Tag Archives: Theme

Reversing the direction of What, How, and Why

Surely you’ve run across a messaging structure that helps boil down everything you have to get across into simple steps.  These frameworks are easy to use and help you think while reducing the time and effort required to prepare a customer presentation.  Let’s look at two of them:

Is-Does-Means

If you have a module or a feature, you can quickly and clearly get across what it is, what it does, and then close the point with what that means to your audience, e.g. “my mobile phone is a small, battery-powered mobile device which helps me do email, messaging, and phone calls, which means I can stay in touch with family, friends, and business partners wherever I am.”

What-How-Why

As you prepare your solution and how it specifically applies to your customer, you might find it helpful to write the words What, How and Why on separate pieces of paper and brainstorm through a mind-mapping exercise.  You’ll come out with something like “our product is a call center (what), it handles inbound and outbound communications and manages tickets through to resolution (how), so that you can better serve your customers (why).”

The direction of these structures is from your product to the benefits they provide the customer.  What happens if we play these in reverse?

If you want to stay in touch with your family, friends, and business partners no matter where you are, it would be helpful to have a single device that can help you do emailing, messaging and phone calls, like a mobile phone!”

If you want to serve your customers better, you’ll need to handle inbound and outbound communications and tickets through to resolution.  Our call center product…”

If you want to grab your audience’s attention, start with the value to them, progress through what they’d logically need to accomplish that value, and conclude with your product as the solution.

The Whys and Means will usually jump out at you during discovery.  Flag them.  When you craft your messaging, simply collate and prioritize them.

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An Interesting Analogy

Our audiences best understand complex solutions and messages through analogies.

There are many brainstorming techniques to help find the right analogy.*  While creative people seem to come up with them on the fly, there may be a better source for analogies:

What are your interests?

Do you play a musical instrument?  Are you a photographer? Is economics or politics a passion of yours?  Can you quote Shakespeare?  Can you explain what a nickel-defense package is?  Have you read the daily comics for twenty years?

Your interests are ripe fruit for an analogy, and your depth of knowledge and passion in these areas will enhance its detail and relevance.  Subject matter expertise in your area can represent subject matter expertise in the customers.  Heuristics** are compatible.

Sharing your interests also improves your relationship with the customer.  You’re human.  You’re thinking.  You’re sharing.

* I once had a seminar where we pulled plastic toys out of a bag and had to use it as the analogy.  It was like a comedy session on “Who’s Line is it, Anyway?”
** Big word, but I think it applies.
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Self-Justified Perception

Anyone who has been witness to a political argument will recognize the mental contortions and logical leaps the participants will put themselves through to justify their initial position.  Each starts with their end in mind and the debate is merely flogging a dead horse, more entertaining than useful for the witnessing crowd.  Minds are rarely changed.

What is the perception your customer has of your business, your solutions, your position in the marketplace?* What end will they justify throughout your presentation?

If it’s positive, then your job is simply to reinforce.  If you don’t stray too far on your walk through the woods, the customer will see the path for themselves, even through incomplete messages and proof-points.  They’ll fill in the gaps to justify their perception.

If it’s negative, then heaven help you.  You have to change perception and overcome every spike of doubt that enters your audience’s mind.  No amazing features or functions will overcome that bias.  They’ll fill in the gaps to justify their perception.

So you have to set the perception first.  You have to tell a better story than they’ve told themselves, a better story than the competition has told them.  Your audience has to be onboard with your premise before you begin to show the clicks, screens and apps which will solve their problem.

How?  Here are some positioning approaches:

  • Start talking about your current customers.  Find the stories.
  • Empathy and listening to the customer’s problem can be the difference-maker.  Genuine problem solving might be best when the customer’s choice is between you and doing nothing.
  • Show the long term versus the short term, expanding
  • Don’t start with “well, you probably think we’re…” as that will simply remind, reinforce, and solidify their perception
  • “Nobody ever got fired for choosing Big Blue…” if you’ve got the reputation, flaunt it
  • Grab onto the tail of the comet / Elevator is at the ground floor / Be a superstar
  • Platform, platform, platform.  The technology world is always changing.  Your platform is the basis for the next big thing.

Good luck; you have minds to change.

* More importantly, what is your perception of your business, your products, your position in the marketplace?
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Stand Up

A few months ago I found myself putting in a lot of windshield time getting from one customer engagement to another.  Lacking scheduled conference calls and a little bored with the radio, I wondered… “Can I punch ‘Bill Cosby’ into Pandora?”

Why yes, I could!

Spend some time listening to stand up comedians. Their livelihood depends on their skills for storytelling, use of humor (obviously), writing and preparation, and, perhaps most important, their sense of timing.* So do ours.  The more you listen, the more you’ll be able to pick out the good from the mediocre; the crafted message from the cheap laugh, and the writing conventions they use to expand on a topic, move from one to the next, and touch back to a point or theme introduced earlier in the act.  Dylan Brody is an excellent example as a “purveyor of fine words and phrases.”

 *The Smothers Brothers are masters of timing, from the pregnant pause to the unexpected interjection.  Dick’s ‘little brother’ Tommy is the devilish mastermind of the duo.  From interviews I’ve seen, he intentionally pulls his brother’s strings on stage, which makes the experience all the more genuine.
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Third leg of the stool

Your solution can be the logical choice with its features, functions, and technical architecture lined up perfectly with your customer’s needs.

Your solution can be the financial sound choice with reasonable prices, a solid implementation plan, and a bullet-proof return-on-investment business case behind it.

But the third leg of the stool calls for a passionate, emotional reason for doing the project in the first place.  It might be solving a pain, it might be enabling a vision, it might be some kind of political win for one of the players;  if your customer can’t express and you can’t mine the reason they’ve gotta do it, then it won’t happen.

People don’t buy into a timeshare because it’s a good investment; they envision themselves with with a week or two reserved in Aspen and Miami every year.

When qualifying the deal, determine the passion and satisfy it.  The customer will move mountains to make the functional and financial justifications fall into place.

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Creativity is bound or unleashed depending on your perspective

In your toolbox, your magic toolbox, you have wrenches and pliers and screwdrivers.  With these tools, you can tighten, loosen, hold, and adjust. What more could you want?

In your world, your real world, you have an endless variety of problems.  When you look at your toolbox from that perspective, you suddenly see that the screwdriver is a handy pry-bar and that pliers can hold the nut in place while you pound the bolt it with a wrench.

In your business system, your magical business system, you have products, customers, and prices.  With these you can take orders, manage returns and issue invoices.  What more could you want?

In your world, your real world, you have an endless variety of problems.  When you look at your business system from that perspective, you suddenly see that the call center can help create leads for the sales team, and that the order system can hold inventory in place while you enter an order and schedule delivery.

Focus your attention on the business need and then see what’s in your toolbox.  You may even find yourself saying “Oh, so that’s what this is for.*”

*I’ve got a drawer in the toolbox I inherited from my father in law that contains all sorts of tools whose purpose I can’t divine.  When a fix-it problem has me stymied, I rummage around the drawer and sure enough, “Oh, so that’s what this is for.”

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Meddling Fools

As the subject matter experts, rock-stars that we are, we’re often burdened with taking the customer’s challenges and needs and developing our position, messaging, and solutions for the rest of the team.

We all know it is easier to edit than create, and therein lies the challenge.  After blood, sweat, and tears are invested in solution creation, the meddling fools who delegated the creation authority to us in the first place feel the need to take our effort and begin the process again from the beginning, turning over each stone.

And turning them over again.  And again.

The horse is dead.

Stop beating it.

Stop thinking on our time; We’ve invested our creative effort offline, previously, and have communicated it to you with good reason.  Be a professional, stay up to date, and be prepared.

The review is not the starting point; it’s the affirming close.

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Themes emerge

We’ve all been to a meeting or an event where a bit of corporate culture was born.  Meeting catch-phrases and events take on a humorous life of their own and become a relationship link among the participants, becoming the stuff of legends. Konica Minolta’s commercials and The Office series are chock full of examples of this.

Though we try to boil down our messaging into catchy themes and analogies, there’s no guarantee they’ll resonate.  So work with the audience to find what does stick.  Corporate-culture themes can emerge in the midst of a presentation if you’re listening for them.

If an audience member volunteers it, maybe as a wisecrack, a comment on bullet point, or a strong opinion, positive or negative, of what you’re saying or showing, all the better.  You’ve got something you can work with.  Hold on to it.  Play it up.  Repeat it in a different context and in a humorous, self-deprecating way.  If another audience member joins in the fun, you’re set, you’re immortal, you have been crowned a legend.

Two years down the road, when you bump into someone who was there, they won’t remember your name, they won’t even remember what you were showing, but when they say the secret catch-phrase, you’ll have a good laugh and an even better bond.

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Some ‘Splaining to do

We’re not here to teach, though we are here to explain.

We take our user interfaces, technology stacks, business processes, data, and reports and present a tasty jambalaya to our audiences.  We take complexity and convey simplicity through a memorable theme and three bullet points.*

We take an audience from “I don’t get it,” to “I want to get it.”

It’s some ‘splaining we do.

*because two aren’t enough and four is too many

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Give them something to grab onto

Nothing works like an analogy to help an audience come to a shared understanding.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in initial qualifications, discovery meetings, or final solution presentations.  When you can effectively characterize their situation, their systems, or their goals, an engaged customer will grab onto the characterization and start using it, changing it, adding on to it.  They’ll use it to explain to their peers who didn’t make the meeting.  It will become the water-cooler joke.  They’ll name the project after it.  They’ll remember it when you visit them two years later.

In a recent discovery meeting, we came to the realization with the customer that they “just wanted to replace the old van,” and nothing more.  What do you think my demo theme is going to look like?

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