A “Sell Ideas, Not Stuff” Whiteboard Matrix

If you’re like 95% of the other companies out there, your marketing and sales messaging is too product/feature/market-focused, and doesn’t really speak directly to the problems that customers face, what they want.  You want to sell ideas, not stuff.  If they buy into your ideas, then they will want your stuff.

And you’d like to ramp up your inbound marketing, but are realizing it takes a lot more time & money than you realized to generate big revenue.

To help you kill two birds with one stone, start with this matrix that can help you flesh out what “Sell Ideas, Not Stuff” means to you and your customers.   I’m working on a new “Predictable Revenue Guide to Inbound Marketing” (to make inbound markting more simple, sane & successful) – and this matrix is a key puzzle piece:

sell ideas not stuff matrix on whiteboard at clio

It’s helpful in mapping out a framework for inbound marketing / educational content, bringing focus & structure to your big ideas & key messaging.

Always Start With (Going Back To) Your Ideal Customer Profile (“ICP”)

Companies are far too vague about who your “Ideal Customers” are – get specific!  Why do some companies sign up and happily succeed, while others don’t sign up, or fail?

Write up and/or update your detailed Ideal Customer Profile(s) [see page 47 of Predictable Revenue].  It’s always evolving, so if it’s been more than 3 months since you updated it, time to do so.

If you have multiple customer segments that you want to focus on growing (large new customers, upselling small ones…) you will need different Ideal Customer Profiles by type of customer, and a separate matrix for each type of customer.  You should have a lot of content overlap, but it won’t be 100%.

Go through this & focus on one type of customer and one matrix first, before repeating it for others.


Enter the matrixNow I took a matrix that my buddy and partner Gabriel Padva showed to me, and customized it.

I think a lot of this matrix will be familiar to marketers, except for perhaps the “Popular Point of Pain” and “Ideas” columns.

1) “Popular Points of Pain” (PPP)

These are your simple category labels.  What are 3-5 key, popular (and ideally growing) business problems that your market faces, such as “Erratic Results”, “No Visibility”, “Talent Shortage” or “Attrition”, that are a top priority for senior executives.

If you want to grow, better to focus on a problem that’s growing (a rising tide and all).

For example, in the Human Resources world of recruiting, every big company already has an “Applicant Tracking System / ATS” resume database, and there are a hundred companies selling similar products that all sound the same.  This is a busy, commoditized market.  Resume handling is not the popular point of pain anymore, plenty of people have fixed it with “good enough” solutions.  Rather than taking a brute force approach of trying to sell companies on getting out of long-term contracts and switching out their systems (good luck), you could reposition yourself at where they do need help and are willing to spend their time and money: getting quality candidates in, or even more specifically for software companies, getting quality engineering candidates in.  Now THAT is a popular point of pain!  Sometimes you can do this with the same product you have today with a new marketing position – sometimes you knew to write new code.

Either way, hitch your wagon to the growing pain(s) that your target market is most willing to invest in.

One more example: “inbound lead generation” is a much faster growing point of pain than “sales process”.  Yeah, companies need better sales processes…but there is a greater perception of need and willingness to change and invest money and energy to improve lead generation.  It’s become a higher priority than sales process.  If you’re in a commoditized or busy market, pick a growing niche.  “Weak demos” or “Upselling challenges” would be much better than “sales process.”

Where can you be the best, where can you win?  You want to be a big fish in a small, focused and growing pond, rather than a small fish in a big, vague and perhaps stagnant pond.

2) Pains (Problems, Challenges)

List out the specific pains your ideal customers face, speaking in their language – not investors’ or analysts’ language or jargonese), using the same words & phrases they’d use.

“Job at risk because of missed quarterly goals”, “no visibility because of garbage data in the system”, “missing marketing goals because of low traffic / low conversion rates”, etc.

Be specific.  “Don’t know how to hit the board’s revenue targets” or “revenue being lost with large deals because of low close rates” are better than a more-vague “needs to grow revenue”.

3) Ideas (Insights / Surprising Facts)

All your competitors will say the obvious marketing stuff: “if you’re struggling with sales, we can help you increase revenue and reduce costs.”

Wow, I haven’t heard that 20 times before lunch today.

Common pains are caused mainly by common misguided assumptions. How can you help people see their unseen assumptions that are leading them down the wrong path?  What non-obvious ideas, insights, facts or simple truths would resonate with prospects?

For example, a main reason most sales teams struggle to generate pipeline is because they want their salespeople to prospect for it all.  This is a common misguided assumption, hence why new insights like “salespeople shouldn’t prospect” and “specialize your sales roles” resonate with people.

One of Salesforce.com’s big ideas was “no software”; and Zappos’ was “happiness works at work.”

You have to dig deeper than the obvious stuff that your prospects hear day in and out.  I guarantee you can discover some useful insights to share with people, because you’re are an expert in what you do, so you will be able to teach things to your prospects that they didn’t know.  (If you want lots of examples of insightful ideas, watch some TED talks.)

Important distinction: idea(s) are useful and interesting in their own right, without having to buy stuff.  If you sell inbound marketing software, first you may sell the idea of “inbound leads” and why companies should care about them.

We sell ideas such as the value of “predictable” revenue, outbound tripling your pipeline and specializing your sales roles, which are useful (we hope) ideas regardless of whether you buy our books or services.

4) Solutions (Features)

I don’t need to describe this, do I?

I will say, “less is more” – don’t overwhelm people with a lot of features, focus on a smaller number that are the most meaningful.  Lots of features => clutter => confusion => “no decision”.

5) Results (Outcomes, Feelings)

So they have the problems you solve, they use your solution, what do they get?  They don’t care about your software or service…what result does it create for them?

Do your best to define this in both money terms or business metrics, as well as personal / emotional terms.

“Run month-end reports in a few seconds with a click”….”Increase conversion rates or revenue by __%”… “have employees looking forward to coming into work”…”feel the peace of mind / confidence / clarity of…”

6) Evidence (Stories, Pictures)

You can make all the fancy claims you want about how much time and money you can help them save or make…but can you prove it?  What can you share with prospects to back up your claims?

Even the most seemingly ‘rational’ people make their decisions based on emotion, justified with logic.

You’re communicating (hopefully) even more now here at an emotional level with the prospect.  This is why they say “a picture’s worth a thousand words”.  Showing is better (much better) than telling.

Case studies, stories, details, pictures, testimonials (written, audio, video), demos…what helps your prospects believe in you and what you’re saying?

7) Stuff (Offers, Next Steps, Action)

Now that someone’s engaged and believes in the value of your solution, what can they do next, what’s the next step towards helping them see if buying your “stuff” is right for them?  If you’re selling a product, you can suggest that they download an ebook, sign up for a trial, contact you for a phone call, watch a demo, “Buy Now”…anything to help them take another step in their buying process.  Ideally the step(s) you ask them to take are mutually beneficial to both them and you, neither altruistic nor selfish.

For you altruists afraid to “sell” – be bold in challenging your prospects to get out of their rut and do something different!  Many people need a friendly kick in the metaphorical butt to take the next step they’ve been putting off.

For you “always be closing” types wanting to control prospects – it’s easy to get a team into a ‘selfish selling’ mindset, totally focused on wanting to get prospects to move through your sales process and close them, because it’s valuable to you.  You will get better, more scalable results by motivating prospects to move through their buying process because it’s valuable to them.

What Next?

I find that by going through the matrix, it helps companies break down your messages into different specific buckets, so you can more easily sort through them and test them in your marketing.

For example, look at these messages below, what do you think would make the best introduction to an article or ebook…

  1. “Missing your sales goals every quarter?” (Pain)
  2. “Why you need dedicated prospectors on your team.” (Feature)
  3. “How to generate qualified pipeline every month.” (Benefit)
  4. “Why salespeople shouldn’t prospect.”  (Unique idea/insight)

None of them are “bad”, and depending on the situation, you might use one or the other depending on the situation.  A big part of your job is to help engage people upfront with some simple, surprising or useful ideas that appeal to people and stand out from what your competitors are saying.

By breaking things down into small pieces and filling in missing areas, you can see more clearly what you have to work with, what you were missing, and better understand when to use which messages.

Only you can know what works for your market – test test TEST your content out to see what resonate with prospects.  In mature markets, where people know what they want, perhaps leading with a clear description of your features is the best way to engage prospects 🙂

I’ll include more examples and specifics in the “PredRev Inbound Marketing Guide”.

[UPDATED]: A Powerful & Different Example

I watched this Dove video, and was touched by how they sell to women the idea of “you’re more beautiful than you realize” with such simple, insightful proof.  I am so impressed at how they “show rather than tell” here:

[youtube width=”600″ height=”344″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk[/youtube] Soap, a commodity, works best with an 100% emotion-based marketing campaign, but any company can learn a lesson from Dove in how to better come up with and powerfully share a idea (which is different than sharing a powerful idea).

The trick for you, dear b2b reader, is connecting the idea you want to sell to people (

[UPDATED]: A Simpler Matrix?

Suneet Bhatt of Chartbeat says he likes to keep things super simple (amen!), and uses a similar matrix but with fewer columns: “message (idea), value (ROI/metric), and service (tool, stuff)”, and sometimes a fourth, “medium/format.”

Love it!

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Travel Picture: Cherry Blossoms In Burnaby (Just Outside Vancouver)

My associate Alicia took this picture just outside our client Clio’s offices, in Burnaby, Canada (it’s next to Vancouver).  We had a cherry blossom tree in my front yard as a kid, so this was both gorgeous and a nice memory 🙂

Vancouver Cherry Blossoms

How’d The Matrix Work For You?

Try the matrix and post a story about it here or email us what you do.

Or do you have another similar tool you find incredibly useful?

Get in contact with us today!


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