The Most Important Question In Business…

…is “how are you doing?

When I started my career as an account executive, I found out very quickly that customers and prospects rolled their eyes the moment I started talking about my company and our services.

I would ask them if they’d like to hear about our new product release…crickets.

I would ask if I could bring my sales manager in for a meeting with my main contact’s boss…crickets.

I would ask if they had any budget they needed to spend…”nice try!”

But when I asked about them, when I asked about their business challenges, fears or aspirations, they lit up like a Christmas tree. And that is how (through lots of trial and error in business and in dating) I found out that I needed to stop talking about myself and ask that most important question: “how are you doing?”

How I roll…

When it comes right down to it, people do business with people they know, like and trust.

As a sales person early in my career, I decided to make every first conversation with a contact a “get-to-know-you” conversation. I would ask them to simply tell me about themselves. I would ask how they got into their role. I would ask if they like their company, job, or boss. And I would ask them how they are doing and (the second most important question in business) if I could help them in any way.

Then I would write that down and include that in my “thank you” email recap just to clarify the situation.

I usually stayed away from personal stuff. I know people who like to ask others they first meet what they do when they’re not at work. But I wanted to earn the right to ask that question. I wanted to get my contact to volunteer that kind of information.

And when asked about myself, I always try to be as candid as possible. I want you to get to know the real me. I hope that you like me. You may not always like what I have to say but you will know that you can trust me. That’s just how I roll…

Marketing content

As a marketer, I couldn’t believe that every piece of content followed the same basic pattern:

  • Mission: (ie-“We are the largest widget maker in the world serving the widget needs of the Fortune 1000.”)
  • Industries
  • Customer list
  • Product Details

But don’t we limit our audience to only those in the later stage of the buying journey when we speak only of ourselves?

When we use thought leadership content in the broadest digital channels speaking to the biggest needs of our customers, we become a destination of business insights for a much larger audience. We help them to define their challenges. We help them to gain alignment within their companies. We create a value-chain that brings them and their colleagues back to us for more information.

The most common business challenges

Ask any CEO, small business owner or business decision maker and they will tell you that the most common challenges in any business all tie back to them figuring out how to:

  • Grow the business
  • Reduce or control costs
  • Eliminate risks

Yet how many businesses tell their stories in light of these business challenges? Marketing content should be truly helpful to our buyers based on our unique understanding of their needs.

How many businesses start talking about themselves without first asking “how are you doing?”

Once you understand a person’s main challenge, it is so much easier to position your services. It is so much easier to find the right message.

You have to reach people where they are. You have to make the reader a participant in the story. When I was inititated by fire into the discipline of product management, I was taught that you start with understanding your target, then defining your position in the market and the message that will resonate with them. The acronym T-P-M was drilled into me as a litmus test for any marketing program.

Too often, we skip the audience part, We forget to ask people how they are doing. We assume that everyone is trying to beat a path to our door. But instead we should be thinking about what questions we are answering.

What question are you answering?

Does our content meet our company needs or the needs of our customers? Have we started by trying to understand the market landscape we are serving or have we spent all our time trying to craft the right words to describe ourselves?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…and while you’re at it, tell me: How are you doing? How can I help you?

Photo Source

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

8 thoughts on “The Most Important Question In Business…

  1. Really greate post. Thanks, Michael.

    In fact, marketers know that before messaging anything they should well define communication context. But in theory it’s a bit complicated, – and I found your T-P-M easier and more insightful to apply in practice.

    1. Thanks Alexandre. I find that it is the customer-mindset that is so hard to get to, not the practical application. Maybe that’s just my experience? Interested in others views…

  2. Michael, you sure got me with your title! Once again, proving the lure of a good one. I’d add just one thing to your excellent article. Ask that question, BUT be sure to listen to the answer and reply accordingly!

    1. Thanks Bruce. It’s a great point. I had the same feedback from someone on Twitter. It’s not enough to go through the motions of asking the question. You have to actually care about the answer!

  3. Michael, excellent point. “Does our content meet our company needs or the needs of our customers?” I find that the content that we produce that sincerely and transparently answers the questions that our visitors are asking, are the most viewed, the most engaging, and convert at the highest rates.

    After all, it’s not about us, it’s about their problem, and educating them on a solution.

    1. That’s it Adam. That’s why marketing is counter-intuitive: If we focus on the customer, we can better meet the needs of the business. If we focus on ourselves we greatly lessen our impact!

  4. This one had me taking notes. Too much clutter in the world, how will your market know the right partner/vendor/ if you’re only adding to the noise? Your customers have issues, they need solutions, why are we talking about self and not more about them? -appreciate the sharing, Michael.

    1. Thanks Jacob. I was afraid I was rambling on. This was sort of a rant for me. I mean who wants to meet someone at a party who just keeps going on and on about themselves. In the same way, who wants to do business with someone who only sees the world through their own solutions. We need to meet the world on its terms, not ours. Should be obvious but unfortunately, it is not.

      Thanks, as always, for the comment!

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