Tag Archives: customers

Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.

feedback

Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?

 

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Hungry for Knowledge

7 Mar

 When I want takeout, I use Seamless.  One password, one time entering my credit card number, food at my door in 25 minutes.

In the new age of higher education publishing, students will exclusively purchase access codes to online content.  Why should they have to visit four different publisher websites to purchase their course materials for the semester?  Create four different passwords?  Enter their credit card information four times?

Publishers are still stuck in the stone age of brick and mortar campus bookstores.  In the stone age, we shipped our books to the bookstore, and students bought them off the shelf.  With the rise of digital content, students now must navigate our often poorly designed websites, pick just the right online bundle of content among many similar choices, and then go through a lengthy purchasing process.  We never had to worry about our bounce rate until now, but I have no doubt that we lose customers because our digital purchasing is too complicated.

Free and open courseware, the de-emphasis of the textbook by instructors, and our pricing models have already damaged sell-through.    At the very least, we must eliminate barriers to purchase by coming up with a simpler way for students to find and buy our products.

The solution: one website on which students can search and purchase the digital content of all publishers.  Students create one password and enter their credit card information just once. 

A Seamless for course materials.  Our products contain so much knowledge, but we have a lot to learn from our favorite take-out spots.

 

Chinese Takeout - With cookie and blank fortune

The No Name Game.

7 Feb

“How long can you last without mentioning our product?”

That’s the question my sales manager asked me my first week on the job.  He wanted to know this: in a sales call, how long could I have a conversation with a potential customer without mentioning the name of our product?

When the A, B, C’s of selling are “Always be closing,” this game seemed counter-intuitive.  How could I sell anything to anyone without telling him about my wares?

Only with serious suspicions did I at first play the “no naming our product game.”  By the end of my time as a sales rep, I played it religiously.  It was clearly making me highly successful.

Stopwatch

Nearly every book on sales mentions the importance of establishing relationships.  My sales manager had a deeper insight.  He taught me that as soon as you mention the name of your product, the nature of the conversation changes.  What was once a chat about the customer and his or her needs now at some level becomes transactional.  When you name your product, you’re now a salesman trying to make a sale, no matter how aggressive or pushy you are.

My manager begged me to hold off on mentioning my product because he knew that I needed to get to know my customers before becoming a salesman in their eyes.  He knew that as soon as I mentioned my product, I could no longer ask qualifying questions freely.

In your next sales call, should you bring a stop watch and clock how long you can last before turning the conversation to your product?  Maybe or maybe not.  But I beg you to ask yourself this question:

  • Am I ready to change the nature of the conversation by mentioning my product? 

Meet In The Lobby At 7:15

2 Feb

The lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego is 150 yards long.  Asking someone you’ve never met to meet you in the Hyatt lobby when it’s buzzing with people is like playing Where’s Waldo without knowing what Waldo looks like.

hyatt lobby

I asked ten strangers to meet me in the lobby of the hotel at 7:15 before a group dinner.  At 7:35, after scrawling “group dinner” on a dopey paper sign and weaving my way through the lobby, I left with six of the guests in tow.  The other four are probably still in the lobby, asking themselves what kind of jackass would give them these instructions.

When you host an event, be specific as possible in your communication with your guests.  Hosting a group diner?  Tell the group to meet you in front of the concierge desk to the left of the front doors at 7:15.  Not just “in the lobby.”  Running a focus group?  Don’t tell attendees that the session will be held in the Del Mar room.   Make sure they know the session is in the South Tower of the hotel, on the 3rd floor, in the Del Mar Room.

We put too much work into our events to have them fail because we give incomplete instructions.  The more specific you are, the higher likelihood that attendees will show up and that your event will run smoothly.

I Never Won The Fifth Grade Science Fair

24 Jan

But I run experiments now.

When I think about my first year in marketing, I remember the headaches.  The pressure that built in my temples as I obsessed over tough decisions.  Which product feature should I tell our sales reps to highlight with customers?  Is this a headline that will get customers to look at my marketing materials?

I was a perfectionist trying to make just the right decision.  But without enough information to do so. 

I was new.  I didn’t know my customers well enough—didn’t have the knowledge I needed to guarantee a confident, correct decision. 

I’d obsess, hesitantly make a choice, doubt it afterwards, and then wait for the results.  Flipping a coin might have led to more success, and definitely would have saved me stress. 

Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup changed my perspective on decision making.  It’s one of the holy bibles of startup culture, but it’s applicable to everything we do.  There are lots of lessons in the book, but the most important one (for me) is this one:

  • Do not stress over decisions in which you have incomplete information.  Your goal is not to make the right decision (or build the right product) under possibly false assumptions.  Your goal is to learn before you act by testing your assumptions.  Worry about learning and the right decision will follow.

One way to learn is through devising an experiment.  Which isn’t that hard to do—I sure as hell never won the fifth grade science fair.  An example from my work:

Instead of obsessing over which chapters and pages in my textbooks our sales reps should show to customers, I’ve created an experiment where I intersperse “highlights” picked by our authors with random passages from the book.  I ask a group of customers to rank these passages and explain their evaluations.  If the rankings are consistent (if customers pick the same highlights and have similar reasons for doing so), I can confidently present tested passages to our sales reps.

Fewer headaches.  Better, more confident decisions.  The Lean Startup is worth the read.

The Lean Startup

When Content Isn’t King

22 Jan

Telling someone content isn’t king is like telling a mom that you think her baby is ugly.  It always leads to a shocked look, and sometimes a slap.

Which is why I’m hesitant to tell you this.  When it comes to achieving higher click-through rate (CTR) in marketing emails, the content of the email is DEFINITELY not king.

In my first year as a marketer, I wrote prose worthy of publication, copy that extolled the virtue of our beautiful wares (textbooks…).  But I still had average to below average CTR.  I spent significantly more time than my colleagues worrying about the body copy of my emails, but that extra time didn’t lead to more customers clicking on links in my emails.

Which led me to examine more closely my marketing emails.  Which led to the conclusion that if I were a potential customer, I would have NEVER clicked on the links in my own emails.

That was humbling.  But also helpful.  I realized that the reason that I wouldn’t have clicked on my own links had nothing to do with the copy I wrote.  It had to do with what I now know are the two critical components of CTR:

  • The subject line
  • The link we ask customers to click on

For you to achieve high click-through, customers 1) have to open your email and 2) click on the link you provide them.  It doesn’t matter how good your copy is (and mine was good, damnt).  If your subject line is spammy or doesn’t convey that there will be clear value within the email, customers will just delete it without opening.  And if they open it, the description of the link you want them to click better be specific (“Learn more here” just doesn’t cut it) or they won’t click on it.

I now spend all of my time worrying about subject lines and my links…and my click-through rate is the best in my marketing team.  When I write the actual body copy of my emails, my goal is not to pen magic that will allure customers.  It’s only to keep the content short so customers make it to my link.

The content isn’t king.  It’s so intuitive to me now when it comes to CTR, it’s shocking I didn’t realize it sooner. 

Change your perspective on CTR.  Focus on the subject line and the link, not the copy.  And enjoy more success.

My Biggest Fear…No One Shows Up.

16 Jan

Most of us worry that we’ll be stood up on a first date.  Some of us are afraid that no one will show up at our funeral.  I tremble when I think of no one showing up for my focus groups.

Before running my first focus groups, I feared that every participant who RSVP’d would stand me up.  I imagined an immaculate (but empty) conference room, pens and notepads perfectly arranged at every seat around the table, condensation dripping from completely full carafes of water because no one was there to drink them.  My colleagues would shake their heads at me in disappointment.  A ton of time and money would be wasted.  These thoughts kept me up at night.

I never had an entirely empty conference room, but in the beginning, attendance fluctuated.  I was never sure participants would actually come to the session.

Recently however, I’ve tweaked my focus groups in a very slight way that has stabilized attendance and has made my life much less stressful.

Now, before focus groups, I send out an online survey through SurveyMonkey and require attendees to complete it.  Not only does the survey give us great background information on our participants, but it greatly increases attendance.  Why?

1)      After completing the survey, the focus group is no longer a nebulous session that participants committed to in the spur of the moment but can blow off–it’s an actual event that we’re counting on them for.  They haven’t truly committed to coming until they fill out the survey.

2)      The survey shows attendees just how serious we are about getting their feedback.  The survey sets a professional and productive tone, which leads to higher attendance.

3)      If someone doesn’t fill out the survey, it’s unlikely that they’re going to follow through and actually show up.  I can then send out more invitations to fill their spot without worrying about overbooking.

Before any event in which you’re relying on customers you don’t know personally or can’t 100% trust to show up, ask them to complete some kind of pre-event action.  Fill out a survey, submit a pre-session question, anything.  It will strengthen their commitment to attend and weed out anyone who wasn’t going to show up in the first place.

conference room 2

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