How To Do A Good Customer Interview That Helps You Sell Your Product Or Service

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Wednesday, 5.34am

Sheffield, U.K.

As a professional journalist, I’ve been interviewing people for almost thirty years. And the one thing I’ve learned from all those interviews is that I am always going to be surprised. – Hector Tobar

The biggest mistake you can make as you get started on your business is to assume that you know what people want.

And the biggest defence you have against making that mistake is to get really good at listening and asking questions – interviewing your customers to understand their situation and what they really need to check your own beliefs – and change them if needed.

How do you go about doing that?

Start by being genuinely interested in them

You may have spent months, even years working on your ideas, your proposition, and are eager to tell everyone about what you do and how they can buy from you.

Don’t.

Think about the dynamic that exists when you first talk to a prospect.

They may know you very well or they may have agreed to speak with you because you’ve reached out to them or been introduced.

But you probably don’t know a great deal about them and their background and what interests them and what they’re trying to do.

The traditional approach is to start telling them all about yourself, all the things you’ve done and the types of products and services you have.

When you do that you start selling yourself – and it’s too early for that.

You need to first understand what they need, what they’re trying to do, what their purpose is.

If you understand their purpose you can talk about what you do in terms of how it helps them achieve their purpose – and you can make it more relevant and therefore more persuasive.

Now, you’re not trying to understand them just so you can sell to them – that’s not the best attitude to take.

You need to start by wanting to learn more about their situation, their business, what they do – because when someone has spent years doing something that is a genuine opportunity to learn and understand and appreciate a situation that you may be unfamiliar with.

It’s like being an anthropologist.

Every time you go into a new business, a new environment, you’re in the position where you’re studying and trying to appreciate a new culture – a group that do things in a certain way and have certain attributes, when it comes to power and politics.

You need to let go of your own assumptions, your beliefs and immerse yourself in the situation in front of you – as the saying goes, first seek to understand and then only to be understood.

And you start doing this by listening and asking good questions.

How to listen and ask good questions

When you listen to someone you need to do so actively, immersing yourself and picking up on as much as you can.

You can’t do this by sitting passively in a chair.

Get out a notebook, get on a whiteboard – take hand-written notes because the research shows that you’ll retain more information this way.

Write down what you can, draw concepts, connect ideas – you’re trying to capture the detail of what’s going on in someone else’s head – and the way in which you take notes is an important part of that.

Your note-taking helps you to pick out important ideas and reconstruct a narrative in your own mind that you can play back to your prospect to show you understand what they’re trying to do.

And you help those ideas to surface by asking good questions.

So, what makes a good question?

Some people talk about how you should as open questions rather than closed ones – but the research doesn’t really suggest that those distinctions make any difference.

Instead, I’d suggest that the one thing you don’t do is ask a leading question.

A leading question is one that tries to also contain the answer that you want to get.

For example, if you have spent three months creating a product that helps people to clean windows – you might ask something like, “Would you use this product to clean your window?”

The answer you want is implicit in the question – you want the listener to say “Yes!”

And they probably will – after all, it’s a hypothetical question about possible future behaviour, they don’t want to hurt your feelings and it costs them nothing to say what you want to hear, given the way you’ve asked the question.

Instead, if you ask them, “How often do you clean your windows” and the answer is, “Can’t remember the last time” or “The cleaner does it” that tells you a lot more about their buying habits in the past.

What they’ve done in the past is a much better indicator of what they will do in the future than what they say they will do in the future.

This is an important concept to grasp – past behaviour is probably the best indicator of future behaviour you can get.

If someone has a need for the kind of thing you’re selling and has bought something similar in the past – that’s a good sign that they will buy something like that in the future.

The other kind of information you want to ask questions around is the context – what’s the situation that existed when those decisions were made.

Why did you take that decision in that way at that time?

You will learn about what’s happening around that decision making process, the ideas, the people, the characters, the pressures involved – all the external elements that constrain and limit the possibilities and buying behaviour of your prospect.

These contextual factors probably still exist – people and culture change slowly.

The ways of working that you see modelled by three professions are ones that I find useful to keep in mind.

These are lawyers, journalists and anthropologists.

Lawyers are looking for the facts, what happened and when it happened and what the truth is about a situation.

Journalists are looking for the narrative, the story, the thing that links together the facts – and the way in which the people involved think and feel about what is going on.

And anthropologists look at the culture and dynamics of the situation – how the people in there act and why they act the way they do – they try and empathise with them.

If you get the facts, understand the story and have empathy – you now have a powerful basis on which to construct your own pitch.

How to pitch yourself

If you listen and ask good questions and get a genuine understanding of what the person you’re talking to is trying to achieve, what their purpose is, you can talk about what you do in relation to how it helps them achieve that purpose.

The bad way to do this is in a manipulative fashion.

If you’ve memorised your sales pitch and the features of your product and you try and link what you do to what you’ve heard without actually realising that they don’t fit together without someone changing something you’re going to fail.

For example, I once took a sales call where I explained that what I wanted was to work with partners who would introduce us to prospects directly.

The sales person wanted to sell me a marketing subscription service and pitched it as being able to do that direct introduction.

And instead of listening the sales person tried to use pressure and force a sale through persuasion and argument, which is both tiring and irritating for the listener and eventually I hung up on the person.

If someone has taken the time to tell you about their world it gives you an opportunity to look at what you do and see if you can adapt it for them.

If you can get your product or service fit their purpose then you’re in a good position to talk about working together.

If you can’t or you haven’t got the discretion to do so, then there isn’t a fit and you won’t get anywhere by trying to force one.

Find someone else who is a better fit.

Really, once you understand what’s going on you have two choices.

Change what you do or find someone else who needs what you do now.

And the biggest advantage you have when getting started is that you can change quickly, you can adapt what you do to what you learn people need – as long as you’re open and listen and learn.

If you use this approach you’ll find very quickly that you’re no longer selling.

What you’re doing is creating products that are fit for purpose – products that have a market and consumers want.

And then consumers will start to pull those products from you – you still need to get it in front of them but there will be a better fit and your chances of making sales will increase significantly.

The last thing you have to do is get yourself ready to do all the other stuff – construct the value chain that gets things into the hands of your customer.

We’ll cover that as we come to the end of this Getting Started book project.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Are You Going To Show The World What You Do Better Than Anyone Else?

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Sunday, 6.32am

Sheffield, U.K.

It would be better for everyone if we deleted everything by default and saved the things that are important to us. – Evan Spiegel

In the last post we looked at how you should make it easy for people to do business with you.

One important part of that is how you look when compared to the competition – how easy is it to find someone else who does what you do?

What is your moat?

If you’re going to spend a significant amount of time and money getting started on a new project you want to make sure that you have a sustainable competitive advantage.

That doesn’t mean just being a little bit better or providing the same thing everyone else does.

If what you do can be widely found and easily compared, then you are operating in a commodity market, and price setting is done by the market.

The advantage you have to have in that situation is in your ability to keep costs low and market your product effectively.

Or you can be content with a smaller market share.

For example, if you open a market stall you’ll be in a space competing with other, similar food businesses and your income will depend on the level of demand in any given period.

If you’d like to have more control, however, you need to start building a moat, something that acts as a barrier to entry for other people wanting to compete with you.

That’s why you’d build your castle on top of a big hill, surrounded by defensive walls, with a moat and spikes to greet people.

What you want to do is make them stop and think again, look at what you’ve created and decide that maybe it’s best not to compete with you.

Using content to set yourself apart

Think about your business idea – the thing that you want to do.

What is it that sets you apart these days?

It’s not pricing or service – the world is full of national service providers who can provide anything anywhere faster and cheaper than a startup can.

What they can’t do is provide you – you as an individual.

If you try and compete on the basis of stuff – it’s quite likely that you’ll come up against competitors that have more and better stuff than you.

If you compete on the basis of you – well, that’s unique, there’s only one of you and you have her or him.

So the first thing you have to do is think about how you can make your business about you, about your team.

This can be a difficult concept to accept because most people feel like they would like to separate their business from themselves – as if it could be run and delivered by anyone.

And you can do that – but you won’t have an advantage over the other identical, anonymous services out there.

The kind of advantage you have when you work on building a personal connection with others in your market.

And these days you do that through content, by creating material that shows the world what you do.

And if you create enough of it you start to create your moat – you build this collection of material that showcases how well you do what you do and how you go about doing what you do.

The trick with content is keeping it focused, making it easy for yourself and working in the same space day after day.

Select a format and stick with it.

When I started this blog, for example, I settled on a format that worked for me: a hand-drawn image that captured the essence of the concept, a relevant quote, and then a piece of text that explored the concept further.

The topics have been wide ranging, but within the realm of management and the improvement of situations that people consider problematic – and in my field and for the people I work with, it helps to establish my capability at doing what I do.

When you look around for examples of people who do this, the best ones are not necessarily the most popular content creators.

With popular content, the audience that watches is actually part of the creator’s product – their market is actually the advertisers who want to reach that audience.

The best examples for a business that’s getting started are the ones that create content that is relevant and helpful to their customers and helps them achieve certain outcomes.

But it’s hard to start with what’s in your customer’s minds – so it’s best to start with what’s in yours.

And work out a way to express and publish that.

Selecting where to publish your creative work

There are a bewildering array of choices out there for how to get your content published.

It depends on the nature of your business, your ability to use the technology, your comfort levels with opening up to the outside world.

There is no one best way – there is only the way that works for you.

Ask yourself what you find easy to do that other people find hard.

If you like writing, then long form blog posts may be the way to go.

If you are happier speaking but don’t like being in front of the camera, then try out podcasts, screencasts or narrated presentations.

If you like video, then talk to camera.

The important thing is to pick an approach that works for you, your personality and your ideas, and work on creating content.

You build your defences by first piling up everything you can and then you can build your castle on top.

You can publish on every platform out there or pick a few and let people find you.

In the early stages, treat what you do as a learning opportunity.

You’re learning if you can create content in this way, day after day, without burning out.

You’re learning if you like doing what you’re doing – life is too short to spend doing tasks you hate.

But if you’re creating content on topics that interest you using methods that are easy for you to use – then it’s really simple to accumulate that material you need – the material that will eventually help you stand apart from everyone else.

But it helps if what you do has something unique about it.

And creating something unique is easier to do than you might think.

We’ll look at that next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Create An Authentic Business Model For Yourself

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Friday, 5.48am

Sheffield, U.K.

But above all, in order to be, never try to seem. – Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935-1951

How do you create a business that is authentic – something that is consistent with your values and approach to life and the world?

This is actually quite a difficult question to answer, because we’re so wrapped up in layers of learning and expectation and beliefs that it’s hard to find anything that’s truly “our view”.

We may have to start by looking at people who live in the way we would like to live – find people to model.

What do we do once we find them?

Acting the life you want to lead

The first step is to recognise just how little we know about everyone else and how little they know about us.

It’s like a sea of darkness, the pitch black of ignorance – of a lack of knowledge.

You start to understand others by what you see and hear on the surface – your senses can only take in surface impressions.

For example, someone may act in a certain way, tell you about themselves, make certain decisions – and you have to infer their motives and capability from these surface impressions.

Are they telling you something because they truly believe it or because they know that’s what you to hear?

How do you tell the difference between someone who is authentic and someone who isn’t, someone who has something of value and someone who is serving reheated, stale ideas?

Telling good from bad

The good news is that you have more information available to you now than there has ever been in the past.

If someone is selling you their programme or course or package you’ll probably have someone, somewhere who’s actually experienced it and can tell you about it.

If you go through enough of their material you can start to tell how much of it is sizzle and how much is steak, what you’re going to get for your money.

And, along the way, you’ll start picking up clues for the options you have to be who you want to be.

For example, at one extreme you might have a pony-tailed, long-bearded academic talking about his research and findings and what they mean.

At the other extreme you might have a well-groomed person in an expensive suit talking about his sales training programme.

You might have a writer talking about her journey and interviewing others on her podcast about their approach to building an independent writing career.

And you could have a presenter, with great stage presence who puts out content that is amplified by her personality and approach and appearance – in particular how attractive she is.

Each individual will have a different approach, one suited to their personality and values and preferred ways of acting.

It’s tempting to think that academic content is more robust than that put out by lay people or practitioners but that isn’t always the case.

Academic content is not always practical and usable and content created by practitioners is not always unsubstantiated “common sense”.

The thing to look for in these various examples is elements that you think will work for you – approaches that fit the way you want to position yourself.

If you believe that lighting, makeup and clothes are critical for the impression you want to make then that needs to be part of the capability you put in place for your business.

If you think that you can go with the content you have and it makes no difference whether you wear a suit or not – then that’s ok too.

The first step to being authentic is acting in a way that is consistent with the kind of values and behaviours you want to model yourself, having seen how others model them.

Choosing an approach that works for you

What’s important is selecting ways to act that are consistent with the way in which you want to come across.

For example, I prefer the kinds of material created by presenters who focus on the content rather than on the packaging.

I have been looking at video production for a few weeks now and trying to work out what kind of approach would work for me.

Is it a screencast, an overhead camera, a mix of direct presentation and cuts to content?

There are many examples, from exquisitely crafted segments with high quality DSLRs and extensive editing to one-take videos where you press record, do your thing, press stop and you’re done.

I’ve tried different approaches and the one that’s resonated with me most strongly is the one-take video strategy.

It’s simple, direct and focuses on the content and message.

It’s consistent with my approach to drawing and writing, which is to keep things simple, direct and frugal.

In that sense, I feel like that approach would be more “authentic” than if I tried to add more complexity or production quality to the content.

That decision will turn off some people and attract others – but you shouldn’t do things just to appeal to a market segment.

You can’t fake emotion or values – you can just use actions to get across your intent and leave it to people to make up their own minds about you and your material.

And the reason you start by finding people to model is not so you can become like them.

You can’t become someone else – you have to build on who you are and what you believe in.

The purpose of finding people to model is to study the different ways in which people act out their values and beliefs and give you ideas for what you can do yourself.

The reflective process

Once you have a go and act the way you think you should – then you have to take time to study and reflect on the result.

For example, if you want to write, then you start by reading a lot, and then sitting down and writing.

Then you look back at what you’ve written, reflecting on what works, what doesn’t work and where you can improve.

That simple process is the key to improving how you do what you do and becoming more authentic in the way you do it.

It’s the same process whether you’re creating a course, video content, a new business model.

Act, reflect, act, reflect.

It’s all about making that surface level visible, making it as easy as possible for someone to look at you, see what you’re about and decide whether to do business with you.

It’s about making it easy for them – and that’s what we’ll cover next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why Would Someone Hire A Professional Like You

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Tuesday, 5.50am

Sheffield, U.K.

Quality means fitness for purpose. So no matter what you produce – a good or a service – it must be fit for its purpose. To be fit for purpose, every good and service must have the right features to satisfy customer needs and must be delivered with few failures. It must be effective to meet the customer requirements and efficient for superior business performance. – Juran’s Quality Handbook, 6th Edition

Thinking for too long can be a problem.

Sometimes you just have to get out there and find out what people need so that you can build something that they want.

Something that helps them achieve their purpose.

Building something fit for purpose

The idea of quality seems simple but it’s a word that can get complicated very quickly.

After all, what does quality mean to you?

For some of us quality is found in the aesthetics, the design, the look and feel.

I know people who are turned off instantly if what they see is ugly.

Other’s couldn’t care less about the surface impression – they’re interested in the numbers, the detail.

Other’s think about the philosophy, the values, the intent of the producers.

And it can get quite complicated to unravel very quickly.

Take the iPhone, for example.

The iPhone is designed to be beautiful, to be eye catching – to be the best phone, to be a symbol of prestige.

It’s certainly an indicator of wealth.

It turns out that you can map where the rich people are by mapping the density of iPhones – the more iPhones, the wealthier the neighbourhood.

Then again, if you just want a phone, some apps and a camera there are cheaper options, there are second-hand options.

It depends on whether you care about having the latest model.

And then, for me personally, I haven’t bought an iPhone for a while because the philosophy of Apple irritates me – the focus on keeping control and trying to imprison you in their ecosystem.

They make it hard to use their phones with any non-Apple systems and that lack of interoperability just makes it too hard to trust their machines – I’d rather use something else than deal with all that.

The point I’m making is that what is obviously a great quality product to one person may be seen very differently by someone else.

Your job as a professional is to work out what quality looks like to the person you’re trying to provide a product or service to.

And that starts by understanding their purpose – what are they trying to do and what are their constraints.

When you understand that you can build something that helps them achieve their purpose within their constraints.

Something that is fit for purpose.

But first you have to understand what all that looks like from their point of view.

Letting the prospect talk

A good sales process starts not with answers but with questions.

Why does the person need a professional like you, what are they trying to do in the first place?

You’re not going to think your way to the answer there, you need to start listening to what people have to say.

For example, let’s say you have a software development firm and a prospect comes to you – most people will launch into a pitch about what they do and the features and benefits of their product.

Not many will let the prospect talk about their situation, their problems and the reasons why they are looking for a solution.

But that’s where you really should start – by understanding the situation they are in, the problems they are facing and what that means for them – the impact that it has.

And you can’t find out any of that without letting them talk and asking questions that illuminate their situation.

When you do that you start to get a feel for why they are in the market for a product of service.

Are they looking at the value of time – they haven’t got time internally or their time is busy doing other work – so they’re looking to buy some time from someone who can do the work.

Do they realise that they haven’t got the skills they need so they’re looking for someone who can provide those complementary capabilities.

Or perhaps what they need is a restricted capability – something only a lawyer or accountant can provide – or they have to do it in order to comply with a rule or regulation.

Perhaps they don’t know what they’re looking for exactly – but they do know they’re trying to solve a problem that’s been around for a while.

It’s only when they recognise the unique shape and size of what they want and see that there is a need for it that they’re going to take the next step of working with someone like you.

Think of it like a puzzle – one with a strange shape that they don’t yet recognise.

They just know there is a hole.

If you can help them understand and articulate the shape that will fill that space, that’s a start – now they know what they need.

If you can show them that you can do it with quality – build something that’s fit for purpose then you’re in with a good chance of getting that project – now they know they can get it from you.

If you can show them that going with you is the best alternative – because you both now know what needs to be done you can do it at the best possible quality and the lowest possible cost – they now know you’re the best choice.

Bringing it all together

Once you’ve listened to what the prospect has to say and asked questions and helped them to understand what they need and how you can help you now need to put it all together in a proposal they can approve.

That actually becomes quite a simple task.

Because you know what they want you can simply list out what you’re going to do to give them what they want.

One of the things I’ve learned is that short proposals work if you put in the time to understand what people need.

When you don’t know you throw in everything you have – you try and explain everything you do hoping that something will stick and attract their attention and interest.

But if you know what they need you can cut out everything that isn’t relevant – you can create something short and to the point.

Just add costs, preferably costs that you’ve already established work within their budgets and you’re done.

Now, what’s the value you’re brought here?

It’s showing the difference between doing it yourself and hiring a professional.

A professional can help you do a quality job – quality in the sense of doing what’s needed to the standard needed, free of failures.

And you can only be a professional if you can provide a quality service – something which you have spent time developing and which is the best use of your time.

That’s something to explore next.

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