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.


(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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https://soundcloud.com/maliphonpadith-soarpodcast/ep31-bob-londonMali Phonpadith is a gifted, soulful person who is one of the most generous people I’ve come across in business. Her podcast series is worth a listen–I recommend starting with this one, featuring me (ha!).

Click here or below to enjoy.

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This is a promo for my Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit talk this Friday, titled:

“Burn the Whiteboard! Stop Brainstorming and Go Ask Customers These 5 Questions.”

Please register at www.mamsummit.com.

Hope to see you there.

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If there’s one quote that sums up my extremely jovial but pointed interview with Sales Guru Ian Altman, it’s this:

“It’s the company’s responsibility to arm salespeople with stuff that matters to the customer. But ‘stupid marketing’ makes it hard for sales people to do their jobs well.”

Here’s the link.



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OK, before I get into this post I have to get my point of view out there:

“Not only is every year the year of the customer, so is each goddamn each second, minute, day and month. Every freakin’ millennium is the millennium of the customer.”

 – Bob London, Annoyed Marketer

That somewhat understated perspective explains why I get agitated when I read marketing copy like this from an email promoting a report titled “Knowing Your Customer.”

“Forget content: the oft-overlooked king in today’s increasingly complex B2B landscape is the customer. As well as being always – or nearly always – right, the customer is the start and end point of any successful marketing campaign, B2B or otherwise. Without a deep understanding of these often elusive and hard-to-pin-down individuals, you’re playing a guessing game, darting between marketing strategies as you desperately try and hit that much sought-after ROI.”

“Oh, content isn’t king anymore? It’s the customer this year? Got it, thanks.”

– Bob London, Sarcastic Marketer

(BTW, the report itself was not bad! Some useful insights. I’m just taking issue the way it was positioned and marketed.)

My long simmering frustration is this:

Why does every year have to have a new marketing theme? It’s like the Chinese Zodiac: ABM. Content Marketing. Buyer Personas. Buyer Journeys. Growth Hacking. And when marketers focus on individual shiny objects and trends (I call them parades), they do so at the expense of real strategic thinking and planning, driven by what the target audience is really thinking and actually needs. (I call this the “Customers’ Elevator Rant.”)

Instead marketers end up focusing on the last big parade they (or their boss) heard or read about. And often what they hear or read about is from a semi- or fully-conflicted source within the marketing-industrial complex (i.e. vendors, niche media, service providers and analysts).

Some parades turn out to be worthy of marketers’ attention and budget because they prove to deliver real, long-term value (i.e. Marketing Automation, when done right, The Lean Startup Movement, The Challenger Sale/Customer approach). But there are many that are just shiny objects and have only a short arc or very limited application for marketing (QR Codes anyone?Snapchat maybe?). So they are just a big time- and money-suck. There are even examples of parades that start out hot, die down and come roaring back years later (Podcasting).

“Well, where’s the goddamn ‘customer listening’ parade? Not automated analytics and social sentiment, but actual listening to and insights from humans?”

– Bob London, Agitated Marketer

Actually a Forbes columnist has an interesting take here, which is that “2017 is the Year of the Empowered Customer.” But I still argue that customers have always been empowered to a degree; true, they are becoming more so but do “empowered customers” deserve their own “year”? Heck no! They deserve their own century.

I’m not hating–well, maybe I am.

I’m not naive; I don’t blame the players or even the game. I’m making the point that for every hour (or year!) a marketer spends chasing a parade is an hour (or year!) they are not building the underlying foundation for success. Which to me has always and always will be that:

“The marketer’s True North should relate to the customer’s True North. And until we know where that is, we shouldn’t spent a boatload of money chasing parades.”

– Bob London, Chief Listening Officer

But alas, 80% of the companies and CEOs I see don’t have a complete (or even good enough) grasp of their target audience’s perspective. They’re still pushing their perspective (product strategy, features, etc.) and hoping it’s relevant to the audience. Hopefully we can get that number down to 70% in the next decade–then we can really say that’s “the decade of the customer.”

Some free tools to help you find your customers’ True North:

Free Download: The Customer Re-Discovery Playbook
Free Webinar: “Burn the Whiteboard. Trash the Dashboard: 5 customer questions to uncover hidden growth opportunities.

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I thought I’d share a cool outcome from a workshop I did with a peer advisory/networking group. I recommend anyone who is part of a Vistage, EO or other peer advisory group to try this as a fantastic way to test the “stickiness” and customer-centricity of your company’s messaging.

Here’s How to Play

  1. Start with two Volunteers, seated side by side at the front of the room.
  2. Volunteer 1 goes to a soundproof booth backstage. (If you don’t have a soundproof booth or stage handy, they can just leave the room.)
  3. Volunteer 2 gives Volunteer 1’s elevator pitch from memory.
  4. #1 comes back, recites his/her own pitch.
  5. Audience votes on how well both elevator pitches match, discusses which one was better and why. (Yes, sometimes the other person nails your pitch better than you can.)
  6. Repeat 1 – 5 until everyone has played both roles.

The Twist

The Volunteers who give their peers’ elevator pitches can feel a bit anxious because they think they’re being tested on their recall. After all, when a group meets every month or quarter for several years, you should know each other’s messaging pretty well, right? But that is not the test. The game actually reveals how sticky the other Volunteer’s (the one in the “soundproof booth”) messaging is. The more relevant (not necessarily clever or catchy) their message is, the stickier and more memorable it will be.

The Lesson

Our messages are usually forgettable because we start with the wrong perspective: Our own. We start talking about our company, our product, our features. In today’s noisy, customer-first world, this doesn’t cut it any more. How do we know this? Just ask yourself how many terrible, one-way elevator pitches you’ve been subjected to. Or sales pitches. Or investor presentations.


What makes your messaging sticky? When it connects it to a problem or need the other person or the target audience can relate to. But it can’t be the same old problem your competitors are talking about. It has to be authentic. Which means it might be a problem or need that is unspoken or non-obvious.

I call these hidden problems your target audience’s Elevator Rant. I’ve listed some questions you should ask your target audience to discover their Elevator Rant.

Now Incorporate the Elevator Rant into Your Pitch

After you’ve determined your target audience’s Elevator Rant. Remember, it’s not often what you think, so you have to do some research here. Ask your fellow group members what their reactions are to the type of service or product you provide. (To help you along, here’s a link to a free e-Book.)

Then, practice using the rant to lead off your pitch. Here are four approaches you can use to frame your pitch using the target audience’s Elevator Rant:

Why Was The Newlywed Game Such an Effective Part of My Workshop?

This was a room full of people who are all buyers in addition to sellers. So listening to elevator pitches with their “buyer” hats on reinforced everyone’s personal experience as “pitchees,” which is that:

They hate–and then forget–pitches that are all about the pitcher–descriptors, features, etc.; and
They tend to remember pitches that feature a problem they can relate to–and include an outcome or benefit.

Then I did a demonstration that became the real “eye opener,” according to the participants. One young woman–I’ll call her Sally–volunteered to frame her elevator pitch with what she believed was her target audience’s rant. She gave a good effort but got a few words into it and realized it sounded very pitchy (I also call this a “selfie-style” pitch). She hadn’t thought through what the rant would be.

“No worries,” I said, “that’s why we’re here! To work on it.”

So I asked the group–“What’s the first thing you think of when you hear (the woman’s industry segment)?” Remember these people all work in or around the same industry ecosystem and have been meeting together for a year or two; therefore, I thought they’d be a good proxy for her target audience.

(For the sake of demonstration, let’s say she was in the promotional products business–pens, hats and shirts with your company logo).

Well, I was right. One guy–let’s call him Marcus–said, “The first thing I think of when hear (that industry segment) is ‘pretty brochures.'” Sally was taken aback. I was a bit as well. So I asked Marcus, “Why would you boil her industry down to “pretty brochures?”

“Because,” he replied, “the covers of her brochures are all full of what I’d call ‘trophy’ products–big, custom expensive items that you only need once in a blue moon. But I’m almost always looking for basic, utilitarian products.”

Hushed silence for a few seconds. Sally was thrown off at first and seemed as though she might get defensive. Then it clicked. Here was her new pitch:

“We’re know for our glossy brochures with amazing and expensive looking promotional products…but turn the page and you’ll see we also have a fantastic variety of basic, every day products. And for all of our products, we’ll match any price you show us.”

Sally drops mic. Applause. End of workshop.

There was a bit of an epilogue which was also instructive to the participants. Sally said to Marcus, “Well, this helps explain why you’ve never done business with me!” “Why would I do business with you?” challenged Marcus. Sally exclaimed, “Because I sell promotional items and you’re a marketing director!” “Well, the fact is you just assumed I’m the decision-maker on those–but I’m not,” deadpanned Marcus.

Eye opening for sure.

BONUS: Sample Questions that Reveal the Elevator Rant

  1. What are your top 2 – 3 priorities for the board?
  2. What is our industry’s reputation—good or bad?
  3. What’s your worst fear about investing in (product or service)?
  4. What would make you a customer for life?

(Promo Alert: Download a Free e-Book on How to Discover Your Customer’s Perspective here.)

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