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Transcript of Finding Your Brand’s Purpose

Transcript of Finding Your Brand’s Purpose written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Gusto, modern, easy payroll benefits for small businesses across the country. And because you’re a listener, you get three months free when you run your first payroll. Find out at gusto.com/tape.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jeff Fromm. He is a partner at the Barkley ad agency. He’s also the president of FutureCast. He’s a consumer trend expert, speaker, and author of a new book, The Purpose Advantage: How to Unlock New Ways of Doing Business.

John Jantsch: Jeff, thanks for joining me.

Jeff Fromm: Thanks a bunch John. Looking forward to it.

John Jantsch: You also have the distinction of being one of those very few Kansas City guests that I end up having on the show, so I always love that. I never do any of my shows sitting in the same room with people, but we could’ve done that couldn’t we have?

Jeff Fromm: Yeah, we’ll try that. We’ll put it on the calendar for when your schedule allows for that, and we’ll make it a live episode.

John Jantsch: This topic of purpose is so hot that it’s sort of almost starting to get tiresome because everybody’s talking about it, but nobody’s doing it, or not enough people are doing it. Why do you suppose that is?

Jeff Fromm: Well I think part of the reason the topic’s gotten so hot is you have the CEO of Unilever spending a fair amount of time in national and international media talking about some of the brands that they have that do it pretty well. Not all their brands do. They have hundreds of brands.

Jeff Fromm: And then you also have the CEO of BlackRock, which is the other side of the coin, the institutional investor, saying, “In the next few years, if you’re not doing this, we’re simply not gonna invest in your brand. In order to be considered on the list, you’re going to have to be purpose driven.” So you have sort of both sides of Wall Street now talking about it. In terms of the doing it, here’s what I would say. Today’s consumer and today’s employee, all things being equal, leans to purpose or values-driven brands.

Jeff Fromm: But all things aren’t always equal. Sometimes brands are faster, better, they taste better, they’ve got some advantage, and then purpose isn’t going to make a big difference. But when all things are equal, it can be a really big deal. And, and so that’s where I think people need to understand.

Jeff Fromm: And then also you have a lot of, what is the definition of purpose? And by my reckoning, as I’ve looked at a large body of work, there has to be a societal benefit. You could have a really strong brand like Glossier, and it’s a design-led brand. And it’s really interesting. There’s no real societal advantage. Or you could be Amazon and you have a really powerful brand. I’m not sure I see a societal advantage. That doesn’t mean you can’t win if you’re not purpose driven. It just means there are a lot of purpose-driven brands today that are gaining momentum.

John Jantsch: This idea is not new, but why is it, why do you think it’s come to the forefront? What sort of dynamic has made it an essential element now to compete?

Jeff Fromm: You’ve got several factors happening all at the same time. You have really low unemployment, and that means we’re competing in a labor market where I’m trying to distinguish myself, and so if the benefits and the salary and these things are all convergent, being a purpose-driven or values-driven brand can sometimes be an advantage in attracting and retaining staff.

Jeff Fromm: And so even some companies like MOD Pizza compete on that basis. They build that into their DNA. At the same time you have that happening, you have a proliferation, as you know, of direct and indirect competitors. I mean, we could walk down the grocery store and find, I don’t know, 50, 100 different kinds of toothpaste.

John Jantsch: Yogurt. Yogurt’s the one I like to pick on. There’s miles, miles of yogurt.

Jeff Fromm: You know, I had a Chobani yogurt for the lunch today and there are so many yogurts. Now, Chobani is a purpose-driven innovator. I don’t buy Chobani because it’s purpose driven. I Chobani because I love the flavors. In fact, it’s purpose driven, only matters when the flavors I want and the price are about equal. Someone else has better flavors or a significantly better price than, but when things are about equal, then I go to the purpose-driven innovator. And Chobani is one of the purpose-driven innovators that has gone from the relatively smallest player in the category that was probably about as sleepy as any category I could ever imagine to a very hot, vibrant category taking share away from the cereal aisle and taking snack occasions away from people who historically maybe had a candy bar, and now they’re replacing it with a yogurt and a sidecar of sugar.

John Jantsch: I think a lot of times when people think purpose, they think, oh, I don’t know, like Tom’s, you know, like a grand sort of charity. They’re doing all this good in the world. But I think that people sometimes, I think purpose just means that you’re defining what you stand for or why you stand for. And I think a lot of times brands that seem to really take off with this purpose have created a movement or they’ve created some sort of new functionality like Warby Parker, for example. I mean I think they do some nice things and they’ve gotten on the cause a bandwagon as well. But I think originally, they solved a really bad buying experience that people had and that functionality turned them into sort of a movement. Does that, does that make any sense? I think a lot of times people get really hung up on the, we have to give money to charity as our purpose.

Jeff Fromm: I think you’re hitting a really important point. The giving money to charity model has existed for a really long time, and [inaudible] model is only so effective.

Jeff Fromm: In fact, it can be almost ineffective if you’re not careful. The key part is it’s the functionality with something else. Bombas socks, which is a one-for-one sock company, actually makes a technically superior sock, at least relative to all the other socks in my drawer. If it wasn’t a technically superior sock, I don’t know how much I’d care that you’re giving a pair away. But now that I see how superior is, it’s like, well, okay, I feel better about indulging in this more expensive sock.

Jeff Fromm: One of the most powerful brands on the planet is Tide detergent. I think Tide probably cleaned people’s clothes pretty well. Seventh Generation is having great success against this massive brand because I think it probably cleaned about as well as Tide, but I feel a little better about myself when I use Seventh Generation knowing it doesn’t have an impact on the environment and actually at shelf, generally, and you could look at walmart.com and other places, but generally it’s about 10% more.

Jeff Fromm: They’re charging about a 10% premium at shelf. Consumer doesn’t write a check to the environment. They don’t say, “I’m going to write a check to the Environmental Defense Fund” or anything else. They say, “I think it cleans as well as this other thing that I’ve heard about, Tide, but I think it might be a little better in terms of how.” And so it’s not charity. It’s I feel a little better about myself as a person and I don’t pay a lot extra for it.

Jeff Fromm: The key part is there’s a functional benefit, as you pointed out, and there’s a small price premium, although in the world of a Unilever getting a 10% price premium over a brand is strongest Tide, not so small. But that assumes you’re actually getting credit for your purpose, which in the case of Seventh Generation, they probably do. There are plenty of brands that fail to get credit for their purpose too.

John Jantsch: A lot of my listeners are small business owners. So far we’ve talked about really giant businesses, but I think it goes down to the the plumber or the restaurant or the local restaurant. I think that that people get behind things because of maybe what they think it stands for.

John Jantsch: And I’ll give you a really obscure example. Our listeners won’t know this, but you might. There’s a little, there’s a little bar cafe in Kansas City in Westport called Ca Va, and I’ll give them a great shout out. They serve primarily, if not exclusively, French champagne. I think you can actually get other drinks there, but that’s their thing. And it’s very dark. It’s very French. It has a vibe, and I think that in some cases what they’re trying to do is bring that to the world, bring that experience to the world. I feel like that’s a purpose.

Jeff Fromm: Yeah. It meets some definitions of purpose. The one that we put forward in the book was around societal benefit and we also added that even though purpose is a noun, metaphorically, purpose needs to be a verb.

Jeff Fromm: It would not meet the standard we put forward in the book. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a reason for existing like Glossier, like Amazon, or like other businesses, but they have a clear reason for being. I’m not that familiar with this particular fine establishment, and it seems, it seems like when I need to get to.

John Jantsch: You need to get to. But here’s my point that you just made. Is it enough to provide the societal, what did you call it, societal benefit?

Jeff Fromm: Societal benefit.

John Jantsch: Societal benefit of making people feel better for that afternoon or that evening? I mean especially since I’m sort of in charge of whether or not it made me feel better? Isn’t that providing a little bit of a societal benefit? I’m trying to take this down to the level where every business says that we can do this. [crosstalk]

Jeff Fromm: There are plenty of people who would agree with you, for sure. They would say that meets the definition, and same with Glossier and Amazon. They all have very clear progress. In the book, we’ve defined it around societal benefit, meaning positive impact on sustainability or cultural issues like issues around equality or any number of things. It doesn’t meet the definition we put forward in the book. It clearly needs the needs of you and other people are wouldn’t be open and doing such a wonderful job.

Jeff Fromm: And so does Amazon and I use Glossier because they’re both bigger companies. The definition we’ve chosen is a little more narrow in order to try to get clarity around the fact that there has to be something that company’s doing, and there are plenty of companies that do things.

Jeff Fromm: There are plenty of B2B companies that are doing things in the sustainability space, and local companies do things. There are local companies taking on everything from urban farming to, you know, help people who don’t have food to other things that are important to their local consumer or customer.

Jeff Fromm: For me, the big part is, in the brands I try to highlight in the book, connecting that purpose to your business model. Seventh Generation is getting a premium from a consumer concerned about getting clean laundry functionally and doing good by the environment, and then they have to reinvest in new product innovation and other things. You try to build a virtuous cycle into the model, whether you’re a small business or a big business, and ideally it helps to fuel how people who use the brand and your employees feel about that brand.

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John Jantsch: Do you see any danger in people saying yes, this fifth P we have to do it? What would be a good purpose? That’s what we’re going to … let’s get our ad agency communicating our our good purpose.

Jeff Fromm: Yeah, I think that is a problem. I would say this. Typically, for me, a starting point, you would be very familiar with this, is you sort of look at the heritage and the original reason for being of a company, and a lot of times when you dig back to the roots, you’ll find a functional reason, and then you’ll find some other things about the history of that company.

Jeff Fromm: If you can sort of dig into those roots and find something that’s very true, then that would be a probably better path forward as opposed to why don’t we append this donation onto when everyone buys X we donate 5% to cause X.

Jeff Fromm: It doesn’t usually work out as well when you append it on. And to your earlier point, that functional thing that you do, if you do it really well, it’s important. I’m not arguing in favor of all brands must have a purpose. I think there are a lot of brands that are winning today because that purpose gives them an edge with their employees and their consumers who are spreaders.

John Jantsch: To some degree, could you say that starts with community officially communicating what you believe as a business, is maybe a starting point for this?

Jeff Fromm: Yeah, I think a lot of companies try to do that, and hopefully they start inside their organization so that everyone can feel that internally, and then act on that externally, and all big companies started as small companies as a general rule.

Jeff Fromm: Ben and Jerry’s was once very small. These companies that are purpose driven are also trying to use the term purpose-driven innovators. Ideally they have some beliefs that the founders hold true. Perfect world, it creates a virtuous cycle where those beliefs actually help them retain their employees, that help them acquire their customers and retain customers, and there’s a cycle as opposed to just the append kind of a strategy. We’re going to do this charitable piece, which I think is generally a less successful way to think about this topic.

John Jantsch: As brands are embracing this idea more and more, and so people feel like, “Yeah, I’m a part of a movement,” or “I’m a part of a community,” or you know, “This makes me feel better, to be a part of this brand.”

John Jantsch: Do they run the risk of their consumer then feeling like, “Hey, you have to live this. You have to walk the talk at all times.”.

John Jantsch: And we can take this from the headlines right now of what’s going on with Soul Cycle and, I forget the name of the other brand that are caught up in a little bit of consumers who’ve, who are their passionate, loyal customers because they believe in what the brand stands for, that Soul Cycle is not just about … it’s about you as a person and not just about exercise. And then all of a sudden, it comes out that a board member holds a big Trump fundraiser, a lot of their people object because they feel like that’s not the brand.

John Jantsch: Are we as marketers now getting to that point where every misstep is going to be felt and determined by a market who now has their own TV stations?

Jeff Fromm: Yeah, yeah. There is no doubt that you’re right, that first of all, it’s better to not be out front on some kind of a purpose-driven topic if you can’t offer proof.

Jeff Fromm: Gillette might be the classic case study coming out as a big company in the Superbowl on toxic masculinity without having laid a foundation around their actions. What are you doing as a company to change that conversation?

Jeff Fromm: One of the mistakes small companies can make is getting out early in the communications cycle before you’ve laid a foundation with your internal stakeholders, before you’ve put down a little proof.

Jeff Fromm: The flip side is you don’t have to wait five years to talk about your purpose. It’s not like what we have to have done. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10. If you could get action on the first couple of things, so people don’t think you’re a phony, it’s okay to start a conversation.

Jeff Fromm: But there is a cycle of communication, and I think one of the traps is to quickly try to get credit on something where you don’t have some history.

Jeff Fromm: It’s entirely fair for Nike to start a conversation around a number of topics that are related to cultural things because they’ve done it for a long time. Same with Ben and Jerry’s, but if I had a brand I was working on that had no history, I’d have to come at that a little more cautiously.

John Jantsch: So what if a brand has in the, you know, in their market’s mind, a purpose, and they have loyal fans, but they want to make a change? They believe something new. For example, Patagonia is an example of that a lot of people use. They really had a place in the mind of their customer and then they really went big in the whole reuse, you don’t need to buy new thing. And I think for some people, that was quite a purpose shift. I’d love it if you kind of talk a little bit about, and hopefully you’re familiar with that, but if you talk a little bit about.

Jeff Fromm: I think Patagonia is an interesting example and worth conversation, obviously not a small brand, but they act like a small brand. Their original purpose was sort of a do no harm kind of a purpose and they built quite a following around that.

Jeff Fromm: Then they did a major shift from do no harm to protect and defend. It’s interesting to me. I’m not on the inside of it, but here’s a brand that’s probably in the top 1% of purpose-driven brands with, I would argue, without having data, price elasticity advantage, frequency of use advantage. I mean, people walk around airports with T-shirts that say Patagonia and it’s like, okay. When people start to tuning your brand on your hat and your T-shirts that they’re wearing, you’re a pretty strong brand.

Jeff Fromm: Someone made a choice that consumer trends have changed. We have a lot of competitors that are also trying to do no harm. We’re going to up the ante. And they took action. I think, I think they may have been the company that donated a $10-million tax refund that they got through some new tax law changes all back to environmental charities, if I’m not mistaken.

Jeff Fromm: Here’s a company that has said, “Okay, we’re a purpose-driven, innovator,” and their products had to your earlier point, strong functional appeal. I think other people caught them on functional.

Jeff Fromm: I think other people that caught them on purpose and then they just re shifted on purpose again and to a [inaudible] worse kind of an audience that’s concerned about that kind of a purpose. Now they’re back to “Wow, what a love brand does. They changed the rules.” And so I’m not inside that organization in terms of knowing it, but as an outsider looking at it, I say it’s a great example of a company that staying ahead of the trend and appropriate pacing. You don’t want to be too far ahead. Right? You don’t want to, I’ll kick your whole-

John Jantsch: I don’t think it was that radical. I mean, it was a pretty safe bet that their customer, at least a percentage of their customer, cared about that as well, the traditional sort of outdoor person and not necessarily the fashion person cared about that that new messaging as well.

John Jantsch: If somebody’s listening to this or somebody called you and said, “This really makes a lot of sense but we’re not sure we’ve found what it is or how to communicate it.” Is there a process, a set of exercises, a strategic planning session to find some of this?

Jeff Fromm: In the book, in The Purpose Advantage, I literally lay out step by step the typical process we would use with a mid-size or larger company to identify their purpose. And I say typical because you might modify it slightly based on information presented by company executives about where they are in the cycle, okay?

Jeff Fromm: But it’s designed so any business strategists, even at a small company, could take it and apply it themselves so that they can diligently work towards here’s where I am and here’s the phases of looking through how I move my business forward with that framework.

John Jantsch: Jeff, we’ve presented a lot of big organizations as examples, but again, I contend that this is important to the smallest organization. The impact that they might make at a societal level might be different, but I think the impact to their business could be just as large. Where can people find out more about your work and of course the Purpose Advantage?

Jeff Fromm: I would invite people to connect directly. Whether that’s LinkedIn, Jeff Fromm, or you can email me, jfromm@thefuturecast.com.

Jeff Fromm: The Purpose Advantage is coming out in a couple weeks and it’s on Amazon and you can literally get not only the stories of these brands but the entire workshop in the book. And I think Amazon sells that for all of $10 or $12.

John Jantsch: Dependent upon when you’re listening to this, a couple of weeks means middle of September, 2019.

Jeff Fromm: Yeah. Middle of September. I would expect them to ship the book no later than that, at the very latest. And the idea behind the book was that we are laying out not only the inspiration in the stories [inaudible 00:22:48], so the, the back half of the book is a how to create a more purpose-driven organization. Even for companies that have one, how can I refine? Because I think a lot of companies have one but they want to do better. I want to engage my employees more. I want to have a more engaged customer base. I think the examples you shared, several of which are fabulous examples, particularly your last question about Patagonia, a company that upped the game.

John Jantsch: So Jeff, thanks for something by the podcast and hopefully we’ll go have a glass of French champagne at Ca Va sometime soon.

Jeff Fromm: I’d look forward to it and thank you for having me. And I’m happy to help anyone who would like more information if they want to get in touch. All right?

John Jantsch: Awesome. Thanks Jeff.

Jeff Fromm: Okay. Take care.

Transcript of How to Build a Brand that Drives Growth

Transcript of How to Build a Brand that Drives Growth written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.

John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Lindsay Pedersen. She is a brand strategist and leadership coach, and also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Welcome; thanks for joining me.

Lindsay Pedersen: Thanks for having me, John; it’s good to be here with you today.

John Jantsch: As I know you know, a lot of people think brand, especially consumer goods people, which you have a background in, think brand and they think logo, colors, packaging. But I really think so much about the way people buy has changed today that I think you could make a case for saying, “A brand is everything including a whole lot of stuff that’s out of our control.” So how do we deal with that?

Lindsay Pedersen: Oh my gosh, it’s so true. The word “brand” takes people to such different places. Any conversation about brand requires a definition of terms. What I mean when I say “brand” is what is the meaning you stand for in the mind of your audience? What is the thing that you represent to your target customer?

You used the word “everything.” It is the sum total of everything that your company does. From the overt things that you do, to the implicit things that you do, from the big things to the small things, from messaging to product to pricing.

It’s all of the things that you mean; that the sum total of those things reinforces in your customer’s head what you mean, what you stand for. It’s true; there are a lot of people who would define brand as a logo or the look and feel and zeitgeist of a business. Or, sometimes even the name of the company, is the brand. And sometimes brand is advertising, like Mad Men.

All of those things are manifestations of brand, or at least they ought to be. But they can’t be equated with brand, either.

John Jantsch: Well, that’s interesting, because I’ve been saying this for 20 years to small business owners who really don’t think about brand, or at least don’t think about brand in this sense. And yet, every business has a brand. I think the only question is, whether or not you’re controlling it or trying to guide it.

Lindsay Pedersen: Exactly. It’s funny because the reason that brand matters is that it gives the leader clarity. It gives the leader a North Star against which to make decisions for growing the business.

When I think of companies that most gain from that, that’s the companies, the leaders of companies that are small businesses, that most need focus. Because their resources are so constrained.

It’s a funny thing, and it’s one of the reasons I wrote the book that I did. I wanted to demystify it because the people who are most likely to misunderstand brand as a small thing are the same people who stand to benefit the most from it.

John Jantsch: I want to bring us back to a point, though, because for a lot of people, when they have this big brand discussion, they say, “It’s not about the logo, it’s not about the packaging, it’s not about the colors.” Design is still super important, I think, for a brand.

In fact, I know a lot of companies that invest in great design. It allows them to communicate what their brand stands for in such a potent way.

Lindsay Pedersen: A hundred percent. The name of your business, the logo and the iconography and font and colors and shapes and imagery and photography that you use … it’s like a superhighway to the limbic system of the brain of your audience. It’s wildly important.

What makes it powerful is when the development, the design and the creative decisions that you make to convey whether it’s the name or the logo or the font that you choose, or the tone of your voice; what’s really powerful is when they’re congruent with the meaning that you want to stand for. They’re not random; they are a deep and direct reflection of that promise that you want your business to bring to your customer.

John Jantsch: Yeah. The accounting firm that has a really fun website, is suggesting “We’re a little bit more fun that the other people.” I think that’s such a great way to actually get not only your differentiation, but maybe your promise across.

Lindsay Pedersen: Absolutely. You also brought up this idea of intention and control. Maybe even in this media environment that we all live in today, where there’s so much information, and our attention is so scarce. How much control do we really have of our brand?

The way that I want to splice that question to first, you do have agency in declaring what you want your brand to be. It’s position or be positioned, right, as the old adage goes. If you want to have the positioning that’s going to create the most value for your business, then you’re deliberate about defining what you want that thing to be.

That’s the first thing. And that’s frankly what most people get wrong, is that they just don’t get deliberate and intentional about identifying their brand to begin with. That is leaving a lot of power on the table. It’s leaving a lot to chance, that your customer is going to perceive you the way that you want your customer to perceive you.

I kind of flip it to before you talk about the ways you can communicate and express your brand; which you’re right, there’s only so much control, quote-unquote control that you have about the way that it’s going to be perceived in the marketplace.

But you sure have a better chance of succeeding if you’ve done the work and the soul searching to define what you want that thing to be, so that it can be your business’s North Star.

John Jantsch: A lot of people kind of whine about that. “Oh, people are out there saying stuff.” I think that’s a great opportunity, because it used to be you could break your promises and if you had a slick ad, it didn’t matter maybe.

But now, if you break your promises, somebody will create a YouTube channel talking about it. So I think the companies that stay true to their brand, that keep their promises, I think they actually have an advantage today.

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. It’s true. There was a short period in human history … the second half of the 20th century, essentially … when the company that had the largest budget, had the loudest megaphone, and could spend the most to get word out, usually via TV media, and there wasn’t a lot that the customer could do. It wasn’t a two-way conversation.

That is no longer the case. Because the megaphone is democratized. Now we all can talk about it. The funny thing is, though, John, that I think about with this, is in some ways it’s new. That we have a two-way megaphone. But in some ways, what was a blip is the way that it was when TV advertising was having its heyday.

Because most of human history, we can tell our friends if we don’t like the butcher down the street or the baker where we got stale bread. We do have voices. It’s just that now, we can talk to more people with less time and money than it might have taken before.

John Jantsch: When I hear you talk about brand, all I hear is strategy. I think that that’s a part a lot of people miss, is that this really has to be done at the strategic level for an organization, doesn’t it?

Lindsay Pedersen: It does. In fact, in some ways, the way that I think about brand … and this is true for a lot of the people that I interviewed for my book, as well.

In some ways, when you define your brand strategy, it’s just a consumer-facing way of defining your business strategy. It’s a more closer-to-the-ground way of defining how your business is going to succeed.

A lot of times business strategy gets a little esoteric or a little bit devoid of empathy. Brand strategy can take whatever that business strategy idea is, and make it more meaningful to the people who are creating those bonds with the target audience; either person to person or with the products and messaging that they’re developing.

Yes, brand strategy. Just like with any strategy, it’s about taking a step back, looking at what you have, what your strengths are, what the competitive strengths and white space might look like, and learning about what your target customer wants and needs that others can’t provide.

That’s the essence of business, that’s the essence of commerce. If you’re making a trade, why should they come to you rather than to somebody else? Or rather than not buying anything at all?

So when you define that, you are defining your business strategy. But you’re also defining your brand strategy in a way that can be easier and more potent for bringing to life with your customer.

John Jantsch: I like the way you really positioned this, because I think a lot of people think of brand and they think, “How do we want to be perceived?” I think you come at it more from a “What problem are we solving, who can we bring the most value to,” and obviously, “Who could be a valuable customer to us as well?”

But I think starting with that customer point of view about the brand, it’s almost like, “How do we want to be experienced by them?” as opposed to, “What are we trying to make them think?” Does that make sense? [crosstalk 00:11:34]-

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes!

John Jantsch: … because I see that throughout your book.

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes, I love the way that you articulated that. A hundred percent. It comes back to, why are we in business? Why are we doing what we’re doing? It’s to serve a certain person who has a certain problem.

We have a way of solving that problem that others don’t have. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have differentiation; therefore, we wouldn’t have strong enough margins to stay in business.

When you get very precise and intentional about what those elements are; who is your customer, what is the problem that they’re trying to solve, how do you uniquely solve that problem. You can make decisions across your business and across the customer journey that reinforce that thing.

At its basis, and the reason that I think this is so powerful for leaders in particular, is it’s a focusing mechanism. You can make decisions with your brand as a filter. You don’t have to litigate; every little and big decision you make, can be so much easier if you’re putting it through the filter of, “Does doing X, Y, or Z bring me closer to delivering this unique promise to this target customer?”

If “no,” don’t proceed. If “yes,” then proceed.

John Jantsch: We’ve joked for years. Do you remember the bracelets? I think they’ve been used for a lot of things. But What Would Jesus Do? Do you remember [crosstalk 00:13:13]?

Lindsay Pedersen: Oh, sure. Yeah.

John Jantsch: For years, we have had, “What Would Duct Tape Do?” That was sort of our idea about our filter.

Lindsay Pedersen: Awesome! John, that is so great; I love that.

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John Jantsch: As I hear you talk about this, there are big companies that have departments and divisions, and they sell different products and they have different markets. In a lot of ways, it’s hard for them to keep all the moving parts in place. But I think for a small business, would you go as far as saying that brand could be their culture?

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes. In fact, it’s funny; when I was doing this research to write my book, and I interviewed about 50 leaders across big companies, small companies, lots of different industries, the thing that most surprised me when I was interviewing these leaders about the value of brand, was how much they expressed it as a tool for culture building, for galvanizing employees around a purpose or an idea.

It’s the internal beacon that I did know that that was valuable, but I was surprised at how often this came up. That brand is a way to make something really intangible, like culture, have a single point. To have a definition of what it is.

When employees feel purpose, and brand is one way of coalescing with a purpose, they give more to their business. They’re set up to be happier and they’re set up to create more meaning in their own lives, and to create more value for your business.

It’s all this happy virtuous cycle of employees have purpose, they know how to succeed in their job, they feel great about it. And it ties them to the target customer, the person that they’re serving, which makes for a more vibrant work environment.

I totally agree with that, and it’s something that I didn’t know, or I didn’t appreciate deeply when I first set out to write this book.

John Jantsch: Well, one of the good news/bad news things about that is you can’t really fake that. That’s a really positive thing for somebody that really does have purpose.

But how about these organizations that … a lot of them start that way. It’s like, “Here’s what we believe, here’s how people need to be served.” Then all of a sudden they’ve got a hundred employees, and it’s like, “How do we keep them?”

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes. I think one of the things that I have noticed … and the reason that I wrote this book for leaders as opposed to marketing people is that when brand/culture is delegated; brand can be delegated to marketing, and culture can be delegated to HR. When that happens, it loses its whole power.

Or it becomes something; it might be a neat marketing campaign if marketing is driving it. It might be a neat team-building idea, if HR is driving it. But the leader needs to be modeling it and feeling it and breathing it. If that’s not happening, they’re not giving air cover to the rest of the organization to make trade offs according to this brand or according to this culture.

As a company grows, it’s particularly useful and particularly incumbent upon the leader to keep reinforcing why we’re here and why we do this. What is it that makes us different from other companies who are either in the space or who are serving the same target audience. What makes us different?

It’s like Stephen Covey talks about things that are important, but not urgent. Both culture and brand, I believe, fall into that quadrant. It’s like taking care of your health by eating well and by exercising and taking good care of your relationships. That’s important but not urgent.

But if you don’t do those things, then you wind up in urgent situations. You wind up at the emergency room. It’s the same thing with leading a company.

By embracing the thing that’s important but not urgent, so that the tenets of the brand, the elements of the culture, you prevent getting into an emergency with customer relationships or with employees fleeing the organization as soon as the economy goes in their favor.

It really does take this leadership believing it, and having conviction in it, and energy for it, that will take them from startup phase to medium-size company phase. It’s really hard to do even with a brand. But it’s really hard to do if you haven’t sat down and distilled what it is that we want to mean? What is it that’s going to make us different in the long run?

John Jantsch: We’ve been having such a lovely time chatting that I haven’t asked you the money question. What is an ironclad brand, then?

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes, what I contend is that all of the brand positioning territories that you could claim as yours, there are some that are more attractive than others.

There are nine qualities, nine criteria for an ironclad brand that I define in this book. When you have those nine qualities, you’re setting yourself up to create the most value for your business.

Would you like me to go through what the criteria are real quick?

John Jantsch: You bet.

Lindsay Pedersen: Okay.

John Jantsch: Although we do want people to buy the book, so.

Lindsay Pedersen.: I appreciate that. Well, I’ll be really quick so that people might still want to buy the book.

The criteria are that your brand is big. The number one criteria is that your brand promise is big enough to matter to your customer. That it’s a big space in the customer’s head.

The second is that it’s narrow. Although it’s big enough to matter, it’s also narrow enough that you can own it. That you can dominate it.

The third is that it’s asymmetrical. It uses your company’s lopsided advantage, your unfair advantage as a company.

Number four is that it’s empathetic. It addresses a deeply relevant, meaningful need for your customer; that it has your customer’s interests at heart.

Number five is that it’s optimally distinct. It strikes a balance between familiar and novel. It’s not so familiar that it’s boring; but it’s not so novel that it’s unrecognizable, and hard for somebody to learn and remember.

Number six is that it’s both functional and emotional. It serves the customer at this critical intersection of the customer’s heart and mind. It’s not just emotional, but it’s also not just functional; it’s both.

Number seven is that it’s sharp edged. It entails a single specific simple promise. It’s ridiculously clear to customers what you do and do not promise as a business.

Number eight is that your brand promise has teeth. It’s demonstrably true. It’s not just true, but it’s clear that it’s true, because you provide concrete proof.

Lastly, number nine, is that your brand promise delivers. You deliver on it every time consistently with the big things to the small things, from the new customers to the loyal customers. You’re nailing not just the letter of the promise, but also the spirit of the promise.

An ironclad brand encompasses all of those qualities, and therefore creates the most value for the business.

John Jantsch: Let’s wrap up on the thing that people tend to gravitate towards quite often. If you pull this off, and you create an ironclad brand, what’s the ROI? What’s the benefit? Because in some cases, you’re going to have to invest. You’re going to have to evolve. You’re going to have to train. What’s the payoff?

Lindsay Pedersen: Let me separate strategy from tactics. Developing the statement of what you stand for as a business, it only takes the time and money that it took you to either read my book or sit at a whiteboard and figure this out.

You can hire a brand strategist to help you with that, or you can do it yourself. That’s the strategy. You haven’t put meaningful money, working media dollars against that yet. That’s the North Star.

There isn’t an ROI on your brand just like … It’s the whole business strategy. One way of thinking about the ROI for the brand strategy is that everything that you do internally, you save a lot of time and energy because you’re not chasing small ideas; you’re only worrying about ideas that are big ideas.

But I think what you’re asking more, John, is now that you have this idea that you want to reinforce inside the head of your customers, when you spend money against it, how do you know that you’re going to recoup your investment eventually? That is more a function of what your business goals are.

Because a lot of the businesses that most benefit from a North Star, from the focus of a brand strategy, are not going to spend any money on marketing. They’re the mom-and-pop coffee shop down the street, or the retailer that has three locations in your city. To them, marketing is a website and a logo and maybe some flyers and maybe some free samples, if it’s a coffee shop.

That’s a small marketing budget. Your brand is the thing that you want to reinforce, not just with your marketing activities, but with everything that the customer experiences.

It might help you decide where to have office space. It might help you decide how to price. It might help you decide who to partner with. And yes, it’ll also help you decide how to promote and message and advertise what you have to offer.

But a lot of those things are free. Or they’re not free, they’re things that you’re already doing. You’re already deciding where to have office space. You’re already developing a product.

This is about harnessing the power of focus so that all of those things by defining the one thing, all of those levers can work together to reinforce that.

John Jantsch: Yeah, I guess in some ways what I was getting at is, I think when people get this right … I’ll use your coffee shop example. I drive by three or maybe four coffee shops to go to the coffee shop that I like. I’m willing to do that because I like the experience. I like what they stand for. I think that that’s the point, I guess, I was really making.

I’ll give you another example. I was a professional speaker long before my first book came out. My first book came out and sold pretty well. All of a sudden, people were willing to pay me four, five times what I was charging, just because my brand meant something to them.

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes, and I think when we go back to the definition of what is brand, it’s the thing that you stand for in the mind of your audience.

Whether the audience is people who hire you to do speaking engagements, or people who sell you coffee, or you’re buying coffee from; those by distilling it to one thing, you’re more likely to be reinforcing a single idea.

When you reinforce a single idea, you’re making them do less work to understand who you are. And when they do less work to understand who you are, they’re more likely to like you and to remember you.

It’s like, don’t do any expensive product development or promotion or media when you haven’t done this, because it’s going to be such a poor ROI if you’re throwing a lot of things against the wall.

John Jantsch: Well, and I spend a lot of time reading Google reviews of our customers and prospects, all types of businesses. I can tell you, 90% of them don’t even mention … sometimes you can’t even tell what the business does. But what they talk about is the great experience, the great people, how easy it was, that kind of stuff.

Lindsay Pedersen: Yes.

John Jantsch: I think that’s what people need to realize is the brand today, isn’t it?

Lindsay Pedersen: It is. It’s the way that people feel having interacted with you. They might remember something functional, or they might just remember the result of how they felt because you were able to solve a problem they otherwise weren’t able to solve. That’s exactly right. This is all about connecting human to human with your audience.

John Jantsch: I am speaking with Lindsay Pedersen, and we’re talking about her book, Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Lindsay, where can people find out more about you and your work and your book?

Lindsay P.: Thank you so much, John. Yes, my book is Forging an Ironclad Brand. It’s available on Amazon and all that. If listeners are interested, I have a free giveaway on my business’s website, which is ironcladbrandstrategy.com.

The giveaway is a workbook that I adapted from the book, Forging an Ironclad Brand. It serves as a supplement to the book. It’s this step-by-step workbook guide of the Ironclad method to building a brand strategy. You can find that at ironcladbrandstrategy.com.

And I’d love to be connected with your listeners; if anybody wants to link up with me on LinkedIn or Twitter, I would very much enjoy that.

John Jantsch: Awesome. We’ll have all those links in the Show Notes, as always. Lindsay, thanks for dropping by, and hopefully we’ll run in to you soon out there on the road.

Lindsay Pedersen: It was my pleasure, John. Thanks so much.

Transcript of How to Discover and Embrace Your Creative Side

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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Gusto, modern, easy payroll benefits for small businesses across the country. And because you’re a listener, you get three months free when you run your first payroll. Find out at gusto.com/tape.

John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Tania Katan. She is an award-winning author, public speaker, playwright, and creativity expert. She’s also written a book that we’re going to talk about today called Creative Trespassing: How to Spark… Wait. How to Put Spark and Joy Back in your Life. Tania, thanks for joining us.

Tania Katan: A pleasure, John, and thanks for making a mistaker right off the bat. I’m being totally sincere. I think that that’s part of the nature of creative trespassing, which is making beautiful mistakes and realizing that’s where we learn how to be creative souls in the world. Thank you.

John Jantsch: You’re welcome. As my listeners will know, I do not edit those out either.

Tania Katan: That’s great.

John Jantsch: We’re going to talk about creative trespassing. I guest there is such a beast as a creative trespasser. What does that person look like?

Tania Katan: I don’t know if beast is the right adjective, but I appreciate it. A creative trespasser in my esteem is someone who is willing to take risks, to make mistakes, and to embrace all of their flaws and scars and awkwardness knowing that those are the places where our real superpowers lie. As somebody who has worked an entire life personally and professionally embracing my flaws, scars and awkwardness, I figured that it was important to create a map for other human beings because we are all flawed and imperfect and delightful and fantastic and that that’s actually… Those are the places where real innovations and art and solutions lie. I wanted to write a map and show people that, hey, there are fellow creative trespassers out there. Perhaps we didn’t have a name. Now we do and now we are a force to be reckoned with.

John Jantsch: I’ve realized, of course in hindsight, that I’ve spent most of my life trying to fit in. When do we stop doing that?

Tania Katan: Gosh, I hope the moment that we realize that we’re trying to fit into systems or work cultures or cultures that aren’t valuing all of our weirdness, that those are the times to stop fitting in and embrace our outsiderness. Yeah, I mean, honestly, I come from a long line of outsiders too and that’s my DNA. I thought my birthright was the worst birthright ever, which was to not fit in. That’s all I wanted to do as a kid. Then in the professional realm, I was hired in the marketing department and I just wanted to market, but I had these crazy ideas that led to campaigns that were unconventional and actually worked for the company. The way I’ve learned to embrace my outsiderness and find the value in it is when I’ve proven that it is more valuable to see things objectively as an outsider.

Tania Katan: That there are many people who feel actually stuck in their day to day jobs because they haven’t quite yet figured out how to see what they’re doing, how to see the mundane or their everyday rituals and tasks as something new and exciting. That’s part of why I decided to write Creative Trespassing, to offer exercises and ways for finding and refreshing or reinvigorating these things that we’ve come to think of as boring or we’re just stuck or blame other people for our situation, in fact, our rife with opportunities to be creative.

John Jantsch: I’m sure you get this, and so I’m just going to toss this up here for you to like kick it right out of the park, but you know, you work in an art gallery. You work in marketing. You’re a designer. Those are creative people, but what if I’m an insurance actuary? How am I going to be a creative trespasser? I mean, we don’t do that here.

Tania Katan: Yeah. First of all, I have to say, there are plenty of people who work in “creative jobs” or in “creative industries: who do not feel or in the day to day are doing anything that is wildly creative. I know that we can be uniquely creative whether or not we’re in a creative field. One thing I go to all the time and when I work with clients, I give them the power of the what if question. You probably know this and practice this, John, but you know, as a trained playwright and somebody who comes from theater, our job is to ask what if questions. You know, what if. Basically in doing that, what we’re asking is what is possible or probable or crazy outlandish or unbelievable that doesn’t exist in this moment.

Tania Katan: What’s a solution we haven’t tried and isn’t true? To really brainstorm, well, what if instead of having a marketing campaign on the internet, we had it on the moon? What if we actually got an astronaut to help us launch the campaign? In in asking all of these outlandish questions, we’ll actually land on a solution and ideas that are new and will actually solve the problem. I think the people who are stuck, whether or not you’re an accountant, hey, if you’re an accountant and you can’t figure out your budget, you can’t reconcile your budget, you got to be creative.

Tania Katan: You have to ask, what if I lost my receipt on the way to lunch yesterday, instead of looking at the numbers and trying to solve a math problem, try to think of the whole context and ask what if questions.

John Jantsch: Oh, that’s just crazy talk. All right. You already mentioned that you have spent some time in the theater. I’ve seen you perform. You could do stand up for a living. I mean, what if it’s just not my DNA? I’m giving you like really, you know, silly objections here, but I’m just hearing people go, “That’s easy for you.”

Tania Katan: Yeah, so a couple of things. One, every time I speak, and that’s what I do for a living predominantly is public speaking, there’s at least one person who raises their hand and says, “I’m not creative,” you know? Really the basic definition of creativity is using your imagination to solve a problem or come up with something new. Right? I kick it back to you, John, and say, “Hey, Mr. Devil’s Advocate who’s not creative. Do you ever imagine or use your imagination to come up with something new, whether that’s to add an item to your shopping list or come up with Q4 goals? Do you ever use your imagination to come up with something new or solve a problem?” It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is yes.

Tania Katan: A lot of the exercises in Creative Trespassing aren’t just like weird dictums to be a wild creative. They’re are actually ways to increase your creative confidence. For example, if you feel uncomfortable practicing using your imagination, there’s an exercise that I call the I Rock Files, which you remember the Rockford Files? You’re old enough, John.

John Jantsch: Do I sound that old?

Tania Katan: I don’t know. I don’t know.

John Jantsch: I am old enough. I am old enough. Yes, you’re right.

Tania Katan:  Okay. Okay. The I Rock Files are basically something that I came up with because there were so many high level super smart people that I was coaching who didn’t believe they were smart or creative or wildly innovative. I said, “Well, why don’t you get outside of yourself and find and gather evidence that proves that you are and start a file that says I Rock File. It can be a physical file. It can be an online folder, but evidence that you’ve gathered that points to the fact that you are awesome, that you are creative. When people, like customers, send you a note that says, “Oh my gosh. I never thought to solve a problem like that. I appreciate you taking the time to do that,” or your boss saying, “You exceeded your Q4 goals. Good job,” and go to that. Because a lot of the times that we’re feeling like we can’t do something, we’re the first barrier to entry. We’re the ones who stop ourselves from doing it.”

Tania Katan: This is actually called limiting beliefs. These beliefs that we hold that we can’t do something or we aren’t something. I’m not creative. I don’t deserve a raise. I’m not good enough to x, Y, and Z. Those are just constructed thoughts that we’ve come up with so that we don’t actually have to fulfill our dreams, desires, or goals in life.

John Jantsch: I actually had some teachers that reinforce those thoughts.

Tania Katan: I had those teachers too. Mister… No. Yeah, yeah. Unfortunately, our society is sort of banking on us not fulfilling our dreams, goals and desires and us staying in our own way. But you know that anybody who’s ever done something major in the world, and by major I sometimes mean just getting up and feeling good about who you are and how you are in the world, everything from that to starting a creative revolution, they’ve all started with approaching a limit with an option. Like I’m going to tunnel under it. I’m going to jump over it. I’m going to dissolve it or hug it and embrace it and make it go away so that I can do something new in the world.

John Jantsch: You have written about, and I’ve seen you speak about, your battle with cancer. What do you think in hindsight that’s done for you?

Tania Katan: That’s done for me?

John Jantsch: That challenge. You know, surely, I’m just guessing. I don’t have any experience. I’m just guessing that that made you mentally tougher and all the things that we think it might’ve done.

Tania Katan: Well, you know what, John? One thing that you saw that your listeners didn’t see when I gave the talk at the World Domination Summit was yes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer twice and each time I had a mastectomy, which left me with two scars. I went through chemotherapy and all of this kind of stuff. In order to ensure that diagnosis and statistically speaking, many of your listeners have either endured cancer personally or have gone through it with a family or a friend or whatever, a colleague. It’s not that it made me tough. It made me question my mortality, and then it made me embrace my body that was filled with scars. Again, I had two mastectomy scars. I did not get reconstructive surgery. I started questioning like, what does it mean to be a healthy body in a different form, right?

Tania Katan: Here I am a woman in our society and my breasts are gone and what does that mean. In questioning all of those things, what I ended up doing was running a topless 10K for breast awareness. I didn’t do it to cause a spectacle or anything like that, but I did it because I realized that there is a disconnect in who we are and what we do in the world. There’s a disconnect. As I go into two different companies across the globe and consult and give them creative strategies for moving forward, there’s often a disconnect between the mission or the vision of the company and then the on the ground realities. In having breast cancer, I realized, well, I’m actually healthy now. I don’t have cancer anymore.

Tania Katan: I’ve gone through chemotherapy. I have this body. It’s scarred. It’s weird. It’s little, and it’s mine. I would go to all these races for breast cancer, and I didn’t see anybody else with scars exposed. I thought that’s weird. We’re all here for the same reason. We’re all here to celebrate the life of somebody who has endured or lost their life as a result of breast cancer or cancer. How do I show that you can be a healthy body in a different form? Anyway, I started running these topless races and to mixed reviews. They were very scary for me to take off my shirt and run topless in a sea of thousands of runners, but what they did was they allowed me to feel more comfortable and confident in my weird and new body and also to show a connection between why we were there and who we are.

Tania Katan: That was really important for me. That’s what having breast cancer kind of helped me to realize is that we are connected to everything we do and every place we occupied, whether we show that or not. That’s actually helped me in my professional life and my vocation with again, working with companies and people who think that they’re connected to the mission of their company and then find themselves not. I’ve worked in museums where we’ve sold art and yet we did not work in a very artful way to sell it. Yeah. I think that was the big lesson there.

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John Jantsch: One of the things that, it seems to me, is that in order to really to ask a question like what if we did this on the moon, requires a level of vulnerability that very few people can walk around with. I think that that’s… In a lot of ways, I don’t know you that well, but in seeing you speak and reading your work, I feel like you’ve embraced a level of vulnerability that now turns around and comes out as strength and power.

Tania Katan: Well, thank you. To that point, it’s funny to ask the what if. Yes, we need vulnerability. A good way to find that is to convene a diverse group of human beings to solve problems. This is something I actually learned from my time working for a software company, which is something called agile methodology. Anyway, long story short, within an agile way of making software, you have to invite people from diverse departments in to help you solve the problem. When you do that, everybody’s vulnerable because nobody feels like they’re an expert, which is fantastic. They might be an expert in their own area, but then they’re trying to find ways to connect with their peers, find common ground.

Tania Katan: I would say that that kind of vulnerability comes when people feel like they’re less of an expert among other experts in their specific field. We bust open those silos and invite diverse people and thinking in to address and solve problems. Yeah, I think vulnerability comes in. This is what I do in my personal and professional life. I put myself constantly in situations where I feel uncomfortable, where I feel like I don’t belong, where I feel like I might be an expert in creativity, but all of these people are experts in marketing. What the hell am I doing here? Then find ways to connect. To me, that’s what it means to be alive is to disrupt…

Tania Katan: It’s to disrupt situations that feel comfortable and challenge myself to find ways to connect across divides.

John Jantsch: Does every business need a you? It’s like, “let’s bring in the freak and have that person participate,” or is it really more about we need a culture that just embraces diversity of thought?

Tania Katan: Both. I think that… Some companies definitely need a shot in the arm and it’s sometimes easiest to hear those things from an outsider, from a consultant, or a coach even if you’ve been saying it to your colleague this whole time like, “You know what? You guys, we say that we champion innovation, but we have not done any sort of innovative exercises or lunch and learns in 10 years.” Sometimes it’s easier, a lot of companies will bring me or people like me in during lunch and learns or they’ll have speaking series and things like this or as a consultant. However, there are plenty of mes that exist underneath the company’s noses. It is about creating and nurturing a culture of creativity, which doesn’t mean that people need to identify as an artist or a writer or a musician.

Tania Katan: It does mean that those people who are in positions of power need to create situations where people can express themselves, have brainstorming breaks, have an engage in play or in rituals that aren’t typical so that we get unstuck from the patterns and habits that are keeping us stuck. Yeah, I think it’s championing and also engaging people in play and creative exercises and doing that with regularity. I mean, you know, this is… Again, I get brought in a lot of times as a consultant because everybody says, “We champion creativity and innovation,” and the first thing to go when they don’t have time, when they feel like it’s the last thing on the to do list is the most important part of the business, which especially if you’re a tech company is innovation.

Tania Katan: You can’t have innovation without having creativity or play. You just can’t.

John Jantsch: Creative Trespassing is filled with exercises that you use, I’m assuming, in your work. Do you want to share maybe one of your favorite ones as an example of what somebody might do or experience if they were trying to break out a little?

Tania Katan: Yeah. Well, two things come to mind. That’s how I roll. I’m just going to shout up with two of them. One is a super, super simple exercise. It literally is to look around and see what problems your company is not looking to solve, and then gather a group of diverse human beings, diverse in background, in mindsets, in departments, in title and brainstorm all the ways in which you can solve that problem that no one is looking to solve. If you’re feeling really gutsy, raise your hand at the all hands meeting and share your ideas for solving this problem. That exercise developed after I was working at a tech company and a boss of mine said, “Hey. We want to kind of solve the problem of women in technology or the lack thereof.”

Tania Katan: They were a tech company selling project management software. Like we didn’t need to solve the problem of women in the tech com… I mean tech sector. That wasn’t important. That didn’t affect our ROI, and yet we set out to solve that problem. We didn’t solve it, but we came up with a marketing campaign that went around the world. The point is is that in looking to solve something that nobody else was looking to solve, we came up with an awesome idea that resonated around the globe. That was a really cool thing. Then the second-

John Jantsch: Can I interrupt you before the second one only because I want you to finish that thought. It Was Never A Dress is probably a story that you get a little tired of telling, maybe not, as you’ve told it so many times, but we’ll have it in the show notes. I don’t know if you want to just give us two seconds on what… Because you alluded to the campaign and I know-

Tania Katan: Yeah, totally. No, no, I never get a… No, it’s really… The beautiful thing actually about writing my book was that I got to write about the process behind coming up with the idea because people see It Was Never A Dress which is if you… In your mind’s eye, listeners, please see the women’s bathroom symbol. See her little round head and triangle dress. Okay. You know her, right? You’ve seen her. Maybe some listeners have seen her several times today because you know, they had to pee pee. But anyway, we kind of a re-imagined the symbol. Let’s say you were looking at her in the front and she’s wearing a dress, but what if we turned her around and she was wearing a cape? We were looking at her the wrong way this whole time. We were looking at her back and in front she’s wearing a cape.

Tania Katan: This shift in consciousness and this visual that we’d seen that became mundane, that we hadn’t thought of now becomes this radical and exciting symbol for seeing women as more than just wearing a dress. That there were visual options for women being in the world, in the workforce. It went viral as the kids say. We put out this image and it went around. For marketing people who are listening, we received 20 million organic impressions within the first 24 hours of putting that out there. This was in 2015. The exciting part, John, the part that actually never gets dull to talk about is the fact that because it was embraced by so many people so quickly that the people made it their own. It wasn’t important. Only now I get to write about it and share stories about it, like sort of behind the scenes how it came to be.

Tania Katan: But the beauty of it is is that it became everyone’s. It didn’t become ours, this like little software company who came up with this weird idea. The young woman at TSA who when she saw my sticker said, “Oh my gosh. I love it. I gave this to my cousin and we told them we’re superheroes and we feel so empowered.” It’s my friend’s aunt in the Midwest who never gives a shit about anything online and saw the symbol and said, “Oh my gosh. Now when I go to work, I feel like I belong there.” That’s the coolest part about the It Was Never A Dress campaign is that it became bigger than our idea. It became and belongs to everyone.

John Jantsch: I’m sure there are a few bathroom symbols around the world that have been vandalized as well.

Tania Katan: Yes. I take no responsibility for that.

John Jantsch: Oh, well, you put out the taggers guide to.

Tania Katan: No.

John Jantsch: All right, so I cut you off.

Tania Katan: That’s fine.

John Jantsch:  You were going to give me the second exercise.

Tania Katan: Oh, the second exercise that comes to mind because of your Devil’s advocating earlier, when you were like, “Well, what if I don’t fancy myself creative, can I still be a creative trespasser?” This exercise allows everyone to be creative trespasser, which is called the official unofficial award. You know how many times, especially in work culture, it’s like you have to earn employee of the month or you have to wait around for some other like an annual review to get a raise? Like we’re only awarded one time a year, maybe, if we’re lucky. Some people never get awarded and yet they’re doing so many cool things behind the scenes. Get your colleague, your friend, your family member, an official unofficial award.

Tania Katan: You know what I’m saying? You can write it down on a piece of paper. You can change their screensaver when they’re not looking. Somebody could be like the inclusionary visionary award because you bring people to meetings that are unexpected and amazing, or the you make meetings fun award, or whatever. In fact, I’m going to launch an official unofficial creative trespasser award. This is going to happen. I’m going to do it on social media because it’s so easy to see and celebrate those around us who don’t often get seen or celebrated for the amazing things they’re doing every single day to make us feel more alive, more engaged, and just more human. So there.

John Jantsch: I’m speaking with Tania Katan, the author of Creative Trespassing. I think we’re doing a little creative trespassing today, I hope, for listeners. Tania, where can people find out more about you, your work, and your book?

Tania Katan: Sure. They can go to taniakatan.com and that’s Tania, T-A-N-I-A-K-A-T-A-N.com, and then you can follow me on Instagram where I’m TheUnrealTaniaKatan. That’s right, TheUnrealTaniaKatan. Because when I went to sign up for Instagram, there was a Tania Katan already and she was a mom of two. I didn’t want to say I’m the real Tania Katan and make her children go to therapy at an early age. I decided to give her that moniker and I became TheUnrealTaniaKatan.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Tania, it was so great visiting with you and hopefully we’ll run into you again out there on the road.

Tania Katan: John, it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me. Take care.

Transcript of Why You Need a Virtual Assistant (And How to Find One)

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John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. And my guest today is Melissa Smith. She’s the founder and CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants. She’s also the author of a book called Hire the Right Virtual Assistant: How the Right VA Will Make Your Life Easier, Create Time, and Make You More Money. So, Melissa, thanks for joining me.

Melissa Smith: My pleasure, John.

John Jantsch: So I’ve been talking about virtual assistants actually for years. And in fact, certainly while it was kind of a novel idea a decade ago, I mean, now we have entire virtually-staffed companies. So in your work with this idea or this concept of a virtual assistant, how have you seen that evolve over, let’s just say, the last dozen years?

Melissa Smith: It’s evolved quite a bit. I think that it’s really just changed the name. We might’ve called it telecommuting before. And now that term is on its way out. It’s almost fully gone. We know we’ve talked about freelancers, remote working. Skype really started to change things. Really in the future with VR, that’s a whole other realm to get into.

Melissa Smith: But it’s really changed how a lot of executives and high-level people were doing work, right? Their time is so important. You have tens of thousands of people that report to you, basically, your company around the world. There’s time zones. There was a lot of travel, and so it really changed where we could be, how fast we could get there, the information that we could share, how personal it was.

Melissa Smith: It’s really changed a lot. But I don’t think what people really saw coming way back when was that it was also going to change the way many workers can get work done and report into work and start their own businesses.

Melissa Smith: When I talk about remote working, it’s nothing new. It seems different because now I’m outside the office and someone’s in their office. But the times where someone that I worked with was always in the office with me, I just can’t even remember those times. We were communicating by email, by text, by video chat. They were never in the office. So essentially we were remote working. I just happen to be remote working from inside the office and now I no longer have to do that.

John Jantsch: Well, and really the technology that’s kind of changed and caught up … I mean, really, as I referenced, I mean, you have entire organizations that have 100 employees and none of them report to an office anymore. And so that’s obviously … Even that behavior kind of has changed how people think about getting work done.

John Jantsch: So would you say … Let’s start with the definition. Is there a definition today of what a virtual assistant is and what it’s not?

Melissa Smith: Yes. So a virtual assistant is someone who is an independent contractor, a business owner. They are not an employee. So you can have an assistant that is an employee, but their title is not likely to be a virtual assistant. It is likely to be some type of other title, remote worker-

John Jantsch: Executive assistant, even. Something like that.

Melissa Smith: Possibly. I mean, there’s definitely executive virtual assistant, but typically, like I’m doing a search right now for a chief of staff, but that’s an employee position. You could have a chief-of-staff virtual assistant as well. But usually once you put that virtual assistant title on there, that’s what makes it into a different realm.

John Jantsch: But I guess that’s … I mean, you’re really hitting on the idea that you may be started out with what was … Defined how people viewed a virtual assistant. And now it’s almost every role, it can be virtual. And so I’m assuming that even in the Association of Virtual Assistants, you have people that are doing work, like virtual content people and virtual web assistants and virtual marketing assistants, not just maybe what people thought of as sort of admin work.

Melissa Smith: Oh, absolutely. It is a very, very wide range, from working with speakers [inaudible] solo entrepreneurs to working with those who are still very much in a C-suite and those who have brick-and-mortar companies, and their needs are just ranging, working with nonprofits, whether you need someone who can be an assistant or someone who can do some content, someone who can update your profile, some to reach out to those who want you to come out and speak at their event, or you’re reaching out to speak at more events.

Melissa Smith: I always tell people, if you have a need, there’s a virtual assistant out there. And for those who think they’re in these fields that think, “Oh, you know that would never become in my field. My field is highly regulated. It’s very secure, it’s very demanding.” From legal offices to financial offices, virtual assistants is everywhere.

John Jantsch: So, in terms of of hiring then you make a good point, because I could see a lot of people thinking, “It’s time for me to get a virtual assistant. I need somebody about 20 hours a week.” But then they want them to do eight different sort of specialized tasks. When it comes to that type of approach. I mean, is there a right approach? I mean, do you hire somebody and hopefully, like a lot of employees, a lot of employees get hired, fill up the day and they’re asked to do things that there aren’t really in their skillset, but they’re there. So they’re asked to do that. So would you say that the better technique is to maybe hire four different virtual assistants for different specialized needs?

Melissa Smith: Absolutely. I would highly recommend that, one, you’re going to get better work. You’re also going to get more informed work. So the benefit of hiring someone that is an expert in a field is that they have to also keep up on the trends. So this is a really hot topic right now. Do you specialize or you generalize? And the workforce is actually going towards more specialization, although people are talking about generalization. And the reason why is because things change so fast. If I’m a generalist, can I do the work? Yes. Am I as likely to be in the know of what changes are coming and get to those changes before they happen if I’m not a specialist? Not likely.

Melissa Smith: And then the other thing you said is 20 hours a week. Most people only hire a VA five to 10 hours a week. The work that can be done virtually is very specialized. So again, you’re not looking at a lot of time. Do people hire VAs for more than that? Yes. But if you’re hiring a VA for 20 hours a week, chances are you’re doing a lot of business, a lot of business, it’s just not as common. And then the other side of it is if you have a lot of things that you need to do and you’re thinking, “Wow, I just don’t know one person that can do all these things.” Maybe you need bookkeeping, you need some social media and you need someone who can also be an executive assistant for you.

Melissa Smith:There are teams out there where you can just hire [inaudible] report to have a one person report to you but then have multiple people doing the work. And it doesn’t cost that much more than having a regular, like one virtual assistant working for you.

John Jantsch: So how do you recommend people go about finding [inaudible] fit? Because I’ve worked with probably two dozen virtual assistants over the years and, you know, some were a better fit than others. Some I did a better job of finding than others. I mean, what’s the best process? Because I do think I have at least experienced, there were definitely people that I felt like I got a lot more work out of. I felt a lot more comfortable with their work because I think they were a good fit. So, how does somebody go about, especially in the virtual world it’s … you’re sometimes doing these over email, how do you find a good fit?

Melissa Smith: So, the first thing you do is start with your communication strategy. It’s in your style, your medium, your manner, your tone. It has to be super easy for you. I’ve seen far too many people say, “Oh I have to communicate with my VA this way.” And that is the tail wagging the dog, if you’re spending the money, it has to be for you. So my example is if you’re walking through the grocery store and you’re like, “Oh, I totally forgot to tell my VA this,” how would you message that person? Would you call? Would you text? Would you Slack? You know, what are those things? And that should be the way that you get to do that.

Melissa Smith: The second part of it is that you should be your VA’s ideal client. They should have started their business to work with someone just like you. Because if not, a lot of VA’s can work and do their work for anybody, but they won’t want to. So when they get a full book of business, they’re going to drop you. So you want to make sure that you’re their ideal.

John Jantsch: Go back to that point again because I mean, how would I determine that? Like how would I find that person that I’m their ideal client?

Melissa Smith: Sure. You would go to their website, their LinkedIn profile, their social media handles. What are they saying? Who are they for? What does their message look like. If you don’t find yourself in that, if you’re not finding yourself sharing the same articles, reading the same books on the same platforms, using the same terms, that person did not create their business for you. You should definitely see yourself in there.

Melissa Smith: So if I work with podcasters, it should say virtual assistant podcaster. Now, I know that’s pretty vague. They’ll going to say more than that, but I don’t work with podcasters, so you won’t see that in my profile. I love podcasts. I’m a huge fan. They’re the way of the future in terms of SEO more than ever. But that’s not my specialty. So if I’m an executive coach and they come to my site and they want to see who I worked with and who I work with, they’re going to see their name on there. They’re going to think, “Wow, Melissa works with people just like me.”

John Jantsch: So in terms of productivity, I know a lot of times I’ve talked to people over the years that have hired a virtual, excuse me, assistant and just felt like it was more work getting them up to speed and I didn’t know what to tell them. I mean, is there a process, a timeline, a way that you should think about orienting and training to get a person to be more productive? I mean, a lot like you would an employee I suppose.

Melissa Smith: Yes, there should definitely be an onboarding process. Now, again, we go back to working with experts. I’m not onboarding them on how to use a certain software, how to use a certain system, that should not be part of the onboarding process. The onboarding process is, “This is how I like to do things. These are my preferences. We’re going to get our working rhythm down. We’re going to start to really dive on this level of communication.” But it should not be, “I can’t log in. I don’t know how to find this.” Those aren’t the kind of conversations you want to have.

Melissa Smith: But if you don’t have an onboarding plan for your VA, and this is something I share in my book and there’s a complete strategy for it, you want to know what good looks like so that you can convey what good looks like to your VA.

Melissa Smith: And the great part about it is you’re going to do like that one week or two. Here’s that point. We’re going to share information. You’re going to say, “Okay, here’s the logins,” share them through a secure site. You know, that sort of thing. Here’s what we should be up to speed. We should have our meetings down. And then through the next couple weeks you should be working on what it is that you want this person to be impactful for. If you just have this list of, “Gosh, I have like eight things they could work on,” you’re not going to be really satisfied with that. Really pick where you want to be at the end of 12 weeks and work backwards.

Melissa Smith: And then the benefit to this is you’re also going to say, “Okay, these are the things that I think might derail me. This is what good looks like. This is my rich goal and this is what I would consider a failure, if we didn’t hit this, if we didn’t get this done by the end of 12 weeks, I would not be happy with that.” And once you know that, it’s much easier not only to manage the process, but it’s also manage the VA. So if you don’t hit those timelines, then you know exactly where to manage. Like why did this not happen? How did this fall through? And at the same time, if you’re ahead of schedule, it gives you something to be really excited about.

John Jantsch: Want to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo helps you build meaningful customer relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers. And this allows you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages. There’s powerful segmentation, email autoresponders that are ready to go. Great reporting. You want to learn a little bit about the secret to building customer relationships? They’ve got a really fun series called Klaviyo’s Beyond Black Friday. It’s a docu series, a lot of fun, quick lessons. Just head on over to klaviyo.com/Beyond BF, Beyond Black Friday.

John Jantsch: This kind of fits into that same vein. How much expectations should there be that this person’s going to just wait for me to tell them what to do versus they’re going to come back and say, “Hey, here’s a better way to do it.”

Melissa Smith: This is a hot topic. And the difference between a real assistant, any type of assistant, whether it’s AI or human, is the ability to anticipate your needs. If they can’t anticipate your needs, then it’s not a real assistant. That is a task-taker. That’s someone that you’re going to be delegating to. I’m not a fan of delegation. Delegation is work. Some people are really good at it. So if you’re good with delegating and just giving people tasks, then by all means, that’s a different kind of person.

Melissa Smith: But if you’re looking for a true virtual assistant, that person is going to be able to anticipate your needs. And they will start picking up the clues. They’ll start looking at your calendar. They’ll start seeing patterns the same way that AI will, right? And that’s how we do things.

Melissa Smith: My clients, even though I matched them with virtual assistants and I train other virtual assistants, I anticipate what they need before they need it and even hiring. Because I know I can see down the road because I’ve done this before. And the more clients I work with, the more clients I can see. And then I start to anticipate new things and I start to see new trends and I start to anticipate those and I ask the right questions and see if it’s applicable to them. But the idea that you’re going to be just waiting on someone, or someone’s going to be waiting on you to give them work, that’s just more work.

John Jantsch: So I heard you mention 12 weeks. Is that a realistic goal to think somebody’s, and maybe you just used that as an example, but is that a realistic goal to think yeah, we should be on track to get up to sort of full speed by then?

Melissa Smith: Absolutely. In many cases it can be done before that. I use 12 weeks because it’s really easy to break down. And it accounts for holidays. It accounts for vacations. It accounts for illness. But if none of those things are happening, you can easily get something done and get your VA onboarded before that time and reach your goal.

John Jantsch: So I’ll ask this in two separate questions. I was just going to ask a two-part question, but I’ll ask in separate questions. When am I ready to hire? How does somebody know that they need to get somebody?

Melissa Smith: The best time to hire a VA is before you need one. And this is the perfect time to get all those little details about how working with you is going to go, what value you want your clients to receive, how you like to communicate. It’s a really good time to get that rhythm down while it’s not an emergency situation, while you’re not already working against a deadline.

Melissa Smith: And then now, this person can come up and you can really just start using them maybe five hours a month, 10 hours a month. And then when you start getting more up to speed and you’re really starting to ramp up your business, now you have someone who can already be with you and already know everything so that you can take part of opportunities.

Melissa Smith: Part of the biggest thing that I see when people don’t hire a VA before they need one is opportunity lost. They’re just not at a place to get up that landing page, to get out an e-book, to say, “Oh yes, I can go speak at that event because someone is taking care of this thing over here for me.” Or just even feel like they’re looking professional enough to have those things in place.

John Jantsch: So the second part of this then is, is there an exercise you run people through to help them understand, “Okay, how do I know I’m going to get the value based on the cost?”

Melissa Smith: So you start with your budget, right? Working with the VA is an investment, it can’t be an emotional decision. So you start with your budget and you say, let’s just talk about a really low budget. We’ll have a $200 budget for the month. What do I need that I could have a virtual assistant do for me for $200? How could this change? And maybe that is getting some things that are evergreen in place, like that FAQ that your clients are always asking you for and you’re sending out the same email over and over again, or that video editing where you could now create seven clips from and have social media content for three months. Something that was really going to save you time and you know exactly how you’re going to use it, where it’s going. It really is a budget of not only your money but also your time and how it’s going to be used in the future.

Melissa Smith: So if I think about a vacation and I think about how I’m going to use that money, how much money I’m going to save to go on vacation and how it’s going to be spent and what I’m going to get out of it. A VA is the same thing. I got to know, is this an ongoing thing? Is it just going to be like a monthly thing that I can do? How can I get the most out of it? What is it going to be tangible for me? And once you know that, it creates a whole world of opportunities for you. And now you know, “Okay, now I’m going to get this client, this client will pay for three months of this kind of work and now I can hire a VA for the next three months for sure.” And then it just starts to snowball from there.

John Jantsch: Yeah. I think there’s a key component of that is know what your time’s worth.

Melissa Smith: Absolutely.

John Jantsch: Because one of the justifications is it could just allow you to do more high pay off work. And so, that could certainly turn around and pay for itself so that you get out of doing the work that that VA could do for you. So, in terms of finding, there are lots of marketplaces now, I would suggest that to some degree the Association VAs is a bit of a market place. Upwork is a market place. There are companies, staffing companies, now that are placing people in virtual roles. And then obviously there’s that independent person that you might find on LinkedIn or Facebook or something. What’s the best process that you have found for starting the search?

Melissa Smith: The best process is to make sure it’s a transparent process. It’s part of the reason why I created the Association of VAs because I just didn’t find that there was enough transparency. And the biggest question clients have when they work with me is, “Where do I find the right VA?” Yet, ironically, virtual assistants have the same question, “Where do I find the right clients?” And I thought why aren’t these two people meeting? They’re looking in search of each other. But they just were not meeting up. And you just have to go where that other person is. Right.

Melissa Smith: If I want to have a cup of coffee, I’m going to go to Starbucks. It’s just that simple. And so if I’m thinking, “I’m on LinkedIn, I like to work on LinkedIn, my clients are on LinkedIn. I would expect a VA that I hire to also be on LinkedIn and I would search for them there.”

Melissa Smith: If I want to create more of a presence on Instagram, I’m like, “Gosh, I’m not really comfortable on Instagram, but it’s definitely a popular platform. I’m missing out by not being there.” I’m going to go get on Instagram and I’m going to find a VA on Instagram and I’m going to look through all their stuff and I’m going to look through all their past videos and their photos and I’m going to find someone that says, “This person is consistent. This person knows what they’re talking about when they speak and they write. That’s something I would say, I think they’re professional. I think they could represent me well.”.

Melissa Smith: But knowing that and then really writing out a job description that makes people want to work with you and then sharing it with your colleagues and your friends and showing them what good looks like for you.

Melissa Smith: Because simply saying, “I need a VA,” and sharing it with your colleagues and your friends. There’s no shortage of people that are working with the VA [inaudible 00:21:32], “Oh I know somebody,” but someone else’s VA may not be the right one for you. This happens all the time. They’re like, “Gosh, this person worked with them and maybe I’m just not right for a VA because I didn’t get the same results as they did,” but they might be using their VA for something completely different than you need.

Melissa Smith: So really saying, “This is what good looks like. This is what I would really want in my VA. If anyone knows anyone send them my way.” And that’s a great way to do it as well. But looking on the platforms where you want to be, where you expect that person to be, and then checking up on their profiles and making sure that they’re responsive. If I reach out to a VA on LinkedIn and she doesn’t get back to me for two weeks, clearly this is not a good fit.

John Jantsch: Well, I tell you, over the years, I’ve learned this the hard way. In some cases that, when working with anybody virtually the more information I can give them, be the designer or a writer or, that if I take the extra 10 minutes to really thoroughly explain what I want, I always get it. And if I don’t do that and I try to just kind of rush through something, then it’s hit or miss, and I think that that take that extra 10 minutes and you’re going to get 100% better results.

Melissa Smith: Absolutely. And then there are some steps that you can’t skip after you think you found the right person. And that is getting those references, checking references and doing a background check. Don’t ever go with your gut. I mean, I would love to say that it’s 100% right all the time, but I’ve been doing this for awhile and I always do the reference checks. I always do the background checks. And it is just another layer of peace of mind. And you would be surprised what people will share with you both good and bad about this person you’re about to hire. It might give you that extra nudge.

Melissa Smith: It’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited now I can really get started with them because they had such stellar references.” Or they might just say a little something and you know, just say, “You know what, you really have to give her permission to give feedback to you.” That’s also a really good piece of advice so you know that going in.

John Jantsch: I just think everybody, I just like everybody and trust everybody. So that advice is something I need to hear too. So Melissa, where can people find out more about the Association of VAs as well as your work?

Melissa Smith: Sure. You can go to associationofvas.com, of course we’re on LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram. You can also reach out to me at Melissa@associationofvas, thepva.com. I’m on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter. However easy it is for you to communicate. Feel free to do that, and I promise to get back to you.

John Jantsch: Well, thanks for joining us, Melissa, and hopefully we’ll run into you someday out there on the road.

Melissa Smith: Thank you for the opportunity.

Transcript of Putting Social Media Myths to the Test

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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Opteo. That’s O-P-T-E-O, dot com, slash ducttape. And if you go to that link, you’re going to find out how you can get a six week extended trial of this Google Ads optimization software.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Scott Ayres. He is a content scientist at AgoraPulse, and he’s also a contributor to the Social Media Lab at AgoraPulse, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So Scott, thanks for joining me.

Scott Ayres: Hey, appreciate you having me on. I’ve listened and followed you for, well, over a decade now probably. So it’s great to get to talk to you for the first time ever. Yeah.

John Jantsch: Well, I’ve been a fan of what you guys are doing there at the lab. I think everybody really likes to see … Experts like me can pontificate about stuff all day long, but I think people like to see results, don’t they?

Scott Ayres:  Yeah. I was part of the problem for a very long time. I was telling somebody other day, for eight, nine years I’ve blogged and written about social media, but it was usually that opinion type stuff. “Here’s what I think should work,” or the top five things to post to Instagram. But there’s no data behind it. It was just off the top of your head. And so I think we, as experts, have unfortunately fed that too much. So I love that we’re running these long form experiments and really just testing weird little things to see if they really work or not.

John Jantsch: Well, and I think the right answer to a lot of people’s questions is, “Who knows?” I mean, because, I get asked all the time, “How often should I blog? How length should a blog post be?” And really, my best consultant answer is it depends. And I think that that’s probably what the data is actually proving out to be. So explain an experiment. I mean, how do you pick it? What does it look like? What do you hope to gain? Just kind of go through the process of an experiment that you perform.

Scott Ayres: Yeah. So basically what we do is we actually do follow as close as we can the scientific method. You remember that ninth grade biology. So what we do is we kind of go out there and see what people are talking about or see what people have posed questions to us. “Hey, what is this? Can you do this?” Or, “Is this better than that?” And then we looked through what everybody said and see if we can test it first, because there’s some things we just simply can’t test. If someone comes to me and says, “What content works best for the 50 and over crowd?” Well, unless I have a bunch of pages and accounts targeted towards that demographic, I really can’t test it because the product may not fit them.

Scott Ayres: And then we then we form some hypothesis based on all of that research that we’ve done from experts, if we can find anything. A lot of times I’ll find stuff, it’s just opinions. There’s no data on it. And then we go through the process. We do the hypothesis. We start the test and run it. Typically, most of our tests are going to run from anywhere from 10 to 30 days, just depending on what it is that we’re testing. Paid ads tend to be about 10 to 14 days, just based on the ads typically. And then we pull the data and I spend an enormous amount of time in spreadsheets because I’m the type where even though I can go to tools, even like Agora Pulse or whatever else out there and pull data, I like to go straight to the source just to make sure that everything’s legit and it’s 100%, nobody can question what the data says.

Scott Ayres: So we take all that data and then try to draw a conclusion on it. And what we do is we use a a thing called a statistical significance calculator, which is a phrase I couldn’t say two and a half years ago because it’s like a tongue twister. But basically what that does is you put all the numbers into this formula and it puts out what’s called a P value. And if the P value’s at least 95% or higher, it means you have at least 95 to 100% certainty that if I run this test again or if you, John, ran this test, you should get the same results. And as far as the data science geeks are concerned, 95% is the minimum, where you and I probably would have said, “Hey, 50% is pretty darn good,” but we had to have that 95% before we can say, “Yes, this is statistically significant.”

Scott Ayres: And a lot of times we find out, like you were saying in the beginning, sometimes we found out it didn’t really matter. So if one of them was easier to do than the other, you might as well do that, or if you prefer it better, you might as well do that. And so sometimes we come up and our results just don’t show us anything. What it does show is that, hey, that effort that took you 30 hours a week is a lot. You shouldn’t do that when you can do 10 hours a week. So that’s kind of how we go through the process in a quick nutshell there.

John Jantsch: Yeah. I kind of live by the motto that 50% of the time, 90% of the statistics are made up to prove the results that you want, right?

Scott Ayres: Right, right.

John Jantsch: So how do you, though, account, and I know that the calculator and the P score is trying to say, “Yeah, plus or minus so much,” but how do you in social media account for … There’s so many variables that come into play in a lot of the experience. On a Tuesday in Texas, if the wind’s blowing, Facebook’s going to show something else.

Scott Ayres: Yeah. I mean, we try to do our best anyway, and sometimes we just simply can’t. And we’ve gotten better as we get older here, but we try to do it across a couple of different accounts depending on whatever it is that we’re testing.

John Jantsch: Well, I got to stop you. You said you’re getting better as you get older?

Scott Ayres: Well, as the lab gets older, and I’m getting older too. I’m in my 40s now, so I’m a little less stubborn. I’m getting more stubborn actually probably, but I’m actually learning, which is hard for you when you’re a guy in your 40s. But yeah. So I mean, what we’re trying to do now is we try to test across multiple accounts and multiple industries, because if you just test, the bad thing about a lot of us in social media marketing … You can probably attest to this … We say, “Hey, go do this.” Say back when Periscope started. I started a Periscope account and got 10,000 followers watching it. Well, you have 100,000 followers. Yeah, sure. You probably did get 10,000 people to watch it. But Bob’s Shoe Shack has 10 Twitter followers, no one’s going to watch his Periscope.

Scott Ayres: So I think in the social media marketing world, we’re guilty of that too much, just kind of pontificating what worked really well for us we assume will work well for everybody else and it doesn’t. So I like testing on small business accounts and local accounts. Right now on Instagram, I’ve got like eight or nine accounts I’ve been working on for months that are just, they’re entertainment pages, if you will. They’re about animals or about cars, motorcycles, fitness industry, that sort of stuff. But they’re all different niches that are very targeted to getting their followers and being engaged. That way, now I can test on them and kind of get an average across the board. That really helps, because what would happen a lot of times is you have two accounts in the same niche and you tested on it. Well, it just may work for that niche. It may not work for the other one.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And I think that’s the caveat with all of this. What you’re in some ways doing I think is providing people maybe a shortcut but they’ve still got to do their own testing, don’t they?

Scott Ayres: Well, yeah. I think everybody should always test no matter what it is. A lot of stuff we put out there just kind of gives you a guide. This did work. You go try it and see. If you’re someone out there who has a business and you’re just listening 100% of what somebody says and doing it and never testing, then you don’t know. You may be missing out on something that could have been working for you just because you read the blog on it. So I think you should always test stuff and change up what you’re posting constantly because like you said earlier, social media changes so quickly that on Tuesday, the wind blowing across here in Texas, the algorithm changes. And so you’ve got to constantly move around. But I do think our goal is just to kind of help you, if you’re starting out at square one, maybe we can help you get to square two or three a little bit faster. That’s really our main goal.

John Jantsch: So let’s talk about a couple of the experiments and you can expand on it, but I’ll start by kind of what you were trying to test. So one of the more recent ones and a lot of people in Facebook, they’ve given you lots of options. Now you can have a video carousel image ad, a single image ad. So you were trying to get trial signups and you were testing the carousel. The hypothesis was the carousel ad will outperform the single image ad and generate more free trial signups. And I guess it’s worth noting that you were hypothesizing a result. You weren’t just saying, “Let’s test these two things.” You were actually suggesting that you thought a carousel ad would outperform a single image ad, and I would be behind that. What’d you find out?

Scott Ayres: Well, we initially did an experiment we had done by a guy named Charlie Lawrence. Give Charlie a shout out. He’s the guy over in the UK. Love Charlie the death. Sometimes we have guest bloggers do stuff for us, which is kind of fun, because they have a different set of accounts than we have. And so it’s always nice. We’re doing a test right now with a couple of other companies. I won’t name them here just in case you have competing sponsors. But we love when we get other people to get on there.

Scott Ayres: So Charlie ran this experiment trying to see if you can get trials over to Agora Pulse. And in the end, he didn’t really find out much. It was almost a wash. The clicks on, let’s say the free trial [inaudible 00:09:19]. Let’s look at that number because that was the one we focused on. The carousel ad format got 51 free trials. The single ad image got 50 free trials, so basically the same. We spent the same exact amount of money on it. The reach was almost identical. The link clicks were almost identical. And so what I found on the end is neither one of them generated more signups. Neither one of them outperformed better than the other one.

Scott Ayres: So kind of what that tells me and tells us is, while it might look a little bit better to have the multiple carousels, you don’t necessarily need to do it and take the time to do it, because there’s a lot of people who don’t have that option. Maybe they don’t have enough images to do it, especially I’m thinking about a small business or something didn’t have it set up. So in our case, it doesn’t matter if we did it either way. Now, the caveat there, we did it on one account and we just did it to our free trial signup. So obviously, you’ve got to know that when you’re reading this and it may not apply to you if you’re trying to get foot traffic into your store or something like that.

John Jantsch: Well, and just to put out another shout out for testing, I mean, you theoretically could have changed out that single image and maybe it would have bombed or you could have changed so many variables.

Scott Ayres: I know, especially on the paid ads. I’m doing a lot of our paid ads right now. I just started doing them a lot for the lab now and the stuff you can do, I will say the cool thing in Facebook ads manager that I’m just in love with is the ability to AB test in the ads without having to … It used to be, remember, you had to run two separate ads your own and set them up? Now it’s just like, “Boom, I want to test two different images,” and now you can just test two different images. I’m in love with ads manager right now because of that.

John Jantsch: To the same audience. That’s what was always a killer. You had to create separate audiences and everything. So even then you created your own variables.

Scott Ayres: Yeah, and then the ads were running at different times. The worst thing you can do when you’re running an ad experiment is accidentally let it go to a different placement than the other one. I just set up one here recently testing an image that was our graphic from our blog to drive traffic versus a graphic with me. We’re on a podcast so you can’t see us, but normally I’ll wear this big orange wig and a lab coat when I’m in our live show, we’re doing presentations. So the other one is that image of me with my hands up in there or something like that. So I’m going to be kind of curious to see if people click based on an actual photo versus the typical featured animated image we use for our blog. But it took like two seconds to set it up in ads manager and we were done.

John Jantsch: One thing that I’ve learned over the years is there’s a lot of times where … I mean, it just makes me hooked on testing. There’s so many times where I’ll go, “Well, look at this image. It’s awesome. It’s going to kick butt.” Never does. I’m always wrong. And so there’s no accounting for taste.

Scott Ayres: Yeah, I think that’s true. And it’s times, it’s what’s going on in the world on that day that you tested. There’s so many variables that pop in and you may post something that … like our guys had tested for Agora Pulse, and this wasn’t part of the lab, but they were testing images of people versus this goofy animated bear jumping out of the bushes, and the stupid bear outperformed the regular image. It didn’t make any sense. We’re like, “This shouldn’t work,” but people were signing up for free trials like crazy with it. So they use it all over the place. Just, hey, why not? If people are going to sign up, might as well.

John Jantsch: Well, I see a lot of people actually advocate that idea of all you’re really trying to do with the image is get somebody to stop.

Scott Ayres: Yeah, stop the thumb. You got to stop the thumb.

John Jantsch: Yeah. So that could be what’s going on there as much as anything.

Scott Ayres: Right, true.

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John Jantsch: So I’ll give you a chance to do a little shout out for AgoraPulse. How does AgoraPulse, the tool itself help you in some of this? If I’m a person saying, “Yeah, I need to do more testing,” how could AgoraPulse play a role in that?

Scott Ayres: Of course, we have a lot of different things our tool does, but for one, at the basic level, it schedules your content, which is nice when you’re doing testing, especially across multiple accounts. I’m running tests on 8 to 10 Instagram accounts. I could never do that inside Instagram. I’d have to be logging in and out all the time. So at the minimum, at least we’ll do that. But from there, it’s getting the reports, it’s getting all the engagement numbers that are right inside the app. It’s managing all your comments, especially ad comments. That’s real important. If you’re running ads, you can’t really manage those on Facebook. It’s impossible basically. But we handle that.

Scott Ayres: So right now, we’ve got an ad running that’s getting a lot of interaction. It’s about one of our lab posts, actually. It’s getting some disagreements on my data, which I’m all for the discussion, and so I’m having to make sure I keep up with that ad comments and I do it right inside of AgoraPulse where I don’t have to wait for a Facebook notification and be like a day late on that response. It’s all right inside there. But you can have team members, you can have all different kinds of things in the app. So our app really, for me, I only use it for myself and for our accounts, but if you have team members or you’re an agency, it’s one of the best tools you can have. And I used it before I worked for AgoraPulse. I was paying for it before I came onboard. So now I don’t have to, luckily.

John Jantsch: So there’s a special breed of animal that comments on Facebook ads, it appears.

Scott Ayres: At times, yeah, at times. You don’t get a lot of positive yeahs. You get a lot of this negative stuff on ads, it seems like.

John Jantsch: Well, I get stuff sometimes that I’m like, “I don’t even know what you’re asking or saying.” It’s like-

Scott Ayres: Well yeah, you get the weird troll type stuff, or, “Hey, come join the Illuminati,” or something like that.

John Jantsch: All right, let’s talk about another one. Posting content on social media, one of the hot topics, and you specifically went to LinkedIn, but one of the hot topics is, do you get more engagement with long stuff, short stuff? I think when people are just, “Hey, here’s my latest blog post,” you’re probably not getting much engagement but you tested thousands of words of basically a blog post on LinkedIn. So what did you find out? Long versus short for engagement?

Scott Ayres: Yeah, this was an interesting test that Melonie Dodaro, who’s kind of known for her LinkedIn marketing abilities, she was seeing an interesting trend on her text only updates. And so we did a test with her first and found out that our text only updates on the different accounts that we tested got like a thousand percent more views and engagement. It was ridiculous.

Scott Ayres: And so then we said, “Okay, let’s take it a step further. Let’s see if long versus short works better.” And what we do on most of these … I’ve done one on Facebook, I’ve done one on Twitter, I’m actually about the publish one in a few days that’ll be on Instagram character link, we kind of give an old hat tip to Twitter, the 140 characters, under 140 being short, over 140 being long, just to kind of make it easy to kind of look at. But we tested across, we did three different accounts. We did Agora Pulse’s account, did my own personal account on LinkedIn, so you have that mix of a personal account with about 9,000 connections when we did it. And then I used a small local business. Actually, I’m sitting in their office. I run an office from a recruiting firm in the construction industry, so very niche, and we tested on their LinkedIn account.

Scott Ayres: We did like 14 short posts, 14 long posts and did it over a two week period. And then what I always wanted to do is just average all those numbers together and kind of see which one did better on it. And so basically when we get done … I’m scrolling down and looking here on my other screen here … What we found the short text only updates on LinkedIn got about 13.85% higher views compared to posts that were over 140 characters long, so almost 14% more views. In marketing, that’s a pretty good amount. It’s not statistically significant in our little nerdy calculator, but it’s enough for me that made me go, “Okay, maybe long is not always better on LinkedIn. Maybe people want to have conversations.”

Scott Ayres: And if you think about LinkedIn, LinkedIn’s become cool again, last year, too. Everybody’s flocking back to it. I’ve been on LinkedIn longer than any other social site out there other than MySpace, which I guess nobody uses anymore. And LinkedIn, they tend to be in your industry. So whatever industry you’re in, they tend to be in that and they love to talk about subject matter around that. So if you’re doing short updates that kind of spur on conversation, it makes sense that people want to talk about it. So if you’re a realtor and you say, “Hey, what’s your best tip on an open house?” Well, all your realtor connections are going to want to add in their two cents on it. But if you write a long blog post on LinkedIn, while they might read it, they’re less likely to take the time to engage with it. You remember back 10 years ago, people comment on blogs like crazy. Now they don’t. So I think it’s the same on social. People don’t comment as much.

John Jantsch: So how do you feel about the LinkedIn algorithm? I mean, obviously all of the social networks, particularly Facebook, have kind of made it so that it doesn’t matter what kind of following you have. Nobody’s seeing your organic stuff. So do you feel like LinkedIn’s still a little bit wide open in that regard?

Scott Ayres: I thought it was. I mean, I think it still is, but I think so many people have flocked to it and people are getting too many connections. For me, for example, I was looking at mine today. I get about 20 or 30 connection requests every day and I’m one of those guys who just accepts all of them, because whatnot. But now my feed is miserable. I’m looking at, I’m going, “This is way too much. I can’t take it in.” And so I think there’s a balance you’ve got to figure out as a business or as a person. But as the business side of it, you’ve got to stand out, whether that’s now the hashtags you can use on there, which is something worth testing and looking into. I think the shorter updates of live video is coming around for LinkedIn. I think it’ll end up being just like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter where the majority of your followers aren’t going to see it unless they go to you or they’ve got you in a list or you’re active in a group or something like that.

John Jantsch: So I’ve invented a drinking game for LinkedIn, and so it goes like this, that when people give me a connection request, I look through my connection requests for the day and I bet on the ones that are going to reach out to me and try to sell me something within 24 hours. And you have to take a drink every time they do.

Scott Ayres: Oh, I would have taken about 30 shots today alone, because I logged in earlier. I’m looking at them right now. I’ve got like five or six just, “Hey, wanting to connect and see how are you doing,” and there’s some link in there. There’s a Bit.ly link. That’s the problem with LinkedIn, I think. I wish they figured that out where … I think there’s a setting. Judy Fox probably would know. You could go in and turn off the ability for people to send you these random messages. On LinkedIn, the one thing I hate the most is the anniversary, happy anniversary of your job or your birthday, because you get 9,000 connections, you’re going to get a lot of them. I can’t get to the stuff that I might actually want to get to.

John Jantsch: All right. So any huge surprises. Over the time you’ve been doing this, did you just get blown away by how definitive something was that you didn’t think was?

Scott Ayres: Probably the one that’s gotten us the most traction and is the one right now that’s getting us the most … I was talking about people commenting on ads. We’re running an ad right now to an experiment we did on Instagram that is it better to put the hashtags in the original post versus putting it in the first comment, because a lot of people for years have been teaching, “Put it in the first comment, put it in the first comment.” And up until recently, there was no tools, legitimate tools, anyway, that would do that. There are a few now they’ll do the first comment and Instagram’s allowing it for whatever reason.

Scott Ayres: And so we tested that because my theory was, my hypothesis was that you would have a higher reach if you put it in the original post because I’m not a fan of stuffing it into the comments because to me it just looks a little … I don’t know. I just don’t like the look of it. It looks a little spammy. It’s like you’re trying to get around everything. So we tested across three different accounts, our Agora Pulse account, my personal account, which is set up as a business account. At the time when I ran this test, I actually had a local bounce house business, you know, right now, bounce houses and water slides and stuff. A fun little business. I loved it to death. Did it for about five years. I sold it to my brother recently. I got tired of being out in the heat in Texas.

Scott Ayres: So what we found was pretty interesting, was when we put the hashtags in the original post, so whenever you schedule it or post it, you put it in the original post, it had 29% higher reach than if you stuffed it into the first comment. That’s a lot. It’s a big difference. And if I can get 5% more reach on Instagram organically, I’m going to do that. 29% says a lot there. Granted, it was three accounts. I’ll probably go back and test this across some more accounts just to kind of see if it changes anything. But what that tells me [inaudible] a lot of our friends in the industry have said, and I actually got a couple of not so nice messages on this one, because a lot of people are teaching this and they’ve taught their followers this for a long time, “Stuff it in the first comment. Put it in the first comment.”

Scott Ayres: But what it tells me is Instagram has gotten smart to that, for one. Any time marketers come up with something and it kind of gets around the algorithm, what happens? They always change the algorithm. And so the hash tags aren’t for your followers. They’re for people who are going to discover you and find you. So you want to get it out there as fast as you can. If you don’t get it out there right at the beginning or if you put it down in that comment, your likelihood of being in the explore feed is decreasing obviously because it’s timestamped. So that was probably one of the ones that’s got us the most engagement, the people disagreeing with us. But I challenge that. I’m like, “Okay, go test it and tell me what you see.”

John Jantsch: And I think you bring up one really good point. If you do a test and let’s say we go back to our original Facebook one and the carousel ads are just slamming the single images, it’s like, “Yeah,” well, everybody’s going to go that direction. And then guess what? A year later, nobody wants to do carousel ads because everybody’s doing them. I’m sure that some of your experiments, you could go back and retest a year later and because of whatever variables, you’ll get completely different results.

Scott Ayres: Yeah. And that’s just the name of the game in social media. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, LinkedIn, I mean, they are businesses who are out to make money. And so, I mean, they’re going to make sure that for one, that they create a need for you to run ads. Let’s just be honest, and so organically when the marketers have figured out a way to get around the algorithm, they’re always going to adjust. It’s not like they don’t know.

Scott Ayres: If you remember back years ago on Facebook, there was that whole thing with, there was a lot of clickbaiting. You put an image of a baby up and then you had some funny description, but the link would be to something else, to a landing page or a quiz game or something like that. Facebook got smart to that, and what’d they do? They diminished the reach of those sort of posts that had a link with the photo. And so they are always going to figure this stuff out when you do that. Now, I guess a year later, they’ll come around it and might change that. So it’s a constant thing you’ve got to test.

Scott Ayres: But for me on this one, if I’m going to get at least 5 to 10% more reach by just putting it in the first comment, I’m going to put it in the first comment … I mean, in the original post, excuse me … even if that means you do the whole white space thing. You make it where it goes to the read more on Instagram and then you kind of put it below that where no one in the feed sees it, but it still shows up in the explore tab. Even if you do that, at least, at least get it out there when you schedule it and post it and don’t waste your time.

John Jantsch: It’s funny. I’ve seen a few people doing that in LinkedIn now where they’re just making their comment as big as possible and then putting a link in it so that it takes over the entire thing.

Scott Ayres: Well, there’s a lot of people right now, I’ve had people actually come to me and say, “Hey, I want to test putting the link in the first comment on Instagram,” I mean, on LinkedIn, because they’re seeing better results from it. And so maybe there is a little trick, but again, that’ll change as soon as LinkedIn figures it out.

John Jantsch: So Scott, where can people find out more about the Social Media Lab and AgoraPulse?

Scott Ayres: Yeah. Our little room in the house on AgoraPulse is agorapulse.com/socialmedialab. You can find us everywhere on all the social media sites. We’re @AgoraPulseLab. That’s a brand new social media account we’ve created here recently on all of them. So the follower count’s low on them, but we decided to finally get our own accounts here in the last couple of months. So AgoraPulseLab, you’ll find us everywhere, or you can search Social Media Lab on podcasts, wherever you listen to podcasts.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, thanks Scott. I love Social Media Lab. A lot of fun there and appreciate you stopping by, and hopefully we’ll run into you soon someday down the road.

Scott Ayres: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me on, John. I really appreciate it.

Transcript of Why Customer Service Must Come from the Heart

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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Gusto, modern, easy payroll benefits for small businesses across the country. And because you’re a listener, you get three months free when you run your first payroll. Find out at gusto.com/tape.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jeanne Bliss. She pioneered the role of Chief Customer Officer, even wrote a book with that title and she’s held the first ever Chief Customer Officer job for over 20 years at places like Lands’ End, Microsoft, Caldwell Banker and Allstate. And she’s also written a newish book called Would You Do That to Your Mother? The make mom proud standard for how to treat your customers. So Jeannie, welcome back, I guess it is.

Jeanne Bliss: Yeah. Hey John. So good to hear your voice.

John Jantsch: I guess let’s just cut to the chase. How would your company act if every customer were your mom?

Jeanne Bliss: Right? It’s interesting. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say, “Well, you know, why didn’t you make it be about fathers?” I said, “This is an analogy for people who you admire, who help to mold you into what you are so that you go back and have a simple guide wire,” right? No matter who you are, if you’re the CEO of the organization, are you going to charge extra for pillows or, you know, all of these things? If you’re in the middle of the organization, are you going to make a spaghetti bowl of complexity so hard? And if you’re on the front line, even if you have to say no, maybe you would say it the way you’d say it to your mother when you were a teenager, but hopefully we’re all through that dark tunnel and we wouldn’t talk to our mom that way anymore. You know? So it’s just meant to be simple.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I think, as you said, I think everybody, regardless of the relationship they had with their mother, I think universally people understand the concept of what you’re basically, I mean, let’s take mom out of it, you’re just saying what if it was somebody you loved, is that how you would treat them?

Jeanne Bliss: That’s right. And it’s interesting because it brings me full circle. To me it’s a conscience question. When I was at Lands’ End a million years ago and we were growing 80% a year and bringing in all kinds of new people who weren’t acclimated to our very special culture, Gary made me the conscience of the company and said, “Look, you need to help us steer our decision making because there’s good people coming in who are making decisions guided by legacy vertical practices or business as usual practices, and that’s not who we are.” And so it’s a conscience question, a very simple conscience question that anybody can embrace.

John Jantsch: Yeah. I think it runs very deeply to culture. The fact that a lot of CEOs outgrow the ability to kind of keep their eye on that, especially when they become public companies and things, but even somebody that gets 20, 30, 40 employees, they start … I mean, that’s an important part of their job, but they start losing the ability to do that. The Lands’ End example that you just gave, that was a conscious decision to make sure that somebody was focused on that. Is that really what we have to do as companies, it has to be somebody’s job?

Jeanne Bliss: I think that as you’re trying to simplify the complex, at least for a period of time, we’re finding that a CCO, CXO, whoever, or group of people, you need to think comprehensively across the organization. However, there then needs to be enough clarity of purpose that when people go back to their own corners of the world, there’s something that unites them. And that’s why this book also is broken into very practical dimensions. What I wanted people to feel, John, when they were reading this, is their own life as a customer. So it’s written as you as a customer so that you can feel and go, “Oh man, I know how that is. Why would I do that to anybody else?”

John Jantsch: Do you find that they’re, what’s the right word, certain sort of character traits that come into play here that makes somebody better at recognizing this across an organization? I mean, you can simply say, “Oh, be a good person,” which obviously makes sense, but what are the traits that we’re trying to hire for and train for?

Jeanne Bliss: This is also, I think it’s important to note, not just about the front line, it’s also about the decision making for how you’ll operate. I call it building your non negotiables, your code of conduct, but we can talk about that in a minute. The very first chapter is about enabling your people to thrive, meaning letting them live with congruence of heart, how they were raised in habit, what you’re encouraging and rewarding them to do at work. And there’s a whole set of foundational things that have to occur. You have to find a way to hire people so you’re hiring the human, not the resume, and a lot of organizations are now turning that into the combination of art and science. There’s people who are beautiful, beautiful practitioners at this, but there’s also companies who have figured it out.

Jeanne Bliss: For example, [inaudible] Service in Tennessee, they’re hiring teenagers to flip burgers, make hot dogs, et cetera, but they ask a psychometric survey in the beginning, which is things like, “In general, I feel pretty good about myself. When I meet people, I trust them right away. I raise my voice when I’m uncomfortable.” And so what I think is powerful about that is they get to know the human and then their senior leadership all spends 20% of their time per week, not coaching them on how to make hamburgers, but coaching them on their human instincts, and how to be a better person, and how to behave in a good way in terms of coaching their humanity. And I think that’s part of what’s missing. We’re focusing on survey scores and things instead of coaching and guiding and enabling people to rise instead of saying, “Oh, you took too long on that call,” or whatever it is.

Jeanne Bliss: The other part of it is getting rid of rules that get in people’s way. When we turn our people into policy cops, John, they’re defending rules they don’t necessarily believe in and every time they have to defend a rule to an angry customer, guess what? Their spirit diminishes too. So in that first chapter, which is called Be the Person I Raised You to Be, mom-isms, there’s the eight specific actions that are common to the most admired companies because of the way their employees sound, feel, act when they interact with them.

John Jantsch: You know, on that policy thing, and sometimes I get a little passive aggressive and I don’t mean to, but if I-

Jeanne Bliss:  Well, we know too much when we interact with companies, right John? So we know kind of the inner workings.

John Jantsch: And so you will encounter somebody and they’ll say, “Well that’s the way it is. That’s our policy,” And I sometimes go, “Does that make sense to you?” If you were a customer?” And boy, to your point, you can just see them go, “Well, no, but [inaudible 00:07:28].”

Jeanne Bliss: They’re wincing. And here’s the other thing that’s silly about that is okay, you and I and most customers know now, if you don’t like it, you escalate. Okay. The minute you escalate, we’ve now cost the company more money, or you play service roulette, which I do all the time. You hang up and dial back in and hope for somebody who’s been there long enough to navigate it and do the work around. And so now we’ve diminished the spirit of the first person and we’ve cost the company more money. And in each of these cases it could have been avoided if we enabled our people, and that’s in there, to extend grace.

Jeanne Bliss:  Alaska Airlines for example, has something they call We Trust You toolkit, which is an app with options. Their CEO says, “Look, we trust you. You’re in the moment. Engage with the customer, make the call, and then choose from the option that’s right. It could be miles, a bottle of champagne, a night at a hotel. Make it right. Don’t ask for permission.” But that takes a lot of work upfront, right John? To identify those 10 to 15 things, evaluate and understand what you can let people do, and then trust them to do it.

John Jantsch: One of the things I find in a lot of organizations, and this can be big and small, is that I think people underestimate how much everybody has impact on the customer’s experience.

Jeanne Bliss: That’s right.

John Jantsch: And so you’ve got all this training for the frontline people and then the leaders are back in the conference room talking about what idiots the customers are.

Jeanne Bliss: That’s right.

John Jantsch: And I think that people really underestimate that that has impact.

Jeanne Bliss: And that’s a big part of this Chief Customer Officer role. One of the things that people often don’t realize when they take the role, and there’s a whole chapter on that in my latest CCO book, is a big part of your job is to unite the C-suite. Not only in understanding the customer, but in language and in their sentiment. So much of what we have to do is get them out in the field talking to customers, being human. If you’re going to talk about something that’s not working, give them homework to try to download that thing or sign up for an account the week before. Yesterday in my podcast, I interviewed the chief customer officer of TGI Friday’s. It was fascinating because when they began, every C-suite member had to go to restaurants and sit in booths and talk to customers. And I’m telling you what, you get more religion from that then presenting 50 million pounds of survey results.

John Jantsch: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You present a lot of great case studies, you just shared one that you’re continually working on. Did you have a couple of favorites that you wanted to share, mainly as they relate to the impact that this change that maybe somebody may have had?

Jeanne Bliss: There’s a couple that really made me giggle when I saw them. There’s almost a hundred companies highlighted in the book and 32 specific case studies. One that I was just so fascinated by was Virgin Hotels that … And it’s all about the nickel and diming, how many of us haven’t winced when we’ve cracked open a bottle of Coke in the middle of the night and we know we’re going to be so mad when we get that $7 bill on our thing. And so they deliberately … And this is in the last chapter called Take the High Road where to your point, it’s all about leadership bravery, I call it. Raul Leal considers Wifi a right, not a revenue stream. They also don’t charge to deliver your meal. They haven’t factored in all those add-on costs as part of their revenue and so they’re never going to be tempted when going gets rough. Instead they’re going to earn the right to grow through service, not these add on fees.

Jeanne Bliss: And what had me giggling was, you know, you do so much searching on the internet as you’re writing these things, you know that, they have this thing called street pricing, meaning they have a little red old fashioned refrigerator in every room. And on the top of it is the chips and the Cokes in it and stuff. And their leaders, their managers, go out in the field with the clipboard and find out how much all that stuff costs at your corner market and that’s what they will charge you.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and that’s great because you’re right. That nickel and diming, particularly for people that travel a lot-

Jeanne Bliss: Yes sir.

John Jantsch: I can’t tell you the impact that the fact that I get two free bottles of water has. That costs them-

Jeanne Bliss: Oh yeah.

John Jantsch: What do you think it costs them, 69 cents to make me happy?

Jeanne Bliss: Maybe. Maybe. I hired a cartoonist and the cartoon for this one is, so the bottle was $7 and the caption says, “Only 30 times more expensive than gasoline, which needs to be located, drilled, refined, and delivered in tanker trucks.” And yeah, everybody knows how much Costco water costs, for example. It’s very, very powerful, and I think what’s important about all of this is all of these things impact your employees because they’re watching going, “Okay, this is the kind of company we are,” and it hardens your people over time because guess what? They’ve got to defend that too. And don’t you hate the ones where, especially like in Vegas, if you move the water, you’re charged $7 for it?

John Jantsch: Yeah, there is an element of sort of criminalizing customer activity isn’t there?

Jeanne Bliss: Yeah, yeah. I was in Vegas the other week for a speech and there was a coffee machine in the room, which was unusual, but then what wrecked it was there was a coffee cup and shrink wrapped inside the coffee cup was the pod with a $7 sticker on top of it.

John Jantsch: Of course, they have a little different objective than you having a nice day.

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Jeanne Bliss: The other one I thought was fascinating, which has become a darling of retail when other companies are failing, is Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix, for people who don’t know, is a delivery service. Think of it as Netflix for clothes and they’ve … Everybody’s talking AI, AI, AI, but this part of the book is about building what I call a respect delivery machine. Meaning, you know me and know who I am, is one of the foundational things we all would like to have as a customer but don’t often receive. So they’ve blended really specific practices for getting to know who you are, including asking you for your Pinterest pins, then they’ll gather AI information to collect other people’s behaviors common to yours, but then they have 4,000 stylists who then take all this and customize it and personalize it to you and learn from you.

Jeanne Bliss: Let’s say they send you six items and you return four. Every time you return something, they’re sharpening their saw on the dossier they have on you, personalizing and understanding you, and they do other things. My girlfriend Mindy was going through breast cancer. She’s fine now, but she said to her stylist, “I need comfy clothes for the next few months.” She got a box of comfy clothes and then a bouquet of flowers from her stylist. And it’s that humanity, but blending the high tech and high touch. 100% of what they sell is from recommendations. Now compare that to Amazon, for example, which is about 37%. They’ve grown to exceed $730 million in six years or more, where other retailers, we know what’s happening to other retailers.

John Jantsch: Yeah, yeah, that’s not a business I’d want. I wouldn’t want to have a bunch of real estate with the doors on them and merchandise in them right now.

Jeanne Bliss: Yeah, and there’s a lot of other ones throughout it. I worked really hard to not make these be just the big bang companies, but other industries and smaller companies and so much of this behavior, John, doesn’t cost anything. It’s an attitude shift and focusing and being deliberate and recalibrating what you do.

John Jantsch: Okay. That’s all lovely. But you know-

Jeanne Bliss: Okay, what?

John Jantsch: I know some of my listeners are out there saying, “Yeah, but how do I start to operationalize this?”

Jeanne Bliss: Throughout every case study, there is an action plan for you. Inside each one, it walks you through what they did, you have a mom lens to evaluate how you’re doing, and then there’s an audit at the back where you can audit where you are and prioritize and start taking action. It is a complete tool kit. It’s a five step toolkit. Each chapter is broken into the four key areas of business we need to improve. Number one, are you taking care of your employees? Number two, chapter two, are you making it easy or difficult for your customers? Number three, are you growing because you’re building and rebuilding your operation around customers’ goals? And number four, what bad business habits have seeped into your business that you should deliberately choose to get rid of? Every single one of those drives your growth engine. You don’t have to do all of them. You should just do the audit, pick three, and begin.

John Jantsch: One of my favorite things of visiting the website that you set up for this book, which I’m going to ask you to share, but you’ve got all these stories of moms and people submitting their moms, some very old pictures in cases, and kind of talking about this movement. Have you moved the dial with this movement, do you feel?

Jeanne Bliss: It’s interesting. People really are gravitating to it and being very personally connected to it, but what we know is … And I think it’s giving people hope and driving action. What we know though is we need to get leaders really personally engaged in this work and it’s happening. A lot of the CX work is not happening as fast as we’d like because it’s being assigned to someone in the organization instead of the leadership team saying, “We own this, this is our responsibility.” And I think inside of companies, until that happens, they won’t transform to the level that they need to.

John Jantsch: And it’s like everything too, especially if you’ve got to change some things, it requires an investment that sometimes is hard to drop to the bottom line immediately.

Jeanne Bliss: Right. But what this book is doing is letting people take personal ownership. We’re having huge impact with call centers and frontline driven organizations. And then some very large organizations I’m working with are using it because it shorthands it, right John? You don’t have to solve everything, but it simplifies the 32 things in your business, which you should have a magnifying glass to. And that’s really what I wanted to do.

John Jantsch: So what’s the one thing that would guarantee this will fail?

Jeanne Bliss: Making it be about red, yellow, and green dots and project plans instead of really understanding there’s a human at the end of your decision and embedding a regular cadence for understanding [inaudible 00:18:54]. This is not about those project plans. It’s about you deliberately choosing how you will grow and how you won’t.

John Jantsch: I think what trips a lot of people up is, they read a book like this and they think, “Yeah, this’ll help us,” but the bottom line is you actually have to care about the customer [inaudible 00:19:13].

Jeanne Bliss: It’s work. That’s right. I got a review on Amazon from my Chief Customer Officer 2.0 book, which took me 35 years to be able … I wrote one in 2006 and then rewrote it in ’15 because the world had changed so much, and there’s so much that you have to do, and they said, “Oh yeah, just everything I already knew.” Like really? Bless them.

John Jantsch: I was going to say that’s probably true. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated. Yeah, I knew that already. But are you doing it, right?

Jeanne Bliss: Well, yeah, and here’s 32 things. It’s like anything else, the harder you work, the luckier you get, and I think people don’t do the work.

John Jantsch: Jeanne, where can people find out more about, obviously, Would You Do That to Your Mother, but also any of your work?

Jeanne Bliss: Sure. My main website is customerbliss.com and the other website is Make Mom Proud.

John Jantsch: You had to go look that one up almost, didn’t you?

Jeanne Bliss: Well, I couldn’t remember if it was dot org or whatever because somebody owned …

John Jantsch: Oh yeah. [inaudible 00:20:17].

Jeanne Bliss: Somebody owned dot com.

John Jantsch: We got to lock those down before we name our books now, right?

Jeanne Bliss: Oh, I know. I really tried … Oh, it’s Make Mom Proud with dashes between it. That’s what I ended up doing because there was a little theater company who owned, Make Mom Proud and I called him and talked to him and he was like, “No,” and for good reason, he had built it for his mother who had passed away, so I couldn’t really fight with him for that one.

John Jantsch: Jeanne, it was a great visiting with you again and hopefully we’ll run into you there soon out there on the road.

Jeanne Bliss: Good to talk to you. Would love to see you again. Okay. Thanks everybody.

Transcript of How Ultralearning Helps You Master New Skills

Transcript of How Ultralearning Helps You Master New Skills written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Scott Young. He is a learner and we’re going to find out more about what that means, but he’s also the author of a book called, Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart your Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. Scott, thanks for joining us.

Scott Young: Yeah, thanks for having me here.

John Jantsch: Let’s get your definition of ultralearning since that’s the name of the book.

Scott Young: Yeah, so ultralearning is this approach to aggressive self-directed learning and it really started from finding these people that just had these incredible stories. I document some of them in my book. People like Erick Barone who spent five years mastering all the skills of video game development to release a bestselling title or people like Nigel Richards who won the French world scrabble championship, even though he doesn’t speak French. They started by finding these really incredible examples of stories. I found that there was a general sort of approach to this and what it was is people who take self-directed aggressive learning products. Self-directed in this case means that it is initiated and driven by the person who’s doing the project so you’re learning something that you care about as opposed to the way that we think about traditional education where you just sit passively in a classroom. Then aggressive in this case has different manifestations, but the main way I want to think about it is that these people are focused on doing what works to learn even though that sometimes can be a little bit more difficult at first.

John Jantsch: We’ll break down aggressive, that’s a relative term but you shared. I saw you speaking at one of my favorite conferences in the world. I’ll give a shout out to World Domination Summit in Portland. You shared a story about how you embarked on your own kind of first ultralearning project. Maybe share that to give people a sense of the scope of what we’re talking about?

Scott Young: Yeah, the way that I kind of, and as I talked about in my speech that you heard is that I got into this by first uncovering one of the alternatives that I talk about who is Benny Lewis. He has a website which has become quite popular called Fluent in 3 Months where he takes on these projects to travel to a new country and tries to learn a language in as little as three months. I found about this about 10 years ago when I was living in France trying to learn French. It wasn’t going super well. I was struggling. Most of the people around me spoke to me in English and I was having difficulties learning French. It was uncovering his kind of philosophy towards learning where he was taking on these ambitious projects, but also going to somewhat unusual lengths to learn things.

Scott Young: This actually resulted in several years after that experience of trying to learn French actually went with a friend to do our own version of that project, which we called The Year Without English, where we went to four different countries, Spain, Brazil, China, and South Korea to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Chinese, and Korean. The method that we used was what we called the no English rule. When we landed in those countries, we only spoken the language we were trying to learn. The funny thing as I talked about in my speech that I gave is that when I say this to people, people are like, oh my God, that sounds crazy. Like, there’s no way I could do something like that. The funny thing I found is that because it was more effective, it was actually a lot easier than the approach that I’d taken in France.

Scott Young: This is what I wrote the book about is trying to show people these alternative approaches to learning hard skills and show that even though they can sometimes be a little bit more tricky right at the beginning, by using an effective method, you get so much better so much more quickly that you avoid a lot of the frustrations and pitfalls that normal learners face when they’re trying to learn things like languages, but also career skills, programming, all sorts of things.

John Jantsch: Well, and in fact, you also shared a story that you accomplished what was the amount or equivalent of an MIT computer programming degree in two years. I may have got that wrong, but essentially you also showed a giant pile of books. I think a lot of people hear stuff like this and they think, oh, ultra learning, it’s a hack to do it faster, but it’s still a heck of a lot of work, right?

Scott Young: Yeah. The way I’ve been trying to explain ultralearning is that, so there’s no secret, there’s no like, okay, well those are just some kind of weird trick that no one’s ever heard of before to learn things. I mean, there are lots of tools that are underused, so there’s a lot of little specific things that we could talk about that your learners could use to apply or your listeners could use to apply to learn better. I think the way that I think about ultralearning, and this is a recurring theme, and this is why I picked that word aggressive, is that very often something that is initially a little bit scarier or a little bit more frustrating is actually much more effective. The reason that a lot of these approaches are less common is because people won’t do the thing that actually works really well because it sounds like too much but if they were to actually do it, if they were actually pushed to do that or forced to do that, they would find it’s actually easier than they think.

Scott Young: They would actually learn a lot more effectively. There’s even some interesting research relating to this. One of the principles I talk in the book I call retrieval. Retrieval is this scientific idea that if you try to recall things actively from your memory so you don’t have the book open, you just try to close the book and try to recall it, you’ll remember a lot more when the test comes than if you just read notes or read things over and over again. One of the things that was interesting is that they took participants in this study and found that weaker performing students, so students who weren’t doing as well, they wanted to keep reviewing. They’re not ready to do practice testing, they aren’t ready to do this retrieval.

Scott Young: If someone forced them to do retrieval so that they weren’t allowed to do that review, they actually scored better on the test. This repeats a theme in the book and a theme that I try to say in my message that ultralearning isn’t magic. It’s not a secret. The reason that it works is because very often people are not aware that there’s these differences in how you learn things. Sometimes the more difficult, or I would say more initially difficult method is actually much more effective. If you can push yourself to do it, you’ll actually get better results.

John Jantsch: I think most people’s experience with learning goes back to the typical school curriculum book type of learning. I’ve heard you say that ultralearning gets you to the fun part of learning faster. What part is that exactly?

Scott Young: Well, I mean, when we start learning a new skill, there’s often feelings of inadequacy, fear of comparison with other people. Even I’m not immune to this. I recently started learning salsa dancing. I got two left feet. I’m not a very smooth dancer in any way. I remembered going in the beginning of the intro classes and I’m screwing up really basic stuff. I’m not keeping to the rhythm. I remember feeling bad. I’m feeling like, why am I doing this? Why am I putting in this effort when it just feels bad? I think this is what scares a lot of people off from taking on learning projects, learning to speak Spanish when they’ve always wanted to learn Spanish, or learning guitar lessons, or learning to program, or getting better at public speaking, or whatever matters to you. A lot of times it’s this feeling that you get in the beginning of learning where you feel inadequate that makes you reluctant to do this. What ultralearning is often about is about how do you get over those sort of, you kind of blow through those initial phases so you can get to the part where you’re like, oh actually I’m not bad at this.

Scott Young: As soon as you’re not bad at something, learning becomes fun because it is something you’re competent in. For learning a language for instance, when you start speaking Spanish, it feels awful because your ability is really low and people are, you know, “What? What did you say? I don’t understand.” You’re having a bunch of difficulties, but once you can have some minor conversations or you have some interactions where that person understood what you said and now it feels good, now you feel like, “Oh, this is impressive. I have this ability.” For me, ultralearning is often about like, how do you take something that does feel a little bit daunting and you compose it into some steps so you can get through that difficult, frustrating part so that learning stops becoming this chore and becomes this fun activity so that you just enjoy doing it.

John Jantsch: There’s so many people that give the advice of, you know, for people looking for a career or starting a business, “You should do something you love.” I think a lot of what you’re saying is you’ll love something you get good at. If you get good at it faster, that might be a way to actually make a career choice.

Scott Young: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely it’s the case that for a lot of people I think the things that we love are just the things that by happenstance we happen to get good at. For me, this book is not really just a book about learning but a book about finding more things that you love because when you’re good at more things, you love more things. For a lot of people they’ll say things to themselves like, oh, I hate math. Well you hate math because you were bad at math or because it was challenging or because you felt like, “Well, I worked really hard and I only got a B on that exam.” If you were really good at math, if people constantly gave you feedback about how smart and how clever you are, I mean there are people who are like this. I mean, they’re not the majority but they love math. It’s the same thing with lots of skills. I’m not saying you have to learn math, but if you understand the learning process, understand what you need to do to get good at skills, you can love all sorts of things even if you feel like you’re bad at them right now.

John Jantsch: You brought out the, and I’ll use your Canadian process word, is there a specific process for ultralearning?

Scott Young: Yeah, the way I broke down the book was into nine principles. The reason I focused on principles is because in many ways what I’m trying to do is to get people away from the ways of thinking about learning that have held them back in the past. One of those things that I think that has held people back in the past is that there’s one right way to do everything and then you try it. If it doesn’t work for you, then the problem is you. The right way to think of it is that there are many, many, many different ways to learn the thing that you care about as long as you are paying attention to what are the principles of learning. There’s often very different ways you can go about things and still get to the same result.

Scott Young: The first principle and really the starting point for any learning project is what I call metalearning. Metalearning is just a fancy term. Meta usually means when something’s about itself. Metalearning means learning about learning. In this case, what that means is that if you’re going to learn a new skill or subject, it often pays dividends to spend about an hour or two online doing some research of how do other people learn this skill? What are the pitfalls they have? What are the things that people struggle with? What are the resources they use? As you go through this, you’ll find lots of different options because pretty much any popular skill has many, many tutorials online, many different perspectives on the right way to learn it. You can use that as a starting point. Then of course, the other principles that I have.

Scott Young: There’s eight more principles in the book, it can also provide guidance so you can help choose methods that not only suit you and your schedule and your lifestyle and your personality, but also fit within the overall principles of learning so that you will make sure that you don’t get derailed and you don’t spend six or seven months working on something only to find that it didn’t get you the results that you wanted.

John Jantsch: Want to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo helps you build meaningful customer relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers. This allows you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages. There’s powerful segmentation, email autoresponders that are ready to go, great reporting. You want to learn a little bit about the secret to building customer relationships. They’ve got a really fun series called Klaviyo’s Beyond Black Friday. It’s a docu series, a lot of fun, quick lessons. Just head on over to klaviyo.com/beyondbf, Beyond Black Friday.

John Jantsch: Here’s a question that I’m sure you probably get occasionally. I mean, aren’t there some people just smarter than other people? I mean, they’re going to learn something that’s more complex than others or is that really just a limiting belief?

Scott Young: Well, I will say this, I do believe that there are different people who have different talents. That even within individuals, we have things that we’re good at, that we’re bad at. Some of that is related to experience. One of the things I talk about in my book is that very often what people misconstrue as being innate talent is actually a difference in prior experience. For me, for instance, I felt really crappy in my French class 10 years ago because I was near the bottom of the class. It was only after talking to people for a while that I realized, oh actually these people have studied French for longer than I have. In the beginning, my negative feelings were thinking, well, I’m just not as good at this but really it was that they had more experience. Similarly, I think a lot of us can often go into let’s say a computer programming class and not realize that the wiz kid who seems to be so smart is actually been doing it since he was five and that’s why he’s so good at the class and why you’re struggling. That would be the first thing I would say.

Scott Young: The second thing I would say is that yes, there are differences in talent. I think that that should also make you not feel bad if you feel like you’re going slower than someone else. If you’re learning something that’s taking a little bit longer, that’s perfectly fine. However, there are large differences that you can get from using the right method. Often I find that what happens to us is that the things that we feel we are good at are usually the things that just sort of by chance we ended up using a really effective approach for learning it and so we think of ourselves as being really good at it, but it was really more just, you unwittingly use these principles of learning.

Scott Young: I wanted to lay them out in the book so that you can see something that you’ve tried in the past and maybe struggled with and see yourself, “I was doing this and that’s why it was so hard for me.” That’s what I want to do with this book is not to deny that there’s any differences between people and everyone’s equally talented. Because if you look around the world, that seems to not be the case, but definitely that the potential you have and the amount that you can get better and especially on things that you have not done well in the past is much larger I think than most people believe.

John Jantsch: You have large swaths of this book talking about career advancement. Would you say that this is, if you want to advance your career, adding things that you can do, being able to speak another language. Your company is global and so now you have an option to work over here and you can program computer languages now and things. I mean, would you say that that, I mean, it just makes sense as a way to advance your resume if you will.

Scott Young: Absolutely. The way when I was doing the research in the book, one of the things that came up was this phenomenon known as skill polarization. We all know that income inequality is rising. I mean this is what every news report tells us, that the rich get richer. If you actually dig into this, and this was done by the economist, MIT economist David Autor, you find that there’s actually two different things going on. What’s happening is that the incomes are being stretched out at the top of the distribution and they’re being compressed at the bottom. The right way to view this I think is to imagine that the middle class lifestyle that we’ve all kind of been culturally conditioned is sort of our birthright, that’s what’s disappearing. That’s what’s getting squeezed into the bottom or spread out at the top.

Scott Young: Part of the reason for this is that computers and automation and technology are coming and they eliminate jobs and while they create new jobs in their wake, a lot of those new jobs are more complicated. At the same time, tuition is getting much more expensive. Going back to college or even if they do teach things at college, they often don’t, going back to school is often not the most responsible option just because the cost is so high. For me in writing this book, I realized that learning in this way or learning skills, this is not just a frivolous thing just for learning a language or guitar, but really a process for getting really good at anything you care about. Whether that thing is again, learning a new computer programming language, getting really good with Excel, learning public speaking, getting good at marketing, getting good at communication, getting good at leadership, these are all skills.

Scott Young: These are all things that you get better at them by learning, not necessarily learning through a book or a textbook. I’ll talk about in ultralearning that often the way that we think about learning that way is wrong. But it’s definitely something that I would approach differently. I think if you can view your career in this light, that your success in your career depends at you being good at things I think that that obviously fits into this picture of ultralearning.

John Jantsch: I will give you your opportunity to be polarizing yourself here. Is college just not cutting it?

Scott Young: Well, I will say this because this is one of the things as well. A lot of people when I wrote this book were saying, “Are you going to say that this is the alternative university?” In some ways it isn’t, not because college is often super great but because there are certain professions or certain career paths where having a degree is necessary. I mean, if I’m going to become a lawyer, I can’t just ultralearn law and then go practice it. I mean, people are going to expect me to have a degree and it’s actually not even legal to practice a lot of professions without college education. The right way to think about it is that a lot of what we are expected to know and be able to perform in our jobs and in our careers is not going to be something taught in school. For many of us, what you actually do on your day to day job is very unrelated to the thing that you actually learned in school.

Scott Young: Where do you learn to get good at that? You learn it by doing, working on the job and by doing projects like these. Then also, I think in many ways college is not cutting it because it is kind of becoming increasingly divorced from the actual realities of the workplace. In many cases there are these issues of transfers. One of the most extensively studied problems in the educational psychology literature is this problem of transfer. That you teach things to a student in a classroom and they just can’t apply it to very obvious situations in real life. Often that’s the way we teach and often that’s just sort of a symptom of the education system in general but that’s definitely a big problem if you spend four years in school and all of that knowledge that you learned is useless when it actually comes to doing the job.

John Jantsch: All right, I want to start my own ultralearning project and of course I’m going to go buy Ultralearning by Scott Young when it comes out. How would I go about getting started? How do you advise people to start an ultralearning project?

Scott Young: As I said, the starting point is always this metalearning. It’s always trying to figure out what are the possible default or starting points for learning things.

John Jantsch: Let me back up a little before that. How do we decide even what to learn?

Scott Young: Okay, good question. There’s two reasons you might want to learn something. The first is an intrinsic project. This could be like, I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish or I’ve always wanted to know how to program computers, or I’ve always wanted to be able to play the guitar, give beautiful speeches, or what have you. If you’re starting with an intrinsic project that’s just sort of what inspires you and often that’s how these projects come about is that they become useful skills, but they start from a different point. The other way that you can start a project is that you actually want to do something. I think this is very relevant because learning is really about bridging the gap between what you can do right now and what you could do if you were able to acquire new skills. Often what it is is not, well I want to do some learning project, but I would like to change careers, or I would like to write a book, or I would like to become a presenter, or I would like to do something that is outside of my realm of ability right now.

Scott Young: When you’re doing that, the next thing to do is to say, well how would I be able to do that? Often it can be a project to do that thing or to get better at it. If you want to get better at writing a book, you might start with a project of writing a book, but that’s usually the starting point of, okay, well I’m going to try to write this book. How do I get good at the skills involved in writing? You might develop some things around practicing, some things around trying to improve your writing ability, of identifying components that you’re going to work on in practice. There is some nuance to that, but definitely I think that’s a useful way to think about it is that a lot of the things that you want to accomplish that you don’t feel like you can right now, think of those as learning projects rather than just, well yeah, I don’t know how to do that. I can’t do that. Right?

John Jantsch: Scott, where can people find out more? Of course, the book will be out everywhere that books are sold in August of 2019 depending on when you’re listening to this, but where can people find out more about you and your work with Ultralearning?

Scott Young: Absolutely. You can go to my website at scotthyoung.com, that’s S-C-O-T-T-H-Y-O-U-N-G.com. I have over 1,300 articles that have written there over the last 13 years on all sorts of subjects including learning. Of course they can check out the book. If you just Google Ultralearning or you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s or wherever you get your books from, you can find the Ultralearning book. You know what? If anyone who is listening now ends up getting the book and applying it to learning a skill that they care about, I would love to hear about it so please send me an email if you get a chance.

John Jantsch:  You’re collecting ultralearning success stories, aren’t you?

Scott Young: I would love that. Yeah.

John Jantsch: Maybe I’ll come up with one of mine. I’m not sure I can fit much more in my brain, but maybe I’ll come up with one and I’ll be one of your case study. Scott, great visiting with you and hopefully I’ll run into you in beautiful Vancouver someday.

Scott Young: Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

Transcript of Overcoming Objections in Sales

Transcript of Overcoming Objections in Sales written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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Break Through the Noise book cover

John Jantsch:  Today’s episode is brought to you by Break Through The Noise, the new book by Tim Staples, Co-Founder and CEO of Shareability. In his book Tim reveals his secret sauce for how to capture the attention of millions of people online, without spending millions of dollars.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jeb Blount. He is a sales acceleration specialist, founder of Sales Gravy and the author of a couple books, Fanatical Prospecting, I think we had him on here for, and then also, the book we’re going to talk about today, Objections: The Ultimate Guide for Mastering the Art and Science of Getting Past No. So Jeb, welcome back.

Jeb Blount: Oh, thank you. I’m glad to be back on. I appreciate you having me on.

John Jantsch: So, objection seems like a pretty specific part of the sales process. So let’s start out there. Why a book just on that aspect?

Jeb Blount: Well, if you think about most sales books, there’s a little part in the very back of every sales book on objections. There are very few books that have been written on objections and even in training that we deliver and that corporations deliver to their people, objections kind of take a back seat. But, when we think about objections and what objections are, you’re dealing with objections all the way through the entire sales process.

Jeb Blount: From the moment that you get someone on the telephone and you’re prospecting, they may tell you, they don’t have time for a meeting to throwing out red herrings in the middle of your sales process that take you off track, to micro-commitment objections. Getting them to advance to a next step. Then finally, buying and selection commitment objections.

Jeb Blount: So, no matter what you do, no matter what you sell, no matter how you sell it, there’s a great democracy in objections and objections are everywhere in the sales process, but we just haven’t addressed it. What I realized is that when I was dealing with entrepreneurs and I was dealing with people in marketing and I was dealing with people in sales and even dealing with people in nonprofit, almost all the questions that they ask about me is, “What do I do when someone tells me no?”

Jeb Blount: That’s why I made the decision to write this book and to really break down the science of objections, the science of why they hurt so much and why do buyers give us rejections. Then creating frameworks that allow people, in the moment, to deal with those objections, get past them and keep their deals advancing.

John Jantsch: Yeah, because for a lot of people, objection is really rejection. I mean, they don’t get past the early on stages and that’s where people give up. I think a lot of what you’re saying is, you got to expect this stuff and you got to look for it and you have to overcome it, maybe multiple times. I think that’s probably the part that makes… I don’t know how to say this the right way. That’s the part that makes people not like selling so much, but it’s also… Isn’t it the part that people get really good at it, enjoy the most?

Jeb Blount: Yeah, I think you’re right. So, persistence is a virtue, especially in sales and in business. I opened the book with the story about a guy that called me 71 times and ended up selling me a software program that changed my business. It changed the trajectory of our company. It helped us grow very fast and if he hadn’t been so persistent, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. So, he really helped me out.

Jeb Blount: I tell the story in the book where I called Fujifilm, was a client that I was looking to do business with. I called them over 50 times until they finally met with me. Which I think is what people miss in this, is when I showed up, they had their head of sales in the meeting and the head of sales was trying to hire me to come work for their company because he was so impressed with my persistence.

Jeb Blount: So, when we’re talking about persistence, in a lot of cases, we’re talking about the objections that you get really early on. Which are the harshest objections and they can be rejection that you get. So, when you call someone up asking for time, you’re interrupting their day and you’re asking for the one thing they don’t have any of and that is time. Those particular objections are the things that, I think make people run from sales the most.

Jeb Blount: Those aren’t the only objections you get, but those are certainly the harshest objections. The thing about objections is that they aren’t necessarily rejection. Sometimes they are, especially when you’re prospecting. But our brains treat an objection like it’s a rejection because we perceive it to be that way. In the worst cases, we anticipate that we’re going to get rejected. So we never even make the call or make the approach because we start worrying about what’s going to happen when someone tells us no.

Jeb Blount: In the book itself, what we really deal with is that feeling that you get of rejection, whether it’s anticipated, whether it’s real or whether it is perceived. That feeling that you have is much more biological than psychological. So, it’s important to be aware of where it comes from, so that in the moment, you can rise above the emotion that you feel and choose your response. That by the way, is the real key of getting past the objection and getting to what you want.

John Jantsch: Well, and I’m going to guess, I could be wrong, but that person that called you 71 times believed in the value that you could receive and that’s what kept them coming back. Am I way off base there?

Jeb Blount: Absolutely. Well, I think two things. One, he had absolute conviction in the quality of the product that he was selling and he was right about that. It is a high quality software and also, he had done a really good job of targeting. So, he had done a very good job of deciding which companies were the best fit for that product and my company Sales Gravy, we’re a fairly well-known sell training company. We work across the globe. We have a high profile. So, one of the things for him was, if I can get Sales Gravy to buy this, then I can get a lot of other training companies to buy this because I can tell them that Sales Gravy’s my client. I knew that was part of what he was doing and he was up front about that. About what an important prospect we were to him.

Jeb Blount: So, when you have the right prospect, where you know that what you’re selling is a fit and you know that you really help them, then that gives you that emotional reason to keep facing the fact that you’re getting knocked down, knocked down, knocked down because That told him to go away a dozen times. It allows you to do that.

Jeb Blount: Thankfully, he had so much conviction in what he was selling that he didn’t stop and it’s made all the difference for us as an organization. I can tell you straight up, the software that he sold us has helped us double the size of our company three years in a row. That’s how powerful that was.

John Jantsch: So, let’s focus on the prospecting part, which a lot of that was what he was doing. For a lot of people, that’s the hardest part. I mean, 90% of people couldn’t get past that because it’s so easy. It’s like, “No, and I don’t have time for you.” Click. To the buyers defense a little bit, I mean, I get those calls all the time and I just don’t have the time to invest in determining a lot of times, as I suspect you did, that that software was a good fit. No matter, all the promises, it like, “Yeah, I get that five times a day. What if it doesn’t?” So, I can’t take the time. So, how do you get past the fact that a lot of people just see that as you interrupting?

Jeb Blount: Well, you are interrupting. I mean, it’s just the fact of the matter. You’re interrupting and you’re asking them for the one thing that they don’t have any of, and that is time. So, there’s a couple of things. One of the things that Richard did really well in this situation is that he built familiarity. So, the last time that he got me on the telephone, I knew who he was. I’d heard his voice. I’d seen dozens of emails. He stalked me on LinkedIn. He called me and left me voicemails.

Jeb Blount: When I finally had a moment, I was in the situation where I couldn’t say, “No, I’m not going to give you time.” Because honestly, as a human being, with some level of empathy, he had just earned the right to have the conversation. The second thing that he did was, he was able to change his message. Because he left me so many voicemails, I heard different messages. So, he built these little commercials for me along the way.

Jeb Blount: So for him, he did that. I mean, he got to the point where I knew who he was and he had earned the right and part of like you said, “Do I know whether or not this is really worth my time?” Part of that is that the salesperson keeps showing up over and over and over again. Because if you think about it, most sales people hit the no once and they never call back again and I see that everyday in corporate America. When we’re working with people, working with a sales person, the question they ask is, “How many times should I call?” The answer is, that they currently have is, “I call once, they tell me, no. I never call back again.”

Jeb Blount: A great example is, I was working with this small company up in New York City and they sold advertising into restaurants. So, I was out with their sales people on the street in New York City, cold calling restaurants. We’re walking door-to-door, walking in and interrupting the day of restaurant managers in New York City, the hardest place in the world to sell. When we walked in, they told us to go screw ourselves.

Jeb Blount: We got told no in about 60 different languages and then, we went back the next day and went back the next day and went back the next day and it took about five times of walking in and them seeing you before they would give you a second look. Then they would say, “Yeah, get out of here but come back tomorrow.” And you knew you had cracked them and then, you’d come in the sixth time and then, they would give you a few minutes. You go in the seventh time, you got a meeting because their filter for whether or not it’s worth their time to invest in you was basically predicated on, did you have the chops to keep showing up over and over and over again?

Jeb Blount: I did the same thing. I love salespeople it’s what I do for a living. But I tell salespeople to go away all the time and it’s the ones that keep at it that eventually will at least get in, or I will at least look at their message. If I look at their message and I determine it’s not right for me, I’ll be respectful enough to tell them why it’s not the right time or right for me, rather than just brushing them off with, “I don’t have time.”

John Jantsch: Yeah. So in a way, you’re asking them to invest in you, before you’ll invest in them and I think that’s a great way to look at it. So, we talked about the prospecting one. You mentioned red herrings and micro-commitments and the fourth one, kind of that buying commitment. So I guess maybe, just briefly state what those are and then, I’d love for you to talk about some tactics for kind of turning those around.

Jeb Blount: Sure, so red herring objections are really not… they’re not real objections. But typically, when we’re in these conversations, sales conversations, especially for entrepreneurs, we feel nervous. A lot of it is because we have everything on the line and we feel a little bit vulnerable. In those initial meetings, what will happen is, you’re having a conversation with someone and they’ll say, “Well listen, I can’t talk anymore until I know how much it costs.” Or, “I just want you to know I’m not buying today.” They’ll throw something like that out really early in the conversation and what happens is we end up chasing that and we burn all the time that we have with them, dealing with something that’s not really a price objection. It’s just what they say. They don’t really have anything else to say to you.

Jeb Blount: So, it’s important in those situations, that you acknowledge it. So, the way I acknowledge anytime I get a red herring, is just write it down on a piece of paper, ask them if there’s anything else. Then I moved directly into my conversation, which usually sounds like this. I’s say, “If it’d be okay with you, let me ask you a few questions about you and then, we can talk about what we do and you and I can determine from there, whether or not it makes sense for us to keep talking.”

Jeb Blount: So, I use this process where I just, I pause for just a moment, acknowledge it, write it down and then, I ignore it. Most of the time red herrings never, ever come back up again and sometimes they’re important. Write it down, come back to it later. But don’t allow a red herring to disrupt your conversation. Maintain control and keep the meeting moving the way you want it to move.

Jeb Blount: Micro-commitment objection is really simple. All of sales is a set of commitments. So prospecting is asking for time. Sales is asking for commitments and those commitments are small micro-commitments along the way. So, for example, if I’m selling something and the best way that I can determine what to sell you is to go walk through say, your warehouse or walk through your building or take a look at your data or spend a day in the life with one of your AR clerks, whatever the case may be. If I’m doing that, I want to ask for micro-commitment and the more micro-commitments I can get along the way, the more my buyer’s invested in the process. Which means it’s more likely that they’re going to see it through to an outcome and my opportunities not going to stall.

Jeb Blount: So, I’m constantly asking people for my micro-commitments at test engagement and make sure that we’re moving forward. But from time-to-time they’ll say, “No.” They’ll say, “I don’t understand why we need to go do a tour of my warehouse. I mean, it’s just a warehouse. Why can’t you just send me a quote?” Or, “I don’t know why we would need to do that.” Or, “Why don’t you just email me the proposal and then, I’ll call you and we can meet later versus setting up a meeting with you.”

Jeb Blount: The thing about micro-commitments is all you have to do is just explain the value. These are real, low-key objections. They’re not harsh. They’re rarely rejection. We get a little bit flustered, but all you have to do is explain the value. So if someone says, “Look, I don’t know why we need to do this.” I say, “Listen, the reason that this is important is because the way I work as an organization is that every solution that I build is custom to my client’s unique situations. Until I get to know you, it’s going to be impossible for me to put together a blueprint for how we would serve you. All I’m going to need is about 15 minutes of your time to go through this information. So how about Thursday at two?” Really simple. If you can give a good explanation, they will rarely tell you no.

Jeb Blount: Then finally, they’re buying commitment objections and buying commitment objections are just people’s… They’re concerned about making a mistake. It’s their fear of taking risks. It’s their attachment to the status quo. What I’m doing now, even though it’s not perfect, it’s probably going to be better than taking a risk of change.

Jeb Blount: With micro-commitment or with buying commitment objections, it’s really about building your case through discovery, making sure that you’ve done all your work along the way. You really understand what’s important to them, why they would do this and it’s relating to them as a human being. Making sure that you are clarifying exactly what they mean. So, if someone says, “Your price is too much.” My question’s always. “How so? Help me understand that.” Because sometimes, it’s maybe the startup cost but not the ongoing cost.

Jeb Blount: Then the key here is, with buying commitment objections is recognizing that buying commitment objections almost always come from a place of fear. It’s just natural for human beings. We’re adverse to risk and along… as we’ve gone through our lives, when we avoid risk, we have a tendency to stay alive, so it’s part of our makeup. So, you have to minimize their fear while maximizing the future outcomes, while showing them what they’re going to get. The best way to have the ammunition that you need in a buying commitment objection is to have done a good job in the sales process doing deep discovery and built a good business case.

John Jantsch: Just to let you know, this episode is brought to you by Break Through the Noise, the new book by Tim Staples. If you’re a marketer, an entrepreneur or a small business owner and you have a limited budget to market to and connect with your customers, you need break through the noise. Tim Staples shares the nine essential rules for mastering the art of online storytelling and provides tools to help you outsmart the social media algorithms, increase your share of voice and build your brand. Breakthrough the Noise by Tim Staples is on sale now, wherever books are sold.

John Jantsch: So you spend a good chunk of the book talking about asking as a skill and how and why. I think that’s a part that most sort of beginning salespeople miss, is that they want to show up and talk about their stuff and a lot of times, we’re not even giving the buyer a chance to object to anything because we want to talk about ourselves. So, how do we develop this habit of making sure that we’re asking plenty of questions before we start trying to sell anything.

Jeb Blount: Well, I think first of all, you’re exactly right. You’ve got to ask questions and do discovery. The easiest thing to remember is this, when you ask for the sale, if you haven’t asked questions to begin with, you’re going to be dealing with price. So, you’re going to go straight to the bottom, deal with price because that’s the only thing that differentiates you. When you ask great questions, when you get out of your own way, rather than just pitching and explaining and telling, when you do that and then you go, “You want to buy?” The only way they can buy from you is based on you lowering your price because you created no differentiation from your competitors. So that’s one part of asking.

Jeb Blount: One is asking questions. Open-ended questions, artful and strategic questions that provoke awareness in building your business case. The problem with salespeople, more often than not with asking, is they don’t ask for what they want. So for example, if I want to come do a tour of your facility, I have to ask for that. If I want to sell, I have to ask you to do business with me. If I want time, I have to ask you for time.

Jeb Blount: The problem is, is when we ask, it creates this deep sense of vulnerability. We ask with confidence that we want something, then the person could tell us, “No.” We begin anticipating that we’re going to get rejected and therefore we don’t ask at all. What we do is we sit and wait for the prospect to do the job for us. That they’re going to somehow come to their senses and close the deal or give us time or what have you and it just doesn’t work that way.

Jeb Blount: One of my favorite quotes from Jim Rome is that, “Asking is the beginning of receiving.” I mean, if we want a deal, we have to ask first. So, asking is the most important discipline in sale, asking for what you want. If you want to get something you have to ask for it. We start the book that way because when you ask, you are going to get told no. When you ask, you are going to get rejected. Those things are true and when you begin anticipating that or when you change your behavior because you don’t want to feel the pain of rejection, all of a sudden you stop asking or you ask in a way that is so passive and insecure, that you’re never going to get what you want.

Jeb Blount: So, what you need is first of all, to understand where that pain comes from so that you can be aware of it. Awareness is the mother of change. But, next you have to have a set of frameworks, so that when you ask and you get the objection, when it happens to you, that you can rise above the emotion. What I teach people when I’m working with them on objections is that the emotion that you feel about being rejected, because it’s not comfortable. Nobody likes to feel that way. That happens without your consent. You don’t get to choose the emotion. The only thing you can choose is how you respond to that, what you’re going to do next, how you rise above it.

Jeb Blount: One of the really simple mechanisms that we teach people is something called the ledge and it’s what neuroscientists call the magic quarter second. So, when you get someone telling you no, an objection, that happens at the… your response the emotional level and it kicks off something called fight or flight, which changes your physiology and it changes the way that you deal with it and it makes it really hard to think.

Jeb Blount: So the ledge, this magic quarter second, gives you just a moment to get your neocortex or your thinking, rational brain in executive control over your response. So, for example, if I asked you for time and you said, “Jeb, I’m too busy today.” My ledge in this situation would be, that’s exactly why I called because I figured you would be. I say that every single time. But just that simple moment of having something that I say and respond to, anytime someone says that to me. Someone says, “Your prices are too way too high.” I always say, “How so?”

Jeb Blount: But because I have that, it gives me a moment to think and if I can have that moment to think, I can get out of the emotional state that I’m in, that makes it difficult for me to respond and get back into a rational state that allows me to be in control of my emotions and therefore, deliver a response that helps me get past the objection.

Jeb Blount: The one thing that you must take to the bank and understand about your interactions with people in a sales conversation, is that the person in that conversation that exerts the greatest amount of emotional control is the person who has the highest probability of getting the outcome that they desire?

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I think it probably, also has a little bit of impact of disarming the sort of knee jerk reaction. Like, “I’m too busy. You’re priced too high.” I mean some of that’s just defense, isn’t it? If we aren’t prepared to sort of deflect that defense mechanism, we’re never going to get a chance to show the value we can bring.

Jeb Blount: Yeah. I think it’s probably, when… We think about that more, “Let’s focus on disrupting the pattern.” So, when someone says, “I’m too busy.” Typically, that’s just their… It’s a reflex response. That’s why I call them buyer scripts, right? So, it’s just what they say. So, if you say, “I’m too busy.” I’m going to say, “That’s exactly why I called, because I figured you would be.” There not expecting that. I mean, they’re not expecting a salesperson to say that. They’re expecting me to argue with them or to say, “What’s a better time to call you.” I just say, “That’s exactly why I called because I figured you would be and all I want to do is find a time that’s more convenient for you.” I say that every single time. It’s got about a 70% probability of getting the person to tell me yes.

Jeb Blount: So, in that particular case, I’ve got a stock response. I was just working with a rep who is selling into CFOs and he sells software that helps them reduce their SGNA costs and he was having a hard time dealing with it, when the CFO said, “I’m not interested.” Because they all say, “I’m not interested,” because they’re too busy. His response, the way that he broke that up, he said, “That’s exactly what I thought you’d say because every CFO I call tells me they’re not interested, before they learn that we can rapidly reduce their SGNA costs and give them the ability to invest that money in places that grow the business.”

Jeb Blount: The week before he was using that turn around, he got four meetings. The week that he started using the turnaround, he got 18 meetings. So, it was just breaking through that little bit of resistance and doing something that allowed him to rise above the emotion and then, disrupted the pattern of that CFO, “I’m not interested.” That moved them to a place where they were willing to meet with him and that’s when he began… could begin to make the case because you can’t make the case on a simple prospecting call. It’s moving fast. You interrupted their day. You need to get the meeting to have that conversation.

John Jantsch: All right, I’m going to end on one you can probably swat right out of the park. But I’m going to ask you this question because I’m sure that lots of listeners out there and lots of folks who come to you probably have this. So you have a story in there that yes has a number and you essentially say, “If you ask…” Like a lot of salespeople, you have to ask enough people in order to get to yes with somebody. But here’s my question, so you had the number in there 11. You asked people to sing, Mary Had a Little Lamb and you said, typically somewhere around 11… by the 11th person, you finally got somebody to do it. So, let me ask you this, does that mean though that 10 people were damaged along the way?

Jeb Blount: No. I mean, the story is, I was in New York City. I was more damaged than not because I was usually getting F you, when I asked the question. So, I was the one that was getting damaged. But most people answer… I asked them… They went on with their life. I mean, they may have at dinner said, “Hey, this crazy guy on the street asked me to sing, Mary Had a Little Lamb into a camera.” But more often than not, they just forget, they have no idea.

John Jantsch: Let me make sure I focus on that. You use that as an example. So let’s say, just in the cold calling environment is what I’m really asking. So yeah, you finally find somebody who will meet with you, but the 10 people… And I’m saying damaged, that’s harsh. But I mean, are the 10 people that you interrupted, had a bad experience?

Jeb Blount: Well, only if you’re a total schmuck. But other than that, no. A great example of this is, I was working with a group up in Atlanta and we were doing cold calls. I was working, we’re working with them doing cold calls. The fourth person I called was just the meanest, most awful human being. She was so ugly to me and I’ve made thousands of calls, but she really hurt my feelings. Then I was even thinking that this is Atlanta, Georgia. So usually, you get told no nicer than you do in New York City.

Jeb Blount: So, it was bothering me, but I couldn’t flinch, because I’m in front of a bunch of reps that I’m training how to do cold calls. So, I kept on going, but finally it was bothering me so bad, I went back to the top of the list and I called her back 30 minutes after I’d called her the first time. When she answered the phone, I did exactly the same thing that I’d done the first time. And she said, “Yeah, come on by on Wednesday.” She didn’t even remember that I called her. I don’t know what she was in the middle of. I don’t know what was going on, but that happened.

Jeb Blount: My son called me earlier this week and and said… he said, “You’re not going to believe this.” He said, “I talked to the CEO two weeks ago, who told me that to go away. I’m never going to do business with you and oh, by the way, I’m busy for the next six years. So, don’t ever call me back again.” He said, “I was sitting there and I was thinking about it. I’m like, I’m going to call the guy back.” So he said, “Two weeks later, I called him back.” He said, “I changed my message up just a little bit.” And he said, “I ended up getting the meeting.”

Jeb Blount: It’s like, that’s what happens to people all the time. Is that you get off the phone thinking that that person is still thinking about you but they’re not. It’s probably no different than, someone cuts you off in traffic and you drive on and you’re so pissed off at them and you’re thinking about them grinding your teeth and thinking about all the things you can do with retribution and meanwhile, that person is driving on. They haven’t given you a second thought. They’re just going on with their day. All you are is an inconvenient interruption and they forgot about you the minute that you got off the phone. Unless of course, I mean, if you’re just a total jerk on the phone with them, they may not forget you, but that’s just so weird for sales people to do that.

Jeb Blount: Usually, I try to get past an objection a couple of times. If I don’t, I hang up and I move on and I call them back a couple of days later. So you’re not going to cause any damage calling people, doing prospecting, having conversations. More often than not, you’re going to create respect because you’re willing to call back. Which, I think is essentially, what happened to my son when the CEO realized that this kid who’s 21 years old wasn’t willing to back down. That CEO had deeper respect for him and was willing to give him 20 minutes of his time.

John Jantsch: Jeb, where can people find out more about you and Sales Gravy and any of your books?

Jeb Blount: Absolutely. All my books, I’ve written 10 books, they’re on Amazon. So, you can grab those, Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Most bookstores, most airports you’ll find my books. Salesgravy.com is my flagship website. We have thousands and thousands and thousands of free resources there that you can grab. You can get my podcast, along with this one. Because this is the podcast Mark and I listen to every single week, but you can grab my podcasts on all the major podcast providers, Sales Gravy, G-R-A-V-Y, is the easiest way to pop that in. YouTube channel thousands are… Thousands, about four or 500 videos there, I think. Then, you can catch me on all the major social networks. I’m @salesgravy, wherever you go.

John Jantsch: Well, Jeb it was great catching up with you and hopefully, we’ll run into you there soon out on the road.

Jeb Blount: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

Transcript of Why Reviews Matter to Your Business

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John Jantsch:  Today’s episode is brought to you by Break Through The Noise, the new book by Tim Staples, Co-Founder and CEO of Shareability. In his book Tim reveals his secret sauce for how to capture the attention of millions of people online, without spending millions of dollars.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Aaron Weiche. He is the CEO of GatherUp, a review and customer feedback platform, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today, is getting reviews, customer experience feedback, all that good stuff that we need to do to understand who our buyers are, and what we do that’s unique. Aaron, thanks for joining me.

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, you bet. Thanks for having me on, John.

John Jantsch: Let’s just talk some basics. I mean, I assume everybody knows what reviews are, those things that Google, and Facebook, and things, people have been leaving for years, but now they’re on these digital platforms. Let’s talk about how important they are, that we kind of take over, or at least participate in that process.

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, two really big high level signals that I look at and put a lot of trust in is one, just what you see when you do a search at Google itself, and that I test is, whether I’m looking for a product, or a hotel, or a service, who’s going to take care of my lawn. Almost all of those results nowadays in some way, shape, form, or another are accompanied by review stars.

Aaron Weiche: We definitely see a very strong signal from the biggest window into the web through Google, that reputation really matters, and they are bringing it to the conversation right in that search result, very high, and very visible for a user to interact with. Then, the second is just around a lot of studies in the last handful of years that show overwhelmingly, to the tune of like 85% or more, that we trust online reviews as much as we trust talking to humans that we know. When you kind of combine those things of a very high trust level, and it’s very visible, and Google doesn’t do things by accident, I think that’s a very, very large signal to any small business that your reputation is tied to how you’re viewed in the world.

John Jantsch: There’s certain industries, nail salons, restaurants, hotels, I mean you’re under three stars and you’re just done because people really count on those for those. But, would you say that, that has now kind of permeated out to just about every industry?

Aaron Weiche: Absolutely. No one is void of reputation being part of that decision, and the best way I summarize this is, we have every option available to us when we do a search now, right? Even when you get into a very obscure business or service provider, you still might have three or five choices that you can look into. Time is such a huge commodity, we’re not going to call, or fill out a contact form on all of them. As a consumer, we’re looking to make the most informed decision, and reach out to one.

Aaron Weiche: When you look at that, brand and reputation is often one of those big factors, and what do other people have to say about working with this business. Are they reputable and trustworthy, because I’ve never used them before, and are they worth me putting a call into, or giving up my email address, or filling out a contact form?

John Jantsch: Do you think that consumers understand the difference between what we might call first party and third party reviews? In other words, you go to a website and they’ve got all these glowing reviews on their website, but then there’s Google who is aggregating these theoretically in a sort of impartial way. Do you think consumers understand the difference between those?

Aaron Weiche: I think they do a little bit, but what I think is even more important to the consumer is, is there depth, and is there information, and are there answers in those reviews? I think that’s much more of a deciding factor, because if it’s helpful to the consumer, I think they start to look at less what’s the source, how is it organized, what’s the rating scale, and everything else. But, if they’re able to get answers to their questions, and be able to identify with what they’re reading and have that aha moment where they’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s me,” the way this person is describing this, or their experience with it. I think that’s what’s most important to them.

Aaron Weiche: I think when you do a good job of bringing that type of content to the table, they really don’t care how it was acquired, or what went on with it. They’re just happy that they have the answers that they need to move forward.

John Jantsch: Okay, so on Google’s five point or five star scale, is there a perfect aggregate score that you should be aiming for? Here’s the genesis of my question, I mean you see these ones that a plumber, and I’m not picking on plumbers. But, 147 reviews, all five star. Do we believe that?

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, I definitely think small business owners and marketers, we fall victim to the perception of perfect. As a long time SEO industry friend of mine, Matt McGee once said, we don’t live in a five star world. I think it’s important for businesses as well. One study I cite a lot when I give talks is, Northwestern and PowerReviews did a study, and they actually found that 4.2 to 4.5 was the most trusted. That showed that you’re doing a great job, but you’re also not perfect. Because, just as you noted, when you see this large quantity of reviews and everyone has had this perfect experience, there is a part of you that says, “That seems a little bit too good to be true.” I think authenticity is a really big part of it, and I tell people all the time, don’t obsess on being perfect. Definitely focus on being great, consistently over and over again.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I think because we all know people that, you can give them $100 bill, and they’d give you a three star review, you know? I mean, some people just won’t give anything five stars.

Aaron Weiche: Yep.

John Jantsch: I agree with that. Do you think that business owners, small business owners should get proactive? I mean, be asking every one of their customers for a review, or does that somehow taint it?

Aaron Weiche: I think more important than that is, you should be asking and understanding what your customer thinks. I get that Google reviews are so visible. I call them … right? They’re like sprinkles on the doughnut. They’re what attract you to the window, and get you to look up close, and have you thinking about it. But, I look at whatever your customer thinks about their experience with your business, how it went, that’s more important. Whether they tell Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, or whether they tell you directly, you need to know what they think. Absolutely, you need to be proactive with that, because we’re all inundated with so many things to do, and things we forget, and whatever else. If you’re not taking control, and taking the time to ask that customer, and make it really easy for them to give you feedback and talk to you, then you are falling short in what you can do to understand that, and ultimately turn it into marketing power for you.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I’m going to give you a little tip here, behind the scenes secret of something that I do.

Aaron Weiche: Ooh.

John Jantsch: We work with a lot of small business owners, one of the first things we want to do is match their message to their market. Guess what one of the best sources of information about what their message really should be, or what their unique difference is? A lot of times if somebody has a lot of glowing reviews from not just five stars and done, but like they wrote a paragraph about them, nine times out of 10 phrases and themes will come out of those reviews, that really do suggest, “Here’s what this business does that’s unique.” Or, “Here’s the problem this business really solves.” A lot of times we’ll build marketing campaigns around the content from their reviews.

Aaron Weiche: Yep, that’s absolutely perfect. I would take it a step further, I often tell people, do that research on your customer or your competitors reviews as well, right? Where are they driving these amazing experiences, and are you giving that same type of experience, or are you falling short and you need to change something? You’re right, reviews are a goldmine for what really makes a customer happy, and you need to make sure that you’re marketing and telling that story so that others desire to come have that same experience.

John Jantsch: I’ve worked with businesses over the years that have claimed, “Hey …” And we know, they have happy customers, they have repeat customers, they have advocates, but they can’t get them to write reviews. Is there something that actually tips somebody over the edge so that they’ll make that effort?

Aaron Weiche: Service all day long to me, is really the big one. We even see it within our own business, that they like our software, and they might write nice things about our software, but the minute that we are asking for feedback or a review after one of our support teams helps somebody solve something, or guides them in a direction, the response rate on that is through the roof.

Aaron Weiche: For a lot of businesses I always look at like what is that aha moment when you’re serving a customer, that you can see they’re really happy, you’ve solved a problem, you’ve relieved pressure, you’ve given that solution. That’s when you want to be prompting them, or letting them know how important a review is, or even them talking to you about the experiences, because they’re in that euphoria of what took place. That’s what I usually look to analyze with the business, and that’s the time you need to be asking.

Aaron Weiche: Secondarily, you just, you have to make it easy for them, right? Time is our biggest commodity, so if you can’t make it happen in a couple of easy clicks and in a really short interaction, you’re going to lose out. We all get these surveys in our inbox, right? You fly on an airline and they ask you to take a survey, and you get 30 questions in and you now, you liked that brand and now you’re like, “I really don’t like you. You’ve just stolen time from me within my day.”

John Jantsch: Just to let you know, this episode is brought to you by Break Through The Noise, the new book by Tim Staples. If you’re a marketer, an entrepreneur, or a small business owner and you have a limited budget to market to and connect with your customers, you need Breakthrough The Noise. Tim Staples shares the nine essential rules for mastering the art of online storytelling, and provides tools to help you outsmart the social media algorithms, increase your share of voice, and build your brand. Break Through The Noise by Tim Staples is on sale now wherever books are sold.

John Jantsch: Is there a proper moment in the customer experience to ask for reviews, feedbacks? Again, I know there’s no like one answer to that.

Aaron Weiche: Yeah.

John Jantsch: But, should the sales people, the technicians, the marketing people, I mean should everybody be doing it or is there a sort of proper sequence in your opinion?

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, well I think you hit upon what’s probably most important, and that it’s a human on your team asking, right? Even if you use an automated solution like ours, but that team member says, “Hey, just so you know, within the next day you’re going to get an email asking for some quick feedback and to write a review,” that’s build a relationship and saying like, “Hey, I provided you with great service. Will you repay that favor by giving us a review, or giving us feedback on our business?” We see that when that human ask is coupled with timing as close to the service as possible so that they haven’t forgotten about it, or missed details with it, or anything else. That’s really the winning combination, is that human ask as close to that service or experience.

John Jantsch: I know this will vary by lots of industries, but is there sort of a globally accepted kind of impact rating for star reviews? In other words, for every half a point, and again I’m just defaulting to Google because they have such an easy scale. But, like going from 3.5 to 4.2, does that have a measurable sort of percentage of impact of sales?

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, the one study that I know is probably quite old now was from Yelp, that they basically equated like a half star rating into what it would be for revenue within a restaurant. I can’t off the top of my head remember those numbers, but that’s the last really data driven study that I’ve seen on that.

Aaron Weiche: We tend to look at it a lot of times because we capture, and this is a whole ‘nother topic, but we capture net promoter score, which basically helps a business understand how likely that customer is to refer you. We just see a super strong correlation between those that are happy and willing to refer you, are also willing to give that digital referral, and write that review. We see it inside of that, and I think if you, over time, looked at businesses that have a high NPS and a high rating, you’re going to see them succeeding in their profit and loss and their sales, much more than anyone else.

John Jantsch: Well, and I know anecdotally, I mean when I’m traveling and I’m looking for a place to eat because I don’t have a recommendation, I mean there’s certainly judgements I make about if it’s under four or something, you know? I’m probably going to look elsewhere. I mean, I think a lot of people probably kind of operate in that same sort of vein.

Aaron Weiche: Yep.

John Jantsch:Do you think that there are demonstratively demographic trends to this? In other words, is a 30 year old only relying on reviews, where maybe a 60 year old is going to be asking somebody via email, or text, or something. Have you seen any? Those are just wild examples, but have you seen any correlation-

Aaron Weiche: Yep.

John Jantsch: …Demographically to the use of reviews, and their reliance on reviews?

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, what we have seen more is that evening out a lot more, and no surprise, right? When you have all of this information right in the palm of your hand in your smartphone, I think that’s really increased the access, and the amount of people wanting to rely on those things.

Aaron Weiche: Now, I think what we see more of happening is yes, a younger consumer, anywhere from 18 all the way up to 35, or even that next jump of 44, 45, they use it almost exclusively. Where, then when you trend into some of the olders, it’s going to balance out in some of the upper age brackets, where reviews are part of that consideration, but they still want some human referral, and maybe a few other sources to go along with it. Where, the younger you scale down, if I see it on the review site and I feel good about it, I’m good. I don’t need to ask any personal recommendations, or anything else.

John Jantsch: Let’s talk about the topic nobody wants to address, what percentage of reviews do you think are just blatant spam?

Aaron Weiche: I don’t know if I can give you a number, but I can tell you, too high, too high of a number. This is definitely a critical thing facing the industry as an overall, right? Google has really jumped leaps and bounds, multiples above how many reviews any other review site has. But, in doing so, anytime you go all in on quantity, quality suffers, and they have very little, and there’s been a lot more coming to the surface on fake reviews, bot reviews, all of these different combinations of spam reviews.

Aaron Weiche: We’re hoping in work in this industry, and we want its authenticity to play out, and have longevity, that something needs to be done there. Then, you even have on the other side, Yelp which is very polarizing for small businesses. They have something in place, right? But, they also, it’s so secretive to how they filter out reviews and things like that, that also causes distrust. We actually have both sides of the coin right now. We have somebody whose paying so much attention, and trying to make sure that only the best reviews from trustworthy people and whatever else are the ones that are showing, but they go so far to extreme that people don’t trust how they’re surfacing the results.

Aaron Weiche: Then, on the other side we have somebody who it’s such an open floodgate with so little being done, that when you start digging into a lot of things, that can cause a lot of distrust. It’s definitely probably at least at a five, 10%, maybe even more mark, which I think is just a shame considering the firepower that these companies have, to actually institute some pretty basic things, or just be more transparent on what they are doing with it.

John Jantsch: I loved your qualifiers in there, you said definitely, probably, maybe, at least five percent, I think is what you said. Not to pick on them too much because everybody else has, but Yelp sort of brought some of that on themselves, I think, in terms of marrying the selling of advertising with a review process. A more cynical person than I might suggest that there’s some things that are not so right there, but I know you have to be nice, you have to play nice because you don’t want them mad at you.

John Jantsch: Let’s talk about responding to reviews. What’s your take on that? Should every review you respond to, what’s your take?

Aaron Weiche: My personal take is, especially for a small business, absolutely do that, for a couple of different reasons. One, for the next customer that’s researching and looking to do business with you, it sends a strong signal that you’re listening, you pay attention, and you care to respond to your customers. It makes them envision how they’re going to be treated with you, respectfully. That, you’re going to listen to their needs, both online and off, and it’s a really good trust signal.

Aaron Weiche: Secondarily, when you do this through most platforms, it’s going to email and alert that customer that you’ve responded, so it’s another customer touchpoint, you’re thanking them for taking the time to write that review. All great things, and maximize those touchpoints with your customers, and let everyone see that you’re interactive with your customer base.

Aaron Weiche: Now, that grows exponentially when it’s a critical, or a bad review. You want to first respond to that customer and try to save that relationship, let them know you’re listening. Own the problem. Nobody wants to hear, “Well we were short staffed, the basement flooded,” yada, yada, yada. All they want to know is that if they ever came back again, they wouldn’t have this same poor experience, and that you care, you’re doing something to solve it, and you’re owning it.

Aaron Weiche: After that, you also…solving it for that person, you want to make sure that those next customers also see like yeah, they’re not perfect, but if something does go wrong they listen, they’re reasonable, they’re respectful, and they try to make it right. At the end of the day, that’s what most consumers want, is that confidence that if something does go wrong, they will be treated well, and the business will try to make it right with them.

John Jantsch:  Yeah, I have…obviously business owners get emotional about a negative review, particularly, “Well, that customer was unreasonable,” they just want to fire off their response to that person. I always tell them, write your response not to that person, write your response to the public, because that’s who’s going to see it.

Aaron Weiche: Yeah.

John Jantsch: I think that’s a good way to approach it, but it’s also, it’s, “Hey, they’re saying bad things about my business. How dare they.” It’s hard to take the emotion out of those, isn’t it?

Aaron Weiche: It totally is. I always tell people, because I do this for myself. I put myself in an emotional timeout when that comes in. Step away from the keyboard, let the emotion wear off, reread it for the facts that are there on what went wrong. The wait was too long, the food was cold, an expectation wasn’t met. Whatever that is, and then yeah, great point. Write it that way.

Aaron Weiche: I always tell people, write it, and then read it out loud, right? What does it sound like when you read it out loud to yourself, or to someone else? I also tell people, it’s not the emergency situation you feel like it is, because when you get a bad review, you suddenly think the entire world is reading that one star review that’s out there, and that’s not the case. You’re better off taking time to compose the right type of response, editing it multiple times, getting other people to weigh in on it, and two days later posting the right response, than you are rushing, being emotional, saying the wrong thing, and causing even more things to go wrong than what already went wrong with that review.

John Jantsch: I think we can all agree the social proof aspect of reviews, I mean I go there, I look them up, and they’ve got 25 reviews, and they all seem really good. What in your opinion is the SEO value of reviews?

Aaron Weiche: Yeah, I think really big value because, just as you pointed out, there’s kind of this content goldmine in there, especially when you’re providing a great experience and service, and that customer’s going to write about it. They’re writing from … in marketing, right? It’s always write from the persona of your customer. To me the big win here, is this is persona generated content. Let’s say I’m planning a trip for my family, I have four kids going to Disney World. I’m on TripAdvisor reading reviews on a hotel. Well, the minute I see someone else talk about that they have four or five kids, the same boatload that I have, and I start looking into how they spent their time, and what they did, and did the place they stay have all the amenities they want. I start to identify with that, I have met my equal persona.

Aaron Weiche: I just think that’s so important for a business to understand, that we all write great things about ourselves and our copy, how we’re the best, and the greatest, and an awesome staff, and all these other things. But, reviewers I think, they speak the language of the average consumer because they’re not trying to sell something, they’re just sharing what their experience was. I think that’s such a win, when the consumer can consume that.

Aaron Weiche: On the flip side for Google when they see that, that consumer is likely using keywords about the business, locations about the business, the types of terms a searcher is going to type in as well, and you’re bringing all of this additional content to a page that you wrote 300 words about your business. Well, if you bring in 30 words … or, 30 reviews about it, you might double the amount of content that’s talking about your service product, or your business.

John Jantsch: Aaron, we could talk all day about this, but better wrap it up and tell people where they can go to find out more about GatherUp, and the various services that you offer small business owners?

Aaron Weiche: Absolutely. If you visit GatherUp.com you can get a very detailed look at what we do, what our feature set is, case studies of businesses that we’ve worked with, our blog is very active, we share a lot of knowledge from the reputation and review space. We always invite you to come in and be able to learn from all of that.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, thanks for dropping by, Aaron. Hopefully we’ll run into you some day soon out there on the road.

Aaron Weiche: I appreciate it, John. Thank you.

Transcript of Setting Priorities to Make Time for What Matters

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John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Laura Vanderkam. She is the author of several time management and productivity books, including one we had on this show about a year ago, Off the Clock, and she’s got a new book. We’re going to talk a little bit about Juliet’s School of Possibilities: A Little Story About the Power of Priorities.

John Jantsch: So Laura, welcome back.

Laura Vanderkam: Thank you so much for having me.

John Jantsch: I want to get this one out, because a lot of your books have, I mean, productivity, time management. I’m going to borrow another title, let you answer this question. What do the most successful people do before breakfast?

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. So a good question to ask, right? Yeah, I found in researching how people who are doing a lot, sort of professionally and personally, spent their time, that many of them were using their mornings quite intentionally. They’d recognize that this was time they could have for themselves before everybody else wanted a piece of them, both at work and at home. So, if there was something that they had aspirations to do, and didn’t necessarily fit in the category of work or family, this tended to be the time to do it.

Laura Vanderkam: So that could be exercising. For a lot of people, it was certainly exercising. But it could be creative pursuits, you know, you want to write that novel, you can tell yourself you’ll do it at the end of the day with the time that’s left over, but we both know that that probably will not happen. Whereas, if you get up a little bit earlier, and, you know, commit to writing, say 300 words a day, you’d have a draft of that novel in about a year. So, using that morning time for things that matter to you, is really what sets up the day for success.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I know in my own personal experience, because I have somewhat of a morning routine, that if it gets knocked off, I’m sort of unsteady the rest of the day. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but I know it does impact me.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. Well, we all have things that help our days. For many people, having something that feels like you scored some sort of victory in the morning, and a meaningful victory here. I mean, you know, yes, I guess we all got out of bed, which is good, but, you know, something that advances you toward your goals, can really make this day feel great.

John Jantsch: I know in listening to you reading your books, that you have a pretty good sense that most of us have no idea how we actually spend our time doing.

Laura Vanderkam: No. Which is interesting, right? Because we live life every day, and yet time passes, whether you think how you’re spending it or not, and so it is very easy to spend time mindlessly. Because of that, we tend to tell ourselves various stories about where the time goes. You know, some of them are probably true, but a great many of them also aren’t. So the good thing about tracking where the time really goes, is that you can figure out what’s just the story and what’s the actual truth.

John Jantsch: You know, there’s so much great advice, so many great books, hacks, apps, whatever, to help us manage our time. Why do we ignore them all?

Laura Vanderkam: Well, I think it’s the same thing of time continuing to move along. I mean, it’s like the challenge we’d have with spending money well, if all our money was burned at the end of every day, right? You know, it’s very difficult to make use of this extremely limited resource given that it’s constantly going. So, you know, you have to kind of think about what you’d like to do with it, and think about what are my intentions for the time? To think about your time before you’re actually in it.

Laura Vanderkam: It’s kind of like, you know, somebody paddling down a river, you know, pausing on the edge of their canoe and looking to see where the current’s going. If you do that, you’re a lot less likely to run into a rock. But, you know, it takes time.

John Jantsch: A few years ago, and it only took me about 20 years of owning my own business to get there, but I stopped really trying to manage time, and actually have gone to managing priorities, and actually working less hours, and found that I’m getting just as much or more done, rather than stressing about, “Oh, I should add some stuff to my checklist, because there’s two hours left in the day.” How does that idea settle with, you know, kind of your thoughts about, you know, how people manage their time?

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I’m a big fan of not filling time just because it’s there. In fact, many of the most successful people I’ve studied have a fair amount of white space on their schedule. They do this for several reasons. I mean, one, you know, everything takes longer than you think it will. So, you know, you got to make sure you build in space to deal with that. Also because it allows them to seize opportunities that, you know, if something unexpected but very good comes up, it’s great to be able to follow where that leads, instead of, you know, having your day already spoken for.

Laura Vanderkam: So, you know, I try to make very limited to-do lists, you know, definitely not stuff that’s going to fill the entire day. Because I know stuff will happen, you know, and if I finish everything on my list, the short list, I’m sure I can go find some more stuff if I feel like it. But if I make a very short list of the things I know absolutely have to happen, then I know that regardless what happens, you know, if I wind up spending half the day in the ER with one of my kids, for instance, I’ve still made progress. So I think that is the core of being productive.

Laura Vanderkam: That, you know, anyone can plan a perfect schedule, that’s not very exciting. The question is whether you can keep moving forward on the things that matter to you and the people you care about, when life happens, as life always happens.

John Jantsch: Well, and I think that that whole idea of priority is so important too, because a lot of the things that are priorities, are things I don’t want to do. They’re not fun, you know, they’re hard work. Maybe I spend a whole lot of time finding ways to not do that until, you know, it’s April 14th, and the taxes are due, right? All of a sudden, I’ve got all kinds of time to do that thing.

John Jantsch: So, I think forcing yourself to do this stuff, again, as you said, that’s important, even if you like it or not. You know, because I know I create a lot of wasted time and probably wasted stress, by having that thing just sitting out there going, “Oh, I’ll get to it next week.”

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I would tell people to acknowledge that. If there’s something you really do not want to do, you can ask yourself why that is. Sometimes that’s offering you some insight into your life, into your skills, and into things that are not your skills. You know, and there’s plenty of people who really, really hate doing the paperwork associated with their taxes, who might be better off hiring, you know, an assistant to get some of that, to coordinate with the accountant and all.

Laura Vanderkam: You know, so maybe it’s something that you could figure out a way over time that you can spend less time on. Whereas if something is truly energizing and fun, and meaningful to you, maybe there’s ways you can spend more time on those things.

John Jantsch: Now, you spend a lot of time, I mean, we’re sort of, I think, logically talking about work here so far, but you spend a lot of time working with people and how they spend their leisure time as well. I think as work and leisure, or whatever we call it, family time, play time, you know, seems to be no line anymore, you know, between those. How do we make sure that we are getting the most out of what we are calling leisure time?

Laura Vanderkam: Well, I think we need to have some of the same intention for our leisure and family time that we have for our work time. I don’t mean that you need to, you know, send calendar invites for dinner and schedule every 15 minutes, in the way some people do at work. But people will come home from work at 6:00, go to bed at 10:30, 11:00, that’s four and a half, five hours. You wouldn’t have a four and a half, five hour block at work and have absolutely no idea of what you intended to do with it.

Laura Vanderkam: So, you know, just saying, “Well, we’re going to go for a family walk after dinner, or, you know, tonight is the night I’m going to read 100 pages of that novel.” You know, whatever it is, having some intention for your personal time makes it feel richer and more full. So it winds up, you know, expanding in our mental space and making us feel, in fact, like we have more time.

John Jantsch: This, you know, sometimes is a luxury of owning your own business. I mean, I don’t necessarily have people putting meetings on my calendar and things. So, I’ve actually, over the years, found that I’ve gotten much more intentional about playing harder. So in other words, instead of saying, “Oh, I’ll sneak in an hour here, I mean, I’m going to go fishing for half a day or something.”

John Jantsch: But, I’m going to plan that, I’m going to put that into the calendar and I’m not going to think about not doing it. I’m going to be 100% in on that. I think what that’s done for me, is then when I come back to work that afternoon or the next morning, I’m much more intentional about work, actually.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I mean, being intentional about leisure time, it can really be life-changing. You know, part of the issue is that people are so busy with work, they think, “Well, I want to do nothing, or I don’t want to commit to anything, because that’s just more commitments, and then I’ll feel like I have less time.” But that turns out not to be true.

Laura Vanderkam: Having commitments, that are meaningful to us and energizing to us in our leisure time, makes us feel like we have more time, you know? An evening where you kind of while away the hours and scroll around online and watch TV or something, is very forgettable. Whereas, one where you, you know, go volunteer somewhere in an organization that you’ve been doing some really serious work with, and you’ve committed to being there every Thursday night. I mean, that’s more memorable, that feels more important. So it actually stands out in this wash of time.

John Jantsch: I think most people, maybe there are other people that don’t, but I know myself, I’ll throw in this category, I probably get 90% of my work done in two or three hours of a work day. I mean, 90% of the real pay off work, you know, happens in two or three hours. I think that, you know, when you start, and we can talk about time diaries in a minute, but I think we really underestimate how much time we waste on things that we think are busy or productive.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I mean, it’s the parade of [inaudible 00:10:50], that is 80% of your good stuff happens in 20% of your time. With that said, I mean, it sounds then like maybe we could only work four hours a week or whatever it is, that if we could only identify the important stuff. The problem is, it’s not always quite that clear. I know that you and I have both had say random conversations that we just decided to take a phone call for some reason, and then it leads somewhere great, right? Or that we are reading something that maybe is tangential to our jobs, but it triggers this idea that leads to something big as well.

Laura Vanderkam: So I would say that yes, you know, a lot of our major stuff does get done in probably a short amount of time, and we’ve all had the experience of if you’re getting ready to leave for a vacation, you were just on fire, before you get out the door and getting everything done. But on the other hand, you got to be careful about not trying to cut it too much, because then you miss that sort of serendipity that leads to great things.

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John Jantsch: So your latest book, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, is a parable style. You know, I’ve always wanted to write one of those, but I don’t think I could pull the whole dialogue thing off. So tell us a little bit about Juliet, and what you were trying to accomplish in that story.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, well I’ve been writing about time management for a great many years, and I’ve just noticed over this time that, and I’m given my speeches, the parts people remember are the stories. No one ever comes up to me and says, “Oh gosh, that statistic you quoted about X, that was life-changing.” It’s really more like, “Oh, when you told that story about this,” and people can quote back these stories pretty much verbatim, which is amazing. But, that is how we absorb information. The human brain is very wired to remember stories in a certain format, that stories that teach a lesson.

Laura Vanderkam: So that’s basically what parables are, is stories that teach a lesson. You know, I love reading, I love writing, and so it was fun to try my hand at something a little bit different, that, you know, I could actually write dialogue, as opposed to writing straight non-fiction.

John Jantsch: So, give us the preview of Juliet’s story then.

Laura Vanderkam: Well, so Riley is a hot-shot young consultant whose career has been on fire up until the moment when suddenly it isn’t. Her life begins to fall apart on various dimensions, because she’s having such a hard time figuring out what she should be doing with her time, and her personal life is also falling apart. In the midst of all of this, her company gives her an ultimatum, kind of strong-armed into going into this retreat for the weekend at a place called Juliet’s School of Possibilities. She thinks it’s going to be a huge waste of time.

Laura Vanderkam: But then she meets Juliet, who is a successful business owner, who is also just incredibly calm. She seems to have infinite amounts of time for the things that are important to her. So, in the course of the weekend, Riley tries to learn Juliet’s secrets, and figure out how she can put these into practice in her own life.

John Jantsch: So, I just heard you speak recently at the World Domination Summit, which is one of my favorite conferences. In fact, I’m trying to have many of the speakers on, so listeners will hear that line a bit over the next few weeks. But one of the things that you said that I know I need to do, and I know I’m not good enough at is, you know, we have a tendency to sit down, you know, in the morning and go, “Okay, what do I need to do today?” You talked about this idea of structuring our week, and that makes so much sense, because that’s really probably the chunk that’s going to be the measure of our productivity. You want to kind of talk about that idea?

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. Well, we live our lives in weeks. You know, I just talk about how we often think of our lives in days, but we actually live our lives in weeks. A week is the unit of life as we actually live it. So, you know, I think that’s how we need to plan out our time, because any given day is not big enough to encompass everything that you’re going to need to get to. But in a week, you can probably get to most of the things that are important to you.

Laura Vanderkam: So, I suggest that people think through their weeks before they’re in them. A really good time to do this is Friday afternoon, just because Friday afternoon is a time when most of us are not doing anything of any consequence whatsoever, kind of sliding into the weekend at that point. So you take a few minutes, you think about the upcoming weeks, you ask yourself what are your top priorities for this in, you know, the work sphere, your relationship sphere, so family and friends. Then the personal sphere, so things you want to do just for you.

Laura Vanderkam: List, you know, just a short number of items, two, three, in each category, and look at the next week and see where they can go. If you do this consistently, you will find yourself, just by default, making progress towards your goals, because every single week you’re doing stuff that matters. Whereas, if you don’t think about this ahead of time, again, it’s easy for time to just get away from you.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I think also the other thing, hopefully you say, “Hey, I’ve got these three big things I need to accomplish.” Maybe you say no to a few things now, because they’re already in your brain or already on your calendar.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. Well, the time on Friday afternoon where you’re planning the week ahead and putting your priorities, is also a great time to look at what is already on your calendar and get rid of whatever does not really fit with what matters to you, and what, you know, path you thought would be a good idea, but no longer does. So, you know, if you can get out of it, maybe that’s a good time to do so.

John Jantsch: I love this idea of time diary. I’ve been actually preaching it for many, many years, particularly when people, you know, were talking about just not being able to accomplish anything. I get a collective, “Oh, I don’t have time to do that or I don’t want to do that.” How have you been successful at getting people to track, even for a week, their time?

Laura Vanderkam: Well, I mean, my promise is that it will be useful, and useful in a way of not say, “Oh, well, look, we discovered that you said you’re so busy and you watched TV for X number of hours.” It’s not about that. I really don’t care for the game of got you on these things. It’s more that pretty much everyone who does this finds some quantity of time that they’re spending in ways they don’t care about so much, that they can use for things that they do care about.

Laura Vanderkam: I say this about people who are just extraordinarily busy, have so much going on in their lives, there’s always still some quantity of space. You know, it doesn’t have to be much, I mean, for many people, if they were able to find just, you know, a couple of hours per week to do things that they were very excited about, this would change their whole experience of time.

Laura Vanderkam: So, that’s why I suggest people do it. I also, you know, make sure people know that it’s not about recording every single minute perfectly. Good enough, is good enough. I check in three to four times a day, write down what I’ve done since the last time I checked in, don’t [inaudible 00:00:18:31]. If you did mostly work, and you also went to the bathroom and got a glass of water, work, it’s fine. You don’t have to account blow by blow on everything. But, you know, you do it for a couple of days, that’s good. If you can do it for a week, that’s even better. You’ll get enough information that I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

John Jantsch: Well, and I work with a lot of business owners, and they spend time doing a lot of things they should delegate, they could delegate, that would be much more profitable if they delegated. Sometimes, you know, what I actually do, is have them assign a dollar value to, you know, what was that worth? Or what could you have gotten somebody else to do that for? Some metric. That can be pretty eyeopening, when they look at, you know, how much of their time is doing work well below what they need to make in their business.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. No, I mean, when you realize something’s not a good use of your time, you have a couple of choices. I mean, one is you can just stop doing it, which is an option that, you know, people really should look into more than they actually do. You know, you can see if there’s a way it can take less time, which is of course what most time management literature deals with. How to make things, you know, more streamlined, more efficient, turn your 60 minute meeting into a 45 minute one. That has its purpose, of course. But, you know, that’s another option.

Laura Vanderkam: Then, of course, you could get someone else to do it, which is really the way that we leverage our time, and do things that we couldn’t do on our own. I find that people often resist this idea, but, you know, if you’re looking at the CEO of a major corporation, you’re not sitting there saying like, “Oh gosh, the CEO of Pepsi is failing, because she’s not doing it all by herself.” I mean, no, of course not. It’s the same thing, you know, even if your business is smaller, but it’s also the same thing on the home front too, that we can get help from various places and leverage our time that way.

John Jantsch: Yeah. That’s an interesting concept though, because a lot of people have a real, you know, guilt kind of factor of that. A lot of times they can delegate at work, “But, I’m not going to have somebody mow my lawn. I mean, I could do that, and that’s lame.” But that could be a way to actually free up time, couldn’t it? In the domestic front.

Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, for doing things that are a higher value of your time. People claim like, “Oh, well, you know, I should call my elderly relatives around more,” you know, whatever it is. “But, you know, I’m so busy, I just never have the time.” Well, maybe it’s possible that you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. But if it is truly a value of yours, then maybe you can get some of this other stuff off the plate. Maybe you order your groceries online, set up a recurring order that shows up every week, you don’t have to go to the grocery store. Instead of going to the grocery store, you call your grandmother, right? You know, these are things you can do to free up time for the things that are the best use of your time.

John Jantsch: So Laura, where can people find out more information on you, and your books, and all the work that you’re doing?

Laura Vanderkam: Well, people can come visit my website which is LauraVanderkam.com. You know, if you are listening to this podcast, and are all caught up in episodes for this, and you’re looking for something else to listen to, I have an every weekday morning short productivity tip podcast called Before Breakfast. So every weekday morning, five to 10 minutes, I give you a little tip that will hopefully help you take your day from great to awesome. So, people might enjoy listening to that.

John Jantsch:  Awesome. Well, we will have those links in the show notes as well. Laura, I appreciate you stopping by. It was great seeing you in Portland, and hopefully I’ll run into you soon out there on the road.

Laura Vanderkam: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.