Alec Mountain

Alec Mountain is an internet entrepreneur based out of Seattle WA. His work specializes in marketing and brand development.

Smashing Brands Podcast Episode #4: Lisa Hufford, CEO of Simplicity Consulting

On this episode of the Smashing Brands podcast, we sit down with Lisa Hufford, who is the CEO of Simplicity Consulting. We talk about how to define your personal brand, amplify your message to get the results you want, build trust with your clients, prioritize your business objectives, and more.


Smashing Brands Podcast Episode #1: Chad Oda, Chatbot Consultant

The first episode of the Smashing Brands Podcast (formerly known as Marketing By Chance) is here! This time around, I interview managing partner at Amnis Consulting, Chad Oda about marketing through messenger chatbots. We go very in-depth talking about what chatbots specifically are, how they work, several marketing use cases for them in Facebook, and a lot more. Enjoy!

Storytelling Mastery: Skyrocket Your Revenue Through Effective Messaging

It is absolutely critical to be seen, heard, and understood by prospective customers to generate revenue growth. In the midst of all the marketing messaging & advertisements consumers are hit with on a consistent basis, it has never been more important for brands to stand out and position themselves as a surefire solution to a relevant problem their target customer is facing. Whether the sales cycle of your particular business is short or long, the need to captivate attention by creating a positive impression in the consumer’s mind from the moment they find out about you is mandatory if you want to close deals. The objective is to be the brand with messaging that makes it about helping the customer survive and thrive, while doing so in a way that doesn’t fatigue them (for fear of losing their attention). This is how you’ll cut through the noise of your competition and surely garner engagement of prospective customers with your brand.

Creating effective messaging to showcase a brand’s value to customers is what I’ll refer to as storytelling. When you think of a story (whether a movie, book, etc.), their plots typically have a consistent framework. There’s a character that is destined for greatness, yet there is a problem that stands in their way that serves as an obstacle. A guide will come around serving as a resource to overcome this challenge by offering a plan, while also demonstrating empathy for the character, but also competence in helping her. The guide will have a clear call to action towards helping the character achieve greatness, which essentially helps them avoid failure and achieve success. Does this sound familiar? Though not a perfect match, we can replicate this storytelling framework in our branding to create very engaging content for our prospective customers. At a high level, this essentially means positioning our customers as heroes in the story looking to solve a fantastic feat, with our business serving as the guide with the expertise to help them become victorious.

To be effective in storytelling in the business context, we’ll want to include the following in our messaging.

 

Understand the desires of your customer

If you can successfully define what your customer wants, it gives them an initial sense of hope that you can help them because you know what it is they’re looking for. Not only that, but it also creates curiosity in the customer’s mind as to how you’re going to help them achieve that desire. To make the desire intriguing, you’ll want to relate it to the customer’s sense of survival. You have to make this desire appear important, so the customer actually cares about achieving it! When referring to survival, I’m referring to anything that either helps us eat, drink, reproduce, fend off foes, or just in general make us safer. The desires you pick will obviously have to relate to what your brand creates, but examples could include saving money, conserving financial resources, or achieving status.

 

Communicate to your customers what their problems are

What is getting in the way of your customer achieving this very desire? Properly identifying the hardships of a customer’s business will create more interest in us because we’re recognized as a brand that understands them. The problems our prospective customer’s face could be referred to as the villains that are in every movie. The worse they are, the more people want them to be defeated. We can use this to our advantage in a storytelling context for our business by making our customer’s problems appear very intimidating. The worse we can make their problems appear, the more excited they’ll get once we propose our business solution. Keep in mind businesses face problems externally, internally, and philosophically and you’ll want to include all three in your messaging. Companies sell solutions to external problems, but people buy solutions to internal problems. In other words, a customer is frustrated (internally) in their job and an external solution will solve that. People also want to solve problems bigger than themselves (to create meaning in their lives), so additionally present the issues at a grander scale that affect the world which the customer is faced with. It makes everything much more epic.

 

Demonstrate yourself as a guide to help them through your solution

Now that you understand the desires of your customer and the problems that stand in their way, you can now position as yourself as the guide to lead them to victory. You’ve already demonstrated empathy by realizing their problems as it relates to them externally, internally, and philosophically. We’ve showed an understanding of their pains, which has established a bond of trust. Now we need to demonstrate authority by letting them know we’re competent of fixing their problems through the products or services we offer. There are two different kinds of ways we can demonstrate competence, both of which are important. They are reputation and an actual representation of what our business does as it relates to solving the customer’s problems.

A showcasing of your business: You’ve already identified the desires of the customer and the problems getting in the way. What is your solution and how is it going to save the day? How does it specifically solve the problems and issues facing your customer?  What are the key benefits that it provides? If a product is being presented, a visual demonstration of how it works along with a showcasing of the feature set that solves specific problems of your target customer is a clear way to demonstrate authority. If it’s a service, then explain it in a way that expresses value towards solving your customers pain points.

Reputation: As a brand, you need to clearly demonstrate you can be trusted if you want to achieve authority with your customer towards helping them cure their problems. Testimonials of your brand, logos of other businesses you’ve worked with, and awards you’ve won are all great ways to generate respect with those you’re trying to do business with. 

 

Create strong calls to action

After demonstrating how your products will help them achieve success by alleviating their problems, there shouldn’t be any confusion as to how they can do business with you. And it’s also worth noting that they won’t take action unless you challenge them to do so in a clear manner. When we sell passively, it communicates a lack of belief in our product and senses weaknesses. Since we’re storytelling as a method to change the customer’s life for the better, we need to be bold about communicating with them. Whether that means offering a free piece of content for them or asking them to make a purchase will depend on what point in the sales cycle they’re in. Customers cannot read your mind, so be absolutely clear when you want people to take action and label how that’s specifically done.

 

Motivate your customers by loss aversion

In most stories, storytellers will hint at a successful ending for the character, but also a tragic ending as well. It makes the story much more entertaining when there is suspense as to whether the hero will achieve success or failure in end. If there’s not a clear indicator as to what awful thing could happen if the hero doesn’t overcome their challenge, then there’s no stakes in the story, which makes it less entertaining. Warning customers about what the negative impacts of not doing business with you are can eliminate the “so what?” question they might be asking and create greater perceived value for your business. This is meant to be subtle though, so we don’t turn customers off by intimidating them too much. Think of it as the salt in the recipe. People are two to three times more motivated to make a change to avoid loss than to achieve gain. Make it evident what you’re helping customers avoid in a matter of a few points to get yourself across to them.

 

Demonstrate the positive implications of the ending

People want to be taken somewhere and it’s your mission as a brand to realize the positive life changes of your customer’s life once they do business with you. For example, Apple shows you’ll reach your creative potential, while Nike brings inspiration and innovation to athletes to help them achieve athletic success. Similar to the end of almost any story, the character is transformed in some way. A really great exercise to get copy for your marketing collateral on this subject is to create a table with the columns ‘before your brand’ and ‘after your brand’ and fill in the blanks on what your customer’s life is like in both cases. To increase the motivation for our customers to buy our products, we must tell them specifically how their live is going to be so much better after they engage with our business. They might achieve a certain kind of status or power, become more whole as a person, or maybe become more accepting of themselves. What is addressed here will depend on the implications of your business and could work hand-in-hand with the benefits you showcased, which address the specific problems of the customer.

 

Make it a priority to transform your customer’s life

The overall foundation of the bolded statements prior is to create lasting change in people’s lives. Focusing your brand on demonstrating itself as helping people become better versions of themselves is a championship mindset to have. Whether you’re helping people become more fit (financially or physically), better equipped, more accepted, or others, you’re participating in their transformation, which is what they really want. Through this, you’re going to create lots of brand evangelists who are passionate about your brand. Ask yourself who your customer wants to become and what identity they aspire to achieve. Once we know this, we can pave the way for powerful language to use in all our marketing materials. The best brands obsess about the transformation of their customers.

 

In conclusion

Creating a powerful narrative for your business as it relates to the transformation of your customers is a very powerful way to garner attention and stand out. While what I listed might not be the exhaustive recipe of everything you need to have, incorporating all those objectives into your messaging touches on the essentials for sure. This is what makes brands come to life and differentiate themselves from just another product because this method of storytelling is so relatable for the customer with an incredible amount of perceived value.  

If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading! If we’re not connected already, send me a LinkedIn request letting me know you read the article. Also, if you have any thoughts to share on the article, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Re-Launching the Product Roadmap for Success: Requirements for Optimal Outcomes

In the product development world, roadmaps often face criticism. They’re blamed for unrealistic deadlines and missing market opportunities. As many might say, “A product roadmap isn’t meant to survive contact with reality.”

Let’s take a step back and look at the origin of product roadmaps in the first place. From a technology standpoint, Motorola began using the term ‘roadmap’ in the 1980s to align technology and product development. These roadmaps became widely accepted in the 1990s in the semiconductor industry and eventually were adopted by leading tech companies like Microsoft and Google. Roadmaps existed to inform stakeholders of when major upgrades to products were coming, so purchases could be planned many months in advance. Especially in hardware-focused businesses, planning still continues to be essential. However, with the explosion of software along with the adoption of lean and agile practices that preach data-driven product decisions and rapid release cycles, the traditional roadmap has served as unwieldy. This is because tech becomes obsolete, dates change, priorities shift, customer needs evolve, and there’s increasing competition. As a product person do you stay the course of a plan that doesn’t make sense several months later or do you break promises to your customer?

The reality is that traditional roadmaps don’t map to today’s product development efforts. Having static release dates and feature requirements planned far in advance is unrealistic and has resulted in the abandonment of product roadmaps in general. Though, what if we revamped the core of the product roadmap to better accommodate lean and agile practices? Criticized for not being able to survive contact with reality, the modern roadmap actually isn’t meant to. Initial prototypes and MVPs are likely to get ripped apart in feedback sessions with your early customers. The roadmap should operate in the same way and adapt as you learn more. It shouldn’t be a promise-delivering document that serves as a commitment to your customer, but rather a prototype for your strategy. It’s a tool that will help align and guide the vision of the company, while serving as an excellent way to gather feedback from customers.

Traditional roadmaps have provided the positives of setting a vision and direction, but they need to be updated to better adapt to current methodologies of software development.

As previously stated, a solid roadmap today is not a project plan with definitive dates and features, but rather serves as a strategic communication tool with intent and direction. It’s how you intend to achieve your product vision and focuses on the value you expect to deliver to your customer and organization.

To create a successful roadmap today, here are necessary requirements you’ll want to have included:

 

Have the organization’s plans put in a strategic context

The roadmap should articulate why you’re focusing on a certain product, it’s importance, and how it’s absolutely critical to success. Traditional roadmaps were too focused on deliverables, which resulted in leaving out critical context as to why the organization is focused on those specific things to begin with. Product people spend large amounts of time strategizing the specifics of a product through research, design, architecture, and more. A failure to clearly explain their thinking to the people involved in the execution will result in a lack of similar vision with those in departments such as marketing, sales, and finance. This will negatively impact coordination efforts. The roadmap should be tied to a compelling vision of the future that demonstrates what it will mean to be successful in terms of the customer, the company, and even the world.

 

Focus the roadmap on delivering value to customers and the organization

Though teams have started measuring the actual effect of additions and (or) changes to their product as it relates to business results, these themes often don’t make it to the roadmap. There should be real estimates or expectations for business results and customer behavior on the roadmap, rather than just product release dates. Because if the only criteria for management to judge success based off of is whether the team shipped on time, does being on schedule even matter if it had no effect on customer satisfaction or business results? Negative consequences of just focusing on release dates in a roadmap include a lack of providing customer value, which doesn’t increase customer satisfaction or positively impact business KPIs. Instead, focus the roadmap on delivering value through solutions to customer needs and problems.  

 

Embrace learning through your roadmap  

Executives and customers are known to demand commitments. That presents itself as problem when a deal is committed to (in a form of features or services), but something changes in the business where it’s no longer reasonable to follow through with it. A way to avoid these situations is to have conversations related to outcomes rather than output. Conversations about values and goals, rather than specific features. That way you as a product owner can be more flexible down the line with the actual output you create, as long as it’s still meeting the criteria of what the customer deems important from a value standpoint. If you can properly articulate the value you intend to deliver, then the specific details of how that’s going to be delivered is less important. If you commit to a single solution too early, you constrain your options. But when you can create relationships based on trust in providing value, customers will understand when you have to change your direction or priorities on the roadmap.

 

Have the roadmap rally the organization around a set of priorities for the product(s)

For each component in the roadmap, it’s important to explain the value of it to both the customer and the organization. Getting alignment on priorities in the roadmap is critical to execution. Organizations that lack alignment miss out on market opportunities based on problems such as marketing not knowing how to explain your product or the sales team continuing to sell last year’s offerings. Instead, involve various departments in the decisions that will affect them. This means sharing your thinking early and gathering their input. The product team is responsible for taking input from all relevant departments in the organizations then coming to consensus on what the product should ultimately be.

 

The roadmap should get customers excited about the direction of the product

If customers aren’t excited about your new features, then that’s a problem. That’s because just hitting your target dates for feature releases is not a guarantee of market acceptance or business results. To establish what needs to be built requires a solid amount of experimentation through communication with the customer. With a roadmap essentially being a prototype for your strategy, it’s a must to allow customers to view your roadmap and allow them to offer feedback. Sharing a roadmap with customers might sound scary for worry that anything they say will be held against you in the future (which could happen), but communicating effectively the product direction will allow you to better address their needs and make sure you’re on the same page. Otherwise, you risk customers not using the features you put large amounts of efforts and (or) sales don’t meet expectations (because you’re not bringing anything of true, validated value)! Use the roadmap to reality-check your direction with customers. Having conversations about the roadmap allows product people to verify their understanding of the market needs before investing into development.

 

In Conclusion:

If you can successfully create a modernized roadmap for today’s software development practices, it will better steer the company toward a unified strategy that aligns with the organization’s mission. It’s not about creating a project plan, but rather a strategic communications tool that demonstrates intent and direction.

As a recap, here are a few key takeaways to building a proper roadmap:

  • Establish a product vision that relates to your company vision with goals to help measure your progress
  • Focus on outcomes rather than features and dates
  • Prioritize based on ROI (business and customer value)
  • Use input from all stakeholders to drive alignment (marketing, sales, design, etc.)
  • Clearly communicate ongoing change through sharing the product roadmap

If you can follow the above, it’s very doable to set clear direction, while embracing the uncertainties of product development in the modern era.

Thanks for reading!

 

Competitive Analysis Will Make or Break Your Business – Here’s Why and How To Do It!

Performing a comprehensive competitive analysis if often regarded to as an afterthought to many entrepreneurs and decision makers in an organization. Through this, product owners risk their own success in the development phase because they don’t know what they don’t know and are poorly-advised on what is needed to create a successful product in their industry. Marketing and sales people are also put at risk because if they’re unclear of the main advantages of their products compared to others, it makes it harder to do business and close deals. 

As a product owner creating something new, you need to ask, “Why does this solution not exist in the marketplace today?” In this day and age, it’s safe to say that although most product ideas haven’t been successful, almost everything has been attempted. You might assume your product is unique, but the reality is that in most cases that is false. In order to develop a competitive advantage for your product that wins customers over, you need to identify what has worked and failed regarding other similar solutions. Otherwise, how can you be sure what you’re putting in the marketplace is providing innovative value? And how else can you make educated guesses based on what features customers will like and dislike? If you’re in marketing or sales, you’re probably not tasked with influencing a product roadmap, but the research will still be valuable in understanding the unique parts of doing business with you currently that will make for more effective advertising and selling. 

In order to be competitive, it’s crucial to know what’s currently out there, as well as the types of offerings that have been well-regarded and those that have not. Having that firsthand knowledge of your competitors will provide valuable insight into the current and outdated trends of the products you will be competing with. By ‘trends’, this is not only limited to the design practices from a UX perspective, but also includes the traits and values company-wise, their customer segment, branding, and more. Analyzing each competitor’s level of success based on those attributes will really help connect the dots towards identifying what’s needed in creating a value-driven offering in the marketplace.

Identifying types of competitors

A competitor is someone that shares your goals and objectives along with the drive to achieve what you want. Some competitors will be extremely similar to you, while others you’ll share only certain commonalities with. You’ll differentiate these competitors by labeling them as either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’. Let’s go into further detail:

Direct competitors: Companies (or products) that offer the same or a very similar value proposition to your current or future customers. Whether it’s the best solution or not, this is what your potential customers are currently using right now to solve their problem as it relates to your business. If you’re entering a new market, there might be no absolute “direct competitors.” However, for your own good don’t wrongfully assume this without doing the proper research beforehand.

Examples of direct competing products:

  • iPhone X and Galaxy S8
  • Google Search and Bing
  • Microsoft Word and Google Docs
  • Venmo and PayPal

Indirect competitors: Companies (or products) that offer the same value proposition to a different customer segment or a different value proposition to your exact customer. Indirect competitors can often offer a partial solution to your potential customer, but will act as more of a ‘band aid solution’ to the problem you’re intending to solve. Indirect competitors won’t offer the same insight as direct competitors as to what it actually takes to win your marketplace, but in my experience they’ve been great to take ideas from.

Examples of indirect competing products:

  • Tinder and Shapr (similar value proposition, different customer segment)
  • Public transportation and Uber (different value proposition, same customer segment)
  • YouTube and Vimeo (similar value proposition, different customer segment)

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between indirect and direct competitors. Labeling competitors as indirect or direct isn’t as important as realizing at a higher level what it is about each competing product that’s working or not as it relates to your business.

Searching for competitors

Below are my favorite ways to find the most relevant competitors you should be analyzing:

Customer-Facing Research: During your initial customer interviews or other forms of research, people might share names of products they’re currently using or other solutions they’ve heard of that relate to your business either on an indirect or direct level.

In-House Discussions: Those you’re working with, whether investors, clients, or members of your team could have named some products they want to compete with during various discussions of the product-planning phase.

Searching for competitors: Successfully identifying competitors through an online web search is a result of identifying keywords customers might use to search for similar offerings to yours. Ask yourself what words people would use to search for your solution. Often times this will lead to ‘Top 10’ and ‘Best Of’ articles that give you a clue for the types of solutions that exist that relate to yours in some fashion.

Additional tips for finding competitors: 

  • Try an assortment of different keyword phrases that relate to your product and also search for keywords that competitors are trying to be ranked for to get additional insights if possible.
  • Don’t limit yourself to the first page of results and look through at least 5 pages before resorting to another search phrase. Just because a product isn’t very relevant today, it doesn’t mean there’s no nothing to learn from it.

Filling out a matrix with competitor data

My favorite way to do competitive analysis is through collecting all of the data in a matrix, as inspired by one of my favorite product strategy books called UX Strategy. In a matrix, you’ll be collecting an assortment of both qualitative and quantitative data points of each competitor, which will present a firm understanding of each competing company and what parts of their strategy are working or not.

Below is an exhaustive list of the most important things that I believe should be included over the course of your competitive research. When filling out the matrix in a spreadsheet, the below titles should be columns and your competitors should be rows.

  • Competitor name
  • Website URL and App Store location
  • Crunchbase URL
  • Purpose of the site (value proposition)
  • Year founded
  • Funding rounds
  • Revenue streams
  • Monthly traffic or # of app downloads
  • # of items/SKUs (if applicable to your business)
  • Social network popularity
  • Content types/categories
  • Personalization features
  • Competitive advantage (perceived)
  • Overall usability evaluation
  • General notes

Though plenty of information can be found by browsing the product website, going on Crunchbase, and watching YouTube videos, in order to get a complete look at a competitor you’ll need to actually use their product or service. With that, I recommend creating your own user accounts for each competitor if possible and sharing password access with other team members, so they can relive the same experience if they’re working with you on this project. To avoid suspicion, it’s best to not use any of your personal information during the account creation process. When you’re actually using the platform, you can analyze important factors that you wouldn’t have otherwise, such as how popular it is and how usable the experience is. Even more, certain experiences and UX patterns will become visible that might be useful if you’re working with designers. For a project I was working on, I labeled a certain application as a top 3 direct competitor initially, but when I downloaded it the experience was broken. That changed my outlook on the competitiveness of the market.

After gathering all the research, here are examples of some valuable insights you might find:

  • Your direct competition exists, has user traction, and a lot of money, therefore you should rethink going into business to compete with them.
  • Your competition poses as a threat, but you realize that none of them offer the same unique experience as your product, so there’s potentially room for you in the market.
  • There’s not a lot of competition out there that competes with your value proposition leading to potentially a lot of opportunity for a low upfront investment.
  • You realize the features and UX patterns that most competitors are using that depending on if they’re good or bad, could either be great additions to your product or beneficial to leave out.
  • Similar to the above point, through looking at reviews, you can identify the pros and cons of your competitors to determine what’s needed to develop a competitive advantage in the marketplace through feedback.
  • If you’re in marketing or sales, you might realize your product has a lot of key advantages compared to others that you didn’t know existed that will influence your selling tactics. Or it doesn’t and you need to talk to the product manager!

Without looking at the current competitive landscape, it’s impossible to know where the opportunity lies with your product. As a product owner or UX strategist, it’s your job to build something unique and you can’t do that through ignoring your competition. If you’re on a marketing or sales team where this information isn’t available, you need to take action and create it yourself because it’s how you’ll show your differentiation to tell your story in the midst of all the competition.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts!

Save Your Startup Precious Time and Money Through Early-Stage Product Validation

Everyday new digital products are released. As a product owner, it’s incredibly exciting and rewarding to release something to the world you have worked hard on. But what motivates you to help create it in the first place? Creating value is the foundation of business strategy and with that, you challenge existing solutions and believe you can solve a problem with your new product. A problem that lacks a quality solution currently. It’s your job to put something innovative in the marketplace that makes money.

Many product owners love to assume that all of their assumptions are correct when managing the creation of a new product. They like to assume that not only the problem they are designing to fix exists, but that they are 100% correct in understanding the needs and wants of the customer in regard to the solution. This is incredibly convenient! By this methodology, this means that when creating the product, needing to talk to anyone is useless because you already have all the answers. Intuition can be made for how everything is going to function from the user flows, to the features and even the marketing. But what’s the issue here? If we want to make any money or at least get user growth, we need to design for other people, not just ourselves. As much as we would like to believe, our specific needs and wants are not an accurate depiction of what the market wants. And unless we’re creating something that other people want, our results are doomed in creating a viable, sustaining business.

“When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”. If we assume the needs and wants of the users during the product development cycle, we are taking an extreme risk when launching a product. It seems almost common sense. Though, a whopping 42% of small businesses fail today because there’s no market for their product or service. It’s the second-biggest reason why businesses today fail. These failing businesses originate from entrepreneurs that assumed what their customer wanted and it wasn’t until after they invested a large amount of time and money that they found out nobody wanted it.

How can we as product owners avoid this? It’s simple. Let’s validate our product ideas with potential customers before investing a ton of time and money into their development. If we find out that those we assumed would like our product don’t, then we can ditch the idea or pivot on our idea until we get the right response. If we initially get a positive response from our assumed market need (which hopefully we do), then we’ll know we are on the right track and can continue to get feedback as we build and invest in the product. In this way, we are essentially de-risking the product by not moving forward until we realize that those we’re designing for want our product with real evidence to back it up. We’re either killing bad ideas fast or gaining proof of concept. Both are wins.

To initially validate your idea (test the needs/wants of the market), you’ll want to have done these two things first:

Define the problem: What problem does your business solve? Have a clear indicator of why you want your product to exist in the first place, along with some initial assumptions of why there’s room for you in the market with everything else out there.

Define your customer segment: Which customer segment is going to find your product most valuable? Attributes to explore could include age, location, career occupation, external desires, or whatever you feel makes sense in terms of your product. Just make sure you’re defining your audience by the attributes that actually matter as they relate to your product. For example, if you’re creating a tool that makes email marketing better, then ethnicity is not important.

The next step is to find people in your customer segment and see if they relate to the problem and show interest in your solution to solve it. It’s important that the results you get from your research are 100% non-biased. You do this by getting responses from people you don’t previously know and by asking them questions that aren’t skewed in your favor (more on this later). If you don’t abide by these rules and are biased in your research, then you will get responses that are non-authentic and intended to make you feel good. Your goal is to get an accurate depiction of what the marketplace actually wants, so you can create the best solution possible (if the need exists). 

Conducting research should mean talking to people one-on-one, whether in-person or over the phone. My advice says to not do surveys, at least when initially validating a product for a startup. In my own experiences, the results I’ve gotten from ten one-on-one interviews was better than 150 survey results. The data is just much richer because the interviewees can express themselves more. As I stated, find people that you feel relate to your problem and would potentially use your solution. If you’re creating a social app for pickup sports, then talk to people who play pickup sports. If it’s a marketing automation tool, then message marketing executives on LinkedIn and ask them for 15 minutes of their time to go over a solution they could find value in. As I said above, talk to people you don’t know because if you interview friends or family members (even if they are in your customer segment), they are going to say your product is awesome just to support you.

The interview process:

I’m going to lay out an outline that has helped me be successful in what is referred to as a ‘problem interview’ to determine what my potential customer thinks of my product.

The screener question(s): 

The objective here is to determine whether the person you’re about to interview is qualified to talk to you. Especially if you’re approaching people randomly, you need to know if they are the customer you want. You want to weed out the wrong people. For example, with my pickup sports app example, I would ask, “Do you often play pickup sports?” If you’re scheduling conversations beforehand with people, then you might have already done your research on them to determine they’re who you’re looking for. Anyway, after you have verified that they’re the type of person you’re looking for (in your customer segment), you move forward to the next step (below).

Getting a feel for the problem:

Here you ask questions to determine if the problem you’re trying to solve exists. The execution can vary, but personally I like to straight-up ask them if they’re having the same problem my solution intends to solve, without mentioning the product. The problem you present to them should be the one you defined above. Let’s use my hypothetical pickup sports app as an example. I might ask, “Do you currently have trouble finding people to play pickup sports with around the area who you can organize playtimes with?” If they agree, then I’ll ask them what they’re using (if anything) to solve their problem, along with what they dislike and like about each solution. This will give me really good insight and actually determine if what I’m intending to create is needed.

Pitching your value proposition:

The above section is supposed to give context for the solution you are intending to create. Outlining the problem and discussing the pros and cons of existing solutions should pave the way for something new. This is assuming the results are in your favor. If not, then you should stop the interview because the customer doesn’t relate to the problem and therefore probably won’t like your intended solution. If the customer relates to the problem, then you now want to pitch your solution. It’s important here to listen and not sell. There’s a huge difference between saying, “How do you feel about X solution?” and,” X solution is really awesome isn’t it?”. One is asking for honest feedback and the other is asking for dishonest validation, so they don’t make the interviewer feel bad. Describe the solution in a way that allows honest feedback without trying to bias the participant into siding with you. Allow them to give feedback not only on the product itself as it’s already presented, but also what they might like to have added or removed from it.

Concluding Thoughts

In the beginning stages of product development, talking to your potential customers is invaluable. Asking them how they relate to the problem you’re trying to solve and if your solution meets their needs will go a long way in launching something with product-market fit. I would conduct as many interviews you can, but at least 10-15 initially. If your target customer likes what you have planned, then awesome. But if you’re realizing the majority don’t, then it’s worth pivoting either on your value proposition or your customer segment. The objective is to launch a product people want, so you can get customers and make money. Any way to alleviate the risk of product development in terms of the time and money commitment should be valued to you as a product owner and feedback from potential customers is how you’ll do that.

After initially validating your product idea, you then need to continually iterate on it based on feedback as you develop it. This article isn’t meant to be a book and cover all those parts, but I’ll most likely go further in-depth on these topics at a later time. Until then, I recommend the books UX Strategy and The Lean Startup for a complete picture of proper startup methodology in the product development stage.

Thanks for reading and I would love to hear your thoughts based on what was written here.

How To Create a Killer Sales Presentation That Wins Customers Over

You’re almost there. 

You got your potential customer’s attention to the point where they are willing to give their time for you to pitch a product to them that potentially solves a problem in their workplace. For most of us, it isn’t easy to get to this point. It mostly likely required a combination of prospecting, relationship building, and saying the right thing at the right time. Now it’s time to close the deal and make the most out of the opportunity by proving that they made the right decision to sit down with you. This means showing your product (or service) in a way that demonstrates enormous value, while demonstrating brand excellence to the customer. Yes, being a salesman will give you the traits of being able to create opportunities and understand the value of your product. However, adopting the traits of a product storyteller will give you the edge in being as convincing and persuasive as possible when trying to close those huge, important deals. Knowing your products strengths and how that relates to the customer is one thing, but being able to articulate it in a powerful, concise way will make all the difference. 

Here I will present a framework I’ve learned to create killer sales presentations that win customers over through product storytelling. It all starts with empathy, which means putting yourself in the shoes of those you’re presenting to and asking yourself, “As a potential customer, what is everything I would love to see and hear about if I was being shown this product?” Chances are you would like to see the following from the people entertaining the presentation:

  • Proof that the brand you’re listening to is reputable
  • Realization of the very challenges you are facing
  • A solution to alleviate your struggles combined with key important benefits
  • An explanation of why they are the best option on the market  
  • Proof of their solution through a fantastic demo 

That might seem like a lot, but the amount of preparation to showcase all that information shows you’re serious, confident, and simply the best. Let’s walk through it in more detail as we answer the following questions you should address in your presentation. 

 

Who are we? 

To those we are presenting to, let’s reaffirm their decision to take their time to listen to us. Here, we establish ourselves to the customer and she our brand in positive light. Regarded to as a corporate overview, ideas of what is included can be what makes us unique (as a brand), our mission & vision, the important clients we have worked with, and how our company has impacted the industry. Let us give this executive who we are presenting to a reason to care and trust us if they are unfamiliar with our brand. It can generally make more sense to have this as a separate presentation beforehand, so that way you are not adding and removing slides constantly based on who already knows you or not. Either way, it’s an important piece, which is why it is included in this framework. 

 

What issues are you dealing with? 

The objective of all meaningful business is to solve a problem. Depending on what product or service you’re presenting for, knowing the consequences of not having it and what the customer is currently facing without your business is important. Speaking to the customer in this way displays empathy because you are aware of their struggles and for that reason are on the same page as them. This also reaffirms they are speaking to the right people who have the potential to help them in this particular area. If you are less confident in identifying your target customer’s issues and time does not permit to study them, then speaking to the industry as a whole in a more generalized way is ideal. 

 

In what ways can we help? 

After successfully defining the customer’s problem, it is now the perfect time to explain how your offerings can alleviate their struggles. Consider this the value proposition in terms of showcasing the potential benefits of the product and the impact it can have on business. The amount of specificity to include in this section can vary depending on how confident you are in the results of your product. For example, ‘maximize profits’ is much different than ‘decrease operating costs by 30%’. Either way, the objective here is to keep the continued interest in both your company and product. Don’t dive too deep in the product yet, as this part is more focused on the ‘what’, rather than the ‘how’. 

 

Why choose us over someone else?

Understanding how your product compares to the rest of the competition is absolutely critical in closing a deal. If there is no competitive advantage, your value proposition is lost if your potential customer knows others are offering something more appealing, whether it is in cost leadership or differentiation. Unless what you are selling is a commodity, there is no reason to do business with you without having a competitive edge. In the product development process, most companies will have carefully thought through this before moving forward or else they would have risked their own success. Especially during a presentation in convincing a customer to buy from you, having a section dedicated to why your product is better than the competition will alleviate questions moving forward on the subject. It could be as simple as explaining what other companies in general aren’t doing that you are or calling out direct competitors who you know you are competing with business for. The amount of detail here will depend on the nature of the situation. 

 

How can we prove ourselves?

Through following this process, by this point you should have:

  • Explained why your brand is trustworthy and worth paying attention to
  • Spoken to the issues your target customer is currently facing 
  • Outlined key benefits your product can provide and how it alleviates the issues stated previously 
  • Shown the competitive advantage your product has compared to the rest of the competition and why they should side with you. 

Now it is time to prove it through a showcasing of your product. This might be shown through a collection of slides of product screenshots with detailed explanations, a hands-on demo, or a product video. The importance here is to outline the main features of your product and how it works. This is while also leveraging the value it is bringing in regard to the problems it’s addressing, the benefits it’s providing, and why it is the best product on the market. If you include all of this and the product speaks for itself, then that is a compelling presentation. 

If your presentation addresses most, if not all of these questions, then you’re setting yourself up for success. Properly answering these questions will prove the validity of your product in the marketplace and be convincing to who you are trying to sell to. 

P.S. – Here are some pro-tips:

  • Just because it’s a sales presentation doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the job of the salespeople to create the slides! A sales presentation can typically fall under content and product marketing material. This means that as a marketing person, it might be your responsibility to arm your salespeople with this style of content. As a salesperson, this means it could make sense to ask your marketing team for help. 
  • You might not have all the answers to the questions addressed in the presentation framework. A combination of people in your company should. Design, product, and marketing should have the information you need. Consult with all of them if necessary. 

What are your thoughts on this framework and what was talked about here? Let me know!  

Thanks for reading. 

How I Generate Warm Leads For $0.07 Each on Facebook

On Facebook, my top-of-the-funnel ads average $0.07 per click with a 10-13% conversion rate for link clicks. These are ads being shown to cold traffic, meaning people who have never even heard of my brand before. To be honest, it’s nice to have a $35 budget to promote my site and draw in 500 unique visitors. These are people I can later market my products to who I've built some level of trust with. I’m not an expert or consider myself a guru, but am here to explain an approach that has worked for me that you can potentially apply to your own lead-generation efforts.

Whether you’re a social media advertiser or a sales rep putting out an email campaign, there might be something for you to learn here.

How do I achieve these kind of results? It mainly comes down to two things: 

  1. Providing 100% value up front 
  2. Showing the right content to the right people 

Let’s start with the first one: providing value. As a marketer, I NEVER go for the sale right away and try to ‘close’ the customer the minute they initially see me. On a first date, do I immediately ask the girl to marry me and set up a joint bank account? Hopefully not. When starting an initial conversation with a potential customer, my approach is strictly value-driven and focused on giving. This helps build rapport and trust. How do I provide value? CONTENT. Think blog posts, ebooks, PDF guides, etc. Anything that the customer can take advantage of right now, but is relatable enough to my solution to where I can sell to them later. Content is cheap to advertise on Facebook and when you retarget those people that engaged with your brand's content initially, your conversion rates will be much higher than if you initially just advertised your products on the first encounter. This is because you're marketing to people that simply trust you, because you provided that value-based content initially. However, this will only prove to be very effective from an ROI standpoint if...

You show the right content to the right people. Regardless of how good the content is, if a blog post about how to better plan a marketing budget is put in front of a bunch of software engineers, the best possible results from a cost standpoint will not be achieved. This is because the content will not be as relevant and therefore not as many people will click for the impressions you pay for. How do you go about finding the most relevant people to target ads or any kind of outreach to? On Facebook, it’s as simple as having their machine learning algorithms clone audiences based on people who have already engaged with my brand or have purchased (lookalike audiences). Additionally, here are some suggestions for people advertising or selling outside of Facebook:

  • Study the people who are either on your email list or chose to purchase your product. If you’re selling a consumer product, analyze what their age, gender, and interests are. If it’s an enterprise product, analyze what their job title is, what industry they’re in, the revenue of that company, how big it is, etc. These people have at least showed some level of interest in your brand and what you’re offering, so they should at least be a basis for the type of people you market or sell to in the future. Keep in mind, it’s important to make these decisions through data, not assumptions. 

Overall, when selling a product, I would suggest providing value up front to build rapport with your target audience (by producing content) and make sure you show it to the right people for the best bang for your buck. In this way, you’ll have a cheap way to generate warm leads and your acquisition costs could very well be much lower in the long run. As as a universal takeaway no matter what your job title is, the act of initially establishing trust and providing value before you go for the sale will make the difference between smooth-sailing down the coast and being stuck treading water.

Thanks for reading!