The Most Important Part of Any Business

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By Don Sturgill

There is one person no business can do without. I’m not speaking of the sales manager, the executive assistant, or even the CEO. The one necessary individual to business success (beyond a valid product or service), is the customer. Without a sufficient flow of happy buyers, no pay-per-click (PPC) agency or PPC manager, can last for long.

How to outsell your competitor every time

Copywriting legend, Gary Halbert, often presented his favorite marketing koan to new students. “If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers,” Halbert would ask, “what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

His copywriting neophytes would throw out their best guesses: a prime location, a world-famous cook, the best meat available, a price advantage to undersell all competitors, excellent advertising … the students would go on until they ran out of guesses, while Halbert shook his head and smiled.

Halbert’s now-perplexed wannabe copywriters would wait for the revelation, wondering who came closest to getting it right.

“Here’s my one desire,” Halbert would slowly recite, holding up one finger; “I would want just this one thing … A starving crowd.”

Burgermobile via Eric Kilby

Have you identified your starving crowd?

Richards Heuer is a master of intelligence analysis. During his 45 years with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Heuer doggedly pursued a nagging question from his days as a philosophy student at Williams College: “What is truth and how can we know it?”

You see, there is a danger in relying on intelligence data – whether it is intelligence gathered in school, by your marketing department, or by your own observation. Heuer says this obstacle is so great, the gulf so wide, that it is impossible to overcome. The nemesis of data interpretation is known as “Mirror imaging bias.” This curious phenomenon leads us to believe that everyone else thinks exactly as we think.

In the intelligence arena, Mirror imaging bias can (and often does) cause field agents to misjudge the next probable actions in volatile situations. In business, Mirror imaging can lead management to embark on an ill-advised course of action, resulting in a huge loss for the company.

An area where Mirror imaging most derails us is in the identification of the Customer and an in-depth of the Customer’s desires.

Does your starving crowd want what you’re offering?

My client operated a chain of hotels in the booming region surrounding a popular tourist destination. He was the son of a wealthy merchant in the Far East. Despite a family track record of success, significant PPC advertising buys, and no small investment in properties, his hotels were under-performing. Moreover, many online reviews said his bargain basement prices, as low as they were, couldn’t be justified. The staff was rude. The rooms were not being cleaned well. And the pay-per-click ads promising “affordable luxury” were being ridiculed as an outright sham.

Can you guess why an otherwise intelligent and capable businessman was failing to get the results he was expecting?

You got it: Mirror imaging bias had him convinced that his knowledge of what Americans wanted (the lowest possible price) and would respond to (hype) should enable him to get out the PPC big guns and beat out all competition. He was wrong. And, as far as I know, he is still wrong. My client was absolutely unable to let go of his bias and try a different approach. He wanted me to dig him out of the problem by writing better hype than his original copywriter had provided, not by helping him develop a better strategy.

new improved web
via Duncan Hull

Why I don’t write hype (and neither should you)

It’s tough to ignore the facts. Every box of detergent is “New and improved.” The skin lotions all make your complexion “radiant” and provide your water-starved cells with a “natural moisturizer” and “revitalizing nourishment.”

We get used to hype. We see ourselves fall for hype. So we figure that’s what it takes to make sales. Everyone does it, right? Hype works! But, today’s consumer is smarter and has better access to information than ever before.

The customer prefers straight shooting and hates surprises. In the age of the Internet, hype is giving way to something even more effective, something we should never have moved away from in the first place: Hype is being upstaged by the Truth.

If you say you will ship within 24 hours and provide world-class customer support, you had better do it. If you advertise clean rooms and friendly staff, your guests are going to let the world know (overnight) if the reality is different from the ad. And if you tell your clients they can expect a rapid increase in sales, but the promises fall flat … you are sunk and your PPC management days are destined to be brief.

What you say is what you get

Let’s take Gary Halbert’s koan a step further. Let’s see if we can further delineate your ideal customer.

You have gathered a hungry crowd. They are right in front of you, but you can only serve one at a time. My hamburger cart is right across the street, and we are still in a contest to see who can sell the most. Some of the people in your crowd are glancing hungrily over toward my cart … I don’t have a waiting line there. What should you do now?

Here are some options:

  • Run a special to make the wait even more worthwhile. Try a BOGO offer (Buy One Get One).
  • Use negative advertising. Tell the crowd your competitor’s burgers are substandard.
  • Drop your prices even further. Guarantee you will beat my price, no matter how low I go.
  • Hype your product better. Use testimonials. Put up a “Best burgers in the world” sign.
  • Hire extra staff to speed up the flow. Get two lines going. Work faster.

All of those are valid ideas that have been used extensively in the real world. They may smell a little like deception, but the airways and byways are predominantly populated by those who practice them, in one form or another.

Yet, there is a better way – and if I use it, I’m going to outsell you every time.

Here’s how: I separate the crowd into buyers and non-buyers. Remember, the contest is about selling the most burgers; we aren’t trying to see who can give the most away. I go ahead and allow (even urge) those who aren’t true customers to go to your cart … then, I serve the rest and get them fed.

Yes, it is true that some of those who aren’t yet ready to buy will soon become active buyers , and I don’t want to alienate them … but neither do I want them clogging up my line right now. My focus is on the bottom line: selling those burgers.

How the hungry crowd concept applies to PPC

You know there is a hungry crowd for your product … but who are they? Do you know? Or could it be your vision is clouded by Mirror imaging bias?

Here’s a test. Quickly list three characteristics of your ideal customer – perhaps the age group, economic status, and ethnicity. Now, look in the mirror. Is there any resemblance?

How to identify your best customers

Consider this customer persona example, prepared by the team at Conversion Max:

Conversion Max customer persona

Here are five tips on how businesses and PPC managers can gather the information necessary to compile their customer or client profiles:

  • First, become aware of your tendency towards Mirror imaging bias. You may not be able to escape the bias, but knowing it is there will help you listen to the customer’s voice, rather than to your own.
  • Use the records you already have to mine for data. The amount of information available to you will be dependent upon how your receipts are processed, how sophisticated your data collection procedures are, and whether you do the work yourself or hire a data mining company to help.
  • Prepare customer surveys and ask customers to help you help them by providing information about themselves and their preferences. You can present the questions online, via a service like Survey Monkey, or distribute hard copies directly to customers.
  • Work closely with your PPC manager to pull data from online tools. Keyword research can tell you what customers are seeking. Back-link data can reveal which other websites find your work relative and are linking to it. Social media surveys will allow you to hear what customers and potential customers are saying about your business and your industry.
  • Go where your best customers hang out and talk with them. Are there online forums they frequent? Is there a trade group or association to which many of them belong? Perhaps attend a conference and meet them in person. You want to know their names, ages, interests, dreams, fears, plans, and expectations.

The words you use in your marketing material and PPC advertisements will select the customers you deem best. Do you want buyers looking for the lowest price? Word your ads accordingly, “Our prices can’t be beat.”

Do you want customers seeking the highest quality? Talk features and benefits. Tell them why your product or service is worth more than that of your competitors.

The primary consideration, when starting or evaluating any PPC campaign is this: Who are the customers most suited to my offer and my goals … and what do I need to say or do to attract them? 

Take it from the sales copy guru, Gary Halbert: Your efforts should center on identifying, gathering, and pleasing a hungry crowd.

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Don Sturgill

Freelance Writer at Don Sturgill
Writer, Dreamer, Believer and Friend of Entrepreneurs, Don Sturgill is a freelance writer and the author of Roadmap to Freedom (Dream Into It), the field manual that helps entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality … fast. Don is from Bend, Oregon, PPC capital of the world. His home on the web is at donsturgill.com.

7 Responses to The Most Important Part of Any Business

  1. Great article, Don! You hit the nail on the head by explaining how identifying your best customers is better than bashing competitors, increasing the hype, or dropping prices.

    A lot of businesses get sucked into those tactics because they don’t know how to get inside the heads of their customers and speak to them. Dropping prices (including offering discounts) is a dangerous path to take, which often causes competitors to do the same, forcing the 1st one to drop prices even more, and so on.

    Simply taking the time to create customer personas and build marketing messages that talk to them specifically is a long-term plan that pays off. Well done!

  2. Thank you, Theresa. I am impressed by Conversion Max’s customer personas. It’s amazing that many companies won’t take time to do that. What do you think of data mining. I have seen some incredibly deep-dive results from the practice.

  3. Great thinking Don, thinking that makes me think.
    So many of us face these two problems, the starving crowd and giving them what they want. (it is no good giving a vegetarian crowd the best burgers in the World.)
    I think there is a massive tendency among new entrepreneurs to launch an idea or product that is the product of their imagination, rather than the product of customer interactions. Talking to customers, or potential customers is *vital* to business success. Persuading them to tell you what they need depends on keeping them smiling – Talk to real people.
    Phone surveys are IMO a waste of time because real people are too busy to answer them thoughtfully.

  4. Write on, Phil. Mirror imaging bias drives us to see what WE think, not what the other thinks. I love the hungry vegetarian analogy. The first time I worked with a group of guys from India, I didn’t understand why they weren’t enthusiastic about coming over to the house for a steak barbecue. It all made sense when one of them clued me in to Hinduism’s dietary practices.

  5. Great post Don!

    I’m still one of those people who is skeered of PPC (having had a bad experience way back when). Yet I recognize the value of using it in business.

    I 150% agree that the most important part of any business is the customer (and customer service, for that matter). If you don’t have happy customers, you don’t do very well in business.

    With over 20 years in the customer service industry, I could tell you customer service horror stories to make you cringe and yell with outrage. I can also tell you about the many horrible experiences I had as a customer service agent or supervisor.

    Customers are getting more and more savvy in today’s times. They DEMAND certain things and believe they are always right (they were trained that way, after all). Let’s not even start about the “instant gratification” attitude customers expect due to being able to access online shopping and the internet.

    Yet the customer service agent has rights too. The right to escort you off the property because you behaved so badly that you are darned lucky they didn’t call the cops!

    Yep, fun times.

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