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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.
Subscribe to get the latest 
episodes

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Asking a Client for a Rate Increase (Episode 24)

A solo consultant asks , “How do I ask a long-standing client, whom I already bill a lot monthly, for a rate increase?”

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.
Subscribe to get the latest 
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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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The Single Biggest Thing an Advisor Can Do

Most of you reading this are advisors, in some form or another. That’s obvious if you’re a consultant, accountant, or lawyer. Also if you’re a financial planner, account manager, executive searcher, and certainly if you’re in sales.

It’s less obviously, but equally, true if you’re in one of a thousand customer-facing roles with titles like customer (-experience, -service, -success, -relationship), delivery service, pre-sales, technical support. Even if your job has a title like operations specialist, or technical project manager, or product manager, your success hinges heavily on your ability to offer good advice – and to have that advice taken.

So what’s the Single Biggest Thing an Advisor Can Do for his or her client/customer/advisee?

It’s not “add value” (almost always a narrow financial concept, and not one that guarantees acceptance of the idea). Nor is it to “challenge” the advisee (again, a challenging idea unaccepted just annoys the advisee).

Let me suggest that the Single Biggest Thing you can do for an advisee is to help them reframe their problem definition – in a way that increases value, clarity, and commitment.

Back to Roots

One of my favorite David Maister epigrams is, “The problem is never what the client said it was in the first meeting.” A tad hyperbolic? Perhaps – but my own experience has taught me that David was far nearer right than wrong.

Let’s take a few basic examples. See if these ring true.

  • A potential client approaches a financial advisor, because (s)he is unsatisfied with their own track record of managing their investment portfolio, and hopes a professional can do better.
  • A potential client approaches a bookkeeper, because they don’t want to become experts in QuickBooks, but their small business is rapidly demanding more such time.
  • A potential client approaches a ballroom dance studio because they want their wedding dance, to their favorite song, to go perfectly.

All three of those presenting problems are reasonable on their face. And all three advisors can probably present competent answers:

  • The financial advisor can almost always do a better job of portfolio balancing and risk-profiling than an amateur investor;
  • Any bookkeeper is going to be more adept and efficient at bookkeeping software than a moonlighting business owner;
  • Any ballroom studio can fit a dance to almost any song.

But if the advisor chooses to respond to those problem definitions as presented, there are three problems:

  1. Those problems are all defined at pretty low levels of value-added; basically a make-buy decision based on perceived efficiency;
  2. They may be what the client thinks they want, but not what the client really needs;
  3. Just giving people what they ask for doesn’t do much to motivate their taking your advice. (For a whimsical but right-on example of this, see Episode 6 of the reality TV-show Sell It Like Serhant).

Redefining the Problem

But what if the advisor in each case succeeds in engaging the client in a way that jointly examines the true root issue? In many cases (OK, all, David would say), the problem definition can change.

  • A good financial advisor will also ask the client questions about the names in which taxable accounts are held, about the client’s use of trusts, and about educational plans for their kids. All of those have implications for the portfolio, but each of them also has profound financial implications in their own right. Many clients in such conversations realize that their real goal isn’t just better stock returns, but something more fundamental – financial security, for example.
  • A good bookkeeper won’t just demonstrate Quickbooks proficiency, but will also ask about useful managerial reports, interface with the tax accountant, and plans for online payment systems. This gets the customer to think about the use of Quickbooks, not just the efficiency with which one can manipulate software.
  • A good dance studio will determine whether the favorite song is really danceable by other-than-pros, and whether something else might better fit the true goal – to receive glowing comments and feel good about themselves at the close of the dance.

Redefining the problem often makes the problem definition larger, or more holistic – like the financial planner example above. But it doesn’t have to.

The point of redefining the problem is not to up-sell – it is to get the client higher value, greater clarity about their own objectives, and thereby greater commitment to actually doing something.

It’s Not About the Advice

The biggest problem advisors have is to stop thinking it’s about the advice. Being right is table stakes, jacks-for-openers. Any subject matter expert can be right – in fact, most are. The truth is,  subject matter expertise in this day and age of AI is rapidly becoming automated (think robo-advisers, offshoring, and YouTube videos).

Good advisors remember that, just because the client says the problem is thus-and-so doesn’t mean that’s the problem. Which means the challenge of advising is not getting the better answer: it’s getting the client to accept that there might be a better answer.

The above examples are all from sales, but the problem is the same if you’re implementing a CRM system. The client wants it to do what the old system did: your job is to get them to see that the new system can accomplish much more, of more basic objectives.

Here’s how you don’t do it:

  • Tell them you’re the expert and you know better than they do
  • Show them a financial comparison of their idea and your idea
  • Tell them about all your past clients who successfully took your advice.

Instead, take a page from the one profession that is built on getting people to take advice – therapists of one form or another. (This most definitely includes your best friend, when you go to them for tough life advice).

What do all good therapists do?

  • They listen to you; not for clues about how to define the problem or add value, but to understand how you view the problem
  • They ask questions: not 20-question-game deductive queries aimed at winnowing down the solution set, but rather aimed at getting you to see your own true objectives and motives
  • They care: their objective is for you to get better, on your terms, not theirs.

Because the truth is, most of us are suspicious of our own problem definitions – even as we are defensive about them. It is not easy to get people to take advice: we all are resistant. The solution to resistance is first to find common ground – but first on their ground, not ours.  Done right, we become first unthreatened, then open, then grateful and committed once we see and can accept another problem definition.

This stuff is simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, by a long shot. In my view, getting your advice taken is a lot harder than getting the advice right in the first place. That’s why good advice can be copied by AI; but human interaction is the provenance of getting your advice taken.

It starts by helping people redefine their own problems – on their terms.

Blurring the Line Between Sales and Marketing

I got an email from, Ralph, the 50-ish owner of a small consulting firm. He had three competing offers to buy his practice, and a few complicating life factors. He wanted advice, and asked if we could talk.

I don’t do much coaching or consulting, and he almost surely couldn’t afford my rates. Nor am I an expert in life planning, or in valuations.

But I said sure, call me in the morning, we’ll talk – no charge.

We had a very good chat for about 45 minutes.

I think I helped him. I know it was useful for him to talk to a third party able to comprehend his situation. I believe he’ll make a better decision, and I’m sure he’ll feel better about it. Value was created for him in our talk.

But How Does Free Advice Help the Advice Giver?

But what about me? I knew going in there was no chance of a sale from him – not now, not in the future, not anytime. And my rate was zero. Was this a foolish, impetuous, soft-hearted, flakey thing to do?

No. I like doing nice things, but I’m not a saint. Nor did I consider Ralph a pro bono case.

Sure, it was a nice thing to do. But, I would argue – it was also good business.

Sometimes a sales lead that we would otherwise screen out can be a good marketing investment. Sometimes you can do well by doing good. Sometimes we need to blur the  line between sales and marketing.

“Ralph” will never buy from me (though other Ralph’s have done so). But he will remember what I did for him; even more, that I was willing to help.

Remember: Ralph invested time in searching for alternatives, chose me, and felt strongly enough to seek me out. He spent time to find out who I was, what I did, whether and how I might be useful to him. He was probably willing to pay for consulting. He was an educated, willing buyer, a near-client with influence on other potential clients.

For me, he was not a qualified sales lead. Instead, he was one helluva marketing resource.

Ralph now knows me – the sound of my voice, how well I think on the spot, the way I interact, my sense of humor. He knows me better than one of 200 people in an audience for a speech; much better than 500 people reading this blog, or an article of mine.

Total investment: 45 minutes. Most sales people will tell you that’s an extravagant waste of sales time, an inefficiency that is off-scale. Just think of the waste in extrapolating such activities to scale!

But most salespeople would be wrong. This is not about efficiency in selling: this is about effectiveness in marketing. (And let’s not forget, I also learned some things about valuations).

Let’s say Ralph will tell a dozen people about our discussion. Those are people who understand what each of us do, and who are first-degree connections to Ralph. That’s a powerful testimonial. Sounds like a reference to me; better yet, one freely given.

The choice is not between being “good” or making money; they often go together.

Try, for just a few hours per month, shifting your sales practices to subsidize your marketing by investing in a lead.

Don’t get lost in charge-back accounting and tit-for-tat favor-record-keeping. The benefits will eventually accrue to your firm, and to you personally. Both.

Trust Matters, The Podcast: The Cult of Closing (Episode 10)

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