Rethink What You Sell
Let's talk about rethinking what you sell. I mentioned earlier there was an email that was sent by Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, to his whole team before they launched. And I wanted to share with you some of the excerpts of it because it's one of the most clear, cogent explanations of someone who's already done the work of rethinking what you sell in the way that I'm gonna ask you to do. He wrote to them these words, he said, "We know that we've built something "which is genuinely useful," that's table stakes, right? Like you shouldn't even be in this conversation if your product doesn't actually do something that people need, it's something people want. However, I think all of us will relate to this. Almost all of them have no idea that they want Slack. How could they, they never heard of it, right? "Just as much as our job is to build "something genuinely useful, our job is also to understand "what people think they want and then "to translate the value of Slack into their t...
erms. "What we are selling is not the software product... "what we're selling is organizational transformation." So he literally asks, who do we want our customers to become? Right, like what is this transformation that we're selling? And then he says, we want them to be relaxed, we want them to be productive workers, we want them to be people who have confidence from knowing that any information that they might need is just a search away. Right, we want them to be masters of their information, not slaves to it, we don't want them to be overwhelmed by that constant flow of information. We want them to be less frustrated, right? We want them to be able to be people who communicate with purpose knowing that everything they ask is actually building value for everyone on the team. So when I talk about rethinking what you sell, and the paradigm shift that I'm asking you to engage in, I want you to rethink what you sell in this way. You don't even sell a product, you sell a transformation. You don't sell apps, you don't sell clothes, you sell a transformation, and you sell the transformation that your specific customer is looking for. So it's often the transformation from, like, having a specific problem to no longer having that specific problem, it's, it might be a transformation of, like, feeling more confident, feeling good in their body, being better and feeling better about their career, or being better at their career, better at relationships. You may sell the easing of some frictions that they now currently experience along that journey of transformation. You may sell fuel to get from one stage to the next of their journey, or to get there faster, or more easily, or more beautifully than they would have otherwise. Like we talked earlier about someone's love mark was the Goop face mask, right? Like, you know, you could possibly use sandpaper and get the same effect, but there's beauty to it, feeling like a spa, right, it's easy, it's beautiful. It's certainly more beautiful than you would have been able to do without it. And the, what I love about this is this mindset reset opens up fodder for anyone in the company to rethink what they specifically do through this lens, right. If you're in product, you're like, ah, interesting, I have to be thinking about like how does this, how do these features actually remove frictions, insert progress triggers? If you're in marketing, the same thing. You have equal power, and I say this as someone who has run marketing teams in very technical companies, A lot of times the marketers in technical companies don't necessarily feel empowered to change a lot, but when you start thinking about what you sell as a transformation, through the lens of your customer's journey, there are actually a lot of frictions that you as a marketer can ease strictly with content. There are knowledge frictions and knowledge barriers and knowledge progress triggers that you can deliver with content. So I want to, I have a friend who runs communications at Pinterest, and I love, she's, I mention her in the book a lot, I love talking to people at Pinterest about how they think about their customer and the transformation that they create for the customer. So I asked her to share a little bit with us. This is Christine Shermer.
Good morning, I am Christine Shermer, I'm the head of comms at Pinterest, and we like to say that Pinterest's mission is to help you discover and do what you love. We think that's relevant because in today's world there are so many apps to connect with other people, with family, with friends, with news, with celebrities, but it's pretty rare to have something to help you connect with yourself. So Pinterest has about 200 million active users around the world in about 15 countries. It's most commonly used to find ideas in beauty, style, food, and home, and, you know, Pinterest is really for anyone, anyone with an idea. But those who really love it are those who are inspired to take action in their lives. So that might be the meal that they wanna make for dinner, or the trip of a lifetime that they wanna take. So Pinterest is for people who wanna try new things in their lives and people who really want to find and do the things that they love. In order to deliver on that message, we've done a few things in the products. So we've built what we like to call the personalized discovery engine, and what that really means is no home feed is the same. Mine is gonna look different than yours. 'Cause it's filled with useful and relevant ideas that are personalized for my tastes and interests. So any product feature that we build, from organizational tools to recommended pins, it's really designed to be used by you in a very individualized and customized way. They're a blank canvas for no matter what you want to discover, it will work to help you lead you down that path. From a marketing perspective, we've spent a lot of time helping people understand that Pinterest is not a social network, in fact, it's quite the opposite. It may have grown during the rise of visual social media, things like Instagram, but it is not designed at all to share, connect, broadcast to other people. In fact, it's the opposite, it's designed to lead you to possibilities that you never considered for yourself in an attempt to help you connect with your true self. So if we deliver on our promise, we like to say that you will connect with your true self. You will discover the true person that you are.
Alright, so I love that because I think it's, first of all, super counterintuitive, right? We're all like, social networks, this, this, this, and Pinterest, and she's like, nope. All we care about is helping people discover and do. That is the transformation they sell, is discovering your dreams and doing your dreams. And I've spent a lot of time with them. They've got an incredibly vast body of insights about their customers, and they build them into every conversation, there's customers on site all the time and all kinds of meetings where they're like, this is the kind of person, we have to build something for that need. Alright, so, that is like, rethink what you sell. First step is, understand that you don't just sell a product, you sell a transformation. The second step is to make that shift from product first. From a product, all I do is focus on the product that we sell, from a product-first perspective to a problem-first perspective, right? Stop fixating on what we sell and start fixating on what problem we solve. That's just meant to be a greater-than sign. Problem-first perspective is greater than product-first. And I'm going to offer you a tool that you can use to help make that shift. When you're thinking about the shift, from product-first to problem-first, there are kind of two parts, like you do have to know something about the problem that you exist to solve. And you have to deeply understand the people that have that problem. So that's like, a whole field of interest that we're gonna cover in the next session. But first you almost have to, like, internally reorient. Right, because so many of us have been so focused for so long on our product, we're in those weeds. You have to do something to make the shift that we just talked about to start thinking, unless you're lucky, and your CEO has always been super focused on, we sell this transformation. Most of us will have to do something to make that shift. So I'm gonna offer you this tool called the Story Spine. We're gonna walk through it, and I'm gonna offer it to you as sort of a change management tool to start making that shift internally in your own mind and then internally with the people that you work with from problem-first, from product-first to problem-first. This is the same as making the shift to understanding that your customer and their problem matters the most. Right, all right, so remember the hero's journey, right? We all remember the hero's journey. That our customer is on some sort of a quest of transformation that we're gonna help them do, and our role in that quest is a mentor, guide, tool, something like that. So the Story Spine is essentially a very specific way in which you can tell, literally write the story of your customer and their transformational journey in a way that sort of captures the power of narrative and storytelling to capture the hearts and minds of your internal audience, to capture your own heart and mind and get it lined up with that extreme customer focus, right. So it's just, it's a storytelling template for crafting a story about your customer's transformational hero's journey, and the power of it is that it sort of starts to get you in the mode of articulating your model for how their transformation should go. If things go right, and you help them the way that you set out to help them, this story should be true. Right, so there's, in some nonprofit, in the nonprofit world, a model of change, every nonprofit organization kind of has its own model or story for how it creates change. Businesses don't usually have that, right? So this is sort of that, and I wanna walk you through the steps, this is actually a tool that comes from the world of improv, and I just use it in companies when I work with them on consulting to sort of sketch out a new possibility for the way they could think about their customers and their relationship on their customer's journey. So it's just a fill-in-the-blank template. You start with "once upon a time." And usually it's like, once upon a time, we'll go through an example in just a second. It's usually like, once upon a time, there was someone who had this kind of a thing happening. And every day, this thing happened. But one day, something happened that created a little shift, or a change, and because of that, a change happened, because of that, a change happened, because of that, a change happened, until finally they they reach the end of their transformational journey, and ever since then, they were changed, they were transformed in the process of the journey too. So I wanna share with you a couple, actually, let me give you a couple of pointers before I share an example with you. The first is, don't fill any of the blanks in with your company name. (Tara-Nicholle laughs) What we're doing is we're starting to tell ourselves a different story about the role we play in our customer's journey, right? What you should be filling blanks in with are the ways in which or the vehicles through which your company might simplify what's hard for them, offer them knowledge or logistical ease, remove resistance or trigger progress, give them tools to make the things that are hard easier, lead them through a process. Let me share a story with you. This is a story that I wrote and am sharing with permission of a client quite a while ago. The client was Lumo Body Tech, funny enough, the client actually is a posture app, so the fact that we're doing Story Spine is funny. (Tara-Nicholle laughs) All right, here's the story. Once upon a time, there was a man, woman, athlete or desk jockey. In parens, in fact, there were tens of millions of them. And every day they sat too much and moved too little, slouching on the couch, in the car or at the computer. Until one day they had developed bad posture. And because of that they had back pain, they looked less attractive, became less active and lost confidence. And because of that they took pills, had surgery and made all sorts of unsuccessful efforts to fix their posture. And because of that they got depressed, experienced side effects, and ultimately lost some of the joy of living. Until one day they started tracking their posture and setting small movement goals. So you see there, I didn't say until one day they started using this specific device. I said they started tracking their posture and setting small movement goals, which is the way in which this device helps. And since then they stood up more, sat less, moved more and developed correct posture. And so they looked better/thinner/hotter, their backs were pain free, and they were healthier and more active. They burned more calories. And so they felt alive, more powerful and were able to fulfill their potential in life and at work. And then we just added here, "Moral of the story," because it was important to the leadership of the company. Oh yeah, by the way, and now they also know how to achieve any other health goal or change that they want, right. It's not even just about helping their backs feel better, but also we'd like to help them have confidence that they can make any other health change they wanna make. Honestly, depending on what your business is, and how close to it you are, you might be able to get some good stuff going pretty fast. But let's go back to that one. Okay, so, what's your business?
So I'm selling power tool classes for women online.
So, but I'm not sure because it seems a little different than what I was gonna say, 'cause that example seemed like the negative is first, right, until--
The bad posture--
We were telling a before and after story, basically.
Yeah, so before for me would be--
Let's start here, so who's your, it's a woman.
So once upon a time, there was a mother, or a professional, a young professional woman who's at a job or with her kids, right? She's bored, and she wants to be able to build and do stuff herself instead of asking her husband, her boyfriend, her neighbor, her father, she feels demotivated and overwhelmed by the thought of a building project from Pinterest. (all laugh)
Appreciate it, yup.
Until one day, so, there's where I'm stuck, so, until one day--
She's frustrated, and...
Well, until one day, she finds that project that she just Wants.
Right, okay, so until one day, she finds the actual chicken coop she wants to build--
Or the little (mumbles) for her kids,
Because she lives in Oakland, see.
Exactly, exactly, or Davis.
So this is the part that I'm not sure, though, and because of that, and then you keep listing all the negative stuff, so--
Well, yes, we did in this example, but it could be because of that, she felt really frustrated that she didn't have--
Some of this comes when you, I don't know your customer audience, exactly, so I'm guessing--
Right, so that would be, so she goes to Lowe's, and she's completely lost, and she buys all the wrong wood, and she comes home and she's just spent $200, and nothing gets built, and then because of that she buys the wrong cordless drill, and she can't figure out how to use it, she bought another $ and she still doesn't have the thing made, and then because of that, she finally asks her neighbor to build it, and she's kind of pissed because he basically built it and she still doesn't know what she's doing--
Mm-hmm, or he didn't even build it that well, let's just be real--
Or he didn't build it that great, and--
He didn't even do a good job--
He did it the way he wanted to do it. Right, it's still not the way she wanted to do it.
Those chickens can't even get in, right?
Until one day, so, until one day she took my online tool class--
Or until one day she took--
That's what I'm like--
She like got some education, so this is, this is the thing where I would say--
Okay, so until, that's in general, right.
Yes, I would make it general.
So until one day she got some real actual training from a woman, can I say that, 'cause it's different?
Or you could say--
'Cause it is different.
It might be that it's from a woman, it might just be that it wasn't mind-numbingly boring, it might be--
It was specific to women being smaller and needing leverage and needing the actual better technique, 'cause there is a difference, men teach differently. So, so until one day, she got some better training, in setting small movables, and finally learned how to actually use her cordless drill correctly. In like 10 minutes or something like that. And since then, she now has built like ten Pinterest projects, should I, is that too much right away?
Since then, she's built--
She's an overachiever.
She's built one, one complete--
Yeah, she's built one complete Pinterest project from start to finish, it turned out beautiful, it looks exactly like she wanted, and it cost her like $20.
And so they looked--
Yeah, I would do something like, so this is more like what you just said,
And since then on--
She's able to build things when she wants to.
And so she--
So she's no longer frustrated--
When she looks at Pinterest, she stopped looking at Pinterest like 1,000 hours a month, now she just looks at it for five minutes--
And does something--
And does a project she wants, and builds it on the weekend.
And so how does she feel differently as a result?
And how does she build--
How does she feel differently?
So now she's not overwhelmed and frustrated by feeling like she wants to do things she can't do, and she feels empowered because she can basically build anything she wants with her kids, and she doesn't have to ask anybody for permission, or for help, or to wait around.
Yeah, and you might--
And she saves a bunch of money, so she feels good about saving a bunch of money.
Yeah, and in that one, especially for you, so a lot of what we use this story for is internal, right? Because it's not, it's kind of pre-customer research, usually, that we do this, we are literally trying to make that internal pivot where we're thinking, what we do is sell a transformation. Just to the point that you made when you stood up where you're like, this feels bad, because it's like the negative stuff first,
You want to go somewhere really positive at the end. So, like, not only does she not feel frustrated and she doesn't have to do these things--
Any more, she feels like confident and creative, and maybe even, you know, that creativity trickles over into other things she does in her life.
She just generally feels more proactive.
They definitely feel more empowered.
So, yeah, so you do have to make sure that you phrase it in a way that's like helpful for-- (blonde woman laughs)
Turning your own inspiration up to continue serving.
That was great, thanks.
That was great, but you knew that, all that stuff. (all applaud) And then also, we all wanna take the class. (all laugh) So, that is, it's, as you can see now, having seen a couple of examples, it is truly a hero's journey story that we're telling with that template, in a way that reminds us that our job is to start thinking of what we do as being the mentor, aide, guide or tool along their journey. Your customer is actually any person, or pet, in some cases, who has the big-picture, human-scale problem your company exists to solve. Alright, you exist, your company exists to solve a problem that is bigger than just getting people to buy what you sell. And once you've clearly identified, like, who your customer is, and what their problem is that you exist to serve, you need to put, distill that insight into some sort of a framework that you can use to systematically make decisions in your business, and that, the framework will, there are many, there are personas and avatars in all kinds of ways. The one we're gonna talk about today is Customer Journey map, and once you have that, you'll want to rethink the way you do your content and your marketing. Before you get to all of that, though, I want to, I want to share that the, one of the things that I see derail and distract many transformational brands is a fixation on competitors. A fixation on, this is true for solopreneurs who are just like, you know, you get that email from the person who has a business kind of like yours, and you're like, why didn't I think of that? Or, I was building that, I'm trying to do that right now, you know? Like that kind of focus, and it's true for public companies and you've seen it, you've seen the company come out with like a product that's really just like the product that their competitor has had for a long time, that that focus on competition can be very distracting, from focusing on competitors. So before we even get to rethink our customer's goal and Customer Journey maps reading on content and marketing I wanna take a pause and ask you to rethink your competition.