How To Find Out What Is In Someone Else’s Mind


Saturday, 4.57am

Sheffield, U.K.

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. – David Ogilvy

In the last couple of posts, which you will find in the Getting Started category, we started looking at how you can figure out who your customer is and how you can serve them.

We’re circling this topic at the moment rather than heading straight for a strategy because while it’s easy to map out a particular method we need to understand whether it will work for you in your particular situation.

We’re looked at why you should focus your efforts on the people who want what you have, even if they don’t know it yet, and understanding how people spend their time.

Today, we need to look at how we can see into their minds.

Research based marketing

Let’s say you run a business that does health and safety consultancy.

This is the kind of expert, professional consultancy that you find many people starting, after ten to fifteen years of corporate experience they can set up a small business and try to build up a clientele.

What happens when you start to market that business?

You probably think of it in a certain way – there is a structure and shape to the way you do your business.

Imagine it’s represented by a pyramid.

Now, you go to someone else and try to pitch your pyramid to them.

What they need, even if they haven’t articulated it yet, is a ball – something that is a different structure and shape to the one you are proposing.

Now, imagine what could happen during this interaction, when you meet your prospect for the first time.

In the vast majority of cases, you take the opportunity to talk about yourself and your pyramid.

The prospect may ask questions about your pyramid – the purpose of which are to see if your pyramid could be used as a ball.

If it can’t, then they’ll probably feel like there isn’t a fit here, and politely turn you down.

Could you have avoided this?

Yes, by following a research based approach, one that tries to work with evidence.

What would that look like?

Get better at interviewing

The first skill you have to develop if you’re getting started on a new project is to learn how to interview people.

Many people see an opportunity to talk to a prospect as one where they can talk about themselves, what they do and how they can help.

No one cares.

What you should do is look at every such opportunity as a way to interview people instead.

When you interview someone you’re trying to see the world from their point of view, by asking questions that explore and illuminate their perspective.

If you see things the way they do, then you start to get a valuable glimpse of what they need.

For example, let’s say you sat down with your prospect and talked through their situation, asking questions that helped you understand what was in their mind.

And it turns out that what they want is a big, green ball.

What you make is a small, blue pyramid.

Knowing what you now know about their needs, would you pitch your small blue pyramid as a solution for their need for a large green ball?

Some people will – and then they will pile on pressure to try and get you to buy.

A switched-on person, on the other hand, will start thinking about how they can make a large green ball.

That’s the first kind of research based marketing approach you should try – go into a meeting thinking like a journalist, armed with your reporter’s pad and paper. determined to learn everything about the other person, to really research their story.

If you can really listen to their story, then you will know what they need and want – and then you have to go away and figure out if you can deliver that.

Taking our health and safety consultancy as an example, you might have learned your skills in a large manufacturing organisation.

Your prospective client, on the other hand, is a retailer.

Will you bring over your manufacturing processes unchanged into this new environment or will you learn and discover what is needed and adapt what you do accordingly.

It seems obvious what the right answer is when you look at it like that.

Most people don’t do the looking bit.

Get better at experimenting

The second approach you can take to gather evidence is to build a stripped down version of your product or service and get people to try it out.

This is commonly used in the technology industry and called a Minimum Viable Prototype or MVP but it’s a principle that can be used in any industry.

It’s much easier for people to have an opinion on things if you make it real for them – something they can see and almost touch.

But you don’t want them to think that you can’t do anything else and walk away as a result.

Which is where putting things forward as an experiment on which you’re looking for feedback is a powerful way of getting started.

For example, let’s say you think you can do a desktop based health and safety audit which will cut costs by getting people to take pictures of their surroundings and analysing the images rather than going there yourself.

You could package this together as a proposition – one that helps your prospect move from a mechanical, scheduled set of audits to a dynamic risk based set of audits that means you focus on the places where it’s clear there are problems.

And maybe you use the pictures to coach and provide feedback to the individuals concerned about how they can improve their premises.

If you can work through the proposition, the benefits and a rationale – then you have something you can put in front of people to get their views.

You don’t say, “I’ve made this, do you want to buy it.”

You say, “We’ve come up with this innovation, we’d love to get your thoughts and feedback on whether it’s useful.”

People love to help, and you will probably find enough people to have a look – and you want people who are not afraid of hurting your feelings.

That’s where online businesses shine – most have built in mechanisms for gathering feedback – such as likes and comments.

And then, based on the results of your experiments you can figure out what to do next.

Preparing the groundwork

The thing with other people’s time is that you don’t want to waste it.

If you go to someone and ask questions without having done any background research, when it’s clear you know nothing about them or their industry, you’re going to get in trouble unless you are extremely good at interviewing.

If you’re great at getting people to just talk – to tell you everything – then that’s ok.

But it’s better to go in prepared, with a knowledge of who they are, what they want and how they think – if you can.

The model to follow here is the one journalists take – how do they prepare for an interview with someone and what can we learn from them?

And, what should we not learn from them – when are their objectives different from ours?

Let’s dig into that next.


Karthik Suresh

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