Can We Make the “Ask” Simpler?

By | September 22, 2012

It seems that we’re always talking about the lack of customer data for targeting and personalization. The discussion about developing and managing databases seems overwhelming to customers on the outside looking in. The words “data append” send them running for the door.

I wonder if we’ve made the discussion too complicated. What if we removed the word “data” from the discussion altogether?

For example, if you’ve been handling static mailings for a customer and think targeting by gender would improve sales, don’t ask the customer if they have a gender field in their database (you know they don’t). Don’t ask if they want you to turn their mailing list into a marketing database and run a genderizing program on it. That sounds absolutely terrifying.

What if you just asked, “Do you think it would help to send different offers to men and women?” If the answer is yes, then say, “Great! Here is what it will cost.” Don’t use the words “genderize” or “data append.” Don’t even use one of the phrases “1:1 printing,” “personalized printing,” or “variable data.” Just roll that into the price, then work with them one step at a time to implement it.

Just keep the word “data” out of it.

I know I’m over-simplifying, but you get the idea. As an industry, we’ve gotten used to data-related terminology and don’t think much of it. But to customers who are not already working with data, these are foreign, scary concepts. It’s like asking them to climb Mt. Everest.

Instead of increasing the complexity by focusing on what can be accomplished and all the steps required to do it, what if we just simplified the entire discussion instead?

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3 thoughts on “Can We Make the “Ask” Simpler?

  1. Gina Danner

    So in other words you are simply saying… be a sales professional. Don’t expect your customer to understand the nuances of what you are doing. Know your customer and speak to him/her in a manner that helps him/her make an appropriate decision. Sales training 101… never speak in geek speak… don’t put your customer in a position where s/he might feel inadequate because s/he doesn’t have your experience or knowledge. Ask questions designed to help people solve problems they clearly understand.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. (Of course, you know it is.) Printers need technical language so THEY can understand, but then they have trouble translating those concepts to customers in ways the CUSTOMERS can understand.

    There is a translation gap between what printers need to absorb, make capital investments, integrate, and so on, and the simplicity and lack of technical jargon and concepts that customers need in order to sign off on the sale.

    That’s where the idea for my Marketers Primer Series of educational reports came from in the first place. It took the concepts of digital, 1:1, PURLs, and the like and rewrote them out of printer language and into marketer language. No technical stuff — just the marketing concepts behind those technologies in marketing language. I was surprised how difficult it was to do. That translation is hard, and that’s why so many companies have so much difficulty doing it.

    BTW, I’m completely revamping the entire Marketers Primer series this fall, so if anyone is interested in using the content of any of the reports to create blog posts, white papers, newsletter articles, and the like, I’m offering the existing content very, very (VERY) inexpensively for your content marketing use. (60-70+ pages per report.) I’m then revamping the reports from scratch.

    If interested, email me at TOCs and samples of reports can be found at

  3. Joe Manos

    Heidi, I couldn’t agree with your approach more…

    A simple phrase such as, based on your specific objectives I recommend we do the following to optimize your results. The investment required to achieve your objectives is as follows.

    Each customer has a unique set of needs and your proposal to meet the needs should be tailor-designed for each customer. You should always design the program to deliver the specific objectives and charge appropriately for all of the services included in the program.

    One key for success (especially for Cross Channel Marketing) is to show your proposed solution in a flow chart layout. This creates a simple and effective approach that allows the customer to fully understand what you are proposing, why it delivers the results desired and how you are going to implement the solution.

    It also makes it easy for you to ask for the required investment to achieve the desired result.

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