Exploring Your Prospect’s Mind And Planting An Idea Flag

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Thursday, 5.25am

Sheffield, U.K.

Skillful conversationalists can explore disagreements and make points in ways that feel constructive and positive rather than combative or corrective. – Gretchen Rubin

What is your project?

In the last couple of posts we looked at making sure you were heading in the right direction and that you had taken a good look at the obstacles in your way.

Now, as you set off, let’s ask the question; what is your project?

Is it to start a business, write a book, create a portfolio, make a course, produce a product?

Now, what do you do with that idea?

Exploring your prospect’s mind

The world has been thoroughly mapped and explored, there are few places you can go to on the surface and plant a flag to claim that you found it first.

That’s not the case with the territory of the mind.

You have a vast, uncharted space to work with, a space where you can create territories rather than find them if you choose to do so.

Apple are an example of a company that’s great at doing this.

The products they have come out with have redefined what the world looks like for their customers, changing how they live and act.

You and I, we’re not Apple, but we can still have a go at exploring this territory of the mind and planting a flag in a patch that we believe we’ve found for the first time.

And this is important because why should anyone listen to you if you have nothing different to say to everyone else?

In marketing speak this idea of finding a space that’s your own is referred to as your USP – your unique service proposition.

That’s not entirely right.

It’s not what you do that needs to be unique.

It’s the way you position yourself in the mind of your prospect that needs to be different.

For example, if you’ve recently started as an estate agent, what are you going to do to win customers?

Are you going to act exactly the same way as the company you’ve just left, the one that trained you?

Or is there going to be something different, something unique about your message, your brand, your approach?

Now, in order to set yourself apart, you need to know what normal looks like to your prospect.

That means having conversations, enough of them to be able to map out what’s going on.

What does your prospect think, feel, believe about the world around them.

What are they happy with, what doesn’t work, what’s frustrating, what do they really want to fix?

All these questions help you explore the minds of your prospects and, as you wander around, you may come across a piece of mental real estate that’s unclaimed, something that you can make your own.

Somewhere you can plant a flag and stake a claim.

Planting your flag

The act of putting your flag in the ground is a decisive one – it means you now have an intent, an end goal, a place to call your own.

And there is a power to doing this – you can now look at every option you have and discard the ones that do not directly contribute to achieving your goal.

For example, I have been writing this blog for a few years now – writing every day.

I had no real plan for the blog at first, I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure what to write about and I wanted to give myself time to work that out, work on developing a voice and a style.

I used the blog to help me read and learn, finding out what interested me and what didn’t, discovering which ideas were useful and which weren’t.

So far, I was wandering the territory of the mind, looking around – just exploring.

On the 26th of May 2020 I decided that I would start a project to write a book and planted an idea flag.

I briefly described my plan in a post and came up with a working title for the book.

And the act of doing that has made subsequent decisions extremely simple.

Especially when it comes to getting started.

I have a box filled with paper slips that set out the structure of the book and every day I take out the next slip and write that section.

That’s it.

But you have to be kind to yourself.

Everything is a work in progress

You have to realise that just because you’ve planted your flag that doesn’t mean that you’re done and can rest now.

That’s just the beginning, you now need to cultivate, to build on, to develop that patch of intellectual territory you’ve staked a claim to.

In my case these posts are a first draft, fleshing out the ideas on those slips, creating a form and argument with words.

I have to give myself permission to create – badly if necessary – but to create.

I need the words on the page, however badly written, however inadequate, because it’s only when these words are down that I can go back and edit and rearrange and trim and improve.

Until the words are down the book is just an idea.

Just like any project you may have.

So, be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to be rubbish – it’s okay to create stuff that you aren’t proud of.

It’s more important to create, to make a start, to get going – because once you have something you can make it better.

You can’t improve something that doesn’t exist in the first place.

Planting an idea flag gives you a place to call your own, a patch of mental territory you can now work.

But you’ll need to give yourself time – time to till the land, get rid of the rocks, create a fertile soil for your ideas and plans.

And that’s what we’ll look at next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Would You Do If You Could Magically Remove All The Obstacles In Your Way?

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Wednesday, 5.31am

Sheffield, U.K.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

Once you know where you are heading how will you make sure you get there?

What are the obstacles in your way?

Most of us, as we go through life, pick up responsibilities and cares and worries.

We need to earn money, pay the mortgage, pay for tuition for the kids.

The obligations pile up, silently, one at a time, until one day we find that we’re stuck, we can’t move for all the things blocking our path.

For example, you might have started a job as a temp, just to earn some money for a while and then a decade later you’re stuck in a well-paying but ultimately meaningless role that you never thought you’d be doing at this stage of your life.

But you can’t leave because you’ve gotten used to the money and the lifestyle and the holidays and it’s too hard to give all that up, so you might as well grind it out.

Or, on the other hand, you could have loads of ideas for things to do but be short on resources – time, money, expertise to do what you want to do.

You’re stuck, unable to act because you don’t have the things you need to get the job done.

So what, if anything, can you do about it?

Introducing magical thinking

Make a list of the things in your way, the things holding you back.

Write them down – the obligations, the responsibilities, the relationships, the things you own.

We enter and create and develop and buy all these things, which then end up wrapping themselves around us, gently but firmly holding us in place.

Now, look at that list of obstacles and imagine what your life would look like if you could magically remove each one.

If you need the money to come in to pay for the mortgage and your lifestyle – what would it look like if you had all the money in the world?

Or what would it look like if you didn’t have the mortgage and a different lifestyle?

Let’s say, for example, that you’re putting off starting your business because you need your salary to pay for the new house you want to buy.

What would life look like if you could magically remove the need for money – if you had more would you buy the house you’re looking at now, or perhaps an even bigger one?

What would it look like if you didn’t need to own the house – if you could rent where you wanted to live?

Go through the things on your list – what about relationships.

Are there ones that are negative, toxic, ones that are holding you back?

What would happen if you crossed them off, stopped associating with those people.

You don’t need to spend much time on this – just look at the things that are holding you back and magically wish them away.

They don’t exist any more, you have no constraints, no restrictions, no past obligations, no present responsibilities.

What will you do now?

A life without constraints

If you had nothing holding you back would you take a leap off the edge into a more exciting future?

Or would you hang back, staying away from the prospect of change, hobbled by fear?

If there was nothing stopping you from pursuing your business idea right now, what would you do?

For example, many people have restrictive clauses in their employment contracts that stop them from working for competitors or doing the same work on their own behalf.

That’s to protect the interests of your employer.

But if that wasn’t in place, would you do the same thing you’re doing now or is there something different, something better, something that’s more you, that you would do?

For example, is the reason you’re not promoting yourself more on social media because you’re afraid of what people will think and say – perhaps they’ll feel like you’re trying to get ahead of them, publicise yourself at their expense?

Or maybe you just think they won’t approve?

You need to take a long, hard look at these things – these obstacles in your way.

Then look past them, magically make them vanish in your mind, and ask yourself what you would do next.

If you could, would you start doing practical things, like registering a business, starting to create promotional content, a website, getting in touch with a few people to pitch your idea and ask for feedback?

Is there stuff you’re doing already, stuff you’ve done but not shared with the world because you’re afraid of how people will react?

What would happen if you magically removed that fear and started to put that stuff into the world?

Get out of your own way

If you want to build a better tomorrow for yourself, you have to start by clarifying if what you think you want is really what you want.

Once you know that, you need to look at the things holding you back – and if you’ve done this exercise you will start to realise that that’s a little more complicated than it first seems.

Some things are fundamental – like having enough money to live.

Some things you wouldn’t change – you want to spend time with your kids, however long it takes.

Some things you can control, like how much you spend on things that you could do without if you needed the money.

We’ve all got constraints, some more than others.

But if you can see what you would do next if you magically removed those constraints, then you can see the beginnings of the path you need to tread.

This exercise is like hacking through the foliage covering it up, taking a machete and cutting through to the point where you can see that there is something beyond.

And eventually that path may lead to a place where you can dive into your future.

But, for right now, it’s enough to see it – that’s a start.

Because here’s the thing.

If you don’t know what you will do when there is nothing in your way, how can you do anything with all the things that are in your way right now.

Your constraints define you, they hobble you, they surround you.

And you can’t do anything about some of them.

But the ones you can do something about are the ones that will let you slip your bonds and wriggle free.

Free enough to move forward.

Which is what we’ll look at doing next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Do The Perfect Day Exercise To Clarify Your Goals

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Tuesday, 5.42am

Sheffield, U.K.

The perfect day is going to bed with a dream and waking up with a purpose. – A. J. McLean

It’s been 43 posts into this Getting Started book project and we’re in the final section of the first draft that I’m writing in these blog posts.

The first section started by looking at where you are right now.

The second looked back at where you had come from, and what you had gathered during your journey.

And now we’re ready to go into the future – shaping it to suit us and what we want.

So we have to start with that.

What do you want? Really, really want?

It’s time to do the perfect day exercise, which is described in Barbara Sher’s book Wishcraft.

Find a piece of paper and a pen.

I’ll wait.

Ready? Let’s begin.

What you have to do in this exercise is picture your perfect day and write it down.

Start from the very first moment in the morning.

How do you wake up, when do you wake up, where do you wake up?

This is your perfect day so it can be anything you want – there is nothing in your way apart from the laws of physics.

You could be in Australia or the Caribbean. You could be in London or Lhasa.

You could have a mansion or a beach hut.

What happens next after you wake up?

Where do you go, what do you eat, who are you with?

Picture the day unfolding in your mind, minute by minute, hour by hour.

What happens next each time?

Write down how it goes, what do you do or not do in the morning, how and where and when do you have lunch?

What happens in the afternoon, how does the evening pan out, what do you do late into the night before you finally get back into bed – at the end of a perfect day?

When you’re done you should have a page or two filled with notes.

Have a look and make sure that this day is about you – not about someone else.

Be selfish – write about what you want in detail.

Be honest – this is about what you want and no one else need ever see your notes.

Also, don’t settle for vague descriptions, such as getting a particular job – dig into exactly what you do in that job and how you spend your time – not what label you have.

Before you read on, this exercise will be most useful if you have done this first.

Looking back at your perfect day

Say you’re a photographer and your perfect day goes something like this.

You wake up at your mansion in rural England.

Breakfast is served at a long table; you have your own chef and butler.

After that the Bentley whisks you off to a private gathering of some of the most influential people around – who are here to listen to you speak about branding and marketing.

After that you go to an exclusive restaurant, which has been reserved for just your party – and you have a fabulous afternoon talking to your tribe.

In the evening you go to the best nightclub around, to your own private section with just the people you choose to have.

Eventually, your personal helicopter picks you up from the roof and drop you back home where you sink into bed.

Now that you have this down what does it mean?

Last chance to write your own now!

Looking back at your perfect day

Now, what does your perfect day tell you about what you want?

Let’s take our photographer friend above and look at his perfect day.

There’s a lot in there about what money and fame can get you – the luxury lifestyle, the adoration of others, anything you crave.

Does your perfect day have many of those in there as well?

Now look at it again and see how big a part the project you want to start has in it?

Our photographer, for example, has not left much time in that day to do actual photography.

If you want to start on a serious project – starting a business, changing a career, committing to a product – then how much time would you spend doing that project if you didn’t have to?

If you could have and do anything you wanted – would you still do that project?

If the answer is yes – and you can find it in your perfect day notes – then it looks like you’re planning to do something you’re truly passionate about, something that’s important to you and you would do whether you were successful or not.

If it’s not in there, you might need to take some time to consider whether it’s really what you want.

If you’re trying to decide what career path to go down and you choose to be a lawyer because your parents think it’s a good idea – then this exercise will help you clarify if that’s in line with what you really want.

Do you like reading, discussing, arguing a point of view?

Or do you dislike confrontation and prefer creating, playing and recording your music?

Now the point of the perfect day exercise is not to put you off pursuing your idea.

But it is to question what you want as a consequence of pursuing that idea.

For example, if you want to write a book so that you can become rich and famous but your perfect day doesn’t involve spending any time writing the book – then perhaps writing isn’t your thing.

You don’t enjoy the hours of research and drafting and redrafting that go into the creation of a book – word after word after word.

But you’d like the feeling of being a published author – so maybe instead of spending time writing you should hire a ghostwriter and work with them instead.

Or if you want to be famous – perhaps there are other ways that suit you better based on what your perfect day is telling you.

Either way the benefit of this exercise is to give you some insight into whether the project you’re starting is one you really want to do.

If so, you’re ready to move to the next step.

Which is what we’ll talk about in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Four Lead Generation Strategies You Should Try First

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Sunday, 5.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. – Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

We’re nearly at the end of the second section of the Getting Started book project.

In the first section we talked about understanding where you are right now.

In this second section we’ve been looking back, at what you’ve done and the foundations you have to build on.

And we’ve come to the point where you have something to offer to the world and you now need to start getting leads, you need to talk to prospective customers.

I was going to have a few pages on technology but I’ve decided not to do that here – because the technology doesn’t matter.

A focus on the technology, in fact, can detract from the substance – from the thing you have to do in the first place.

Technology can help scale something good, but it can’t turn something bad into something good.

So let’s talk about what good lead generation strategies look like.

How to open a conversation with a prospect

How many ways can you think of to reach a prospect – to start that first conversation?

Let’s look at four ways that come up pretty often.

The first is reaching out to them directly, either getting in touch or making yourself discoverable so they can find you easily.

The second is to be introduced by someone who knows you and trusts you – a friend, someone you have already helped.

The third is to be introduced by a connector, someone who the prospect knows and trusts and who is willing to “engineer” an introduction, usually in return for a payment.

The fourth route is to be introduced by your prospect’s customer, someone who sees what you do as a way to help their supply chain.

If you’re just getting started, then, how can you implement these strategies?

Direct marketing

Reaching out directly to a prospect is a difficult business, one summed up nicely in the famous McGraw Hill ad that shows a grumpy man sitting in a chair.

My version of this is shown in the image below. man-in-chair.jpg

It’s very easy to reach people these days – you can connect with them on LinkedIn, you can send an email, everyone has contact details listed on their websites.

And, as a result, everyone gets contacted through a variety of media all the time – it’s an incessant barrage of connection requests and adverts.

That doesn’t mean you can’t stand out.

The people who I know that do this successfully seem to share certain traits.

They are identified by their business, their profession, their passion.

When you’re the CEO of a company, the Managing Director, a seasoned professional or you really care about the topic – that comes across in your content.

Think about your social media feed – aren’t you looking for useful stuff from people that you feel you can trust.

It’s very easy to spot inauthentic content, stuff that’s posted to try and get a reaction, where someone is using a strategy to build “relationships” with others.

I think that in today’s environment nothing has changed from yesterday’s environment other than the medium we use.

If you care about what you do and tell the world about it honestly and passionately then the people who can benefit from what you do will take an interest.

But it will take time, time to build credibility, time for them to see what you put out there and get to know you, and eventually trust you.

Direct marketing is not a quick route – so start building your brand and message well before you need to.

Eventually, it will become the biggest part of your lead generation strategy if you do it consistently over time, but in the beginning you will also need quicker routes.

Who do you know that knows you and trusts you?

This is where you turn to the people you know, your friends and the people you’ve worked with already.

What you’re asking them to do is help introduce you to prospects that know and trust them.

You’re asking them for a recommendation, for an endorsement.

This is a powerful approach – you’re much more likely to get time from a prospect if you’re referred by someone they know and trust than if you go in directly without any history.

So, who do you know that can help you out?

And how can you ask for help without damaging the fragile web of trust that holds everyone together?

Even your friends aren’t going to help you out if they’re not sure that you can do what you say, that you won’t put them in the embarrassing position of having to apologise for having introduced you.

You have a responsibility to do the best work you can do and provide an unconditional guarantee to the prospect – you need to protect your friend’s position whatever happens or you’ll lose that friendship.

A favour can help you out initially and get you started with the first few conversations but if you need more conversations you need to invest in creating those conversations.

Which is where connectors come in.

Paying for introductions

There’s no shortage of people who will help you get in front of your prospective customers in exchange for a payment.

Some of them will charge you up front while others will be willing to introduce you for a percentage of the business you generate.

The main thing here is having a budget for advertising – because that’s what this is.

You’ll also exhaust any one person’s list pretty quickly – once you’ve reached out to their database a couple of times the people who are interested will have responded already – so you’re now trying to target the less interested rest.

You might be better switching your investment to another person and their list when that happens.

When you’re getting started this can be an expensive and high-risk strategy – because you’re committing to paying for something without a guarantee of results.

A commission based approach reduces that risk – but you need to find people willing to work with you on that basis.

You can make that easier by giving them a larger share of your first sale if you can make subsequent sales to the same prospect.

For example, if your average project value is $2,000 then a 10% commission of $200 will not excite too many people.

But if you’re going to typically make ten sales over the time you have the customer, then the lifetime value is $20,000.

In that case, you could afford to give away 50%, even 100% of the first sale – $1,000, $2,000 – because you’re still going to make $18-19,000 over time.

And your introducer will be much more excited about getting a four figure sum for making a phone call on your behalf.

Your prospect’s customer

The fourth strategy here is to understand and reach out to your prospect’s customer.

For example, if you offer a cost-optimisation service and you’ve worked with an organisation and delivered results, then they will probably be open to introducing you to their supply chain, the people that serve them.

That kind of introduction will often get you a first meeting, from which you can develop the conversation.

Create a network of partners

It’s worth taking the time to reach out and try to build that network of partners who can help you grow their business, especially if you can also help grow their businesses.

But don’t spend all your time networking and pitching to partners – they can suck up your time as well as they work out what’s in it for them.

Create a simple model to show partners what you do and how you can share value and then get on with the job of delivering value to the customers you have right now.

Happy customers are the best source of new referrals – and also the ones that can bring down your business if they’re dissatisfied with what you do.

Moving on

It’s time now to look at what to do next, how you’re going to prepare yourself to build your business or project over the next two to ten years.

It’s time to look at what tomorrow might bring – and move into the last stage of this book project.

We’re at 46,000 words so far.

Not long to go now.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why You Should Tell Your Story – Many Many Times

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Saturday, 5.48am

Sheffield, U.K.

When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own. – John Berger, Keeping a Rendezvous

There is just one thing I have to say about marketing.

Tell your story

All you have to do when you want to get started with a new project – building a business, moving your career on – is tell your story.

If you’re not used to doing this, be warned, it’s going to take some time until you feel like you’re getting it right.

So start telling stories five, ten years before you think you’re going to be ready.

Because every good story is about your life, and it starts, “Once upon a time,”

Why marketing yourself comes down to stories

Think back to a few hundred thousand years ago, when our ancestors first huddled around a fire in a cave.

Imagine a hunter, standing at the cave wall, putting the final touches on a drawing of the day’s hunt – the animals, the chase, the trap, the kill.

One image – there’s no Powerpoint, no fancy visuals – just the scene.

Imagine the story of the hunt, told by the hunter, perhaps with a few embellishments – perhaps the buffalo are a little larger than in real life, perhaps the snakes a little more vicious.

But it’s the story of their life, their day, the animals, the chase, the trap, the kill.

And the audience listened, with rapt attention, lit by flickering firelight, to the story, learning and being entertained.

We’re not really that different from those people – a few hundred thousand years doesn’t make that much of a difference in our genetic makeup.

Flickering firelight, or the mobile screen, will draw us in every time.

What will keep us there is story.

So what’s your story?

The story mountain

Let’s go back to the first year of school where you learned about story mountains.

You go up and down the story mountain, starting with an inciting event – an introduction, and then build up the story until you reach the top – the problem. Then you have a resolution to the problem and an ending.

It sounds really dull when you put it that way – and it’s even worse when you apply it to your business as in the image above.

Your story starts with an opening, an introduction to you. You move on to make an assertion and build up to an example that sets out the problem or problems your clients typically face. You then talk about how you solve that problem – showing the result you get and providing proof and then you move on to the next step.

You’ll see this pattern in almost every YouTube advert out there, except people will normally start with the assertion (I’m going to show you how easy it is to make money on Amazon) and then do a build up including an intro (Hello, I’m Jane Bloggs, and I started with nothing).

Now, the thing to remember about things like story mountains is that they are an artefact – something created after the fact.

First lots of people told stories and then someone said, “Hey, look at this, it looks like there is a pattern here that all the good stories follow.”

And for your business the most important element of the pattern is that when you say something – make an assertion – back it up with an example.

For example, if you’re a video production company, then when you say something like “We specialise in videos showcasing manufacturing processes,” you follow up with, “For example, here’s one we did for ABC manufacturing that helps you understand how their complex machinery works.”

You probably already do this naturally, if you’ve spent any time already in a sales role.

If you haven’t, the idea is not to do this mechanically, but to start doing it intentionally.

Start being intentional about following your assertions with a proof point, something that helps to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing.

When you do that you’ve created a mini story, something that the listener can follow along with – and what happens when a listener hears your story is that they recreate it inside their own heads – they make it their own.

Now you are a part of their story, and you’ve just marketed your way in there.

Next steps

I can’t tell you what tools and methods to use in your particular situation – I don’t know enough about you.

But I can give you a prescription to take, which goes as follows:

  1. Understand yourself, your idea, your business
  2. Apply your understanding, learn through practice on the job or with projects
  3. Condense what you’re learning, find the nuggets that matter.
  4. Explain that condensed version – to yourself, to anyone who will listen to you face to face

Then, when you’re ready to face the world and market yourself:

  1. Select a medium you like communicating in – writing, audio, video.
  2. Make something every day.
  3. Look back at what you’ve made, reflect on it – see what you did well and what you can improve.
  4. Revise it in light of that reflection, if you can.
  5. Publish it.

But, you ask, what about quality, finish, polish, sound, video, editing, music?

That’s up to you – but remember that every additional thing you do makes it harder for you to get your marketing message out.

If you can do it by firelight using a cave wall then do it.

If you need to spend ten hours on fancy animation – then do it – but accept that you will probably be able to do less.

Quantity often leads to quality over time, but a focus on quality at the beginning can be paralysing because of the amount of effort you need to put in.

So start simple, start with what you already have, start with the simplest possible setup and technology.

But start.

The good news is that the vast majority of people will not do the doing – the minute you start intentionally working on telling your story you’ll start to set yourself apart.

And when you have this story to tell, in the early days, you will need some help getting it out into the world.

That’s where your friends and other complementary organisations come into the picture.

We’ll talk about them next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Taking The First Step Towards Marketing Yourself

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Friday, 5.37am

Sheffield, U.K.

Here’s my whole marketing idea: treat people the way you want to be treated. – Garth Brooks

What comes to mind when you think about the word “marketing”?

Do you think social media ads, brochures and flyers, the video ads you see on TV and YouTube?

Is it your website, the branding, the images, the logo, the customer service, the technology, the network?

And it is all of those things, but what are we trying to do, what’s the essential purpose of all this activity?

Isn’t it to have a conversation with someone else?

Starting a conversation

When you first start marketing something new it’s a little like speaking in a dark room – trying to find out if there is anyone out there listening.

Conversely, it can be like entering a very busy and noisy room and trying to get someone’s attention.

Some people are naturally gifted at this – they seem to somehow make themselves the centre of attention.

They’re witty, charming, amusing and everyone loves them.

They’re born networkers, connectors, the kind of people who know everybody.

Some of us don’t like crowds, we shy away from large gatherings.

We’re much better at one-on-one conversations, at private reflection and are quite happy being by ourselves.

And there’s a range of people in between these two extremes, all the diversity of humanity, each of us trying to figure out how to have meaningful conversations with others.

Having Authentic Conversations

When you look at every marketing encounter you see around you in terms of a conversation, then which ones do you feel are authentic ones?

“Authentic” can be a tricky word. It’s been made popular, but what does it really mean to be authentic?

It’s not something you are, but something people feel about the way in which you come across to them.

Human beings are smart, they’re the product of a harsh evolutionary history that needed them to be in order to survive.

They can see when you’re being real and when you’re not, even when you use all the tools and technology at your disposal.

For example, there are a number of “laws” of persuasion that you can use to get people to act the way you want – to influence their behaviour.

Much of the history of marketing is littered with these methods, from spam email to pop-up boxes to cold calls to doorstep salespeople.

They work when your goal is to work with numbers, when you want to target a large number of people in a methodical way and you’re looking for a very small conversion rate that makes you your return.

If a few people buy you’re regained your investment.

They also work when your product is the person – like most multilevel marketing programmes.

The basic idea behind these programmes is that you get people to buy the idea that they’re selling a product when in fact the real money is in selling the programme to other people.

That’s not the kind of business this post is aimed at.

The kind of business we’re looking at here is one that is trying to build a customer base that’s going to stay and grow over time.

If you want to be an effective consultant, a good service provider, an innovative product creator, then you need to think about your customers as individuals who are going to work with you over the long term – and they need the real you, the authentic you – the person you can be over that length of time.

Not a person who is always desperately trying to keep a mask on.

Tools and strategies

It’s easy to avoid hard questions like “what do you do, really?” and focus instead on tools and systems and technology.

But tools and systems and technology will not make up for a lack of the core “why”, why should someone be interested in what you have to offer?

To answer that question you first need to understand the questioner, understand what they’re looking for in the world around them.

Then you answer the question.

Your success depends on how well your answer works for them.

No amount of technology will make your response better.

The font in which you write it, the timbre of your audio, the clarity of your video, the dizzying visuals you use – all of these things are decoration but the thing that matters is that answer you give.

All too often people think that they can come up with any old idea and then push it to marketing – it’s now their job to package it up and sell it.

But that’s not marketing – that’s the artistry around graphic design and media production and technology integration – they are all the components of a modern, integrated marketing system.

But you don’t need all that to create a message is clear and simple and says why a prospect should be interested enough in what you have to offer to start a conversation with you.

Crafting a message

How do you craft that clear and simple message?

Simple.

You do it, reflect on what you’ve done and work on improving it.

No one comes out with a clear and compelling proposition that works for their entire market the very first time.

Marketing is, like everything else we do, a process of trial and error and progressive refinement.

Start with a message – what you think you do.

Say it – to yourself, to other people.

Study yourself, study their reaction.

Think about what you could change, change it and try again.

It really is that simple – test and learn and refine and try again.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

We all know that writing multiple drafts improves the quality of your writing.

But, once you write it, and format it and it looks so pretty and clean – it’s easy to assume the writing is good as well.

And it gets worse when you have more people involved – and when you get all their “input” and amend your message to include their views you end up with a mishmash of something that insiders are happy with but that means nothing to your prospect.

And that’s where marketing should come in – testing every line, every idea for clarity and conciseness.

Is what you’re saying clear and simple and compelling?

If it is, then we can package it up and send it out using a variety of media – whatever your budget can take.

But if it’s not, no amount of money can fix it.

Start simple, but start

The starting point for most people is to realise that marketing is a process of understanding yourself and your prospective customers so you can have better conversations.

So start by talking into the dark, talk about yourself, speak using media that you’re comfortable with.

If you like face to face, then get out there and meet people, if you like writing, express yourself in text, if you like video, record yourself and share your stuff.

Just get started with telling your story.

At first, you may just need to do that for a while.

Be ready to do that for a couple of years.

That’s how long it takes me anyway.

When I look back at the projects I’ve worked on, projects like this blog and various commercial projects, it’s taken roughly two years to get from an initial idea to something that starts to look like a workable model.

That’s the time when you should be testing and refining your story, not paying for marketing technology or expensive design.

The technology and design come into their own when it’s time to scale something you know works – when you have a compelling message that works when you deliver it in person or using very simple technology.

In the next few posts we’ll look at those elements – crafting your story and starting simple, before moving onto your vision for the future.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Well Can You Empathise With Your Prospect Or Customer?

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Thursday, 5.24am

Sheffield, U.K.

…that the world is not as it seems, that we know the world only through our own cultural biases, that even the little things matter, that taken together all the little things we do make the world what it is, and that if we are willing to challenge ourselves, truly understand others with empathy, and shed the comfort of our familiar but sometimes blinding, binding, and taken-for-granted assumptions, we can make the world a better place. – Michael Wesch

How do we truly understand someone else?

We can try and appreciate what they take in through their senses but we will never really know what is going on inside their heads.

Unless we try.

Being obvious versus being familiar

One of the biggest mistakes we make in many aspects of life is thinking that there is a “natural” or “correct” way of doing things.

For example, it may seem obvious to you that a gear shift should look and operate in a certain way but that hasn’t always been the case.

In the early days of automobiles they were all over the place and the French car market Citroen seemed to delight in creating unexpected ones.

Over time, people have come up with interesting and beautiful variations on this concept.

But which one is “right”.

None, really – we’ve settled on one as the competitive battle between manufacturers settled down and the winners converged on an approach.

The thing to remember is that what seems obvious to you now has more to do with the fact that you are used to it – you don’t know any other way of doing things and so you take it for granted that this is the right way of doing it.

That’s a way of thinking called ethnocentrism – thinking that what you believe, think, value is the approach that’s true, the one that everyone else should take.

If you are part of the majority culture in any situation, you can be blind to your own ethnocentrism – you see nothing different.

You often need to go into an entirely different culture to really see – to have your eyes opened – to just how much of the way you live your life is based on unquestioned assumptions and beliefs.

And you will run into people who look at you with puzzled incomprehension as you act in the way you think is right and proper and they wonder what is going on.

For example, native English speakers are often affronted when they feel they are spoken to impolitely by non-native English speakers.

If I said to you, “Pass the salt,” your first reaction as a native speaker is probably going to be negative.

Where’s the “please”? Who do you think you are?

The thing is that the first language of the speaker may have no such thing as a word for “please”.

Using the word please indicates respect for the other person – it is a request, not an order.

Some languages have respect built in as a feature, when you speak to someone else there are elements like prefixes and suffixes you add to indicate respect.

To such speakers constantly saying “please” can be harsh and grating – it comes across completely differently from the way it was intended.

The way to be less ethnocentric is to practice empathy – the way anthropologists do it.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy, feeling what others feel and it is not the same as agreeing with them, and accepting they are right.

It’s understanding the way in which they understand the world in their terms.

And it’s a powerful tool to help you with your career and business.

Developing empathy with someone else

Can you project yourself into the life of your prospect?

What does the world look like through their eyes?

What do they see?

Now, it’s easiest to do this if you have already immersed yourself in their world for a while.

If you have spent time in their culture, worked with them before, observed them for a while, then you’re going to be able to create a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

The best business people don’t guess what someone else wants – they know because they know their prospect’s world already.

That’s why you first start with research, desktop research if that’s all you can do but ideally you interact with and talk to your prospects to understand them, well before you try and sell anything to them.

But let’s assume you’ve done some homework, you aren’t just guessing, what do they see?

For example, let’s say you provide a technology consultancy service, how would you describe the way the person you want to talk to – a CEO or founder – will see their world?

Let’s use the empathy map in the image above as a scaffold to think through this question.

If they are a decision maker, they probably have quite strong opinions.

They’re probably very interested in knowing about the latest stuff out there, the innovations that are changing the landscape for their business.

At the same time, they are veterans, they know that many fads fizzle out and they don’t want to waste their time.

They’re sceptical about whether things will actually work out – so while you’re touting all the features of what you do they’re thinking up ways it could break or go wrong.

They speak their minds, asking tough questions to test what you’re saying – it’s their money on the line and so they aren’t shy about saying no.

In fact, they probably say no to most things.

They’re probably quick thinkers and can see the pros and cons in a situation – but perhaps don’t always see all the details.

Because of that they rely a lot on their feelings – about you, about the situation.

They listen to their gut – if something doesn’t feel right they won’t do it.

But when it feels right and they smell an opportunity they will act decisively and quickly.

Now, how would you pitch to this kind of individual.

Well, you’d better be quick and on point and lead with what’s important to the listener.

But this will also probably only work in certain cultures, especially Anglo-Saxon ones.

In many European and Eastern cultures there is less focus on a single decisive individual and more focus on participatory decision making.

Which will require a different approach from you.

One that understands that your prospect sees the world around them as a web of relationships, how they are careful not to say things that shake that web, how they think long and hard before they say anything, and how perhaps feelings are expressed indirectly as reservations and how an action is taken only after a consensus has been achieved.

And that’s just geography – it gets more complicated as you factor in history and race.

But that’s the point of being human – you might as well spend the time understanding how other humans tick – developing empathy with them.

The better you understand them, the better you will be at working with them.

If you can get to them in the first place… which is where lead generation comes in.

Let’s look at strategies for that next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Understanding Your Prospects And Customers Using A Sensory Map

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Wednesday, 5.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason. – Immanuel kant, Critique of Pure Reason

In my last post we started looking at how to research your prospects, collect data that you can mine for insights into what they need and how you can help.

We’ll carry on with trying to see their world the way they see it – using a sensory map this time.

All information comes through the senses

One of the biggest mistakes we make as human beings is called the curse of knowledge.

We assume that because we know something that means other people know it as well.

And that just isn’t the case – they have to gather knowledge in their own way and that starts with the senses.

However, you can look at the senses from two levels – one is the immediate surface impressions of what they actually see and then there is the question of what they expect to see – and if what they see is different from what they expected to see, there is a clash – something called cognitive dissonance – which can be good or bad.

Let’s see how this works when it comes to them and you.

What do they see?

When someone looks at you or your product, what do they see?

I had an experience recently where someone connected with me on LinkedIn.

It looked like a sales outreach, but as I didn’t want to turn it down without doing some research I connected with the person – because they seemed to have a product that was relevant to my area of interest.

I asked a question in response to their message – but then I also checked their website.

Which turned out to be a couple of pages – a brief description of products, an odd mix of content promoting two types of services and that ignored conventional principles of formatting.

Everything was written in lower case.

This is what people do – what you do – we can now very quickly research the people who get in touch with us and the first things we see form that initial surface impression.

And when someone looks your way is what they see what they expect to see?

And what do you want them to see?

For example, do you believe that it’s important to dress well – that an expensive suit and car demonstrates how successful you are?

When you look at a video on YouTube do you skip over anything that isn’t in high definition, with perfect lighting and sound?

Or do you think that people should see you are you are – that you should be authentic in the way you present yourself – normal rather than extraordinary?

There are rarely clear cut answers to these things – and often strongly held opinions.

I remember watching a show where entrepreneurs went up in front of investors for money and one of the investors asked why a group were there in jeans and t-shirts rather than in a suit and tie.

The group answered that they spent their days working on their business and they wanted to show themselves as real, hard-working people who could get the job done – and the investor said that was the best answer they could have made to that question.

So think about your customers and what they expect to see – do you think they would prefer the “real” you or do you need to present an “image” that is consistent with what they expect?

What do they hear?

If the first thing we do is see, then the next thing is usually to hear.

What does your prospect expect to hear from you?

Usually it’s one of two things – they expect information or they expect to be entertained.

They don’t want to be given irrelevant information or be bored.

But that’s what happens a lot of the time with the way in which we do things.

No one sets out deliberately to find useless information or waste time – but in business we end up putting prospects through that experience all the time.

So you have to think about what you are going to put out there that they are going to hear.

Is it polished and slick and perfect or is it more simple and real?

Are you going to write in “corporate speak” or in everyday language.

The style you choose for the way you are seen is going to probably influence the way you want to be heard as well.

Which is actually a disadvantage for corporates – they cannot afford to take risks and so they end up looking and sounding dull and predictable.

As an individual or a startup you can afford to be real or dynamic or innovative.

What do they smell?

After the first two senses comes smell.

Smell is an interesting one – you don’t physically have a smell when you’re doing digital products or marketing over the Internet, for example.

But a smell test can also be taken as does you product or business smell right.

Going back to the example of the website I looked at earlier – how many times have you looked at something and thought that something is off here.

This is what you might call a gateway sense – seeing and hearing are about initial impressions, but smell starts to get you involved and you will step forward or back away depending on whether it smells right or not.

What do they touch

The next sense that gets involved is touch.

In real life it’s an examination of the product, but in our digital world it’s an examination of the features and specifications.

Does this thing look like it will do what I need?

Your prospect is now getting involved, they’re look at the details and trying to see if your product or service will work for them.

When it comes to online sales, especially on marketplaces, this is crucial.

You have to get the descriptions right to be in the running, and quite often people will look quickly at the first few results if the price is low.

If it’s expensive they will spend a lot more time doing research.

But in either case touch, or the digital equivalent will come into play as they decide what to do.

What do they taste?

And then, finally, they’ve bought your product or service and it’s time for the last sense.

When they try it do they like it or not?

Satisfied customers come back for more.

Dissatisfied ones leave.

Unhappy ones leave bad reviews.

You need to make sure that you don’t assume people are happy with what you do – most people don’t speak out and tell you what they think.

You have to get it out of them – really look to see if they enjoyed themselves rather than taking the approach of disinterested waiters who come over and ask if your food is all right because that’s what they’ve been trained to do at the ten minute point into your meal.

Put aside what you know, and sense again

Look at the sensory map in the image above and try to put aside everything that you know.

Look again at your product and service, the way someone with no knowledge of you and what you do would do.

What would they see and hear.

When they got closer, what would they smell and touch.

And finally, when they asked you to serve them, what would they taste?

And is the experience they have the one you want them to have?

And if it isn’t, what do you need to change or do differently?

In the next post we’ll carry on with our exploration to map our customer’s worlds.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Carry Out Research To Understand Your Prospects And Their Backgrounds

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Sunday, 5.20am

Sheffield, U.K.

Journalism, as concerns collecting information, differs little if at all from intelligence work. In my judgement, a journalist’s job is very interesting. – Vladimir Putin

How can you start to understand how someone else thinks?

These days it’s easier than ever before, because people put so much of themselves out there on the Internet.

You just need to spend the time doing your research.

A good model for how to go about doing this is to think about how a journalist might do a profile for their publication.

So, what would that look like?

Preparation

The most powerful tools in a researcher’s toolbox are a notebook and pen.

Get a reporter’s notebook – one of those small four by six notepads, wire-bound at the top.

Get the cheapest one you can so you’re not worried about getting things perfect – this is a working notebook, a tool to help your process.

And grab a pen – and you’re ready to get started at take some notes.

What can you see

In this post we talked about how you could research where people spent their attention because of the tracking and information we get on the Internet.

This is always a good start – what does the data say?

For example, let’s say you’re interested in a particular field – process engineering.

If you type those words into LinkedIn you’ll get a number of results, including people who work in that industry.

If those people are the kind of people you want to talk to, then you can click on their profiles and look at the kinds of things they post and like.

Take notes on the kind of content they appreciate, the material they share and repost.

Now, imagine you were going to reach out to them.

The easiest thing to do is to simply send them a connection request, with no additional information.

You could add a note that is a generic connection message, something you cut and paste into every message.

Something like, “I’m trying to grow my connections and so I’m connecting with you” – something that says nothing.

Worse, you could follow up with a sales pitch as soon as you’re accepted.

Or, you could send a customised message that’s based on your research – where you point out the interests you have in common and ask if they would like to connect with you.

Then, instead of following up with a sales message, you can share the kind of content you know people like that are interested in, see if you can get them to like and engage with your material.

Which one of these approaches do you think has a higher chance of getting better engagement from the people you’re trying to reach?

What do they write?

Some of the people you want to reach will also put out material about themselves and their businesses.

Read what they write, study how they look at their world and explain their point of view.

The way someone writes can tell you a lot about the way they will respond to others.

It tells you whether they are open and warm, neutral and willing to reserve judgement or cool and reserved.

You can get a sense of whether someone will respond when you reach out or not.

What do they say?

Another very useful source of insight into people is to listen to interviews they’ve done or read the transcripts.

You can get a very good sense of an individual, their personal career journeys and the nature of their industry from interviews they’ve done.

They will talk about what excites them, what they see as the main problems and constraints they face, where the big opportunities are in their field.

That kind of information is hugely valuable for you when you try and construct a pitch or reach out.

If you know that a person cares about a particular topic and you are able to talk about how that topic is related to you and your interests – you’ll increase your chances of getting a positive response.

What do you know?

The last area, and possibly the most dangerous one, is to take notes on what you already know about your prospects.

What insights do you have into the way they think and what they want.

It’s important not to fool yourself, to make sure that what you know is based on facts and evidence – things that you can draw on to support your conclusions.

It shouldn’t be about what you think or believe is the case – you need to be careful not to create an idealized prospect who thinks the way you do about everything.

But, if you truly have an insight into their situation and perspective, draw on that, craft it into your messaging because you know it’s going to interest them.

Go forward based on research and evidence

When you first get started you need to ground yourself in research and evidence – you need to collect data.

This is where your reporter’s notebook has been an invaluable companion in the process, you should now have pages of notes and snippets of conversation that you can draw on.

Just that process of data collection will have been useful in itself.

But you can go further – process this data and really build up your understanding.

Before we do that, however, let’s see if we are in a position to build empathy with your prospect.

Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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

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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.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh