“Helpology”: Where marketing and sales are going next

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Kristin Zhivago

President & Founder

Kristin Zhivago, revenue coach, is the president of Zhivago Partners, a digital marketing management company, and author of Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy. Zhivago and her team of digital marketing specialists focus on helping clients get to “ka-ching” by making it easier for their customers to find them, appreciate what they’re selling, and buy from them.

Speak with Kristin on her direct line: (401) 423-2400

Some part of my brain is always working on the overall evolution of revenue generation. And that part of my brain is also always obsessed with the buyer’s reality, because their reality as buyers drives our reality as sellers.

Buyers (including those of us who market for a living!) have become expert at avoiding unsolicited emails, texts, and calls. We are suspicious of any “slick” marketing message. We trust other buyers more than we trust sellers. And we are inundated with messages to the point where it takes 7 or 8 exposures to something before we ever take notice of it. 

Buyer avoidance of messages is a Gap between buyers and sellers, and it just keeps on getting larger.

With all this in mind, I was having a deep discussion with my husband a while back (he was always an excellent brainstorming partner) about The Gap

I was lamenting The Gap, and talking about how we need a whole new way of looking at marketing. 

“Buyers don’t want to be sold to. What buyers want is help,” I said. “And it’s very specific help, help that we don’t even know they need until we interview them. And then, we have to figure out how to give them that very specific help.” We both knew that’s where revenue comes from. 

We talked about how useless demographics and personas have become; there are plenty of customers who don’t fit the mold, demographically, but who buy from us anyway. And, marketers often don’t know exactly why their customers bought from them, although that is the most important question to answer. 

We talked about buyer psychology, which has been done to death but has done very little to close The Gap. 

I kept coming back to the “help” train of thought. That’s what everyone wants. They want help finding us, help understanding what we’re selling and how it can benefit them, help when it’s time to buy and receive goods and services, help if they have a question, help if something goes wrong, help with referring us to others.  

Then he looked at me and asked, “What about “helpology”? 

I sat for a second, running it by all the filters. Ping, ping, ping. Then I jumped up, saying, “That’s it!” Big hugs all around. 

I tested the Helpology idea on some business owners and managers, while in the midst of website and positioning discussions. The conversation immediately got on the right track. That was interesting all by itself. Marketers always have trouble getting the rest of the company on the right track. The idea of “Helpology” puts things in the right perspective. 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and realized that there’s a follow-up acronym that will help everyone put the concept to work: Analysis, Interviews, Delivery – or AID for short.

So what is Helpology? 

It is the idea that, from the very start of ANY buying process, the buyer is looking for help. I’m going to call the buyer Sam, to make it easy. 

Sam has a problem or a desire. Sam starts to look for a solution. At this moment, Sam is looking to see if anything will solve his problem. He wants to do this as quickly and conveniently and cost-effectively as he can. 

Let’s look at how we can help Sam on his quest, using Analysis, Interviews, and Delivery.

Analysis

As any good engineer will tell you, the first place to start is always with analysis. 

We have to analyze the nature of Sam’s desire for help. During this phase, you will have to accurately analyze:

  • The nature of the problem 
    • What, exactly, is motivating Sam to search for a solution?
      • Discomfort
      • Status
      • Cost
      • Frustration 
      • Ambition
      • Time
  • The solutions available
    • How much comfort the solutions actually provide
    • What is available
    • How much the solutions cost
    • How frustrating they are
    • How they help Sam further his ambition or meet his personal goals
    • How much time is required to take advantage of the solution
  • Your own ability to solve the problem and deliver what Sam wants 
    • What your company’s strengths and weaknesses are 
    • What you will have to charge in order to make a profit compared to what Sam will be willing to pay
    • How long you will be able to hold a unique place in the marketWhat you will have to do next, as your success attracts competitors
    • Which types of partners you will need and how to recruit them

Interviews

This is the part that most people skip. 

They think they already know what the customer wants, when in fact all they know is very general. That’s not good enough. In truth, customers are very specific about what they want. And in this age of “if I just get the search term right, I will find exactly what I’m looking for,” customers will keep looking until they find it. 

It’s easier if you are introducing a new product to a current set of customers or you want to improve your sales of a current product or service. You know how to reach them, they will be open to talking to you—assuming you’ve been good at helping them already. Current customers have a vested interest in your success; they want you to be successful so they can order from you in the future.  

Questions you should ask include: 

  • What do you think of our product/service? 

  • Why did you choose it over others? 

  • What do you consider competitive products and what do you think of them? 

  • If you were looking for this in Google, what would you type in? 

  • If you were the CEO of our company tomorrow, what’s the first thing you would focus on or fix? 

  • Are our prices fair? 

  • What trends do you see in this area? 

  • What’s your biggest challenge in this area? 

  • Is there anything I should have asked you, that I didn’t ask you?

If you are introducing a new product to new customers, you will have to do everything and look everywhere you can—networking, social media, discussion groups, Google, associations, etc.—to find the types of people who might be interested in your product. And then, just as you would do with current customers, you ask them open-ended questions, such as: 

  • Have you ever had this kind of problem? 

  • What did you do to solve it? 

  • What satisfied you and what frustrated you about those solutions? 

  • What do you wish someone would do (assuming they haven’t answered that question already) 

  • What are your biggest challenges in this area? 

  • If you were trying to solve this problem, what would you do? 

  • What would you consider a fair price for something that would solve your problem? 

  • When you have looked for this type of solution in the past, what type of information were you looking for that was difficult to find?

Note that you are not telling them what you have developed already, or specifically what you have in mind. You are using these interviews to make sure you are on the right track; that you have thought of everything you should have; that your solution will be well-accepted in the marketplace; and that there isn’t already something out there that does what you’re thinking of doing. 

Conduct the interview, then ask them if you can come back to them later with the product prototype, to get their opinion. 

Whether you are talking to existing customers or prospective customers, DO NOT, under any circumstances, “sell them” during the interview. They will clam up immediately, and the interview will end. People never open up to salespeople.

Delivery

Delivery is the essence of helping someone. You promise, in your marketing, on your site, in your product descriptions; and then, you must deliver on that promise. 

As I have been saying for years, branding is the promise that you make; your brand is the promise that you keep. 

And I’d like to quote Gerry McGovern, who wrote some years ago about an unusually pleasant experience he had with one company. He also mentioned “a 1989 study, [where] consultant Sidney Yoshida found what he called The Iceberg of Ignorance. While 100% of front-line problems were known to the front-line employees, only 74% were known to team leaders, 9% to middle management and just 4% to top management.” So those internal meetings, where top executives make decisions about what they should sell and how they should sell it, are severely handicapped by the gap between them and their customers. Too bad, because customers are where the revenue comes from. 

The first thing you deliver is information. And that information, as you might guess, must be helpful

Your information must answer the questions that the buyer has, questions that you will not even know they are asking if you don’t interview them. This is, by far, the most common mistake that marketers and salespeople make: they assume they know what the customer wants to know. 

How many times have you left a shopping site because they didn’t answer your question? Even on Amazon, the company that works the hardest to make it easy for the customers to get answers to their questions, often lacks the most basic information in their product descriptions. Customers have to ask other customers the most elementary questions: “Will this work with a Mac?” “How big is it, exactly?” “How long does it last?” 

These are questions manufacturers should have answered, but didn’t. I have talked a lot about the customer’s Mindset when they set out to buy. It consists of their desires, concerns, and questions. You need to address all of these. 

The customer’s desires are very specific to their situation (but, fortunately, they often share these desires with other customers). Marketers often address what they think the customer wants, but are often off target as to why someone would buy the product. As buyers, we have all experienced this, all too frequently. 

The customer’s concerns come from the fact that they have been promised one thing, and received something else. Something disappointing. “Everyone promises that,” they are thinking, as they read your marketing copy or listen to a salesperson. “But I have yet to see it delivered.” Their experience trumps all of your fancy branding and promising. Which is why customers depend so much on the actual experiences of other customers. 

The customer’s questions come from the determination to make sure that this product or service will, in fact, meet their very specific need. They won’t rest until all the questions are answered, and you’re not going to sell very much at all if the answers are either missing or buried deep within all of your marketing content. 

These desires, concerns, and questions should be addressed the second they come into your site or page where your product is displayed. Customers shouldn’t have to dig.

So what is all this? It’s being helpful. It’s understanding what they want and why, and figuring out how to give it to them. Honestly, that’s what marketing and selling is all about—when you are doing it right. Just ask Brandon, who replaced salespeople with customer service people, because they are naturally helpful, and they enjoy helping customers get the most out of the products and services their company offers. Revenue for Brandon’s company has grown dramatically since he put these practices into place. 

“What do they want and need? How can I help?” These are the questions you should be asking yourself every business day, and striving to answer them with helpful content, and right-on products and services. 

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