Every day, three times a day, I go through my inbox—both email and social channels. Every day, particularly in the social channels like LinkedIn, I am inundated with invitations or requests much like the following:
I would like to see if there is a possibility for you to join a free demo to show my incredible service to help B2B marketing departments with data driven marketing campaigns. (Bolding is my edit)
Our inboxes are filled with people wanting to pitch their products and solutions. Some are somewhat targeted, we might be in their Ideal Customer Profile, their products might address issues we may be concerned about–but their messaging is never about us, it’s always about them and their incredible products and services.
For decades, however, there has been tens of millions has been spent on research on marketing, customer engagement, messaging. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of posts have been written on the topic, hundreds of books line our shelves on marketing outreach, messaging, and engaging customers and prospects.
Yet, in spite of all the research and insight around, “focus on the customer, make it all about the customer,” the majority of marketing and prospecting outreach is all about, “….to show my incredible services and products….”
Is it that marketers and sales people are totally unaware of the literature and research? I don’t think it can be, but I’m still amazed that prospecting outreach is so bad.
The web, social channels, and technology have helped make it worse. The incremental cost of sending another million messages is virtually zero.
Somehow, this self centered approach must work, otherwise, why would otherwise smart people continue to do something that is known to be so ineffective?
I tried to come up with some thoughts about why we consistently do those things that we know to be less effective, here some are:
- Human nature, it’s human nature to focus on ourselves and the things that we need. At work we tend to focus on the things we are held accountable for, achieving the goals we have in our jobs. Even within our own organizations be become focused on our needs, which creates conflict with other parts of the organization (focusing on their needs). Ironically, we rarely think about, “Perhaps we can accomplish our goals more effectively and efficiently, through working better with others on our shared goals?”
- It’s what we’ve always done. The status quo is the enemy of change, innovation, creativity, and growth. Sometimes, we are just so busy doing things the way we have always done things, that we don’t take the time to assess: Is there something better/more effective that we should do? Are we achieving the results we should be achieving? How might we think about this differently, would that cause us to change?
- We’re influenced by where we spend our time. We spend more time in our own companies than we spend with anyone else. As a result we focus on what’s going on with our company reinforcing our self-contentedness. When I started my sales career, two things happened that caused me to shift my focus forever. First, my manager told me and my peers, “You cannot be sitting in the office for anything other than these 2 reasons, I want you to ‘live at the customer.’” At the same time, my customer gave me an office in their building. It was basically a converted broom closet, but everyday, when I went to the “office,” I went to my broom closet at the customer. I ate in their cafeteria, saw my customers everyday. Even though I wasn’t meeting with them about an opportunity, I was around them, talking to them, learning about them. In some sense, I became one of them and they talked to me about what they wanted to do. My mindset was different, simply because of where I spent my time.
- It’s working–just enough. If these techniques produced no result, smart people would try something else. The issue is, these techniques work–just enough. They aren’t great, but we get some response. And then when the incremental cost of doing more of the same is virtually zero, when we see responses declining, the easiest fastest thing to do is to do more of the same, faster. The volume/velocity math that has become so fashionable is actually the enemy of effectiveness. This thinking keeps us from considering “Is there a better way?” Years ago, I got into a mindless debate. Someone was arguing volume and velocity of dials/calls. He basically was saying, “I can make 1000 calls and produce 10 meetings. If I need 20 meetings, I just make 2000 calls.” I responded, “I make 20 calls and get 10 meetings…” He didn’t ask, “What are you doing differently?” Instead he just shut down the conversation.
- We don’t know our customers and what drives them. Customers are, often, very abstract, even to sales people. We don’t understand them–as organizations or individuals. We don’t understand their problems, challenges. We don’t understand what’s happening with their markets and customers? We have a high level understanding, but it’s often insufficient to engage the customer. Alternatively, we may understand “intellectually,” we may have been trained on “critical issues facing medical device companies and how we help them.” But we don’t understand what that means, how it translates to the work that has been done. It’s always astounding to me to see a sales person who has actually been a customer. They have an ability to connect with customers at a deeper level than others, because they truly have “walked in their shoes.” We don’t need to have actually done the jobs our customers do, but we have to have a deeper understanding of them and what they face. A lot of this can be developed in real time. It’s paying attention to the small cues, it’s being curious and drilling down on issues as we talk to our customers. But this only comes by focusing on the customer first, not focusing on our needs.
- We are incurious. Curiosity about our customers and what they face. Curiosity about what we do and how we might do things better. Curiosity about why things are the way they are and how we might do things differently are critical to our ability to connect to and relate to others. If we aren’t curious, we can’t imagine things differently. If we aren’t curious, we can’t help our customers think about things differently. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it makes us more interested and interesting.
- We don’t care. This is harsh, but I think so much of our inability to connect to our customers in meaningful ways is that we really don’t care about them–as people, or what they and their companies are trying to achieve. The customer is just a vehicle to a sale. I remember talking to a proud sales person years ago. He had just made a huge sale to a very important customer. I asked him, “What did you sell it for?” His response, “$15 M.” He really didn’t care about the customer and what they were trying to do, he just cared about the $15M. Recently, I was talking to a close friend. He runs a huge sales organization. It is one of the top 5 sales organizations I have ever encountered. Across virtually every metric, their performance is far better than everyone else in the industry and even other industries. When I look at revenue/growth, margin/profitability, share, customer satisfaction, customer/employee retention, …. everything. They out performed everyone, and they had done that for years. I asked, “What’s your secret, what do you do differently? I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear his response, “We genuinely care about our customers’ success, and it comes across in everything we do.” What was fascinating in the discussion was that it wasn’t just the way they sold, it was a fundamental part of the company culture. Every one in the organization cared about their customers–and it wasn’t just the people that bought their products. The top executives viewed “their customers” as their real customers, their employees, their community, their shareholders, their suppliers. Every decision was driven by genuine caring. They are very tough minded, if someone in their organization doesn’t care, they don’t survive.
It’s easy to understand how we fall into the trap of focusing on ourselves, our companies, our goals. But when you look at each of these items, it’s actually pretty easy to change our focus. We know what we have to do, we know how to do it. We just have to do it.
But as I assess each of these, they are all made easier and more compelling if you really care.