by Hank Barnes | May 22, 2013 | Submit a Comment
I love music and I am an unabashed fan of Sonos. I think they could be considered a technology company since their entertainment solution is all about software and the Internet. But they really know that they are an entertainment company that happens to rely heavily on technology.
I started my Sonos “deployment” about a year ago after a recommendation from a friend. I had heard of them, but thought they were a little pricey. My friend told me about the cost and simplicity and I was ready to give it a go.
It took me less than 5 minutes to have the system running. It took another 5 minutes or less to add a variety of music services (my own iTunes library, Slacker–personal favorite, Wolfgang’s Vault, Pandora, and Sirius XM). It took a couple of more minutes to add the controller software to my Android phone and Kindle Fire. I now could play music from all my music services, controlled from three different devices, with incredible ease. I was hooked. And it was all about the ease of experience.
Since that time, I’ve added about 4 or 5 additional Sonos speakers, as well as linking in some additional speakers that I had lying around, and connecting to my home stereo. I could probably add up the cost and be surprised by the expense, but I really don’t care. I continue to get value from it. In fact, I’ve added other music services (Songza and Amazon Cloud Player) with ease. I’ve also recommended SONOS to friends, resulting in at least three others getting the system.
Recently, I bought a Playbar, that connects to my TV. This allows me better audio for TV programs, that I can also stream throughout the house. Now, when I am listening to a concert, or Later with Jools Holland, on Palladia, I can play it on any or all of my speakers.
The lessons that tech companies can learn from SONOS is that it is all about the experience. They don’t lead with the details of the technology–they talk about what you can do with it. They immerse you in the world of music. And they get one of the most important things right- the out of the box experience. I’ve never encountered an easier installation than you get with SONOS. (Note: I did have a friend have some troubles, but I got him running in that same 5 minutes).
SONOS is not perfect. It does not do everything I want. The two big missing things for me is are a Windows phone app (there is a third party app that works okay) and the ability to use the SONOS controller to play music from the local speakers on my PCs, tablets and phones (this would allow me to have one interface for all my music sources). They do have a user community where you can vote on features like this–so they do listen. But perfect does not matter.
All tech companies can learn from someone like Sonos by:
1. Focusing on the experience delivered, not the technology that works behind the scenes.
2. Making the out-of-the-box experience incredible.
3. Providing paths to additional value that are easy to add –new speakers, new services, etc.–without any rework.
Doing these things has created a community of advocates, like me, that Sonos can use to tell their story for them–and drive new business at a pretty low cost.
Note: I get absolutely no compensation from Sonos for all the great things I say about them. Its not about the compensation–its about sharing the experience with anyone who loves music.
Category: Go to Market Tags: customer experience, Sonos
by Hank Barnes | May 15, 2013 | Submit a Comment
This past weekend my daughter (who I have referenced in several posts) graduated from NC State University–Summa Cum Laude and Phi Betta Kappa and heading on to UNC Chapel Hill for Medical School(proud parent addition of information irrelevant to this story). During the weekend, she took several out of town visitors on a tour of the NC State Campus.
One of the interesting items there are a set of acoustic mirrors:
As you can see, the mirrors are pretty far apart (I’d guess 50 yards). If you sit in one (like my daugther is on the left) and someone else sits in the other, they can hear each other talking, even if you are speaking in a whisper. It was definitely an interesting and unique experience.
I went searching for more information on these mirrors. As it turns out, they were originally used in Britain to help detect the sound of enemy aircraft (before the invention of radar). Now, they are mainly used in science museums to demonstrate how to focus sound.
As marketers, it would be great if all of our audiences were sitting in acoustical mirrors, ready and willing to listen to our messages, not matter how quietly we speak them. But that is not the case. Instead, we need to find ways to get our messages heard through a din of noise and competing messages. Expecting an acoustical mirror effect is unrealistic.
There is a great model for communications that was originally put forth by Don Schults, Stanley Tannebaum, and Rober Lauterborn in the book, The New Marketing Paradigm: Integrated Marketing Communications, which was published in 1996. There model which still applies today is shown here (with a recreated graphic):
The model shows that awhen a sender wants to communicate with a receiver the ability for that message to be received is impacted by how much of a shared field of experience the two parties have and the impact of noise in distracting the receiver. Furthermore, if feedback can be provided, that enables the sender to verify for the receiver that they got the right message or to make adjustments until the communication is received properly.
Acoustic Mirrors are a lot like fields of experience–they create an environment for more focused communications. In today’s world, marketers must use context to increase the overlap in fields of experience and reduce the likelihood of noise being introduced into the communications stream.
In effect, context is the modern version of acoustic mirrors and a key focus area for all forms of business communication.
Category: Go to Market Tags: acoustic mirrors, communications, context, marketing
by Hank Barnes | May 2, 2013 | Submit a Comment
I recently came across a blog post by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen on Harvard Business Review titled, “How to Really Understand Someone Else’s Point of View.” The story connected so well with me that I went out and bought the book that it promoted, Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In.
This is a must read book for anyone who cares about improving customer experience, particularly for sales and marketing (it also applies in personal situations). It takes the whole idea if empathy many steps further and provides some simple steps that you can take to change the way you interact with and influence people.
While this would always be a good practice, it is particularly important in today’s market. In a recent survey (results will start appearing in upcoming research notes from the Tech Go-to-Market team) of technology buyers, Gartner discovered that the overwhelming leader in how these buyers want to drive their buying process (at all stages) is self-driven information search. Buyers want to be self-sufficient and get turned off by tatics that are grounded in the “your here” principles of the article.
In order to engage with these buyers, you have to get to “their there.” I believe that organizations and their employees that get this and adopt these approaches will start to breakaway from their competitors. An added benefit of this approach is that it will go a long way toward rebuilding trust between providers and customers.
Take a look at the blog post linked above and here (and the prior ones mentioned in the first paragraph) to get a first look at the ideas. If it grabs you like it grabs me, get the book. You won’t regret it.
Category: Go to Market Tags: customer experience, influence, trust
by Hank Barnes | April 18, 2013 | 1 Comment
I am as big an advocate for customer experience as anyone, so the first part of the title of this post may have caused you to do a double-take. But I am starting to get a little frustrated with the hyperbole around interactions.
I can’t count the number of times I hear people say things like “Every Interaction Counts”, “Screw up once and you’ll be blasted on Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media channel known to man”. The problem with these statements is that the imply that you have to be perfect or your brand could be ruined.
Guess what, nobody’s perfect. And, you can screw up—its how you recover that counts (and probably counts more than the screw up). This is particularly true for technology companies, since I don’t think there has ever been technology that is 100% bug free.
If you can take a step back from the fear messages, your perspective can shift.
Gartner’s definition of customer experience is:
“”The customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels or products.”
So every interaction does count, but the reality is that they don’t count the same. Some interactions have a bigger impact on perceptions and feelings than others. These are the ones that matter most. Call these Moments of Truth or something else, the key is to recognize when you are in a situation that is going to be memorable for the customer and do everything you can to make it great. If something goes wrong, how you respond to address the issues may create an even bigger opportunity for emotional connections.
A bad interaction represents a fork in the road. How you react really defines the ultimmate perception. I’ve had horrible experiences (a gourmet cupcake shop losing my order for a big birthday party for my wife) turned around by the reaction of the owner (gave me alternative cupcakes for free and gift certificates for future purchases). I’ve also had bad experiences (with airlines, naturally) made worse by corporate policies (the social monitoring team offering to help, but saying they couldn’t since I had already started a complaint on another channel). Both were memorable and dramatically impacted my perception of the organizations.
As you work to improve customer experience, and potentially use it to differentiate your business, don’t get hung up on the need to be perfect. Instead, train all your employees on ways to recognize key moments that will create emotional memories and empower them to do what is best for the customer in that situation.
Category: Go to Market Tags: customer experience, interaction
by Hank Barnes | April 11, 2013 | 1 Comment
I have been a fan of Outside-In Thinking for a long time. In the late ’90s, we used the principles of Outside-In thinking to position the approach of our content management solution in the market. Our message was that the furor over the growing amount of content was meaningless. What mattered is managing the content that delivered value to the visitors you your site. Focus on their needs and work backwards to determine how to deliver what they need.
For me, the idea of working backwards started formulating from solving maze puzzles when I was a kid (the simple version shown on the left, along with explanations of approaches to solving mazes, can be found at this site). Back then, I never really spent much time trying to understand why it was easier to solve mazes backwards; it just was.
As the referenced page describes, there is a reason working backwards is easier. Most maze designers put the deadends at the front of the maze. Working front to back, you are more likely to encounter these, and for a large puzzle, get frustrated and delayed. In some cases, you might just quit and move on to another challenge. There are some approaches to sovling mazes (following a wall or looking for a continuous wall), but the working backwards is my favorite.
The idea also applies to many business processes, particularly for sales and marketing. A sales process from the beginning–finding a prospect–to the end–closing the deal–can be like a maze. There are lots of potential dead ends. However, as you try to design the optimal approach, working backwards usually shows a path with less roadblocks.
In these scenario, you also have to put on your empathy hat and get into the mind and heart of the buyer. They are ready to buy your product. What needs to happen right before that–maybe getting final budget approval? So what is needed to get budget approval? A clear case for the value of the purchase. And so on.
Thinking broader, an organization has a revenue target. To achieve it a certain number of deals are needed. To generate those deals, a certain number of leads are required. To generate those leads, different marketing programs are required.
These examples are pretty obvious, but that is not unusual. Thinking Outside-In and working backwards usually makes things seem easier. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still encounter roadblocks. And how you avoid or minimize the impact of them is important. But Outside-In thinking keeps you focused on the goal; instead of wasting too much time agonizing over issues (roadblocks) that may not be relevant in the path to success. It also reminds you that customers don’t want to waste time with needless roadblocks either–the maze that is being navigated is theirs (how to make the right purchase) not yours. If you help them avoid roadblocks, they will appreciate it immensely.
The next time you are planning a marketing program, a sales campaign, or even strategizing on how to grow an account, give Outside-In thinking a try. Work backwards from your goal and see if it helps you optimize your plan. I’m confident that it will.
Category: Go to Market Tags: customer centric, customer experience, marketing, outside-in, sales
by Hank Barnes | April 4, 2013 | 1 Comment
My daughter is very talented (I have to admit). After graduating from NC State this year with a 4.0 average, she is heading to UNC Med School. Additionally, she was an all-star cheerleader for many years and also did gymnastics. A few years ago, she wanted to learn to play volleyball (my sport). While she picked it up the basics quickly, she struggled with some aspects of the game.
The basis for any sport is getting the fundamentals. Once you understand those, you work to improve your ability to execute those. The process is pretty straightforward. However, once you get past that, the path to excellence changes, based on the sport.
In gymnastics and cheerleading (and many other individual sports), your routine is defined. Success is totally based on executing better than the competition. You work and work to master the fundamentals and more challenging elements. In volleyball (and most team sports), it is all about reacting to what is happening around you.
My daughter could execute the fundamentals (bump, serve, set, etc.) pretty well. But her biggest challenge, athletically, was reacting to the flow of the game. We taught her positioning, but her years of structured routines made her mind think that her “spot” on the court was fixed versus a general area that she needed to cover, moving around based on what was happening in the game. You have to learn the fundamentals (and improve them over time), but you don’t succeed until you understand how to adapt to the flow of the game–and find ways to change it in your favor.
This is a lot like marketing and sales. While the fundamentals are well understood and, relatively easy to learn; that is not enough. You could master all of the fundamentals, but if you don’t react to the flow of the customer buying process, you fail. If you let them control the flow in a way that highlights your weaknesses, you lose.
Our Go to Market team often gets asked questions about the best marketing tactic or sales approach, and the reality is that the answer “it depends” is accurate (though not very helpful). To add value, we need to dig deeper with the client to understand the environment, the competition, and the customer. All of these factors, and more, need to be considered. What worked once may not work as well again, because others are reacting as well.
To be successful, you need to understand what is going on around you and adapt your approaches on an ongoing basis. Think like a volleyball player (or football, hockey, basketball, tennis, etc.). Learn the fundamentals, but from there spend as much time as you can understanding the factors that change the flow of the situation and exploring ways to leverage those factors or re-orient them in your favor.
While “routines” (e.g. sales process, telemarketing scripts) provide guidance and structure, you have to adjust on the fly to be a winning marketer or salesperson.
Category: Go to Market Tags: adaptability, marketing, sales
by Hank Barnes | March 28, 2013 | 2 Comments
A few years ago, I was interviewing for a VP of Marketing job with a local software provider. During the interview, the CEO posed this question:
“I want to be known as the best company to work for in the Triangle. How will you make that happen?”
This was an interesting question, and a big challenge with SAS based here, but my response was not what he was expecting. I simply asked:
He was somewhat taken aback by that and asked me why that was relevant. At that point, I knew this was not the right job for me.
While I could talk about different tactics to publicize what a great place the company was to work, if it was not based on real facts and stories, then the effort would be a waste. The truth would eventually come out and the company’s credibility, and my own, would be questioned.
The simple reality is that, as the title of this post says, authenticity in marketing is not optional. (A great book on the topic is “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want” by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine.
Every marketing message, program, and activity needs to be based on a promise that the company wants to make that it can keep. Yes, marketing’s job is to present the company in the best light, but there are boundaries that need to be observed. Crossing those boundaries are a recipe for disaster, particularly in the social-networking enabled world we operate in today.
This story was brought to mind by a recent inquiry that came to me. An IT service provider was asking how they could reposition their services to have more strategic value. In the prep material, the client talked about where they provided value today and acknowledged that they did not yet have the ability to justify a more strategic position. I was concerned that he was looking for ways to create a story that help promises that he could not keep.
Happily, that was not the case. Instead, the executive was simply a guy who understood his business and value to clients instrinsically. He looked to us to help him identify ways to expand their capabilities and deliver more strategic value. Once that was in place, he wanted our help to make sure that more strategic story got told.
That is the right way to do it.
To net it out, in addition to the simple questions I’ve talked about in the past (“Why?” and “So What?”), you also need to ask yourself if you are making promises you can keep. If so, great. If not, you may want to rethink what you are doing.
Category: Go to Market Tags: authenticity, marketing, trust
by Hank Barnes | March 20, 2013 | 1 Comment
Last night, I went to see AWOLNation at a small club in Raleigh (note: While I was probably one of the oldest people there, my musical tastes are geared toward modern alternative bands that are not mainstream). The concert was entertaining and intense. At one point the lead singer encouraged the audience to crowdsurf and things got a little crazier:
The singer also joined in the fun:
And while some of this behavior could be attributed to energy, alcohol, and youth. It got me thinking about trust.
In some ways, crowdsurfing is a lot like social media. We trust people we don’t know more than we trust the people we work with and the vendors we buy from, particularly if they are in our peer group.
The Edelman Trust Barometer looks at trust issues that face businesses, governments, and other institutions. The sad fact of the matter is that the level of distrust that exists today is extremely high. Vendors face an uphill battle in not only getting messages heard, but also in having them believed. Edelman identifies 16 attributes to build trust (in the deck linked above on slide 33) that everyone in business should reflect upon for themselves.
This distrust carries with it some added risks. As we rely on our peers for advice, using social networks, what if their motivations aren’t pure? Reevoo, a UK based company, tries to address this through “Trusted Reviews”–where they verify that a reviewer is actually a customer that has purchased the product being reviewed.
Additionally, think of the added costs to procurement cycles as things go through extra scrutiny (sometimes warranted, sometimes not) due to trust issues.
Nick Morgan, a top communication theorist and coach, wrote a book on building trust called Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma. The steps he describes in detail to are “Be Open”, “Be Connected”, “Be Passionate”, and “Listen.” Underlying these are a need to be confident and empathetic. I recommend the book highly for those interested in having others trust them more easily.
The ultimate question here might be, “Would your customers crowdsurf with your business?” If you can generate that level of trust, passion and energy, you are doing the right things–no matter how crazy it may seem.
Category: Go to Market Tags: crowdsurfing, marketing, trust
by Hank Barnes | March 14, 2013 | Comments Off
A recent article on cnet, talks about BMW’s plan to put “Genius Bar” like services in showrooms. The article talks about using younger employees armed with iPads whose purpose is to answer questions that customers might have. The association is a good one as the Apple and BMW brands share some similiarities in terms of the type of customers they appeal to. At the same time, there may be some challenges with this approach:
- Intent -In the article, BMW tells the reporter that ”the program will aid salespeople.” While that is a nice objective (anything to make the hard job of selling easier is a good thing), the focus, in my opinion, should be about “aiding” customers. Making their buying journey easier.
- Trust - While BMW indicates that this staff will not be sales people, they are still BMW employees. As a result, many potential customers may perceive them to be sales representatives and interact with them cautiously.
- Expectations - As the article points out, the Apple Genius Bar is for customers to address problems and questions about things they have bought already. BMW is going after prospects. However, I would not be surprised to see current BMW owners come to the showrooms to ask questions about their vehicle. BMW may need to be prepared for how to handle that with this model.
As I thought a bit more about this, a different approach came to mind–based on my interest in leveraging advocates in your customer base. What if BMW staffed this function not with employees, but with current customers that love their cars? (As a note, when I was in college, I worked in a personal computer store. One of our best customers would come in every Saturday to see the latest software–and proceed to tell every other customer in the store which ones he liked best. He helped us sell a lot of software, just because he was passionate about it.)
As a prospect, I’d love to hear from a peer v. an employee. There are some challenges to this model (getting the time commitment–and making sure they follow through–from the advocates), but I see lots of benefits. BMW could also reward the advocates for their activities in at least three ways:
- Recognition – Create awards (plaques, in showroom displays, etc.) for the advocates based on the help they provide.
- Insight - Provide the advocates with sneak peeks into new car models and access to engineers and product managers to discuss these new products.
- Rewards - Without paying them, they could reward them with discounts on future purchases, nice to have accessories for their cars, or even passes to their Performance Driving School. (Note: I’ve never done the driving school, but friends who have tell me it is an amazing experience!)
As you think of new ways to improve the customer buying experience, and making it easier for your sales teams, make sure you think about ways that you could leverage your customer advocates effectively.
Category: Go to Market Tags: advocacy, customer buying cycle, customer experience
by Hank Barnes | March 12, 2013 | 1 Comment
A simple question that can generate tremendous insight. You can ask the question in one word or with some added detail (e.g. Why is that important to you?), but asking it is almost always better than guessing.
This was a lesson I learned years ago. In selling situations, we get so focused on our products and all the great things it can do, that it is easy to forget that its about the customer. We want to solve problems and prove how smart we are or how good our product is. As a result, we jump to respond to very general questions.
For example, years ago, I led marketing for a content management company. At the time, SAP was really hot. So it was very common for prospects to ask “Do you integrate with SAP?”. Our sales engineers would struggle with this (we really did not have a clean integration solution) and were concerned about how that was impacting our sales. I encouraged them to ask “Why do you want to integrate with SAP?”. It turned out that most of the prospects did not have a reason–it was a question they just always asked. By asking “Why?”, our sales engineers were able to steer the conversation back to the problems that they prospect was trying to address and away from generic technical hurdles that were not relevant to the situation.
Why works in other situations as well. For marketers, it is great to use it with its companion “So What?” when reviewing messaging and marketing plans. If you can’t answer those questions, then more work needs to be done.
Why does Why work? Its all about getting additional context. Context is the key to communicating effectively. When you aren’t sure of the purpose of a question or a statement, asking for clarification will always help matters. In fact, it demonstrates a form of active listening that will help tighten the engagmeent between the participants.
So, the next time you are asked a question or are reviewing some materials and are not sure of the question or the context, be sure to ask “Why”. I bet you’ll find yourself on a path to increased understanding and connection with the people you are interacting with.
Category: Go to Market Tags: listening, messaging