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  • Writer's pictureTim Votapka

Have You Asked Your Prospects What They Want, or Do You Just Give it Your Best Guess?

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

Years before I defected from journalism to join the glamorous world of marketing and advertising I was one of those pain-in-the ass editors who tossed press releases aside that started with "so and so company, the world leader in..." I did, every time, because not everyone can be a leader in their industry. Somebody is for sure, and their revenue will validate that claim if it's reported with any accuracy. The other bug-a-boo with that statement is it doesn't give its intended reader any reason to want to agree with the author who wrote it.

So stop saying that! It's a waste of copy and a sure way to keep your prospects reluctant toward taking whatever medicine you have to offer to help them resolve problems and pain points in their business.

The correct approach is the one that puts your prospects' viewpoint ahead of all else. One of the best expressions of this came from the mind of Leo Burnett, an American advertising executive who wrote "Don't tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me feel when I use it."

Burnett was the founder of the Leo Burnett Company, Inc., one of the most influential agencies in the history of marketing in the 20th Century. He was responsible for creating the most well-known characters and campaigns from Tony the Tiger to the Maytag Repairman. United Airlines "Fly the Friendly Skies" and All-State's "Good Hands" would be just a couple of the many, many creative products originated by Burnett during his career.

So why the quote? Well, read it again. "Don't tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it."

This is good marketing, ladies and gentlemen. It conveys a key point so often missed by people on the marketing lines who fail to take the time to learn what prospects need and want before they throw creative chum into the water. Supply-side thinking, the mindset that drives many disappointing campaigns, email blasts and website copy is a dangerous force in any business. You get a bright idea - one with a great graphic design or concept - have it produced and then launched, anxious to see the response and reach it most definitely is bound to generate.

In the days, weeks and months afterward, you hear nothing but silence. The phones remain quiet and your website analytics haven't budged all that much in the wake of the campaign. This scenario plays out all of the time, and it always comes down to two fundamental issues:

  1. No frequency. Seriously. There are folks who still believe in the "try it once and we'll see how it goes" method of marketing prevention. Let's not go there right now.

  2. Off the Mark. In an ideal situation, we survey and ask our prospects what's important to them before putting the time and money into graphic design guessing. It doesn't have to involve hours of expensive focus groups, beta product testing and research specialists. Those are all fine and legitimate tactics, but for a lean operation that may not have a deep financial bucket to draw from, the case is solid for good old-fashioned interviews and conversations. I'd even suggest an email survey added on, but based on direct experience, don't expect a great response. The data you gather from that communication will reveal the issues that people - I said people - tag as problems or opportunities. They'll even give you key terms or catchwords you may then use in your campaign to raise your chances of success.

Here's an example from the past. There was a supplier of medical diagnostic equipment that had been struggling to gain traction in the hospital marketplace. Its products were fantastic in every way necessary - superior to the competition in certain significant areas. The only thing was the customer base didn't even know this supplier was a player worth considering. And when introduced to the idea, they had no particular reason to switch camps from their incumbent suppliers.

Time was short and the new agency hired to fix everything had just a couple of weeks before the next big industry event. So, an intense effort went in to speak with as many decision makers as possible to ascertain what was needed and wanted. In short, the question posed to these folks was something along the lines of "what would it take for you to even consider, just consider another supplier? We won't even tell you who it is. Just tell us what's the biggest issue you're having trouble with today."

In baseball, when a pitcher lobs a ball toward home plate with a slow, graceful arch, it's called a meatball. The survey responses felt just like that, and it became an easy one to hit out of the park. The customers told us it was about time, or more specifically the scarcity of it. If someone could present a story about a product line that could save them time, they'd put a fresh pot of coffee on and give that firm's reps a VIP pass directly to their conference room for a meet and greet.

You think maybe the campaign theme mentioned time? Indeed it did and off the reps went to the races with an easy-to-digest promotional program giving them proper air cover.

The ads didn't go into details about the boxes, bells and whistles. We spoke about time and how we understood how scarce it is what with so many hospitals merging into delivery networks and how impossible demands were being placed on the clinical services departments to get more done with less staff in less time and at less cost. Sounds familiar.

We got the reps trained in asking questions about workflow. We found out many prospects hadn't even been asked the types of questions we were asking (always a good thing when you may be dealing with a prospect who needed just one reason to look for another resource).

We related. We understood. We had a good reason to continue the conversations to elaborate on the campaign theme and the wonderful creativity (and frequency) behind it. With that, prospects began to see how life could be better with what we had to offer. Heck, they didn't even ask many questions about the equipment's capabilities, software and reliability - all of that was assumed to be genuine and it was. They were presented with a chance to look good, really good by using the systems under this other supplier.

Leo Burnett would have approved. He would have charged a whole lot more, but he would have approved.

If you do nothing else, take a look at your own material, your website for example. Is it written with the customer in mind, or does it sound more like something your competitors have up on their sites? Have certain words crept into the top of your landing pages, words like "leader" or "for over 30 years..." If you read them out loud to yourself or to your neighbor, would a dullness creep over you the way it does when you doze off during the evening news?

If these symptoms are present, you need to consult with a marketing physician before operating any heavy machinery or lose another opportunity to grab visibility among potential customers. Think of it this way, normal or not, pandemic or no pandemic, visibility isn't as easy to maintain as it used to be when our reps could wander freely from door to door, lunch to lunch. Prospects are difficult to reach and even more difficult to influence across barriers that don't allow you to explain yourself and how you good you can make them.

That's why you need marketing now more than ever. Don't underestimate that or let comfortable habits and time-sensitive tasks of the morning keep it from getting done. Burnett's clients didn't let any of that stop them and that's a good thing, because what would the world be like without the Keebler Elves and their great cookies that make us feel so good?

Tim Votapka is the Vice President and Director of Marketing Services at Prosperity Plus. He is a marketing communications producer and creative resource to B2B clients looking to expand their market share. Email him at

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