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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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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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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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.

Enjoy!

 

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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.

Right.

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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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.

++ end ++

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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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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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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