Customer Experience Interview with Martin Brossman

Martin Brossman is a leading authority on social media and online marketing with more than 20,000 followers on social media platforms.

He is a business coach, consultant, and a dynamic trainer known for his insight and humor. A member of the National Speakers Association, Martin is a popular speaker on social media marketing and professional development topics. He is a presenter at North Carolina community college Small Business Centers and Chamber of Commerce venues. He also provides customized coaching and training for individuals and groups, integrating social media, social networking and reputation management.
Martin teaches a Social Media Management certification program through NC State University’s Technology Training Solutions.

He co-produces a leading podcast show, Linking Into Sales, focusing on Social Selling for business-to-business professionals and is recognized for his strategic applications of LinkedIn for sales lead generation and overall career enhancement for his clients, students and audiences.

His 20 years of professional experience includes 7 years with IBM, where he received the “IBM Means Service” top customer service award, and 13 years developing and operating small businesses. Coaching since 1995, he developed a certification / mentoring program for Coaches in 2003. He holds a BS in Math / Computer Science from St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C., and currently resides in Raleigh, NC.

Corporate clients and organizations Martin has worked with include: IBM, SAS, GlaxoSmithKline, Environmental Protection Agency, Association of Proposal Management Professionals ,Women Business Owners Network, The Triangle American Marketing Association, Decorating Den Interiors, Professional Photographers-NC, North Carolina Florists Association, NCPMI, NCACPA, Triangle BNI, and NC State University.

Martin’s latest books include: Social Media for Business, a guide to online marketing, and How to use Hashtags, an e-book, both available on Amazon.com. The Martin Brossman YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/martinbrossman, includes instructional videos and informative interviews on social media marketing topics.

Matt: How can companies increase their response times to meet customer expectations? That seems to be a key issue in the experience. 

Martin: I’m only old enough to remember phones with wires attached. That would be, for the younger group, cell phones with wires attached. I remember managing a Radio Shack and we were drilled so aggressively that we should answer within the third ring, that I literally would do it if my phone went off at home in the middle of the night. In fact, I’d even answer it with the little spiel from Radio Shack. Now, we’re in a 24/7 response world that is much more demanding.

When I was in retail back then, every customer who came in wouldn’t necessarily have potentially 10,000 fans. You know, today, we’re meeting that. Everyone that walks through the door, everyone that interacts, they may have a very large following online. So the importance of this and urgency of this is greater than ever. And to me, one of the best ways to start is with the leaders and management. 

This is tough for some of the older guys like me, to have to learn something new. You are going to have to move and model it in your behavior if you want to lead people to it, and the sense of urgency is important. Let’s not throw out the fundamentals of integrity, that what you say and what you do. 

The modeling of this by the leaders is really important. In my experience of coaching and our social selling training, a lot of the 40 – 50 crowd are overwhelmed, as well as all of us. They don’t want to learn something new and they’ll come up with any excuse to avoid it. My piece is you gotta roll up your sleeves. Not only that, it’s really important that you’ve developed and understand the persona of the customers you can serve and the ones you can’t serve. You also have to find a gracious way for the ones you can’t serve to find a new home quickly.

You’re asking response time, but to me, if you don’t know who you’re talking to, and you don’t know who you can’t serve as well, then you aren’t even in the fundamental of giving excellent customer service. Excellent customer service is where your product is a true win for them when they engage with it. Let’s say you’re a hair salon, and you say, “Anyone with hair is our customer.” Well, that’s not true.

If you’re a Sports Cut, anyone who likes sports and wants to spend under $20 is your customer. If you’re a hair salon, it’s like $40 a haircut. So you need to understand that audience and walk in their digital footprint.

This is why social selling is so important, so that you know the people you need to not attract, to almost politely discourage, and to find a new home other than yours. So I know that was a long answer, the core of really starting to make this engine smoke.

Matt: You mentioned that it is hard for some people to adapt to change. Let’s say you are someone that works at a company that doesn’t want to change and they have this huge gap in response time and the customer experience. How do you approach the CEO or upper management on something like this? 

Martin: Obviously, understanding the client would be something that they would embrace, but a lot of these companies have a process and they want this process to be the way they do things every time. I call this tail wagging the dog and I’ve worked with many people to do that over the years. The first answer is I don’t have a quick answer for that. It takes some time, because one, you have to understand what are the actual values of that manager, not the stated values. So you need to study them and understand what’s important to them.

Now, it’s easier in sales because what I say is, find a way to quietly exceed quota. Then go bang on the boss’s desk. I’ve had many people go, “Well, you need to change this and this.” And I go, “No. We have to creatively have you exceeding quota. Then you earn the right to speak.” So, that’s old school. If you’re not in a sales situation, you’ve got to study what do they value and how are you going to build the scenario that will get their attention with it without doing something so covert that would get you fired.

There was a guy that was selling radio advertising and he started years ago using social media. He was exceeding quota by multiple times over other people. The company was so adamant that they would not do social media because they were radio, they fired him, saying, “We’re convinced you’re doing something unethical because you couldn’t be exceeding quota this much.”

Luckily, we’re are now in a world where you can’t avoid it. They know, from disasters to success, that social is here to stay. But I do want them to…crawl in your manager’s mind. What are their core values? Do they care about Corvettes, classic Corvettes? It’s just like understanding your customer. 

I learned this stuff out of good old my training in neurolinguistic programming. We all have a sequence of steps we need to either hear or respond or engage with content to make the decision, “Yes, this is it.” And then build it. That’s why when you said, “How do you do it fast?” I don’t have an answer for fast. I have an answer for slow. And to me, slow and integrity are the new competitive advantage, because most people have no ability to tolerate time and slow down and play a longer game. When you develop that muscle along with handling conflict, you are so ahead of the curve today that it’s amazing.

Matt: What are some steps a business can take in implementing customer experiences?

Martin:  I heard one of the big box stores say that they couldn’t compete 100% on price, so they we’re going to focus on customer service. It’s interesting, because I’ve gone into that store and noticed since that time, people would walk me over to the product aisle and would make an extra effort. I’m going, somebody trained these people. It’s different and there would be times where I would think to myself, I could get this online for a few dollars less, but you can’t come close to to this service.

So the piece of this is it’s gonna be unique and different for each industry, but the goal is you’ve got to figure out how to not be the lowest priced commodity. You see, Walmart has a really big problem. They’re the race to the bottom and their goal is to not do that. Look at Sam’s Club versus Costco. If I go to Costco I know that whatever I get there is a cut above Sam’s Club. Now, if I all I want is some tape that might hold something together or and not be as good quality, I’d go to Sam’s Club. But I pay the price. The tape doesn’t hold up as well. Avoid being just 100% commodity, where something else is a value in the industry. If you’re just competing only on commodity, to me that is the worst place to be.

Matt: Do you feel like businesses need to be more in a niche market? You mentioned you spent a little more at the store and you might be able to save a few dollars online, but you felt they were trying to create this experiences. There’s so much out there and it seems like it would be impossible to do everything when creating an experience is so demanding. 

Martin: Absolutely. I wrote an article on customer personas on LinkedIn and it says, first, “Who are the people paying my bills right now?” Make darn sure I’m taking care of them. Go for them and who are the people I can’t serve that I need to have lose interest in me or not even see me? So I’m more niching on the customer persona, the customer reserve, than I’m on just niching in general because it’s all about where’s the people I can serve the best. 

If you look at the bigger box places, I remember my friend was sitting there with his son and there was an Old Spice commercial or something. And he goes, “Wow, that doesn’t sell me at all.” And it was kind of goofy. And his son goes, “You know, Dad, I might want to try Old Spice.” And he realized, they were marketing to his son, not to dad. And he went, “My gosh, they’re doing their job.” They are okay that some of us might die off. They need to grab the younger guys.

Have you ever seen those infomercials where they drag on and on and on and on and then you go, “This is stupid. I’d never buy this.” They are disqualifying anyone that won’t put up with that.

A lot of this stuff’s around if you train yourself to listen to it. Notice what you think is dumb and doesn’t work and look around and see if somebody else disagrees. If it is dumb to you, you’re not their market.

Matt: What are some things that they can do to figure out what makes them different and how they differentiate from everyone else so customers won’t Google the competition to compare pricing every time? 

Martin: I still love listening to the customer and finding what they view our brand is, because brands live in the customers’ minds, not in ours. When I worked at IBM, we talked about branding the messages, as though we had control over the…we never had control over it. We just had enough money to wail on the customer with enough salesmen, with enough commission, and enough credibility over time, and really, enough salesmanship over credibility, because they often were delayed, even in their computers.

We could control an environment. We don’t live in that world anymore. So that’s, to me, an important piece of this, is really getting…again, getting the customer. I know, I kind of get back to it, but that’s it.

Real cutting edge marketing is understanding the customers’ world and projecting out, what will be the next problem they’ll have that they don’t see yet? And that’s, to me, the real cutting edge level of customer insight of anticipating that.

Matt: Great insights! How does a business connect with the customer on social media with so many platform? 

Martin: Let’s start with the personas. I’m big on specific ages, names, everything. Let’s say we are talking to Ralph. Ralph likes to garden, wears a fishing cap and is 62 years old. From there we get the whole team looking for content for Ralph that would be interesting and engaging and worth his attention.

This is our persona we have, everyone agree with it and we ask, have you seen a Ralph? Then all decks on board looking for that insight and content that Ralph wants to hear. We have it distributed in the areas where Ralph plays. So if Ralph plays on Facebook, that is where the business needs to be. You are building the content along the way that touches him each area you can on his buyer’s journey. It’s like I’m meeting him before he even realizes he needs your product.

Imagine you’re talking to someone that doesn’t realize they need your product. You are simply having a conversation with them or possibly helping them. Before you know it, they go, “I need your product.” You have to map out that full buyer’s journey, and how do you keep them engaged or have them become a raving fan. 

Matt: What about the younger generation? The big talk is Snapchat and a lot of businesses are trying to figure out the younger generation and how to connect with them on social media. 

Martin: I want to answer that the way I learned about multicultural issues growing up in Washington D.C. You’ve got to find the customer and go talk to them. And most people…let’s say I’ve never met somebody with your type of beard in a certain country in the world. And I want to learn what’s different and unique about you. If I come and say, “You know, I’ve never met someone with your type of beard and I want to learn more about it. What’s the similarities and differences? I’d love to hear it.”

Most people are willing to share information and how they feel. They want to let you into their world if you come with an honest inquiry. Shifting that referential index into seeing through someone else’s eyes. 

Matt: It’s like you’re constantly having a focus group.

Martin: Yes. There’s a friend of mine, Dr. Brian Lambert, does something where onstage he gets a $100 bill out and he says, “If any of you can talk more than 10 minutes about your clients beyond what you sell them, I’m handing you this $100 bill.” He’s been carrying that same $100 bill around the world.

More than a minute or two, they can’t continue. And it was funny, because I realized I could talk for at least several minutes about their world and their challenge, and what’s important, and what do they do in their spare time, and their quirks. That’s part of this idea of on the ground and on the web, so in social selling, our social selling training, we’re talking about integrating both of those to understand what does it mean to spend a day in their shoes.

Matt: What are some customer experiences that have stood out to you and what are some areas that you’re excited to watch for going into the new year?

Martin: I’m a techie fan, and I’m excited to see how we integrate AI, bots, and virtual assistants into our world, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It will be interesting how machine learning is going to integrate and enhance the sales process. We’ve interviewed a number of people on it, but I think that’s something we need to pay attention to.

I think we need to pay attention to what’s going on with Snapchat. Look, I’m old school. I don’t like making an image that goes away in 20 seconds. But you know what? If my audience cares about that, I need to at least understand why that’s compelling for them. And it doesn’t mean I’ll love it, but understanding it. We are gonna see more of virtual reality things, driven and so forth.

Pokémon Go, even though it’s not massively continuing to explode, has opened the world to the idea of augmented reality that was around with Google Glass for a long time, but we didn’t get that experience of it. So now we’ve tasted it. I think we’ll see more augmented reality. My friend Greg Hire just was at a Lowe’s or Home Depot, and Microsoft had a demo of a VR see a kitchen the way you want. So those are some of the things I’m excited of watching.

It’s an exciting time where old school integrity, patience, being willing to deal with conflict, is a massive competitive advantage in todays technical world. 

Interview by: Matt Ruedlinger