The other day I stumbled across a link to an article entitled, “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Customers to Understand Them Better.” Of course, you know I had to click on that article, which appeared on Andrew Hunt’s Inbound Sales and Marketing blog.
The minute I began reading I knew I was reading words that I had written. I quickly scrolled down to the “10 questions” – and there they were, the very same questions that I developed conducting thousands of customer interviews.
It’s a bad feeling when this happens, when your copy – especially copy that came from so many years of hard-earned experience – is staring back at you from a website or blog, and your name isn’t anywhere to be found.
In this case, the entire article was lifted directly from my book, Roadmap to Revenue. Unfortunately, this is the second time this has happened. Andrew had done the same thing with another article, last year, copying a sidebar from my book and making it look as if it were his own. In that instance, we had exchanged emails and talked on the phone; he assured me it would never happen again. But it turned out he had also copied my content and another author's content (Ardath Albee) and put it in one of his guides, without attribution.
There are some lessons here, which may help you. But first, let me just list my questions in this article, so there is no doubt that these are my questions, the very questions that have turned out to be so effective in helping my clients – and any company in any industry - determine the buying process of their customers.
These questions uncover not only the what and the how (which you can sort of glean from social media and metrics), but the WHY – which is the most important thing to know about your customers’ buying process. Knowing WHY makes it possible for you to reverse-engineer your successful sales and create new sales in quantity, while eliminating guesswork and pain from the entire marketing process.
Here are the questions, listed in Chapter 3 in my book:
- What do you think of our product or service?
- What problems were you trying to solve with our product/service?
- How did our product/service help you solve your problem?
- Have you had any interaction with customer service? How was it?
- If you were the CEO of [our company] tomorrow, what’s the first thing you would focus on?
- What was your buying process – what were the steps – and what questions or concerns did you have as you were considering our product/service?
- If you were looking for this type of product/service again, and you didn’t know about us, what would you type into Google?
- What to you think is a fair price for this product/service?
- What is your biggest challenge right now?
- What trends do you see with this kind of product/service (and in your own industry)?
- What do you think of our competition? Is there anything we can learn from them?
- Is there anything I should have asked you, that I didn’t ask you?
What to do if your content is ripped off
1. Take immediate action. I immediately tweeted the fact that my copy had been ripped off, in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. The article was dated a few days before; thankfully I found it fairly early. It’s important to establish that the infringement has been discovered.
2. Contact the infringer and copy your lawyer. I sent an email to Andrew, copying my lawyer, telling Andrew that I had found the article, that it was a direct copy, and to cease and desist.
3. Document the plagiarism. I built a spreadsheet, showing how the entire article was a direct rip-off, showing each paragraph in the article and the corresponding copy in my book. Here’s a link to the Google doc showing how the copy was lifted, word-for-word. As you will see, we’re not talking a vague, fuzzy infringement. It's blatant. I sent a second email to Andrew with this spreadsheet attached, again copying my lawyer.
4. Tell your followers, as I am doing now. Your own blog is always the best place to set the record straight in any of these types of situations.
Andrew responded to my "cease and desist" email, saying that they had done a search on the title to make sure they weren’t copying anyone’s writing:
We are putting the article under review, can you please provide the links to the content you deem it to be “word for word” copying of? Before any article is published we run a http://copyscape.com/ check to make sure that there is no similar content on the web. Here are the results for this search - [link to a search results screen, which is not reachable anymore, showing one non-relevant result].
But their search only covers the web – not books. So their method of “checking” generates an alibi. They aren’t checking where they know the copy came from. Not to mention blaming someone else when they get caught. This is serial plagiarism.
I know none of my readers would knowingly plagiarize. But in the rush to populate your site with as much content as possible, it’s tempting to make heavy use of outside ghostwriters. Assuming this is what really happened, as Andrew claimed in his next email, you can be putting your own reputation at risk. If your ghostwriter has no problems literally lifting copy from copyrighted materials, you are going to find yourself in an embarrassing and legally dangerous position.
As for Andrew, if he knew what he was talking about, he’d write it himself. I feel sorry for anyone who reads his blog and thinks they’ve found someone who can actually solve their problems. There’s a lot more to it than he’s plagiarized.
The big lesson? Write all of your copy yourself (meaning you and your employees), and hire vendors who wouldn’t dream of plagiarizing.
Update, June 7, 2012: Andrew Hunt has issued a formal apology on his blog, in an article entitled: The Scarlet Letter. Thank you, Andrew, for the apology. Accepted. - kz
Continuous interviews of buyers have convinced me that buyers have become so successful in creating their own "recommendation engine communities" that they are now able to learn just about everything they need to know about a product or service, without reading a single word of marketing copy or without talking to a salesperson.
In other words, customers are making marketing copy and salespeople irrelevant. In this article, I'll focus on the selling side.
Customers always hated talking with salespeople, but before the web, online reviews, and social media, they had no alternative. Now they can efficiently find people like themselves, with similar interests, who can steer them in the right direction. Marketers see social media tools as marketing tools; customers see them as their buying tools. And they are really getting good at using them.
They can search online, visit relevant sites, read blogs, watch videos, ask for advice from social media contacts, read reviews by other customers and journalists, ask questions – and get answers – in discussion groups, and more.
They trust the information they receive from these sources. They mistrust anything a salesperson tells them. They go to salespeople as a last resort, only after they have exhausted the other sources of information, and usually at the end of their buying process, when they only have a few very specific questions left to ask.
Am I saying that salespeople are obsolete? That buyers need something different than a “salesperson” in order to buy your prouct or service? Yes. I am.
What buyers really need and want are “Buyer Support Reps,” similar to Customer Support Reps, but for people who haven’t yet purchased a product.
These “BSRs” will hear out customers, asking appropriate questions to clarify what the buyer is trying to accomplish, what the buyer already knows, and what the buyer has already learned or done. They will find out which solution will be most suitable for the buyer: Bare bones, or deluxe? Do-it-yourself, assisted, or full-service? Older, good-enough model, or a current model that will do additional things that might be useful? Once they buyer’s needs and preferences are clear, the BSR will help the customer make an appropriate and regret-free decision.
Some companies, especially those selling tech products, already have BSRs. They just aren’t officially recognized as such, and they are often held in distain by the salespeople. But if you talk to a buyer who has worked with one of these people, you will hear how valuable they are.
Savvy buyers of tech products will try to get someone like this on the phone (telling the receptionist, if a human being answers the phone, that they have a “technical question,” in order to avoid being put through to a salesperson). The technical guy who takes the call gives the customer straight answers to their questions.
Buyer Support Reps should be knowledgeable, helpful, and not "hunters." They should be on salary, but should also get a bonus based on overall company revenue – so they are encouraged to work nicely with others in the company, and also less likely to push during the conversation with the customer. I would also suggest compensating the person in a way that ensures the customer will be happy in the end. The sale shouldn’t become eligible for a bonus payout until the person is satisfied with the product or service and happily using it.
The typical sales call – such a disappointment
Prospective customers don’t want to talk to someone who can’t answer questions, who ignores their questions, or who answers even though they don’t know what the true answer is. They want to talk to someone who patiently listens to their story – their whole story. Who asks intelligent questions. Who thoroughly understands, and only then starts presenting the options open to the prospect, including those that may not even include that company’s solution.
Salespeople think they do this, but they really don’t. They just listen until they hear a “trigger” word, then they launch, non-stop. Customers hate this.
Companies are still hiring aggressive, driven individuals who are out for the hunt, and compensating them for being aggressive. They are siccing these hunters on buyers who will turn to the alternatives if they are preyed upon.
Is hiring Buyer Service Reps rather than salespeople a risky move?
Not given the reality of how customers buy now. By the time a prospect talks to your Buyer Support Rep, that prospect has already decided that you are likely to have solution to his problem. He doesn’t have to be convinced that you might be right for him; he’s past that point. If you really can meet his requirements, he’s nearly ready to buy. Because it’s easy to buy from your company when he’s already on the phone, if your BSR completely satisfies all of the customer’s concerns, the customer is likely to buy at that moment – and not spend any more time on the buying process because the solution to his problem is right in front of him.
If your product is not a good solution to his problem, it’s better for the customer and the BSR to face up to this show-stopper during the inquiry call, rather than after he has made the purchase. If this same show stopper keeps coming up with other prospects, you have a major market opportunity staring you in the face. If you fix the show-stopper, then let folks know, you will develop a reputation as a responsive company, rather than a deceptive company whose products don’t work. Deceptions are no longer secret, isolated incidents. It won’t take long before plenty of other prospects hear about your customer’s disappointment, and avoid you altogether.
Should you get rid of your salespeople and start hiring Buyer Support Reps? No. You should first figure out if there is any way to turn your current salespeople into Buyer Support Reps, with retraining, more customer awareness, and intense, hands-on coaching. You should also consider repurposing someone who already works in your company who would make a good Buyer Support Rep.
Buyers don’t like interacting with salespeople. They need help from a different kind of person in order to make a decision. Buyers will buy from a Buyer Support Rep, because they will be getting the kind of help they need to make a good buying decision. They will assume that your quality of buyer support is a positive indication of what your after-sale support will be like.
It’s time to catch up to your buyers. The sooner you do, the more you will sell.
I answered the phone. The salesman was a little nervous. “I’m new at this,” he said, as I corrected the way he said my first name. I wasn’t bothered by him not pronouncing my name correctly, although it’s usually the last name that people butcher.
He launched into his pitch. I was somewhat interested in what he was selling (book cover and internal page design), so I started to ask him a few questions. For example, I wanted to know if they worked on ebooks, since that’s what I’m most interested in now. He wasn’t really able to answer; he brushed off my question with the classic evasion. “We can do anything,” he said. He then said he wanted to send me a brochure.
But I was beyond a brochure. I was already on the phone with him. I didn’t care about a brochure; I just needed him to start answering my questions.
Of course, in these situations, I always feel sorry for the salesperson, and endeavor to help them out. “OK, I’m interested. We’re on the phone now, and I have a few questions. Can you ignore the script for a minute and can we just have a conversation?”
I won’t bore you with the details, but the answer was no. He was irritated that I said this. He was determined to send me that brochure, and he was not interested in having a conversation. So I let it go, and went on with my day.
I got the brochure in the mail a few days later. I looked at the examples, and knew that the style was not right for the kinds of books I publish. I tossed the brochure.
The next morning, I got a call from the rep again. I retrieved the brochure from the round file, remembered why I had tossed it, and told him that I really didn’t think the style was right for me. “We can do any style,” he said, brushing off my objection.
He asked me about my future plans. I explained that I’m still focusing on promoting the current book, and it could be quite some time before I launched another. I explained that I just wasn’t a good prospect for him.
“So when should I call you back? A month or two?” Again reciting from his script.
I laughed. He had not heard me. He was so determined to follow his script, and so oblivious to anything I said, that the whole conversation was becoming ridiculous. I may as well have been talking to a machine.
I can’t remember what I said next; I wasn’t irritated, I was just trying to help him see how what he was doing wasn’t doing him any good.
Then he blew up. Not just a little blowup, but a full-scale, spitting rant. “I’m not stupid,” he said. He went on angrily, then concluded by saying that he wouldn’t bother me anymore, and hung up, just like that.
I thought about this for a while, as I did other work. I decided to call him back, to apologize. You may think I was crazy for doing this, because I was the customer, and this guy had just completely blown it. But it was obvious that he is in the wrong job. Maybe a fresh approach would help him.
No dice. He took the call, and asked, “Are you the person I just talked to and I ended the call rather abruptly?” "Yes," I said, thinking that was a very delicate way of describing what had just happened. “Well,” he said, “I believe that the customer is always right.”
It was a cliché, it was his way of trying to save face, and it was so silly, given what had he had just done.
Now I knew I was dealing with someone who was truly self-delusional. He was even lying to himself. I can’t help people who are lying to themselves. I’ve tried, and I’ve never been happy with the results. So I just let it go.
What lessons can we learn from this exchange?
1. Never, ever put a person on the phone who will get angry with your customers. This one guy is going to un-sell everyone he talks to. He will be this company’s most expensive salesperson, hands down. Testy, defensive people are the worst salespeople, and unfortunately they are more common than you would think. They are sweet to their bosses and snippy to customers. It’s the last sort of thing you need, considering that customers are totally bored with anyone selling them anything. They want answers, and they want the person who answers those questions to be pleasant, patient, and professional.
2. When you hire a new salesperson, listen to their calls. First several calls a day, then several calls a week. Find a way to “walk past” as they are calling, if they are in a nearby office or cubicle. If they even come close to this extremely negative example, fire them pronto. No company can afford to have someone being this negative with customers.
3. Make sure your salespeople know that they should NOT stick to the script if the customer is expressing the tiniest bit of interest. Once the customer even hints that they might be interested, it’s time to switch into conversation mode, and ditch the script. The salesperson should answer the customer’s questions, honestly and intelligently, and assist the customer in finding the best solution to their problem. This is BIG, by the way. Salespeople are always encouraged to stick to their script, which is a huge mistake, because truly interested customers - people who would really want to buy - need someone who will do just the opposite.
4. Listen for desperation. If you’ve set up your salesperson to make calls, and they have a process they’re following, and it’s not working, don’t force them to just keep beating their head against the wall. Change what they are doing.
In my next post, I’m going to talk about whether we need salespeople at all, or if we should be hiring a completely different kind of person to help the customer make a purchase. Stay tuned…
As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently hired someone I trusted to interview my own clients and book buyers about my methods, to make sure I was doing as good a job as possible. What I learned will help you understand why this is such a valuable exercise.
But first a confession: Even though I truly believe in this method – interviewing your current customers to sell more effectively to future customers – I still experienced the exact same natural resistance to the exercise that my own clients always feel.
As the process proceeded, there was a part of my brain that kept asking, “Why am I paying to have this done? I talk to my clients every day. I constantly interview book buyers and speech attendees. What could I possibly learn that I don’t already know?”
I was also tempted to go ahead with new marketing initiatives before getting the results of the research, just because my team and I had what felt like great ideas, and we wanted to try them out, just like all the other fools who blow their marketing budget because they didn’t do their homework first.
Yes, even I had those thoughts. The laugh is on me. Enjoy yourselves.
Now for the epiphany.
Reading through what people told the interviewer – reading the thoughts of my own beloved clients and readers - I realized something about THEM. They all had one thing in common:
They are good people. And, they are good people by choice.
Jerks choose to be jerks at a young age. I know this. But I was also reminded that good people also choose to be good people, in spite of all the pressures on them to behave in a jerky way.
In order to get ahead, jerks manipulate. Jerks lie. Jerks back stab. Good people, on the other hand, choose to be honest and hard-working as they strive to be successful. They choose to be humble; and to be kind. To everyone, and not just when it can benefit them.
I should tell you that I already “sort of” knew this, because I don’t work with jerks. But “sort of” knowing is not the same as having data that I can be certain of, data that leads to the correct decisions about how to market the book and the method.
Good people read my book, adopt the method, and/or come to me for coaching because they know I am not a self-serving manipulator. They hate manipulators. Before they find me, they had already painfully discovered that the majority of my “competitors” in the marketing/selling consulting field are nothing more than manipulators. Just last weekend I was watching a video by a very famous marketing expert, out pitching his latest CD bundle, who was referring to his customers as a “herd,” and showing them clumped together in a corral on his slide.
His get-filthy-rich message appeals to a other jerks, but it’s a real turn-off for the kind of person I work with. When they read what I’ve written, or talk to me, they breathe a sigh of relief. They know they have discovered a pathway to increased revenue that does not depend on manipulation. And they are glad. They are anxious to get started.
My clients and readers are solid citizens, who have built their companies – some very small, and some much larger – sticking to their core values. They take good care of their customers and employees and partners. They play fair. They tell the truth, in all circumstances. They try to keep their companies as jerk-free as possible. They are grownup Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, striving to contribute to society and make a difference.
The information I gather in the interviews I do for them gives them the knowledge to take the right steps with conviction and make the improvements they need to make, so their employees and customers will be happy, without having to resort to a single bit of jerkiness.
My own dog food taught me a valuable lesson. It made me realize what my clients and readers have in common, in a way that I didn’t pay much attention to before – even though I am incredibly close to them individually.
Frankly, this is priceless information. Those of us running companies, those of us with the entrepreneurial mindset, will run like crazy when we know where we are going and why we are going there. This process did that for me. My convictions have been reinforced and I am re-energized. I know what I’m fighting for, what I want for my clients and readers (and their customers), and what we’re all trying to do.
Somehow it doesn’t seem right to call it dog food anymore.
Oh, come on! Just make the buying decision already, the salesperson is thinking. What on earth is taking you so long?
Experience, that's what. Buyers have been disappointed so often that they are determined not to be disappointed by you. Salespeople have told them, "No problem," and whatever it was turned out to be a BIG problem. Websites have promised, "easy to use," and the product ended up being infuriatingly unintuitive and didn't do what it was supposed to do.
When it comes to being fooled, customers have "been there, done that."
Today's customers are aggressively trying to avoid buying mistakes. Because of the tools available to them now, they believe that if they dig hard enough, they should be able to find the "gotchas" and avoid making a regrettable purchase. Even a simple Google search using "[name of product] problem" can often help them discover a product's weaknesses prior to purchase.
Customers can also easily read (and watch) agenda-free advice from other buyers; this is the first place most buyers turn now when investigating a purchase. They read reviews online and they also consult with others in discussion groups and social sites.
Because customers now have this ability, they studiously ignore the vague, dismissive claims of salespeople and the enthusiastic, positive copy they read on websites.
That is why "selling" is dead. Thorough investigation has taken its place, and high time. Even impulse purchases such as candy bars are being subjected to a careful reading of ingredients by customers hoping to avoid bad-for-you ingredients.
Customers have absolutely no desire to sit through a canned pitch made by someone who can't answer specific questions about the product or service. By the time the customer is to the point where they are ready to talk to your company, they are well beyond the boilerplate pitch. They have very specific questions, and they want honest answers to those questions. They want the salesperson to be able to say, "We don't do that the way you described it. However, you could accomplish it by doing this, this, and this."
I am now recommending to clients that they focus on "educating" rather than "selling." Their current salespeople should be able to answer those very specific customer questions. The company must provide in-depth resources for their salespeople. The salespeople who don't want to make the effort to learn what they must to answer those questions need to be replaced with people who will learn.
Customers won't accept anything less than a helpful, informative discussion. If you deliver that, they are most likely to buy from you. If not, they will definitely find a way to take their business elsewhere.