Search for the term “marketing” on Google and you’ll return more than 1.8 billion results. That’s equivalent to everyone in the United States writing five articles on marketing! It’s insane to think there are that many great ideas on the topic of marketing when I just finished watching millions of dollars get wasted on 30-second ad spots during the Super Bowl. Who are these “experts” writing and talking about marketing, and to whom should you listen?
The real answer is that they are no different than you — they just have more free time. And quite frankly, you should only listen to very few of them. The real experts you should be listening to are your customers.
We seek out experts because of an age-old question, “How do I get better?” In business, we ask the same question, but instead we phrase it as follows, “How do I make more revenue?” Both of these questions are founded on the same idea — that better equals more. I’m not disagreeing with this, but I am disagreeing with what better means, because it’s not what is better for you, but what is better for your consumers that really matters. This is the big issue I have with many marketers and many marketing experts. They are focused on what they think and not what the consumers think.
Don Peppers co-authored The One to One Future back in 1993, which first turned me onto this idea. It was the first marketing book to talk about lifetime customer value and digital personalized communication, making it way ahead of its time. Following up this success, Peppers was asked to write the forward to Seth Godin’s Permission-Based Marketing in 1999, which became another blockbuster success. In his book, Peppers wrote, “We should operate in realities, not abstractions of the reality.”
The reality is, I’ve asked thousands of marketers one particular question, and only once received a yes: “Have you ever picked up the telephone and called a person who downloaded a white paper to ask them their thoughts on it?” Marketers say nothing, and instead look blankly at me when I ask this. The only time I heard a yes, I literally walked up to the man and gave him a hug. It took three years and more than 50 marketing events to find the single marketer who said, “Yes, I’ve done that.”
Why is this a hard concept to grasp? Talking to your customers about their experience is the best way to improve — not reading an article on how to make a better white paper. If you don’t ask for feedback from your constituents, then you are simply operating in abstractions instead of reality. You’re also failing to live up to another great law of marketing that was proselytized by the great David Ogilvy: “The consumer is not dumb, she is your wife.” Failing to give your consumers credit for knowing what they like, want, and need is the same as never talking to your spouse and only reading books to make them happy. Does that make any sense? NO! So here it goes: if you want to be better at marketing, stop reading all of the crap people write. Just because a person has a title of CMO, CEO, VP, evangelist, or whatever else they put in front of their name, doesn’t mean they are any smarter than you or have any better insights into your customers. If you’ve found this article, you’ve likely read enough marketing materials to be great at your job, but you may be underestimating the power of the telephone. Pick it up and use it!
Here’s how to make the leap into reality:
Step 1: Get something to record your conversations.
Step 2: Pick up the phone and dial.
Marketer: Hi, this is _________________, and I just wanted to reach out. I’m a marketing director at _______. You recently downloaded a white paper from us, and I’m trying to figure out how to make it better. I’ve just got three short questions, would you mind helping?
Prospect/Customer/Lead: Sure, how can I help?
Marketer: First off, what were you trying to learn about when you came across our white paper?
Prospect/Customer/Lead: I was trying to learn about _________________.
Marketer: Great to hear, did our content meet those expectations?
Prospect/Customer/Lead: Not really.
Marketer: Thanks for the honesty. What could we do to make it better for the next person?
Prospect/Customer/Lead: For starters, not talk about your product so much…
Marketer: Thanks so much, and to thank you I’d like to send you a small token of our appreciation. It’s a book on the topic, would it be OK to send that to you?
Prospect/Customer/Lead: Yes, here’s my address.
Step 3: Follow up, and repeat the process. Have 10 conversations with people who have read your content. You’ll be amazed at what you find out. It will also save you thousands in consulting fees, and you’ll build better relationships because of it.
This may seem like a lot of work, but here are some tips:
- First, you need to get your customers’ telephone numbers. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. You should already have their names and email addresses. Call into their corporate directories and use them.
- Call from your cell phone. If you call from your company phone, it is going to show up like a sales call, and they won’t answer it.
- Odds are, you can dial 25 people in an hour, but you will only reach seven. It’s likely a few of them will have time to talk, so this may take you a few hours every other month to do. However, do not outsource this! This should be a core part of your role.
- Record the conversations, then play them back at your next content meeting, product meeting, and sales meeting. Everyone in the organization will be better after hearing what customers are looking for and wanting to know.
The best experts on your content are the people you are making it for. Do they think it’s good, great, or crap? Download metrics won’t tell you this. It doesn’t matter what an expert says to do if your consumers don’t agree, and the only way you are going to know is if you ask them.
So if you are serious about being better, the next thing you should do is open up your database, find a list of 25 people who have just downloaded an asset, and give them a ring. If you don’t do it today, you are not serious about being a better marketer, and you will be stuck in the world of abstractions instead of the world of marketing reality. Remember: the only real experts are our customers. Listen to them.
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