Stop Marketing and Start Tuning In

The B2B marketing director raced through a lengthy, well-rehearsed spiel as to why her company’s new software application was light years ahead of anything else on the market. Her logic was persuasive, yet I did what most audiences would do in a similar situation: I tuned out.

The marketing director’s tone—with its trace of exasperation (How can anyone NOT understand that our new product is the best thing since sliced bread?!)—reminded me of my bike mechanic’s similar lecture. While getting my new Specialized Stumpjumper (the BMW 5 Series of mid-life-crisis mountain bikes) worked on, I expressed disappointment that the bike’s streamlined geometry prevented me from loading it onto the expensive bike rack I bought from his store a couple of years ago.

My bike mechanic, an absolute wizard with the spoke tension meter and crank wrench, responded by launching into his own gear-laden spiel about how jaw-dropping-ly advanced the 2013 Stumpy’s geometry and componentry is. His tone was affably exasperated: Bro, you’re gonna sweat the bike-rack fit when you have this amazing single-track devouring monster? His logic, based on the jargon I could actually translate, was sound and convincing. But I tuned out and let him get back to his tune-up.  

I can cut my bike mechanic slack, but the marketing director is another story. Here’s what I wanted to tell her, if I felt that interrupting her passionate patter would have worked: Listen.

At the very least, listen first. It works, as Marcus Sheridan can attest to. A February Q&A in The  New York Times features a discussion with Sheridan, a Virginia-based fiberglass pool installer who “saved his company” by redefining content marketing.

How did he redefine content marketing? By—wait for it—answering questions from customers and prospects. I know, it sounds revolutionary.

Like car dealers, pool installers are loathe to discuss pool costs because pools requires lots of options that boost the ultimate price customers pay. Sheridan disregarded industry custom by committing to answer any and all questions customers have about fiberglass pools. Specifically, he addressed:

1. Price – Sheridan provided two ranges: an ultimate range ($20,000 to $200,000) and a typical range ($40,000 to $80,000);

2. Product Weaknesses – Concrete-pool installers often point out the problems with fiberglass pools, so Sheridan wrote a short article running down the issues and benefits, encouraging readers to make a well-informed purchase decision; and

3. The Competition – As in most industries, pool-buyers reach a point in the sales process where they ask a vendor to identify other good companies that offer similar products and services. Rather than claiming that his company does not have any real competition, as many organizations (in all industries) do, Sheridan posted a blog entry about the best swimming pool builders in his area.

This approach to content marketing worked very well for the company and for Sheridan, who has since started a new content marketing and consulting venture.

A similar listen-first approach also worked well for Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Rio. Author and Social Media expert Dave Kerpen blogged about his frustration waiting a long time to check into another Vegas hotel, the Aria. Kerpen vented his frustration on Twitter. Although this sort of information is precisely why I don’t follow to many folks on Twitter, it turns out that Rio’s marketing folks were listening. They tweeted a response that underscored their listening skills, marketing savvy, and the fact that they have way more empathy than I do: “Sorry about your bad experience, Dave. Hope the rest of your stay in Vegas goes well.”

Kerpen writes that he was deeply impressed that the Rio did not tweet him a sales pitch. So much so that Kerpen stayed at Rio on his next Vegas trip and promoted his experience to friends, one of whom he says booked roughly $10,000 worth of rooms there for a family reunion.

Now, I don’t want to lecture or brow-beat you, Bro, but next time you take a gulp of Kool Aid and begin to launch into a self-serving spiel (even a logically compelling one) take a deep breath. And then another one.

And then try to remember to begin by listening to your customers, especially those who may care more about how well your product fits with their existing investments than how amazing your product’s newest features are.


Freelance journalist Eric Krell works with Mitel CMO Martyn Ethrington to produce DMN’s Diary of a CMO.

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