Why should a potential buyer spend time talking with your company? Take a moment and jot down your answer to this question – I’ll wait.
I’ve just finished a series of presentations to some CEO groups and I’m struck by how little time and attention they spent creating an answer to this question. CEOs complain they can’t get their prospects’ attention. The truth is that too often their companies do nothing to deserve it.
I regularly ask CEOs why someone should buy from them. Here’s sample of some of the answers I get:
- We’re dependable
- We deliver on-time
- We provide quality work
- We care about you
How excited are you about talking to someone if one of the answers above is their value message? Of course not! If you’re like most (and the trend toward increased commoditization proves this), you have little or no interest in talking with them at all. Who can blame you? There are two reasons why these messages do not work:
1. They’re meaningless, vague and provide no compelling difference. There is no one in the market saying ‘Buy from me, I’m not dependable, but I’m cheap.’
2. They’re what everyone expects. If you don’t provide them (or at least don’t appear to provide them), you will not even have the chance to compete.
Instead, try this: Demonstrate, through everything you do, and I mean everything (in politics it’s called ‘staying on message’), that you will address an issue that I am worried about. Stop telling me what makes you so great. Forget about your offering. Stop being a solution in search of a problem. Show me you understand what I lose sleep over and why. That’s right — Make me feel understood. Stop asking me what I want and start understanding what I need – even though I don’t even know I need it. Then talk to me about it — demonstrate that understanding through conversation – both passive and active. Remember, conversation is two way – it allows give and take.
Too often, we are limited by our own limiting beliefs; or by what the rest of the world says is possible (or even factual). It’s a good thing for society that some of us are not.
I’m reading a very interesting book (Get Out of Your Own Way, by Robert K. Cooper, PhD). In it, he made the following observation:
Robert H. Goddard, the driving force behind America’s early space programs is today called “the father of space flight.” But when Goddard first imagined that rocket could be propelled through out space, the New York Times ridiculed his dream, saying he lacked even “the knowledge ladled out in highschools.” With no atmosphere in outer space and therefore nothing for an engine to thrust against, the Times patiently explained, a rocket couldn’t move an inch.
What ‘facts’ are holding you back?
Implementing an effective go-to-market strategy can be, and usually is, very frustrating. Go-to-market is different from other aspects of your business. Go-to-market is based on making mistakes – lots of them, quickly. The key is to be constantly correcting them.
I was working with a frustrated client today. This client recently left a significant position with a major company in the northeast to start a coaching business.
He’s been working on breaking into his market for the last eight months. Needless to say, he is frustrated with how slowly the market is responding. This frustration is not at all unusual and I’m not at all surprised that it’s coming after about eight months focus.
Most of my work with this client focused on how to take what we’ve been working on deeper. He wanted to talk about doing something different – or just easing off the gas peddle – “maybe I should just let this thing take its own course,” he commented to me. I felt for him. It’s difficult to stay with what appears not to be working. I, myself, often use Thomas Edison’s quote “Insanity is doing things the same way and expecting a different result.” When I was a financial advisor, I always found the toughest decision to make is when to focus on the long-term and when to I realize it’s time to change.
I’d like to tell you that there is a scientific answer to this question, but there isn’t. Whenever I confront this challenge (and I do frequently, both personally and in advising clients), I always think of Willy Wonka & the Chocalate Factory and Veruca Salt. Veruka’s cry of, “I want an Oompah Loompah and I want one now,” led to her destruction. It’s much like the cry – I want a flood of new clients and I want one now. Sometimes, it just takes time.
Here’s what I think. An effective go-to-market strategy takes 12 – 18 months of consistent focus to bear real results. Hitting on the right combination of strategies and tactics can cut that time down to 9 – 15 months. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some quick wins early to give you confidence to get through the pain. During this period, it is critical that you pay attention to the market. Zig, zag, go deeper, refine the message. Whatever you do, stay at it.
Most people won’t do this. They’ll give up – too early. It’s too bad, but it’s true. As I’ve counseled many clients, there is a reason that few companies set out to be ‘average’, yet most become exactly that – or worse.
By the way, this isn’t unique to fast growth. I have a client who owns a personal training studio. She’s my trainer and I was talking with her one day about my frustration. When I started working out, I had more energy and starting looking better pretty quickly (much like my clients feel when they pick up new messaging and they repackage their material). I told her that, now that I had been working out for several months, I wasn’t seeing any new results (much like my client’s frustration). She cautioned me to stick with it. She told me that even though I wasn’t ‘seeing’ changes, changes were occurring. She warned me that this was the time that most people who quit an exercise program do so. She promised me that if I stuck with it, it would be worth it.
She was right.
As I see it, there are three kinds of markets – Growth, Mature and Declining. Here is how I define them:
Growth Market: exists when a significant percentage of potential customers have no solution in place. In this type of market, a seller must enable a buyer to understand a need they may not know they have. You must also enable them to understand a solution they may not be familiar with. Companies in growth markets should be less concerned with market share and more concerned with market penetration. It is particularly important that sellers do not allow their offering to be commoditized in a growth market.
Mature Market: exists when a significant percentage of potential customers have a solution (or what they believe is a solution) in place. In this type of a market, a seller must enable a buyer to understand the differences that exist between their offering and the ‘solution’ that is in place currently. While this is traditionally achieved by comparing benefits, these days it is much better to make the offering a prescription drug and enable the buyer to become aware of problems and/or consequences the offering they are using currently does not address. Commoditization is a major danger is mature markets. In a mature market, market share becomes increasingly important.
Declining Market: exists when a significant percentage of potential customers have a solution and the use of that solution is decreasing. Envelopes would be an example of a declining market. This is a dangerous market to compete in. Commoditization rules in declining markets. Non-commoditized solutions that have not been commoditized yet need to find an unserved or underserved aspect of the market quickly and transforming it into a niche that offers a growth opportunity.
I’m sure I’ll be blogging on this subject quite a bit in the future. For those looking to compete now, here is the fundamental difference between selling in a growth market and selling in a mature market:
In a growth market, you’re looking to ‘grab land.’ In a mature market, you are looking to ‘shift land ownership.’ Growth markets have more buyers who naturally focus on total value, because they are curious and interested in learning more about something new. Mature markets are more dominated by people who view offerings through the lens of fundamental value because they have already been exposed to the offering in some form and feel they already know what they want. It is important that you identify which market you are competing in and that you align your go-to-market strategy behind it.
If you have any questions, let me know. I’d be glad to discuss how this applies to your situation. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The movie Borat won the box office this past weekend – showing on less than one-quarter the screens as the #2 movie (The Santa Clause 3). For those that don’t know who Borat is – he is the creation of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat is a ‘journalist’ from Kazakhstan and his mockumentary highlights America’s foibles.
I admit that I have not yet seen the movie (though I have eagerly awaited its release and will see it soon). This post isn’t about the movie – it’s about the buzz and traditional media’s inability to know what it has on its hands.
Despite all of the buzz leading up to it, Hollywood didn’t know what it had. 20th Century Fox limited its release because, “Awareness was tracking soft elsewhere (with people unfamiliar with Cohen’s HBO show).”
Anyone interested in creating effective buzz would do well to review the story of how comedian Cohen has brought the character to life. Here are some of the lessons I take from it:
- The product is good. Unlike the movie Snakes on a Plane, Borat has gotten outstanding reviews from critics across the board. Borat started getting buzz at The Cannes Film Festival, and stole the show at the Toronto Film Festival.
- Cohen made a big promise. The build up to the movie (or ‘movie-film’ as Borat would say) made the movie seem outrageous. Whether it was Cohen’s mock press conference in front of the Kazakhstan embassy when the premier of Kazakhstan was visiting with George Bush, or the outtakes you could get on YouTube – it was clear that Borat was no ordinary film.
- Cohen delivered on his promise.
- Borat started small and grew – never biting off more than it could chew. The character Borat started off as a sketch character Cohen created for the British comedy Da Ali G Show.
- Borat maintained its purity. In the spirit of Andy Kaufman, Cohen has an uncanny ability to stay in character. Whether he is being interviewed on The Today Show or Jay Leno, or when he was taking breaks on the set, Cohen never breaks character. This allows the audience to ‘buy-in’ to the experience – knowing that they will not be made of a fool of. It is my opinion that this lack of purity doomed ‘experiences’ like Rain Forest Café, Planet Hollywood, and other mock-experiences.
I can’t promise you’ll like Borat. I can promise that what you learn from it will help you grow.
I used to be a huge John Mellencamp fan even when he was John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp. I’ve seen three of his concerts from the first four rows (twice, front row center). I remember him making fun of ‘old’ rock stars who ‘sold out’ by allowing corporations to take their music and use it in commercials. I remember him saying that he would know that he’d been around too long if he ever ‘woke up to hear one of his songs on a commercial.’
Well, I guess it’s time for Mellencamp to retire. Every sports fan knows what I’m talking about. If I hear ‘This is our country’ one more time, I think I’m going to burn my Mellencamp CDs (I don’t mean download them to my iPod).
It seems Mellencamp has been looking for a way to make more people aware of his new CD, and GM is trying to find any reason they can to convince people that they should care about their cars. It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows; the same can be said for advertising.
The point of this rant is more than just to express my frustration with seeing this commercial 20 times every football game (though I admit, that’s what prompted me to write this post). The point is that I think the ad is completely ineffective. Even if I like the song, which I don’t, it does absolutely nothing to support why I should buy a GM car or truck. If GM, or virtually any other image advertiser, would take the time and money they pump into meaningless, empty, faux-patriotic commercials and put it into creating a superior promise, maniacally delivering that promise, and providing a superior experience for the people that actually bought their products or services, then those companies would not be in the mess they find themselves in these days. That’s how Toyota built both of their brands – and that’s how any company that wants to grow intelligently will do it in the Wisdom Age.
A client of mine, who happens to be a financial advisory firm, just got word that they’re broker-dealer will not allow them to blog. For those of you unfamiliar with how the financial services industry works, anything that can be perceived as marketing needs to be approved by a compliance department before it can be implemented. In the case of my client, their business (an independent financial advisory practice) must be affiliated with a firm, recognized by the NASD, to provide this type of oversight.
In the response to my client, this firm’s compliance department said that it looked at blogging in the same way it looks at instant messaging, in that it is something that cannot be reviewed in advance.
Now, I work with a lot of financial advisors and I’ve also been a financial advisor myself, working at Merrill Lynch for almost seven years. What amazed me is that a country founded on the principle of free speech and a country that has led the world into the information age, that an industry as fundamental to our economy as financial services believes in this kind of censorship. It seems as though the financial services industry is more concerned about preventing its advisors from saying anything then they are about ensuring that what is said is accurate.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are a lot of people that prey on the innocence and naiveté of the public. The solution, however, is not to stop people from saying anything – it’s to make sure that what is said is accurate. The regulatory bodies and governmental agencies should prosecute the liars, not squelch the flow of opinions.
The financial services industry is in trouble. More and more investors are managing their own money. This is bad for two reasons. First, the vast majority of individuals are not qualified to navigate the complexity of creating and implementing effective financial strategies (it is, if you will, a prescription drug). Second, our economy relies on financial services professionals to keep our markets efficient. As the industry creates less value and chases people away by managing to the lowest common denominator, it makes it more difficult and less rewarding to be a financial advisor.
The rejection of my client’s blog is a symptom of a set of bigger problems facing the financial services industry. Here are a few:
- There is so much money wrapped up in valueless organizations that the industry itself works to prevent competitors with new ideas and approaches from entering. They do this under the name of protecting the public.
- The industry has forgotten that the money that are entrusted to oversee is not theirs.
- The industry, founded on the concept of open and transparent markets, believes that censorship is an answer to the misdeeds of a few.
Here is my recommendation to any fast-growth industry – the more said, the better. Freer access to information and the exchange of ideas is always good for the market – even if it creates some challenges for the status quo.