When you pack for a trip, you don’t put your entire closet into the suitcase and start pulling out what you don’t need.

But this is the approach companies often take when formulating their messaging. Like the traveler who says, “I need to make sure I have outfit options in Paris,” companies feel compelled to jam everything they do into marketing materials and sales conversations. In both cases, the villain is indecision and an inability to determine what’s most important.

Luggage over-packers risk sore backs and exorbitant overweight luggage fees. Messaging over-packers risk weighing down their audience with so much information that they don’t retain any of it.

The wrong way to “pack” your messaging.

  • Start by pasting in 50 slides from your most recent sales presentation or 4 paragraphs from your About Us section–and then try to whittle down from there.

The right way to pack.

  • Start with a blank document–an empty suitcase if you will.
  • Now, write a sentence that communicates the most essential thing the audience needs to know. (The most essential item for your trip.) This will likely be your unique value proposition or the problem you solve for your target audience.
  • Add a second sentence with the second most important thing the audience needs to know. This should include the value prop or problem, whichever you didn’t “pack” in the first sentence.
  • Now, add the third sentence with the next most important thing. This can be a credibility statement (“We serve 80% of the Fortune 500.”), a claim (“We’re going to be the Uber of microbrews.”) or capability (“We have developed a patented approach to electron fragmentization and deconstruction.”)
  • Now, here’s the key: Stop adding sentences as soon as you have given the audience the gist of your pitch–the basic contours of your topic (capabilities, product, investment opportunity). Probably 15 seconds total. The analogy is trying to close your suitcase to see if everything fits. This is a critical step that gives you a chance to check in with your audience to see if they’re with you–or whether you’ve “overstuffed” your message to the point where they’re confused. This check-in step is a great opportunity for the presenter. It’s where the audience often reveals their pain points, skepticism, lack of knowledge, etc., all of which are important signals that you can use to guide the rest of your meeting. Of course, after the check-in, you can fill in details on a range of topics, such as use cases, product specifications, customer examples, key features–whatever helps the audience fill in his or her knowledge gaps.

So next time you pack for a presentation (or a trip), remember to start with what you need most–and don’t overstuff.

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Marketing’s 4 P’s are obviously outdated–so marketer- and brand-centric. “It’s about OUR PRODUCT.” “WE need a pricing strategy.” You can almost feel the dust flying off of those we-centric, textbook-sounding words. Just look at the image below; even 4 P’s graphics look corporate and dull.

As B2B customers and prospects increasingly control and drive the decision-process, THEIR P’s are the ones that matter. And marketers and brands would do well to focus on them. Here are the Customer’s 3 P’s, as well as questions you should be asking to uncover them.

Priorities

What business priorities do you have to accomplish in the next 12 – 24 months? Not the entire list, just the top 2 – 3–the ones you might get passed over for promotion for not achieving. What priorities are the board paying close attention to? How much of the company’s (or your division’s) future is riding on these priorities?

Problems

What do you and your team need to get better at in the next year? If you replaced yourself today, what would you identify as immediate challenges? How do those impact the Priorities we just talked about? How are you addressing these issues today? What’s the risk of not getting better at them? What are the obstacles to improving?

Perceptions

What are all the ways you’ve thought about to address the Problems above? What else would you consider? What’s your biggest fear in investing in a solution or solutions? How do you categorize or differentiate vendors in this space? Which ones seem to “get it,” which ones don’t–and why? What would make you a customer for life–figuratively or literally?

Bottom line: Re-orienting B2B marketing around the customer’s perspective is critical to success in our new buyer-centric world. Try using the Customer’s 3 P’s–or a similarly market-oriented framework–to re-orient your own thinking and your organization’s.

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THIS IS THE FIRST EPISODE OF “LEADERS WHO LISTEN,” FEATURING INSIGHTS FROM EXECUTIVES WHO KNOW WHAT THEY DON’T KNOW–AND ARE CURIOUS TO FIND OUT.

This fun, 6 minute conversation with two leaders from Excella Consulting –a multi-year Inc. 5000 honoree–explains how their culture of curiosity gives them a more intimate and continuous view of their target audience’s perspective.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Excella several times over the years, and their commitment to “always be improving and listening” is very impressive…and a big reason why they are successful. Check it out.

(And don’t miss the outtakes at the end.)

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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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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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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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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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