Some of the best sales/marketing advice I ever received was back when I was making the most classic sales/marketing mistake known to man. In a few sentences someone taught me how stop and figure out how to really connect to a customer, and I believe that advice has been the key to my success throughout my career. They are words every marketer needs to live by.

Many years ago I started what I feel was my real career when I became a Systems Engineer at HP. For those not familiar with the role, it is technical sales support. I was responsible for knowing all things technical about the test equipment we were selling to our customers (in this case telecommunications test). I was assigned to a sales district; the sales reps took me out on calls to demonstrate the technical application of the equipment at the customer labs.  And while HP did a great job in teaching us about the products and how to “sell” them- I learned more in one day about connecting to a customer from a sales rep than I did from months of solid training.

I was hired due to technical aptitude (way back when I got a BSEE and did 4 years of design work before moving to HP), and apparently someone recognized that I was good with people- but really I knew nothing about selling at all. In my mind, when I was being brought in I was supposed to go through every function of the equipment and tell them what it did and how cool it was. What I wasn’t doing was telling them why it mattered to them- and that my friends is the biggest mistake in the book.

So one day a very frustrated sales rep pulled me aside and said here’s some advice (candidly she might have said something a little stronger than that). “Before you say something about the product, say to yourself -So What? Who Cares? If you can’t come up with a good answer, particularly for that customer’s needs- then don’t say it and move on”.

Sounds simple enough right? Well it was a profound revelation for me. Remember I was working for a technology company. Every training I had ever received and every customer presentation handed over from the marketing groups talked about why the product features mattered from a technology perspective, not from a customer perspective.

I learned a lot that day, and after years of sales support and then being a sales rep myself, I finally had enough and moved into marketing to see if I could change things at the core- the initial messaging needed to change.

Figure out what the customer needs, show them how your product can meet those needs. Yes it is basic. Yes you probably think you or your company does this already. But I have to say it is not that common to see this done really effectively, especially in hi-tech companies. People are just too proud of their technology and forget why it was built in the first place- for the customer! How many product presentations do you see that go on and on about the product and its features and all the technology and then 30 slides in talk about the benefits to the customer?  

If you want to connect to the customer, first understand what they care about, understand their needs. THEN when you put together the customer messaging and presentations ask yourself every single time you want to say something about your product- So What? Who Cares? Am I talking about customer benefit? Does this bullet point express that the product is meeting the customer needs?

It sounds simple, but in reality it isn’t. Successful marketers get it, successful sales people get it- it’s not about your product, it’s about how your product benefits the customer. Talk about the customer and how your product meets their needs, and I guarantee they will care.

(And thanks to the sales rep, Ginny Johnson, who also very early on in my sales career kicked me under the table when I answered a customer’s question before he was done talking about all his needs- you know because I wanted to talk about the product.  She also taught me to just let them keep talking, it’s amazing what they will reveal- but that’s for another blog).



Ralph Wynn
01/29/2014 6:56pm

Wow this sounds familiar, oh that's right this is some of the same valuable advice you gave me. I find myself asking these very questions and also asking them to others. Oh how it helps create powerful content that connects with the customer

Nancy Hurley
01/31/2014 9:13am

Hi Ralph- yes I like to pass this advice on whenever I can, it's the absolute key to great messaging. So glad it's been helping you create great content.

10/11/2016 5:12am

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01/30/2014 8:24am

Great advice -- not only should what you talk about matter, but it is most sticky if told within a story, particularly if you can help them visualize themselves using/benefiting from whatever you are offering.


I think your career road is very cool! You've got during the time you've worked in that companies great one expirience!

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