Thursday, May 26, 2022

It’s all about the benefits: Communicating for Results

How does your product or service help your customers win?

I’ve been doing some marketing consulting with a client lately. When I asked them to describe some of their business-oriented products, I was taken aback when they quoted a litany of specs and features.

So I had to tell them they were putting the cart before the horse. This was a marketing opportunity, and they responded with random product details instead of customer benefits. 

The next time they're asked to describe their products, I asked my client to take a Benefits-First approach. Such as: “Customers like you are usually looking to get more done faster. Our product/service will help you get better results 20% faster, at half the cost of the process you're using now.”

And then, instead of droning on, I suggested they ask their prospect the all-important question:  "Would you like to hear more?" or "Can I tell you how it works?"

(I learned this long ago from Tom Stoyan, Canada's Sales Coach. Don't talk too long, and always ask for permission to keep going. Otherwise, how do you know you are answering the questions the prospect has in their head?) 

This process enables you to assess the client's interest level before you head too far in the wrong direction. You’ll get important feedback, whether the prospect says “Yeah, that sounds really interesting,” or, “No, that not what I need.”

Either way, you get to lead with HOW YOUR PRODUCTS and SERVICES CREATE VALUE FOR CUSTOMERS, rather than “here's how our products work.” Because no one cares how a product works until they believe it can help them.

BBF. Benefits before features.  


Why is BBF so important? 

Because business communication is simple, yet also really, really hard. The simplest part is the challenge we start with: managers and executives are smart people, but very busy and time-challenged. That often turns into impatience. If they don't understand a message, they are more likely to ignore it and forget about it than to take the time to do more research or ask questions. 

So it's essential for business communications to speak plainly and establish genuine connection as quickly as possible. Few business decision-makers have the time to offer you a second chance.

The hard part, then, is to find the right words with which to engage business buyers. Your language has to be simple and comfortable, yet put together in a novel, disciplined way that makes them insightful and compelling.  

The pressure is always on business leaders to accomplish more with the same resources (or less). So they are ALWAYS looking for better ways to get results. But experience tells them that most vendors add zero value, so they work hard to screen out every marketing claim they hear.

So our job is to establish credibility, impress people with our talent and potential, and give them a precise estimate of the benefits they can achieve by working with us. To break through those screens, quickly and memorably. 

The most valuable benefits most business leaders seek are usually cost savings, higher sales, performance improvements, or some combination thereof. 

So every client/prospect communication has to be about customer benefit: how much we can save them, or how our products/services can increase their effectiveness or capacity or profitability. You do this with a complex, ever-changing blend of research, rules of thumb, stories and anecdotes, customer testimonials, and so on. 

It takes preparation and discipline. Product knowledge is important, but customer knowledge is crucial. 

Until we’ve engaged prospects with our benefits promise, they're not even listening. Because they are always busy thinking, “Get to the point. What's in this for me?”

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Your Future, Your Choice

 I wrote the words below in an email today to a friend in business.

Then I realized it could be a blogpost. Maybe the most important post I've ever written.

It's about the green energy transition. It's about your future, and mine. The  future of business, the future of the planet, and the stark choices ahead of us.

Transformation is always hard. But what people don't realize is that the transition has already begun. You can embrace it now, or watch the tide sweep away the wasteful "old world." 

Here's my email.

I believe the climate issue is about to become BIG.
Because it's not just about fear any more. It's about action. It's going to be more and more about heroes, not villains. Financiers and funds, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, technology geeks, authors, promoters, pioneers, champions. Building new systems and technology, creating jobs, saving the planet. 

THIS is what we've been waiting for. Action on every front. Doing, not undoing. Change rooted in passion and invention, not regulation.
It would be a shame if we're not ready. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Your story is your future

I just finished a major journalistic project that involved writing brief profiles on 50 exciting up-and-coming companies.

My job was to explain what each company does, who its customers are, and what has made the firm successful. 

Our timeline was tight, so we we made hasty arrangements for interviews with some of the CEOs, but we depended wholly on the web for much of our information.

That means not just scouring companies' websites for information, but also reading annual reports, financial statements, press releases, past interviews in print and on YouTube, customer reviews, industry reports, and whatever else we could find.

The disappointing part, and the concerning part, was to see how bad almost all of these companies are at explaining to a general audience what they do.

Sorry, "award-winning world-class solutions at scale" just doesn't cut it.  

Yes, a company that sells sophisticated electrical equipment needs to be able to communicate with sophisticated buyers of that kind of hardware. 

BUT, they also need to be able to communicate what they do to everybody else who might be interested in their story: employees and future hires, journalists, potential partners or investors, their local communities, possible suppliers, and all those potential customers who don't really understand which products they need.

If you can't communicate with a general audience at an engaging, Grade 8 level, you're not communicating at all.

My colleagues on this project were as surprised as I was by how bad most of these companies are at explaining what they do. Trying to understand their products, their strategies, or the needs of the marketplace is really difficult when companies talk only themselves in industry jargon.

How can you tell if your company is guilty of selective communication? 

Look up all the "About Us" information on your website or in your reports and sales materials. This includes company histories, "What We Do," mission and vision statements, and so on. Then round up your friends, your spouse, golf buddies, second cousins, any average group. Ask them to read this material, and then restate, in their words, what your business does. 

Ask them, too, what benefits you provide, how you do it, and who your audience is. 

I predict you'll find that your explanations are nowhere near as clear as you thought.

How do you fix this problem? 
Find someone on staff who can write, and challenge them to tell your story better. Hire a marketing student, or an ex-journalist, or even a PR firm, to tell your story. Let them ask all the questions they like. Start with a blank slate, and you'll be able to see your company clearly for what it does, not what it looks like from the inside.

These are the sorts of questions that your "About Us" company stories need to answer:
  • What does your company do? 
  • Who are your customers? How do your products or services help them achieve their goals faster, more economically, or more powerfully?
  • What's your one-sentence mission statement?
  • Does your company have a purpose higher than merely selling more goods and services?
  • How are your purpose and mission aligned?
  • What's your best customer story?  (A customer story explains how your products and expertise helped a client achieve its goals or exceed expectations. It's powerful because it explains what your company does from the customer's point of view, not yours.)
  • What's your vision for your industry? What are your own company's goals within that context?
  • What are your plans for making your customers experiences and outcomes even better in future? 
When you answer these questions (and better still, engage all your people in discussing the answers), you'll be miles ahead as an organization. You'll have renewed purpose, and incredible alignment around what you do and your common objectives. 

And you'll make customers a part of your journey and your future success. Not just puzzled outsiders, scratching their heads as they try to figure out what your world-class solutions can do for them.

Further reading: 

Me mocking silly vision and mission statements, part 1
The 9 Worst Mission Statements of All Time
17 Best Mission Statement Examples (+ How to Write Your Own)