- To a seller, a day feels like a week and a week feels like a month.
- To a buyer, a day feels like an hour and a week feels like a day.
As a seller, it’s important that you clearly communicate expectations and the process that you follow (assuming, of course, that you follow a process). The best way to make a week feel like a month to a buyer is to get the buyer understands the consequences of not buying.
Two years ago, I asked if your company would make a good TV show. I was reminded of this post over the weekend, when I sat down with my family and watched a one day marathon of The Land of The Lost. It was fascinating to see just how campy the show was (and the animation was hilarious).
I was done with the nostalgia trip after about three episode, but my kids weren’t. They wanted to watch it all day. So here we have my kids – the prototypical modern children – raised on life like animation, PSPS, Wii’s, etc. And why were they pulled in? The story. And what really pulled them in was the back story.
In 37 words, everyone knows what the story is about. Whether it’s your first episode or your fiftieth. Whether you’ve just seen the episode, or you’ve missed the last five. 37 words and I know what I’m about to see, and, more importantly, I understand the characters and the story. Here are the 37 words:
Marshall, Will, and Holly
On a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known.
High on the rapids
It struck their tiny raft.
And plunged them down a thousand feet below.
To the Land of the Lost.
Simple, eloquent and effective. I don’t need to know anything before hearing the words to understand it (no curse of knowledge here).
So, after a day of Land of the Lost, I thought it was time to renew the question. Would your company make a good TV show? What’s your back story? Would Will Ferrell (or anyone else) what to make a “re-make” of your company?
I’m fascinated by what is taking place at Newsweek. Newsweek, whose circulation once stood at 3.1 million, is looking to decrease – that’s right DECREASE – it to 1.5 million. They’re raising their prices, completely redesigning (or should I say completely redesigned) the magazine and the website. Gone will be the superfluous restatements of information that is available everywhere and instead they will focus on “in-depth reporting and argument.” They explain their new website this way:
Can they do it? Will it work?
My opinion is that if they can do it (which is a big if) – it will work. In an era where more and more people are throwing more and more crap out there, people are looking for a semblance of order. I applaud Jon Meacham (the editor) for moving in this direction, and I hope he will be able to stick with it. I’m sure they’re going to make some mistakes and it my hope that his board will allow him the time to find the right pace. Here are some points Meacham (and every body else) should pay attention to:
- Be really, really clear on who your audience is. This strategy can only work with a maniacal focus on who your customer is – and who it isn’t. I call this the first rule for creating demand: Know and understand your customers better than they know and understand themselves.
- Respect the audience. Make sure that the advertising you present to them is every bit as worthy of my attention as the journalism you are promising. Remember that your customer is your reader – not your advertiser. Too many media companies say this very thing, but then act in a completely different fashion. Don’t bombard me with data that doesn’t mean anything to me – if you do, I’ll stop paying attention and you’ll lose the very asset you are looking to monetize.
- Don’t take shortcuts (this is a subset of point 2). Allow the time it takes to create a new relationship with your readers – both old and new.
- Content is king. You are making a big promise – now keep it. Give me great journalism – and be a maniacal filter for me. Do those two things, and you will become must read.
I applaud Newsweek’s decision to focus on its core and to be great. I’m even thinking about getting a subscription.
What do you think? How can you apply Newsweek’s strategy to your business?
Nothing new in that headline – Seth Godin has been talking about it for years. A few months ago, I shared the opening to the Simpsons that had a great parody on the entire Apple phenomenon. Today, I came across another parody – this time of the iPhone. Watch it, it’s funny and informative.
Did you watch it? Here are my insights:
- It really nails the spirit of the iPhone an the iPhone brand. Whether you’re like me, who (devotee of the iPhone) or some of my friends (sick of devotees evangelizing the iPhone), this parody is spot on.
- It demonstrates just how powerful the Apple world is. You wouldn’t see a parody like this for Microsoft. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of Microsoft parodies, just not like this one. Why? Because a) it wouldn’t be funny, and b) people are not passionate about Microsoft.
- Most people (and the companies they lead) are afraid to be great because the very idea that someone would make a video like this and send it out for all to see scares them – they consider it a failure.
Here’s my task for you – what would you have to do in your industry that would be so remarkable that someone would make a video like this about you or your offering? Now, go make it happen.
I had a fascinating conversation with the CFO of one of our clients today. We were talking about whether all the recent news about the economy was indicative of a bottom, and if it were, what a recovery would look like.
I shared with him my insights that the biggest danger about the recovery is that while executives are intellectually acknowledging that this recovery will be different from any before, most of them are still acting as if the recovery will mirror past recoveries (albeit not as fast). My opinion is that the faster executives understand that tomorrow’s rules will have little to do with yesterday’s, the healthier their businesses will be.
Simply put, if you are expecting the same customers to buy the same stuff, you’re in for some heartache. If you’re expecting the pricing for your traditional offerings to rebound as the market recovers, you’re in for some bad news. If you’re expecting that the same thoughts, strategies and actions that led to results yesterday will lead to those same results tomorrow…well, good luck.
The most valuable commodity in the executive suite today is intuition and a willingness to experiment. Unfortunately, most suites are going heavy duty of rational thought, attempting to “think things through.” The only way to succeed today is to manage disruption – both the disruption you are bringing to the market and the disruptions that the world is bringing to you. This is not a new thought, by the way, as almost 20 years ago, Jack Welch of GE fame, said, “If the rate of change outside your organization is greater than the rate of change inside your organization, your organization is in trouble.”
The challenge is that it is a completely natural desire to bring rationality to the table. As a matter of fact, if you don’t “think things through,” it feels like you are more likely to miss something. Also, during the industrial age, managing processes was the critical success driver. Management requires rationale, linear thinking. Management is about dealing with the known.
Today, however, the keys to success are disruption and transformation. By their very nature, disruption and transformation eliminate the realm of certainty. When you take the thought approach designed to manage certainty and apply it to inherently uncertain stimuli, the natural result is paralysis and inaction.
The bad news today is that all the experience and the lessons you’ve learned in the past have very little correlation to your potential success tomorrow. The good news is that the future is completely yours, you no longer have to be limited by your past.
The choice you must make is whether you want to be paralyzed, or liberated, by this reality.
Your buyers don’t care about you.
Don’t take offense, it’s not personal. It’s just that they don’t really care about what year your business was founded, where you are from, and why you think you are different. They’re too busy worrying about themselves to care about that stuff.
Why am I writing this? Because today I was asked to review a presentation from a client who was complaining that their presentations “just didn’t seem to resonate,” and the client couldn’t understand because it was their best stuff.
How did the presentation start? You guessed it – with the client’s credibility story. But, it’s not just visual presentations where I see this. In my speeches about Creating Demand, I have the audience go through an elevator speech type exercise. 90% of the responses are some form a credibility or capability statement like:
We’ve got 35 years experience providing on-time delivery to manufacturers…
Look, I understand that you need to include this type of information (or at least think you do). If you are going to use it, save it for the end of your presentation – or better yet write it in story form and package it as a leave behind.
There are three problems when you start any presentation with this type of information:
- It’s boring
- Your competition has their own version of the same stuff, so it doesn’t demonstrate any difference, and
- It just adds to the noise.
A far better approach is to start off by provoking your customer/audience. How can you do this? Try one of these techniques:
- Lead off with the results you client is going to get
- Lead off by stating the problem your client is having – and state it better than the client could
Recent rumors have Apple in discussions to buy Twitter. If Steve Jobs is listening – STOP – DON’T DO IT!
Anyone who knows me knows that to say I’m a huge fan of Apple would be an understatement. Only Bruce Springsteen ranks higher on my raving fan ladder. I regularly use Apple as an example for how a company creates a Demand Creation Monopoly. The key to Demand Creation is focus, and so far as I can tell an acquisition of Twitter feels like it could only be a distraction. On the surface Apple has violated several rules of focus. Al Ries, in his recent book War in the Boardroom: Why Left-Brain Management and Right-Brain Marketing Don’t See Eye-to-Eye–and What to Do About It (which I highly recommend) takes Apple to task for this.
I’ve always disagreed with comments like this. I’ve felt that Apple’s focus has been on serving their core customer and making connections where they didn’t exist (computers to MP3 players to phones to stores). Recently when I took Starbucks to task, I bragged how Steve Jobs, when faced with a similar turnaround, told the world that Apple would get bigger by first getting smaller and then it would only grow from its core. A purchase of Twitter doesn’t follow this philosophy – it has nothing to do with Apple’s core customers or core value proposition. While Apple advocates certainly use Twitter (and for all I know, they be heavy users of Twitter), I just don’t see how it would align with what Apple fans desire from Apple.
The article about the rumor points out that one reason for this may be that Apple reportedly has $30 billion in cash built up and they need to do something with it. If buying Twitter is the best thing it can do with the money, then Apple may be saying that it’s run out of exciting things to create; and if that’s the case this may mark a precipitous decline for Apple (I hope not). Another reason for this may be that Apple is falling victim to its sins from the Jobs’ first go around – hubris. If they believe “they” can do anything, that is a clear sign of danger. I’m worried that Apple is getting bored. Whenver a company gets bored with its current playground trouble awaits. It’s a major obstacle for any creative executive, and it had been the cause of death of myriad small and mid-market companies.
It is my hope that this is just a rumor and that Apple will come to its senses and refocus on its core. If it turns out to be true, we will all be able to watch the unfolding of a case study.
I was having a conversation with my web consultant about how I could best utilize the variety of tools available as Imagine continues to build our platform and awareness in 2009. I commented to him, that while I certainly fall on the leading edge (though I wouldn’t say I’m an early adopter) of people utilizing online tools, my clients clearly are not. While I’m not certain, I bet that no more than 10% of my clients actually know what Twitter is – let alone understand why anyone would use it. It’s for this reason that, despite my personal interest in the subject, I’ve written very little about utilizing online tools – often called Web2.0 or social media (BTW, I detest both of these terms).
My opinion has been that my clients – the forward thinking small and mid-sized business executives I work with – didn’t need to focus on online issues per se, so long as they utilized effective growth methodologies. My philosophy has always been (and continues to be) to focus on results and don’t worry so much about what you call the process. While my philosophy hasn’t changed, my opinion about the need for fast growth executives to be aware of, and understand these particular tactics have.
“On line tools” have dramatically changed the landscape of competition and the expectations of customers. Today, buyers visit blogs and don’t know that they’re on a blog. Today, anyone who is dissatisfied can let the world know just how dissatisfied they are – and the record of that dissatisfaction never goes away. Today, people – buyers – are talking in ways that we could never have predicted even two years ago (I would have bet good, good money that my mom would never be on anything like Facebook). The fact is, if your business is not actively engaged in this conversation, it is highly likely that your business will become irrelevant.
The chart above illustrates the various levels buyers participate. The only type of buyer that is not impacted by this new world of “content marketing” are inactives – and if you’re entire market is made up of inactives it won’t be around for very long. Every other type of buyer participates. They may do so quietly or annonymously (Spectators), but rest assured they are participating and they are being influenced. So, whatever it is you sell, whever your market; if you haven’t started boning up on blogs, RSS feeds, communities, groundswells, twitter, etc. – you’ve got some catching up to do.
Earlier this week, we were working with one of our client’s sales reps to develop their sales strategy for an account. We teach a very effective structure for any sales presentation. The key to the presentation is to first focus on the results that your buyer desires (this is harder than it looks) and then to identify the barriers that are preventing your buyer from achieving those results. The more fully you identify the barriers, the more effective your sales presentation will be – as that is the key to your value creation. If you’ve clearly and fully identified the results and barriers facing your buyer, then selling is one of the most effortless pursuits there is (of course, the challenge is fully identifying the results and barriers). On the flip side, if you have not fully and clearly identified them, then selling can feel an awful lot like trying to breakthrough cellophane.
The rep we were working with made a very common mistake – he was confusing conditions with barriers. Most sellers, especially those that purport to be “solution selling,” sell to conditions rather than barriers. Commoditizing themselves even more. As a selling organization it is critical that you understand the difference between conditions and barriers.
- A condition is any circumstance or situation where a company finds itself. Some conditions are negative and some are positive.
- Barriers are the reasons that a company is unable to either a) overcome a negative condition, or b) increase the momentum from a positive condition.
For example, let’s say that ABC Company is looking to double its revenue over the next five years, while increasing its net margins by 10%.
So, you ask the barrier revealing question: “What is preventing you from getting there?” They respond:
- Poor sales effort.
- Ineffective management systems.
- Too concentrated in one area of business.
- Heavy competition.
Those four points are conditions – not barriers. That’s their self diagnosis; it’s what they are already aware of. If you begin “selling” to these conditions, you are no different than every other salesperson that is selling to them. Think about it for a moment – the mere fact that they’ve shared these four conditions with you proves a) they are already familiar with these issues, so addressing only them creates no value; and b) addressing only these issues will not solve the problem – if it would, your buyer would have already solved the problem. As a seller, your job – and the only way to truly and effectively differentiate yourself from the peddlers out there – is to dig deeper. That is what diagnosing is all about. The powerful questions should be focused on why the buyer has been unable to overcome those conditions.
If you’re thinking, “But they don’t know the answer to that question;” then you are on to something. Salespeople create value when they ask questions that buyers do not easily have answers for. Every time I speak about Creating Demand someone says to me, “But, Doug, there is nothing we can say that our competitors can’t also say – even if the competitor is not telling the truth.” And I agree with that sentiment. While there is nothing you can say that can make you radically different there is plenty you can do. And the first step of what you can do is to dig deeper and help your buyers understand their barriers.
Before I give you some examples of barriers, let me highlight two critical points. First, barriers are as unique and unlimited as there are companies out there buying and selling – these four conditions could have any of a thousand barriers. Second, the barriers that are uncovered are going to have a lot to do with what you are selling, or the “solution” you are providing. For example, the barriers I’d uncover would be very different from what an accounting firm would uncover, or any other company. That said, here are some potential barriers for ABC Company (from my perspective):
- Poor sales team structure
- Inadequate or misaligned compensation
- Poor messaging
- Diffuse value proposition
- Lack of accountability
- Poor offering
- Old offering
- Poor hiring/recruiting
I could go on and on. You know you’re addressing a barrier when it is clearly a cause for at least one of the conditions – and most likely for several of them. It’s a barrier when it directly relates to an action the company can take – or avoid. My job, as a salesperson is to have the conversation with the client to narrow potential barriers into a critical list of 3 – 5 that would have the greatest impact towards driving their results. When you do this, you are communicating with your buyers at a level that none of your competitors can. You begin to sell something wholly and completely different than your competitors. Price stops being the driving issue, because your buyer begins to understand through experience that you are different – and better. And that by paying a bit more they may actually solve their problems.
When I talk about Creating Demand or Conquering Growth Barriers, one of the ‘ah-ha’ and entertaining moments comes when I advise businesses to make their offerings a “prescription drug.” Long-time followers of mine have heard me talk and write about this concept several times.
For those not familiar, answer this questions – what is the obvious difference between a prescription drug and an over the counter drug? One needs to be authorized by a qualified professional while the other does not. The reason that some drugs need to be authorized is because of potentially harmful side effects that occur if the drug is not properly used.
You make your offering a “prescription drug” when answer the question, “what would go wrong, or what would fail to go right, if someone does not buy from you?” Then you focus your message and your approach on teaching your market about these consequences.
Today I was in Vancouver, speaking to a TEC Canada group of CEOs. As I was discussing the concept Making Your Offering a Prescription Drug™, one of the attendees asked a question that I think many people ponder (even if they don’t have to words to think about it consciously). He asked:
How do you teach potential buyers about the consequences without being overly negative or becoming a fear monger?
The answer is as simple as it is difficult to master – with a content development strategy. (If you’re interested in mastering content as a marketing driver check our Joe Pulizzi’s Junta 42 blog or read his book Get Content Get Customers.)
The reason that blogs, articles, white papers, seminars, and webinars (to name a few) are so powerful is because they allow sellers to demonstrate their expertise in a manner that creates value and educates at the same time. Committing to a content development strategy is challenging for four reasons:
- It’s time consuming – someone has to conceive, create, and package the content.
- It’s not a short-term strategy. Content increases in value as you create more content. That means that, typically, the least valuable content you create is the first piece. Early on the content does not drive meaningful results – but you can’t quit, you must stick with it.
- It’s hard to stay focused and not to stray. A solid content management strategy is like an effective political campaign – you must stay on message. And the reality is that it’s hard to stay on message.
- Creating content is almost never “urgent.” No one will notice, per se, if you don’t keep to a schedule. No one will notice the article you never wrote. The phone will ring; your employees and customers will interrupt you. You’ll have days where you just not motivated to create. But, you must do it anyway.
Despite this difficulty if you want your business to be anything other than a commodity selling organization – you must (I repeat MUST) implement a content strategy to support your business development efforts.
FINAL NOTE: Before you say it (or think it): when I say every business I mean every business. If you’re finding yourself thinking (to the effect), “well our business is different,” or “our buyers don’t read;” stop and reread the previous paragraph.