Teach your customers well

by Robert S. Siegel on November 29, 2009

I found the heart rate monitor for runners on the clearance rack of a major sporting goods store. The device seemed perfect for me; it had very few functions so it was simple, plus it was a major athletic brand name so I felt reassured of its quality. However, after getting the unit home I found that the instruction booklet was written in densely packed 8 pt. type with no diagrams and was very difficult to understand. As a result, I could not figure out how to work my new monitor.

The company website was no help. It contained a PDF of the booklet that came with the monitor, and nothing else. Finally, buried in the tiny typeface of the booklet I found a phone number. Fifteen minutes after dialing that number I was tracking my heart rate as I ran through my neighborhood.

That heart rate monitor turned out to be a great device and well worth the money. Too bad that monitor, in fact that entire brand of monitors, is no longer on the market. I can’t help thinking how inefficient it must have been to have me, and customers like me, calling the company for help with what should have been an easy to use product. I believe that this product would have succeeded beautifully had the people at the company realized that as marketers, manufacturers, managers, accountants, and all other positions they were supposed to be teachers.

In my last post I explained that learning is not limited to the young.  People of all ages can learn, however, it helps to recognize that learning styles change with age.  For this post, I want to show you how to apply the concept of learning to success in your career by showing you how to teach.  I developed this concept using The Ideative Process explained in this website.

Whether you are running a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, designing customer interfaces, or managing accounts payable, you are a teacher. Your job is to teach your customers and potential customers, your audience, about why they need to buy your product or support your proposal, and how they can get the most from what you are selling.

I bet you’ve never thought of yourself as a teacher unless of course, you are in fact a school teacher. I have yet to hear of the concept that business people are teachers being taught in business schools, and I know there are no classes on how to teach as part of any business school curriculum. That is funny to me because the concepts of teaching and learning are firmly established in business literature and practices. We call them communications, buyer behavior, sales, and people management. These concepts have not been presented as ‘teaching,’ and that is a loss because business is about teaching your customers, colleagues, supervisors, and staff. Understanding this will improve your abilities no matter what business you are in, by helping you to understand how to approach your audience.

Hierarchy of effects models (taught in some graduate marketing programs and covered in many textbooks), like the one I have worked with for years at ResultTrek illustrate how an audience member’s mind evolves relative to your product or proposal. Your audience has to learn that they have a need, and that your product, service, or proposal can meet that need. Next, your audience needs to learn where and how best to buy, and of course learn how to use what they have purchased. Finally, they need to continually learn more about your product as their needs evolve, and as your product changes.

My friends at Pragmatic Marketing have the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, a model for managing and marketing tech products. The steps, from determining the product’s Distinctive Competence, to Product Performance, Positioning, Customer Retention, and more, all scream for marketers to think in terms of educating customers and potential customers.

Unfortunately, too many businesses miss the need to be teachers. My evidence? All those thick user manuals, calls to customer service, and underutilized product features. And don’t forget all those internal presentations from which handouts pile up on executive’s desks. Think about all of that information that is forgotten or misinterpreted. The challenge you face is that the members of your audience are busy people with priorities that differ from yours, and educational and life experiences that are also different. Everyone comes to information with different preconceptions. If you don’t teach people; enable them to learn, then you risk having your message misunderstood or lost. The customer will not learn to use those extra features and therefore won’t love your product enough to spread the word, or your boss won’t understand the need for the software upgrade.

When you teach the members of your audience about your product or proposal you dramatically increase your potential for success.

PTA = Principles for Teaching your Audience
I have created five Principles for acting as your audience’s teacher. The principles are based on the fundamentals of learning which are based on neuroscience. They are simple to understand and apply to everything from ad campaigns to internal presentations and proposals.

Begin by making two assumptions; 1) your audience is very busy; and 2) doesn’t care about your product or proposals nearly as much as you do, if they care at all.

1. Provide information formatted to different learning styles
Each member of your audience will learn differently. There are several different definitions of learning styles that break down learning styles into segments like visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Some people learn best by diving into details then examining the bigger picture while others learn best by exploring the big picture first then honing in on details. Some people learn best from written materials, others from diagrams and pictures, and others prefer audio and or video.

Great teachers will enable each learning style.

2. Layer new information on top of your audience’s existing knowledge
Electronic gadget makers that model their user interfaces on the Windows operating system are usually making a wise choice for teaching their audience to use their product. That is because they train their audience on the specifics of their unique interface in layers. They assume that customers understand the general features of Windows (a usually accurate assumption), like the icons that you click a cursor on to operate the system. The gadget’s marketers don’t have to teach their audience about icons, clicking, and cursors, so they can layer the information on using their gadget on top of what the customer already knows – how to use the Windows operating system and similar systems.

The same is true for even the simplest of products. When a person goes to turn on the light from a lamp, the person reaches for a switch that is a button, knob, or chain. Imagine a lamp that required two spins of the lamp shade to turn on or off. The customer could learn this process, but some instructions would be needed and unfortunately customers don’t always use instructions. That is why even fancy switches on lamps are always basically some sort of button, knob, or chain. Lamp designers are layering their user information on top of what the audience already knows.

Great teachers enable their audience by providing new information that is an extension of what their audience already knows.

3. Repeat repeatedly
People that have studied foreign languages know that repetition of vocabulary helps store that vocabulary and keep the words accessible for later use. Repetition is fundamental whether you are trying to instill memories of vocabulary, multiplication factors, or the price of foot-long sandwiches.

Great teacher over teach their audience by repeating repeatedly.

4. Involve multiple senses
The information taken in from each of a person’s five senses is processed and stored in different segments of the brain. The greater the breadth of brain regions involved in storing a memory, the more triggers available when it is time to recall the memory. Senses are a powerful tool for learning and all other areas of The Ideative Process.

Great teachers encourage their audience to engage sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

5. Involve and engage your audience
Do you remember how in elementary school almost everything you did involved crayons, scissors, and glue? Geography might mean making a papier-mâché globe, or a clay diorama. Math meant adding 2 apples plus 3 apples. Your teacher had you and your classmates help and even lead class lessons, demonstrations and, projects.

Your teachers knew that engaged students enjoyed the learning process and that these positive emotions were among the strongest tools for storing memories for later retrieval. Your teachers also knew that in addition to the emotional factors, engaging students meant involving their multiple senses and multiple learning styles.

Great teachers seek to engage their audience at every possible learning opportunity to take full advantage of their senses, emotions, and learning styles.


The heart rate monitor that I bought was an example of a well designed product sold under a marketing plan that ignored the importance of teaching the customer. Teaching is not yet considered a business fundamental but now that you know about that value of teaching in business, give yourself an advantage; put the PTA process to work right away, before I spread the word.

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