The Biggest Mistake that Marketers Make
I recently gave two keynotes for MarketingSherpa's B2B Summits, and am also doing some webinars for MarketingProfs. Prior to these events, I interviewed marketers who would be attending, so I could meet my goal of delivering presentations that were helpful, eye-opening, and radically career-enhancing.
These interviews are a good example of the Roadmap method in action, and the results were predictably successful. When I did speak in Boston and San Francisco, no one was doing their email or playing with their iPads while I was speaking, and there was a long line of very enthusiastic marketers getting their books signed after I spoke.
During the course of the interviews, one of the questions I asked was: What is the source of your information about customers?
They all said the same thing. Every single one. Small and large companies, newbies and veterans, all kinds of industries.
Their answer, in essence, was: "Everyone else." In other words, they depend on salespeople, third parties, and surveys. They never, ever talk to customers personally.
This is why marketing is broken. This is why so much marketing barely gets a twitch out of the revenue needle. This is why CEOs have so little faith in their marketing people. This is why customers go to websites hoping to find answers and end up clicking away, discouraged and disgusted.
This is the biggest mistake marketers make, and it causes everything they do to be ineffective.
What's absurd about this scenario is that marketers are hired to communicate with customers. Is it possible to market effectively to someone you don't know personally? Nope. Is it smart to depend on "other people" to tell you what customers are thinking? Ridiculous. If someone asked you a series of multiple-choice or true/false questions, would they learn what you were really thinking, what drove you, what you wanted? Would they really know you? Not a chance.
Here's why the three main sources of customer information are so useless.
Depending on salespeople. When was the last time you told a salesperson what you were really thinking? None of us do. We know that if we raise an objection, the salesman will hammer away at it, until we cave.
Customers will not tell you what they are thinking while you are selling to them, but they WILL tell you what they were thinking after they have purchased from you. In their own best interest, for your continued success, they will be incredibly helpful.
Leaving customer contact up to the salespeople means that the salespeople are the only ones in a meeting who can say, with authority, "That's not what our customers want," even though their input is based on the evasions of the last few customers they talked to.
It's the marketer's job to know who customers are, how they think, what they want, how they buy, why they buy, and how they expect the company to treat them. This is why marketers are hired, and their failure to do it is what puts them in the doghouse. They just start cranking out copy, and experimenting with various channels. They can be, and often are, completely off the mark, not supporting the customers' buying process at all, and never addressing the customers' real concerns.
Third-party analysts. When I read any analyst’s report on marketing, half the time I'm gagging. I read one recently where the author was telling marketers how to proceed with their social media strategy. Where were they supposed to start? By interviewing their CEO. Now, that's not a bad idea - I recommend to marketers that they do that every six months, to make sure they're still aligned with the CEO's thinking. But at no point did the author recommend that the marketer primarily interview customers.
So the analyst’s “strategy” really boiled down to this: Want to succeed? Kiss up! Find out what the CEO wants, and give it to her!
This is the well-trodden path to failure, with ruts in the road a mile deep. Its practitioners will be fired within a couple of years. Real-world CEOs don't want flattery. They hate it. They see flattery as a red flag. They want the truth - and results. I've been very successful delivering those two things for years now, and my secret weapon has been exactly what I'm now trying to teach all marketers to do - interview the people who have already bought from the company, put what you learn into action, and everything will start to work.
Surveys. Sellers think like sellers, not buyers. If you put together a survey without interviewing customers first, it is riddled with your seller assumptions. All you're doing is asking your customers to verify your assumptions, so you can go merrily along in the wrong direction, under the delusion that you are right.
Marketers spend most of their time on internal politics, and on learning as much as they can about marketing methods and channels. They don't pay much attention to the very people they've been hired to convince. Any occasional marketing success is the result of close-enough product development, or the customer’s desperation.
It's so sad, really, because marketers could make a half a dozen phone calls (done correctly, as worked out over thousands of interviews, and yes, spelled out in my book), and they'd suddenly be the customer expert in the meeting, the one that even the salesperson will come to respect. Most marketers have never felt that respect, the same kind of respect that the CEO gives other executives in the company. Instead, they always feel like second-class citizens. If only they realized that only a few phone calls stand between them and their only true source of knowledge, power, and success.
Every marketer I interviewed said, "I'd love to talk to customers, but my salespeople won't let me." This is one of those times when marketers need to slam their proverbials down on the conference table. They need to say to those salespeople: “But I’m already talking to your customers, with every word written by myself and my team. All of those materials – including presentations – would be much more effective for you if we were writing to people we had talked to personally.” If the salesman still has doubts, slam my book on the table next to your proverbials and say, “Here. Read this, and then you’ll get it.”
If you're a marketer reading this, don't take no for an answer. You can and should interview customers who have bought from you. You can and will discover absolute trends, the right message and positioning, and the best channels for your messages. You will know what channels you should be investing in and what you can safely ignore. You will be able to LEAD the company in a customer-driven direction, instead of meekly trying to catch the crumbs falling off the salesperson's table. That's no way to live or work.
You can do better. Much better. Your career - and your company's revenue - depend on you understanding who your customers are, what drives them, and how they want you to sell to them. Read this. Do it.