If you stopped reading EVERYTHING you read about marketing and sales, and spent that time over the next two weeks interviewing your customers, you'd be so far ahead, you would barely be able to contain your joy and enthusiasm.
I know, because I do this for my clients, and that's what happens to them. I just did this for a big organization and several very small ones. In each case, the CEOs, partners, managers, and VPs were flabbergasted and thrilled, all at the same time.
"Now we know what to do!"
"Oh, wow - no wonder that wasn't working!"
"Finally - direction. This is so helpful."
"This is priceless stuff."
The eyes open. The fog lifts. The uncertainty vanishes. The pride swells, although it is tempered with the humiliation of all those things that seemed so important, which turn out to be unimportant - or even an impediment to growth.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, can take the place of the advice that your own customers can give you. They went to all the trouble (and it was more trouble than you can possibly imagine) to find you, figure out what you're selling, and buy from you. They are now experiencing your company, products, and services.
They have plenty to say about how you presented yourself, what actually happened, what they wish would have happened, what the tradeoffs were in their minds as they were considering you, why they bought from you after all, and what they are now telling others about you. Yep, that's priceless stuff, stuff that sends you running in the RIGHT direction.
I make a point of keeping up on the latest advice dished out by all the pundits out there. And I find myself cringing every time I see an article that says that doing X will result in more leads, or this company did Y, so you should do it also.
Yep, you could imitate what others are doing or suggesting. It might work for you. It also might be a big, fat disaster.
Why? Because you are unique. Your company is unique. Your customers - and how they perceive you, are unique. Your competitors, and how they compare to you, are unique. Your products and services are unique. Your character, your motivation, your processes, your policies, your people, your pricing are unique. I could go on, but you get the message.
What your customers expect from you is completely different from what they'd expect from someone else. How can you possibly make generic promises or apply generic methods, and expect them to resonate in their hearts, and then inspire confidence in their minds, when everything is different?
If you really want to take my advice and interview customers, you should read my book first - because that's where you will find precise instructions on the whole interviewing/discovery process, and then advice on how to put what you learn into action.
It takes about two days to read the book, according to my readers. Usually they do it in two sessions, one session per day. Then, after that, given a little bit of prep work, and scheduling phone appointments with your customers, it will take you about two weeks to conduct the interviews (seven to ten customers of any given type).
As the data starts to accumulate, you, too, will barely be able to contain your joy and enthusiasm. When it's all gathered and analyzed, you will know exactly what to do. It's a great feeling.
You don't have to hunt for the answers. You don't have to waste money experimenting. You don't have to imitate others, hoping it will work for you. You just have to know how to ask your customers the right questions, the right way. They will then show you exactly what you should be doing.
Stop reading what everyone is telling you to do. They don't know you. They don't know your company, situation, customers, products, services, etc. Instead, turn to the very source of your revenue: your customers. They have the answers. Buy this, read it, do it.
P.S. I read an article recently where someone said that interviewing customers will not help you figure out what to do; that their advice will be all over the map. Thousands of customer interviews have convinced me that this is an outright lie. Your first five interviews will bring the top three or four "ah-has" into perfect focus. Subsequent interviews will confirm these issues, and add some texture to them, but that's all. That's what is so great about this method. A half-dozen phone calls from now and you would be able to RUN in the right direction.
"Overcome their objections."
"Establish a relationship."
These phrases are the lingua franca of marketing and sales. And they are rude! Offensive to the very people they are referring to - the very buyers who are considered "the target market." And they are a symbol of all that is wrong with marketing and selling right now.
Let's take off our selling and marketing hats for a moment and look at these words from the buyer's perspective.
Objections. I don't have objections. I have valid concerns because of negative experiences with sellers. I've heard all the promises before. When I've believed the promises and bought, I've discovered how they were lying to me.
It's no big deal when the disappointment involves small, inexpensive decisions. But it is a very big deal when my career or my business or my family's financial future is on the line. That's why I have learned not to trust the fancy promises. I have learned to doubt, and to question, and to talk to my friends (or working peers). It's easier than ever to talk to other buyers or read what they've written online; I can gather a lot of data from talking to them before I ever talk to a salesperson, visit a website, or even go to a search engine.
I want answers. That's all, just honest, accurate answers. But often salespeople focus on manipulation rather than knowledge and helpfulness. They treat me like an idiot who doesn't know what I'm talking about. It's tiresome, insulting, and it drives me away. I just don't trust them.
Relationships. I'm not buying a relationship. I have plenty of relationships. I'm trying to buy a product or a service that meets a need. I just want that product or service to do what it is supposed to do. If it doesn't, I won't stick around.
Target market. Excuse me, but I am not a target. I know you like to think of me that way, because I may be interested in your product or service. But don't treat me like a target. I am an individual with needs, and I'm hoping someone can meet those needs. Thinking of me as a target doesn't make you think of me as an individual. It just makes it easier for you to insult or injure me.
Convert them. Nobody wants to be "converted." If we see someone coming to convert us, we run as fast as we can in the other direction. What if I'm already sold on the idea of buying from you, before I even contact you? What if I'm already "converted" in my mind, in the sense that I have pictured finding, buying, and using your product, and I know exactly how I want it to go? What if the only thing keeping me from carrying out this scenario is you - because you're not making it easy for me to find you, get my questions answered, trust you, and buy from you?
Personas. What if I went to a restaurant, and the waiter never came over to take my order. Instead, he took a look at me and decided, based on what I was wearing, what I would want to order. This is what personas remind me of. You may think you know who I am. Does that mean that you know what I want to buy and how I want to buy it? Not necessarily. [Too many marketers build personas without ever personally interviewing their customers.]
Push. Pull. Both of these words are insulting. I'm not a donkey. I'm your customer. I'm the source of your revenue. I'm going to pay for your retirement or your kid's college education. Don't push me. Don't pull me. Get to know me, and then help me.
You can easily find out what future customers want from you, and how they want to buy it, IF you interview current customers after the sale, by phone, and ask open-ended questions. (Yes, I teach you exactly how in my book.)
Their answers will help you start treating your customers like human beings.
Future customers will see that you "get it" and are able to help them. They will literally go out of their way to do business with you.
Are buyers really liars?
Actually, the real question is: Do sellers do things that force buyers to lie?
The answer, of course, is YES.
To see why the answer is yes, let's look at a typical interaction between a salesperson and a customer in a selling situation.
Imagine that a salesperson is delivering a pitch to a potential customer. At some point during the pitch, the salesperson says or does something that immediately makes the customer think: Whoa. That's not good. Major red flag. Hmmm. Yep, MAJOR. In fact, it's a show-stopper. There is no way I'm going to give this guy my business.
There are dozens of triggers for this thought. The salesperson may have:
- Mentioned, off-handedly, that the company is up for sale
- Said something that the customer knows is clearly a lie
- Said something about the way the company does business that the customer simply won't tolerate, including inefficient/rude processes or policies, or illegal practices
- Revealed things about other customers that he should not have revealed, and the customer decides he cannot trust the salesperson or his company with his own information
- Said that they can't provide a product or service in time to fit the customer's own deadlines
- Made it clear that he is incapable of listening to what the customer is really saying or respecting what the customer really wants
This is just a partial list; I could easily list dozens more. But you get the point. The seller has just done something that stops the buying process cold.
When I am the buyer in these situations, I immediately stop the conversation and tell the seller the truth. I tell them that they have just caused me to decide not to do business with them, that nothing they can say will change my mind, and that I am telling them to help them. Then I hang up or walk out, even as they are still speaking, if they refuse to take my word for it.
In other words, I don't lie. But I am not your typical customer. I am a revenue coach, and when a salesperson does something this stupid, I feel obligated to tell them.
Your customers are not revenue coaches. They are people who are hoping you can solve their problem.
If you, by your own words and actions (via your salespeople, partners, website, emails, etc.), say something that turns the customer off - and kills the deal - they won't tell you. They will simply leave (if they've come to your website) or unsubscribe (if they've been getting your emails) or let the salesperson keep thinking that he's making a positive impression, while at the same they are trying to shorten the sales call as much as possible. When the salesperson is done, the customer will smile and shake hands, and say, "Sure," when the salesperson asks if he can "follow up next week." And then the customer will go back to looking for a suitable solution.
In this situation, customers lie because it will be too painful to tell the truth. They know perfectly well that if they tell the salesperson what they're really thinking, the salesperson will launch into a passionate, pushy, disgustingly boring rant about why the customer is WRONG. This is what salespeople are trained to do: "overcome objections." The result is that customers stating their wise and valid concerns are treated as if they are stupid idiots who don't know what they're talking about.
None of us wants to subject ourselves to that kind of insulting treatment.
So yes, buyers lie. Sellers force them to.
If company managers listened to their customers and gave them what they wanted, buyers wouldn't have to lie. If salespeople, websites, emails, and other company-generated content answered the questions customers had, honestly and efficiently, buyers could move through their buying process without hesitation. No red flags, sign me up.
Companies would sell more. A lot more.
And buyers would be relieved. They could stop lying and start buying.
Whenever I first begin working with a new client, the CEO and other managers explain their situation and their goals. They also tell me what they think is important to their customers. In effect, they’ve given me their "list."
Then I interview their customers. In in-depth phone conversations, their customers tell me, among other things, what is important to them. After about seven interviews (of the same type of buyer), the items on the customers' list and their importance – are firmly established. Customers always agree on the most important items, even though most of them have never talked to each other.
Here is something you need to know: The company’s list and the customer lists are never, ever the same. There might be one or two items in common, but even then, the items are never in the same order of importance.
Things that the company thinks are really important are either totally missing from the customer’s list, or are at the bottom. Things that the customer thinks are really important are either missing from the company’s list or are at the bottom of their list.
This is serious, because it means that everything the company is doing is based on incorrect assumptions. Those false assumptions are leading them to make bad product, policy and process decisions. Those assumptions cause them to create copy that is boring and irrelevant. Those assumptions make it tougher for customers to find them and buy from them.
And they wonder why they’re having so much trouble making sales.
Typically, the top items on the company list include product attributes that were difficult to achieve. The developers who worked mightily to make their product compatible with an industry standard, or to include a function that a competitor offers, may think these achievements are the most important aspect of their product. The customer, on the other hand, may expect all of the products in that market to share that characteristic. These “industry baseline promises” are nothing to brag about, in the customer’s mind. But, websites are filled with copy that does just that: brag about things that do not impress customers in the least.
The top items on the customer list tend to focus on the experience that the customers were hoping to have during the buying process and after they purchased the product or service. They were hoping to find a company that met a very specific need. They were hoping to find honest, relevant answers to their questions on the company’s website. They wanted someone to actually answer the phone or respond to their email when they contacted the company. They wanted the product to work or service to be performed – as advertised.
If you assume you know what they really want, you are going to miss the mark. You will never sell as much as you could nor bring in as much revenue as you’d like to.
Fortunately, your customers – the people who have already bought from you – are more than happy to help you out, if you reach out to them and interview them the right way (as I describe in detail in my book).
If someone called you after you bought a product or used a service, and asked you – politely and intelligently – about our experience, and what they could do to improve, wouldn’t you have something useful to say? Wouldn’t you be happy to help? Wouldn’t you be glad they asked?
Of course you would. Your customers will be, too.
And after you’ve interviewed about seven to ten customers (if you have more than one type of customer, you should interview seven to ten of each type), you will realize how and why you were are missing the mark. You will understand what you have to do, to make it easier for them to find you, appreciate what you’re offering, and buy from you.
Your own customers – the people you’ve already sold to – can help you sell more. You just have to know how to ask them, and then take the right actions after they’ve told you the truth.
Jerks are people who decided, early in life, that they were going to be jerks. It was their way of trying to come out on top. It didn't matter whose face they had to stand on, on the way up.
With jerks, it is always "me" against "them." Every interaction is a battle. If they want something, they try to figure out how to get it by manipulating, lying, and cheating.
I long ago decided that I would not take on jerk clients. It's a waste of time to help them anyway. There is no way they are going to do things that actually benefit customers and employees. Even if they pay lip service to goodness, sooner or later their true nature will come out, and everyone will know what a jerk they are. Policies created by jerks always benefit the jerk at the expense of someone else.
It's pretty difficult to live a jerk-free life, but I certainly do try. On those rare occasions in our personal life when I am forced to deal with a jerk, I am reminded why I work so hard to avoid jerks in my business life.
Nothing is their fault. Everything is your fault, even when it is impossible - even ridiculous - that it could be your fault. They are combative and demanding. They do more damage than good, and when you call them at it, they just make more excuses or vehemently shift the blame.
I'm glad to see that social media is making it tougher for jerks to hide behind a flashy façade. But at the same time, the jerks have gotten better at lying and making their side of the story sound plausible.
If you suspect that someone might be a jerk, you are probably right. Back away early and often. You won't regret it.
I recently turned down a potential new client who gave me jerk vibes. While the salesperson inside me is always reluctant to turn down a new client, I felt relieved after I did it. I knew I had escaped the endless agony of dealing with a jerk. And I would also have more time to devote to all the good people who need my help.