“What do you and your team need to get better at this year?”

It’s a simple question that focuses the customer or prospect on the delta between their objectives and where they are today. They start thinking about the specific tools or skills they lack or that they feel are insufficient to reach their objectives. How do they get there from here?

Their answers will give you insight into whether and how your solution is relevant to their “delta.”

Here’s an example from a recent conversation (remember, it is a conversation, not a survey or interview) I had with a prospective client. Let’s say she’s the Chief Revenue Officer of a company that sells to insurance companies.

Me: To start off, what are the overall business priorities for your organization? And when I say organization, think about the highest level–your company or the division you’re a part of.

Her: Well, the first thing is probably improving customer retention.

Me: Great. Why is that a priority? I can assume a few reasons but want to make sure I understand clearly.

Her: Some of our biggest customers leave because they think they can do what we do in-house.

Me: Got it. Thank you. Given your focus on customer retention, what do you and your team need to get better at to address that priority?

Her: We need to have better messaging to rescue or win back customers who say they’re leaving.

Me: How big a problem is this for the company? In other words, if 10 is a game changer and 1 is “nice to have,” how would you rate it?

Her: I’d say an 8 or 9.

Me: OK, perfect. You mentioned customers leave because they intend to take over your function internally. Can you give me an idea of how that conversation goes? Let’s say you’re the customer who’s leaving and I’m you. In the customers words, what would you say.

There’s a lot more insight to be gained from this conversation, but  finding out what she needs to improve to reach her goals is a key turning point that allows me to really see her perspective and focus the rest of the conversation.

Again, your goal is to get insight into whether and how your solution aligns with their “delta.” My approach is to disarm the other person and get them to lean in by starting the conversation with bigger picture questions. This signals that I’m diagnosing, not selling. That I’m interested in her goals and perspectives and I’m strategic, not just trying to hit my quota. Her answers also give me fodder to provider her with insights–to challenge whether that really is her biggest delta. (Turns out it isn’t.)

If you’re looking for a good place to start to better understand your target audience’s perspective, download my free Customer Re-Discovery Playbook.

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Let’s play “marketing long distance.” You know what I’m talking about…

CMO reads Gartner report that says the customer’s pain point is X.

CMO checks with top sales rep who says it’s more like X+1.

CMO hears X-2.

CMO briefs agency account lead who hears X-2-7.

Agency account lead briefs creative director who hears X-2-7-4+26.

Creative director briefs writer who hears [(X-2-7-4+26)*3]/61.

Writer submits draft which focuses on Y.

Creative director changes it to focus on Z.

Agency account lead recommends edits to focus on Z*5.

CMO adjusts to focus on Z*5 cubed, then sends to CRO for “final review.”

CRO makes changes based on the last customer conversation he had.

CMO approves.

Campaign fails.

No one knows where it all went wrong. After all, they started by understanding the customers’ pain point.

Someone has to own understanding the target audience’s real problems, priorities and perceptions. Then make sure the execution is aligned accordingly.

Shouldn’t that be the CMO?

Do the senior marketers you know REALLY get the customers’ perspective?

How much time do they spend with customers and prospects just listening? Trying to understand what the world looks like from their side of the table.

The great news: Decision-makers are happy to share what they know. You just have to ask the right questions in the right context (i.e. non-sales).

Their answers will give you insights to help clarify your brand or product positioning, sharpen your value proposition and differentiators and focus your messaging.

See a list of disruptive, thought-provoking questions–and the entire listening process–at www.chieflisteningofficers.com/free.

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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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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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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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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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