I just finished interviewing a very smart customer for one of my clients. He’s a high-level manager in a tech company, a buyer of my client’s business services.
During the interview, he explained how there were always two forces working against my client’s services: the comparable cost of accomplishing the same services in-house, and the fact that this customer is constantly pitched by competitive firms.
Every so often, his own manager comes in and asks, “Are you still getting value for your money?” The customer is expected to have proof at his fingertips when that happens. He wants to be able to say, “Yes, they accomplished X last quarter for Y dollars. If we tried to do the same thing in-house, it would have cost us Z more.” Or, “Yes, last month they figured out how to improve on the automated portion of this process, and now we are getting that part done twice as fast, with fewer bugs. They also told us about a new tool they’re using with other clients, and we’ve decided to add some new services to the contract.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? If the customer was able to say these things to his boss, my client would be able to keep this customer for a long time.
The problem is, my client isn’t reporting on their successes, or coming up with new tools and processes that the customer would love to benefit from. My client’s people are just doing the work, and since they’ve had this client for several years, they assume the client is happy and all is well.
My client has two problems - and an opportunity.
1) They are in danger of losing this steady business. The value that my client is providing is not strong enough to overcome the pressures his customer is feeling - to bring the business in-house, to prove to his boss that he is doing the right thing, and to keep him from being tempted by aggressive competitors. There are always other ways to accomplish something. A client who has signed up for a service always keeps an eye on the alternatives - which runs contrary to the typical company view of the situation, which is that “we’ve won the business, now we can focus on getting new clients.”
2) They could be generating additional revenue from their existing clients. It’s always cheaper and easier for you to sell new services to an existing client than it is to find a new client.
No one likes being “sold to.” Someone excitedly gabbing about something that has no appeal is not pleasant for the recipient, nor is it profitable for the gabber. But existing customers are more than happy to hear about new techniques, best practices, aggregate/anonymous data about what other customers are doing, and to discuss how those ideas and tools can be applied to their situation. They like it when someone who knows them is thinking about things that could help them, things that would make them more effective and respected.
Of course I am now going to focus on these issues with my client. Not only will the client be more likely to keep this customer, but after we make these new services work for the one client, we’ll be able to apply the model to additional clients. Revenue will go up.
Are you ignoring your current customers? Could you be offering them interesting and helpful information that would help them, and that would lead them to invest even more in your products and services? Could you be teaching them or treating them to tips and trends? Could you be establishing your company as a thought leader, separating yourself even further from your competition in your customers’ minds? Have you ever considered putting someone in charge of this kind of program?
For a good example of helpful content, sign up for Eloqua’s “It’s All About Revenue” newsletter/blog.
It is possible to increase your revenue by a nice margin, in just a few months, doing this sort of thing with your current customers. Interview them first, but don’t even bother doing this if you’re just going to talk “at” them instead of “with” them (see Chapter 3 of my book, Roadmap to Revenue, for specific interviewing instructions). If you really do take the time to listen - to understand their goals and needs - you will be able to come up with solutions that they will be more than happy to pay for.
You definitely have customers, right now, wondering why you’re not “sellling” them more of what they need. Are you going to ignore them?
CEOs and entrepreneurs tend to pay very little attention to the customer’s experience, as I mentioned in a recent article about Steve Jobs. They focus on product development, managing the people, business relationships, regulations, financials, and marketing. And yet, it is the customer’s experience that causes customers to recommend a company or warn others to stay away. It is the biggest sales driver or sales deterrent associated with the company. In this article, the last in our 4-part series, we answer the question, “How do customers want to be treated?” Here are Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy), Part 2 (How Customers Choose A Product), and Part 3 (How Customers Want to Be Contacted), for the late arrivers.
If I were to ask you about a recent experience you had as a customer, dealing with a company, you’d have plenty to tell me about that experience. You’d remember how easy it was to contact the company, and whether a human being answered the phone or you were cast into voicemail hell. You’d be able to tell me if you got your questions answered, or, if there was a problem after the purchase, exactly how they handled it. Even if I asked you these questions a year later, you’d probably have a pretty good memory of all that had happened.
The experience you had as a buyer would guide your decisions in the future. You’d be more likely or less likely to do business with that company again, to recommend them, or to tell others to steer clear.
What you say to others considering the company has much more impact than any marketing copy that the company generates. Nobody trusts marketing copy, but they do trust other customers.
Given this buyer reality, you would think that CEOs and entrepreneurs would obsess about how their customers are treated. They’d call their own 800 numbers. They’d hire secret shoppers. They’d conduct after-sale interviews to find out how things went and how they could be improved. They’d tell their employees and partners what they learned, and what everyone was going to do to improve.
They’d treat their customer service department as an early warning system, alerting them to issues that were starting to give the company a black eye. They’d aggressively investigate those situations until they understood exactly what had happened, from the customer’s perspective (not the watered-down, bad-things-left-out versions that they got from employees playing CYA). They’d figure out how to make it right, not only for the customer(s) with problems, but to keep that problem from occurring again.
I wish I could say that this sort of diligence is common, but it is not. In fact, it is virtually non-existent. It’s the furthest thing from the minds of the leadership team. They are more likely to bring in a consultant to teach them how to play nice with each other than they are to focus on the customer’s experience.
This is a big mistake, now that unhappy customers are no longer forced to suffer in silence. They can send a 140-character rant out to thousands of people in seconds - while they are still hopping mad. They can post a scathing, detailed diatribe on the very same page where the product is being sold.
Social and review platforms have given any customer the power to run into any virtual store, anywhere in the world, and start yelling, “These people screwed me! Don’t do business with them! Run away! As fast as you can!”
Company managers are deaf and blind to all this; it’s happening far away from their well-insulated conference rooms. And they will never get the real story from their own people; by the time that sort of thing gets to the executive suite, the report on the yelling-in-the-store customer would read, “There was a minor disturbance in one of our stores, but it only lasted a few seconds, and order was immediately restored.”
How do customers want to be treated? The same way you expect to be treated, when you’re the customer: Courteously, kindly, effectively, and efficiently.
Your customers expect to be treated as what they are: the company’s most precious resource. The best source of revenue-producing intelligence, and the only source of revenue.
Contrary to popular belief, customers are not unreasonable. Sure, every so often, a jerk will show up who makes life difficult for everyone. But on the whole, customers expect what is reasonable for a company like yours to provide. They expect you to understand what they need - as it relates to your product or service - and that you will do your level best to provide it.
The fastest way to determine if you are treating your customers the way they want to be treated is to interview 5 - 10 customers, by phone, asking the tested-in-thousands-of-interviews questions I list in my book, Roadmap to Revenue. You will not only find out what you should be doing better, but you will also finally KNOW what is important to your customers.
If you are really determined to delight your customers, you can then conduct an eye-opening experiment. Ask the people in your company to tell you the top 5 things that matter to customers. Compare that list to the results of your customer calls. The lists will be different. They always are. (Imagine what that means to the daily decisions and activities going on in your company - and how far those decisions/activities are from your customer's reality!)
Then take the customer's list, and turn it into a survey for your employees and customers. Take the top 5 things that customers expect from you, and ask, on a scale of 1 - 5, how well the company meets those expectations, via an online survey. The difference between how your employees grade your company on those issues, and how customers grade your company, will be eye-opening.
Embrace what you learn from these fast but effective methods. Get the issues fixed, whatever it takes, because those issues are currently sapping your company of revenue you should be bringing in.
This ends our series on how customers decide to buy, how customers choose a product, how customers want to be contacted, and how customers want to be treated. If you understand where your customers are coming from in all of these areas, you will be miles ahead of your competition, and your sales will increase. One of the nicest things about customers is how willing they are to reward you when you give them what they want. They will look for excuses to buy from you again, and they will enthusiastically recommend you to other customers.
The majority of CEOs and entrepreneurs still think that yesterday’s aggressive, cold-calling, hard-sell methods are still working. The truth is, using these tactics is more likely to irritate and repel your customer than to make them want to buy from you. How do customers want to be contacted? We answer this question in Part 3 of our 4-part series debunking common marketing and selling myths. If you arrived late to the party, here are Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy) and Part 2 (How Customers Choose a Product).
You just sat down to dinner. Your phone rings. You answer it, and a motor-mouth, angry-sounding recorded voice starts yelling in your ear, telling you that “you have been chosen,” or that “your credit rating may be in danger,” or that “[So-and-So Candidate] has an urgent message for you!” Click. Back to dinner.
Who on earth are they selling to? Forrest Gump? Someone who will patiently wait through the entire message, and then innocently give his credit card information to a call-out-of-the-blue telemarketer? It’s hard to believe there are people that gullible left in the world.
Most people find these pre-recorded, loud-mouth calls to be irritating, intrusive, and unconvincing. The chances of anyone responding positively to this kind of in-your-face approach are very slim indeed. But even the less-intrusive cold calls are not welcome, according to the customers I interview for my clients. They are all saying that they do not want to be contacted this way, and that they will even avoid doing business with any company that does contact them using these outdated methods.
Many marketers would prefer to use less intrusive, more sophisticated methods to contact customers, which is good. But whatever method they use, they always want the method to result in a fuller pipeline and higher conversions. That is the whole point of what they do, after all.
Too bad your customer doesn’t care about your pipeline. The customer is only interested in whatever the customer is interested in, and ignores everything else. He doesn’t mind being contacted, but it better be relevant. That means, at the very least, that you better know what they’re interested in.
How do you find this out? You ask them, via phone conversations, as I describe in my book, Roadmap to Revenue. The best questions for finding out what interests them is to ask, “What are your biggest challenges right now?” And, “What are your goals?” If you ask them properly, they will tell you what they’re struggling with, which tells you what they will want to hear about. Ask this of your customers, whose challenges are similar to your prospective customers.
What if you’re trying to introduce a new product to a new market? Then you need to find prospective customers and ask them the same questions. Their answers won’t be as helpful, because they haven’t actually gone through the buying process with you, but you will still be further from “guessing” and closer to “knowing” than you would have been if you had not asked.
You’ll also need to know where they would expect to find this information. “What sources do you depend on for information?” is the right question to ask. “Do you use social channels at all? Do you subscribe to any newsletters or participate in any groups?” “If we had new information on that subject, would you like to hear about it? What would be the best way?”
Answers to these questions will ensure that you don’t waste a lot of time, energy, or resources on off-target content and channels. You will be contacting them in the manner they prefer, with information they will find interesting. You will also contact them as frequently as they prefer, so that they continue to look forward to your content, are not irritated by too many messages, and so you don’t look desperate.
How often you contact them depends partly on the nature of the industry you’re in. For example, companies selling to marketing people assume that marketers are constantly searching for new methods, and are eager to see what others in their profession are doing. Daily, meaty-but-short contact would not be unwelcome. On the other hand, a design engineer would become irritated by daily contact; it would be more appropriate to send something once a month.
When you send the information or post it, it’s best to be as un-salesy as possible. The subject line should describe exactly what they will find in the email or article, and the content should be instructional or educational, not a pitch.
People pay attention to things that matter to them. If you think you know what matters to them, you’ll be doing what everyone else does - irritating them with useless information. If you find out what matters to them specifically, you will be able to make sure your content addresses those concerns, in a relevant way.
Ask your current customers the questions I describe in Roadmap to Revenue, in chapter 3, and you will know exactly how to proceed.
Next article in this series:
How Customers Want to Be Treated: Debunking Common Marketing Myths - Part 4 of 4
As a buyer, you know precisely how you want to be treated. As a seller, you’re guessing how buyers want to be treated - and your assumptions are surely getting you into trouble. Here’s how customers want to be treated - and how to make sure you’re meeting those expectations. I will post the last article in this series November 29, 2012.
Interviewing thousands of customers about their buying process has convinced me that while the buyer is attempting to buy something he wants, he is also determined to see through any deception or manipulation. Sellers are often convinced by gurus that manipulation is the right way to increase sales; it is a strategy that directly contradicts one of the buyer’s main goals: “I will not be fooled.” Here is Part 2 of a 4-part series, in which we examine how customers choose a product or service. Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy) is here, if you haven’t read it yet.
Once buyers have developed a need, they begin their buying process. They go online and do their research, and/or ask around. But just knowing that buyers go online, and having a website and a social presence, is not enough to ensure the buyer will choose you. You need to know specifically what matters to your customers as they attempt to buy from you.
Here are the things you need to know, which you can find out using the customer interviewing method I teach in my book, Roadmap to Revenue.
What’s the “gating factor”? When I interview customers for my clients, they always tell me about a requirement that must be met in order for them to consider buying that particular product or service. For example, I am interviewing clients for a website development firm. All of their customers have invested heavily in a particular content management system (CMS). If they were to look again for a website developer, they would start by only looking at firms that specialize in that content management system. They want a developer who knows their CMS inside and out - the nooks and crannies, the pitfalls, and best practices. That is their gating factor.
My website development client knew that content management systems played a role in the buying process, but they didn’t see it as a gating factor. Their current website mentions content management systems, but it’s one item buried in a long list of qualifications. If they want to attract more buyers like their current customers (and they do), they will showcase their CMS expertise front and center. A buyer coming to their site will see this right away, and my client will jump to the top of the buyer’s short list.
Can they trust you? Customers engage in dozens of buying processes every week. When they come to a website, they either think, “Whoa - this site is very confusing and looks unprofessional. I’m working too hard to figure out what they’re selling, and how the product or service might help me. They really haven’t got their act together.” Click. Back to the search results. Or, they think: “These folks look successful and professional. They understand me. They’re making it easy for me to get my questions answered. I like them.”
If you pass this first test, the very next question is, “Who are these people?” They will go to your About section and look for pictures of the leadership team. They want to look in your eyes. If there are no pictures, they will be less likely to continue, since you have refused to answer a very important question.
What do your own customers say about you? Customers don’t give much weight to seller messages anymore. They talk directly to each other. What your current customers are saying about you will either help you sell more - or drive away business. If you know what they’re saying about you, and you have a bad reputation in one area, you can immediately fix what is broken, then communicate those improvements to current and potential customers. That way, when asked, your current customers can say, “They used to be weak in this area, but they’re much better at that now.”
Will you do what you promise? They’ve already heard all the promises - thousands of times. There are really only a few selling promises, anyway: “You’ll be happy/fast/successful/skinny/smart/sexy/rich if you buy our stuff.” Your competitors are making the same promises as you are, in slightly different ways. That’s why it is so important to interview existing customers to find out specifically why they chose you. They will tell you the exact words and phrases they say to others, when asked why you’re special. These concepts - real customer vocabulary - will ring true for your prospective customers, and should be used in your marketing copy. They are golden.
And remember, as I say in my book: “Branding is the promise that you make; your brand is the promise that you keep.” It’s what you do that matters. That’s what people tell each other about you. What you do is more important than ever, in an age when customers can easily talk to each other.
Are your prices fair? People don’t object to paying a fair price. But they really hate being taken advantage of. If any of your product reviews say, “Not worth the money,” you’re losing more sales than you can imagine. In your interviews, ask them: “Do you think our prices are fair?” Interestingly, if you include the “fair” word, they will tell you the price they would be willing to pay, and it will include a decent profit margin. If you were to ask them, “What would you like to pay?” their answer will not include a profit margin. This is just one of the reasons you’ll want to ask the questions I have tested and described in my book, Roadmap to Revenue, How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy.
As you can see, we haven’t mentioned the actual product or service very much. That’s because people will avoid buying a product - even one with a good list of features - if you don’t pass all these other tests.
Most managers pay very little attention to these non-product factors, because they don’t realize how important a role these factors play in their customers’ decisions. They lose sales every day, without knowing it, because the customer came, looked, and went away - all without contacting the company.
Interviews of just five to ten customers can answer these questions. You’ll know exactly what you should be doing to make it easy for potential customers to decide to buy from you. Roadmap to Revenue spells out the simple method that will do the best job of extracting this essential information.
Next article in this series:
How Customers Want to Be Contacted: Debunking Common Marketing Myths - Part 3 of 4
Companies launch campaigns with the goal of filling the pipeline. But customers don’t care about your pipeline, nor do they respond positively when your contact methods irritate them. Here’s how to make sure you approach them the way they want to be approached. I will post the next article Wednesday night, November 21.
Sales and marketing gurus assiduously spread the self-serving myths that you can manipulate a customer into buying; that you can create the need; that it’s all about “persuasion” and “conversion.” CEOs and entrepreneurs can be fooled by these myths, to their great detriment. Interviewing thousands of customers about their buying process has thoroughly convinced me that very few buyers are susceptible to deception and manipulation. Everybody is wise to it. This is the first of a 4-part series debunking these damaging myths and setting the record straight. First we will focus on how customers decide to buy.
A need arises. One minute, the customer does not have a need. The next minute, he does. Something breaks. He runs out of something. He suddenly has a physical or emotional desire that he didn’t have before. Or, someone else says or does something that generates the need. He needs to accomplish or participate in something, and he can’t do it without a particular tool, equipment, software, method, clothing, ingredient, or raw material.
Yes, he might have seen an ad or tweet about something new, but he wouldn’t pay any attention to it whatsoever if he didn’t have an existing interest in the product or service.
Products succeed because they meet a real need the customer has. The innovation comes in how the need is met; but the need was already there.
Once the customer’s need arises, the buying process begins. It is shaped by:
- The degree of urgency
The buying “tools” available
The buyer’s previous experience
How well the seller passes the buyer’s selection tests
The Degree of Urgency
A buyer’s need can be urgent, unhurried, or periodically recurring. We see these pace variations in our own buying behavior. The pace of any purchase is dependent on how badly we want it, how soon we need it, and whether we can afford it now or could wait until we can.
Sellers fail when they are out of step with their buyers. If the customer is not in a hurry, and the seller is, the buyer will be put off by the seller’s pushiness. If the customer is in a hurry, and seller is not, the buyer will go with a more motivated seller. The customer will assume that the seller’s “I don’t give a ****” attitude will permeate all of the things that would be important to the buyer, such as: the product’s quality, available supplies, service, documentation, and shipping and return policies.
If you are selling a “high-scrutiny” product or service, your buyers are usually unhurried, or at least very thorough. Your salespeople will be accustomed to a long sales cycle. However, these days, buyers are quite able to investigate their options and contact others who are already dealing with the company and its products, all before they contact a salesperson. By the time they contact a salesperson, these buyers are near the end of their buying process. They just want to resolve a few remaining issues.
The salesperson often doesn’t pick up on this near-readiness to buy, and will literally drag the buyer back to the beginning of the sales process. Big mistake. The buyer has been there, done that, and has no intention of reliving it. The buyer will resist, the salesperson will persist, and the buyer will bail out.
Salespeople need to be trained to immediately recognize where the buyer is in the buying process, and help the buyer to proceed from that point forward.
The Available Tools
Sellers tend to think of each new channel - the web, search, social media - as marketing tools. But they are really buying tools.
The most revolutionary thing that has happened to buying and selling is that buyers can easily find and contact “more buyers like me.” They can learn what those who have already bought have to say; they can contact other potential buyers directly via social channels; and, they can read blogs written by impartial reviewers. Marketing messages are no longer the “only” way that a buyer can learn about a product; in fact, marketing messages are mostly ignored because more trustworthy sources now exist.
These buyer discussion tools are social environments. There are standards of behavior. Sellers are expected to respect the buyers gathered there. If a seller steps over the line, he will be shunned by the buyers. For example, buyers can smell a fake review a mile away, and will assume that everything else the seller is saying is also a lie.
Failing to understand how buyers are using the new tools to make decisions can have a catastrophic effect on your business. The only way to find out how to successfully participate in these environments is to ask your current customers how they would expect or like you to participate, which I explain how to do in my book, Roadmap to Revenue.
I’m currently in the market for a MiFi device. I know what I want: compact, unlocked, reliable, and fairly priced broadband that I can use in a number of countries. The problem is, I’ve used every cellular company’s data plans and devices at one point or another, and I dislike them all. I have personally found T-Mobile to be more helpful, flexible and reliable, but their long-term prospects are in doubt. And we are all angry about the “slowing down your signal” policy that all of the phone companies have instituted with their cellular plans.
I am not alone. There is no such thing as a virgin customer. We all have been led down the primrose path and disappointed many times.
Most marketing copy is breathless and glowing, written as if customers are new to the game. The disparity between the buyer’s reality and the marketer’s disregard of it makes buying tedious and distasteful for the buyer.
Marketers who actually interview their current customers before they write copy will understand who their customers are, how smart they are, and what their experiences and reactions have been. The resulting copy aimed at prospects - whose issues are the same - will be in sync with the buyer’s reality, and will answer all but the most arcane questions.
How Well the Seller Passes the Buyer’s Selection Tests
When the buyer first interacts with the seller’s content or salesperson, the tests begin.
Does this site look professional? Can I easily find what I’m looking for? Does the content (or salesperson) answer my questions? What do others think of this seller? How has the seller treated them? How has the product performed? Can the seller be trusted?
The answers to these questions either encourage the buyer to continue, or convince him that he will find a better solution to his needs elsewhere.
You will sell more if you understand - and don’t assume - how your customers decide to buy. What makes them suddenly want your product or service? It’s always a very specific trigger. You need to know what those triggers are. They don’t just wake up one day thinking, “I want to be more productive. I think I’ll look for a way to do that.”
It’s expensive to assume; it’s very easy to stop assuming. Ask your current customers - who think exactly like your prospective customers - using the proven method I teach in Roadmap to Revenue.
The next article in this series:
How Customers Choose a Product or Service: Debunking Common Marketing Myths - Part 2 of 4
The “non-product” factors play more of a role than you can imagine, a fact that most company managers ignore - to their detriment. We cover what these factors are and how to make sure you address them to the buyer’s satisfaction. I will post this article Wednesday night, Nov 14.