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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There was a fascinating series of old vs. new school quotes in a recent WSJ article titled, PwC Acquires Design Agency Pond, Furthering Advertising Push. To me this underscores the’ vulnerability of traditional agencies even as they try to be “digital marketers” and “change agents” for their clients.

The problem, in my view, is that agencies have always been systemically misaligned with their clients’ interests. Client spends more on marketing, agency gets paid more. Regardless of results. So the agency’s incentive is for the client to always spend more.

Which, according to PwC executive’s comment below about CEOs’ desire to reduce marketing spend, doesn’t bode well as we enter a new era of scrutiny on marketing costs and ROI.

Here’s the exchange:

On WPP’s full-year earnings call in March, its chief executive, Martin Sorrell, said there had only been a couple of occasions when his agencies had been up against consultancies for substantial pieces of business. “I don’t think [the threat of consulting firms is] that significant,” Mr. Sorrell said.

Tom Puthiyamadam, global digital leader at PwC, said he agrees with Mr. Sorrell. “You know why? He’s in the wrong pitches,” Mr. Puthiyamadam said. “He’s actually solving the wrong problem. He’s solving yesterday’s problem on driving more leads, through better campaigns and better creative. Meanwhile, the CEO, his reaction is: ‘I want to take down my marketing spend, not increase it’.”

Mr. Puthiyamadam says PwC’s digital division has won plaudits from clients for looking to solve their fundamental business problems — such as customer support or logistics and distribution — in addition to focusing on marketing issues.

Mr. Puthiyamadam said PwC had only seen a “handful” of agencies compete in that space.

See the full article at https://www.wsj.com/articles/pwc-acquires-design-agency-pond-furthering-advertising-push-1496213257

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I’ve written and talked a lot about how a particular method of listening to your target audience reveals their true problems and priorities–vs. the ones you assume or hope they have.

Now let’s look at some of the real reactions B2B decision-makers had when we found their “R-Spot”–the place in their brain that triggers a visceral or emotional response signifying you:

  • Have identified an issue that is truly important from their perspective; and/or
  • Intend to address this issue so that your interests are more closely aligned with theirs.

(What’s the “R” stand for? Relevance, resonance, reality, rant–take your pick.)

You might be saying, “Hey, Bob, this is B2B. People don’t have emotional reactions.”

Oh yes they do.

You’re helping them do their jobs better or make their life easier (because their job is part of their life). So they do react strongly when you strike the right chord. The quotes below prove it. They are verbatim reactions from decision-makers either:

  • During the initial “listening” session when we honed in on their “Elevator Rant”–the problems they talk about when vendors aren’t around; or
  • After my client pitched a new value proposition or messaging that we formulated based on discovering the Elevator Rant.

So here are…

5 Customer Reactions When You Find Their “R-Spot”

  • “Why isn’t my vendor doing that for me?”
  • “If you really do that I’d be a customer for life.”
  • “That proves you’re really aligned with our interests.”
  • “I wish all vendors would take the approach you’re taking.”
  • “This proves how critical listening is–and that not enough vendors take the time to do it.”

I’ve summarized the entire approach I used to help my clients discover their target audience’s “R-Spot” or Elevator Rant in an e-book. Download it for free at www.chieflisteningofficers.com/customer-discovery-playbook-2/

Happy listening!

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You may have heard me talk about listening to your target audience to make sure you know their real pain points, priorities and perceptions. Some of you have seen our Customer Re-Discovery Playbook–and you get the idea.

But you still might not know how or where to start.

The answer is a simple email to 10 to 15 of your customers and prospects asking if they are willing to give their perspective on a few things. That’s the first step. And to make it even easier, below I have provided the actual email templates my clients have used to set up hundreds of calls.  I estimate that the acceptance rate (the percent of those who agree to chat) on these emails is about 80%–which proves that customers are more than willing to share their thoughts.

 

Email Template 1: Longer, More Formal Version

Subject: Requesting a 20 minute call to get your perspective.

Dear (first name):

I hope this note finds you well.

I wanted to touch base to see how things are going in general and also to ask if you would be able to participate in a research project that we’re undertaking.

By way of background, (company name) is doing some strategic planning around our positioning in the marketplace—and a critical step in refining our efforts is to get an outside, real-world perspective on the challenges people like you are facing in certain areas and how you—and your organizations—may be addressing them.

To that end, I’d like to see if you would be able to participate in a 20 – 30 minute, one-on-one phone interview with (me or name of interviewer). We are just looking for your experience and candid perspective; this will be very valuable in helping us focus our efforts.

Please let me know if you are willing and able to participate. If so, just send a couple dates/times when you’re free.  Or, if you prefer, we have set up an online scheduling link so you can quickly book a date and time that works best for you: (use TimeTrade.com or Calendly).

Your involvement would be greatly appreciated!  If you have any questions, please feel free to reach me at (phone) or (email).

Best regards,

(Your name)

Email Template 2: Quick, Informal Version for Customers

Subject: Quick request if you can.

Hi, (name). Hope you’re doing well.

A quick request if you are willing/able. We are refining our go-to-market approach and messaging and would love to get a real-world customer perspective from you. I would like to have a 20 minute call to ask a few questions—just your opinion on a few things related to (your industry or their job function).

Please let me know. If so, just send me a couple dates/times when you’re free. Or feel free to use his scheduling link to find a date/time that works for you: (use TimeTrade.com or Calendly).

Really appreciate the support.

Best,

(Your name)

I hope you find these templates useful. And as always, I welcome your feedback.

Haven’t read the Customer Re-Discovery Playbook? Request a copy here. It outlines everything you need to know about the process, including who to target, the questions to ask and how to ask them.

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