By Robin Robins, President, Technology Marketing Toolkit, Inc.
There is an old saying that says you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. This is a great saying to live by, especially if you are a business owner or sales person whose bank account, lifestyle, and financial security is dependant on your ability to sell something. As sales people, we know we’re supposed to listen to our customers and ask questions so we can fully understand their wants and needs. Nothing new there; BUT, how many people actually do?
As a marketing consultant and sales copywriter, one of the most important things I have to do before writing any type of promotion is truly understand the target customer. In order to effectively persuade someone to take action, I have to know what they want most, what they hate, what they think about, what motivates them, and what their priorities are. This is the art of true listening; the ability to understand the way your customer thinks without filtering or altering it with your own beliefs, agenda, or opinions.
This is not difficult, but it takes practice. Hearing what someone said and truly understanding what they meant or where their opinion came from is as different as night and day. But if you want to become a great salesperson or marketer, this is a skill you must master. Let me give you an example, and give you a set of powerful questions that will revolutionize the way you “listen” to your customers and prospects…
IT managers have a much different agenda than a business owner. The IT manager wants to protect his turf. In most cases, he is very ego driven and doesn’t want to look bad to the boss or anyone else for that matter. He is a bit of a control freak (which, in truth, is not a bad trait for someone responsible for protecting a company’s data and operations). He needs to feel assured that you aren’t going to make him obsolete. This may be completely illogical from your point of view, but he’s the one writing the check.
You may think it’s obvious that you are there to make their job easier and to make them more productive. However, people don’t think logically, they think emotionally. Plus, the IT manager who feels this way is NOT going to verbalize this to you or anyone else. They’ll shoot a million holes in your proposal before they’ll admit they feel threatened by you. That being the case, you have to communicate in advance (through your marketing) how you are going to make them a hero in their organization, and then you have to be able to prove that through testimonials, guarantees, and other proof positive to your claim.
On the other hand, the business owner doesn’t have a clue about all the options, acronyms, and technical terms you are spouting off. As a matter of fact, it makes him a fearful buyer because he doesn’t know enough to determine whether or not you are giving him a good recommendation or not. Just the opposite of the IT manager–they want you to take control so they don’t have to concern themselves with anything technical. He doesn’t want to know the technical details. He simply is trying to figure out if he can trust you to do a good job, alleviate his problems, simplify his life, improve his business, and not overcharge him. His biggest concerns are making money, cash flow, customers, and avoiding business disasters.
Can you see how you would need a different marketing message to both of these individuals, even if they are in the same company? Most business owners don’t spend enough time truly looking at the world through their customers’ eyes and end up paying the price of this ignorance: starvation.
Years ago I did some work for an MRI imaging center. They wanted to find out how they could persuade more people to choose their state-of-the-art open MRI center over some of the older, better established facilities. They told me how new the facility was, how caring the staff was, how accurate the reports were, and how they would even come and pick up the patients at their home. They had tried running several full-page, very expensive ads in local magazines in an effort to get the word out about their new facility and the various benefits I just mentioned.
However, these ads were full of the reasons why they thought someone should be interested in their facility. Plus, they didn’t facilitate the natural buying process of their customers. After studying and understanding how patients choose MRI centers, I quickly discovered two things; first, most patients do not even realize they have a choice of MRI centers (they typically go where the doctor tells them to), and two, the second biggest concern was the fear of being in a very small, closed space. This is why their ads had zero pulling power…they didn’t educate the end buyer (the patient) that they had a choice of imaging centers, and they didn’t drive home hard enough the fact that they had an open MRI, which meant no more small, scary, claustrophobic tunnels to crawl in. But it doesn’t end there…
Upon even further study of where they were getting their BEST patients, I discovered that chiropractors treating accident victims were their best source of new business. After talking with several of their chiropractor customers (make a note of this; I actually picked up the phone and interviewed several chiropractors about why they were using this particular imaging center), I came to discover that they used this MRI imaging center because the reads (meaning the actual images and diagnosis) were more detailed than the ones they received from other MRI imaging centers, and therefore gave them a much better chance of getting their patients’ insurance company to pay for the treatment. Apparently, many insurance companies deny payment for chiropractic care unless it is deemed necessary based on the reads from the imaging center. One of the biggest frustrations for a chiropractor is not being able to deliver a full treatment plan to their patient because some insurance adjuster in a cubical with no medical experience is making the decision that chiropractic care is not necessary for their patient.
Now, without knowing the rest of the story, can you guess who I recommended they target and what the core message should be? For the slow group, here it is:
We targeted chiropractors with the following headline:
“Finally, A Proven Way to Stop IMEs from Interfering With Your Practice and Denying Payment for the Complete Treatment Plans Your Patients Need”
We built an entire campaign around a premise that included partnering with personal injury attorneys and using seminars and free reports to educate the doctors as to how they can best help their patients by sending them to this particular imaging center. Instant success. One of the first seminars they conducted brought in over 20 chiropractors–all good, viable customers for their center. Can you see that once you truly understand the customer, the message, and the benefits, the USP (unique selling proposition) becomes obvious?
So now, here’s your homework. Below are 12 questions you need the answers to about your target market BEFORE you start marketing to them. These questions will vary with the individual (business owners, IT manager, office managers, etc.) and the vertical market. Without the answers to these questions, you’re flying blind and will only get customers by chance or luck.
- What are your customers’ biggest frustrations, pains, and aggravations?
- What are they afraid of?
- Who (or what) are they currently using or buying from now?
- What do they like about this situation? What don’t they like?
- What do they secretly want?
- Who (or what) are they mad at?
- What trends are happening in their industry?
- What’s most important to them when looking for your product or service? In other words, what are the buying criteria for your product or service?
- What problems or frustrations have they had with other companies in your industry? Hint: they are going to expect you to be the same unless you can prove otherwise in your marketing.
- What events, situations, regulations, or dilemmas occur to prompt them to seek out your services? (Example: most companies installing a practice management or new accounting software package need to upgrade their network).
- What other companies are selling similar products and services to them successfully, and how are they doing it?
And finally, question 12 is a question you should already know the answer to, but probably don’t: What originally prompted your current customers to buy from you?
Once you know what your customer desires most (or wants to avoid most) your job is to make a good argument in your marketing materials as to how your product or service will help them get exactly that.