Nov 17, 2023 4 min read

Operators Want to Hear About Other Operators. But You... Not So Much

Are you exclaiming “I’m so great” to the beat of your own drumming?
Operators Want to Hear About Other Operators. But You... Not So Much

In Brief: Product sellers take note: no matter how much you believe and say that you are your restaurant clients’ ‘partner’, that you are ‘on their team’ or ‘sit on their side of the table’, they see through your facade, especially if your marketing messages mainly talk about you, you, you and how great you and your products are. Discover the changes you must make in your marketing if you want to stand out and gain interest from new prospects.

Thinking through this week’s article topic brought to mind a Simpsons episode. In it, a very young Bart Simpson marches around (here's the segment on YouTube) banging pots and pans shouting, “I'm so great. I'm so great. Everybody loves me because I'm so great.”

When you stand back and evaluate a lot of the marketing messages that businesses put forward, they sound a bit like Bart. “We’re so great. We bring so much value. Here’s how we’re different, or better than our competitors…” you get the idea. Maybe not in so many words or in that exact tone, but the sentiment is there.

I can certainly understand how and why companies do this. Clearly articulating your value proposition and benefits has its place, and most companies put a great deal of thought and effort into distilling down the value they provide to their customers, specifically, to particular buyer roles or personas in the organization.

These messages and communications are great if someone is already interested in you and wants to learn more. After all, if you don’t ‘beat your own drum,’ no one else is going to do it for you. 

Or will they?

This brings me to one often overlooked way to garner a prospect’s interest in the first place. But before we talk about that, let’s consider a typical restaurant operator and where they look for ideas, inspiration, advice, and guidance.

Smart business people ‘borrow brains’ from other people. They learn from the successes and failures of other businesses (and business owners/leaders) they identify with. In my experience, restaurant operators are no different. Small to medium brands aspiring for success and/or growth often keep their eyes and ears out for what same sized or larger successful restaurant brands are doing operationally and in their technology stack. And to some degree, they mimic that, if it makes sense for their operation. 

This is also why you’ll find restaurateurs attending trade shows and events where presenters share what’s over the horizon. Come for the networking, stay to learn ‘what’s next.’ 

The Success of Your Current Customers Shows More About You Than You Could Ever Tell

I hate to break it to you, but your customers generally view you as an outsider. They may read your website and glance at your emails. They may even watch one of your videos or read a blog post or two. But if you sell products and/or services to restaurants, and especially if you sell technology - and depending on how you’ve treated them to date - they may even see you and your products as a necessary evil.

After all, restaurateurship is a difficult business, and much of what an operator or manager does day to day bears little resemblance to the reasons they got into the restaurant biz in the first place. They went into it to help people have a great time, to share delicious food and create wonderful, memorable experiences. And they ended up being part-time Chief Technology Officer, part-time Chief People Officer, and part-time fire-putter-outer.

What inspires, motivates, and challenges them? Where do they turn when they want advice, guidance, and insights into what works (and what doesn’t)? The answer: Fellow operators. 
Which is why you must, must, must tell your customer stories. An ancient proverb says it well: “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”

Let your customer stories show why and how you and your products are great, and you won’t have to march around like Bart Simpson. You look more humble, and by showcasing your customers, you put them on a ‘pedestal’ of sorts, helping them gain visibility by involving them in a public relations activity. In turn they help you by agreeing to be a reference.

In an earlier article, I talked about the importance of appealing to emotion in your marketing. This is a function of the human mammalian brain, your hypothalamus, which handles emotions and responses that are higher order than basic survival. It’s what drives a person to connect with branding and get excited about a product, possibly even to the point of becoming a proponent. Consumer brands like Apple are great at this. B2B brands, not so much.

Customer stories are one of the best ways to foster an emotional connection, especially when these stories are written well, with your customer as the hero, and when they include elements that make the story engaging, believable, and complete.

Telling customer stories is one of the most impactful ways that a marketer can motivate interest and purchases through emotional experiences and emotional association. Give prospects an opportunity to ‘see themselves’ in the story and give them relatable characters to identify with, and suddenly you’ve upped the likelihood their interest will last, possibly to the point of becoming your customer, and even an advocate on your behalf.

Even your raving fans may be hesitant, unwilling, or uninterested in participating in a customer reference activity. How can you get them interested? There are a number of possible tactics ranging from transactional to relational. Let’s dive deeper in a future article. 

In my next article, I’ll share hallmarks of a great customer reference / story / case study. It involves applying the essentials of storytelling. I’ll also share the things to avoid and why they don’t work well for restaurant audiences. (Hint: leading with ROI or other hard-hitting metrics, for a restaurant audience at least, is a no-no.)

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