by Grant Gooding
As PROOF recently hit its 10-year mark, I couldn’t help but have a couple of thoughts. My first was ‘holy crap, that was quick,’ followed by a sobering feeling of inadequacy. We are nowhere near where I thought we would be in ten years. We have pivoted our business model three different times in our ten years. I can’t believe it took us that long to get it figured out. The reality is that business is hard and in an effort to make it a little easier on everyone else, I thought I would share 10 simple things that I have learned doing research for the hundreds of clients we have had the pleasure to work with over the last decade.
#1 People do business with people, not companies
Period. This is one of the most important lessons to learn in life and business. Sometimes this fact is shadowed by technology and automated systems but if your business is struggling this is likely at the heart of why. There is no software solution or business hack that will change this as long as human beings have free will.
#2 Nobody cares about your awards or accolades
Like not even a little. A couple of years ago we analyzed 100 studies where clients tested messages around awards and found they were consistently in the bottom 20% of importance to customers and prospects. In fact, messages around awards and accolades never once cracked the top 50% of messages tested making it, quite possibly, the worst-scoring category of messages we have ever measured. So, if you show off your awards, just know it might make you feel better but it is most likely losing you money.
#3 The reason people buy from you is not what you think
It’s just true. I think the primary reason is that we are way too close to our own thing and lack perspective. In the over 500 studies we have done, less than 1 in 25 organizations can correctly identify the thing that is most important to their customers. And it’s not as though they don’t have good intuition, it is an inherently challenging thing to figure out. So, next time you are sitting in a leadership meeting and someone says they know why your customers are buying from you, remember there is less than a 5% chance they are right.
#4 If your customers are unhappy, it is most likely because you aren’t communicating with them in the way they expect.
In the hundreds of satisfaction and insight studies we have performed, this is the biggest driver of customer dissatisfaction and nothing else is even close. We have also found that increasing communication frequency with your customers is the easiest way to increase your customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores (NPS) in the near term.
The importance of communication frequency is so evident that we revisited our own client communication processes and increased our client touchpoints by 3x. We have turned this learning into one of our core principles which is “You can’t overcommunicate.”
#5 People don’t care how it works
I have heard many times, especially in technical fields, leaders tell me that “if they just understand how it works, they will buy-in.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does nobody care about how your widget or process works, but our research has also discovered that talking about how it works will decrease your probability of making a sale. This is a particularly hard concept to grasp for engineer-minded and technical leaders. Admittedly, this was something I struggled with and it took a long time to sink in for me to make messaging changes for our business.
#6 Getting the small things right gives you permission to win bigger sales
Many times we have seen organizations that are having trouble selling what appears to be an innovative or disruptive product or service and there isn’t an evident reason why. When we dive into the data, most of the time we discover that there is something very simple that the company is not doing well (order accuracy, delivery time, answering the phone, etc.) We have found that there is a direct correlation between meeting the current expectations of a customer and your ability to win more work. So make sure you are getting the simple things right and your customers will be more confident in your abilities which will ease their fear and remove their mental barriers to buying something bigger from you.
#7 Facts don’t equal reality
One of the unfortunate byproducts of having a good CRM or ERP system is that you have factual data on your customers and you make assumptions about them based on those facts. We see that this factual data is many times misleading. When it comes to communicating with your customers, perception truly is reality. We often see that a client’s data set is inconsistent with how their customers feel. The reason isn’t that your data is necessarily wrong, it is just measuring either a consequence of how your customers are thinking or they are forced to take an action against their will, most often because there is no other available alternative.
If you can better understand what your customers are thinking and feeling you can not only improve your customer experience but you can build more effective business systems.
#8 Your customers are most likely also using a competitor
We have performed hundreds of share of wallet analyses. Many times we conduct what we call an ‘actual share-of-wallet analysis which looks at not only direct competitors but indirect competitors or alternatives used by existing customers. Most of the time, clients are shocked to see how many of their clients are also using their competitors. It is typically a valuable exercise to find out specifically how and why your customers are using you and how they are using your competitors. It will help you wholistically understand your customer’s issues and better position you to gain a greater share-of-wallet.
#9 Using generic, marketing language is losing you money
Every time you use a word like ‘quality,’ ‘customer service,’ ‘trust,’ or ‘value’ you are losing money. Not because these things aren’t important in a broad sense, it’s because people don’t know what they mean. These words are among the most frequently used in marketing and advertising but the mind ignores them because they are too generic and vague. Instead, use what we call “Value Proposition Units” which are the actual, definitive things that people buy. So instead of saying ‘quality,’ for instance, talk about your estimated product life, maintenance frequency, or material density.
#10 Using only one message won’t cut it
Very rarely do we see that there is only one singular message that an organization should be using. People are pretty darn different and so it’s reasonable to assume that you should be using different messages depending on what kind of audience you are targeting. We typically see an average of 4.5 messages that an organization should be using to connect the right value proposition with the right audience sector.
I hope this list has confirmed your suspicions, given you a new perspective, or reinforced your beliefs. These insights are based on hundreds of iterations of studies and have found them to be very frequently, but not universally true.