ve used on dozens of client engagements to:

  • Reveal a wealth of actionable insights that go beyond products and services to sharpen positioning and value propsition; and
  • Help identify meaningful differentiators and themes that made marketing and selling easier for my clients.

Here are slides from a recent talk I gave on Agenda-Less Listening to a peer advisory group of senior executives. It includes all of the tools and advice (including sample questions and email template and listening tips) needed to launch a “listening tour” or just have conversations with a few customers.

Questions? Need help? Don’t hesitate to contact me here.
And feel free to download the complimentary Customer Re-Discovery Playbook with more tips and tools.
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If you’re thinking about having me speak to your organization to provide a heavy dose of customer perspective, you might want to see some of the unedited feedback from a recent webinar I did for members of a major trade association. The audience included CEOs, COOs, Partners, Sales Executives and Marketing Folks.

Q: What did you like best about today’s webinar?

  • Insight and out of box thinking
  • It provided a different way of thinking. It is too easy to think that knowing what our customer wants is what they want as opposed to actually asking them what they want.
  • The analogy to a long marriage and learning to be a better listener since we men aren’t normally wired that way…
  • Actually giving real examples and how to use them.
  • The questions
  • The content was fantastic. It closely aligns with an internal project we have currently and is really helpful.
  • Sometimes we make things to complicated when dealing with customers and this was good reminder that simple thought provoking questions are the best!
  • Really solid presentation with tangible tactical & strategic advice
  • The Agenda-less listening
  • The presenter’s credibility- Bob London has impressive experience and credentials, is an outstanding communicator, built a colorful and interesting Powerpoint slide show and has a common sense approach that impresses customers.
  • Congratulations and thanks for the beneficial program!
  • The art of listening to the client
  • Everything
  • The approach described is comprehensive and actionable

Here’s a link to the webinar recording:

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You’re a B2B professional services firm. Your people are the product. So what message does it send to your web site visitors when they’re greeted by image like the one above? Basically the message is that you didn’t want to invest the time and budget to showcase your actual people.

Listen up–reality is the new marketing. Using photos of fake people only puts another barrier between you and your customer or prospect. But showing real people draws them in.

Hear my rant on the subject–and see how one company, CrossCountry Consulting, is doing it right–in the video above.

 

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I highly recommend the recent Washington Post article by longtime business writer Tom Heath, titled, “The story behind Atlantic owner David Bradley’s ‘biggest business failure.”

The heart of the story was really about how David Bradley and top lieutenant Kevin Turpin replaced Atlantic’s vaunted National Journal publication–which was being existentially threatened by Politico Pro, Bloomberg Government, CQ Roll Call, Huffington Post, RealClear Politics and even Google–with a new range of services.

Here’s the key. These new services were conceived after:

“Bradley asked Turpin to start a 62-person sounding board comprised of associations, nonprofit organizations and clients of the National Journal. They spent the next year listening.”

“I would ask them about challenges, what kept them awake at night,” Turpin said.

The results have been terrific, according to Bradley:

“What we’ve been doing is utterly original products. They are not the romance of the (National Journal). For the first time in my ownership of the National Journal — but especially for the first time in seven, eight, nine years — everybody is focused on something that’s really exceptional. I’m really happy.”

My message to CEOs, business owners and other senior executives:

“Don’t wait until your business is suffering or under withering assault by competitors or market forces. Go have some conversations with your customers and prospects to ask about them–their perspectives, priorities and challenges. The insights will propel your business forward–and could help avoid a huge problem down the road.”

Here’s a Free Customer Re-Discovery Playbook to Get You Started

Check out our Customer Re-Discovery Playbook that takes you through the entire customer listening process, including 12 thought-provoking questions to ask, how to ask them and how to listen to what your audience really needs. You can download it absolutely free by clicking here.

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Elizabeth Shea, founder and CEO of Speakerbox Communications, heard me speak last year about how to find out what’s really important to your customers. To her credit, she embraced the concept and my methodology and had some very eye-opening conversations with several Speakerbox clients.  As is often the case, what Elizabeth thought was her firm’s primary value proposition was different than what the clients thought.  I’ll be interviewing her in a blog post soon to share those details.

Meantime, Elizabeth invited me to share my message at a Speakerbox happy hour for clients and other tech CEOs and marketers. Not only did I have a blast presenting but there was a rather extended Q&A session with some of the most thought-provoking and penetrating questions I’ve encountered–always a good sign that your audience is tracking with you.

Speakerbox broadcast the talk on Facebook Live–see it here:

 

And here are the slides themselves:


 

Happy listening!

 

 

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