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How to Not Only Attract the Right Customers, But Also Grow with Them – John Jantsch
The Agents of Change

It’s one thing to close a sale with a customer, but how do you get closer to them in a way that goes above the transactional relationship where you become a business they actually care about and that matters to them? Selling things is great, but nurturing relationships with die-hard evangelists for your business is even better for both sides.

John Jantsch, of Duct Tape Marketing, outlines a process we can use to not only grow our customer base, but allows you to develop a strategy for your entire business around how you’re going to move through those stages and up the customer success.  

Rich: My guest today is a marketing consultant, speaker, and author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Referral Engine, The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur, and the book I hold in my hands today, The Ultimate Marketing Engine.

He’s also the founder of Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network, which trains and licenses independent consultants and agencies to use the Duct Tape methodology. This is also the second time he’s been on the podcast. And he also graced the stage at the most recent Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference, at what feels like years ago. Please welcome John Jantsch. John, welcome back to the podcast.

John: Great to be here. And it does feel like years ago. I had a lovely, lovely trip to Maine. I went up to Acadia National Park, which was high on my list and remains high on my list as one of my favorites. Maine is a beautiful, beautiful state, as you know.

Rich: Absolutely. I love it up here. And we’re glad to have you, and hopefully one day we’ll have that conference again and we’ll have you back. So keep that in mind. All right. So you’ve written a few books. John, what caused you to write this new book, The Ultimate Marketing Engine. I’m looking for, what is the shift that you’re trying to explore here?

John: For sure. Yeah. So this actually is my seventh book, believe it or not, over a long span of years. But the honest answer is, I wrote this book because I signed a contract to write this book. That’s the honest answer from a lot of authors. So I mean, let’s just be real.

However, I signed the contract for this book March 15th, 2020. It won’t take many people too long to think about what they were doing March 15th, 2020. The world was shutting down basically, as we know it. And so I thought, holy mackerel, I’m going to write a book now. How can what’s going on not impact what I’m going to write?

However, there was no way I was writing, “how to market in a time of COVID”, because nobody wants that book. But one of the things that I started seeing what was happening to my clients. I saw time and time again. Now, there were certainly people that were in the wrong place, the wrong time, you know, wrong industry really just got wiped out. But I saw a lot of my clients not only surviving, they were in a way thriving. And it wasn’t just demand. It was their customers wanted them to be around, their customers reached out and said, “What can we do? Put that project on hold, I’ll be here no matter what. I know times are tough.” And it really shined a light to me on what has fundamentally always been the truth. That in really good times, a lot of businesses thrive because they’re in the right place at the right time. But in rough times, tough times, I think businesses that that survive are ones that are meaningful in the lives of their customers.

And again, that’s always been true. But I think that the struggle we went through last year really shown a bright light on that to me. So that informed greatly kind of what came out of this book is that, you know, how do we become the only business that matters to our customers. You know, how do we really get closer to them and take a point of view that is not about just selling them something, not about the transaction, but that is ultimately around the transformation that they want to achieve.

So a lot of times people are attracted to us because we sell X. But what else do they need in their life? What would be the next stage, and the next stage, and the next stage, that we could help take them from where they are today to where they want to be. So ultimately that’s what this book is about, how to attract the right customers, but then also how to grow with them.

Rich: The title of the book is, The Ultimate Marketing Engine. What is the ultimate marketing engine definition?

John: Well, so I simplified it to two words, and of course this takes lots of explanation throughout the book. But to me, it’s a successful customer. If you can make your customers, your clients, successful. If you can get them, as I said, from where they are today to where they want to be, that to me becomes the ultimate marketing engine that will drive all of your growth. Because you can grow with them, and it will also drive your growth, because they will become evangelists for your business.

Rich: All right. And building on a lot of what you had written in your earlier books with The Referral Engine, for sure. So in the book you’ve got a five step process that you outline, which I find very helpful whenever I’m doing any sort of these kinds of business books. When I’m ever reading them, just having that process kind of simplifies it in my mind, makes it very actionable. So I’m wondering if we could go through those five steps that you outlined?

And the first one is ‘map’, where you ask us to map where our best customers are and where they want to go. And I just have so many questions here, such as how do we determine who our best customers are? And then, how do I uncover where do they want to go?

John: Sure. Yeah. I mean, one section, one step of the book, but you’re right. It’s something that’ll probably become the rest of my life’s work will be unpacking that for folks as I work through it with them. It’s something that I actually discovered mainly because I’ve been doing this for so long. It’s something that we didn’t set out and go, “Oh, we’re going to create this”, what I now call the ‘customer success track’, it just sort of developed over time.

So the idea behind this is that most of our clients and customers, at least in my case and I would suggest this is true of a lot of businesses, are in a similar stage of where they want to go. They’re in a similar life cycle, they’re in a similar stage of their business. And that’s ultimately what we want to do is identify what are the defining characteristics of the stage that they’re in today. And I’m going to I’ll loop back to this idea of ideal customer, what are the challenges of being in that stage that they’re facing. And then finally, what’s the promise if we can move them to the next stage.

And so as I said, I developed this in our business kind of over the years. Because in your business with marketing, a lot of times people come to you, and they need some foundation stuff. The website’s terrible, they don’t really have content, SEO is non-existent. So we’ve got to clean up the foundational stuff. That’s the stage that they’re in before we can actually take them to the stage where they want to start running ads, and start building landing pages, and start doing things that actually make the phone ring. And so we over time identified that we’ve got to clean up this, then we can move them to the next stage. But then we can continue to mature with them.

And so it really, over the years, started coloring how we talked about what we offer. It started coloring sort of the roadmap in our sales conversation that we would have with them. And so ultimately, we developed kind of unknowingly this ‘customer success track’, and it’s very documented because we’re able to actually develop – because we know what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to take them next – we actually have a whole list in each stage of milestones that they have to achieve. And of course, assigned tasks to each milestone where we can either say, yes, they have done this, or no, they haven’t, and we know what to do next. And so it really is how I’ve created a repeatable system over the years. And I just got better and better at documenting it for marketing.

So I have in the book developed a complete what I think is customer success track for small to mid-sized businesses, that you can just rip off and use yourself as a way to move through the stages. But my big contention is that I think most every business, regardless of industry, can and should be thinking about developing this for their own customer base. Not just for marketing, but for whatever it is that they offer.

And again, one of the things that I believe it allows you to do is to start working with, you asked me how do you identify that ideal customer, to me over the years, as cliche as it sounds, it’s the top 20% of your customers. Almost every single business I’ve ever worked with generates about 80% of their profit and their opportunity from their top 20% of their customers. And yet we’re scattered all over the place trying to attract one little piece of business here, and one little piece of business there. And what this customer success track suggest is if we can identify what it is about that top 20%, and we can start focusing on what their exact stages, what the characteristics are, what the milestones are, so that we can do whatever it is we do for them even better. And then we start developing our offerings and how we even talk about what we do. But essentially moving them through these stages.

And over the years, people that I’ve gotten to follow this, because that idea of narrowing your focus is something I’ve been talking about for 25 years. But in this book, I feel like I’d take it to another level. Because one of the things I’ve seen is when I can get companies to do this, not only do they start attracting more of those people, more of those ideal clients, but they also find that some percentage of them actually want to do 10 times the amount of business with you, and some smaller percentage of them want to do maybe 100 times more business with you, if you actually looked at doing that kind of ladder of stages with them.

So it not only allows you to grow your customer base, but it actually allows you to develop a strategy for your entire business around how you’re going to move through those stages and up the customer success.

Rich: I feel like you’ve almost taken the first three steps all together. So I just want to kind of unpack a few things. So, there’s a lot of good stuff in here and I don’t want people to just skip over this.

So the first step we talked about is ‘map’, and then you kind of segued into ‘uncover’. And I think that was because I asked a question that you used the word ‘uncover’, so that’s your second step. And in uncover, it’s all about the problem you’re trying to solve for your ideal customer. And I know from my experience, I’ve had businesses over the years come to me and tell me, “Rich, I really want your help on building up my Facebook profile.” I talk to them and I’m like, you are a consultancy selling to municipalities million dollar ideas. They don’t want to hear from you. So it’s like, take a step back and let’s figure it out. Is that what you’re talking about when you’re talking about the uncover step?

John: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m the same way. I mean, strategy before tactics is kind of my mantra. Anytime a business comes to us, and they always want this or that, or that, it’s like nope. We’re going to back up strategy before tactics.

And just to what you alluded to, so one of the things that is so key to having an effective marketing strategy is that you’re able to differentiate your business from everybody else who says they do what you do, even though they don’t offer what you offer. The markets really can’t figure that out because we’re all telling everybody we’re all the same. And so what my focus is, is to help understand what problem we really solve for our ideal clients. I essentially sell marketing strategy. Nobody wakes up and says, “I’m going to go buy some marketing strategy.” They wake up and they say, “How come my competitors always rank above me? How come every time the phone rings, they’re asking for a lower price.” I mean, those are the problems that we actually solve. And oh, by the way, strategy is the tool to do it.

Every business that has a loyal customer base of some fashion is solving a unique problem that people typically can’t, or won’t, or don’t get solved by somebody else. And the companies that I think are best at articulating what that problem is, because a lot of times our customers don’t really know what the problem is, so they certainly haven’t attached it to what our solution is. We can actually start communicating, we understand you. We’re not saying how long we’ve been in business. We’re not saying how big we are. We’re promising to solve your greatest problem. Do you want to know more? And that to me, then all of your content really becomes the voice of that strategy. As opposed to just, like you said, let’s build up our profile. I mean, it’s the tactics support the strategy.

Rich: Absolutely. All right. So number three – and you already kind of talked about this – is narrow your focus. And I absolutely love this. Because anybody who listened to my 400th episode recently knows that in this “Remarkability Formula” I talk about, ‘focus’ is one of the lenses that you need to use to kind of uncover your remarkability. So I love this idea. But I also know that for a lot of business owners, this is terrifying. The idea that I’m going to give away business and I’m going to turn away business or just focus on a small segment, goes against everything I believe in because I want to be all things to all people and grow my business. What do you say when you hear those complaints?

John: Well some of it, quite frankly, comes from an irrational fear. And one of the things we do is let’s look at the data. So one of the exercises that we put people through that over the years, it’s been one of the funniest things I’ve done. Because they just go, “Huh, I guess you’re right.” And that is, we get them to rank their customers by profit. And then we also get them to note which of these customers has, over the years, if you are close enough to your customer, has also referred business to you.

And when we do this exercise, a couple of things happen. The bottom 20% are like, “What? Why are we doing that? I didn’t even know we offered that anymore.” You know, they’ve got a few customers down or they had one customer over the years that wanted the waterproofing foundation company to actually grade a driveway for them. Okay, sure. We do that, too. And so they immediately go, “Oh, wow. This is terrible. We need to stop doing that. Fire those people, take that off the website.”

But the other thing that happens is they start seeing bunches of industries or bunches of similarities, , bunches of people with similar problems, and those become their best clients. They’re profitable because they had the right problem, you were the right fit for them. They referred business because they had a good experience, because your values matched, or something of that nature. So we really get into kind of digging into those behaviors and the profitability aspect, and it really makes it a lot of times much clearer that not only are they their best customers, that they’re leaving money on the table by not really knocking it out of the park for them.

And that, again, I’m with you. I’ve seen it over the years. It was like, oh no, no, no. We want to keep the 47 things that we could possibly do on the homepage. But when you start running numbers and you really start getting them to think about, why are you doing that? A lot of times just nobody ever asks them, why are you doing that? You know, it sometimes becomes pretty clear.

15:00 Rich: And I think there’s so many other benefits here. First of all, and you kind of alluded to this, if you’re only providing a limited service to a limited audience, you get so much better at that. Not only that, but people become really enamored of specialists. And one of the things I recently found or stumbled upon, was that in 2017 primary care physicians in the U.S. made like $247,000 on average, which is nice. But specialists that year made $399,000. So it’s like we reward specialists, even though they can do less than a primary care physician. We reward people who are specialists, so it only makes sense to narrow your focus.

John: Well, and one of the things that I always come back on, is there’s a whole lot of people out there pitching what you just described as you have to pick a niche market and go deep in that. And there definitely can be some value in that. Of course, as you said, you get better at it. I mean, let’s face it, marketing you got an email campaign, you can do it for 50 people, same campaign. Right. So there is some potential value in that. But I always caution people that, don’t just think that I’m saying you have to pick an industry and run with it. Because I have seen over and over again, people kind of chasing an opportunity like that and then realize 6, 8, 9 months into it, that I don’t like working with dentists.

And so I’m very cautious to say your narrowness can be about a behavior. Can you actually look at your customer base and say, who can we bring the most value to the fastest. That can be a great way to narrow. I know when people come to us with a certain situation and certain goals in their marketing, we can impact their business almost immediately by making a few changes. And that to me is a way that will narrow, as opposed to some other characters. Yeah,

Rich: Absolutely. Definitely a number of ways that you can narrow that focus. Step four is ‘attract’. We all love the idea of attracting customers. But what is The Ultimate Marketing Engine’s approach that might be different here?

John: Well so in some ways it’s different because what you did in the first three steps. Because now what you’re prepared to do is tell the story that your ideal clients are already telling themselves. I talk about content, not as how we used to talk about content is king. And you know, then the last few years I’ve been saying, no, it’s air. Pretty much you have to have it to exist.

But I think now it’s really, to me in this framework, it’s the voice of strategy. It really informs if you know who that ideal customer is, you know the problem that you can promise to solve, and you know the story they’re telling themselves. You know, now all of a sudden ,your attraction just happens because you are telling the right story.

Now, obviously we’ve got to have all the modern things. Like we’ve got to you know the message for our ads. We now know the message for our Facebook posts. We now know what a landing page needs to say in order for it to convert. So there’s nothing necessarily revolutionary about the tactics that I recommend. It’s really more about that those tactics have completely been informed by all the work we’ve done in the first three steps.

Rich: All right. Now this fifth step is you call ‘scale’. And this is another word that business owners and entrepreneurs love. Right? You say we should scale with our customers by serving their entire ecosystem. John, what does that mean exactly?

John: So when you’ve narrowed your focus and you’ve built this customer success track. And maybe now the mission of your business is to actually take your customers from where they are today, to where they want to be. Essentially, step five is about referrals. And so it’s much deeper than that, but I all through step five I showcase the many, many ways that a business that takes this approach that I’ve outlined in the first four steps, is going to grow their business first off certainly by way of referral. But I actually go deeper into a tactic that we’ve used for years.

When you get this close to your customers and you’re helping them mature, as kind of another term I’ve used, through the process of working with. One of the steps that that we suggest is that you actually start adding value to all the other people that are important in their lives, to all the other businesses that serve them.

I’ll give you an example that I cited in the book. So we had an author influencer came to us and said, “Look, I speak, and I’ve got books out there, but I don’t have any products, or I don’t have a brand that’s cohesive. I was just kind of doing talks around these books.” So they hired us to develop basically a brand strategy for them that would have obviously ultimately include some product offerings and courses and things of that nature. Well, the individual is also working with an executive coach to help her build a team of folks to support her organization and the growth that she wanted to have. So we actually proactively reached out, obviously with their permission, but reached out to that coach and said, “Look, here’s the brand strategy. I want to meet with you and explain it to you what we’re thinking, how we’re going to pull this together.” And what it did is it allowed him to serve her better. It allowed him to actually say, okay, now I know where you’re going with this.

And I think a lot of times when people are working with different individuals, there’s things missed in the communication that could benefit really all parties. And so by us taking that step, we actually added value to her, the relationship we had with her, but also to his relationship as well. And so we did that a number of times with other folks that were working with her. And almost every single one of those people became a referral source. They were so blown away by that process. We didn’t go into it to get referrals, but they just happened because it is a process that demonstrates such significant value if the people want to be part of it.

And so that whole last chapter is about growing with your customers. So maybe it’s offering more stuff to them because you can, it’s serving their ecosystem, it’s developing strategic partner relationships. I actually have an entire workshop in there on how to teach your customers how to generate more referrals, regardless of what you do. If you can teach them how to generate more referrals, you’re going to get referrals.

And so, it’s really an evolution, I suppose, of my thinking the last 10 years, and the things that we’ve done. Certainly some of it came out of The Referral Engine, my second book ,as well. But I wrap up with that idea for the final step. Because again, this kind of builds on itself, if you do all those first four steps, you really won’t have to work to generate leads and new customers because you will have created this machine that is going to generate business.

Rich: So I think a lot of people would be interested in getting closer to their customers. And yet at the same time, we sometimes find the outreach from companies to us a little invasive. How do you walk that line and really show that you’re there to support the customer without it being creepy or needy?

John: Yeah. You know, it’s a trust scale is all it is. I mean that we all have people in our lives; relationships, business relationships, personal relationships, that there’d be nothing creepy about anything they asked you to do. And I think where it gets creepy is when it feels very manufactured, and it feels inappropriate. As cliche as this is, you earn the right to do that by the amount of value that you bring and your intention.

Rich: Makes a lot of sense. And as we talk through this, you do marketing, I do marketing. This feels very B2B service-oriented focused. Does this approach work for products as well as services? Does it work for B2C as well as B2B?

John: I would say the absolute sweet… I mean, essentially let’s boil down. This is a strategy book in a lot of ways. Obviously, there are a lot of very proven tactics, proven by me at least, tactics that are throughout this book, but it’s essentially a strategy book. So anybody who needs a level of strategy, this book I think can help you no matter what you sell, getting closer to your customer or narrowing your focus, having a message to solve a problem. And those are all things that are going to benefit anyone.

I’ll be the first to admit that B2B service businesses are going to look at this and go, I need to do every bit of this. You know what I mean? It really, it’s the strategy. Not just marketing strategy, it’s a strategy for the whole business. If you ask me now, having said that, yeah, we have some B2C businesses that have we’ve put through this. And their customer success track may not look exactly the same. But the development of referrals, the development of a strategic partner network to generate referrals, to impact your client’s entire ecosystem. Those are all steps that we’ve effectively employed in B2C businesses.

Rich: All right. John, this has been great as always. For people who want to learn more about you or check out the book, where can we send them?

John: So the website is theultimatemarketingengine.com. And if you don’t mind, I’ll offer people that you can pre-order the book, depending upon when you’re listening to this, it’ll be out in September. But for those who pre-order the book, I have a companion course that you can actually get right now, and you’ll find it there. It says, ‘get the companion course when you go to the homepage’, and it’s six videos and some resources, worksheets, and things that we use with our clients that that are referenced throughout the book. So you can get started right away. Obviously when you buy the book, you’ll actually have access to all of the resources, but this is a quick way for you to get started consuming some of these ideas.

Rich: Fantastic. And we’ll have those links in the show notes. John, always great catching up with you, and looking forward to finishing the book. I told you I cracked it open, and it’s been great so far, so I can’t wait to learn all the lessons. And thanks for sharing your expertise today.

John: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Show Notes:

John Jantsch excels at helping small businesses scale and grow through his expert consulting and workshops. Check out any one of his insightful books if you’re looking to transform your business. 

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.