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November 13, 2018

Sales and Marketing Advice

Learn the benefits of your business - from your audience's perspective

Ron Stein | 10/29/2018

Walt Disney once said, “We are not trying to entertain the critics. I’ll take my chances with the public.” He was playing to his audience and you should too.

In every company there’s an abundant amount of opinions on how to grow business flying back and forth. Healthy discussions are vital and all ideas should be welcomed. This seems right, but how’s that working for you?

Here’s the deal, what you think about your product or business isn’t as important as what your audience believes. Failure to listen to clients is a risk no business should ever take.

Many years ago, when I was working as a sales manager at a Fortune 500 company, a young engineer learnt a hard lesson about risky assumptions. During one of our product development update meetings he blurted out, “We did it! After five months of development, the TN3270 protocol converter multiplexer works and you can begin selling it.”

Say what?! This was news to me; not because it worked, but I had no clue this equipment was in the works. It wasn’t on our product road map and I had never authorized it. Oy, such a waste of valuable engineering resources!

I simply said too bad, because the salespeople would not sell it -- there was no market for it and I would not approve its addition to the sales book, much less allocate the resources needed to create literature, place it on our website, or train the salesforce.

He and his team were forging ahead without listening to their clients: the sales and marketing department. They had their opinions; I had the facts.

It turns out that my team looked at this idea about ten months earlier and after speaking to a multitude of customers, there was virtually no market for it. Even though the engineer was visibly upset, I calmly moved on to the next topic of discussion. Yes, I had some choice words for his boss after the meeting.

Here are some practical ideas that should help shake up – and focus -- the thinking at your business.

Listen like a startup. It’s just too easy to think your company knows what’s best for the customers that keep you in business. Successful entrepreneurs learn to test the market before going too far. This is a lesson for all companies of all sizes. Go ask. The rule of thumb we use for startups is to contact 100 people to discover and listen. Not to sell anything -- only search for reality and avoid fatal mistakes. You should too, even if you speak with only thirty-seven people who fit your ideal customer profile. It’s all about discovery from you audience’s perspective. Facts, not opinion please. Some organizations are consumed by the “genius” of their idea -- don’t be this company.

Discover, don’t provoke. Let’s be clear here; this is a process of unearthing the what and why of a potential buyer’s situation. Things like their existing needs, buying patterns, pain points, needs and goals. You are not trying to challenge the customer or change their mind in any way. And you are certainly not selling your product or service! Yet, you should always probe a little deeper to understand the thought processes and logic behind their answers. What’s the process to acquire products and why? What sources do they rely on to find solutions and why? What influences their decision and why? What the best part of the product they now use and what would they change, and why? Is what they do today paying for itself and by how much – why/why not? You’ve got the idea. Tailor your question to your needs; which markets to attack first, how to position your business, which promotional activities will work best, or what features your new product should have.

Never ask what they want. Well, this would make life a lot easier. Yet, imagine what would have happened if in 1929 the Northern Pacific Railroad asked their customers what they wanted. More than like they would have heard things like cheaper fares, less stops, more comfortable seats, and better dining options. Instead, in that same year a crop-dusting company named Huff Daland Duster saw that there was a possible market for passenger service and test the idea—the then renamed itself Delta Air Service, Now Delta Airlines. The Northern Pacific only could see itself as a railroad company while Delta realized it was a transportation company. The Northern Pacific ended operations in 1970. When you ask a person what they want, you allow them think within the realm of today’s possibilities.

Effective questions get people to open up. That’s how you’ll discover what’s best for your marketing, sales materials, and even new product or services – because it’s best for your customers.

Discover what your audience is trying to get done, how they currently do this, and what would make life better.

Muhammad Ali said, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." That’s great advice for companies with no shortage of ideas. Find out what’s relevant you audience’s situation. Be agile, willing to discover, and then strike quickly.

Ron Stein is founder of More Customers Academy, helping business leaders build strategic messaging and positioning that cuts through the competitive noise to grow revenue. Ron has developed his own highly successful 5-step Stand Out & Sell More approach to winning new customers as a result of his twenty-five years of business development, marketing, and selling experiences. He works with a range of businesses, from startups to large corporations across industries including technology and healthcare, manufacturing, and financial services and banking. Ron conducts workshops, leads company meetings, offers keynote talks, and consults. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or by email.

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