Imagined Realities, Shared Myths, And How to Build a Tribe Around Your Idea

“The real success of our species is that we alone can talk about things that don’t exist at all” Yuval Noah Harari

 

From religion to politics, money, and corporations, many of the fundamental structures that govern our daily lives exist only in our imagination. And yet millions of strangers are willing to do extraordinary things in service of these myths.

People work 80 hour weeks in service of a green piece of paper with $1 written on it. They go to war in service of a nation that exists only as lines drawn on a map. They worship gods no one has ever seen.

These imagined realities are unique to Homo sapiens. Our overdeveloped prefrontal cortex enables a ‘sense of self’ and imagination that does not exist in other mammals.

Our ‘sense of self’ is made up of:

  1. Individual attributes (personal identity).
  2. Shared attributes derived from belonging to social groups (social identity).

We strive for a positive self-image by comparing ourselves favourably against other individuals in our group, and by our group comparing favourably against other groups.

While social groups or ‘tribes’ have been core to the human existence for millennia, the prominent groups defining our social identities over the last few centuries have seen a precipitous decline in recent decades. Religious institutions struggle to engage today’s youth, while local community organisations have closed their doors.

Urbanisation, globalisation and the rise of the internet dismantled previous group structures and enabled new tribes to form based on shared interests and ideologies. We may not interact with our local community every Sunday at church, but we can connect daily with those around the world who also love knitting, jiu jitsu or cryptography.

These new tribes are exciting because connecting around shared interests provides both a sense of identity and an active community for individuals who otherwise could have felt very alone in their physical surroundings.

Ken Robinson goes as far as to state in The Element that:

“Finding your tribe offers more than validation and interaction, it provides inspiration and provocation to raise the bar on your own achievements. In every domain, members of a passionate community tend to drive each other to explore the real extent of their talents.”

So how do you define a tribe? Seth Godin suggests “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea”.

Some of the most successful tribes today are businesses that use a shared sense of identity to sell their products.

When companies build a tribe around their mission, they are no longer just selling a product to a customer, they are issuing a rallying call to their followers to pursue a cause. By building an identity around a brand, companies grow organically through word of mouth and find people willing to buy everything they produce.

A few examples of companies that have done this well:

  • CrossFit: The CrossFit brand has taken advantage of growing trends like social media, fitness and affiliate models to grow from 13 gyms just over a decade ago to over 13,000 today. Established companies like Reebok are dying to be associated with the brand, and CrossFit has even helped change historic ideals of female beauty by stressing that “strong is the new sexy”.
  • Harley Davidson: One of the original tribes, you only need to count the number of Harley Davidson tattoos to understand the power of the brand’s social identity for its followers. Promising freedom, individualism, rebellion and the ‘American Way’, the Harley brand has dominated for decades.

So how do you build your own tribe around your company’s mission?

Russell Brunson, the founder of Clickfunnels, a SaaS software platform that has seen explosive growth since its launch in 2014 believes that every tribe needs three things:

  • A Charismatic Leader with a compelling hero story
  • A Future-based Cause filled with hope
  • A New Opportunity for a better world and a better you

Donald Trump and Barack Obama are examples of how this succeeds in practice. They are both charismatic leaders, who had future based causes (“Make America Great Again” and “Yes We Can” respectively), and promised a better world that would be achieved with very little effort expended by the American people themselves.

Seth Godin corroborates this and adds that great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate with each other. This way ideas will spread, the tribe will self-organise, and growth will compound in a decentralised way.

So spend some time thinking — how are you a charismatic leader? What is your future-based cause? What will the world look like when you succeed? And how can you help your followers communicate with each other to grow the movement?

I’ve barely scratched the surface here in explaining the power of tribes, shared myths and community in helping build and grow brands through social identity. I recommend reading Tribe by Sebastian Junger, Tribes by Seth Godin, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and anything by Joseph Campbell for a deeper analysis of the shared myths and the power of tribes.

How to Use Persuasion in Sales & Marketing

While we like to believe we act rationally, psychologists have long proven this far from the truth. From Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow to Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, it is clear that while our external worlds have evolved rapidly, our minds are still constrained by evolutionary biology.

David Cialdini’s book Influence takes these foundational traits of human psychology and brings them into the business context by demonstrating how by understanding human psychology, businesses can learn how to effectively market and sell their products.

His six principles:

  • Reciprocity: People tend to want to return a favour. This is part of the reason why brands give away samples, why content marketing can be so effective, and why taking a client out to dinner usually results in more business.
  • Commitment: Once someone has made a small commitment to something through words, writing or action, they’re more likely to defend that idea. This is why free trials of a product are so effective – once someone has put time into learning the product, they feel committed to it. It’s also why getting your prospects to say “yes” in a sales conversation can help with conversion – just the act of saying “yes” to a question like “Would you like to save 5 hours a week?” makes them feel more committed.
  • Social Proof: People want to do things they see other people doing. This is why putting testimonials and case studies on your website works. It’s also why salespeople should use examples of other customers who have your prospect’s specific use-case in sales calls.
  • Authority: People tend to obey authority figures. For a disturbing example of this, look up the Milgram experiment in 1961. In a business context, Apple ‘Geniuses’ and Shopify ‘Experts’ aren’t just customer support – they’re professionals trained to solve your problems. When your business is in its early days you can borrow authority from the founders’ previous accomplishments (previous successful exits, working at Facebook, PhD in machine learning). Once you’re established you can show all the newspapers you’ve been featured in, and your #1 market share in the industry.
  • Liking: People are easily persuaded by people they like. In marketing, this means creating a brand customers love. An example of a company doing this excellently right now is Drift, who strive to create a human brand, and use video and podcasting as a way of building personal relationships at scale with prospective customers. In Sales, it’s even more personal. A prospect is much more likely to buy from you if they like you, so try to find common interests with them and reveal part of your personality when on the phone.
  • Scarcity: Perceived scarcity generates demand. This is why flash sales like Black Monday work so well. It’s also why the value of a car is higher when only 75 were ever made. Salespeople can use this to shorten sales cycles by giving prospects one time offers – 20% off if you sign in the next week.

Outside of Cialdini’s work, there are other cognitive biases you should know about:

  • Anchoring: This is when initial exposure to a number serves as a reference point and influences subsequent judgments about value. This is why you should always offer a more expensive version of your product, so that the version you are trying to sell appears cheap in comparison. You can also increase the number of items purchased by setting a limit eg a burger joint that limits add-ons to 12 per person will tend to increase the average number of add-ons a customer orders.
  • Loss Aversion: People tend to prefer avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains. This can prevent prospects from buying items if they feel there’s a risk they may not get enough value from them. You can tackle this by using tactics like the 100% money back guarantee.
  • Association: When we see two things together, we begin to associate one with the other. This is why so many adverts have sexual overtones — the advertiser what’s you to associate the product with something you enjoy, sex. It’s also why scented candles are shown in a clean, peaceful room and Diet Coke drinkers are so often having a great time on the beach in the sunshine. You want your prospects to envision what their life could be like with your product in it.

The great copywriters of the last century have all used these concepts to great effect when advertising products, and I’ve written more about using psychology when writing copy here.

Understanding our natural cognitive biases can help sales and marketing professionals build trust with their customers, develop lasting relationships, and encourage them to buy today.

How to Structure a Job Interview

Interviewing potential employees is one of the highest value, and highest risk, activities you can do within your company.

So why is hardly anyone taught how to do it well?

After years of craving this information, last week I was able to sit down with the Head of Talent at Lystable, who advised me on how to conduct a 60 minute interview (for someone who has already passed the initial screening).

This is what he said…

0–3 mins: Try to make them feel comfortable. Introduce yourself: your name, role and what your role means in the context of what you do for the company. Tell them what the interview is for and how long it will be.

3–8 mins: Understand their why. Why do they want to leave their company? What is their motivation?

8–20 mins: Competency based questions. These should reflect the competencies required to fulfill the job they are applying for.

Keep these as broad as possible so they don’t know what you want to hear. For example, when interviewing a salesperson ask “Tell me about the deal you’re most proud of and how you achieved it”, rather than “Tell me about a time you negotiated a deal with a C-suite executive”. In the case of the latter question, a candidate may just make up a story because they now know it’s important that they have done this in the past. If they don’t give the example you’d like to hear, you can prompt them.

Situational Questions: before the interview determine the skills they need to be successful in the job, then ask them “What would you do if…”, “What do you look for in….” questions that test whether they have the skills and knowledge required to handle situations they might encounter.

20–30 mins: Understand their working style. Ask them to describe their ideal working day. For a salesperson, they should describe their call stats, their meetings with clients, how they manage reporting, the tools they use. Try to understand what targets they have at their current workplace and how they achieve them.

30–40 mins: Describe the job to them, and sell it to them. Reflect on their answers so far, why you think they would a great job, and what your reservations are.

40–50 mins: Let them respond to your reflections, and sell themselves on the job. Ask them why they want to join your company specifically.

50–60 mins: Let them ask questions. If they ask about compensation — turn the tables: “What would you need to move?”

Outcomes

When you come out of the interview you must know whether or not you would hire them. If you are coming to the end of the meeting and aren’t sure, tell them your reservations and let them respond to help you make the decision.

You should be able to describe to others in the company why you want to hire them, with evidence to back up your reasons.

You could pick up information that is helpful to your company from the interview, for example their clients who could be potential clients for your company, or the names of other talented employees who would be worth interviewing. Make sure to share this information with relevant colleagues.

A day learning from Charlie Munger…

I spent Bank Holiday Monday reading through Charlie Munger’s speeches and making notes. Here is what I learnt about his ideas and mental models:

The Fundamentals
  1. Stay away from ideology – being 100% sure on hard issues makes you a lousy thinker.
  2. Figure where you have an edge, then play there and only there. Figure out where your own aptitudes are and play within your own circle of competence. If you find a niche area where you can specialise, then with will, intelligence and discipline you can master the art.
  3. Know what you know and what you don’t know. When you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say so. Get rid of people who always confidently answer questions about which they don’t have any real knowledge.
  4. Think things through backwards as well as forwards: if you’re looking for a plan to improve sales, what would make sales worse? Eliminate those.
  5. What always wins is incentives – make sure the incentives are right for people to help you achieve your goal.
  6. Always try to disprove your assumptions. Train yourself away from confirmation bias. Like Darwin, practice diligent, objective curiosity.
  7. Braun’s Five W’s: Who, What, Where, When and Why – when telling someone to do something, give all 5 W’s. Especially WHY. If you always tell people why they will understand it better, they will consider it more important and they will be more likely to comply 
Economics/Maths:
  1. Use graphs to express data, humans process them better.
  2. Compound Interest
  3. Probability Theory
  4. Decision Trees
  5. Accounting – the basics and its limitations
  6. Pareto Principle
  7. Normal distribution – the bell curve
  8. In nature and in business, specialisation is key
  9. Advantages of scale are ungodly important
  10. Brand power is hard to beat – people trust a recognised brand
  11. Things tend towards winner takes all, therefore it pays to be #1, #2 or out
  12. Disadvantages of scale: others can specialise to a specific part of your broad customer base and provide better service.
  13. Another disadvantage: bureaucracy and territoriality. You get layers of management and associated costs that nobody needs. They are too slow to make decisions and nimbler people run circles around them. They get comfortable and no one brings unwelcome reality to the boss.
  14. Scale + fanaticism evolve to be very powerful. Sam Walton invented practically nothing, but he copied everything anybody else did that was smart – and he did it with more fanaticism and better employee manipulation.
  15. Anticipating the effects of competition: In some industries eg airlines, the companies will undercut eachother until no one makes any money. In others eg cereal, they won’t. No idea why the difference occurs.
  16. Trademarks and exclusivity rights are a great thing – use them.
  17. You have to discern when technology will help or hurt. In commodity businesses, the advances go to the customers alone – the capital outlay results in cost reductions but also price reductions.
  18. Early birds to new technology have huge advantages – they can surf the wave for a long time 
Psychology
 
  1. Develop a checklist of the main models of psychology and tick them off when you’re making decisions eg envy, denial (misery-caused malfunction), incentive-caused bias, social proof, pavlovian association, confirmation bias, loss aversion, appealing to people’s self-interest.
  2. The brain is very easy to be psychologically manipulated – rational vs emotional reactions and judgments, conscious vs subconscious.
  3. Beware Incentive-caused bias. People will believe that the right thing is the thing that suits them best.
  4. Gresham’s Law: Bad behaviour drives out good – Once enough people are cheating the system it’s impossible to stop it .
  5. Loss aversion: occurs when a thing you like is taken away from you, or when you almost have something you like and ‘lose’ it (near misses). -5 is much worse than +5.
  6. Proctor & Gamble Rule: Incorporate clever marketing plus a good product. Don’t try to do either one alone.
  7. Use Pavlovian association: associate your brand with other good things people like: happy times, sex etc. When people get bad news they hate the messenger.
  8. Need reinforcing effects to ensure your product is consumed again and again eg caffeine & sweet flavour in beverages
  9. Everyone is influenced by what others do and approve – social proof
  10. Vivid and humorous examples often aid persuasion 
Engineering/Physics
  1. Engineering models of back up systems, breakpoints and critical mass.
Chemistry
 
  1. Autocatalysis – once you get something going, events will serve as their own catalysts to keep growing – success breeds more success.
Stock Picking
  1. You can outperform the market in stock picking if you bet seldom – bet big when you have the odds, otherwise never.
  2. A significant discount = More Upside + a Margin of Safety (Benjamin Graham model)
  3. Buffett + Munger pay up for quality businesses.
  4. Berkshire has the tremendous advantage of having no clients.
  5. It is usually better to bet on the business than the manager
  6. Make a few great investments and sit on your assets
  7. Betting on companies with pricing power is like finding money in the street.
  8. Low-priced products with global marketing advantages are great investments eg Gilette
  9. Sick business you can fix: a good business run badly that can be recovered – another good investment

Going the Extra Mile…

Great startups go the extra mile for their employees and customers….
That means making sure any new employee has an exciting first day: a warm welcome, a desk already set up, and an introduction email to the team.
Making your most valuable customers feel special by sending them a small gift at Christmas to say thank you for their support.
A bunch of flowers for an employee who has made a special effort to finish an important piece of work.
Celebrating every employee’s anniversary with the company
Saying thank you to the people who refer and promote you
With everything you do, just think – how can I go the extra mile?

Marketing Foundations: Brand, Positioning and Messaging

You have an idea, you’re doing customer development and building an MVP. Now it’s time to get started with marketing your product.

You start researching online…

SEO, CRO, lead scoring, lead nurturing, content marketing, guest blogging, SEM, social media, PR….it’s terrifying.

So you get started on a couple of them: writing a blog, doing interviews in the media, posting on social media and testing out some paid ads…

But it’s not working, and somehow all feels a bit haphazard.

That’s because you haven’t built the foundation of your marketing strategy, and without a solid foundation your marketing will never bring in valuable leads on a consistent basis.

The 3 elements of your marketing foundation:

  1. Brand
  2. Positioning
  3. Messaging

If you get these right, your company will become memorable to exactly the people you’re trying to target. They will associate your company with a particular problem they need to solve, and they will want to buy from you because they love everything about you.

Brand

In a world of endless products, enormous customer choice, and global distribution, your brand is what will make you stand out and will ensure your customers come back again and again.

Put simply, your brand is what your prospect thinks when they hear your brand name.

Think of Nike, Starbucks, Apple and Disney. Just hearing each name makes you feel a certain way: strong, warm, rebellious or joyful — that’s what you’re aiming for.

If you doubt the emotional power of a strong brand, just watch this video and tell me you feel nothing.

(For more on how emotions guide our decision-making, I wrote an article on How Emotion is at the Core of Sales).

So how do you start to build a brand for your company?

Firstly, spend time putting together the emotional values you want your brand to reflect. These will resonate with your customers, and set you apart from your competition.

Denise Lee Yohn, author of What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest suggests you perpetually ask and answer: “What business are we really in?”. Virgin isn’t in the business of selling flights. It’s in the business of making good friends during relaxing, luxurious, and affordable experiences. In this way, Virgin redefines consumer expectations and challenges industry norms.

We’ll talk more about defining your ideal customer later in the post, but for now spend time thinking:

How do your most loyal customers want to feel?

The way you express your brand is through design and language. The format may change depending on the channel, but the core emotions should stay the same.

Design: Keep at the front of your mind the emotions you’re trying to evoke when you design anything new: your logo, your store design, your website, the style of your videos. Even just the colour of your logo can have a huge impact on how prospects feel about your brand.

Language: The words you use to tell your story, whether that’s in the media, in your advertisements or within your product, all have the power to evoke emotion. Consider how you want people to feel when they read your words, and develop a brand voice around that to use consistently across all media. Mailchimp even has a dedicated website to help their marketers with the voice and tone to use in different situations.

Your voice is the overall style your brand conveys, while tone depends on the particular situation and emotion your brand is trying to convey (excitement, regret, encouragement) and language is the words used to express that tone. You should create a document where you describe the different tones your brand will need to convey, and the language you should use in each situation.

We’ll cover messaging in more detail later on, but for now one example of how to express your brand identity in your product is through microcopy. Some examples of great microcopy are:

Adding humour:

Inspiring trust:

Results pages are the perfect place to have fun with microcopy: confirmation messages, rewards or error messages.

So now you know your brand needs to evoke emotion, tell a story and show your most loyal audience what’s possible. But how sure are you of who your most loyal audience is?

This is where positioning comes in…

Positioning

You may know why your product is ideally suited to your prospect, but without effective positioning it’s unlikely your prospect will be able to work that out for themselves.

Positioning involves defining who your ideal customer is, why your product is perfectly suited to their needs, and why it’s significantly better than any alternative offered by the competition.

Once you’ve sorted your positioning you’ll be able to fill out this sentence:

Your product is for (TARGET CUSTOMER) who needs (PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED) and feel (FEELINGS) while they do it. (PRODUCT NAME) is a (PRODUCT CATEGORY) that (STATEMENT OF KEY BENEFIT). Unlike (COMPETING ALTERNATIVE), (PRODUCT NAME) (STATEMENT OF PRIMARY DIFFERENTIATION)

What you need to think about here:

  • Who exactly is your ideal customer?
  • What role(s) are they in?
  • For each role, what are the pains they are feeling? What emotions do they associate with those pains?
  • For each role, what are the key benefits of using your product?
  • Which companies do your customers already know in a similar category? (eg Uber for massages)
  • Who are your competitors, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and why are you different? (Slack = anti-email, Salesforce = not software)
  • What is the promised land? — a future that your customer wants, that you can uniquely deliver, and that your customer will find difficult to attain without you.

So how do you find the answers to these questions?

  1. Internal Questioning
  2. External Questioning

Internal Questioning

Get Sales, Customer Success, Product and Marketing in a room and ask them to write down the following:

  • What do we do? (1 sentence)
  • What problem are we solving? (1 sentence)
  • How are we different from competitors? (1 sentence)
  • What value do we provide to our customers (1–3 bullets)
  • Which customers were easiest to close? What are their similarities?
  • Which customers were our biggest deals? What are their similarities?
  • Which customers love the product most? What are their similarities?
  • What is the reason we lose prospects?

And be prepared….you will likely get a different answer from everyone, and wonder whether they’ve been paying attention at all in the last 6 months.

Without consistent messaging that is repeated regularly, and regular feedback sessions, your team has no hope of nailing this exercise.

That’s why you’re doing this exercise in the first place.

External Questioning

Next organise interviews with a selection of your customers and ask them:

  • What was going on in your business that sent you looking for a solution like ours?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How did you deal with this problem previously and why wasn’t it working?
  • What made you confident our product was a fit?
  • How do we differ vs competitors? Why did you choose us?
  • Who did you need to get buy-in from at your company to start using our product?
  • Did you have any hesitations before using the product? What resolved these concerns?
  • How do you use our product?
  • What goals on tasks does our product complete for you?
  • How do people at your company feel about the product once they’ve started using it?
  • What do you like most about using it? Why?
  • What are the results — both quantitative and qualitative — from using it? (Time saving, revenue growth, reduced costs etc)
  • Who would you recommend the product to? Why?

Make sure to keep digging into why they’ve answered each question the way they have, as often the true answer is a few layers down.

Personas & Jobs to be Done

At this point you can start to sketch out your buyer personas and ‘jobs to be done’.

Your buyer personas are descriptions of the different people at the customer who are involved in purchasing the product — their roles, goals, challenges, behaviour, companies and demographics.

This should be an in-depth process, drawing from the results of your internal and external questioning, and will result in a detailed description of who your buyer is. This helps Marketing know exactly who they’re talking to when writing copy, Sales when speaking to new customers, and even Product when designing new features.

Hubspot is a strong proponent of using buyer personas in your marketing, and has significant resources online to help you create them yourself, including a template here and examples of what a good buyer persona looks like here.

However, sometimes simply creating personas can be limiting. There’s a danger that your marketers and sales people will only target those roles, rather than prospects with a particular challenge and goal.

So at this point you also need to think about what jobs your customers are hiring your product to do. “Jobs to be Done” is a framework first discussed by Clayton Christensen in this paper and made prominent by Bob Moesta (there’s even an entire Medium publication dedicated to it here).

Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt summarised it best when he said:

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

So what problems are your customers trying to solve with your product? What job is your product being hired to do?

As well as the main jobs to be done, there will also be related jobs the customer wants to fulfil at the same time.

Within those jobs, there will be functional aspects (practical and objective requirements) and emotional aspects (the subjective customer requirements related to feelings and perception).

For example of jobs to be done in the real world:

Customers hire Intercom to communicate with their customers.

But Intercom realised early on that companies want to communicate with their customers in different ways, and at different stages of the customer lifecycle.

So rather than breaking down their different products into features, they’ve broken them down into jobs:

  • Acquire (for acquiring new users with live chat)
  • Engage (for engaging users to help them get the most out of the product)
  • Resolve (for managing help requests)
  • Educate (to help customers learn more about the product themselves)

This helps prospects understand which combination of Intercom’s products they need to hire to get their particular job done.

They’re so committed to jobs-to-be-done they’ve even written an entire bookabout it — it’s definitely worth a read before you start sketching out your product’s jobs yourself.

Messaging

Now you know who your customer is, what job they’re hiring your product for, and the brand you want to convey — it’s time to develop your messaging.

This is the story you want to tell in all your communication — to your investors, to your customers and to your team. It will appear in your pitch decks, on your website and in the press.

There are several different elements to crafting your messaging, but there should be one single objective you are trying to convey in all your communications.

It’s the repetition of a simple and novel message that makes people remember you. Particularly when that message is counterintuitive or emotive.

Elements of your communication:

  • The origin story & promised land story
  • Positioning statement
  • Value propositions for your different customer personas/jobs.

The Origin Story

This is the story of why your company exists. This story should create empathy, and evoke an emotional reaction from your audience.

Usually these stories will have one of three plots:

  1. Challenge Plot: Someone comes across a formidable challenge and succeeds. David vs Goliath. Rags to Riches. These stories inspire us and make anything seem possible.
  2. Connection Plot: Someone who helps others in times of need. Who develops a relationship that bridges a gap — religious, racial or age. These stories are about our relationships with other people and make us want to help others and be more tolerant.
  3. Creativity Plot: Someone makes a mental breakthrough, solving a problem in an innovative way and reinventing how you do things.

Founders should also inspire investors and customers with a ‘promised land’:

Promised Land Story: A story that indicates to people how things might change and what the future could look like. These stories create buy-in and promote people to act. They make us want to problem solve with the protagonist.

Positioning Statement

Unfortunately you don’t always have the space to tell your full story, so you need to develop a few short statements that convey your message clearly.

Ideally, you want to come out of this exercise with:

  • Your mission (5–10 words, what you are seeking to do)
  • Your vision (5–10 words, your promised land)
  • Your tagline (1–5 words, think Nike’s “Just do it”)
  • Your positioning statement (2–3 sentences)

This is hard. You will probably need to write at least 20 of each before you select one.

It needs to be simple, clear, concrete and evoke an emotional response.

Your mission, vision and tagline are crucial because your prospects, investors and potential employees need to know why you’re building this company in the first place.

“If you want to build a ship,

don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t

assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them

to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Simon Sinek in his excellent book Start With Why describes the Golden Circle:

When telling your story, the order should be:

WHY are you building your company? what is the purpose?

HOW are you building it? What makes you different and sets you apart from the competition?

WHAT are you building? What are the products you sell or the services you offer?

(Watch Simon’s entire TED talk here, an excellent way to spend 18 mins).

Your positioning statement should be able to convey ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’, and will help investors, customers and new recruits understand who you are and what you do.

(For more on how starting with why can help your team culture, I wrote an article on How to Build a Culture that Inspires Employees)

If your product is relatively complex, keep your message simple by layering it on top of concepts people already understand using analogy. This is why companies will describe themselves as “Uber for X”, or position themselves as against a competitor like Salesforce as anti-Software, or Slack as anti-email.

Remember you will want to end up with something like this:

Your product is for (TARGET CUSTOMER) who needs (PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED) and feel (FEELINGS) while they do it. (PRODUCT NAME) is a (PRODUCT CATEGORY) that (STATEMENT OF KEY BENEFIT). Unlike (COMPETING ALTERNATIVE), (PRODUCT NAME) (STATEMENT OF PRIMARY DIFFERENTIATION)

Examples of positioning statements from some other big brands:

Nest:

“Our mission is to keep people comfortable in their homes while helping them save energy, and with the next-generation Nest Learning Thermostat, we’re able to spread that comfort and savings to even more homes — and to help higher-efficiency systems perform the way they were meant to.”

Zendesk:

“Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships. It empowers organizations to improve customer engagement and better understand their customers.”

Notice that neither Nest nor Zendesk mention a single feature of the product, just the benefits.

Value Propositions

This is where you create specific messages for the different customer profiles you want to appeal to. These can include people with different roles in the company (Technology, HR, Finance) as well as investors and potential employees.

Firstly you need to work out what each persona cares about most — that is the value you should appeal to. You will have this information from your internal and external interviews.

Once you have a broad value statement, use a couple of bullet points to highlight the benefits, describe the features that provide those benefits, and some proof points to convince your prospects with data.

HR Manager

  • Value Statement:
  • Benefit 1:
  • Benefit 2:
  • Benefit 3:
  • Feature 1:
  • Feature 2:
  • Feature 3:
  • Proof Point 1:
  • Proof Point 2:

Conclusion

We’ve covered a lot here so to remind you what you should have by now:

  • A list of emotions you want your customers to feel when they think about your brand, and a sense of how that will impact the design you use across both your communications and the product itself.
  • A sense of the voice and tone you want your brand to speak with. You will have a list of the different tones your brand will need to convey, and the language you will use in each situation.
  • A detailed insight into the different buyer personas — their titles, role in the buying process, daily activities, responsibilities, goals, challenges and success metrics.
  • An understanding of the jobs your customers are hiring your product for.
  • A well-rehearsed origin story and promised land story.
  • Your mission, vision and tagline.
  • A well-crafted positioning statement.
  • A selection of value propositions designed to appeal directly to your different personas.

Where do you use these?

Your brand, positioning and messaging should inform every interaction your company has with the world. So it’s time to update all of these:

– Sales enablement materials and scripts

– Website copy & videos

– Content Marketing

– PR stories

– Product Roadmap

When I first started marketing I tried all of the ‘growth hacking’ tactics without much success. Learning the lessons of this article the hard way has been an invaluable experience, and a reminder of the enduring wisdom of Sun Tzu:

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’.

Books to read and people to follow:

Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Myk Pono (whose in-depth Medium articles are unbelievably good)

Andy Raskin (whose writing taught me about the promised land)

Intercom’s book and podcast with Bob Moesta on Jobs to be Done

What you’re doing wrong in your meetings…

Like most people, I used to dread meetings.

That was until I met Alex.

Alex joined our company from Google, where Larry Page’s framework for ‘meaningful meetings’ had transformed their effectiveness.

My company needed better meetings desperately, and with Alex’s (well, Larry’s) framework we got just that.

No longer did we have long conversations, meandering between topics, where much of the information discussed was quickly forgotten.

I started to look forward to meetings because I knew how much we would achieve.

Everything I’m going to share in this post is common sense.

I know that. That’s not the point.

The point is that no one ever puts it into practice consistently.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

So rather than reading this and concluding that you’ve learned nothing and the information was obvious, instead print it out and keep it on your desk, using it in every meeting for a month.

Then tell me whether it was useful (if it wasn’t, I would love to hear why!).

So onto Larry’s rules…

  • Every meeting needs a single, clear owner
  • Every meeting needs a purpose and structure
  • No more than 8 participants, but widely circulate after
  • Make sure everyone is fully “present”
  • Adhere to time constraints

How we put this into practice:

Before the Meeting:

Every meeting has an assigned owner.

The meeting owner sends an agenda for the meeting. This will include the Actions each attendee needed to complete from the last meeting, as well as any additional topics to discuss in this meeting.

The owner should always arrive slightly early to make sure any tech is set up (GoToMeetings, Chromecast etc), and to make sure everyone who needs to be at the meeting is there.

During the Meeting

No phones and no laptops allowed. We all know how easy it is to get distracted by email or Slack during a meeting, and meetings quickly become ineffective when attendees aren’t mentally present and engaged.

The owner introduces the different points on the agenda, and keeps an eye on the time. They are also in charge of keeping members on topic.

Another member of the meeting takes notes. These include the discussion as well as the decision. Often when reading notes the discussion can be as informative as the decision that was made.

For recurring meetings this should be a rolling document where each new meeting’s notes are added at the top of the document, so you have one place to reference all discussions on that topic.

Make sure to leave 5 minutes at the end of the meeting to summarise the next steps and who is responsible for each one.

After the Meeting

The best way to keep your meetings effective is to have fewer participants — just those with expertise or decision-making power, even if you know many more people will be interested in the outcome of the meeting.

So to keep meetings small and effective, while also keeping interested parties informed, circulate the notes on email after the meeting.

So maybe you’ve had an Engineering Hiring meeting, and decided to keep it small to make it more effective — just the CEO, Head of Engineering and Head of Product. Then you could circulate the notes around the entire Engineering team after. This encourages employees by demonstrating transparency within the company, while maximising your ability to get things done by keeping the meeting small.

With these simple rules you will:

– Make sure everyone is prepared for meetings beforehand, and engaged during the meeting.

– Everyone is held accountable for their Actions from the meeting before, and knows what they need to complete for the next meeting.

– Attendees and other employees can stay up-to-date with progress and any decisions made that could affect them.

It’s that simple. And it works. You just need to commit to the framework and hold everyone accountable.

How To Build A Culture That Inspires Employees

“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.” David Cummings, Co-Founder, Pardot

In most corporate environments ‘culture’ is something printed on the wall that no one bothers looking at.

But if you doubt the impact that culture can have on a company just take a look around…

In 1997 Jeff Bezos wrote in his letter to shareholders “You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three”. That ruthless focus on competition and productivity was the subject of a 2015 New York Times article exposing the “bruising” culture at a company where the founder warns interviewees “It’s not easy to work here.”

But it works for them — Amazon has become on the largest companies in the world, and many employees consider themselves addicted to the intensity.

In contrast, Jason Fried of Basecamp regularly talks about how 40 hours of work per week is more than enough and 8 hours of sleep a night is crucial to producing quality work. Basecamp go further by introducing “summer hours” (a 4-day work week) from May 1st to August 31st, and a one month sabbatical every three years.

Another company defined by its culture is Buffer. Their “default to transparency” approach has led them to make public their salaries, equity and metrics. By making everything transparent, they ensure no employee can threaten leaving to negotiate a raise, nor can they inflate growth numbers in the press by focussing on vanity metrics.

So how do you build your own unique culture as an entrepreneur?

 

Start with Why:

“If you want to build a ship,

Don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t

Assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them

To long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

Why are you building this company in the first place? What are you trying to achieve?

This is your mission statement. It should be bold and inspirational. It should be displayed in your office, and repeated regularly.

It’s often the case that because a founder is constantly focussed on the mission in her head, she mistakenly believes her employees are clear on it as well. But if the mission is only repeated once every few months, it becomes easy for employees to forget exactly why they’re working more hours for less pay than they could be.

Help your employees work towards your mission by breaking it down into six year, six month and six week goals. This enables employees to understand how what they’re working on currently fits into the bigger picture.

 

Combine this with your values…

Words like ‘teamwork’ mean nothing without context.

Instead think of your values as indicators for every employee in their day-to-day decision making.

Finishing over Starting’ means we want to complete the task at hand before running off to start something new and shiny.

So your Product Manager knows that before moving onto a new feature, she must be sure each existing feature is helping customers achieve their goals effectively,

And your Customer Success Manager knows that he should help a new customer understand the product perfectly, even if it takes one more phone call than recommended.

If you believe in ‘transparency’ as a company, show your employees what that means in practice:

Make salaries public like Buffer has, or have a monthly ‘Ask Me Anything’ meeting where an employee can submit any question and have it answered by senior management.

If someone resigns, tell other employees quickly to prevent gossip from spreading. Then spend time trying to understand why that employee left to prevent the same from happening in the future.

By demonstrating your commitment to your values, employees will begin to incorporate them in their day-to-day decision making. This will help every function operate autonomously while still remaining focussed in the same direction.

 

Next incorporate your values into hiring..

“Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.” Hubspot’s Culture Code

This is where many people go wrong. This does not mean hire people who are like you. That’s how you end up with an office of 15 white twenty-something males in San Francisco, wondering why that female product manager you think is perfect for the job is refusing to join.

Instead, this means hire people who believe in the mission and are fully on board with the values.

But don’t take their word for it – test them.  

If one of your values is “relentless customer focus” and you’re interviewing for an engineering job, ask the candidate what they’d do if a colleague in customer support asked them to fix a bug that was preventing a user from logging in, but they’re already on a deadline to ship a new feature that evening and they simply don’t have time.

If they’ve read and understood your values, they’ know that regardless of the deadline, if a customer isn’t able to use your product and it’s your fault, then that should be your top priority.

And remember, your culture is like your product — you’re unlikely to get everything right first time. Continue to iterate and eventually you will have a group of passionate supporters who believe both in what you’re trying to achieve and how you intend to get there.

Two Quick Tips in Scaling from Seed to Series A

You’ve spent the last year scrambling to get product/market fit before you run out of money.

Now, without realising it, you suddenly have a 15-person startup and not a single company policy.

But you don’t want your startup to be like a corporate, right? Bureaucracy impedes progress.

Right and wrong.

Yes, too much red tape will always get in the way of innovation.

However there are a few crucial elements of process that, if you implement early in the life of your startup, will alleviate some of the worst growing pains and ensure your startup is ready for explosive growth.

New Employee Training

Until now, everyone joining your company has likely been the first or second person in that role, and there’s been little to learn before they hit the ground running.

As you grow, this will become harder.

People will naturally become busier as growth starts taking off, and your new joiners can end up sitting at their desk for days without anyone fully explaining how your company works, and what they should be doing first.

The way to counteract this is to develop a form of new joiners training. This will help the employee quickly understand everything they need to know about your company and their role, and ensure that person isn’t held back from doing their best work by incomplete information.

Each company is different, so your training can have different forms, but my suggestions for helpful practices include:

  • General Welcome Pack: This will include information on what the company does, who its customers are, as well as details of every employee in the company including name, photo and role. This is where employees find out how to set up their email and which Slack channels to join.
  • Role- specific Welcome Pack: Each different area of the company will have different practices that need to be shared before a new joiner can function effectively in their role. In engineering, this could mean information about how the team is set-up, which project management tools they use and details around the codebase. In Sales, that could mean the specific sales process you use, as well as demo scripts, most common objections, and data to help close customers most effectively.
  • Internal Wiki: This is where new and existing employees can go to find the answers to questions like: “What’s our expenses policy?” or “Who do I speak to if I need a software subscription?”. By providing answers to these frequently asked questions you can save huge amounts of wasted time.
  • Show & Tell: This is an excellent way to introduce new joiners to your company in a personal way. On Friday afternoon, get your new joiner to do a short presentation to everyone about their journey to your company. This can include where they’re from, their education, their travels, their previous work and the hobbies they enjoy. Revealing information about yourself is a great way to build relationships quickly and encourage people to feel they know you as a person rather than just as a colleague.

Over time, as you grow, you will also need to implement ongoing training for your existing employees, both to maximise their output and to increase loyalty by demonstrating you’re invested in them personally, and want to help them achieve their potential.

Metrics

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” Peter Drucker. 

In the first few months of a startup, you’re just trying to prove that someone has the problem you’re trying to solve, and that they want to buy what you’re selling.

Once you’ve proven this, the next objective is to grow as quickly and profitably as possible (growth vs profitability is an article for another day).

When your goal changes from ‘getting users’ to ‘getting as many users who pay you money as possible’, it is imperative that you start measuring everything.

Dave McClure’s Startup Pirate Metrics are a good overview of what you need to measure overall: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral.

You can drill down into each of those 5 points and find a number of metrics that when analysed regularly will help you understand where you’re achieving success, and where you can improve.

I will dive deeper into metrics in future posts, but to name a few now…

For Marketing:

How many website visitors do you have per month?

Where are they coming from?

What percentage of visitors convert to leads?

How is this number changing over time?

For Sales:

How long is your sales cycle?

What percentage of sales-qualified leads convert to customers?

Which segment of your target vertical has the highest percentage close rate?

For Customer Success:

What percentage of your users become active users/convert to paid?

What is your monthly churn rate (number of customers and dollar value)?

What is your customer NPS?

For Finance:

What is your customer lifetime value?

What is your monthly recurring revenue?

What is your average contract length?

With limited time and money, knowing the answer to these questions can quickly mean the difference between success and failure at your startup.

Only by measuring everything, can you truly live the ‘Lean Startup’ methodology – test, measure, iterate, improve…

Why Emotion Is at the Core of Sales

Do you really believe that you buy your phone from Apple because it has the newest technology? The best features? Or do you buy it because of what the Apple brand represents? Who owning an iphone makes you? How become part of the Apple community makes you feel?

We believe we are rational beings but biology can quickly correct this assumption. The newest part of the human brain, the neocortex, may be responsible for rational thought and language, but it is the older part of our brain, the limbic brain, which controls emotions and is responsible for all human behaviour, decision-making and critically has no capacity for language.

So we make decisions through emotion, then rationalise them through language.

This is crucial to understand when it comes to selling. From my experience over the years, sales is about three things: Storytelling, Emotion and Process. In this post I want to cover the first two – using the framework of a sales pitch to demonstrate how a salesperson can use emotion to invoke trust, pain, fear, relief, comfort, and excitement in order to encourage a customer into a sale.

Now before I start I want to clarify that I firmly believe the best kind of salesperson is one who embodies all the positive emotions they invoke in a customer – they should be honest, trustworthy, loyal, an authority on the subject, a partner and an innovator. The goal of this article is to ensure you know how to convey these attributes, not how to fake them.

The first emotion to understand in a customer is impatience. These days we are all short on time, so a salesperson needs to get to the point quickly at the start of a pitch. Concisely show your prospect you understand the common challenges and needs in their industry, and provide some examples of how you can help.

Next comes trust. Earning a customer’s trust is critical to making a sale, and comes as the result of many different actions on the part of the salesperson.

Firstly, building rapport with the customer (this often comes before the pitch). This involves finding common ground and encouraging the customer to believe you are similar people with similar values. A person is much more likely to trust someone like themselves.

Trust also comes from displaying that you clearly understand the customer’s critical business objectives and core beliefs. That you know their top priorities are and key risks. That your company fits in with their corporate culture and understands how they operate.

Finally, establishing yourself as an authority on the subject will invoke trust. Not only do you understand their current challenges and needs, but you can offer them unique and valuable perspectives on the market, challenge their assumptions, and teach them new ways to compete.

By offering value to the customer, you not only earn their trust, but you also encourage ‘reciprocity’, a term used in Cialdini’s Influence to describe how once a person has been given something, they feel the need to give back in return.

Once you have demonstrated that you understand their business needs and have established your authority, you then dig into their pain to force them to deeply feel the extent of the problem they are facing that your product can solve.
Describe the pain other customers you deal with are facing and ask if they feel those too. Ask for their more specific and unique problems. When does that problem happen? Why do they think it happens? What do they attribute it to?

Which leads to fear. Ask them the consequences if that problem does not get solved. Will their competitors overtake them? Will they be forced to spend hours doing administrative tasks that add little value? Would they be getting insufficient or inaccurate information? What would happen as a result of that? Just thinking about the potential consequences of inaction will make the prospect want to change it immediately.

Once your prospect can really feel the pain & fear of their problem, then you can move onto your solution and elicit relief and excitement. Here you don’t just explain how your product solves their problem (invoking relief), but also how once a customer buys the product they become part of a bigger picture (adding excitement).
What is your vision of the future? If your customer buys your product how do they become part of that future? Who does it make them?

By this point, not only have you cured their pains, you’ve made them part of a journey that can help their business improve exponentially in the future.

Make sure by this point you have explained:

Why do they need this Product?
Why do they buy from your company specifically?
Why do they need to buy NOW?

This is the end of your pitch, and the time at which you answer questions, ask for feedback and establish the next steps in the process towards the sale.

Questions will often come up around price & competition, so you need to know how to use emotion when addressing these too.

On the question of price, you need your customer to feel comfort. You do this by clearly describing how the value that your product will bring is worth multiples of the cost. This way they know they are doing the right thing for the business, and can justify the purchase to anyone senior. You can describe value in terms of the costs you will be avoiding by using the product, or the extra revenue the business can make as a result of using the product. Use numbers to back this up as much as possible, so your customer knows you are serious rather than just exaggerating with rhetoric.

To address competition, we come back to trust, and the customer’s belief that the salesperson is honest. A good way to ensure your customer knows you’re honest is to directly compare yourself with competitors – what your relative strengths and weaknesses are, and for which reasons a customer should buy one or the other. This way the customer knows you’re not pretending you’re the only option in the industry, and sees you as an advisor rather than just someone trying to make them buy regardless of whether it’s the right solution for them.

There is much more than can be written about Sales: the structure of sales teams, sales process, working out the correct KPIs, segmentation, establishing a funnel, and using each sales pitch to iterate & improve. I’ll leave those for another day.

For now, I hope this post helps you understand the importance of emotion in sales, and through particular emphasis on the sales pitch, how emotion can be used in every step of the sales process.