Marketing with Lean

Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior 0

Eric-HoltzclawA serial entrepreneur having founded multiple start-up companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. Eric V. Holtzclaw is the Founder/CEO of Laddering Works, a marketing strategy firm.

He has spent 20+ years creating opportunity by identifying and capitalizing on emerging trends and disruptions to business. His professional experience includes: founding multiple successful start-up companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises, and serving as the strategic lead in the implementation of dozens of products and services worldwide. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 list three years in a row.

In summary you could say Eric advises clients on the whys” of business:

  • Why customers buy,
  • Why teams work and
  • The all-important “entrepreneurial why”.

Eric’s new book is Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior.

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The Ideal Container is No Container 0

Ideal Marketing is No Marketing

Ideal Sales is No Sales

What is Ideality? As defined in the book, Systematic Innovation: An Introduction to TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) co-authored by John Terninko:

Ideality is defined at the sum of a system’s useful functions divided by the sum of its undesired effects.

Ideal DesignThis theoretical measure suggests we look at designs that:

  1. Accept current design.
  2. Increase the numerator (useful functions) by adding functions or by improving the performance of some functions (the more important ones).
  3. Remove unnecessary functions in order to reduce the denominator.
  4. Combine the subsystems for several functions into a single system in order to decrease the denominator.
  5. Increase the numerator at a faster rate than the denominator.

In sales and marketing, I view Ideal Design, a concept of TRIZ, in very simple terms. We must incorporate sales and marketing as the way we do business. This would actually mean that any useful function our organization does results in an increase in sales and marketing. As we decrease useful functions it also improves our sales and marketing. This sounds very simplistic process, but it is much more difficult than you may think. Think about a few of these ideas:

  • What/Who could you Substitute?
  • What/Who can you Combine?
  • What/Who can you Adapt?
  • What can you Modify or Magnify?
  • Can be Put to other uses?
  • What/Who can you Eliminate or reduce?
  • What/Who can you Reverse/Rearrange?

You may notice this spells SCAMPER, an old product development method. Re-framing your story in a different context or a different viewpoint can create a flood of ideas to consider. Ask yourself, when was the last time anyone suggested doing less to improve your sales and marketing? In the Systematic Innovation: book they list Four Steps for Ideal Design

Step 1. Describe the situation you would like to improve.

Step 2. Describe the ideal situation

Step 3. Can you think of how the ideal situation might be realized? In other worth, is there a known way to realize it?

  • If “yes”: Congratulations! You have an idea! Be sure to document it.
  • If “no”: Consider how to utilize available resources.
  • If “yes.” What are doing so is associated with some drawback: Go to resolving a contradiction?

If there is an obstacle that prevents you from realizing the ideal situation, describe what it is and why it is an obstacle:

Step 4. Do you know what change(s) should be made to overcome the obstacle?

Not every time will an Ideal Design concept work. Sometimes you must back away from your “Ideal” Design or proposition just slightly. However, it should be one of the first efforts when you review your current sales and marketing practice. The ability to do something with nothing is intriguing to say the least.

Ideal Design

Are you Recognizing the Patterns around You 0

A serial entrepreneur having founded multiple start-up companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 list three years in a row. Eric V. Holtzclaw, Founder/CEO of Laddering Works, advises clients on the “whys” of business:

  • Why customers buy,
  • Why teams work and
  • The all-important “entrepreneurial why”.

Eric’s new book is Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior. An excerpt from next week’s Business901 podcast:

Joe: Instead of driving a car you got out and looked at it as it was going down the road?Laddering

Eric Holtzclaw: Or sort of I built the car and thought it was perfect, and then I put somebody else in to drive it, and they were like, “Why did you put the steering wheel here?” and “I have no idea what this button does.” It was a very enlightening thing. You get wrapped up in the idea and start heading down that path and unless you can get a third party, someone who doesn’t really have a vested interest in whether or not it’s successful or not, to tell you what’s going on with it and what you should do differently.  The thing that people are afraid of in that world is that they’re going to be told that the overall concept is wrong. And that’s rarely the case. What it is, is a tweak. “Well I like it but I wish it were just this.” And you could make that small change to it which is the difference often in a complete success or complete failure.

Joe: How can you really distinguish if it’s of true value or if it’s just a want of someone that someone’s really willing to pay for it?

Eric Holtzclaw: Well it’s about patterns. So any of the work that I do is in looking at patterns, and I often use the concept of A Beautiful Mind, which was the Russell Crowe movie I think, and people told me, “Well he was crazy,” so I tried to move over more maybe to Minority Report because you could see the patterns upon the page and kind of look at what went together. You want to do this work and talk to your customers one-on-one so that you’re not getting group think.

Many people use focus groups which is a very lazy way of understanding what your customer wants and what they care about. I can get six people in the room and if there’s one dominant I can get them all to start thinking like that one dominant thinks. What you want to do is have conversations with your customers one-on-one and then what you’ll know is as you see customers saying the same things sort of unsolicited and that you identify that as a pattern, then you know you have something you should act upon. You shouldn’t act upon one data point, but if you hear eight to twelve customers telling you the same thing, that’s a pretty strong pattern and something that you should consider looking at and thinking of a different option.

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Marketing Lessons from God 2

The challenge many organizations have is separating or differentiating themselves from the competition. We have discussions about our unique value proposition or unique selling point but with many organizations once they get down to explaining it, it all sounds the same to the customer. It seems that everyone can be anyone with “good marketing”.
Conversations with God
Looking for a reputable source to solve this dilemma, I was reminded of the best source when talking to John Terninko in a recent podcast, The Power of 3: QFD, Taguchi, TRIZ. He quoted a statement from the book series, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue.  A few of the thoughts that I gathered browsing the book.

The Marketing Lesson from God can be summed up by applying this basic rule:

Our message is always created from

Our Highest Thought, Our Clearest Word, and Our Grandest Feeling.

Anything less is unacceptable.

The book gave these guidelines to follow:

  1. The Highest Thought is always that thought which contains Joy.
  2. The Clearest Words are those words which contain Truth.
  3. The Grandest Feeling is that feeling which you call Love.

This is all very interesting, but applying it is a different matter. The first thing that the book helped with was defining the word talk which they expanded to communicate. Their feeling is that communicate is a better full-bodied word versus talk and emphasizes the fact we cannot communicate by words alone. They state the most common form of communication is through feelings. The difficulty we have as sales and marketing people is to discover and understand the customer’s feelings. Why is this important? From the podcast, Need Customers, Create an Effortless Experience with Matt Dixon, he said:

What we found in our study was two thirds of what accounts for the level of effort that a customer feels has nothing to do with the things they actually literally have to do, but they actually have to do more with what the customer feels about the interaction. That’s actually the emotional component. It’s not whether I had to endure a difficult process or “I got transferred multiple times,” or I had to call back or these kinds of things, but rather, “How did I feel during that interaction?”

Our most important form of communication with a customer is about how we make them feel. Again, asking for guidance, from the book, Conversations with God:

My most common form of communication is through feeling. Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what’s true for you about something, look to how you’re feeling about it. Feelings are sometimes difficult to discover—and often even more difficult to acknowledge. Yet hidden in your deepest feelings is your highest truth. The trick is to get to those feelings. I will show you how, again, if you wish.

I told God that I did wish but that right now I wished even more for a complete and full answer to my first question. Here’s what God said: I also communicate with thought. Thought and feelings are not the same, although they can occur at the same time. In communicating with thought, I often use images and pictures. For this reason, thoughts are more effective than mere words as tools of communication. In addition to feelings and thoughts, I also use the vehicle of experience as a grand communicator.

And finally, when feelings and thoughts and experience all fail, I use words. Words are really the least effective communicator. They are most open to misinterpretation, most often misunderstood. And why is that? It is because of what words are. Words are mere utterances: noises that stand for feelings, thoughts, and experience. They are symbols; signs, insignias. They are not truth. They are not the real thing. Words may help you understand something. Experience allows you to know. Yet there are some things you cannot experience.

You have heard me expand in other posts about when we have conversations with a customer, we should enter into them with the thought of what we want customers to Know, Feel and Do. I also think it is important to define what we want to come away with. What does the provider, us, want to Know, Feel and Do?

Should Behaviors Drive our Personas?

We place so much importance on trying to write copy and other verbiage trying to get someone to “buy” that we often forget about the experience. One last lesson from Conversations with God:

I have given you other tools of knowing. And these are called feelings, and so too thoughts. Now the supreme irony here is that you have all placed so much importance on the Word of God, and so little on the experience. In fact, you place so little value on experience that when what you experience of God differs from what you’ve heard of God, you automatically discard the experience and own the words, when it should be just the other way around. Your experience and your feelings about a thing represent what you factually and intuitively know about that thing. Words can only seek to symbolize what you know, and can often confuse what you know.

Is Customer Experience important? Should we say less and do more? How can we transfer better experiences into our sales and marketing? How can we transfer Truth, Love and Joy into Know, Feel and Do?

Our message is always created from

Our Highest Thought, Our Clearest Word, and Our Grandest Feeling.

Anything less is unacceptable.

Make a Quick Impact on the Customer Decision Process 0

I have talked for many years that your marketing process should follow the decision process of your customer. Even to the extent that I would create a map to follow that path. In the old days, we called it a marketing funnel and that has evolved to the customer journey. I would then attempt to build remarkable customer experiences at key points along the journey. I have been asked why not make all the experiences remarkable? My response is that if they all are remarkable they become average, which is a fine standard to create, but at some point you are limited by that trio of organizational capabilities that I describe as time, money and skill. My advice is become proficient than create a few key moments that customers will remember.

As I have worked with Process Mapping (in the marketing sense) and Customer Journey methods the difficulty that I have found is not in understanding a decision path but finding them within the customer’s organization. The problem exists is that often the customer does not completely understand their own methods of making a decision. They have difficulty in defining how an agreement will be reached. If you think that is far-fetched, map the last important decisions within your own company for a particular product and service that was purchased. What criteria was this based on? Did it need to have a majority or a much higher consensus? Did someone have veto power? Could it be overridden? More importantly, listen to the reasons why the normal path was not used, it almost always is the case. So what good is a mapping process that is based on misguided assumptions?

Value Stream Mapping should be left on the Shop Floor

The perceptions in most organizations are that, in the spirit of teamwork and collaboration, decisions are made be committee. Now, we know that a veto power still exists, and it may be disguised as “this is not a priority now” or “a budget constraint exists”, but in organizations the veto rights still are there. So, from a sales and marketing standpoint how do we diagnose the customer decision process or are we still after that illustrious decision maker.

From a sales and marketing perspective, I believe we should make an effort to hear all points of view and categorized or note those customer views. Again, I will use Bain’s RAPIDTM framework example.  RAPID is an acronym to explain the roles people play in a given situation:

  • Recommend (A decision or next action)
  • Agree (Must Agree on Subject, part of decision)
  • Perform (Will be accountable once decision is reached)
  • Input (provides input not part of decision)
  • Decide (Commits Org to Action)

Gaining New Insights into the Sales Process

If we understand the points of view from each perspective, it becomes evident the will of the group. Few times will a decision be made that goes against the overall consensus and few times can a salesperson overcome that perception quickly. If the overall perception is negative, it will be a long sales cycle. If the general perception is positive, you can accelerate the cycle.

I like to expand on that perception of the will of the group. We can use different qualitative methods like Kano, QFD, and Voice of Customer. We can make it very simple by just using the RAPID framework and viewing the will or each of those categories. Think of a simple 1 to 10 scale depicted below.


If we place the categories along the scale, the sales and marketing process becomes much more apparent. What I like is that it also demonstrates that I may not have to move a category from veto to champion, but only more them to oppose or neutral. It creates a different way and perspective to market to the organization.

You can also compare it to political marketing. In most instances, the direct effort is made towards the swing vote in the middle of the scale. They also address the champions to supply them with the tools to garner more of the swing voters. However the attempt to win over the naysayers is limited, it becomes more about damage control, unless one of those naysayers is the decision maker.

Value Model Mapping

I started this post talking about mapping a decision process. However, most salespeople are not invited to the table till 60% of the decision process is already completed. A quick synopsis of the situation is required, and the appropriate action taken. If you have to make a quick impact, make it where it counts.

Customers Don’t Want Their Problems Solved 0

Most of them know how to solve their problems. Most of the time a salesperson is not invited to the table till 60% of the decision process is already completed. If you are there to tell the customer that 1 + 1 = 2, you are there responding to a request for a proposal and nothing more. You might as well be a clerk. I learned a long time ago from Zig Ziglar, in one of his many stories, that when he was walking into an office one day, he overheard someone say, “It’s just another salesperson.” He thought about it for a moment and decided not to disappoint them.

In this day and age, no longer can a salesperson just be a problem solver. What the customer is looking for is a new math where 1 +1 = 3. Quit viewing the customer as having a problem to solve. Instead challenge your Sales and Marketing Teams to compliment customers in such a way that you create opportunities that they would not have had without you. In a sporting sense we don’t hire coaches to create winning teams, we hire coaches to create playoff and championship teams.

Lean Salespeople are Challengers, not Problem Solvers 

We talk about customer experience and customer delighters. I think sometimes that leads us to the wrong conclusions. I think we sell customers short. I think customers are willing to do more work. I think customers are willing to suffer a little if the opportunity is there for greater gain. I think they choose business partners that they think will get them there and be there no matter what the struggles are.

They also choose their business partners based on their capabilities. Think about how many times you have went into the organization and demonstrated that if they changed to your way of thinking, you would make money for them. It is no brainer? The problem is that the customer has to limit their scope. They understand their capabilities, and that also means their learning capabilities better than you do. They know what they can absorb. Smart organizations, like Apple, know when to say NO! In my conversations with successful Lean Transformation leaders, every one of them has told they wish they would have attempted less not more.

Gaining New Insights into the Sales Process

It is not about, your product and how well it will work and what problem it will solve. It is about the challenges that the customer has prioritized and is willing to act on. Quit thinking I have the solution. Start thinking what is my customer’s challenge?

Today’s salesperson has to understand that challenge from a corporate and individual perspective. They must understand the current position and desired outcomes of all parties. After understanding, they must demonstrate how combining forces will allow those outcomes to be realized and surpass the customer’s expectations. Would that be a Delighter?

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