Having a generic, one-size-fits-all message as a marketer pretty much assures your message will fit no one, and you will not strike a chord with anyone. Oftentimes, marketing and sales exist in two separate silos, but my guest today, Lisa Dennis, is the sales-whisperer of marketing because she has taken the time to understand both sides. Lisa is a global marketing and sales strategist and consultant. She is the author of Value Propositions that SELL: Turning Your Message into a Magnet that Attracts Buyers and The Messaging Playbook: Win Deals with Content and Conversations that Matter (2021).
Today’s episode is a refreshing course on both marketing, which is about providing content, and sales, which is about starting conversations. We discuss the techno-jargon and corporate-speak that may sound impressive to the person who wrote it but ends up turning the customer off. We talk about learning to speak your customer’s language and what it takes to think of objections as conversation starters rather than problems. If you love branding and you want to know what it takes to shorten sales cycles, increase connection, and become a household name, you’re not going to want to miss this value-packed episode of Marketing Speak!
In this Episode
- [00:29] – Stephan introduces Lisa Dennis, a global marketing and sales strategist, and consultant. She is the author of Value Propositions that Sell and The Messaging Playbook.
- [05:06] – Lisa states some facts on how a salesperson can interest a prospect for a conversation.
- [10:08] – Stephan and Lisa discuss being preeminent in your business by repositioning yourself from your competitors.
- [15:37] – Lisa shares some examples of scenarios where her upcoming book, The Messaging Playbook, can optimize a business.
- [19:05] – Stephan and Lisa talk about Elon Musk’s unique marketing and brand approach for Tesla.
- [25:18] – Lisa explains how to make a differentiator for your business’ messaging.
- [29:05] – Lisa points out the importance of getting the voice of the customer in building your business’ message.
- [34:47] – Lisa enumerates a list of some of the terminologies she hates in market messaging and explains why.
- [39:55] – Lisa walks us through the process of creating buyer personas for a business.
- [45:22] – Visit Lisa Dennis’ website, Knowledgence.com, to know more about creating value propositions that sell.
Lisa, it’s great to have you on the show.
I’m pleased to be here, Stephan. Thank you.
First of all, if you could share with our listeners what inspired you to connect marketing and sales, and help those two silos’ essence work together more effectively.
At the beginning of my career, I was a product manager for six years. I was also responsible for driving all of the marketing, sales, and renewals. I needed to do everything I could to get my offerings out there. I pulled the short straw and ended up with what I called the “little product line that could.” I needed to get the attention not only of my buyers, but I needed to get the attention of sales because I didn’t have the coolest product. I didn’t have an online product. What I learned is, I have two customers, and my first customer is sales. And I didn’t know anything about selling. It was a real uphill battle for a couple of years until I finally took a couple of salespeople and friends out and said, “Okay, what am I missing?” Ultimately, that helped a lot. I literally jumped the fence and got into sales. I’ve been working back and forth with both marketing and sales teams all along. One of the big disconnects is around messaging because marketing messages for content and sales messages for conversations. And often, they’re not integrated, and they’re not the same. So that’s kind of where my experience as a product manager was my challenge. And now I’ve become passionate about it.
Can you give us a contemporary example that might be out there in the marketplace right now, where there’s this disconnect between the sales and the marketing departments between the content and the conversations that they’re trying to make happen?
Sure. This is a bigger problem in B2B. In B2C, it’s a lot easier because it’s direct to the customer. It’s a very different animal. But on the B2B side, I have an example right now. I’m working with a client right now where there’s a big push for a major product, and it’s an analytics engine that operates in an open cloud scenario. They’re going head to head against a competitor who has a cloud-only. It’s a lock-in versus open. The inside sales team asked marketing to give them content for a series of emails, LinkedIn touches, and voicemails to start to have that conversation with their targets. What came back was literally almost cut and pasted out of marketing content from the website and all of that. And literally, nothing that someone would say face to face, not conversational, too long, all of that, which left the sales team starting from nothing. Most of those teams will then scramble and write their own. That’s where the big disconnect and fragmentation happens because they go off in a completely different direction. What am I going to say that’s going to get attention? The core message gets lost. In that particular example, I took the marketing stuff and translated it, and then went and looked for the factoids that a salesperson would need to engage and completely redid it. That happens, and that’s a common occurrence.Marketing and sales are two different worlds. Marketing messages are for content while sales messages are for conversation. Click To Tweet
That’s a great example. What would be a few factoids that would be compelling and would spur on a further conversation between that salesperson and their prospect?
References to customers, where we can quote improvements quantified. We are able to decrease costs from a range of 10-15%. What you will not see in most marketing content are those kinds of factoids. Because there’s this reticence like we don’t want to be held to it, or it isn’t. But the reality is the customer is going to want to know. So you add that. If you’re a technology company, then any kind of validation you’ve gotten from any analyst firm can carry some weight as well. You might say, “We were marked as leaders for Gartner for 2021 in these areas.” What you want is some credible third-party validation, which I like to embed in the sales messaging because it’s not super promotional, “We’re number one,” and all that stuff. But it’s actually, “Okay, I’m interested in this topic.” They’ve already been validated by someone, I would go to check to see who the players are, and I can wrap my messaging around that.
That’s great. How do you preempt objections? Besides, with the factoids, what can you do to end-run around whatever objections are starting to form as they’re forming?
I always think it’s a great exercise to go through and figure out all of them in advance. How many of these do we need to deal with? And then, I also create a side set of questions. It’s almost like discovery questions aimed at objections to get at why this is an objection. Because sometimes an objection is just a symptom. It’s a symptom of something they care about. Rather than push the objection away, or overcome it, which is what most salespeople are trained, when I get an objection that says to me that this was interesting enough that they raised their hand. Let me get a little deeper about that. And then what I do is work through in advance, “Here are the points of consideration.” Rather than push the objection aside, we develop the content and questions to help a salesperson work with the objection because it is a step forward, not a step back.
Develop the content to help a salesperson work with the objection because it is a step forward, not a step back.
You’re not trying to face them head-on and overcome them, and you’re not trying to sideline them. You’re working with them to help both of you do that dance to get to the desired end game.
Exactly. As salespeople, most of us, when we hear an objection, we immediately try to stop it or have a quick answer, which puts you in this “us versus them” kind of thing. What I’d like to do is sort of take a breath and say, “That’s an interesting thought. Can you share a little bit more with me about what your thinking is behind that? I just want to make sure I understand clearly what some of your questions are.” I take a step forward, and embrace it, and ask them to tell me more. And they always will. What you’ll find out is it’s symptomatic of something else, or it isn’t an objection. It’s more curiosity or concern, or there’s a little risk there, and they’re kind of reticent. That you can work with. A lot of times, it’s not even an objection to the product. It’s other things.
Interesting. How many objections would you guess a particular company or product might have to face? Are we talking about dozens, hundreds, thousands?
There are usually three or four objections that are pretty standard across the board. And then you get into the more solution, or product- or service-specific. I would say you’re looking at, on average, five to 10. The rest of them end up just being really deep dive questions around features and all of that. I try to prepare for the top five to 10.
Do you prioritize them and have some sort of particular process to deal with each of these?
Yes, we prioritize them. As I mentioned, there’s sort of the standard one, and they’re going to push back potentially on price. They’re going to push back on any claim that you haven’t substantiated. If you’re not using quantifiable language and factoids, then you’re going to get that right out of the gate. You’re going to get one about a competitor. What you are doing is the core of, “Here are the ones that weren’t there.” And then these are the solutions or issues specific ones. And we usually prioritize those. For example, if there’s a head-to-head on a particular outcome or a particular feature, then usually will raise that to the top. Often, the perceptions that a prospect might have about what your competitor has versus yours isn’t always accurate. We want to make sure that we understand what it is and then say if it’s a perceptual issue, then our response will be more of repositioning than pushing back. You’ve kind of prioritized those harder questions based on what are the ones we hear the most and that we need to address as early in the conversation as we can. I often even advise, if there’s a couple that is important and keeps coming up, why don’t you bring them up? “I don’t know if you’ve thought about this yet, but one of the things that we hear in the market is this. And I thought I’d see if that was an issue for you, and I wanted just to talk through it.” That’s also very engaging. If you don’t wait to have them thrown at you, you step up with the ones you know that will come anyway.
That positions you as preeminent, I think. To use terminology from Jay Abraham, if you are the “preeminent” supplier, you’re looking out for the prospect’s best interest. And even if it’s not to work with you, but to work with a competitor, you’re not only okay with that. You’re kind of guiding them to that destination.
Absolutely. Every organization wants to be, especially the B2B side. I wouldn’t say this on B2C, but in B2B, I hear a lot of “We want to be your trusted advisor” or “We want to be your trusted partner.” And I always say, “Please pull that language out of your value props because you don’t get to say it. They get to say it. Otherwise, it’s just hopeful.” You’ve got to reach this level with them where they see, treat, and talk to you that way. And the way to do that is to just open the door and be open, be upfront, be informational, be conversational so that it’s easy to have these kinds of discussions with you.
Makes sense. What else goes into a Messaging Playbook besides the objection parameters and conversation starters regarding objections?
Other things, I build what’s called a Value Proposition Platform. Rather than just the standard definition, I build a fairly meaty platform where it’s a short, tight little statement. We got all of your market segmentation in there. Define personas for all of your key targets, full-on personas that also talk about not just who they are and where they like to go to dinner or what they drive, but more about behavior. What are triggering events that would make them consider something? What are the behaviors that they have? What are their major priorities? How do they make decisions? Those kinds of things. This targeting piece nailed. Then we translate into what we call a buyer statement at the front end of your value prop. You start with the buyer.
If you are the preeminent supplier, you’re looking out for the prospect’s best interest.
I always say that messaging and particularly value props are a mirror. I say to people think of it metaphorically as a mirror. When your buyer looks into it, who do you think they want to see, themselves or you? I know what I want to see. That buyer statement on the front end, then you have your offer statement, which is the tight part. It’s like only address what that particular buyer cares about in that statement, then the differentiators. And then, I back it up with a set of value drivers key points of value in the mind of that target buyer you want to address. We quantify each one of them, and we offer third-party credible proof. Now I have everything I need to build a conversation, to build content, to write copy, all of that—a core set of discovery questions that hone in on that particular solution. Your objections, we might look at adding outbound and inbound cadences for inside and outside salespeople to use, including all of the copy emails, social posts, voicemails, video content. Having a content inventory around the key most helpful pieces of content, pieces of thought leadership that you can use with these so they’re served up, so you don’t have to run around looking for it. And then you’ve served up the right things. Those are some of the core pieces, and then every other organization has its own spin. We might then pull in and customize from there.
Wow, that’s phenomenal. How big is this document or playbook? Is it dozens of pages or a hundred plate pages?
It depends on the organization and the complexity of your solution set. It could be very specific; it could be around a particular solution or across the board. It varies depending upon what you’re trying to do.
Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a one-pager to me.
Maybe some one-pagers in there that are relative to certain things, but it is not. So that everyone in the organization can stay on message, and they’re able to deliver it in different formats to deliver it to different audiences, but that the core message is clear across and consistent. Consistency is the big issue. Because if sales are off writing their own thing, let’s face it, that’s not a core strength. And you’ve got marketing doing this very kind of more formalized or something that I’m going to read and consume, as opposed to having a conversation about, there’s a lot of fractures that happens. Having this sort of roadmap, as it were, makes a lot of sense. That way, everybody’s got what they need. This site is like this is content-driven messaging, and this is the “salesyfide” version of it. This is how they fit together. That’s sort of how I think about it.
Great. I imagine some surprising examples that you could share, where sales and marketing come together in a much more cohesive fashion. But other departments have come in and applied some of your Messaging Playbook and done something out of extraordinary. Like, for example, I don’t know; maybe the CFO got a hold of it. And he or she then told the team that handles invoicing or whatever to do things completely differently, or whatever. I’m curious to hear some examples.Buyers are more engaged when messaging is tied directly to their issues, company goals, and business needs. Click To Tweet
Yes. One of the things that I advise is, don’t hold the playbook here. It shouldn’t be just marketing and sales that have access or that understand it. It should be rolled out internally before it goes anywhere else. If you have a customer experience team, that would be important for them. If you’re a larger enterprise, the customer support or service team should understand that. If you have delivery teams, people that once we’ve sold the solution actually go and install or work directly with the customer. There are aspects of that that would be important to them and how they communicate. That could be important. You want your senior executive team to understand it all and make sure that there should be a section there. Here are the key talking points and the key major areas to keep the executive team on message. So that can be helpful as well. It becomes a unified, “Here’s what we’re going to say, and here’s how we’re going to speak about the problems, the solutions that we connect together to solve.”
I would imagine, even the media trainer working with the CEO would want to have that playbook on hand and tailor the media training based on it.
Absolutely. Even when new things are happening and new launches and new things to announce, you still want the core message to be clear. Another way of thinking about it, and this is something else that would be in there, is to build what I call a Value Proposition Hierarchy. What’s your overall brand message? Now you’re going to look at the major areas or themes that our customer-buyer focuses on, themes that we are going to engage with. And then underneath that, here is our solution, our solution value props. So it’s really clear, and it all fits together. There are organizations that put together this sort of one-pager messaging framework so that people can understand how all the pieces that would be another thing to add, they’re sort of up at the front of “Okay, here are all the different types of messaging we have, and here is how they all fit together.” This can be helpful if you’re responsible for launching a new product over here, and you’re trying to create things sort of by yourself. And it’s like, “Wait a minute, there’s already a framework, and I just have to look at that to see where this would most logically fit. And I want to make sure I connect above to the brand messaging, and I want to make sure that I make sense, and under which of the major themes does my product fall.” In that respect, you don’t have these outliers where there are just totally different messages going up there, which I see a lot.
The playbook shouldn’t be just marketing and sales. It should be rolled out internally before it goes anywhere else.
Let’s apply this concept to Tesla; they have their Cybertruck, which is different from just a Model S, and then there’s the stuff they’re doing out in the media, like buying up all this Bitcoin with their balance sheet. And Elon Musk is saying all sorts of unbridled things on Twitter that might get him in trouble with the SEC later on. Like a lot is going on at Tesla. And it’s a high-flying stock or has been. Now, how do you put all that together into a value prop hierarchy so people don’t get confused when they’re trying to figure out “Should I buy the car?” “Should I invest in their stock?” “Should I buy Bitcoin because Elon Musk is big on it?”? How do you kind of sort all that out?
That would be a job that would probably take me the rest of my life. I honestly don’t think there is a hierarchy. I think it’s messaging that’s wrapped around a visionary leader, a reactive leader. In some respects, I feel like the strategy is not to be completely unified. I feel like it’s the opposite, that what’s working for them is they have all this wild stuff happening, and all of it is catching people’s attention. I think it can be confusing overall, but it doesn’t appear to be hurting them. Without Elon Musk, that would have been a problem. But that whole focus is on the new, further way ahead of everybody else or taking something over and turning into something different. I think there’s this overarching sort of brand approach that’s happening here. But in terms of sorting out that marketing, I don’t think Elon Musk would let that happen. And I don’t know him, it’s not like I know him, but I think that he’s driving that Tesla all over at 4000 miles an hour and keeps up or don’t. I do think that’s part of the strategy. Interesting question.
So it’s like Elon is the unifying element that brings it all together, makes it all cohesive and makes it an ethos that you want to kind of jump on that moving train that’s already halfway to its destination. And without him, it would all just be a cacophony.
It will be a cacophony, or it might be the Apple of the automotive industry. Let’s just take the cars of the trucks, to begin with. Where it looks cooler, it feels cooler, but it still would be of the pack. I think what works for him is that he’s into many things, and they are all kind of big. And they’re all happening, kind of not in concert. That’s the strategy. I think it makes a lot of sense. Think about the shifts that Apple was facing and still faces without its visionary leader, right at this point. And there was some faltering there, for sure. And I think the soul of Tesla is him. Let’s be honest; it’s him. That’s one of those challenges with organizations wrapped around an individual; it’s a good thing up to a point. And then it also is a challenge if that person moves on or leaves.
Or leaves the planet one way or the other.
Or leaves the planet. He might do a rocket, so.
Awesome. How do you assess the quality and effectiveness of your Value Proposition?
The first thing that I want to understand is I look at it, and I try to identify the same data. I want to get a clear feel for what the targeting looks like. And then I want to find out from the team that I’m assessing their materials. What is the actual target? What’s your segmentation? What are the targets? And I want to see how close the value prop is to it. A lot of them are what I call “one-size-fits-all value props.” Which we all know, I have a closet full of one-size-fits-all stuff that fits nobody, including me. If it’s generic, that says to me; you’re aiming one message across all of your audiences. That’s something I want to look at right away. The second thing I want to look at is how much buyer language given your targeting and what your segmentation looks like. Do we have any language at all or anything that speaks directly to the buyer? One of the things I say if I count the number of times that the company mentions its name or says “us” or “we,” I have an example that I use in training in the company and their value prop statement. And they had a really big statement. They mentioned themselves 14 times. I counted 14 times they reference themselves. They reference the customer zero. I look at that; what’s the leading message?
A way to think about this is, essentially, if you’re doing that 14 times all about you and zero times about the customer, it’s like you’re facing the company, but now you’ve got your butt to the customer.
That’s exactly right.
You need to turn around, face the customer, and put your butt to the company. That’s okay; you might lose your job. There is that risk, but the customer is going to be much better served. It’s good karma too.
You need to turn around, face the customer, and put your butt to the company.
It is because essentially what they’re doing when they look at anything when they have a conversation with you if they’re looking at your website, they’re consuming content, whatever. The very simple but not so simple question they’re trying to answer is, “Is this for me?” “Is this relevant to me?” And so I look at, and I try to assess how relevant would this be for the targets you’re talking about? Are there goals or objectives, or issues embedded in them? And is your offer statement everything but the kitchen sink, or is it just specific to what they’re trying to do? On the differentiator side, which is the hardest thing, is a lot of differentiators that aren’t differentiating at all. I do a competitive messaging scan whenever I do value prop work, and I will compare the client with five to 10 of their competitors. And I look across various aspects of messaging. A differentiator is one of the first things I do.
And I have an example where we looked at nine companies, nine competitors against my client. And seven out of the nine all claimed to be the industry leader. Liar liar pants on fire. You can all be. You don’t get to say you’re the leader. It’s somebody else, a third-party credible, that says it. So getting at what’s different about your offering, “Why this offering? What makes it stand out that’s relevant to me?” And the, “What’s different about working with us?” I just did a workshop with another client and a bunch of their marketers. There are about 30 people, and they’re all drafting them. And in almost every one of them, one of the differentiators they put down is, “We have 90,000 solution architects globally.” That was a big deal. And I’m like, “Well, what happens if your competitor has 92,000?” Like how is having 90,000 relevant to this offer? It could be if they are in the middle of a major globalization initiative, and that’s part of what you’re delivering that’s relevant. But as a rubber stamp differentiator? Not so much.
Do you know what that reminds me of? This is funny. The relevancy of the factoid is very important. And I remember being told when I was at the dentist one time, he’s like, “Well, this thing happened to you where essentially, your tooth has disintegrated from the inside out. And this rarely happens. This is so rare.” And there’s the factoid that I don’t care about that is so irrelevant. The percentage of the time that it happens to other people. How does that matter to me? Does that make me feel better? Like this is a one and a 10 million thing? Unbelievable! Of course, they had to pull it, and then I got an implant. But that’s a great example of an irrelevant factoid that I think would irritate the person hearing it.Sometimes objections are a symptom of something people care about. Find out what these are to the core and tackle from there. Click To Tweet
It does because it doesn’t answer the question that I, as a buyer, want to know. Why this offer? What’s different? What stands out that I should care about? What’s relevant? What’s the most important thing I need to consider as I look at you and alternatives? This is where the rubber hits the road, right here. I think that too often, it’s just the standard fare. And I’m always pushing back, going, “Let’s get closer to the account. Let’s get closer to the buyer to what matters to them. Because this is where they start to make the decisions.” And you’ve got to make sure that that’s upfront. And it’s clear, and it’s specific. That’s the kind of thing that I assess.
Amazing. Let’s say that you want to get close to the buyer; there are some agencies, for example, that will schmooze the buyer, take them out to fancy restaurants and send them gifts and things like that, even though the company they work for probably doesn’t even allow that. How does that fit into this messaging picture?
Well, that kind of stuff doesn’t deliver what you need. I’m a big proponent of doing the voice of the customer interviews, literally having a third party very carefully crafted set of questions, and then having a conversation. I usually will talk to upwards of 10 plus, sometimes more. I’m in a project right now where we’re building out buyer personas, and then we’re doing the value prop and messaging, and we’re interviewing 50 customers. You want to get that voice of the customer. What do they care about? How do they speak about it? All of that. And those are important because, in that respect, you can pull the right language right out of those conversations. That’s what matters. And that’s typically the approach that we will take from that perspective. What I like to do simultaneously is do internal interviews. I want to see what you want to say to your customers, and then we’ll talk to your customers and see what they want to hear. We overlay them, and you’d be surprised at how much you want to say they don’t care about. What we’re looking for is the overlap. That’s where we build the message; it’s that overlap between what they want to hear and what you want to say.
When you build the message; it should overlap between what they want to hear and what you want to say.
It reminds me of years ago, and I worked with Kohl’s department stores. And I’ve said this a few times on this show, but it still really humors me to think that they were so fixated on the term “kitchen electrics” that they wanted to rank number one for it in Google. Nobody uses that term. That’s such an industry term that I don’t even know if industry people even use it. But the CEO was so fixated on ranking for that, that that was the order from higher up to get the search people to deliver on. And it’s ridiculous; it’s not valuable, it’s not relevant, it’s not going to move the organization forward.
It makes me think about these kinds of areas that I always ask people working on these with me. First of all, read them out loud. When you read what you’ve written out loud, and then you realize no human being on the face of this earth would talk that way, who would use that kind of language, that’s the first thing. All through iterations were reading aloud, reading them out. And it’s funny, sometimes it’s like, you want to take all the companies to speak out, you want to take all the techno-speak out, and then get closer and closer. I think that’s key because hearing it out loud, filtering out language that doesn’t make any difference. And then the other thing I do is, if I took your company name off of this, even your product or solution name off of it, could I slap any other companies on it and have it be seamless? That tells me this is super generic. Bring me closer. If I took this all up, now look at it, would this apply to every one of your competitors would apply to somebody that’s not even in your market? Surprisingly, particularly in the technology space, I think some of the worst messaging out there is cloud messaging because it’s pretty generic and pretty interchangeable. Again, not close enough to the buyer and what they’re trying to do.
What would be an example of a particular company with a super generic message that could be interchanged with any other competitors?
Oh, my god. There are many that are in that place. And I would rather not call them out because they are potential future customers.
Okay, fair enough. Well, let’s take something that probably would never become a customer. How about, like mattresses? I don’t know if you’re going to target mattress companies. But I imagine that those kinds of companies have a big problem with this. It’s a commodity product, and they don’t differentiate effectively. I don’t know the difference between a Purple and a Casper and whatever else.
Well, it’s feature-based, and I think that’s the challenge, right? They’re focusing on the feature and leading with the feature, and then maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get to find out why that matters to you. And I think flipping it is a better thing. I get intrigued by those kinds of things. If you’re going to talk to me about sleep and the quality of sleep and you’re going to touch on issues that I have, that gets my attention. I don’t care what’s inside that mattress, and I don’t care if it’s Purple, I don’t care if it’s honeycomb, I don’t care if it’s crushed lava rock, what I care about is “Here are the major things that this will do for you.” You can even sort of sub-segment some of your messaging around some of the buyer’s needs or concerns.
Here’s an example that just comes to mind., “The mattress for former insomniacs.”
I would be in front of the line; I’d be waiting till they open in the morning. Because I was, I still have times where I had insomnia. That gets my attention because it’s all about me. That’s all I care about is me. I don’t care about your product or your offering unless it’s relevant to me. That would be huge. Any kind of messaging around that I just bought myself, my 10th pillow trying to find the right pillow that will help me sleep better. I just bought one this weekend. I buy them, and then I try them for two weeks, and I go, “Well, that was a great idea, of course.” And this one got a charcoal cooling surface; I’m like, “I don’t care. Can I sleep on it? Does it feel like a bag of cement? And how does it cool?” And I’ve done three nights on it. I’m good for about halfway through the night, but I’m not there yet. I’m searching for that thing that will help the quality of my sleep. I don’t care that much about giving me the high level of how that feature will help me. I don’t want to know what kind of charcoal. I don’t want to know. I don’t care about that stuff.
I don’t care about your product or your offering unless it’s relevant to me.
You should try the TechnoGel, the pillow, and the mattress. I had the mattress, and I still have the pillow. I liked the pillow. So let’s go to company speak, and techno-speak and also industry speak. Can you give us examples of the before and after and how to eliminate that sort of nonsense?
I have this list of terminology that I love to hate in messaging, “We are the best of breed solution.” That’s a dog show term. Let’s be real about that. According to who? Why is that important to me? Using any kind of acronym, I get hives when I see acronyms because there’s this assumption, “Oh, it’s an industry acronym, and everybody will get it.” Not everybody knows what it is. There are 9 million acronyms, and depending on the industry, multiple whatever. Spelling it out and then translating it into simple language if it doesn’t make sense. My recent favorite is the words “purpose-built” are getting added to every description. “We have a purpose-built widget that flies to Mars.” Oh, you have a solution that’s built for a purpose, so what? That’s the one that I’ve been seeing a lot over the last year, so I could add it to my list. There’s a lot of that stuff that I see all the time.
I got to give you one from my industry. I’m an SEO expert, and I hear this one and see it all the time; “SERP.” It’s an acronym that nobody who just speaks normal English uses. Search Engine Results Page, that’s what it stands for. “Here’s the SERP for consultants and messaging” or whatever. Like, SERP? Really? It doesn’t even sound nice.
It doesn’t sound nice. Even saying it out, search engine reports page, you’re going to get that, and some marketers are going to get that, but nobody else is going to get the rest of it. I would go even further and simplify that.
Which I do, I call it “search results.”One-size-fits-all never works. No one message is accurate and relatable to everyone in this world. Click To Tweet
See? Exactly. I deal with a lot of that kind of exercise with people. Like, “Can you just say that to me in plain English? I’m a sixth-grader. Tell me what it is.” Because of your assumption that your audience will get it. What they will do is they will not tell you they don’t get it. I used to read the dictionary when I was a kid. I was fascinated. So I would have a word a week. And when I hear a word that I don’t know, I automatically want to know what it is. I usually ask the person who says it, “That word is interesting. I don’t know what it means. Can you share it with me?” That’s kind of interesting cause not everyone can answer me. And then I go look it up. Or if there’s an acronym, I always ask. And I had someone say to me, a client, and this was a number of years ago. “It doesn’t look really good when you ask what these industry acronyms are because it looks like you’re not plugged in.” I said, “I hear you. But that acronym, those three letters could mean this, this, this, or this. And only one of those is relevant.” And then he was kind of like, “I didn’t think of that.” I know, just because you have an acronym in your organization or your industry does not mean those same letters aren’t being used a different way somewhere else. That’s the challenge with that.
Right. And the terms that drive me batty whenever I see them are things like “industry-leading,” or “innovative,” that’s just a washed-out word that means nothing these days.
“End to end,” I get that all the time. We offer a suite of services.” Well, that’s nice. Is there a kitchen in that suite? Because I’m not shopping for a suite. “Everything’s end to end.” Can you give me a little more definition around that?
“Best in class” to match up with your best of breed example? I love that you pointed it out. I completely forgot that that’s from dog shows. “Best of breed.” You’re talking about my product like it’s a dog.
Because it’s the standard term that just shows up in every single thing, every time we pick up a new one, we throw it in. Sometimes what I’ll do at the beginning of a workshop, I’ll say, “Okay, before we get started, and we start to craft some of this together, I want to share with you my list of terms I hate.” And I just put it out there. And I did one workshop, and one of the teams was product development and product marketing team. They crafted, as a joke during an exercise, a draft, and they used every single one of those terms, everything on my list. It was hysterical. It was. Because you want to get at, if I’m going to tell you a story, I’m going to put my spin on the story. I’m going to talk about why this story should matter to you. I’m going to personalize it for you. I’m not going to tell the same story to everybody.
You got to calibrate.
So speaking of calibrating, it’s important to know the wants and aspirations, desires, fears, frustrations of your buyer or prospect. And that’s part of the exercise of doing buyer personas to identify that. Can you walk us through the process of doing buyer personas?
We do the internal interviews, and we look at which solutions we are working on to get tight. And then we interview a series of existing customers.
The voice for the customer interviews that you talked about.
But we mix it up a little in there. You’re going to give us the customers that are madly in love with you. Great. We also want customers who’ve decided to work with you or buy your offerings within the last 12 months. We would love to talk to some customers who’ve left. Not every organization is brave enough to do that, but I get a lot of those. And it’s interesting, and they have great information. If they don’t complain or trash, they have some really good stuff. And from that, we extract all of and we kind of build out a grid, we analyze all of those interviews, because we record them and transcribe them. And then we grid out all of the major themes that we see, we pull language that’s common across, we array all of the issues and challenges. And then, we also dig deep for each of these personas. What are their primary priorities, and what are they trying to drive? What would keep them from making a decision? What are the barriers to decision-making? What are the criteria they use? It’s all very behavioral, and then we construct the multi-layer of persona, and we construct those, and then those serve up.
There is a lot of confusion between a persona and what’s typically a profile, right? A profile is more of a title or a role. It’s very kind of one-dimensional. It’s not behavioral at all. “This is how much experience they have; here’s where they went to school, and they have three kids and 1.5. Dogs. They like to play soccer.” That’s a profile that is not a persona. Or you see these personas like, “This is Sally Sue,” not really. You’re kind of focusing on a role. “Here’s this role.” And that role, this is how they think, this is how they buy, so it’s a lot deeper. From that, we can extract the right language, the right issues, and challenges that we can build into a value prop. So it’s a much better approach. Doing a value prop without that persona, we have to go straight to the interviews, and then I pull those out. What I like about doing the persona work first is that it’s fully realized, we get so much more, and it’s much richer. In contrast, without it, I still have folks that are writing value props, and they’re not talking to the customers because the value prop is very product- and service-focused. And there’s a time and a place for that. I don’t think that those are unimportant. I think that those are important later on in the buyer’s journey. When they get to the real consideration phase, they’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of the features and the benefits of that. But that’s not the beginning of the conversation. The beginning of the conversation is a little bit higher.Don't tell the same story to everybody. Research, curate, and tweak according to your audience's preference. Click To Tweet
And you got to build rapport, and you got to know who you’re talking to build rapport. Where did the decision influencers fit into this? Because if you just focus on the decision-makers, you’re going to miss some really important people in your persona development.
You are. I look at influencers as high influencers, medium, and low. The high-end influencers are providing all the input for the decision-making team. They may sit in on those meetings; they’re getting deep into it. The medium influencers may be people who are testing or experiencing whatever the solution or the product or the service is. And then you may have sort of in the medium to low, and those might be other roles within the organization that is impacted by what you’re trying to buy here, what you’re trying to install. That’s important. Then, there’s another influencer that almost everyone forgets, which is that decision-makers are not just influenced by the people in the organization; they’re influenced by people outside of the organization.
The first place anyone making a serious decision they’re going to talk to peers. They’ll talk to peers in the company, but they will also call their peers outside, “Hey, we’re looking at this solution. Who do you guys use?” or “What do you think of this?” or “Do you have any insight?” So you have those. They listen to the market analyst firms. If there are key associations, trade, or professional associations, those could be influencers. If the organization is working with a consulting company, I mostly do enterprise; therefore, they’re either working with Bain, working with McKinsey, or working with Essentia. Well, they’re going to get input from them, and almost every one of those kinds of decisions. Who are the influencers? Who are the key bloggers that they listen to? What digital outlets do they listen to? All of those, so when you’re looking to market as a whole, you want to catch that outer loop. Because your decision-makers are not locked in the building and muttering to themselves in the room to make a decision, they’re looking at an ecosystem of inputs, both external and internal.
Such good input and advice. This is insightful and helpful. Thank you for sharing all this brilliance. If our listeners wanted to take this to the next logical step, perhaps to do a Value Proposition Assessment, and maybe pick up your book and maybe take a workshop, where should we send them?
So my website, Knowledgence.com. The services page is there, and all of them are there, but the assessment is at the top. Value Propositions that SELL, it’s available on Amazon. The Messaging Playbook isn’t out yet, but it’ll be out later this fall. There’s an online course available there, lots of options, resources, videos, and the whole thing. Help yourself, and feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected]. I’m very passionate about this topic. So I’m always interested in talking about it.
Awesome. If our listeners want to get the Value Proposition Assessment, they go to knowledgence.com, they go to the Services section, and then the assessment is there.
It is the very first thing.
Perfect. Well, this is fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing all this great wisdom, Lisa. And listener, please take advantage of what you’ve just learned, apply it in your organization and get some value and deliver value to your marketplace. This is your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.
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Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Stay aligned with my audience in terms of messaging and engagement. Connect with them on a more personal level so they can relate to what I convey.
Take note that marketing and sales are different from one another. According to Lisa Dennis, marketing provides content. Sales start conversations.
Figure out roadblocks and rejection scenarios way in advance to develop dialogue and a step-by-step plan on how to tackle them in case they happen.
Visualize the desired endgame clearly to determine the steps I need to take and strategies to achieve my goals. When goals are divided into bulleted items, tasks seem more straightforward and more attainable.
Spark people’s curiosity but make sure I have the answers to all their questions and concerns. Provide an FAQ section on my website to make it more accessible for them.
Look out for everyone’s best interests. According to Stephan, he learned about preeminence from Jay Abraham. It’s the act of having the courage to give my prospects the better option even if it means they don’t do business with me.
Let the soul or culture of my business emanate in everything I do. Stick to my ethos and let everything in the company gravitate towards that vision.
Be relevant with my target audience. To create a connection, everything from text, colors, design, and style must be relatable to what their persona is.
Simplify as much as I can. Make sure that a sixth-grader can understand the terms I use in what I’m writing and speaking.
Assess the quality of my value proposition when I visit Lisa Dennis’ Knoweledgence website.
About Lisa Dennis
Lisa Dennis is a global marketing and sales strategist and consultant. She is the author of Value Propositions that Sell: Turning Your Message into a Magnet that Attracts Buyers. and The Messaging Playbook: Win Deals with Content and Conversations that Matter (2021). She works in the enterprise, including FedEx, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and Verizon.
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