Learn more about How to Balance Technology and the Human Touch for a Better Customer Experience: A note from Duct Tape Marketing's Latest Book for Small Business
Carl: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast, where our guests share how they stay connected in their business lives. I'm your host, Carl Lewis from Vision33, and my guest is John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing. John, it's great to have you on the podcast. Please tell us about yourself, your background, your new book, and Duct Tape Marketing.
John: I've been my own marketing consulting firm for 30 years now, and I started not just before we had marketing automation but before we had the internet! I've evolved through a lot of changes. Duct Tape Marketing believes marketing is a system you integrate around strategy, and we work primarily with small businesses. We also have a network of independent marketing consultants around the world that license our methodology, which was outlined in my first book, Duct Tape Marketing. I've written a sixth book, and it’s very different. It’s not a how-to like my first five books; it’s more of an inspirational why-to.
John: It's called The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur and is organized as a daily meditation. Every day has a new page that starts with an inspirational quote or passage from mid-19th century literature we read in high school and college – Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, etc. Then I offer 100 to 200 words of context for the entrepreneur. I end every day with a question I hope readers contemplate throughout the day. Owning a business – being an entrepreneur – is one of the greatest personal development programs ever created. This book is a supplement to that.
Carl: I agree about personal development. It took two tries of being an entrepreneur to discover it wasn't in my blood. I'm a better “number two” in life, so I made that my goal, and I've been very happy. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, and I admire those who have what it takes to succeed.
John: I’d like to suggest that even in the role you described as “number two,” you need an entrepreneurial mindset that working on yourself and bringing a ‘better you’ to the business helps you do a better job and build a better business. It's not what you call yourself or what your job title is – it's more a viewpoint about how to add value to the world.
Carl: I agree. I call myself an intrepreneur.
Carl: John, you work with many small businesses and people evaluating technology and other business improvement tactics. They're living this stuff. What trends, especially around automation, are challenging everyone these days?
John: There are a lot of trends you follow for 10 years and think, when is it going to happen? I wouldn't call this a cutting-edge trend, but as the technology makes it easier, more folks realize they need to personalize customers’ experiences with their content, interactions, and engagement. Not everyone wants the same thing. They aren't all on the same buying journey. They have different questions or objectives at each stage of the journey.
John: And marketing automation shouldn’t be ‘set it and forget it.’ We need to be more nimble in our campaign setup, allowing the tools and technology to adjust to what people actually do. Do they click something? Do they visit a page? Do they read something three times or for five minutes – or whatever our metric is? We need more complex campaigns based on behavior.
Carl: You mean the customer experience.
Carl: Making it as personal as possible.
John: Yes. And again, it's not like anything's changed in the buying world. It's just that we now have technology we can tweak and give people what they want – like some people want audiobooks, some want ebooks, and some want to hold a physical book. It’s time to understand what the experience is like for the different people we serve.
Carl: What are some of the biggest challenges as people try to put these ideas into practice in their businesses and deal more personally with their customers and prospects?
John: Time. What I'm talking about implies you have a good idea of how your customer buys and what they consider a good experience. Then you put that into action. One promise of marketing automation technology is ‘set it and forget it,’ sending people through the funnel as you designed it. But to be effective, you must constantly test, tweak, and analyze based on what people do. It takes time.
Carl: Absolutely. So, it sounds like old school standard stuff. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Create programs that make someone comfortable with where they are; don’t just send them down the path we want them to go. What are the next big things you're thinking about as you take these concepts and bring them to business life?
John: Probably the hottest topic at the beginning of 2020 is AI. Part of it's just a trendy buzz word – if you asked a dozen marketers, you'd get 12 definitions of what AI is or how they’ll employ it. But there's no question there’s value in technology that can do some of the thinking for us based on customer or prospect behavior. The real winners will be those who figure out where it's appropriate and reduces friction but don’t rely on it entirely.
John: For many of us, our only interaction with AI is a chatbot people sell us by saying, "This will answer all your customers’ questions. You'll never have to talk to them again." Eventually, people will get sick of those interactions; they might even consider it worse than no interaction at all. Those who figure out how to mix the right amount of technology with the right amount of human interaction will win.
Carl: I call chatbots voicemail 2.0. That’s what they feel like, except instead of me leaving a voicemail, some put me through the paces. I’m 35-40 seconds in before I realize it’s not a real person. That's going to get annoying quickly for folks.
John: Marketers will use tools wrong and give people a bad taste. But unfortunately for the people doing it well, you don't think, "Oh, what a great experience." It was the right experience, so you don’t notice it because you got what you wanted the way you wanted it. It was designed well.
Carl: Exactly. The measure of that in marketing is that when it's a good experience, people don't talk about it, but when it's a bad experience, they do.
John: You don't have to look much farther than reviews to see that. Often, we work with companies that have ignored reviews, so they have three bad ones, but their customers love them. It's gotten easier, but it used to be hard to leave a review on sites like Google Reviews or Yelp – you had to be a bit tech-savvy. And angry people will crawl over broken glass to leave a review, whereas happy customers won’t. I think that's a good indication of that phenomenon.
Carl: I do customer survey work every year, and that's one of my long-held beliefs: the hardest people to get ahold of are the happy people. But on a more personal note, John, everyone seems to go through some transition in how they communicate in the business world. Whether it's telephone, email, or social media, do you see dynamic changes happening in your life?
John: I'm seeing a return to the telephone. There was so much we could do in social media and with voicemail systems that email allowed companies to feel like they were serving their customers without communicating directly with them. I'm seeing more people cut through the clutter by picking up the phone and calling people. I'm not necessarily advocating for cold calling, but reaching out, providing information, and showing attention and appreciation via the phone will come back in style.
Carl: You're not the only person to say so. Others believe the telephone is a forgotten art and it's becoming more important to them.
John: Well, the mailbox is back in style a little bit, too. Not the six-by-nine postcard you bulk mail, but putting a well-executed, intriguing piece of mail in someone's mailbox has become an event. We don't get much mail anymore.
Carl: I entered the industry on the marketing side, and direct mail was “in” back then. I made my initial claim to fame in business that way, although it did dissipate. But I think there's evidence it still has value and is being used effectively by many.
Carl: You work with many customers, which implies you also work with third parties to support your business. What are the big challenges of collaborating with other agencies?
John: The universal challenge for anybody is communication. The folks we work with to run pay-per-click or SEO campaigns or write content, etc. haven’t created ways to systematically communicate, "Here's what I'm doing, here's what I plan to do, and here are the results." That's what our clients need. They’re tired of reports that show how many visits or clicks they got because that doesn’t offer any context related to their business goals. We try to not just communicate what we did or how many this or that they got but rather to put it in the context of moving toward their goals.
John: First, understanding their goals, then communicating work/results we've achieved in that context.
Carl: When you work with someone with excellent communication skills who’s thorough with customers, you need to watch carefully for how they do what they do.
John: There's an art to simplifying communication, too. I hate to pick on SEO people, but we work with a lot of them, and it feels like there's a strategy of making everything sound more complex than it is. Because that way, you're not accountable for results. Taking things that are considered complex and simplifying them is a master skill.
Carl: I think of myself as a sharp guy, but I’ve had to ask SEO people, “Say that again, please” a few times. In your business, are you trying to do AI things with your customers? Are you trying to automate things to keep you informed about how things are going?
John: I wouldn't say we’ve embraced every ounce of what's possible with the technology, but what we’re focusing on is personalizing content. We serve different segments that are, in many ways, the same – but they use different language. In marketing, some tactics are more important to one than to another. If we just say, “Here's small business marketing,” we risk losing folks who say, "No, mine is different." We try to give people content tailored to what we think they need.
Carl: Is it working well? Addressing what's different about them as they initiate a marketing program and contact their customer base?
John: Yes. The biggest hurdle for most small businesses is trust. Anything we can do to help them say, "You understand my problems, you've worked with people like me, you have proof you've helped somebody like me.” The more we can communicate that, the faster we can build trust, which is probably the ultimate marketing tactic today.
Carl: You do things to measure and track numbers in the marketing you're involved in, and we discussed how sometimes measurements are hard to translate. Do you have methodology systems to help small businesses understand how the statistics build value in their business?
John: I think all business statistics/analysis/tracking comes down to understanding why you’re tracking something. There's so much we can track, and I see people create massive spreadsheets, but you should ask, "What story is this telling? What is this doing for me?" Because while they’re things companies like yours commonly track, they’re not built on your goals. When developing strategies, we spend a lot of time thoroughly understanding what clients are trying to accomplish. I learned early in my career that not every business just wants 15% growth year-over-year.
John: Sometimes they want more control. Or more systems. Or to have a brand their employees are proud of. Some things may lead to 15% growth year-over-year, but what we track and measure might differ from simply revenue and gross profit.
Carl: Having been part of a company that was growing probably five years in a row at about 33% a year, I can tell you that's not always fun. And other important things get bypassed.
Carl: John, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to spend with us. I’ve read a little bit of the new book, and I like it.
John: Thank you.
Carl: And I encourage almost anybody to read something once a day. It makes you a little introspective.
Carl: So, thanks again for being here. I try to keep these to 20 minutes so we catch people during their commute and give them something to think about for the day. Hopefully, we’ll see you again to talk more about what's happening in business today. Thank you, John.
John: Pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Carl: And for everyone out there, stay connected. We'll see you next time on the Connected Enterprise Podcast.