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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  1. Ask 100 people who are desperate to enter the United States about their pain points, how they currently plan to enter the country and how they would use a wall.
  2. Use these insights to build a Minimum Viable Wall (MVW) designed to prevent desperate people from getting into the U.S. (Note: Make sure your MVW is long enough so that people cannot just walk around it.)
  3. Invite 100 desperate people to try and bypass the wall.
  4. Watch how the MVW performs and pay particular attention to how people are able to breach it, i.e. scaling, penetrating and tunneling. (It may take some time, but they will figure it out, you can count on it. Remember they are desperate.)
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 above at least 10 times, each time improving the Wall based on your observations and insights.
  6. Eventually you will have a prototype Wall that meets your Minimum Viable Objective, i.e. it prevents 25% of desperate people from entering the country. Develop a plan to handle the 75% who do enter, i.e. detain, deport or help place them in menial jobs.
  7. Build and install the rest of the Wall.
  8. Repeat step 4.
  9. Update the Wall, adding features to prevent even more desperate people from entering the U.S.
  10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until the Wall prevents 100% of desperate people from entering the country. Make sure to tell companies that they will no longer have access to cheap labor to do menial jobs.
  11. Sell advertising on both sides of the Wall to pay for construction and maintenance. Give free ads to compensate companies for the loss of cheap labor.
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I love this quote: “Fall in love with the customer’s problem, not your solution.” On that note, it’s surprising how many companies I meet (startups to established) that have never Googled the problem they’re trying to solve from the customers’ perspective.

They tend to Google their unique solution, and then say, “See, no one’s doing this!” Which really means, “No one’s doing exactly what we’re doing.” But when you Google the problem, you’ll see competitors, substitutes and alternatives from the customers’ perspective–including customers solving the problem in-house.

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If you can’t make my talk at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit on 4/21, here’s a free webinar where you’ll hear why CEOs, marketers and other leaders should stop brainstorming and go ask customers 5 very thought-provoking questions.  For more information and to register, click here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4426981640236003329

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I’m excited to be speaking again at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit–this time in Washington, DC on April 21, 2017. Here’s the topic and description from the web site:


There are five provocative, insight-producing questions that your customers (and prospects) will be happy to answer. Their responses might surprise you—and will definitely help you improve your positioning, value proposition and messaging based on what’s important from the customer’s perspective. All you need to do is ask them. Bob London, a marketing advisor, mentor and CEO of Chief Listening Officers, has helped hundreds of companies hear what their customers are really thinking.

To learn more and register, visit: http://mamsummit.com/sessions/presentation-6. I hope to see you there.

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking again at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit in Washington, DC on April 21st. The topic is:

Burn the Whiteboard & Go Ask Customers These 5 Questions

There are five provocative, insight-producing questions that your customers (and prospects) will be happy to answer. Their responses might surprise you—and will definitely help you improve your positioning, value proposition and messaging based on what’s important from the customer’s perspective. All you need to do is ask them.  Bob London, a marketing advisor, mentor and CEO of Chief Listening Officers, has helped hundreds of companies hear what their customers are really thinking.

I hope you can make it. To register, click here to learn more and register.

About the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit

2017 is the sixth year of the spring and fall Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summits. The summits have become the go-to and most respected marketing and communications conferences in the Mid-Atlantic region. They bring together hundreds of marketing and communications executives throughout the region to discuss high-level issues through a series of panels, keynotes, presentations, exhibits and networking. The Washington, D.C. summit is being expanded and has moved to NEA Conference Center at 1201 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.

The summits are co-produced by two of the most respected news organizations in the region: Potomac Tech Wire, the region’s source for technology news; and Capitol Communicator, the region’s source for marketing and communications news.

The Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summits features leaders from the top and emerging companies plus some of the best marketing and communications minds of the region. Themes focus on the latest ideas, technologies and trends in the ever-changing world of marketing. Topics include: metrics, mobile, social, big data, marketing automation, online video campaigns, experiential advertising, and much more.

You should attend if you are a CMO, brand marketer, marketing executive, public relations professional, entrepreneur, investor, technologist, creative director, media planner or publisher.

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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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