Your B2B marketing can’t be all about you. It has to be about the customer–his or her needs, pain points and priorities. Thankfully more marketers are getting it right.

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In my experience up until a few years ago, seeing a doctor felt like a one-way transaction. Wait here. Sit there. Open wide. Take this pill. The doctors tended to be in a rush, which sometimes felt off-putting or intimidating–and compressed the time available for asking questions or having an actual conversation.

Then I switched to a doctor who, at each checkup, sat me in his office for a good 20 minutes before and after an exam so we could chat. “How are things going–life, work, marriage, kids? How are you feeling? Any changes since we last met?” Then, when my test results came in, he left me a voice mail to call him back. When I did, he took another 15 to 20 minutes to go through the tests, make sure I understood everything and see if I had any further questions.

I remember the odd sensation of actually feeling heard…which helped me think clearly, articulate my points and hear what he was saying. I can’t say my health has improved–it was good to begin with–but now that I’ve had a doctor who makes time to listen, I’ll never settle for anyone who doesn’t practice medicine that way.

In her book, “What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear,” Dr. Danielle Ofri, associate professor of medicine at New York University, a practitioner at Bellevue Hospital in New York, argues that the most powerful diagnostic tool is actually the doctor-patient conversation. According to Ofri’s web site:

…(while) what patients say and what doctors hear are often two vastly different things, Dr. Danielle Ofri proves that it doesn’t have to be. Reporting on the latest research studies and interviewing scholars, doctors, and patients, Ofri reveals how refocusing conversations between doctors and their patients can lead to better health.

Why am I–a marketing consultant–talking about patient-centered healthcare? Because two-way conversations and professionals who make time to listen apply to both disciplines. How many valuable insights do marketers miss by not having regular, human-to-human interaction with customers and prospects? Or by looking at the market through a “big data” lens or dashboard–or assuming (or intuiting) the answer? What information will stay forever in customers’ heads because we never ask them the right questions–in the right way?

I always encourage marketing folks to go and meet with customers and prospects outside of the sales process. Get an independent perspective on their priorities and challenges, how they are solving them today, how they want to buy and more. Doing this enough makes you an internal authority who can stand up and say, “Based on what I heard from the market, here’s what makes the most sense.” It’s tough for anyone to argue with what the customer thinks and needs.

Read Dr. Ofri’s NY Times article here, and listen to her NPR interview at here (at 28:44).

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In one of their recent e-newsletters, software product design shop Viget immediately got my attention with this intro:

Research has an image problem. A word-association game for the word research might yield results like “methodical” and “academic” – not exactly words that resonate with digital product owners and CMOs. However, research is really about asking the right questions at the right time.

Spot on! Research no longer requires a heavy, foreboding, complex, months-long process conducted by “researchers” (aka academics not marketers). Most research should be defined by whatever is necessary to serve the business purpose or outcome. I highly recommend reading the associated article titled, “9 Tips for Doing Fast, Lightweight Research at an Agency.” It’s geared towards agency folks but has practical advice for all marketers, product teams and general management.

Here’s a tip I love:

Don’t Wait Until You Have a Research Plan

Start recruiting research participants before you know exactly what you’re going to do with them. Waiting until you have a perfect plan is a great way to lose your momentum or talk yourself out of doing research altogether. I’ve been guilty of this more than once.

Coming from the perspective of academic research, I’ve had to unlearn the tendency to be ultra-prepared. Flexibility and improvisation are anathema to academic research, but essential to design research.

Read the rest here: “9 Tips for Doing Fast, Lightweight Research at an Agency.”  As far as reducing the time required to schedule client conversations, Viget has apparently built a tool called powwow, mentioned in their article. While I haven’t used it, I have saved hundreds of hours by using TimeTrade or Calendly.

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In my talk, “You Are Not the Customer,” I use the following data from SpiceWorks that demonstrates “The Disconnect Between Marketers and IT Buyers.” I encourage you to download the entire study.  A big takeaway, highlighted by the blue and red darts, is that “IT buyers rely on targeted communities while marketers focus on broad social networks.”

New Report on “The B2B Buying Disconnect”

Recently, vendor review company TrustRadius released another significant study along those same lines, titled, “The B2B Buying Disconnect,” that also surveyed buyers and sellers.  This report strongly bolsters and provides additional insights into my points about the yawning gap between B2B marketers and buyers…and how to close it.

Highlights from this report include:

“Vendors are focusing on providing materials that buyers don’t find very useful or trustworthy.”
  • My Take: Marketers continue to talk past their customers with too much fluff and not enough substance that will assist B2B buyers in their research process.
“Buyers want hands-on experience with the product and insights from customers.”
  • My take: Software buyers aren’t just saying, “don’t tell me, show me,” they’re saying, “let me try it for myself before I buy it.” This implies a relative lack of trust in what the vendor “says” vs. what the vendor has actually built.
“Vendors see their role as strategic, yet most buyers said the vendor played a pragmatic role.”
  • My Take: Vendors that want more strategic discussions with buyers have to deliver insights and value that is actually meaningful to the vendor. Vendors that simply set up demos and provide product spec’s are not considered strategic.

I strongly recommend you download a free copy of the report here.

The overall takeaway

B2B companies need to immediately acknowledge the longstanding disconnect in the way they market–the messaging, channels and tactics as well as the sales process–to ensure everything aligns with the way buyers want to research and make purchase decisions. Companies must increase the level of transparency, insights and substance in their marketing and sales activities to make it easier for prospects to do research and buy.

One reason for the disconnect, In my experience, is that not nearly enough B2B marketers spend enough time meeting directly with customers and prospects–outside of sales meetings. The insights they glean will help them get a first-hand understanding of real pain points, use cases and the real-world language (not marketing speak) that the target audience uses every day.

So the call to action here is that directors and above of marketing, product marketing, product  management and even marcom should schedule a “listening tour” of about two dozen customers, lost customers, active prospects and lost prospects.

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Speaking of “transparency,” I like the TrustRadius mission:

To bring transparency to the world of enterprise technology by helping technology users learn from their peers to find better solutions, implement them more effectively, and share best practices. In doing so, we aim to bring efficiencies to both the buying and selling process, thereby allowing vendors to increase their investments in product improvements and customer service based upon client feedback.

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B2B marketing has become like the Chinese Zodiac: A different theme every year. Let’s just agree every year is the year of the customer.

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After being somewhat clueless and feeling somewhat but not super successful for the early part of my professional life, I finally found my professional passion about 6 years ago. Luckily, it happened to intersect with my sweet spot–what I’m great at. But the only reason I can or would use the terms “sweet spot” or “great,” about myself is because that’s what a dozen or so of my clients and colleagues told me during a “listening tour” I did 6 summers ago.

I asked them a simple question (try it sometime):

“Hey, I know I’m good at a bunch of things, but is there something you think I’m great at?”

(See the answer I received at the bottom of this post.)

What’s your sweet spot? Don’t assume it…ask!

When people are referred to me to discuss their next career opportunity, I ask them, “What’s your sweet spot? What are you great at?” This helps me position them relative to opportunities I may come across in my travels. If I only ask “what did you do at your last job,” “what skills do you have,” and “what industries are you looking at?” I won’t really get a sense of the value they have added or can add.

When they tell me their sweet spot, I then ask: “How do you know that?” They typically don’t have a great answer. My sense is that it is based on their own sense of themselves: an informal inventory of successes (and perhaps failures) they’ve had, combined with what they like to do. In other words, their answer is completely biased by their own perspective.

Others reply to the “sweet spot” question by saying they don’t really know. Sometimes they’re a bit down about that–as though they feel guilty about not knowing the answer. Some have trouble answering altogether and give rambling answers with three or more job functions they’ve performed or they say they’re like a Swiss Army Knife–a flexible and multi-talented generalist.

But matter how they answer, I always recommend that they go out and ask people in their network–trusted colleagues, clients, mentors and vendors–the same question I asked about myself:

“Hey, I know I’m good at a bunch of things, but is there something you think I’m great at?”

The outside, independent perspective you get will be priceless. Hopefully you will get you some consistent answers about what you’re great at so you can draw conclusions. You might be surprised at what they think you’re great at vs. what you thought. Plus, just asking them the question will make a positive impression, showing them you want to listen and learn.

Once you get the answers, map them against what you enjoy about your profession. How do others’ perceptions of you overlay with what you really like to do? The overlap of what people say you’re great at and what you most enjoy or get satisfaction from is your sweet spot.

Having the answer to the “sweet spot” question will give you a strong foundation to work from when looking for your next opportunity. Rather than saying, “I think my sweet spot is…” you can now confidently say, “Here’s what people have told me I’m great at,” and give examples to support your answer. Explain how you came to really enjoy that type of work. Tell them you get these insights from doing your own personal listening tour–that’ll blow their minds!

Is there risk in asking people this question?

Sure. Although you’re asking people you know and trust, some may still hedge when they answer, leaving you feeling let down. And others might not give you the answer you “wanted” or expected. That happened to me: there were a few things I thought I was great at that they didn’t mention. Oh well, better to take a risk by asking the question and finding out the truth rather than being clueless.

There’s a huge lesson here for companies, not just individuals.

Companies should never guess or assume what they’re great at based solely on internal dialogues or brainstorming sessions. CEOs, CMOs and others insisting on and lead a more introspective approach that brings in the market’s perspective. Otherwise you risk talking to yourselves and talking past the market.

I’ve worked with and mentored dozens of CEOs and companies on listening to customers and prospects to improve their marketing and sale outreach. In every case, the customer insights were surprising. Customers revealed non-obvious pain points and preferences (I call them Elevator Rants) that companies had not focused on. By learning and embracing these Rants, my clients were able to stop talking past their customers and prospects in marketing-speak and start being more relevant and engaging in their marketing and sales strategies. See examples here.

Happy listening!

—————

What did people say I’m great at during my listening tour?

The overwhelming majority of people I asked gave a two-fold answer: (a) engaging with a business at a deeper level and forcing them (in a nice way) to look at things from their target audience’ perspective to learn what that audience really thinks and needs; and (b) translating those insights (I call it them Elevator Rants) into hyper-relevant and laser-focused strategies that create competitive advantage. And this is what I love to do–ask my clients’ customers what really matters to them and then create marketing strategies that address those points.

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Over the years I’ve often found myself at odds with the marketing-industrial complex–the trends, shiny objects, parades and bells and whistles of tactics, strategies, channels and tools that seem to change in popularity every couple years. It isn’t that none of those things work–it’s that marketers will tell you they work before knowing whether they are actually appropriate for your business, given your stage, priorities, budget, target, etc.

However, I am very happy to report that one of the most stubbornly embedded and intrinsic aspects of B2B marketing may be shifting in the right direction: The longstanding tendency for companies to spend money on marketing and sales campaigns that portray THEIR perspective, not their customers’ perspective.

I call this Selfie-Style Marketing.

I’ll explain Selfie-Style Marketing by describing one of the best-received parts of my talks/pitches: First, I announce with great flair that I have brought a gift for the host of the event. I then show a slide with a huge picture of…ME! “I brought you a picture of me. Isn’t that great?” Big laughs. I then show a big picture of my host. “Isn’t that better? Can’t you think of all the ways you can use this?”

The point of course is that too often, companies invest in marketing that is all about them–which means it may not be relevant to the target audience.

Selfie-Style Marketing infects web sites, leave behinds (aptly named since customers usually leave them on the conference table), ads, speeches, sales scripts, social media (“Here’s a pic of our AWESOME team playing foosball at our AMAZING co-working space!”) and hundreds of other marketing activities.

Selfie-Style Marketing tosses fluffy narrative (“marketing speak”) in the path of customers who want details and substance so they can complete their buying research. Selfie-Style Marketing focuses on features when buyers are looking for use cases and proof. Selfie-Style Marketing makes me cringe.

Selfie-Style Marketing screams, “Look at me!”

But things may be changing for the better.

I hear more thought/opinion leaders trying to educate CXOs on the importance of understanding and addressing the customers’ perspective BEFORE deciding on a strategy and absolutely before spending money on campaigns. I see an increase in marketing activities that leverage insights about their customers to establish relevance.

I wish I could take credit for this trend. But kudos really goes to the customer. They are increasingly voting with their wallets by leaning towards vendors that “get it”–vendors that recognize that they cannot dictate what is relevant. As a customer, you may not even realize you are helping cause this shift. But keep doing what you’re doing–it’s good for all of us.

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February 26, 2017

Tell us your rant.

We want to hear your rants.

Your complaints about unfortunate marketing and sales strategies. Tactics gone awry like vapid white papers or Inappropriate and overzealous emailing. Or examples of tone deaf behavior (i.e. not listening, talking past the customer).

Just enter your rant in the comments field below.  Or use the contact form to send us your rant–if we post it we won’t use your name.

Happy ranting!

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After recently attending a massive trade show for the food and restaurant equipment industry, I have some important observations. First, I had no idea there were so many types of fake display foods that look so real. The rubber burgers and plastic sushi looked good enough to munch on. And I was about to steal a bite of a luscious-looking 9-layer chocolate cake until I learned it was synthetic–spawned from a 3-D printer.

OK, on to a more substantive observation: The food equipment industry–like any other tangible product sector–tends to lead with the products themselves to draw attendees in and elicit ooh’s and aah’s. I get that. If you were at a car show you’re there to see the latest Bugatti and Ferrari, not hear about warranties, right? And I admit I was blown away by the latest gleaming 12-burner gas stove, giant cylindrical rotating, 9-foot high, glass-front baking oven and unmanned, robotic floor scrubber. And I’m sure the performance spec’s (reduced time to max heat, cooking speed, low energy draw, etc.) were impressive.

But amidst all the shiny objects on display, one exhibitor, Perlick, drew by very large, sustained crowds throughout the show. Throngs of equipment dealers, food service managers and restaurant owners gathered to watch and hear this company’s pitchman give a 20 minute demo, which he repeated throughout the day.

What was so special about this booth? Was it the product (a cocktail station)? Was it the pitchman’s humor? Was it the tagline high above the booth? Were they giving away free booze?

The answer is none of the above (although the pitchman was pretty engaging). It turns out, unlike most of the other exhibitors, Perlick made an intentional effort to articulate and lead with the customers’ perspective–or Elevator Rant, as I call it.

Here’s how they did it

The “pitchman” wasn’t just an entertainer. It was actually Tobin Ellis, a former bartender who’s now a leading hospitality consultant (known as “the Godfather of Flair Bartending”). In Ellis’ pitch, he explained from the restaurant/bar owner’s perspective the problems of inefficiency and lost productivity caused by typical underbar systems…resulting in sub-optimal return on investment. Ellis also demonstrated the literal pain bartenders feel as they contort their bodies in all sorts of unnatural ways to reach this bottle or that ice machine–for 8 hours a day. (“Now imagine doing this for 40 hours a week–for 10 years!” he said.) Talk about walking in the customer’s shoes.

Ellis showed how Perlick’s new underbar system was ergonomically and logistically designed based on actual input from bartenders to maximize efficiency and productivity and reduce the physical stress of reaching too far or stretching awkwardly, over and over again. So if you’re a restaurant owner whose Elevator Rant is around productivity and efficiency–or employee retention or turnover, sick days or health care costs, this pitch was spot on.

Here’s where the story gets even better

It turns out that Perlick had worked with Ellis to conceive and design this new underbar system to ensure that it incorporated bar owners’ and bartenders’ actual Elevator Rants. This is a perfect storm for marketers: By aligning the product development, the product, the value proposition, the pitch–and the pitchman–around the customer’s Elevator Rant, Perlick quickly generated credibility and authority, which in turn drew the large crowds–and kept them engaged.

What does mean for your business?

When planning your next product launch, PR push or trade show–or any marketing initiative for that matter–ask yourself these questions:

“Should we lead with the customers’ Elevator Rant (pain point) when developing and promoting our product or service–vs. focusing on features and benefits?”

and

“Do we know our customers’ Elevator Rant?”

The short answer to the first question is “absolutely, yes.” Here’s why:

In today’s increasingly customer-first world marketplace, B2B buyers perform more than half of their research and buying process online before they ever contact a vendor or dealer. Chances are they have read about your product and features–and your competitors’–online during their research process. So it’s harder to grab their attention and differentiate with a cool feature.

But leading with a statement that shows how well you understand their true perspective, problems, objectives and priorities (not the typical platitudes) is a proven way to grab buyers’ attention and differentiate your pitch. Remember, customers are human beings, so they have emotional reactions when a marketer strikes the right chord–as Perlick clearly did.

How to Discover Your Customers’ Elevator Rant

To discover your customers’ Elevator Rant and increase the relevance of your marketing and sales efforts, download a complimentary copy of our “Shut Up & Listen” Playbook. This step-by-step guide gives you everything you need to learn customers’ rants that you can turn them into competitive advantages.
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