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

Why You Should Make It Very Easy To Do Business With You

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Saturday, 5.42am

Sheffield, U.K.

Easy reading is damn hard writing. But if it’s right, it’s easy. It’s the other way round, too. If it’s slovenly written, then it’s hard to read. It doesn’t give the reader what the careful writer can give the reader. – Maya Angelou

When you’re getting started on a new business opportunity, perhaps setting up for the first time, it’s tempting to think about what you’re going to charge, how you’re going to make money.

Here’s the first thing you need to realise.

How much money you can charge isn’t based on what you think – it depends on what the market does.

And what the market does is create demand for what you do – so let’s start with that.

Understanding demand

The word “demand” in a business context means that there are consumers out there who are willing to buy what you are offering and have the ability to pay for it.

The price of your product is one element, but there are other important ones too.

Tastes and preferences matter, budget matters, the prices of alternative products or services matter, expectations of what will happen in the future to prices matter.

You also have to think about how many consumers are out there and how many units of product they want.

For example, let’s say you want to start a social media services company.

The demand for your service will depend on how many consumers are out there that need help with their social media and have a budget for outside support.

There are a number of companies that offer this kind of service, so their tastes and preferences will influence their choice – do they like your work, do they like you personally, do they prefer a local service, is there something unique you do that appeals to them?

Can you supply what they need. For example, if you are a one-person company and they need at least three people working on their account you’ve got an issue.

There are other factors specific to the situation that can also affect demand.

For example, if the weather is hot you’ll sell more ice cream – but you can’t control the weather, you can only respond to it.

Make it easy to service demand

Look at every aspect of your business and see how easy it is for someone to do business with you.

People don’t like taking risks, they’re wary about taking leaps of faith, they’re concerned that they’re being scammed.

So an essential part of your business development strategy is to find ways to put your prospects at ease – show them that you can do what you say you can do.

That means having proof – a portfolio, existing customers, references and examples of completed work.

One of the first challenges someone starting up has is to get over the idea that as the person doing the work they have to be seen as an expert, as someone with trade secrets.

That kind of thinking is around fifty years old.

These days you have to show people everything – be as open as possible with what you do and how you do it.

The more you show about yourself and your process and your approach the more information they have to work with.

And some people won’t like what they see and will walk away and that’s ok – you wouldn’t have worked with them anyway.

But at least you made it easy for them to decide.

Often you have to provide some free consultancy to show that you can do something.

For example, a client may book a free session with you to see what you can do.

If they ask for another one then you might offer that for free if it looks like that’s going to lead to a sale.

If they ask for a third free one, you need to be wary – they’re starting to look like the kind of person that will take what they can and then walk away.

So, tell them there’s going to be a charge, let them walk away if they choose to, and to make it easy for yourself the next time, start by telling people that you do two free sessions and then the next ones are chargeable.

Simple things, like building a portfolio, a library of resources that you can point people to, and doing low risk, low cost sessions that are as much about qualifying if a customer is serious as about doing the work are all part of your strategy to surface demand where it exists.

The only people that matter to you are they people willing to buy what you do – and everything you do should make it as easy as possible for those people to find and trust you.

Go where they are, advertise where they hang out, create offers that will draw them in, show your work and provide as much proof as you can and the demand will inevitably come in – if it exists.

You need to be clear-eyed about this – if there is no demand out there you don’t have a business.

But if it does, make it easy for them to compare you with others, see the value you bring.

Put guarantees in place, money-back offers, no-risk trials.

Create the capability to let your prospects experience what you do at no risk and no up-front cost.

The strategies you use will depend on your field – but content is a big part of that now.

Write, publish, create videos, document what you’re doing and put it online.

They days of experts who hide their knowledge are done.

It’s a little like how the book business is changing.

Once upon a time if you wanted to read a book you had to buy it.

Nowadays, more and more authors put the whole book out there for free in formats that cost them nothing.

And if someone wants to read it in a traditional format, buy a book or support the author in a different way then they can – if they want to.

And that’s the goal you should have for your own business model – create a business where people work with you because they want to – not because you have to push them.

Now, this is not easy for you to do.

The easy thing to do is print out a flyer listing what you do and the prices you charge.

Creating something that makes it easy for your prospect to buy from you is hard, challenging work as you create content and offers.

But that’s the work that will set you apart and help they decide they want to work with you, if they can afford to.

How to set your prices

Once you know there is demand out there you can meet it – at a price.

And pricing is actually quite simple – you start at zero and you keep raising it when you find there is more demand than you can supply with the resources you have.

For example, if you currently have no customers and no portfolio – the only logical thing to do is work for free.

That may seem a difficult thing to do if you have no money and need income to live.

If you’re in that situation then you don’t need to start a business – you need a job and need to work on the business on the side.

For free.

Even if you have no customers.

For example, if you want to start a consultancy business, start writing about your industry, doing small projects for friends or volunteering your time.

Do what needs to be done to build your skills and experience at practising and delivering your service.

Each time you do a project you’ll be adding to your portfolio – making something you can show later as proof of your capability.

Once you’ve done a few of these then people will ask you what you charge – and you charge what the market will bear.

If you have ten slots a month, for example, and you find they’re being filled quickly then raise your prices.

Double them for the next project and see what happens – you can always discount them back to the old price if you find that the buyer starts to squirm.

But if you really understand what they want and what their budget is, you can price the work to fit their budget.

But to do that you need to understand what they want and what their constraints are.

But before we do that let’s look at a few strategies to supercharge how you show your work over the next few posts.

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

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

Why You Need To Research How People Allocate Their Attention

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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.

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

How To Analyse The Way You Interact With Others

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Thursday, 7.39pm

Sheffield. U.K.

This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. – Alan Watts

The last post and the one before that were about introspective models – approaches to see who you really are with fresh eyes.

There are a few more of those approaches to look at, but it’s worth looking now at where your edge is – where do you end?

And, if you think about it, you end where someone else begins, and it’s hard to always tell where the boundary lies.

It’s like having your bubble – the bubble that contains you, your thoughts, your feelings – and having it come into contact with someone else’s bubble.

A huge amount depends on what happens when those two bubbles bump into each other – when that overlap and interaction take place between two people.

Think about it for a minute.

If you send out a cold marketing email your success depends on what happens at the interface, when your message comes to the attention of the recipient – if it’s not filtered out first.

The first meeting you have with someone, the subsequent meetings to talk about a project – all those interactions that take place time after time and which decide the success or failure of your business and career, or at least that particular project that you’re working on right then.

So, how do you get this right, what do you need to do to make this interaction work well?

A good way to understand this is to look at how children communicate – what they need to do in order to get on with each other.

In order to play nicely with each other.

If you look at child psychology textbooks, they will tell you that there are three things children have to be able to do to be able to play together.

Swapping information

The first is that they have to be able to swap information.

Partly, this has to do with language but, as you will know if you have ever taken children to a foreign country, kids can communicate quite well even if they don’t know each other’s language.

It has to do with what each person wants to do and trying to communicate that – swap information about each other’s likes and dislikes.

Finding something in common

The next thing children have to be able to do is decide on a common activity, something they’re both willing to do.

This creates the conditions for joint play, where they can both do something together that they’re both interested in.

Dealing with and resolving conflicts

The third key element that children have to be able to do is sort out the conflicts that inevitably arise.

If they can’t and it ends in tears then they’ll either walk away or be separated by grown-ups.

If they can sort it out themselves that will mean a longer period of play and perhaps the start of a friendship.

Applying these elements to your business

Now, if you think about it, the interactions you have in your business are really all about these same things.

Your marketing copy and advertising material are designed to give information to others.

At the same time the people who need what you’re providing have to make themselves findable.

So a lot of your initial work is all about figuring out what kind of person is interested in what you provide and swapping information with them.

Then, you have to find out if you have something in common – does your product fit their needs.

If it does then you have to resolve the questions and objections they have.

You’re not looking for someone like you

If you watch children playing conflict arises when two of them want the same thing – the same toy, the same role, the same reward.

The key to getting along is having a common interest and complementary capabilities – be able to work together and each bring something to the effort.

In any group of children you’ll find a mix of characters – and that’s what makes the dynamics of play work.

Once again, it’s the same with your business.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to do everything yourself or needs to have absolute control over the way things are done – you’ll find that only certain kinds of people will work with you.

If you’re loose and unstructured you’ll attract different kinds of people.

What you’re looking for is interpersonal fit

You need to understand how you work with others – how you play nicely – so that you can develop your project and grow your business.

You need to understand where you fit in, what your niche is and how that works with others in the same space.

When you understand that you’ll start to see the strategy and approach that’s going to work for you and the business you’re trying to build.

That’s what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh