My first 90 Days In Marketing: What I Wish Someone Told Me!

First: Get a sales job. (Seriously)

In high school, I worked the counter at the pro shop of a nearby golf course. That fired me up for two reasons: I got many things at a discount, and I served finicky, wealthy customers who demanded excellent service. This taught me a lot about how to interact with demanding customers.

Later on in life, as I’ve written separately, I lost everything and ended up sleeping on an Aerobed on a friend’s floor. The only position I could find (even though I was a marketer) was a 100% commission sales role selling home heating oil at night.

What happened?

I crushed that role, becoming the #1 sales rep in two weeks, and stayed at that performance level until I left the company.

When I tell that story to salespeople, and I explain how I’ve sold things without a net – under duress, in the toughest circumstances – their respect for me goes up, they listen to what I say, and they use the tools that I build for them.

PUNCHLINE: It’s really critical for you to establish credibility with the sales team you are going to serve. The best way to do that is to simply understand their world. Imagine what their face will look like when they ask, “Well, what you know about selling?” And you respond, “Actually, I took a sales job because I really wanted to know what you go through. So, I don’t completely understand what you live through each day, but consider me your brother or sister at arms.” Wow. How’s that for a great response from a marketing team member?

Second: anything that doesn’t come from a customer’s mouth is nothing more than an educated guess

Early on in my career, I was very opinionated – even about things that I only knew a little about. Shoot, I’m still very opinionated.

Here’s the thing: I discovered that the only thing that stopped arguments or debates was when I could respond with something like, “I interviewed eight of our customers and they told me the following five things…” End of discussion. Not only was I able to provide an answer to an objection, but I provided insights that many people didn’t have in the room. As Morpheus said in the movie The Matrix, about the Sentinels: “They are holding all the cards; they are holding all the keys.” Customers are similar.

Customers can solve just about any problem and understand many things that we don’t. If you ask good questions – not stuff like, “Hey, uh, why do you like our product,” but instead: “Tell me the top three reasons you chose to buy from us instead of any other option – including the option of doing nothing,” you’ll get great answers. Their answers will probably surprise you, and they will probably surprise folks around your organization.

You see – due to something I call the “Law of Familiarity,” people often see what they are most accustomed to (Social psychologists call it Selective Perception). Here’s how it works in marketing: in 15 years of interviewing customers – Never, never, ever has a client’s answer to “Why do your customers buy?” matched the reasons customers told me in a direct interview. Not once.

PUNCHLINE: Be the person in your company who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid about the product, features, specs, etc. Understand the customer – ask THEM why they buy – and share those insights. The rest of the organization will notice. And respect you for it.

Third: Tell value stories, not product stories.

I actually learned this from selling. Nothing focused me like sitting in a conference room across from the prospect, and knowing that if I didn’t close that deal, then I was not going to be able to pay my rent or mortgage that month. This is one of the advantages to selling, as I recommended in point #1. Getting a sales job for even a short period of time will focus your messaging very, very quickly down to the things that customers respond most to.

I learned that customers cared far more about the value of what we offered – what it could do for them – than about features and functions. Good rule of thumb: NO TECHNO-LATIN!

So be sure you translate what you offer into value stories. Better yet, follow #2 above and interview your customers, capture THEIR VALUE STORIES and repeat what THEY SAY.

If you have customer value stories, you will be able to create marketing that stands out as utterly different from the rest of the noise in the market – you know, the stuff that sounds like this; “We provide enterprise class, best of breed, multi-platform solutions, delivering maximum ROI, blah blah blah.”

These lessons have been game changers for me. I hope they give you a leg up in your journey as well.

In summary:

1.  Get a sales role. Seriously.

2.  Remember: Anything that doesn’t come from a customer’s mouth is nothing more than an educated guess – so get good at getting inside your customers’ heads.

3.  Tell value stories, not product stories. As much as we love our products, the customer only cares about value.

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