A friend of mine was disappointed recently when he met one of his customers at a trade show. As they talked, he discovered that his long-time customer had no idea that my friend’s company builds flex and rigid-flex boards. Talking even further, this customer had no idea that my friend’s company did metal-backed boards either. All this customer knew was what the company did for him—simple six- and eight-layer epoxy boards.
What my friend found frustrating was that he has been doing all the right things for years. He has been advertising, sending out newsletters, writing columns, training his large sales team, and has even written books specifically on flex and rigid-flex and on metal-backed boards. Still, this veteran customer only knew my friend’s company for what they did for him and his company. In short, once he found what he was looking for, he looked no further.
I am sure another friend, Dave Ryder, the co-founder and owner of Prototron Circuits, won’t not mind if I share a similar story about his company. Every so often, when one of his salespeople visits a long-time customer, that customer will look up in surprise and say, “You mean you guys do prototypes? All this time we’ve been working together and I never knew that. We have a lot of quick-turn prototypes, so maybe I’ll start using you guys. I wish I had known sooner.” Prototron advertises, placing ads in this publication that feature race cars, jets, and all other symbols denoting fast-turn prototyping. Of course, if nothing else, their name might give everyone a subtle hammer to the head as to what they do. Ya think?
I know that in these cases, as in other situations I have witnessed, the first tendency is to blame the salesperson. “What the heck have you been talking to this customer about for so many years? How come they don’t even know what we do?” My response is, “Don’t bother. I am positively sure that your salespeople have been telling your customers all about your company and all that you do. I am sure that they have sent your customers links to the books you have written, or the columns you have published about your technologies.” Salespeople, by their very nature, are always eager to find something new and exciting to tell their customer. In many cases they are literally, desperately, looking for something new and exciting to tell their customers, so don’t blame them.
And don’t blame yourselves, especially if you have done all the right things as my two friends have. No, the problem lies with your customers. Customers are not interested in hearing your message–or any other message–until they are ready to listen to that message. Until then, they keep their blinders on, focusing only on what they care about at the moment.
Your job is to never, ever stop delivering your focused messaging. Your job is to say the same thing in all kinds of different ways, over, and over again, ad nauseum. I don’t care how much you get sick of hearing or reading or saying your message; you have to keep doing it and, even then, you are still going to meet someone at a trade show who doesn’t know what you do, even if they have been your constant customer for 25 years.
Why do you think every football game features dozens of Ford F-150 commercials? Why do you think we still remember Mr. Whipple and his darned Charmin toilet paper, or the embarrassment of “ring around the collar,” even 25 years after they last aired?
Why do you think we all know who Flo is? Why do you think you know her competitors, the duck, and the little British gecko? Why do you think people who hate football still watch the Super Bowl for the ads and by the next day cannot remember what they were about, or what they were selling?
Do you really think these companies enjoy burning through money for the heck of it? One 30-second Super Bowl ad now costs $5.6 million.
These advertisers realize that they are dealing with a population that has the attention span of a gnat—a gnat with an attention deficit disorder. They know that to get their point across, to get people to hear them and know how great their product is, they have to say it a million times and then say it again.
And that’s what we in our industry must do as well. We must keep finding new and innovative ways to get our message into the heads of all our customers. And then we must do it again and again. Our goal is to be heard and then the hardest part…to be remembered.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.