Trust Matters, The Podcast: Can I Trust Digital Marketing for Lead Generation? (Episode 26)

A Co-Founder of a small Management Consulting Firm asks, “We need to grow our sales funnel. Can we trust Digital Marketing and SEO for lead generation?”

For more on this subject read our blog post:

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Cutting Edge (Bad) Digital Marketing

Here are two (real) digital communications I recently received. What jumps out at you about the differences between the two?

The first:

Charles,

Not sure if you got a chance to read my last 2 emails but I still wanted to see if what we do is something that you could benefit from.

Also as you can probably tell, our business thrives off of referrals from people who understand and have experienced the value in our services. So if you know anyone who would be a good fit, we’d love to meet them!

Feel free to give me a call at xxx.xxx.xxxx or shoot me reply [sic].

Talk to you soon!

– [name]

 

The second:

Hi Charles H., thanks for connecting!

As retirement approaches, we’re faced with a lot of questions: How much longer will I need to work? Do I have enough saved for the retirement I want? How much should I set aside for my kids? It takes a team to find the answers that are right for you, and with over 36 years of experience in wealth management – and becoming a part of my clients’ families – I love being a member of that team.

My approach to wealth management is unique; it’s what earned me a spot on Barron’s ranking of America’s Top 1,200 Financial Advisors. A holistic look at your financial future can save you money and worry down the line. Your wealth encompasses a lifetime of hard work and efforts. Don’t you think in an ever more complex world it would be smart for you to get a second review of your life’s plan? Interested in learning more? Grab some time on my calendar:[calendly.com invitation]

All the best, [name, Senior Vice President Wealth Management – Portfolio Manager at one of the top 5 wealth management firms in the world]

——————

So – what’s the difference between the two?

In my opinion: basically nothing.

Yes, I know. The first one is garden variety email spam, enabled by zero-marginal-cost lists, that predictably hit my email ‘junk’ folder, with a bit of added annoyance (“not sure if you had a chance to read my previous two spam emails…”).

The second one came in response to my accepting a LinkedIn connection request.

Now, maybe you think there’s a huge difference between an unrequested spam email on the one hand, and the “opt-in” nature of a response to my acceptance of a LinkedIn request on the other. Maybe you think that the LinkedIn request was carefully tailored to fit a targeted segment which included me, and that therefore I’m far more likely to be interested in the pitch.

I’m not buying it. It’s all spam. Here’s why.

Targeting vs. Personalization

First of all, if you’re selling a B2C product with mass appeal that retails for under $50, and your brand name or reputation means nothing to you, then you can ignore the rest of this rant. I’m not going to argue with you, and maybe you’re right for your business.

But – if you’re a business dealing in products or services which are complex, expensive, have significant effects on the buyer, and which involve trust, reputation and branding – and you care about those things – then lean in.

The buying process for such categories is inescapably personal (with the decision to entrust one’s life savings among the most personal). The selling process ought, it seems to me, to respect and reflect the nature of that buying process.

And yet – no doubt influenced by the savvy digital marketers employed by that global wealth management firm – this Senior VP sees fit to send me the equivalent of a highway billboard. (Let’s not even dwell on the scraped name “Charles H.”; how many people go by first-name-middle-initial?)

Way back in the 90s, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote about the promised future of marketing as enabling one-to-one relationships. Not “one-to-one targeting,” but “one-to-one relationships.”

The difference has been lost in the Googlified and ad-tech-drenched marketing world of 2019.

Go back and look over the banker’s message to me. It’s all about him and his bank – not a word about me. This focus on himself leads to more of a disconnect when he tells me he’s “becoming a part of my clients’ families.” (What’s next? Their ‘trusted advisor?’)

Customer Focus vs. Vulture Focus

Here’s the corner that digital marketers have painted themselves into. The more they are able to finely tune their targeted audience, the more we expect them to show us how that fine-tuning is relevant to us. And yet, they do the opposite: choosing to make the message all that more impersonal.

This banker found me on LinkedIn – a content-rich environment. How hard would it have been for him to say something – anything – about me, and how his service might be relevant to me?

  • Hi Charles, I see you’re an author, that’s really impressive.
  • Hi Charles, I see you run a small business; I’m guessing that maybe…
  • Hi Charles, I see you write a blog; I looked over a few of your posts, and…

How long would that take? 5-10 minutes? Run the numbers on the lifetime value of a client for a wealth manager, and you’re left asking – why did he settle for the equivalent of bluetooth-pinging me in the grocery aisle with a cents-off special on canned soup?

(I actually like to think that my erstwhile banker friend agrees with me for the most part – many private wealth managers have a good instinct for the personal – but that he lost an internal battle to the overwhelming force of the digital marketing ‘experts’).

Bad Digital Marketing

How has it come to this? How have the capabilities of digital been used by marketers solely to reduce cost-per-exposure, while ignoring the potential for enhanced effectiveness of human to human contact? Ironically, the less human contact there is, the more valuable the remaining contact becomes. Yet all this capability has been deployed in service to fine-tuning our targeting efforts – while doing nothing to enhance the relationship itself.

Instead, digital has dragged marketing back decades to where they forget another, even older, lesson – this one from the 60s and 70s. Features and testimonials don’t sell nearly as well as focus on consumer needs – which are personal. Which starts with some recognition that you’re dealing with a unique consumer.

As my friend and sales guru Dave Brock says, today’s marketers “are happy with a 0.1% response from 1000, not recognizing a 10% response from 50 is far better.” 

Better, that is, in terms of relationships; reputation; branding; and trust. If you don’t care about those things – if you’re running a digital pop-up store for pet rocks, or selling fabricated plastic toys from Vietnam, perhaps you don’t care.

But if you’re running one of the world’s largest private wealth management firms – or a consulting firm, or a B2B tech firm, or a global accounting firm – you should.

It’s no accident that the trust levels of tech firms are declining; corporate trust ultimately rides or fails on whether the firm’s people manage to create personal trust-based relationships. And the ethos of volume-over-relationships, zero marginal cost vs. total value, is destructive of that trust.

I can think of many reasons for how we got here, but that’s another blogpost. In the meantime – you don’t have to run your business this way.

Take the extra 5-10 minutes to focus on your customer; take a small risk; drop your focus on efficiency, and focus on relationship effectiveness. Do something to recognize that your business ultimately depends on relationships, not algorithms.

Don’t give in to bad digital marketing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Reengage Unresponsive Sales Leads(Episode 25)

A manager at a communications firm writes in and asks “How to you manage qualified sales leads that seem very interested but then go silent? Do you keep reaching out?  Do you try another approach?”

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
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episodes

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Set Up for Failure By My Boss – Special Guest Andy Paul, Author & CEO, The Sale House (Episode 23)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: When Clients Want to Look Under The Hood at Your Pricing (Episode 22)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Giving Tough Advice to a Client and Getting it Taken (Episode 21)

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Trust-based Networking and the Paradox of “Collateral Benefit”

A (seemingly) simple question: What is the goal of business networking?

  • The goal of most business networking is to make new connections in order to get more business. 
  • The goal of trust-based networking is to help others develop their businesses.  The “collateral benefit” of trust-based networking is that others then help you.

When it comes to networking, injecting trust into the picture creates a sort of paradox. It’s exactly the same paradox that arises when we think about injecting trust into selling, or advice-giving, or getting people to review your books. 

That paradox was expressed well by Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, and a host of others: basically, the best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. 

It’s easy to forget how radical that proposition is; and how infrequently people actually do it. 

(This topic will be explored in much greater depth in our next free Trust Matters Webinar: Network Like a Trusted Advisor: Take the Work (and Stress) Out of  It on January 29th at 11AM EST)

(Meanwhile, you might want to check out our eBook The Do’s and Don’ts of Trust-based Networking)

 Current Networking Practice

Ask yourself: when you go to a meet-up, start looking through LinkedIn, or scan a rough lead list –  how do you proceed? Here’s what usually happens:

  • You search and scan in advance for those you’ve profiled as most likely to be prospects – focusing and prioritizing to narrow down a wide list of leads
  • You focus on honing your elevator pitch
  • During interaction, you focus on finding pain points (waiting to offer solutions at a later time).

If that roughly resembles what you do, then please take note: all three of those benign-sounding activities share one trait – they’re all about you. They are not activities that put Dale Carnegie’s insight into practice. 

Trust-based Networking

What if you were to try something entirely different? For example:

  • You search and scan for pairs of people both of whom you know, but who don’t know each other – and who could each benefit from the introduction
  • You focus not on your elevator pitch, but on a really great question you’d like to know the answer to (better yet, ask the question in the form of a Risky Gift)
  • You focus not on pain points, but on being genuinely curious and seeking perspectives. 

Those are very different activities: they’re not self-focused, they’re other-focused. And, they are more likely to result in relationships and in interesting conversations. It is those relationships and conversations that result in true connections of interest – and before very long, in leads and business development conversations.

The “collateral benefit” of behaving this way is – leads and sales. In fact, more leads and more sales than if you go in with the usual self-centered approach of trying to get leads and sales directly. 

But the paradox must be respected: if you engage in these other-focused activities as mere fig-leaf cover for your true goal of getting more sales – it won’t work. We all see through such base motives. You actually have to commit to the alternative goal – that of helping others.  

A good test of whether you’re really committed is your choice of metrics: do you measure the result of networking by how many entries you generate for your CRM system? Or instead – by tracking how you’ve been able to benefit your new acquaintances. (Hint: what would Dale say?)

 

Learn much more about this strategy at our next Trust Matters webinar: Network Like a Trusted Advisor: Take the Work (and Stress) Out of It, January 29th (11AM EST) delivered by my partner and co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, Andrea Howe, together with Stewart Hirsch, our head of business development and leadership coaching (and CEO of his firm Strategic Relationships). Sign up for the (free) webinar here.

Answer the Question

Q. What do you do when your client or customer asks you a question?

A. Why, answer the question, of course! (Doh!)

But – what if the question itself is flawed, or incomplete, or dangerous to answer?

For example:

 

  • What if a potential client wants to know the price before you have explained the value?
  • What if a client demands to know the final recommendation before going through the analysis?
  • What if a client phrases a question as a simple “go or no-go” when the issue requires nuance?
  • What if a potential client asks you a very pointed and narrow question about your qualifications?

Then what do you do?

On the one hand, if you answer the question directly, you risk giving an incomplete answer. You open yourself up to a ‘gotcha’ question. Worse, you legitimize a partial or even misleading question by the mere act of responding to it.

On the other hand, if you don’t answer the question, you risk offending the client. Worse, you look like you’re trying to hide something. And, it’s likely to come off as just disrespectful.

How can you avoid disrespecting the client, while not opening yourself up to an unfair and premature judgment?

How to Answer the Question

There is a way out of this dilemma. Better yet, it not only avoids a negative – it actually helps build trust. Here’s what you say:

  1. Flatly and simply answer the direct question you were asked
  2. Pause
  3. If necessary, offer to answer more questions

Here are some examples: then I’ll talk about why they work.

Client: Before we dive into specifics of the situation, I want to know the price on this project.

You: Depending on several issues, around $225,000.

[Pause]

Client: Um, depending on what, for example?

 

Client: Before you go on to page three of the presentation, I want to know: do you recommend we close the factory, or not?

You: We recommend you close it.

[Pause]

Client: OK, why?

 

Client: How much experience do you have doing marketing studies for tech services companies?

You: Two prior clients in the past 18 months.

[Pause] [More Pause]

You: Is there something else it would be useful to talk about?

 

Note the critical role in the dialogue of the [Pause]. In the first two cases, the client is the one who fills in the quiet space. In the third – after making extra-sure of the pause – you fill in the space, by respectfully offering to answer any more questions

The Text and the Sub-text

That’s the text. The sub-text is what’s critical here.

First, the answer. It has to be simple, specific, and directly responsive. That’s because the critical sub-text is all about respect.

By being simple, specific and responsive, you are conveying to the client, “I am willing to let you take the lead here. I am not going to quibble about the relevance of your question, or its potential for revealing value. I am not going to ’spin’ my answer to suit my own needs, but rather will defer to your terms, as stated by you. I will not hedge, hem, nor haw. I respect your right, as the client, to set the agenda and ask the questions; I will reserve my own attempts to frame the issue until you are satisfied. I respect you.”

One effect of showing respect by being simple, specific and responsive is that you reduce the level of fear and aggression in the client. You are demonstrating that this conversation does not have to be a competition, and the client need have no fear about you attempting to control them.

The other effect is to validate the client, to show them that they have asked a fair question, and that you have given a fair answer. Presuming fairness and reciprocating in kind appeals to the client’s innate tendency to return like for like – fairness for fairness – vs. engaging in passive-aggressive games of controlling the agenda.

Second, the Pause. The subtext of the pause is, again, respect. It allows the client to control the agenda (by following up, by taking a new tack, or by simply abandoning the question). This offer of control is another trigger for reciprocity on the part of the client.

Usually – as in the first two examples above – the client will fill in the pause. And their response will usually be tempered by the respect you have already shown them in the simple, specific and responsive answer.

Occasionally – as in the third example above – the pause continues long enough for it to be appropriate for you to offer another comment – and yet another opportunity to show respect. You do this by making explicit what was already implicit – that you are willing to answer any questions, and to respect the client’s right to frame those questions in any form they may want.

The Result

In most cases, this “onslaught of respect” is enough to alter the tone of the entire meeting. Instead of being cautious, suspicious, and aggressive, the client is likely to reciprocate and return the favor. (The fundamental nature of reciprocity was never better phrased than by Robert Cialdini: take a listen to this podcast interview of Cialdini by Barry Ritholtz).

You can call this dynamic “give to get,” or “trust to be trusted,” or “mxqtplskz;” what you call it doesn’t matter. What matters is that by treating a loaded question with respect, you can transform the context within which that question is being asked, and thus transform the relationship.

All by just responding to the question simply and specifically – and pausing to show even more respect.

The next time a client asks you a tough question, just try it. [Pause].

The Disconnect Between Short-term Behaviors and Short-term Results

One of the most frequent trust questions I get is typically phrased as a dilemma: how can we establish trust-based long-term relationships in a culture that values short-term performance?

But rarely have I had the question posed so clearly and sharply as in a recent discussion with an investment banker. Paraphrasing, he said:

“Listen, I make no apologies for being 100% money-motivated. That’s why I’m in the business I’m in.  If the firm changed our incentives tomorrow to a weekly basis, I’d be there in a heartbeat – doing what I have to do, week to week. So when you talk about long-term trust, I frankly glaze over. My timeframe is what maximizes my income – period.”

You can trust investment bankers to cut to the chase. It’s their job, and they’re very good at it.

But here’s what he missed.

There’s an unspoken assumption in his stark phrasing of the issue. That unspoken assumption is:

The best way to maximize short-term income is through short-term behaviors.

And that assumption is dead wrong. Here’s why.

The Disconnect Between Behavior and Results

The point is obvious if you think about strategy. Which approach to corporate strategy is likely to be more successful over the next five years?

  1. Company A, which revamps its entire corporate strategy every quarter, or
  2. Company B, which sets its corporate strategy over a five-year timeframe, and occasionally tunes it

Pretty clearly, changing a long-term strategy on a quarterly basis is the recipe for long-term bad results. But notice – long-term bad results happen a quarter at a time. Five years of bad performance shows up in 20 bad quarters.

The basis for strong short-term results (quarterly in this case) is long-term behavior – not short-term behavior.

What’s true for strategy is true for relationships as well. If you manage your client relationships by viewing them through the prism of quarterly (or monthly, or weekly) sales and income reports, those clients are bound to notice.

Few things destroy client relationships like a lame, semi-apologetic request like, “Could you maybe move that sale up a few weeks so I can get credit this quarter?”  Clients are not stupid, and there’s no way to dress up such a self-serving request for monetization of the relationship so as to disguise what it really is. Such a request will backfire on you.

So will any such behavior that betrays your true objective – if your true objective is to treat your clients like transactional piggy banks, rather than as the long-term relationships we claim to aspire to.

Long-term Greedy

Former Goldman Sachs senior partner Gus Levy is credited with coining the phrase “long-term greedy.” In typical Wall Street fashion, the phrasing was perhaps calculated to sound offensive – but in fact, it expresses something completely commonsensical, and highly consistent with trust. I endorse it myself.

What Levy meant was that the best way to do well in the long-run – and, by implication, in each quarter on the way to the long run – is to behave in a long-term manner. That means: keeping your word, taking care of clients, acting with integrity, putting clients’ needs first – all the time.

If you behave that way – in the long-term, as a matter of habit and principle – then you will actually do far better in the long run (and by extension, in the accumulation of short-terms on the way there) than someone who is constantly seeking to optimize only the next quarter.

Note this does not necessarily have anything to do with ethics. You can be, as my investment banking friend claimed to be, 100% motivated by money, and still act in ways that are largely indistinguishable from someone whose trustworthy behavior is ethics-based. You just have to not be stupid. And Gus Levy was assuredly not stupid.

The next time you hear someone say. “I can’t do that trust stuff because all the incentives around here are short-term,” explain to them why there’s nothing wrong per se with short-term incentives. The problem is stupidly believing that short-term behavior is the best way to get there.

The best short-term results come about from operating on long-term principles – and reaping the benefits every quarter along the way.

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Building Trust When Industry Spirals Into Cutthroat Pricing (Episode 13)

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