Thought Leadership Resources

#49 Why your content should focus on Red Alert problems

Maybe you’ve devoted a lot of time into creating Really Useful Content – blog posts, articles, speeches, maybe a video or two – and it’s just not working. It’s not getting you business. So, what to do?


Make sure that the content you produce is focused on the problems your clients find particularly acute. I talked before about this in blog post #28, but it’s an important point, and worth another look.

An old salesperson’s adage is that “Customers only listen to one radio station – WIIFM. That stands for, ‘What’s In It For Me?’” A sales presentation must talk about the issues that the prospect is facing, not on the features of the product. It’s the same with your content – it has to be relentlessly focused on your clients’ issues.

My colleague Philip Morgan of Philip Morgan Consulting came up recently with three questions in his blog, that I think point up the issues rather well:

What problems are truly critical for them and which are merely annoying?
Is your client aware that there's a solution to the problem, are they aware only of the problem, or are they not even aware of the problem itself? (the latter is the hardest to sell to)
What special language do they use when describing their business?

In this post, I’d like to dig into each of those three points, because I think that this will help you create content that shows your ability to help your clients achieve their goals.

Which problems are truly critical?

It’s called “management by crisis” and all of us are guilty of it to some extent. We take care of whatever’s hurting us the most, right now.

If your client is concerned about meeting new state environmental regulations on emissions of particulate matter, for example, your message about reducing carbon footprint will likely land with a dull thud. So you may need to reposition your message – reducing their use of diesel fuel won’t just help cut carbon footprint, but also help to reduce those particulate emissions.

You won’t get far in business through an approach that says “Here’s what I want to sell you.” You also won’t get far if you say “Here’s a solution to a problem you’re facing” if that problem isn’t a Red Alert kind of problem. That’s the “management by crisis” part.

You need to present your service as a solution to a pressing problem they’re facing. (see Post #40 for more on this)

How to do this? Start by finding out what those Red Alert problems are.

Read their trade media – printed publications and their associated websites, following influential bloggers and Twitterers (Is that a word? It is now)
Join and participate in their professional and trade associations
Attend conferences, luncheons, breakfasts and other events where your ideal clients will be, and talk with them about their issues
Join and follow the LinkedIn groups where your ideal clients are active

Then, you need to either focus your service on meeting those problems, or re-design your story and service offering so that your ideal clients will understand how you can help them meet their Red Alert issues.

Is your client aware that there’s a solution?

My first sales job, in the late 1980s, involved selling office equipment – primarily fax machines. Our product was a one-purpose-only fax machine that plugged into the customer’s phone line and could remotely print out, onto rolls of thermal paper, a letter or other document sent from someplace else.

To me, it was magic. Many of the businesses I called on, it was a waste of their time. They already had couriers and mail service, and scores of them used a teletype service called Telex, which was one step up from a telegraph. Most weren’t aware that there was a solution to the need for rapid communication, and it wasn’t a problem that was top of mind for them, either. It was, for them, a solution to a problem they didn't have.

I persevered, knowing that I was only a bit ahead of the curve. Then a year after I moved on to sell commercial printing, the market for fax machines exploded into one of the fastest technological adoptions ever.

Fast-forward to today, and your client may not be aware that there is a solution, like the companies I called on, who were quite okay with Telex and had no need to invest in a fax machines (to be fair, the unit I was selling cost about US$5,000 in current dollars).

How do you move the needle on showing that there’s a solution? Case studies. Prepare stories about clients who have implemented your ideas. It really helps if you can provide:

Testimonials from real clients
Numerical support – productivity increases, money saved, risks avoided
Believable detail – if you say you were able to speed up a filling line by X percent, put in some details about the product, container, and the food-safety regulations the line had to meet

What special language do they use?

If you’ve made your content meet Red Alert problems, and then demonstrated that you have a solution to offer, you may think that the job is done. Not exactly. You need to present your ideas in terms that they will use. Reasons:

They see you as one of them – most people like the idea of doing business with someone with whom they feel commonality. One way to build that is by using their endemic language. Terms like “closure,” “recognized” and “print” can have different meanings depending on the professional context, and you need to use those terms correctly. That reassures potential clients that you understand their world, and that your solutions will work in their world.

They may be doing online searches under those terms. For example, an accounting firm client recently asked me to work on an article about changes to the International Financial Reporting Standards, or IFRS. Anyone in accounting will understand what this means, and will recognize the acronym. They’ll also be aware of the changes, so will be interested in how those changes may affect them. So, I’ll be sure that the article uses the term IFRS in headlines and meta-text.

Being familiar with your clients’ terminology is an important part of business success. It applies to your content as well. It’ll help you move past the “annoyance” stage (like someone selling fax machines) to someone offering solutions to a problem that’s staring them in the face right now.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

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