The question behind the question

February 8, 2017


If you were ever to become an employee at Walt Disney World, you’d go through a class called Traditions. You’d learn all about the vision and legacy of Walt Disney and all the ins and outs of working at your one specific location. If you were slated to work at the Magic Kingdom, one of the things you’d learn is that the most common question asked is “what time is the 3 o’clock parade?”

The trainers use this absurd question to teach their new cast members (what Disney calls employees) a very important lesson that is just as critical in marketing as it is in theme park management.

The lesson is this: look for the question behind the question. When people express a concern or raise a question, there’s often something underneath that initial inquiry. But to figure out what’s really at the core – you have to understand your audience and their heart a little.

The people that ask, “what time is the 3 o’clock parade?” have waited on a curb for one to two hours for the upcoming parade. They’ve probably saved for more than three years to afford the trip to Disney in the first place and they probably will not be back for a few years at least. Which means that they are very invested in this vacation and one of the highlights of their day is supposed to be the big parade. Their kids are (by mid afternoon) tired and a little whiney so this parade had better be awesome. What this harried Mom or Dad is actually asking is “what time does the 3 o’clock parade pass by this exact spot and are we in a good viewing location?”

If the cast member didn’t understand the stakes for the average Disney guest – they might offer a snide reply or give the guest a look that says… “Duh.” Hardly a stellar customer service moment. But imagine how a guest feels after asking that question and having a cast member say, “the parade is kicking off in Frontierland, so it should be here by about 3:20. And you’ve got a great spot for not only seeing the parade but interacting with some of the characters.”

That’s real communication. That’s anticipating what your customer really needs. And that’s the kind of customer care and understanding that earns repeat business. So how do you apply this idea of understanding the question behind the question to your organization?

Dissect your FAQs: Make a list of the questions your staff gets asked most often. And be sure not to exclude anyone – your accounting department, your shipping crew, and the people who handle returns. Ask anyone and everyone to help you put together a master list.

Bring together a diverse team from your organization and really look at what’s underneath those questions. Force yourselves to go beyond the expected assumptions. Ask “what if” questions to explore new possibilities.

Look for patterns: Patterns suggest that there’s a common thread or behavior worth investigating. Don’t dismiss them, especially if it’s around a product/service that isn’t selling as well as you expected. Odds are, there’s something underneath the lack of sales beyond what you’re assuming. Every objection hides an insight underneath.

Test your theories: We know assuming is dangerous so be sure to test your new insights. Whether you use customer surveys, access a client advisory board or do some A/B testing with ad messages – make sure you get validation. Once you do, you can start folding the new insights into your marketing messages and materials.

Everyone wants to do business with a company that truly gets them. Understand what they’re really asking so you can demonstrate that you’re the right choice.


Find Your Sweet Spot

November 30, 2016

Sweet SpotWho should buy stuff from you? If you’re like most business owners or leaders that I know, your knee-jerk answer is something just slightly smaller than “everyone on the planet.”  But “everyone on the planet” can’t be your sweet spot customer.

You need to narrow it down a little. Businesses who need insurance or parents, or someone who wants to own a house or people with teeth. I didn’t ask who COULD buy stuff from you. I asked who SHOULD. That shift is a dramatic one and one that most business people don’t spend enough time thinking about.

Think of your own buying experiences. Odds are, no matter what you’re in the market to buy – there are plenty of companies that can sell it to you. Yet, you gravitate to one and if that buying experience is a good one and aligns with what you expected – you are likely to go back the next time you need to make the same purchase.


When we buy something, we don’t just buy the thing or a service; we also buy how the business that sold it to us parallels our life needs/comfort zones. We each have our own list of criteria that is based on a blend of our values, our life’s structure and our emotional connection to their brand.

If time is a more treasured commodity to you than money, you’ll pay more for something at a convenience store or 24-hour drug store.

If money is more important than a relaxing shopping experience, you’ll be the one in line for a couple hours for a door buster sale.

If reliability and fast service are vital to you, you’ll pay the service charge to always have your HVAC repair jumped to the front of the line because you belong to the insider’s club.

If a particular brand (like Harley) makes you feel a certain way or, in your mind, makes others see you in a certain way – you’ll wait for months and pay extra just to get one of their offerings.

When a business connects with a customer who not only likes what they sell but how/why they sell it – the transaction is faster, easier and more frequent. The word of mouth referrals are higher, and the level of satisfaction for both the customer and the employee is higher.

Who doesn’t want that? Well, guess what – you can’t have that if you think that everyone under the sun is your customer. You need to figure out who are your sweet spot customers and how can you serve them and only them.

Business gurus always talk about the 80/20 rule – that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. That’s because the 20% are your sweet spot customers. So what happens when you increase that 20% to 50% or 75%?

Each time you work with someone outside your sweet spot, it:

Distracts you from the zone: Part of what makes your sweet spot so sweet is that it’s easier, faster and more satisfying for you to serve those customers. They want exactly what you have to offer, and they value it and how you deliver it.

Costs you money: When you stray from your sweet spot, you have to spend extra time and money to make them happy. You might have to modify what you sell or how it’s delivered. But it doesn’t come easy or cheap.

There’s friction: When someone who is not aligned with your brand/values wants to do business with you, it feels a little off. The fit just isn’t quite right, and you and your employees will notice it. Worst of all – you customer will notice it too.

The work you do is tough enough. Don’t make it harder by chasing after clients who aren’t in your sweet spot.


The Art of Selling to Women

September 7, 2016

art of sellingLast week, we talked about the science of selling to women and how our brains differ by gender and how that affects buying patterns and decision-making. So this week, I thought it would make sense to take that science and use it as a filter to think about how to create marketing that resonates with your female audience – or as I like to call it, the art of selling to women.

Don’t skimp on the details: This is a tricky one. Many marketing types go right to the bullet pointed list for the details. That works fine for your male buyers but the ladies need more. This can be where testimonials or case studies will really serve you well.

This need speaks to how you build out your website too. Think layers and details. Everyone who comes to your site will need it to be simple to navigate and find what they’re looking for. Women will need your site to go beyond that. Build in layers of information with links to more detail, photos, FAQs, and stories. You’ll get bonus points from your female website visitors if you make your content easy to share.

Be graphic: Emotions are brilliantly communicated in visuals. Shapes, colors, facial expressions and even packaging all convey emotional connections. You literally want to draw those connections out for your female audiences whenever you can – the art of selling.

Video, and its combination of visuals and sounds, can be incredibly compelling. Multimedia can capture both the facts and the underlying energy of your company or product/service in a very memorable way. This is a great example of being smart about both what you say and how you say it.

Give her a place to listen: Because of the value women place on other women’s opinions, it will also serve your brand to provide a place for these sorts of consumer-to-consumer interactions. Whether it’s a message board, a review site or even your Facebook page, invite and encourage women to share their experiences with your brand.

Women generate seven times more referrals than men, so the more you can get them to tell stories, ask questions, and find like-minded women, the better for your brand. Another benefit is that once a woman is a loyal consumer, she’s your greatest advocate. If someone starts to complain about something, it’s often your own best customers who will defend your honor.

Find the gender balance: This is another tricky one. Women are not the same as men and they appreciate when that is acknowledged. But they don’t want to be diminished in any way. Dumbing things down for them or making something seem less than (like the pink toolbox sets) what is available for men or that they’re not as capable as a man – that’s trouble.

Build a relationship with her: Above all else, women are connectors. It’s how their brain works. It’s how their hearts work. It’s how their lives work. They want to be seen, they want to matter and they want to be in relationship with the people they buy from.

Your communications strategy needs to be for the long haul. Your goal is to be a helpful resource for her. You want her to grow to rely on you and trust your input. Better yet, you want to be so helpful to her that she shares you with her family and friends. That’s the brand/marketing nirvana – when you are trusted enough that she’s willing to share you with those that matter to her.

If you want women to take an interest in what you have to offer — recognize them, respect them, listen to them, help them and above all else – connect with them.

That’s how you become relevant to them.


The Science of Selling to Women

August 31, 2016

science of selling

There is no magic sauce that will help you gain women’s attention as you market your products or services. You can’t paint your product pink and think that will do the trick. You can’t wrap your service in motherhood, ballet or shopping and magically the women will come.  The science of selling to women is more complex than that.

It’s safe to say that no matter what you sell, some subset of women is going to be a key audience.

The truth is – you literally cannot afford to ignore women when it comes to attracting new customers. Women, as a whole, account for over 80% of consumer buying decisions. Even in traditional male dominated categories, women purchase in excess of 50% of those goods/services.

The reality is that women have not been a minority for years, when you think of them as a consumer group. Bottom line – you need to learn how to communicate effectively with them and this is where the science of selling comes in.

Men think and buy in a linear fashion. They want the facts and they’d prefer them in a bullet pointed list. Women will take into account the items in the bullet pointed list, but that’s not enough for them. They are much more holistic and need more information and need that information presented in a very different way.

This actually is tied to the physiology of our brains. A woman’s brain typically has more connecting fibers between cells and between the two hemispheres of the brain — it literally is more connected and that influences her need to have all the threads woven together. A man’s buying process might be thought of as a single thread while a woman’s tends to be more of a whole series of threads creating a web of connections and inter-related factors.

This additional connectivity between the hemispheres is also why women can and do access both sides of their brain when making a decision. The emotional aspects of your brand will matter just as much as the rational aspects. If they perceive any sort of disconnect between the two, they probably will not choose to buy. They need the whole package to work together. This is why storytelling, case studies, testimonials and visuals become so important in your marketing efforts.

A woman’s Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is larger and more active than a man’s ACC. This section of the brain is responsible for weighing options and making choices.  It is often what causes someone to worry before making an important decision. Again, this speaks to the non-linear, decision-making style of most women – the need to have been exposed to enough options that she can move to a decision with confidence.

Another part of the brain, the Insula, controls a person’s gut feelings and is also larger and more active in women than men. This may be why women’s intuition is right so often. The female brain’s larger Insula equips women with the ability to read faces, interpret tones of voice (both spoken and written) and gauge the emotions of conversations and other forms of communication.

The female brain structure literally allows a woman to receive stronger emotional signals and those signals provide the context in which the facts are weighed and measured.

What you say and how you say it, in terms of marketing messages, are both important to your women consumers. But, it is the emotional side of the brain that will most often derail a buying decision. If something feels right but there’s not enough data, the woman will seek out more information. But if it just doesn’t feel right, then you’re done.


Hello? Is there a human inside?

July 11, 2012

Honestly — haven’t you felt that way more than once when you’ve dealt with a business?

Either their marketing materials are so full of corporate speak that you can’t figure out what the heck they’re talking about or the service you get is lackluster at best and that’s being kind.

As consumers continue to get more jaded coupled with the fact that every business has plenty of competition out there — what consumers want and need from us is to know that we’re human.  They don’t expect perfection.  They just want to know that you’re real, that you care and that you’re not blowing smoke up their skirt.  That’s how they are going to choose.  They’re going to pick the company they like the best and they can’t like you if you are invisible to them.

So the question becomes — how do you show your human side?  How do you give your customers and prospects a sense of who you are and what matters to you?  If you and your brand are playful — how do you reveal that?  If you have a deep passion for what you do, where does that show up?

I don’t think too many businesses ask themselves those kinds of questions.  But we need to.  We need to actually make a connection long before the cash register rings.  Depending on your business — you might be able to do that in a one-to-one way.  But for most organizations, that won’t cover it.  They need to find a mass produced way of being real.

Yup — a mass produced way of being real.  How?

Here are two great examples.  One is the note from the company CEO that comes inside every package of Cold-EEZE.  The second is a grocery bag from Capital Market. (Hat tip to Tom Narak for sharing the grocery bag photo with me)


Can’t you just hear their voices?  Can’t you feel their spirit and don’t you have a sense of what it would be like to interact with them?  I don’t know about you, but I want go to that grocery store.  I’d expect to be completely delighted by the experience.

I can hear you now.  “But Drew, those are consumer products.  In the B-to-B world, we can’t do things like that.”  I call bull on that.  Yes, you can.  Every company has a spirit.  We can call it your brand or your true north or your core reason for being.  But it’s there.  And it’s your job, no… your responsibility to show it to us.

All of us, every consumer on the planet, desperately wants to know if there’s a human inside.

Show us.


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Mobile banking — trends for 2012

April 15, 2012

I recently gave a presentation to a packed house of bank and credit union professionals about mobile banking and where it’s heading.  And the “theme” of my message to them was — if this isn’t your top priority for 2012, it sure better be for 2013. (I’ll bet my pal CK Kerley would agree!)

The Federal Reserve just released some really telling research that not only shows how many of us are already using mobile banking – but how many people changed financial institutions so they could use mobile banking.  (download PDF of the research by clicking here)

Here were some of the key takeaways from the presentation (which you can click through below.  Email subscribers…click here.)

  • 20% of financial instutition customers are already using mobile banking
  • Another 13-20% say they will be by the end of 2012
  • 60% of new customers said that being able to use mobile banking influenced their decision to switch
  • 11% of users are using their phone’s camera to remote deposit checks

This isn’t optional for financial institutions that want to be in business in 2020.  It’s really that simple.

Here’s my presentation — I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[slideshare id=12548717&doc=mobilebanking2012-120415134306-phpapp01]
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Why Facebook matters to every business

September 21, 2011


Screen shot 2011 09 21 at 8 11 37 AM
Why Facebook matters to every business


I’ve heard all the reasons, especially from B2B companies…but the “our customers aren’t on Facebook” excuse is just that, an excuse.

We buy radio stations and send direct mail hoping to hit some of our target audience.  Why do we look at Facebook so differently?

With statistics (thanks to HubSpot for sharing this slide) like these… every business owner and marketing director should be figuring out how to leverage the Facebook crowd.

I’m not saying you need a fan page.  Or have to do a contest or create a game.  I’m saying you’d better understand what happens there.  You’d better be monitoring what is being said about your company there.

You need to decide HOW to be there.  But you can’t ignore it simply because you have a preconceived idea of who hangs out there.

Odds are… it’s your customers.  And they hang out there a lot.


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Are you sure it’s what they want?

August 11, 2011

…Give your customer choices they actually care about

One of the buzzwords that continues to bounce around the marketing world is “value add.”  I have no issue with providing more value to your customers.  In fact, I think it’s a dandy idea.  But I think you can also stub your toe when you do it in a vacuum.

As you know, I fly a lot (visiting clients, speaking at conferences, etc) and I always fly United.  Like most of you who travel a fair amount, I have traded choice of airline for airline perks.

For the most part, I love United and the benefits I get as one of their frequent fliers.  But it also gives me an opportunity to see many a marketing attempt go awry.

What your customers want, in terms of value add, is real value, not value for show.  Let me show you a few examples (at United’s expense):

Real value: The Red Carpet Clubs — very cool spaces with plenty of free wifi, soda, snacks, really comfy chairs and best of all,  customer service reps who  will take as much time as you need to help sort out a messed up ticket or change in plans.  (Value added — comfort and great service)

Value just for show: Unlimited upgrades for their upper tier customers.  Except…. in many cases, they don’t upgrade your companion if you’re flying with someone else.  So really — it’s just mean teasing.  “Oh, we wanted to upgrade you but your kid/spouse/buddy will have to fly coach.”  Who wants to be that jerk?  Which means I only get to use the upgrades I’m offered if I am flying alone. (You’re pretending to give me a value and then taking it away)

Real value: Letting frequent fliers board the plane first, meaning there’s always overhead storage space available.  (Value added — convenience and comfort)

Value just for show: The ridiculous red carpet line (complete with a scrap of red carpet that you have to cross) that only makes the casual traveler feel like they don’t matter and the frequent flier feel conspicuous.  (You’re using me to advertise your perks)

Notice how the real value happens when a company selflessly worries about what matters to their customers.  But the value just for show is when the company decides, without asking their customers or walking a mile in their shoes.  Then the “value add” looks self serving and may actually diminish the experience for your best customers.

So as you contemplate how you can appreciate your customers and reward them for their business — be sure the value add is genuine AND actually valued.



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Learn why we unthink

February 9, 2011

unthinking drewmclellan 198x300

When I finished reading the galley for Harry Beckwith’s latest book, Unthinking, I shot him an e-mail that said:

“Unthinking is a fantastic read.  Your other books gave readers the what and sometimes the how — this book provides the why.  It’s a perfect companion to your earlier works.  What I love most about it is that you follow your own advice — you delight and surprise readers from beginning to end.  Storytelling at it’s best!”

As you know, Harry Beckwith is a part of my trifecta of the best business writers I’ve ever read (along with Steve Farber & Joe Calloway) and his new book may be his best.  In it, he explores how our mind and experiences “play tricks” on our buying decisions.

Through his brilliant, understated storytelling, Harry shows us what’s behind our consumer behavior and…of course as marketers, how we can use those insights to better connect with and serve our customers.  Here are some examples of the stories/lessons you’ll enjoy.

  • What do Howard Hughes and 50 Cent have in common, and what do they tell us about Americans and our desires?
  • Why did Sean Connery stop wearing a toupee, and what does this tell us about American customers for any product?
  • What one thing did the Beatles, Malcolm Gladwell and Nike all notice about Americans that helped them win us over?
  • Which uniquely American traits may explain the plights of Krispy Kreme, Ford, and GM, and the risks faced by Starbuck’s?
  • Why, after every other plea failed, did “Click It or Ticket” get people to buy the idea of fastening their seat belts?

Harry would argue that the answers to these questions can be found in our childhood, our culture and from our eye’s view.  Drawing from dozens of disciplines, always enlightening Harry Beckwith answers these questions with some surprising, even startling, truths and discoveries about what motivates us.

This is really a must read for anyone who deals with customers. (As are all of his earlier works if you haven’t already read them).  Buy it by clicking here.  (Amazon affiliate link)

You can also enjoy Harry’s foray into blogging at Psychology Today.

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