A funny thing happened to me last weekend. I attended an ERDI Conference in Chicago where I had the chance to present the exact same product in two different ways to two different but similar focus groups of Chief Academic Officers. The ultimate A/B test. The only material change in the presentation was that during the first panel I talked about the research behind our product first and then they saw the product, and in the second the product was first and the research second. One of these two pitches was far and away better received. Can you guess which one?

Before I give away the answer on which message flow worked better, I want you to hear from one of the best minds in the “message” business, Leo Burnett. A fellow native Michigander and Wolverine, Burnett was a titan of the golden age of advertising, and founded Leo Burnett Worldwide. He created Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Keebler Elves, the Maytag Repairman and the Marlboro Man. Burnett’s style was homespun, traditional and as he called it, “corny.” When you “fly the friendly skies,” with United, or sign with Allstate’s “good hands people,” you can thank Burnett for the warm feeling you get.

On the subject of sales pitches, Burnett said this,

“Don’t tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it.”

I broke Burnett’s rule with the first panel when I presented the research before product. With the drumbeat for scientifically backed products in our industry, can you blame me?  Yeah you can because I have Burnett’s quote on my page of all time favorites and still I walked right into it.  I was thinking building a foundation with research first would tee up the audience for acceptance of the product but in fact, in that order, I was telling the customer how good we make it instead of how good it makes them. The results? The panelists were too focused on the broad message of the foundational research and not sure if the product connected well to all its themes. They are right, it doesn’t–no product can address every aspect of better teaching.  I was basically selling research and backing it up with my product vs. selling my product and backing it up with research. Forehead slap.

Day 2 I flip flopped to show the product first, and in that case the panel marveled at how well the product supported the research. I used almost the exact same wording each time, but set the table with the warm fuzzy of what it feels like to use it followed by the comforting scientific basis. They raved.  I scratched my head at how simply changing the order around could garner the complete opposite response from the Day 2 panel. After a couple of days I remembered Burnett.  Sales are about feelings, visualization, and getting in touch with how it feels to see that steam floating off your tomato soup.   Mmm, mmm good.  Sure, some other complexities were probably at work, but I think I was more successful Day 2 because I showed how to find success with the product and only then how great we make it.

Day 1 was not a total loss because 1) I learned a lot from the A/B comparison and 2) the panel did like the product, they just couldn’t connect the supporting data.   I eventually got there, but leading on day 2 with the product and how you’ll succeed when using it, is the underlying reason for the much more delighted response.  And even though Burnett’s quote says “don’t tell me how great you make it,” keep in mind he’s speaking of short format advertising.  In B2E, we are expected to be able to explain the underlying principals and research behind your solution.  I’m just saying, framing the research as the icing on the cake worked a lot better for me.

Of course, you loyal Selling B2E readers know that NONE of this pitching should happen until after you have had a chance to ask lots of questions and surface need, etc. It’s hard to do in a panel presentation, but we did manage to begin with several key questions in round table format and got loads of useful information that was revisited during the presentation. That part worked well on both days!

If you’ve never attended ERDI, incidentally, I highly recommend it. If you have a young company or a young product at a mature company, it’s a great sounding board to pressure test your message and value proposition. It’s an investment to be sure, however, I think I’ve just demonstrated one of the important deliverables of getting open and honest feedback from prospects. A startup could spend a year or more trying to get in front of the superintendents and CAO’s that work with ERDI, who in a more formal setting are definitely not going to tell you “hey I like it but try saying it like this,” or “I’d buy it if it had this feature,” or “I’d only buy it at this price range.” That is pure gold to mine in your product’s early days, and you might just start a sale that can change your business forever.

In the meantime, take my word – and Leo Burnett’s – for it, research is good to be able to reference but the feeling your product gives students, parents, teachers, and admins is what to get your prospects focused on first.

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