Scott Heiferman (co-founder of Meetup.com) has a great post on why people aren’t using your website. It’s humorous and insightful. I’ve already forwarded it to Chris, my brand development guy. Take a look at it.
There are only two questions you need to answer to determine if your business will be successful:
1. Do you solve a problem better than anyone else in the world?
2. Are there enough people willing to pay money to solve that problem for your business to meet its economic objectives?
If the answer to either question is ‘no’, you have to go back to the drawing board.
If the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’ then your only objective should be finding those customers, or, more importantly, enabling them to find you. That means you shouldn’t be concerned with people who don’t want to solve the problem(s) you solve in the way you have chosen to solve them. Instead, you should only concern yourself with those that do. Your goal should be to find what Spike Jones calls ‘kindred spirits.’
In the last couple of days, I’ve been forced to confront this issue in a couple of ways. Just last week, a friend and client of mine asked me about my website’s ranking on the search engines. I told him that I had no idea where it ranked, that it probably didn’t rank very high and that I didn’t really worry about that. He asked, curiously, why I wouldn’t do the things that would make my website a ‘high-traffic site.’ I told him that I spent a lot more time worrying about how to make the site more meaningful for the people who are visiting it, rather than worrying about those who aren’t.
Today, I got an e-mail from a potential client. He was, in essence, complaining about the way I go-to-market. His complaint was that if I practiced what I preach he would be “more comfortable” with me, but since he is not clear on precisely how I will help him, he is going to look elsewhere.
Now rest assured, I certainly understand that Imagine does not have a perfect go-to-market strategy. My list for improvements is a long one. Chris, my Director of Brand Development, understands more than anyone all the things I feel we need to improve. But what I love (and hate) about go-to-market is that it is never ‘done.’ It is always a work in progress.
That said, Imagine is growing well ahead of my expectations, and we are creating some fans of our work (two of whom shared their positive feelings about us with the prospect I mentioned). So, what should I do? Should I focus on ‘the one that got away,’ figure out how to change my approach so he will ‘understand’ and hopefully buy in the future? Or should I continue to work on making sure those people who are already kindred spirits find me?
My answer is the 2nd. What’s yours?
I recently attended as program on marketing. One of the panelists distributed a copy of Thomas Smith’s, Why Advertise Often? It says it was written in 1885 and that it still applies today. If you’d like a full copy of it, just e-mail me.
It starts off saying, “The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it,” and then progresses through twenty impressions ending with, “the twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.” Some of my favorites (please excuse the sarcasm) include, “the sixth time they thumb their nose at it,” “the ninth time, they start to wonder if they may be missing out on something,” “the eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads,” and “the nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.” Oh yeah, the seventeenth time “they make a note to buy the product.”
Do people really think life is that formulaic? Look, I understand the point that repetition is important and that a company must create awareness before it can exert any influence. But today too many offerings act as if repetition is the only thing that matters. They forget that before being noticed a business must do, or create, something noticeable.
Further, the beauty of today’s world is that, in many ways, if you create something worth noticing it is easier than ever to get noticed. Fast-growth executives would do well to remember this. In fact, you may want to repeat it twenty times.
One of the most painful experiences for salespeople is when they have presented their solution to prospects that clearly need it and clearly understand how they can benefit from it, but for some mysterious reason, they refuse to take action. When I am training salespeople, the most frequent questions they ask always begin with some variation of this scenario.
Why do people buy? In the seminars I have conducted over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of different reasons. Some of the most popular include: they want it, they need it, something solves a problem, they like it, it makes them feel good, and (my personal favorite) keeping up with the Joneses. While all of these things may contribute to purchases, none of them explains why people buy. So why do people buy? In every case, the answer is, “pain.”
When a current or anticipated situation does not meet your current or anticipated needs, the discrepancy between the two creates pain. The greater the discrepancy, the greater the pain level. At Imagine Business Development, we refer to this discrepancy and its consequences as Pain Gaps™. If there is not a Pain Gap, there will be no sale.
The fact is, buying anything requires some sort of change. The change may be as simple as buying a new refrigerator and then having to move food from the old one to the new one. It could be buying a new car and having to deal with the hassles of selling the one you have. While both require change, the new car or the new refrigerator is pretty much the same as the old one. This type of change is called continuous innovation. The seller does not require you to change your behavior.
However, years ago, when someone purchased one of the first automobiles or electric refrigerators, the changes they had to make not only included leaving behind the horse and carriage or throwing out the ice box, they had to change their behavior in a dramatic way. They had to rethink everything about what they needed to take a trip or how long they could store their food. This kind of change is called discontinuous innovation.
Companies with value-added selling propositions tend to offer solutions that require buyers to change their behavior (or the organization’s behavior) in a dramatic way. They are selling discontinuous innovation. While the concept of Pain Gaps applies to both types of change, understanding the nature of how pain is created is particularly important for organizations offering discontinuous innovation. Why? Because the level of pain it generates is much greater.
As I mentioned above, pain occurs when there is a discrepancy between the results you expect and the results you need. Accordingly, there is both negative pain and positive pain. A problem is a negative pain. If your sales department is not closing enough sales, you may have a problem, and that problem is going to cause a certain amount of pain. On the other end of the pain spectrum are opportunities. Opportunities are positive pains. Your sales department may be doing a great job closing sales, but you see an opportunity that would enable it to do even better. Taking advantage of this opportunity causes a certain amount of pain because, once again, there is a discrepancy between the current or anticipated situation and the current or anticipated needs.
Understanding and managing Pain Gaps is fundamental to developing an effective go-to-market strategy. In a future post, I will explain the four Pain Modes and how they impact the sales cycle.
USA Today reports that 80% of marketers surveyed in a recent Association of National Advertisers study feel that advertising is “less effective than it was just two years ago.” Welcome to the club.
The point of this for executives of fast-growth companies should not be that advertising is less effective (we figured that out a while ago), but why is it less effective. Why do people want to avoid advertising?
Just yesterday, at a program I was presenting, an attendee was talking to me about how difficult it was to get prospects to call his salespeople back when they are cold calling. He said, “There’s got to be a better way.” I agree. The better way would be to find a reason to make prospects want to call them back.
Advertising is based on manipulation and controlling information. It’s an industrial-age creation. It’s dead now (or at least well on its way). Stop trying to fix it. Throw it away. Rethink and rebuild your message from the ground up. Start by understanding your prospects first before you ask them to understand your offering. Make the conversation you have with them meaningful, honest and worthwhile and it will work.
In the 1993 movie, “Philadelphia,” Denzel Washington plays the role of a trial attorney. who asks his clients to explain their situation, “ as if I were a six-year-old.”
Today, I was working with a new client and had a difficult time making them come to grips with the challenge of what it takes to make their prospects understand what the company does. It gave me a new insight into what “tell it to me like I’m a six-year-old” really means.
I thought about a conversation I’d had recently with my eight-year-old son. Now, my son is very smart, but he is still eight years old. My son thinks he knows things he doesn’t actually know. As with any intelligent eight-year-old, he often takes little tidbits of things that he does know and applies them to larger concepts. This causes him to come to some conclusions that, while sometimes amusing for a parent, are completely wrong.
It’s important to realize that this is exactly how prospects process messages you give them. They take a few simple ideas they understand and try to apply them to the larger, more complex concepts you present to them. Imagine, if you will, a six-year-old arriving at your web site and trying to understand the information she finds there. Go ahead — take a look at your web site as though you were a child. Can a prospect clearly, and distinctly, understand what you are promising? Can they comprehend how what do you will help them?
Or, does your web site, and other marketing material, attempt to explain things. Are you trying to get your prospects to understand what makes you special? Do you assume that their experiences and knowledge base are the same as yours? If your marketing materials are trying to explain what you do, you are in the same situation as I am when I try to get my son to understand things that he is already certain he “knows about.” Parents around the world know how difficult that is.
The key to crafting an effective message is to make sure that it means something to those people who don’t know anything about you and will very likely completely misunderstand what you do and what you say, no matter how much you explain it to them. Next time you look at your marketing materials ask yourself, “If I didn’t know what I do, would this message mean anything to me.” Better still, ask a six-year-old.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts.
When you go-to-market, you must be able to make a compelling presentation to your selected audience. I’d like to share with you the format that I’ve found works for virtually any type of presentation. Before I give you the structure, let me explain some basic rules for any type of business conversation.
2. If you want to persuade people, you must first be able to keep their attention – so make sure what you say is compelling.
3. Never, never, never start your presentation with the traditional, “Let me tell you about us,” introduction. There’s nothing else you can do that will make a highly qualified audience tune-out faster.
Now the structure:
Vision – Start your presentation with the ideal vision your audience desires. This will demonstrate that you understand what they are trying to accomplish.
Challenges & Obstacles – You’ve demonstrated that you understand what they want, now it’s time to demonstrate that you understand all the things your audience is dealing with. Lay out as many challenges and obstacles as you wish – just make sure they are genuine. There is nothing that will undermine your credibility faster that making up issues. I know that I’m delivering a good presentation when half of the audience is ready to give up because the challenges I’ve described appear to be too great. What, they think, is the point of even trying?
At this point, you should have your audience’s attention and they will be invested in your presentation. You’ve demonstrated clearly that you understand their situation as well as, or better than, they do. When you’ve accomplished this, you have earned the right to demonstrate how you can solve their problem.
What we do to overcome the challenges and obstacles – Now it’s your turn to talk about how you solve the problem. Here is where you present your solution. At this point you are only communicating your promise, or value proposition. It should be clear, concise and to the point. The next part is where you can expand.
How we do it – Present your process. Why are you the people who can solve the problem? What makes you so special? If you feel the need to present your credentials, this is the time for resumes, client lists, or case studies. (though much of this isn’t necessary). In Part 3 you make a big promise. This is where you tell the audience “how.”
Call to Action – Tell the audience, clearly, what you want them to do. I’ve seen great presentations completely fall apart because the speaker left it to the audience to assume what they were supposed to do. Do you want me to buy something? Tell me to. Do you want me to set an appointment? Schedule a demo? Give you more referrals? Tell me.
That’s it. Five parts to a powerful presentation.
Let me know what you think.
In the recent bestseller, Freakonomics, the authors point out that when the esteemed economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, coined the phrase, “conventional wisdom,” he did not mean it as a compliment. The notion that a company must hire a salesperson that has experience selling the product or service they offer is exactly the kind of wrongheaded thinking, Galbraith was referring to.
While I rail against traditional sales methods and models, the simple truth is: if someone can sell, they can sell. Successful selling is a profession with its own unique set of systems, skills and disciplines. These have nothing to do with a particular product or service.
That’s not to say that every industry and every business within an industry doesn’t have its own special issues. But believing that a salesperson needs to have specific experience within a specific industry to be successful is like saying that an accountant needs experience within a specific industry to close the books of a business.
If you make a policy that requires industry experience when you hire a salesperson, two very bad things happen. You reduce the pool of talent you have access to. And the odds of making a successful hire decline.
Do I believe that a salesperson that can sell one thing can sell anything? No.
That’s not because there are different types of products. The reason is that there are different types of sales. There is a difference between selling services and selling products. There is a difference between selling an offering that costs $1,000 or less and $100,000 or more. There is a difference between business-to-business and business-to-consumer sales. And there’s a big difference between selling to the executive level and selling to a lower level. I could go on. But here’s the point — when I help a company hire a salesperson, the key is to look for someone who has experience in the type of sale required, not the industry.
Let me be clear. If you are telling me that I need experience in your industry to sell your offering, you are also telling me that I need experience to understand and buy your offering.
Now, this may be the case when the purchase is highly technical. These sales are almost always focused on fundamental value which puts you in the crosshairs of commoditization. If you want break out of the commoditization trap you must simplify your offering so that any non-genius can sell it. Sales needs to be completely ‘market-facing.’ A professional salesperson has the skills to have a compelling conversation that is focused on the client. Experience within an industry has nothing to do with the ability to have a meaningful conversation. In some cases it can get in the way of having that conversation.
How can experience be bad? Because too often experience lulls a salesperson into focusing too much on the offering. He skips the step of asking probing questions and ends up not focusing enough on the issues the client is dealing with.
I’ll leave you with this thought. I can, with a high degree of accuracy, predict the first slump a new salesperson will suffer. It happens right after they first get comfortable with their offering. Think about that.
If you would like a recent white paper I wrote on the “Top 10 Mistakes Companies Make When Hiring Salespeople,” just e-mail me with your name and address.
I have been flooded recently with an extraordinary amount of sales literature, phone calls and e-mails that simply boggle my mind. I’ve said this before and, it appears, I’ll be saying this for sometime:
If you are not creating value, you are extracting value.
It doesn’t matter if you are a salesperson or an executive. Whether you are communicating with a prospect or a client. When you initiate communication that doesn’t mean anything, you add to the cost of doing business with you. You make it less desirable to do business with you.
Companies like Sandler Sales Systems and ‘trainers’ like Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy tell their followers to find any excuse to send something to a prospect or client. Repetition, they say, is the key to getting attention. They’ll use industrial-age statistics that say it takes at least six exposures (or more) before someone notices you. The key, they say, is to get those contacts as fast as you can.
These meaningless contacts are just another example of industrial-age strategies killing the go-to-market efforts of businesses today. Let me share with you two unsolicited e-mails I received in the last 10 days. I will be deleting the names of the sender and their companies to protect the guilty. In just so happens that both examples relate to advertising.
The first is from a major weekly business publication in my area:
My name is [name withheld], Technology Ad Rep with the [company withheld]. When I read about the Imagine Companies online I thought that it would be a good fit in our paper. Attached is a media kit which outlines our readership. Our paid circulation allows us to audit our readers every year to pass along valuable info to our readers.
The [company withheld] is the only source of late-breaking local business new covering all industries in Maryland. We have a paid readership which ensures that our ads are seen, and a committed readership made up of business professionals.
Our readers are aggressive readers who use the [withheld] every week to improve their business.
We have a new promotion for Technology advertisers which allows you to appear in the paper frequently at a discounted rate.
I would be happy to discuss this option with you in more detail.
This e-mail attempts to demonstrate the special approach the sender has taken by researching my company. However, the e-mail was sent to ‘email@example.com’. It took away any credibility. More importantly, Imagine is not a technology company. All the e-mail has done here is demonstrate that the sender knows nothing about my company.
“What’s the big deal?” you may ask. “It’s just an e-mail.” So what did the sender lose? Two things. First, had I been a technology company, there is absolutely nothing in the e-mail that is compelling. The sender has further commoditized himself and his company – offering a discount before a conversation even began. Second, the sender has cost himself an opportunity. By wasting time sending meaningless e-mails, this salesperson is able to rationalize to himself (and his managers) that he is ‘prospecting,’ But he is missing the opportunity to make a valuable contact with someone. I manage sales teams for several companies and the first sign I see that indicates there is a clear value creation problem is when I see useless e-mails being sent out in lieu of the salesperson getting out there and meeting people.
My bet is that this salesperson will not be with the company very long (the turnover in media sales is pretty substantial), and the sender has only succeeded in making the job of getting the attention of the proper prospect more difficult for the next person.
A week later, I received this e-mail:
I am the Anne Arundel County representative for [company withheld], and recently heard about your business. I was told that I needed to come out and talk to you. I would love the opportunity to share with you information about Baltimore and Washington’s most comprehensive business publication. Looking forward to meeting you.
Have a great weekend.
This e-mail has the daily double: communicating no value whatsoever and using deceit. “I was told I needed to come out and talk to you.” Nice. It leaves the impression that someone has referred them to me, without actually lying. In my opinion, however, it’s a lie anyway. Further, what in this e-mail gives me the slightest reason to want to to talk with this person? Here’s the point. Is there a compelling reason for me (or any client or potential client) to meet you or read what you are sending? If there isn’t, save us both the trouble and don’t communicate. If there is a compelling reason – tell me clearly. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t deceive me and don’t insult me . Lay it out. If it’s truly compelling, I’ll respond.
It’s up to you. Do you believe in your offering or not?
While I often times reference a book in this blog, it is not often that I actually recommend one. Today I do.
Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach has just released his newest book, The Laws of Lifetime Growth . Dan is a friend of mine and a coach to me. This blog would not exist were it not for the thoughts, guidance, support and cheerleading that Dan has given me over the years.
I admit it. I’m a shill for Dan. Dan has dedicated his life to working with entrepreneurs of growth companies. An entreprenuer himself, there is no one who understands the issues that impact entreprenuers better than Dan.
This little book is Dan’s philosophy in 109 pages. Dan co-wrote it with Catherine Nomura, one of his Strategic Coach team members. Catherine’s touches make it an easy read, so there it is not one of those books that just ‘sits’ on your bookshelf. It’s easy to talk about, and it gives you a great structure for thinking about life and growth.
The 10 laws are:
Always Make Your Future Bigger Than Your Past (my favorite)
Always Make Your Learning Greater Than Your Experience
Always Make Your Contribution Bigger Than Your Reward
Always Make Your Performance Greater Than Your Applause
Always Make Your Gratitude Greater Than Your Success
Always Make Your Enjoyment Greater Than Your Effort
Always Make Your Cooperation Greater Than Your Status
Always Make Your Confidence Greater Than Your Comfort
Always Make Your Purpose Greater Than Your Money
Always Make Your Questions Bigger Than Your Answers
I encourage you to read the book share your favorites.
Do you make a compelling promise to your audience? Can you tell your potential customers what they will get from working with you using no more than three sentences and taking less than 15 seconds? If you can, growth is yours for the taking. If you can’t, a Stuckpoint(tm) awaits.
Making a promise is often a very uncomfortable thing to do. You’re putting yourself on the spot. In fact, if you weren’t uncomfortable the first time you made a promise to a prospect, it probably wasn’t very compelling. Very few companies ever make a real promise to their customers. Then again, very few companies ever become great.
Here’s a sample of some compelling promises that I’ve seen (or helped develop):
I make your staffing problems go away.
When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
We extend the life of your plane’s paint and interiors by at least two to three years . . . guaranteed.
The dance floor will be packed – guaranteed.
Low prices, everyday.
We’ll be there within 90 minutes or we’ll pay your deductible.
We solve the unique set of problems faced by the owners of businesses with more than one owner.
What’s Imagine Business Development’s promise?
We’ll cut your sales cycle time in half, while increasing your profit per sale.
Don’t forget though, making a compelling promise may not be easy. Delivering on it every second of every day is what makes you special.
What’s your promise? I’ll post the best one’s on my website.
In a column for forbes.com, Jack Trout takes on word-of-mouth marketing (click here to read). Trout claims that word-of-mouth is not all that it’s cracked up to be. He highlights the ‘danger’ of word-of-mouth. I quote:
No product in memory got as much buzz and PR as the Segway gyroscopic scooter. The problem is that most of the buzz was negative. “Funny looking or dangerous on sidewalks” is not what you want to hear. Buzz can kill you if you don’t have the right product. The very expensive movie King Kong was a bust because of a lot of negative word-of-mouth. “Too long, too loud and overdone.” The Pontiac G6 giveaway on Oprah got a lot of buzz but the car died at the box office. People would take one for free, but not if they had to pay for it. You’ve got to have a product or service people want to talk about in a positive way, and there aren’t many of these around.
Now for the really bad news. There’s no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign? No way. They aren’t getting paid based on how many widgets get sold. If I go to all this trouble developing a positioning strategy for my product, I want to see that message delivered. Buzz can get your name mentioned but you can’t depend on much else. Not too many mouths will do a stand-up commercial about your product vs. its competitor. Nor will they check with you in advance on what to say.
I couldn’t come up with a better way to articulate the problem with industrial-age sales and marketing if I worked on it for 100 hours. Thinking like this is exactly why executives of growth companies need to be extraordinarily careful of what they read and who they listen to. Jack’s problems with word-of-mouth are: a) you can’t control it, and b) it may be right. It is, in fact, these two factors that make word-of-mouth the effective tool it is. Let me be clear – if you have a bad offering, it should fail, the faster the better.
Do you believe in your product? Can it stand on its own? Or do you need to manufacture the message? By the way, Jack misses a key point — You don’t have a choice about word-of-mouth marketing – it’s happening with or without you. The only question is, do you embrace it or fight it?
I am a fan of Jack Trout. I’ve read several of his books and his thoughts on positioning have been very helpful to me and my clients. This is just an example of how badly industrial age thinking misses the point when it comes to the way the market place works in the new information age we live in. We’re all entitled to a bad day, I hope this is his.
These are the times that try men’s souls. … Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
What Thomas Paine said in reference to the conflicts that caused The American Revolution can be said about building fast growth businesses. Oh, if growth were easy. If only business would make time.
As I wrote in a previous post, every business has only three resources: time, money and energy. No business has enough of any of these. No one I know has enough time, enough money or enough energy (though my kids come awfully close on the energy thing). Building a successful business would be easy if we had enough resources – it wouldn’t even be very risky.
Building a successful growth business is tough. Accelerating growth within an established company is tough. Most who try will not succeed. Worse than failing, most business will get stuck – always feeling as though breakthrough success is just around the corner; yet never quite arriving.
There is no halfway in business. Building a business successfully requires a maniacal focus on aligning every aspect of your business behind supporting your promise to your customers consistently. Any misalignment can slow you down and get you stuck. Success occurs at the extreme. It requires an extreme value proposition, extreme focus, extreme cause, extreme effort.
It’s easy to read about Southwest Airlines, Dell, Apple, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, etc. It’s easy to dream big dreams. The question is, are you willing to put the energy into making your dreams a reality?
Are you willing to make sure EVERYTHING you do is aligned to support, deliver and drive your value proposition?
Are you willing to make sure every ad, every letter, every communication creates value and supports your message strategy?
Are you willing to make sure every employee lives and breathes your cause? Is every employee willing to step up to deliver your promise?
You may say it’s easy for Doug to say these things, but you don’t have the time. You may be right. Here’s the paradox. If you find the energy create complete alignment in your organization, time will no longer be your limiting resource. If you don’t, the life of Sisyphus awaits.
What do you think?
No post I’ve written has elicited feedback equal to what I received from Why People Don’t Pay Attention to the Price of a Room at the Four Seasons. While the response has been universally positive, I am concerned that there may be some misunderstanding about what I mean by a remarkable client experience.
For those that don’t want to go back to the previous post, I defined a remarkable experience as:
Reading my mind. Really, that’s all your prospects, customers and clients want. They want what they want, the way they want it (preferably, without having to ask for it) – no more, no less.
A number of the responses I’ve received made me think the people who wrote feel their companies have always tried to provide a “Four Seasons” type experience. Judging from the tone of their responses, what they meant was that they work to provide a ‘fine, upscale, luxurious’ experience. The point I wanted to make was that one does not need to be ‘upscale’ to be remarkable.
Wal-Mart provides a remarkable experience. Wal-Mart gives its customers exactly what they want and what they expect – no more, no less. (Though as Wal-Mart now talks about moving up-market to compete with Target, I wonder if they will be able to read their new customers’ minds or continue to be in tune with their current ones.)
Southwest has always provided a remarkable experience, and no one would confuse Southwest with The Four Seasons.
So remember, a ‘fine, upscale, luxurious’ experience is only remarkable if that is actually what your customers want.
Keep the comments coming.
I’m all for automating processes to help make businesses more efficient. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do half of what I do without automation. Whenever efficiency gets in the way of effectiveness, however, automation becomes a danger.
Every now and then I get something that points this out. Recently I received this form letter from my doctor’s office:
I appreciate my doctor’s willingness to let me spread out my $10.00 over three months, but somehow I don’t think that was their intention.
This is a humorous example of letting automation get in the way of your intent. No harm, no foul, and my doctor and I had a good laugh about it (she even told me not to worry about paying it).
It made me think, though. Where am I misusing automation? Where is “high tech” getting in the way of “high touch?” You may want to think about it too.