Understanding Your Prospects And Customers Using A Sensory Map

sensory-map.png

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

prospect-research-process.png

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

whats-in-the-other-persons-mind.png

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

Why You Need To Research How People Allocate Their Attention

the-importance-of-attention.png

Friday, 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it. – Elbert Hubbard

In my last post I talked about the importance of studying who you could help so that you could build empathy and understanding with them, which in turn helps you understand what kinds of products and services you can build for them.

Let’s start by studying the things they pay attention to.

Data is everywhere now

One characteristic that you will start to notice if you study what happens on the Internet is that there is a pattern that repeats all the time.

It’s called a power law, and tells you the difference between being number one and anything else.

Let’s say you run a YouTube channel and list out your videos with the number of views each one has had, it’s very likely that one will be the clear winner.

The next one will have half to two-thirds of the views.

The third one will have half to two-thirds of the second’s numbers.

And then you have all the others.

This applies almost everywhere, actually, but it’s most visible on the Internet because the statistics are easy to collect.

For example, the chart below shows the views on my blog for the last month showing the first, second and third page views and then the average views of the next seven pages.

attention-data.png

But, while there is usually a clear winner with this kind of situation, there are two observations you should take away.

The first thing is that you need first place to get attention.

But you will only get first place for one of your pieces of work – and the rest of your list, the backlist, still matters to build your credibility and conversion.

And while the winner brings people in through the door, it’s everything else that will get them to stay and convert them into paying customers.

Again, this is a phenomenon you see all over the place.

In the publishing industry, for example, it’s the initial book sales that makes reputations – as the publicity and attention get people to notice you.

But it’s the sales over time that make you a fortune.

Given that situation, what do we need to look for?

Look for models of how getting attention is done well

As part of this Getting Started book project I’m running experiments that can help support some of the suggestions made in these posts.

For example, one project that you may be considering is whether you should start a YouTube channel.

How would you go about looking for models of how this is done well in your sector – what people have done to get attention from others?

I started by doing a search for a term on Google and comparing the results on the “All” results tab and the “Videos” tab.

You get around 6 million hits for the term on the All page and around 550,000 on the videos page.

This first term is fairly technical so I put in a non-technical but also fairly specific term.

That had 440 million hits on the All page and 2 million hits on videos.

What this tells you is that the more technical the subject the less competition there is.

The richer the content, in terms of adding images, audio and video to text, the less competition there is.

And the more detailed, useful and longer your content, the less competition there is.

When you do this you’ll end up with a much smaller universe of people who you might be in competition with – and then you have to look at what they do well.

And the chances are that they do the basics extremely well – they do the things that make life easier for their viewers and audience.

As you look at each one take notes of the elements that you think they do well, the things you notice.

I like doing this on index cards or slips of paper for the first five or so results, because you notice different things each time you look at a video or page.

If you have notes on separate cards, you can then spread them out and see what elements are common, what are the things these successful pages or videos do well?

And then you have to ask yourself whether this is a space in which you can compete.

If you think you can do something differently, combine your skills to create value in a way that isn’t being done already, then you may have discovered a niche.

If the field is dominated by a small number of very well-known people then you’re going to find it harder to get attention – but if you keep researching and digging you’ll probably eventually find a niche that has space for you.

And then you have to make that niche your own, so that the next time someone comes digging they take a look at what you’ve done and decided there is no point competing with you and go away to find their own niche.

And that’s when you become a model for others.

Why can’t you just make stuff and not bother with research?

I wouldn’t argue with that point of view – I’m in favour of creating without restrictions, without keeping an eye on the market, without looking for an outcome.

But that’s about you – about you doing what you enjoy and creating something that you would make anyway whether people bought it or not.

And the best projects have their inspiration in something you care about, something you like doing.

If you enjoy DIY or writing or technology, then the core of what you do is the work, the thing you do.

And the first element of getting started is just to do more of that thing you want to do.

But we’re talking here about developing a market for what you do – getting other people interested in buying it from you.

In getting them to first give you their attention and later their money in exchange for the things you make.

And that requires a different approach – it requires starting from how they see the world and the kinds of things they need.

Now that you can see the kinds of things they already pay attention to from the research process described in this post, it’s time to start thinking about why they pay that attention – what kind of person are they?

We need to develop empathy with them, so let’s try and do that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Figure Out Who You Can Help

who-likes-your-work.png

Thursday, 5.21am

Sheffield, U.K.

People in markets find a way of getting down to the essentials of I have, you want; you have, I want. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Let’s talk about circles.

In the last post we looked at how you could create a narrative, a story that explains who you are and what you do.

So far in this book project we’ve looked at where you are right now, because the situation you are in and the constraints you have dictate what you might be able to do, and looked at what you’ve done in the past, because that’s where you’ll find proof to persuade others to believe in you.

Now, you need to find those other people and the next few posts will explore this idea and how it works in these rather interesting times.

How to get your mind set up right

If you’re anything like me, sales and marketing is something that you’re a little afraid of – it’s got to do with putting yourself out there and talking about yourself and learning how to pressure people into buying things they don’t need.

Isn’t it?

Well, not if you look at it from the point of view of a consumer.

Let’s think of the kind of states a consumer can be in, parallelling the famous unknown-unknowns matrix approach.

Think of a two-by-two matrix, labelled “want” and “don’t want” on one axis and labelled “know” and don’t know” on the other.

The four categories in this matrix that consumers can inhabit are then: know they want something, don’t know they want something. know they don’t want something and don’t know that they don’t want something.

The best people to be aware of, ironically, are the ones who know they don’t want what you have to offer.

If you know who those people are then you can ignore them, in terms of what you spend on marketing and in the time you spend on paying attention to them.

The most dangerous category is the one that contains people who don’t know they don’t want what you have to offer.

They will take up your time with enquiries and free consultancy before discovering that you’re not a fit.

The people who should be in your circle, then, are the ones who know they want what you have to offer and the ones who don’t know they want it yet.

These are the people to focus on, the ones you can help

The first thing to do then, to get your mind set up right, is to get clear on who is inside and who is outside that circle – and then work on the approaches that are going to work for you.

Singing on the street versus asking a question

It’s tempting to think of marketing as a predatory activity, dominated with the language of “targets” and “hooks”.

When you use that language then it becomes a mechanical hunting exercise, where you go after creatures of less intelligence armed with the best hunting machinery you can buy.

But, what would your approach be if you treated others as human?

Broadly, there are two main approaches.

You can make yourself visible and discoverable, like positioning yourself on a street and singing.

Or you can try and get their attention, like a person with a clipboard, interrupting them and asking if they’re willing to talk to you.

The terms I’m going to use for these two approaches are “attraction” and “outreach”.

And the people who you’d like to interact with form an audience – that ranges from a small, niche one to a large, diverse one.

The thing you need to figure out is what strategy will work for you in the situation you are in.

The one that most people who are getting started will probably settle on is a balance between attraction marketing and outreach marketing for a niche audience.

Doing your research

They key to understanding the people who live inside the circle – the ones who will want the thing you have to offer – is to do your research.

We live in a time where people are more visible than ever and more open about what they like and dislike than they have ever been in the past.

That makes it hard to stand out from the crowd if you want to get attention for yourself.

But, at the same time, the goal of the algorithms that power the social engines of today is to match users with relevant content based on the preferences they display on their platforms.

And of course, since more than one person can create relevant content, they have a way to jump the queue based on your ability to pay.

But that’s something to think about later – the first thing is to work out what is already working in your space.

The best test of workability is whether people are paying for something or not – with their money or with their time.

If you are working in a field where sales results are easy to get then that’s your starting point.

Books are a good example – what kinds of books are people buying in the genres or categories you’re interested in?

What kinds of videos are getting the most attention on YouTube?

What topics are people talking about and engaging with on social media?

Take notes, collect your research, start by just mining the world around you for information.

That sounds like a big task – surely you have to spend a lot of time or perhaps you should pay someone else to do the research for you, or buy a report?

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy out here.

You have to take the time to understand the people who live inside your circle – and that means putting in the time to do your research.

What you need to do is a participative ethnographic study – look at the group from the outside as an observer and also look at it from the inside as a participant.

You have to build empathy and understanding with a group of people who may not know each other but are connected by a web of interests.

How can you do that?

Perhaps that’s something we should work through in the next post by looking at how anthropologists work in a digital age.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Do You Do When You Haven’t Got A Track Record?

best-time-to-plant-a-tree.png

Tuesday, 5.37am

Sheffield, U.K.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now – Chinese proverb

What if you’re trying to find examples of valuable work you’ve done but nothing comes to mind?

You might have done lots of things – jobs, projects, hobbies – but it’s hard to see how you can use them to explain to someone else why they should work with you.

In this section of the Getting Started book project we’re looking back at your past, mining it for evidence and proof of your capabilities and achievements.

But what if that’s hard to find, especially if you’re looking at entering work for the first time or trying to change your field entirely.

Create a past first

When you haven’t got a track record the first thing to do is get to work creating one.

You need a portfolio of work to show prospective customers and it doesn’t matter whether what you did was paid for or not – what matters is being able to prove that you have done similar work in the past first.

Without that, you’re unlikely to get anyone to accept a proposal from you.

That means spending time working on projects, creating demos, putting together prototypes.

The idea is to show work, not work in progress – complete examples of the kinds of things you do.

Give yourself time

It takes time to create a track record and it’s worth investing the time because you will build on that experience to design the rest of your life.

Clearly, if you haven’t got funding then you need to find something else to do to pay the bills while you develop your experience on the side.

This may be hard to do, so you have to find ways to make it easy.

The simplest way to do this is to give yourself ridiculously easy goals, set very low hurdles, just so you can get started.

It can still take time and you may still find it hard to get started.

For example, back in 2015 I tried to have a go at writing.

Looking back at the entries I lasted for 14 days.

2016 was worse, I made 6 entries.

It wasn’t that I didn’t write at all – I just didn’t write for myself on things that interested me.

In early 2017 I set myself a low target – three paragraphs of anything a day.

I could write whatever I wanted as long as I wrote three paragraphs – around ten lines, around 100 words.

That year I wrote 284 three paragraph sections.

And in the middle of that year I started writing my blog on a regular basis, eventually writing 157 articles.

They weren’t particularly good and it took a couple of years to discover a voice and start writing in a way that felt natural.

Three years later, and half a million words in, I’m still learning and figuring out how to improve and learn – and that will take the rest of my life.

At the same time, I have built a body of work that I can draw on when people ask me what I do or have a question on a topic I’ve discussed here before.

If you’re in a position where you’re starting today, then be kind to yourself, give yourself time to plant a seed and watch it grow.

Plan for longer than you think because then, when things happen faster, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Every field is different, and also the same

You may think that your industry is different or that you need something else to break in, some kind of shortcut.

I was trying to teach maths to one of the small people in the house yesterday and it was proving challenging.

The small person couldn’t understand why you couldn’t get from the question to the answer in one step, why you had to mess about with all the intermediate working out that came along with a problem in long division.

“There must be a way to just get to the answer,” the smaller person wailed.

There isn’t.

You have to take it step by step – but eventually you can get pretty far that way.

While it’s tempting to take a huge leap or hitch a ride with someone else – those approaches either take too much energy and carry a high risk of failure or they depend on what other people do.

If you’re starting this project because it means something to you then take the time to build something that you will benefit from over the long term.

Building on your past

You can start to move forward when you have that past in place.

The most important thing you now have is proof – proof that you can do something.

You will have found that even if you had to do your first projects for free, people eventually started to pay you for what you did as long as they received value in exchange.

It might have taken two years, it might have taken five – and you might have had to finance that time through a day job or with freelance or consulting work.

Either way, you’re here now and ready to get started.

What you need to do is draw on this past to build your future.

And that starts with crafting your story.

Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Do You Know Who Your Ideal Customer Is And What They Want?

who-are-you-making-things-for.png

Tuesday 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. – Peter Drucker

I said that I would start looking at risks in my last post and perhaps a good one to start with is the risk of spending time and effort making something for which there isn’t a market.

In this post we’ll look at why you’re doing what you’re doing and if its time for a rethink.

Three big reasons to make a thing

Most of the business ideas that I have come across seem to fall into three categories.

First there are the people who build something for themselves – they “scratch their own itch.”

Then there are the people nwho know there is a market out there for what they’re creating – they just need to get in front of the right people.

And finally there are people who create for a market that they believe exists out there – and they construct an imaginary person, a persona or archetype to focus on.

There are pros and cons with each of these approaches so how do you work through where you are and increase your chances of success?

When you are your own customer

When you make something for yourself, the good thing is that you know there is at least a market of one.

Many great ideas start off this way – people creating products and services because they need those things in their lives.

The iconic example here is Apple.

Steve Jobs had a vision of the kind of portable computer he wanted and that eventually became the family of products which include the iPad and iPhone.

The great thing about this kind of approach to getting started is that you already know about yourself, you know how you see the world and what is missing there.

If something isn’t working, something could be better, something would make life simpler – that is something that you could work on as a project.

Eventually you’ll end up with something that works for you – and you might even end up creating something that works for many other people.

Something they want and are willing to pay for.

And find that you’ve created a viable business along the way.

Tapping a market you understand

The second way of getting started is to build for a market that you understand really well.

Rather than thinking of that group as a market – which brings up images of a place where transactions happen with no connection between buyer and seller, think of it as creating something for a community – people that are held together by things they have in common.

The key thing to have when you are creating for that community is empathy – you have to be able to see the world the way they see it.

The easist way to do this is if you are part of that community already, if you can see what’s needed and go about fixing it.

Inside a company, for example, this might be what you call an intrapreneurship role, where you create something new from inside the group.

If you aren’t part of the community they you need to learn about the way they see the world before you can really help.

You have to talk to them, participate in their world and you will then start to build a model of what you think they see.

And if what you see matches what they see then what you make has a chance of being what they need and are willing to pay for.

Building for an imaginary person

Now, most people will argue that they’re creating something for one of the first two reasons – for themselves or for a defined market.

But it’s easy to fool yourself sometimes.

For example, a big part of marketing is segmentation and targeting.

This is all about working out your ideal customer – creating an archetype and persona and listing out demographic attributes, psychographic attributes.

Or, more simply, just saying something like, “Everyone is going to want this.”

I think this leads to two kinds of errors.

The first is to create a glossy, glamour magazine style picture of your consumer.

This is inevitably shallow and biased – based on the media and images that tend to dominate what we see.

The second is to pull together a bunch of factors that make sense in isolation but don’t work so well when you put them together.

A sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a customer.

You might think that this is an exception, but it’s often the first thing many people do.

They create things that they think people will want.

And crucial word is “think” – you can spend a lot of money on something you think is needed before you realise that you were wrong.

Know, don’t think

The way to improve your chances of succeeding is to move from thinking something needs to existing to knowing it does.

If you’re building for yourself, then it’s relatively easy – you can make it, use it, see if it makes your life better.

As long as you don’t fall in love with the idea and can stay somewhat objective you’ll end up with something that might have a future.

If you’re building for a market that you either already know well, or take the time to get to know well, then you’re going to be able to make something useful for them.

The final category is the dangerous one – the one where you spend time because you think or believe that something should exist.

This is the tragedy of the inventor who makes something that no one wants or needs, right now anyway.

And the key to changing this is developing empathy, seeing the world the way someone else sees it.

When you see the world the way that your prospective customer sees it, then you’ll be able to build something that fits into their world – something they want and are willing to pay for.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Click here for the video behind the post

Why You Really Need To Understand Who Is Your Customer’s Customer

who-is-your-customers-customer.png

Sunday, 5.57am

Sheffield, U.K.

When you’re thinking about your next product or current product and wondering how to make it different so you don’t have competition, understand the job the customer needs to get done. – Clayton M. Christensen

In my last post I looked at the basic business system of leads, first sales and operations, which lead to repeat business and ended by saying I’d look at how you can supercharge your sales conversion.

You do this by answering one simple question.

We’ll look at that in a minute, but first…

What do most people think selling is all about?

The image we have in our minds when it comes to selling is one of pushy sales people pressuring us to buy something.

We’re often suspicious, we doubt what they say, and we’re right to do that – because there are so many industries that create selling systems that incentivise that kind of behaviour.

Sales is seen as a role for people who haven’t got technical or academic skills but who are good at reading people and guiding them down a certain path.

This kind of thinking, when it comes down to it, sees customers as not very intelligent creatures, the kind of beings that can be directed into a maze that you control and be led down a path that you want them to take.

Just think of the movies where this kind of manipulative, master salesperson is portrayed, Michael Douglas in Wall Street, with the line, “Greed is good” and Leonardo di Caprio in the Wolf of Wall Street.

But the reality is that the smooth-talking, shiny-suited sales person of those days was probably a myth then and is less and less relevant now.

It only worked when they had an information advantage – they knew things the customer didn’t know.

In a world where information is everywhere, you need to operate differently.

Rather than trying to get the customer to see your point of view, you have to put yourself in their shoes – see what they are trying to do and show how you can help them.

This usually starts by looking at how your product or service can cut costs for them.

We can reduce your costs – it’s a no brainer.

As a reminder, these posts are aimed at business to business companies on the whole – and that is where this particular question is especially important if you want to get your sales conversion up.

No business wants to add to its costs.

Every decision they make has to be justified by a return somewhere, maybe not right now, but that has to happen over time.

The biggest mistake most people make is coming up with a product and offering it to a customer without first looking at the impact across the whole piece.

This is especially the case with technology solutions.

Let’s say you come up with a machine that cuts production costs in half for your customer.

Now that this invention is in the world, if your customer buys from you they’ll save loads of money.

Right?

And if they save loads of money, they’ll have higher profits.

Right?

Well, no. Not really.

What happens is that those reduced costs flow through to the customer in the form of reduced prices.

This is obvious when you take a second to think about it.

If and your competitor have access to a technology that cuts your costs in half, then if they want to take business from you, the easiest way is to drop their prices.

If you keep your prices high, eventually your business will move to your competitor.

And so you drop your prices, they drop theirs – and eventually the prices you charge fall to the point where you cover your costs.

The profit in that situation evaporates, passed along as a lower price.

That’s economics in action for you.

It works – overall, the system is better off.

But you are no better off with the new technology than you were with the old.

In fact, it makes sense to let other people go first, spend the money to try it out, see the results and then go with an option that you know is going to work.

This is why, when you sell on a cost-reduction pitch you get so much resistance to your “no-brainer” model.

It’s because your customer knows intuitively, even if they aren’t aware of the theory, that these no-brainers rarely work out.

That’s why they ask for things like a 2-year payback, because they know that those longer-term projections rarely pan out and at a minimum they want their money back.

This is why you need to really understand what they are trying to do with their customers, to see if your product or service adds value or not.

Who is your customer’s customer?

Which brings us to the point of this post – try and understand who is your customer’s customer.

Let’s take a video production firm as an example.

I’ve used this before to talk about how become better at audio and visual content creation is going to be essential for everyone.

And as I watch friends and connections building their businesses I can see clear trends emerging.

Early videos that people put out are often advertising – they follow a case study model and do some showing and telling.

But this is usually expensive, a full shoot takes time and resources and so you can only do it so many times before you can’t afford it any more.

So people then shift to self-generated content, using phones and webcams and putting stuff out there which is a talking head, and they learn how to add subtitles and transitions and make it look good.

If your pitch, as the video production company, is all about how you have all these resources and can get an amazing video done for much less than the customer can do themselves, you’ll get some interest.

But what if you looked a little further, to what your customer is trying to do in the first place.

You’d see that the purpose of the video is not to showcase your customer, just talk about how brilliant they are, but it’s part of a move towards communicating more, putting out more stuff that helps your customer get in front of their customer enough times.

As Marshall McLuhan puts it – the first view someone has of something is cog-nition – they first become aware it exists.

Then, when they see it again is re-cog-nition, a replay.

And what your customer wants their customer to do is recognise them – re-cognise them, when they’re in a situation where they are looking for a supplier for that thing they want.

In that sales situation, you could go in with your generic pitch about costs and times and case studies.

Or you could do some research into your customer’s customers, see how the competition currently target that sector, and the methods and tactics they use.

You could assess where your prospect is right now, in terms of how well they use video.

You could go in with a pitch that shows how they’re faring against their competitors right now, show them how you could get them started with some more expensive but high end videos, and then sell them the kit to do the videos themselves, if they wanted to, or put in a package where they record content and you put it together.

You have a conversation around what they’re facing, what their customers want, what they’re trying to do.

And you will find a way to help – a place where you can fit in and add value.

When that happens the only things that remain to be settled have to do with whether the customer has a budget for what you do.

And they will be more comfortable about doing this because you’ve both figured out how you can add value rather than you pitching how you can cut costs.

Now, there’s an entire book in the art of having that conversation, but really, it comes down to listening, asking questions and empathising with your prospect.

But to close that sale it’s not enough to do all this.

You also have to figure out how to remove risk for your customer.

We’ll look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

p.s. If you want to listen to a discussion of this post I’m starting an experiment in reading and critiquing the content straight after I’m done.

You can find the first of these on YouTube here.

I’m not sure where this will go, and whether you’d rather listen to a 17 minute video or read a 1,300 word piece.

After all, if you’re really busy the entire message is in the picture.

The rest is all commentary.

Why You Need To Understand The Nature Of Demand And If You Can Control It

value-demand-and-failure-demand.png

Wednesday, 6.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!” “What advantage do you want?” they ask. A Starving Crowd!” – Gary Halbert

I want to spend some time discussing demand – making sense of demand and how it works.

The goal for this section is to help you figure out why someone will be interested in what you have to offer.

The difference between supply and demand

When most people hear the words “supply” and “demand” they think of it as terms that people who understand economics use.

You have supply and demand curves and price is set by where they intersect, for example.

But this kind of dry formulation misses much of the nuance that exists in the real world – and we’re going to try and uncover that here.

First of all, what is supply?

Supply has to do with anything you have that you can give someone else.

Sometimes they are real things – like oil and grapes and chocolate teapots.

Sometimes they’re less real, like ideas and opinions and analysis.

Supply has to be something you can give away.

For example, you have experience, but you can’t just give that to someone else.

You have to put it in a container that the other person can take – like a book or a course.

Or you can use that experience to do something that the other person wants doing.

As a copywriter, for example, you use your experience to create the words and the product is the document you email to your client.

But, just because you can do it or make it or teach it – it doesn’t mean that someone wants it.

That depends on demand – on someone else and what they want or need.

It’s all too easy to think that supply is what’s important – what can you do, what can you make?

But what’s worth doing or worth making depends on demand – especially if your project is supposed to operate as a business rather than as a hobby.

The two main types of demand

The academic and consultant John Seddon came up the idea that there are different types of demand.

But before we dig into that we need to back up and look at what “work” means to us.

Look at your to-do list – the tasks you’ve got to do.

These tasks are your work – they’re the actionable elements of your day-to-day practice.

But why are those tasks on your list – how did they come into existence in the first place?

The chances are that they’ve been created for one of two reasons – and Seddon calls these value demand and failure demand.

Understanding value demand

The way to make sense of value demand is to think of it as something you or someone else wants doing.

Create a brochure, paint a wall, design an extension.

The person who wants this doing – the prospective customer – is going to get something they want if you do your job right – if you satisfy their value demands.

Now, this is where you have to be careful that you don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you can supply something you’re meeting someone’s value demands.

Sometimes people just don’t want your peanut powered mousetrap.

In fact, they don’t want mousetraps at all – they want a humane way of getting rid of their pest problem.

People change, and that means what they want also changes.

Value demand is not a fixed, unchanging thing – you understand it by understanding what your customers want.

Understanding failure demand

There’s another kind of work that needs doing which results from things going wrong.

Copy being grammatically incorrect, the paint not quite applied right, a wall in the wrong place in your extension.

This is failure demand – fixing things that have gone wrong in the process.

It looks like work but it’s not value adding work – it adds costs for everyone.

The supplier is spending more fixing the problem and the customer is spending more sorting out the problem.

Now what happens if you build a business around failure demand?

It might be a cost recovery service – going after people for things that have gone wrong.

Being an amulance chaser, for example.

Failure demand can be a lucrative business – as long as you aren’t the one creating the failures in the first place.

In that case it can be an expensive mistake.

What you want to do is design your own business to reduce failure demand.

Don’t add controls and checks if things go wrong – fix the things that made them go wrong in the first place.

That frees you up to do more work that meets value demand – what customers wanted all along.

The importance of positioning in controlling demand

What’s clear is that you can build a business around value demand or failure demand – as long as you’re delivering value or fixing someone else’s failures.

Either way, however, what matters is that you can come across the demand in the first place.

And you can only do that if you’re positioned at the place where demand makes itself visible.

We’ll look at that positioning in some more detail in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Define Your Circle Of Competence

circle-of-competence.png

Monday, 8.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People judge you really quickly, at first just on your facial features. There are two dimensions – warmth and competence. You can think of them as trustworthiness and strength. They’re first judging you on warmth; evaluating whether or not you are trustworthy. That’s much more important to them than whether or not you’re competent. – Amy Cuddy

In the last section we looked at value and how to create it.

In this section we’ll dig a little deeper into the components of value and see how they fit with your own circumstances.

There are a number of things you might look to do when you start a project.

Some of these you’ll be good at, and not so good at others.

When you look at your list you’ll also see that some are essential, core to achieving the outcome you’ve set for yourself, while others are non-core and don’t help you move in the direction you want to go in.

You need different strategies to deal with the resulting combinations of tasks and a good way to focus is to get clear on your circle of competence – helped by the 2×2 matrix in the image above.

Master your core tasks

Peter Drucker once talked about how the two main tasks in any business were marketing and innovation.

And that’s true – these are two core elements that you have to master.

Mastery, in this case, is not just about technical mastery – for example a command of the mechanics of placing an ad in a magazine or creating online ads.

Those are techniques of marketing and while important, they’re not the things that really matter here.

What you have to master is the strategy you’re going to use – the key ideas that you have about how you’re going to innovate and market your business.

For example, if you plan to start a commodity business selling things online then your strategy has to be one where you master the art of selling on the Internet.

Which, in a nutshell, comes down to making sure you give people all the information they need to make a decision when they come across your product.

On the other hand, if you sell a complex consultancy service your marketing needs to be structured around setting up quality conversations with prospects.

It comes down to listening and understand what people need.

In the same manner, innovation with online sales is about making sure that the algorithms favour your content by using the best practices possible.

Innovation with offline sales is about being able to empathise with your prospect – see through their eyes and create what they need.

You shouldn’t ask someone else to take on the job of working out the right strategy to do marketing or innovation in your business.

It’s too important to be delegated – and it must sit with you.

You can get help thinking through the strategy, and help implementing it from technology experts – but you have to take responsibility for the direction of travel, for the strategy itself.

And that means putting aside enough time to work on the task until you master it.

So, the next thing is to work out where you can free up your time.

Automate non-core tasks

There are lots of things you might be capable of doing, even good at doing.

But they aren’t things that are core to your business.

These are tasks like administration, filing, invoicing.

They are hugely important, if you don’t send out invoices you’re not going to get paid.

So, they have to be done – but do they have to be done by you?

The starting point here for most people is to ask whether what they want to do can be automated.

There are lots of online services that help with this particular problem – especially when it comes to sending out invoices.

But, if you’re any good with spreadsheets you can build most of the same functionality for yourself.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to get good enough at spreadsheets so you can automate most of this kind of work.

You might not be the kind of person that likes to use a spreadsheet – but it’s often a lot easier than having to deal with hiring and managing an individual.

The traditional answer to this kind of space – the stuff you can do but that’s non-core – is to get someone else to do it.

Hire someone, get a contractor.

These days, however, the first thing you should do is figure out whether it can be done by a program.

If it’s not worth you doing, then maybe it’s not worth anyone else doing either.

These costs are overhead costs – they are non-value adding.

That means you spend money to get them done but they don’t make you any more money as a result.

These kinds of costs have a nasty habit of creeping up unless you’re very careful.

An investment in automation is expensive in time up front but it saves you a lot of headaches later on.

Hire in support only when you absolutely have to do it.

But, when it comes to experts – get the best you can find.

Get help when you need it from specialists

If you have settled on a strategy that works for you and made sure that you have the time to work on it by automating the other work you have to do, it’s time to think about your support team.

If you focus on making sure customers can find you through excellent marketing and master the art of innovation – understanding what products and services they really really need – then you will know exactly what work needs to be done.

And if it’s not something you’re the best at doing, get in someone who is.

For example, if you’ve worked out a business development strategy for your consultancy client – then when it comes to implementation make sure you have a great copywriter, graphic designer and online marketing specialist on your team – if those are things you aren’t good at.

You don’t need to have them on your payroll, but make it easy for them to work with you – and pay them well.

You’re better off paying someone a higher rate than they ask for, and insisting on their best work delivered as fast as possible than you are going for the cheapest bid.

You want to partner with people that have integrity, people you can trust.

When you do that you can rely on the job getting done.

And you have to do one last thing to sleep easy at night.

Stop doing everything else

You have to stop doing the things that don’t need to be done – the things that you’re not good at and that aren’t core to your business.

In the beginning you might try lots of things, give yourself lots of tasks.

Say “Yes!” to everything.

But over time you’ll start to get a feel for the things that help you make progress and the things that don’t.

You should never feel guilty about abandoning something that doesn’t work.

If this book isn’t useful stop reading now.

If a marketing approach isn’t working – stop doing it.

Abandoning something is not a sign of failure – it’s a pragmatic assessment of whether something is worth doing or not.

You can always pick up the book later if you find it’s useful.

The key is designing something that works for you

The essential idea of the circle of competence is knowing where it is – where the boundary lies between what you’re good at and what you’re not.

But, when you run a business it’s not as simple as that.

You can’t just lock yourself away and do what you’re good at.

You have to also do what’s good for the business – but you don’t have to do it all yourself.

You can leverage the power of technology and the power of partnerships to expand your circle of competence.

But you still need to know where to stop – the boundary between doing things that are useful and things are not.

The boundary that separates value creating activity from value destroying activity.

Another way of looking at this is through the idea of value demand and failure demand, a concept created by John Seddon.

We’ll look at a template for assessing that tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh