Colt Briner, Founder and Marketing Consultant at Scrappy AF Solutions, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Colt shares how to understand the psychology of marketing and sales using Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
Based in Santa Rosa, Colt is a Founder and Marketing Consultant at Scrappy AF Solutions.
Revenue Marketing Report
Full Podcast w/ Colt Briner
Emotional vs. Rational Buying
Colt is the Founder and Marketing Consultant at Scrappy AF Marketing–an agency specializing in creating market disruption for startups. From messaging and strategy to operating with a small budget, Colt helps small businesses make a big impact with less.
“I’ve always worked in small to mid-age startups who have to be super scrappy to compete against industry incumbents. I’ve come up with all the clever tricks for using a really tiny budget to grab market share from really big competitors.”
Early on, Colt identified a major issue he sees manifesting consistently in product marketing. Marketers accidentally turn their product into a commodity instead of a revenue driver.
“I see this happening with individual marketers–agency marketers– and creative freelancers. They’re doing a good job, busting their butts, selling website development or video production for example. Ultimately, a business owner doesn’t wake up terrified that they don’t have a video. They wake up terrified that they’re not attracting customers and they’re not making money.
“What I always do in my conversations with prospects is orient what I’m offering around driving revenue. I’ll ask them where they’re currently at, talk about baseline metrics and what their growth goals are, and then we get into conversion rates. An example question would be, ‘When you get a lead, how often do you convert that to an opportunity? How often do opportunities convert to close business? What’s your average contract value?’
“In a B2B context, if I’m talking to somebody and we figure out that if I add five clients for you this year–five clients that you wouldn’t ordinarily be getting–that’s $800,000. That’s the foundation for our conversation. A gain of $800,000 is way different from ‘how much do you charge for a website?’ A website really isn’t what I’m delivering to you. I’m going to show you how what I’m producing as a marketing consultant is going to lead to that $800,000. Then, when I say it’s going to cost $40,000, it’s a much easier conversation. It’s got them in a totally different mindset.
“I think that we rationalize what happens to us on an emotional level, and that’s how we communicate with the world–through rational thought. But so much of what we do in the day-to-day is driven from an emotional core. Just look at the construction of the brain from the limbic on out. That’s the center of what we do. And we are really good at bringing logic and reason and rational conversation to how we operate in the world.
“Why do we call it emotion? I mean, I know that’s not actually done this way, but energy and motion is how I think about it. We’re always more deeply engaged in matters that have an emotional charge. So I don’t think marketers–just like we were saying with other business owners–I don’t think marketers wake up and have an emotional charge that they don’t have some particular piece of technology.”
The trick to a productive conversation with a prospect is to understand what their needs are and which emotions are tied to those needs. Don’t start with a list of product features. Start the conversation with exactly how you will help them fill a need.
“I think that if they’re waking up in the middle of the night, it’s because they remember how embarrassed they were the last time their CEO asked them, ‘Well, what’s the ROI on this effort? How do we attribute one piece of our marketing strategy to any kind of revenue?’
“For a long time, I think tying effort to revenue was an acceptable mystery. There’s a bit of a hand wave, ‘Oh, branding is this esoteric exercise. We don’t expect to measure this, do you?’ But now it’s really not that way. I mean with anything that we as a species haven’t understood, we push into it. We uncover ways to understand it and to measure it and to see it. The tools to do that in marketing are here now.
“So if the next time the CEO asks you, ‘How do we attribute every aspect of our marketing spend to every line of revenue?’ If you don't have an answer to that, you are behind. And that's where you had that emotional sense of, ‘I'm failing. I'm embarrassed, I'm sad, I'm concerned, I'm fearing for my job.’ So now you're in motion with that energy. And you know, for me, this is why I get driven to solutions like CaliberMind. I should have the answer. So get the dang answer, man.
Emotions can trump rationale, and there’s nowhere that’s more relevant than working with vendors. It’s one thing to be frustrated with feature shortcomings. It’s another to stop working with someone because they did something offensive. Which does Colt feel is the bigger contributor to churn?
“Did something offensive is definitely heavier for me. The people, the effort that they put into it, if their technology fell apart and they had a, ‘Super sorry, we’re doing everything we can to fix this. I know this is really inconvenient for you.’ Then they’ve connected with me. They have expressed that they understand the position that shortcoming puts me in. They're in a scramble. They want to do everything they can to fix it.
“That's the vendor I want to work with. They're with me and I'm with them.
“On the other hand, so many–especially very large companies–if the technology fails… It’s like that Saturday Night Live episode with Lily Tomlin on the telephone. ‘We're the phone company. We don't care.’
“That captures exactly how we get treated by these large companies.
“If I can work with a smaller company that maybe doesn't have the billion dollar tech, but is in it with me every time? That’s the vendor I’d prefer to work with.”
Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
“I am a huge fan of nonviolent communication. It has helped me understand myself and communicate in all my relationships. We've had such a lack of that type of education in our public school system. The fastest way for me to communicate NVC, I tell the story that I call the pink pencils story.
“Imagine this couple in a house and one or the other of them, in this case (I flip flop each time) the wife is quite upset. She's looking for something. She's flipped up the couch cushion, she's in every drawer. She looked everywhere in the house and she's very upset.
“The husband doesn't get what's happening. She's trying to find her pink pencils. And that's not something that he understands.’Why do you care so much about the pink pencils?’ But there’s two points of disconnect in this relationship. At least around this particular issue. She's very upset and he has no idea why.
“The two points of disconnect are that you have a method and a preference for meeting a need. What's really happening is she's trying to meet her need for self-expression. Her method for self-expression is journaling and her preference when she journals is to use pink pencils.
“What's really at play here in this scenario is that she feels disconnected from her need of self-expression–journaling. Now, if she was in a conversation with the husband about self-expression, which is a need that he would understand. But that's not where the dialogue is.
“She's talking about pink pencils, which means she's two points removed from communicating what's happening in a way he would understand. When people get honest about the needs that are at play in their lives–when something's going well or something's going poorly–they connect in a much more meaningful way. If he can hear the need and then a method and then a preference for that method, then he can get a full picture of the sources of his wife’s distress.
“The second piece of NVC for me is that all feelings are tied to needs either being met or not. Anything you feel is driven by a need. So when you're in a relationship and you are communicating in the space of needs and feelings, you're communicating in a real and meaningful way.
“In marketing, if you understand the needs that your product or solution or service is meeting, you will become less disrupted by market competitors. You will be in a space where your employees and your customers understand your purpose rather than just your product. And that will build loyalty on both fronts. You'll have less turnover of both employees and customers.”
Marketing to Needs and Feelings
The best marketers understand that communicating with people in a way that builds connection is what leads to a company’s success.
“A good example is Toro. Toro makes landscaping equipment. They make lawnmowers. They make weed wackers, blowers, et cetera. If they believe that they're in the lawn mower business, that's one thing.
“If they understand that they are in the business of creating a beautiful space behind my house business, they’re getting close.
“If they understand that they're in the serenity, peaceful, and relaxing sensation business, that’s compelling. They understand the business that they’re in. Because if they think they’re in the lawnmower building business, somebody who comes up with a laser that cuts your lawn in two seconds is going to disrupt you. But if you understand what you're delivering for the customer in terms of their actual needs and feelings, you are in a very powerful position as a competitor in a marketplace.
“As soon as you orient the conversation around features, now I'm mentally oriented around that. You set the tone. Now I'm thinking about other features that I might have heard about. But if you start from that kernel of the basic need that I need met, that’s compelling.
“If you're talking about pink pencils, you're not actually talking about a human need. Even if you're talking about a journal, you're not talking about a human need. You have to talk about self expression and the preferred method of self expression. Once you’ve created that foundation, you’ve created a conversation that is so much more meaningful.
“And here's what I would suggest. If you want a cheat sheet on this, it's so easy to find NVC needs and feelings inventories. So print the thing out. Think about your product, use a highlighter. These are the needs that my service, my solution, my product is meeting. And these are the feelings that occur when that need is not met. You'll become much more powerful as a marketer.”
Communicating Across the Marketing-Sales Divide
It takes a lot to connect marketing activities back to revenue, especially when there’s poor marketing and sales alignment. After all, how can marketing prove what’s working if opportunities aren’t being entered by sales in the CRM? Often viewed as a non-selling action (or NSA) what can we as marketers do to help bridge the divide?
“I think this starts with the marketing leader and the sales leader creating a relationship where they're on the same team. This is the opposite behavior that creates silos, and I do see the silos a lot. Anytime I see the departments siloed, I see it get dysfunctional.
“Now there's going to be tension between the teams. There is a healthy level of tension between a sales team and a marketing team. But any good relationship is going to cause some tension or friction. Leaders need to help navigate how they will work as a team to make sure that everybody's winning together.
“Now the subordinates see that the marketing and sales leaders are working together. That's a good relationship framework. So now the subordinates are looking at each other going, ‘Oh, okay. We're all on the same team.’
“The next foundational item is orienting conversations around the needs and feelings.
“‘If I say I need sales to enter their information into Salesforce, we’re talking about a preference for a method to meet a need. We're talking about pink pencils. When we talk about entering your information into Salesforce, let's talk about the “self-expression” version of what's happening in the sales department. I'm not gonna tell you what that conversation needs to be, but it needs to be oriented around the needs, not the methods or the preferences of how those needs are getting met.
“When you're beating up the sales team to enter the stuff in Salesforce or whatever other non-selling action you are talking about, that's all pink pencils. Let's bring it back to the needs.
“There's one other thing that I think is important here, which is getting an initiative adopted in an organization.
“I used to just believe it was about being inspiring. When you communicated with the team, I used to pride myself on being kind of an inspiring individual when I spoke right to a business team. And there is a portion of any organization that is moved by inspiring speech.
“But I've learned about the diffusion of the innovation adoption curve. You have your innovators, your early adopters, your mid stage, your late stage, and your institutionalists. But if you look at the best literature, institutionalists exist in every level of population, whether you're a 50 person startup or you are the population of a country. Each stage has a different mental orientation for how they move into something, and none of them are wrong.
“You need the institutionalists to do their job. The mid and late, they have to do their job. The early– They all have very important jobs in any population. If you understand the psychological orientation for why they are the way that they are, you can achieve adoption within an organization. Because if you're just speaking to the early adopters and you think everybody else just doesn't get it, you won't get where you can be if you are communicating across the full spectrum.”
As a tangible example, let’s say our company has a podcast and it’s hard to connect podcast listeners to bookings. We need help from the sales team, and we need to add a “Podcast Referral” campaign to opportunities. We need to frame our ask for participation from the sales team in a way that is honest and resonates with them.
We could just ask them to “please add a referral campaign to any opportunity where they say they heard about us on the podcast.”
Or we could explain that we know, anecdotally, that three major logos came in because they listened to the podcast. The executive team can’t pull a report and see those connections, so they’re thinking about discontinuing the podcast. If the podcast has helped make selling a bit easier because of brand awareness and referrals, you can help us maintain that momentum by adding a referral campaign. Otherwise, we can’t invest in the podcast.
In order to make an argument to continue tactics that are hard to track, you have to ask sales for feedback. You have to document the wins. And you need a mechanism to track those wins so that it’s easy to report progress with the rest of the executive team. When a tactic is working–and you communicate the why behind the data–then it’s easier to circle back and thank the team for the work and the information.
“There's a thing that I think is important to put into this conversation, too. There are some initiatives that are going to require an amount of faith. You’ll have to set a timeline that sales will just need to trust that it will eventually yield results.
“For example, you've been building this podcast for a while, but now what does the sales team have? The sales team has the ability to say this is a top eight marketing podcast in the world. And what does that really mean? Why is that important? Well it’s because CaliberMind is an organization that has a great depth of marketing expertise, and you would expect them to have a podcast ranked that highly among all the thousands of podcasts on this topic.
“It’s a badge that reflects the depth of expertise that your organization possesses. It worked out, but it probably took more than six months.”
Many tactics don’t pay off immediately, but they can build credibility. That’s why marketing tactics, according to Colt, have to be a blend of short-term and long-term initiatives.
For more guidance on communicating in tough situations, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.
Camela Thompson Camela Thompson is a trusted expert with a long history in sales operations, marketing operations, and customer success operations. She advocated for revenue operations before it was a thing, and has managed tech stacks and data infrastructure for multiple companies.
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