Research about decision-making shows that one of the main jobs of our rational brain is to justify the decisions of our emotional brain. As product managers, the decision that interests us the most is people deciding to buy our software. That means we really should understand how to make our product, our positioning, and our marketing appeal to our prospect’s emotional brains.

A good way to reach your prospect’s emotional brain and convince it that your product is the best and the one they should buy, is to use emotionally engaging quotes and stories from customers. And what makes a quote emotionally engaging is if it talks about how the customer achieved a personal goal using your product.

If you remember the basic product management framework I talked about a few weeks ago (link in the show notes): The three components are finding and validating a market problem; guiding the creation of a solution to the problem; and taking the solution to market. This podcast is about step three – going to market. There are many components to a good go-to-market process, but one of the most important is engaging emotionally with your prospects so they become customers.

There are lots of ways people can make an emotional connection to your product. But one of the best is by hearing that it will help address their personal goals. And it’s best to hear that not from you directly, but from your customers.

In my experience, business software product managers and marketers have shied away from squishy, emotional things like personal goals. This has always surprised me, but I think I understand the reason. A lot of us in the software world are what I call “technologists” – we have an engineer’s bent. Alan Cooper – more on him later – calls us Homo Logicus. We love rationality, and we expect our customers to make “rational” decisions, just as (we think) we do. We think business people, our prospects, are interested in achieving “business goals” and nothing else. That they’re are driven by rational decision-making, and therefore not only do you have to emphasize how your product will provide concrete (that is “rational”) business value, but you need to avoid talking about soft subjects like “personal goals” at all, because that’s not rational stuff.

Well, that’s not really correct. Good sales people and good marketers have always understood that this view of rational buyers is not the whole story. I don’t know if you’ve heard the old sales adage “People don’t buy products, they buy people” but it gets to the heart of this idea. Buyers are not purely rational, they have emotions, and their emotional selves have to make the commitment to your product as much as their rational selves.

Now, I keep saying this term, Personal Goals – what does it mean? What is a personal goal? Personal goals contrast with “business goals,” and “practical goals.” The term as I first heard it is from Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, one of the canonical books on user experience and interaction design. I highly recommend this book – there’s a link in the show notes.

And Alan describes personal goals as follows, using his friend Ted and his new TV as an example. Ted had gotten a new TV and tried to set it up, without much luck.

But we must never forget that Ted is a person and, as such, he has strong personal feelings that can also be expressed as goals. Ted does not want his new possession to humiliate him; he does not want to be made to feel stupid. Ted does not want to make mistakes. He wants to have a feeling of accomplishment, the sooner the better. He wants to have some fun. These personal goals are vital. From an interaction designer’s point of view, they are more important than Ted’s practical goals.

Personal goals usually transcend the specifics of the product itself. They’re about the customer/user, not about the product at all. As Alan points out, they are often related to avoiding negative outcomes. But they can also be about achieving good outcomes.

Now, you may be wondering how this “personal goals” stuff plays out in actually marketing a product.

One of the buzzwords in marketing is “social proof.” This means having a peer of the prospect recommend your product. Because we’re “technologists” as I mentioned earlier, a lot of social proof that you see in marketing for software is something like:

“Your product helped me improve my sales by 10%” – that’s about a business goal. It’s a concrete, rational achievement. And it’s not at all emotionally exciting.

But did this customer achieve a personal goal? Did increasing sales by 10% mean they kept their job? Or maybe they got a promotion. Behind that “sales increased by 10%” is probably a much more compelling story, like “Your product helped me get a promotion to Sales Director because our sales went up so much!” And that’s what you want for social proof!

I’ve got a few real-world examples. One of my favorites is a customer of one client who said, “I wake up in the morning without dreading how much will I have to multi-task today.” Now, that’s a personal goal that’s been satisfied – not waking up afraid of the day! If you have a customer who attributes better sleep to your product – especially if your product has nothing to do with sleep – you’d better make sure your prospects hear about it! That quote is now on the client’s website.

Another client’s customer said, “Everyone from management to sales look at our group as experts now because of your product.” Who doesn’t have a personal goal to be – and look like and be perceived as – an expert? If your product helps people be experts, and helps their peers see them as experts, make sure your prospects know that, and make sure they know it in the words of your customers.

This “social proof” can go on your website – and it should be near the top of the first page, ideally. Don’t bury it on a “customer stories” page. But you can also use this kind of social proof in your sales materials, and in your sales presentations, and in your demos.

Now that you’re onboard with the idea of social proof based on personal goals, let’s talk about how to get it. What you’re after is stories about how your existing customers have achieved their personal goals with your product.

To get these good quotes, you need to talk to your existing customers and guide them in sharing how your product addressed their personal goals. Of course you can’t just ask them baldly “did you achieve any personal goals with our product?” But, if your customers are having success with your product they will be able to tell you some good stories. Generally, if they are achieving a business benefit, there’s going to be some personal goals achieved as well, so that’s a good place to start.

And here are some other good lines of questioning:

  • Did they have low expectations from having used other products, and your product exceeded those greatly?
  • Was there a problem before they implemented your product that had personal impact that your product eliminated? A typical example: they couldn’t get to their kids’ baseball and soccer games because they had to work late every day, until your product made them much more efficient. Now they catch every game.
  • Did they have a bad experience with a competitive product that your product didn’t have? “After tearing my hair out every month when we closed the books with our old product, I just have to click a button with Acme Financials. I’m not losing my hair anymore.”
  • Do they talk about their success with your product in personal terms – “now I sleep better at night,” or “my stress level is much lower now?”
  • Did their reputation or standing in the company change after they implemented your product?
  • Eliminating annoying and tedious work is a great result as well, because everyone has the personal goal of “not having to do stupid stuff.” “Your product saved our department a lot of time and headaches by eliminating most of the tedious, manual tasks associated with our old process.”

Those are just some questions you can use to start eliciting personal stories.

Potential obstacles

The biggest one is that you maybe feel you can’t get permission to use these stories, and attribute to real people.

  • First, you have to ask. You definitely won’t get permission if you don’t ask.
  • But, it turns out a lot of people wouldn’t mind having their name in lights – especially if you addressed a big personal goal for them!
  • But, if you can’t get permission (after asking), I think it’s perfectly reasonable to put a paraphrase on the site – or even the real quote – with a non-specific attribution. That is, instead of attributing it to “Joe Blow, Project Manager at Acme Industries”, you say “Joe B., a very happy user at a large consumer product company.” You can even add “Call us for more information about how our product changed Joe’s life.”

Next steps

Here are three things you can do today to start using these ideas:

  1. Whenever you talk to a customer, try to elicit some thoughts about how your product has helped them satisfy personal goals, from being less annoyed by their work, to being more praised by their peers. You can use the list of points above as a guideline for your questions.
  2. I also recommend searching through your existing customer success stories, and the interviews that back them up, to see if you can find the quotes that represent personal successes for the speaker, and not just the achievement of business goals.
  3. Work with your marketing department to start using these personal goal quotes on your website as social proof for your product. Use A/B testing to confirm they create more engagement than what you might have there already.

For more information, check the two blog posts I link below, as well as the three books that I linked below that contain for ideas for increasing engagement. I also link to some books about the research that backs up this idea of using social proof and making sure to appeal to the emotional needs of your prospects.

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