Selling and marketing will be tougher next year.  We are in a period of economic uncertainty unrivaled for more than 70 years, and your customers, no matter who they are and what you sell, will buy differently.

Here’s a very important question for you:  What conversations do you want to have with your customers?  What do you want to talk about?

To answer this question, ask yourself this:  What do your customers want to talk about?

This is a healthy place to start, because you quickly realize that your customers don’t want to talk about you.  They are much more interested in talking about themselves than they are in talking about you.

So, the first thing we know about your 2009 customer conversations is that they need to be about your customer, not about you.  (Yes, that means that the features and benefits of your product are only indirectly important in this conversation.)

If your customers are businesses, what they really care about is improving the state of their businesses, or of their personal jobs within those businesses. If your customers are consumers, they are interested in improving the state of their lives, whether those improvements are quotidian and mundane or profound and life-changing. The point is still the same: Don’t talk about yourself.

After recognizing this, you are now free of the constraints of feature-dumps, chest-beating, advertising promises and elevator pitches.  You have enabled yourself to think about what your customer really wants to talk about, and center your conversation there.

Once your customer is engaged in a conversation with you, it will not be hard for the conversation to evolve and include elements of you, your products and services.  (Unless, of course, your products and services can’t really help your customer.)  Once the conversation is focused on what your customer cares about, you will find a natural way to migrate the conversation to where you want it to be.  A flock of birds takes off in one direction as they assemble into formation.  Once they are all flying together they can turn in the direction of their destination.

I’ll write more in the future about how to change the conversation you are having with your customer. For now, I encourage you to focus on this fundamental question: What do we want to talk about?


  • amanda
    Dec 23, 2008 - 10:00 am

    “Quotidian”…impressive word! I had to look it up.

    In order to build any long-term relationship where the parties feel loyal to one another, conversations can never be one-sided. And yet, marketers try so often to talk AT their customers. I think the media used encouraged this attitude. Direct mail, TV and billboards seem like shouting, chest-thumping media, but they don’t have to be.

    Do you remember that friend who would always go on for hours about her own problems or successes? Her phone calls felt more like rants than conversations. I bet you slowly tried to extricate yourself from that relationship. No one is afraid of hurting a company’s feelings, though. Get too caught up in yourself, and they will just dump you.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 25, 2008 - 01:01 am

      Amanda, I guess you could say that quotidian should be an everyday word, but that would be a bad pun.

  • Fabio Platero
    Dec 25, 2008 - 19:49 pm

    Wow, Steve!

    I really admire you. Phenomenal information here.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 25, 2008 - 21:15 pm

      Thank you, Fabio. I followed your link, and see you are from Brazil. Please visit us frequently!


  • BonnieL
    Dec 28, 2008 - 18:17 pm

    Steve, this is going to sound mighty strange, but I think what people want during the economic evolution we’re going through is place where someone will really listen to them kvetch! If you provide a service or product and are willing to listen to and, perhaps even alleviate, the kvetching – you’ll have a customer for life.

    triiibe on!

  • Steve Yastrow
    Dec 28, 2008 - 23:40 pm

    Bonnie … change the conversation from “let me tell you how great my product is” to “let’s talk about what’s going on with you.” One of the healthiest conversation changes possible!

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