This is the third segment of the conversation I had with Ian.
In Part 3, Ian and I talk about:
- Be careful not to oversell your product/service
- Success comes from selling to your niche customers (and knowing who they are)
- More niche discussion – sometimes you have to go wide, get the experience, then niche down again
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Ian is an amazing entrepreneur, business owner, and an amazing individual. Ian grew up surrounded by design, engineering, accounting, and entrepreneurial people. Ian always had the desire to work for himself. After working as an engineer and designer for over a decade within startups and companies like HP, Adidas, Robot, and Nike, Ian founded the Peterman Design Firm. The firm has been named one of the top design and branding firms of 2019 by DesignRush, Clutch, The Manifest and Visual Objects.
Ian has been in the branding world for 7 years now running two different design firms. Social media isn’t a have to, it’s a get to and it’s a huge opportunity for brands to engage with people at all stages of their relationship to offer education, build trust, and share value. When done right, it’s an avenue for being seen, well understood, and garnering powerful loyalty with your ideal clients and customers.
E198 – Transcript
Jason: Welcome back to the sales experience podcast. Welcome to part three of my conversation with Ian Peterman. We are going to keep rolling through this conversation. If you haven’t, make sure to subscribe to the show so you can get them each day they come out and I will see you after the show.
Ian: Yeah, you don’t just happen to throw a bunch of people in a room and say now be friendly and communicative. You have to really think about it and create that culture and maintain the culture. I mean that’s, you know, that’s why huge companies are hiring VPs of culture. And I think I’ve seen some sea level of culture where it figured out that it’s so important that they now they have to have roles in order to help guide and curate and grow the culture in a specific direction instead of just hoping it’s going to work out.
Jason: So we’ve talked a bit about selling technical stuff on the sales side, right? So focusing on the salespeople, what would you say that you see a lot of? Cause I have my experiences. But what are you seeing these days of how not to sell, let’s say technical products or services? Like what is it that you’re seeing is some epidemics in the world of technical sales?
Ian: I think a lot of it is the same as others are trying to be everything to everyone is definitely, especially in the SAS area, you know as with software it’s super easy to add things and so trying to over basically oversell and, and make custom products out of what should be a standard, you know, one, two, maybe three option product. I think that’s just, well it’s in trying to get sales and you get excited, you think, Oh it’s going to be easy to add.
Ian: I think that was probably the biggest one that I see. And then the next would be, you know, in technical selling technical things is just not having enough information to actually make the sale. You know, if it’s, when the sales are going easy and there’s no questions, there’s no technical questions during the call or sales process of, you know, does this, are these two things going to fit together? And it’s pretty much you can just skim the manual and you’ll be able to answer all the questions. Once those sales teams hit the point where you have a customer that’s really in depth, that breakdown is pretty brutal sometimes. So those are the really the two that I see. And maybe there’s some others that you see.
Jason: No, you know, and I, I would say the first one that you talked about, which is the kind of the scope creep and the feature creep and wanting to add things. And a fundamental problem which you hit on, you know right away was products or services. You know, if we talk about SAS in particular, where they’re trying to be everything to everyone they see as their potential market, every single person or they want to make the most of every opportunity, every prospect conversation they have. And so they’re going to try to either turn their square peg into a round hole to match the prospect or you know, force the round hole prospect or round peg prospect into their square hole. And the reason feel like this is the biggest epidemic, both from what I’ve seen from the consulting side, but also just being consumer is let’s say I go to a trade show and I’m walking around, right? Like I went to a MarTech conference recently and you know, marketing technology and every booth that I went up to, they all thought I would be a perfect fit for what they’re selling.
Jason: And I’m like, okay, so what do you guys do? Well, we do, you know, program or project management software designed for organizations of, you know, 50 to a hundred people. And I’m like, okay, well that’s not me. Well, but you could use it like, it’s like, no, no, no, that’s not. And they were trying to just push me into that box. It’s like, no, that’s not a good fit. And I just see that so much for organization salespeople who just think everybody should be their buyer. And it’s not like if you’re really doing it correctly there, it’s not an open space of every single person. There’s an ideal market, there’s an ideal customer, there’s someone who’s a home run, and then there’s kind of some, you know, expanded bell curve from there and then there’s just the people who aren’t a good fit. And I think as a company, you’ve got to be careful not to let your product creep into that territory of trying to be everything to everybody because then it’s going to become nothing to everybody. Right. Then it’s not going to be valuable or special to the right people.
Ian: Right. Yeah. I think having a niche and making sure that your sales team knows what your niche is, you know? I think it’s obviously it’s exciting if you tell a salesperson, and in my experience, it’s only that I can sell this to every person on the planet. I do the math in my head, I’m like, that’s amazing. Let’s do that. That’d be great. Commission, right? Is best salesperson in the world sell to everybody. But realistically it’s, you got to make sure your sales team knows your exact niche. And you know that people outside of your niche are going to buy your products. You know, that definitely happens. But got to focus on your niche and you’ve got gotta be really good and got to know those people and you got to ask the questions. You know, even at a trade show, they should be asking you questions about who you are before they try to sell you. Right. Saves everybody time. And that’s, you know, that’s what gives sales people a bad rap is they’ve tried to sell you stuff you don’t want.
Jason: Well that’s always my strategy. When I work with clients and I’m in their booth and helping their rep, like people come into the booth all the time, you know, if I’m standing in the booth and I say, well what do you guys do? And I’m like, well before I tell you what we do, what do you do? And then I actually ask them questions, which usually throws off, you know, people walk in the trade floor, throws them off a lot, but I want to know. And then within 30 seconds I’ll tell, okay, here’s what we do. Or it’s not a good fit. And here’s why and here’s what I suggest instead. You know? And the more of that we can do, which is kind of what I push a lot on this podcast, is the more that reps can do that, understand who it’s a home run for and not in a like, Oh I couldn’t sell that person because it wasn’t a good fit.
Jason: But knowing who’s a good fit or not, when you can do that, then it’s easier. Cause I have a client who, they have one of those wide open products where their software, their app could apply to every business in the world, which potentially it’s perfect and it’s great, but it’s also stressful because where do you even start? And instead you want to niche down as well as you can because then you can really focus and speak that person’s language when you try to do everything and sell everybody. It’s a tough one. It’s tough to even know where to begin.
Ian: Yeah, it’s, and it’s something we all struggle with at some point. Hopefully if you start your own company, you know when you’re trying to figure that out. But it’s so key. It’s important to know who you’re going after you and every time you niche down, you probably should niche down a little bit farther than you think you should. But it’s amazing to see the results when you do and how you ended up having, you know, your customers aren’t just an okay customer that buy your product and they don’t complain. You know, they turn into people that advocate and they tell all of their friends, you should buy this product because it’s amazing and I love it and it does all these things and it’s perfect for them. And so you create less work for yourself as a salesperson by making your customers, your advocates, and then they go sell for you and you still sell a product. You just sell the people that are really going to buy it and really like it and really love the product and it’s perfect for them. Everybody else will follow or not. And that’s, you have to let them go.
Jason: And I think that’s really the one, two punch what you just said, which is niching down, focusing on who’s like a home run client, who will become that advocate and then thinking long term and then looking at referrals and how do I over time just build up this business, which is more referral based because people are excited and speaking the right language. And then if there’s outside that network that you want to get to are different demographics. Maybe there’s a different version of the product or service. Maybe there’s a different way it can be used, you know, then that’s more of an engineering sales engineer process. But otherwise you have focused on your niche, focused on relationships, and then you know, plant those seeds for referrals.
Ian: Right. Well and the other thing that to keep in mind too is you don’t, when you niche down, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay in that niche forever. You can always niche down, become super successful, and then say, well, I have four other niches. I’m going to work down and do one a year. Do something that, you know, spread it out. Just niching down one at a time doesn’t mean you’re going to all of a sudden limit yourself to only that niche for the rest of your life. The rest of the product’s life. No one else is ever going to see it or buy it or understand it. You’re just stuck there and I think I have heard that fear from entrepreneurs, startup owners, things like that. They’re like, well, how are we going to get stuck? How are we going to get stuck in this one niche where all of a sudden we’re only the product for 20 to 25 year old men and that’s it. No one else is ever going to look at us and it’s not real. You know? If it is, then it’s because your product is that specific and that’s okay, then that’s your product. You shouldn’t try selling it to everybody else, but you know, if it is broad enough for the entire world, pick a niche. We want to do another niche. It’s it’s, that’s how you grow.
Jason: Yeah, and then have teams that are experts within your organization at those individual niches because it’s really tough to be an expert at a lot of different niches, like let’s say your, your pneumatic equipment you’re talking about, right? Like whether it’s this group, that group that like it’s tough to know all those industries. So here’s an interesting question and I’ve never asked anybody this on the show and not too many times in real life either is, let’s talk about Ian, right? And Ian himself in his journey. So it used to be in design, engineering, branding. You went out on your own. Tell me about your niche journey. Like where did you start, how much of the world that you want to tackle? You know, cause I know there’s people listening to this who are like, yeah, he’s saying that, but like what does that mean? Because I know as a listener to other podcasts, I’m like, okay, well give me something practical or give me an example. So where did you start with your ideal world when you started, let’s say however long that was seven years ago. You’re like, I’m going to tackle the world of branding and engineering and sales and then like where did you start? And then where have you realized like you’re just narrowed down niche?
Ian: I’ll do you one better. I’ll go back. About 14 years ago, first started freelancing on the side and I did any job I did any CAD job you could think of because I started out in the engineering CAD cited all 3D modeling and things like that and so I pretty much took any job I could find any, you know, my hourly rate was terrible. It was about $8 an hour and you know, I started there and did that up until about seven years ago and I didn’t even think about niching down at that. As long as you’re like, Oh, I’m doing this work, I’m building my portfolio. Right. That’s the, if you’re in the design world, that’s your excuse for doing whatever job right away. Like, Oh, it’s just for the portfolio. It’ll be fine. I’ll eventually get out of it. Not everybody does, but I did it seven years ago.
Ian: A partner at a design firm launched that and we went through a lot of changes. There was a lot of discussion. It was probably one of our biggest topics actually between the partners was thinking about who is our ideal market, what market do we want to be in? And because of the team we had, we had product design, branding, marketing, all together. And so with that kind of design team, you can do pretty much anything. There’s not really a, it is a whole world. Anybody that ever wants to do any kind of design, we could do it for them. So we basically just picked a couple areas. We ended up, we worked in the vaping industry because that started getting big at that time. So we did that and we picked a couple industries that basically we used the four partners. We’ve picked a favorite industry and we kind of went off after those.
Ian: But even with that, even going down to just three or four niches, it was still too much. And so basically when that I separated from that group, we kind of closed that one down. Some people got tired of design work. And so when I started in my earn that I have now, just a couple of years ago, I kind of shifted back and I went to, I’m going to do CAD, but I’m going to do only product design, only physical consumer electronic type products. I narrowed down what I thought was narrowing down, but consumer electronics is extremely broad. You know, it’s insanely broad actually. Right? And so there’s a lot of, you know, the whole excuse of, Oh, it’ll just be a four portfolio that didn’t count anymore. And I started realizing I needed a niche more when I started talking to more clients that were like, well, do you have experience in this?
Ian: And when I was able to say yes and too many categories, but not a huge amount, I wasn’t able to say, well I have 10 years of experience in this specific category. Then it, started, you know, certain clients didn’t work with me cause they’re like, well we need somebody with experience, but we need a lot of experience. We need somebody that specialized in these pieces. And so as a generalist, there’s only so much you can do. And that’s really, if you don’t niche down, you’re, you’re a generalist with not a huge amount of experience in a specific industry. And there’s a lot of people, especially in what I do that need the in-depth experiences. So what I did was I took a little bit of an interesting turn, uh, and I kept trying to narrow down and actually broaden out. So I hired a graphic designer.
Ian: I broadened back into branding and marketing. But because of those, all those pieces, they come together and they’re, the reason I’ve tried to work it out in my head of doing it all together is because they all, they all mesh together. They all have to talk to each other. And so in doing all that and talking to different clients and getting that experience, I moved over and now my expertise is really designed management it’s my niche. And so I hire out all the other design things that I am not a specialist in and I have for my specialty is in building a design team together to put a project or launch a product or launch a company and manage all the pieces that have to go together. And I have the design background so I can actually talk to the designers, I can talk to engineers, I can talk to marketers and I can talk to owners and the managers in the company that are wanting the project completed. And so my is kind of an odd turn because I got too broad and then narrowed it by just changing the position of what I did. So I had technically still up know through my company. I offer product design, branding, marketing, all of these components, but they aren’t my personal specialty. My specialty is bringing them together. So it’s a journey. It’s always a journey getting there.
Jason: Alright, that’s it for part three of four. Again, make sure to subscribe and if you want to check out Ian’s links, go to cutterconsultinggroup.com you can go to slash podcast, find the episodes on their show notes, transcription, as well as his links. As always, keep in mind that everything in life is sales and people will remember the experience you gave them.