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What I Don’t Know

What we don’t know about our markets, our customers, our products, our business is where our lack of growth and outright failure resides. Of course, the rub is this – on our own, we don’t know what we don’t know and are powerless to do anything about it.

So, we must force ourselves to find out what we don’t know – it’s really painful, but really fruitful, and just might contain the secret to your success.

It’s painful, because it’s not natural. Or, as Steven Covey so brilliantly theorized in the 7 Habits . . . “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are — or, as we are conditioned to see it.” If this notion is true then it’s no wonder there are things in our business that seem so painfully obvious to us, yet remain a mystery to the very people we are trying to connect with.

Have you ever sat with a customer and watched as they navigated your website. I have, and I wanted to choke them. (hello, it’s obvious, click here!) Lesson: What’s obvious to me isn’t so.

See, the best marketing documents might be the ones that give our prospects the answers to the questions they didn’t know that had.

But, I think the really frustrating thing about this in marketing is that often this lack of knowledge keeps us doing things that are actually turning people off unintentionally. A confused prospect rarely, takes the time to write an email, attach a screen shot, and make some suggestions as to how we could make our shopping cart function more effectively. (If they ever do, drop to your knees, thank them, and send them a free gift of some sort.)

As I pondered this post, I posed this question on twitter and Facebook. The response I received was immediate and plentiful: @ducttape: wondering how we find out what we don’t know, what is holding us back – no, I’m not drinking, just having philosophical day any thoughts?

I want to share a few of the responses I received for reference sake.

pippak @ducttape trial and error of constantly stretching beyond our comfort zones?? NOT at all easy to do – easy to write about :-)

HildyGottlieb @ducttape What holds us back? My own “personal worst”: Getting angry at others, then searching to find I do those same things myself.

Benware5 @ducttape Seek the new, keep looking over the fence at others, talk to those who are not of your circle and follow strange twitter link

djsartin @ducttape What holds us back? Comfort Zone, maybe? Feeling we’re doin’ alright with all we know so far….why spend time learning more?

Patrick Bryan at 3:46am January 18 – Ask (trusted) people around you for feedback, or find a mentor who will challenge you.

Tim Nagle at 4:20pm January 17 – it’s true that being in excellent company will lead to more knowledge. Always be a “student of the game”….want to find out what you don’t know…..look where you haven’t been, not where you have.

While the responses were fascinating, helpful and instructive, I was struck by the fact that even the advice we seek and receive is filtered through the experiences of the person giving it – it’s not right or wrong necessarily it’s just another piece of data.

And I think that’s the long-winded conclusion I’m headed towards.

It is essential that we set-up ways to collect and filter what we don’t know that is holding us back in our business. This may require doing things that feel uncomfortable, that are work and make us stretch. But, it’s equally important to detach your personal world view from the process so that you can simply take in data, filter it, and apply what seems useful.

  • Set-up routine meetings with customers and ask them lots of questions
  • Call you office as a prospect and ask lots of questions
  • Request a brochure from your company
  • Call your competitors and ask lots of questions
  • Hire people to shop your business and give feedback
  • Visit businesses you have never visited and pay attention to how your senses are impacted
  • Sit your customers down and go through your web site with them
  • Go home with a customer and watch them unwrap and use your product
  • Find ways to involve your employees in process creation
  • Get a mentor and then cautiously filter their advice
  • Read everything you can get your hands on – particularly non-industry stuff
  • Never, ever get comfortable for more than a week or so

I know this was a lot to dump on a Monday, but passionately seeking the unobserved is the key to building a remarkable business – keep in mind however, that this is simply from the view of the world as I see it!

Involve Your Employees in the Referral Machine

Everybody I talk to these days is looking for ways to generate more referrals. And I get that, referrals are great – low ROI, shorter sales cycle, more qualified leads and less focus on price.

There are lots of great ways to systematically stoke the referral machine, but an often overlooked one is the engagement of your entire staff. Every employee, marketing related function or not, should be brought into the referral game and motivated, empowered and rewarded for playing the game to win.

    Here’s how:

  • Help fill your gaps – If you are not automatically receiving a flood of referrals it may be due to the fact that some of your processes are leaking – customers are not receiving an experience that connects them emotionally with your brand. Challenge your employees to come up with ways to turn every customer contact, even financial and operational ones, into touchpoints for referrals.
  • Make referrals daily – Build your network of select strategic partners and encourage every employees to make referrals to those partners when they can. Perhaps even set-up a little bonus point pool for making referrals. Make giving referrals a business strategy (Hint: Best way to get is to give.)
  • Automate customer testimonials – So often your front line employees are standing there when the customers sighs and says, “Wow, dude, you really saved my butt on this one.” – Alert: Great time to get a customer testimonial – start offering bonus points for every testimonial acquired by every employee. This one could turn into a pretty fun game for the entire staff.
  • Create co-brand promotions – Get your employees on the lookout for great strategic partnering opportunities and then create tools such as white papers, webinars and seminars that can be pre-packaged and offered to run in some creative co-marketing campaigns. Again, this is where your front line folks, the ones having drinks with the customers, can find out the inside scoop of the best potential strategic relationships.
  • Offer employees referral bonuses - This one is pretty straight forward, but sometimes the obvious still alludes. Right now, figure out a way to incentivize every employee to generate word of mouth buzz and actual referrals for your business. Don’t stop at a referred prospect though. Go way beyond that to referred new employees, referred strategic partners, referred buddy down at the newspaper and referred genius tech gal that can automate stuff you are still doing manually.

Put one or all of the above in place and watch the mindset at your business take a major shift. Everybody’s in marketing, no matter what the org chart says!

Get Your Shine On

One of my most frequent mantras for small business is “Strategy Before Tactics.” In other words, you must develop a solid marketing strategy before you ever consider the what and how of the tactical side.

For me, that strategy is always based in two core ingredients – a thorough understanding and description of who makes an ideal customer for your business and a simple, yet meaningful, way to communicate how your business is different than all the others that say they do what you do.

The longer I’ve owned my own business and the longer I’ve worked with small business owners I’ve come to add a very important third element to the strategy piece, and it’s one that I think somehow must come before anything else.

This 3rd strategy element is something I call “Your Shine.” Essentially this is the illumination of your marketing and life vision in what is ultimately a highly personal and unique way.

You already know that line that separates your business and your life is so thin that without a vision for how one will serve the other, perhaps neither will serve either. And that’s what I believe holds people back from building truly remarkable businesses and equally remarkable lives.

So what does this shines thing look like? I don’t know exactly, but I do know it has nothing to do with balance. First off, balance is impossible to achieve and it’s wrong thing anyway. Building a business and a life that shines isn’t about balance, it’s more about blending the right notes to create a certain kind of dynamic harmony.

See, the beautiful thing about harmony is that only you can determine the kind of music that excites you.

Your Shine then is your personal understanding of your organization’s (substitute job if you like) higher purpose or reason for being that syncs perfectly with your personal goals and values. Okay, before you conclude that this is starting to sound a little too spiritual for your taste, let me bring it back to a simple, practical idea. You and only you can decide what “higher purpose” means, the only point I’m making is that without this driving vision or “this is why I do this” it is far too easy to get knocked off track the first time you suffer some setback or criticism of your dream.

A firm grasp of this thing I call your Shine is what gives you the courage to stay with what you believe.

    So the parts of your Shine, your harmony and by their very nature parts of your marketing strategy are:

  • Your personal, business, strategic and tactical long-term and short-term goals
  • Your marketing vision – the higher purpose of why you do what you do that helps you throw off the desire for a homeostasis kind of balance in search for a much more dynamic kind of harmony
  • Your vision story – A detailed description of a day in the life of your business if, in fact, your marketing vision was being fully realized and that your business was indeed allowing you to create a remarkable life – in a word, a life that Shines.

Once you create Your Shine as part of your marketing strategy you may find that the other elements of your strategy, your ideal customer and your core difference, are much easier to get your arms around.

The most exciting thing I’ve witnessed when people take the time to really get this idea, is that all of a sudden marketing gets really easy, because they have a guiding light that drives every single marketing decision.