Unless you live in a remote cabin, you know it is an election year and the pundits are all a buzz about the famed “Beer Test”. In this now politically correct year of 2012 I am not sure it shouldn’t be called the “Drink Test” because the average drink at Starbucks costs more than a beer and you can get a whole bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s for less than $3 but for ease of discussion purposes just insert your preferred social beverage wherever I mention “beer” in this article.
The crux of the beer test is whether or not a candidate is likeable enough for you to have a voluntary social encounter with them. I grew up in a small Midwestern (think Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show) and I can tell you the beer test absolutely makes and breaks both political candidates and businesses in the agricultural and manufacturing midwest. I believe likability is also a core intangible we use in deciding who we do business with. Here is my advice for passing the B2B Beer Test.
Don’t start by telling me how smart, special, different you are
If we are sitting down over a beer you probably want to start by finding out a few things about me, my town, my business, my problems before you dive in. My midwestern manners will allow you to blammer on if you insist on doing so because you are after all the guest but you are making a fatal mistake.
This applies to various channels. I always suggest to clients who want to keep a warm relationship with a prospect who has given them a “not no but not now” vibe online or offline, look for third party analyst data or research to keep the conversation going. For example if you spoke with a prospect at a conference or they downloaded a white paper. Over the next two months you can send me an article or blog post link that addresses my business challenges every few weeks. If at all possible the first two follow up articles should not be anything specifically about your product or sales brochures. Could be webinar link or white paper sponsored by your company but not a sales brochure.
Find out everything you can about my company and business
There is so much public data out there now about companies that it is inexcusable not to tap into that. It will differentiate you. As an example, I walked into a prospect client last fall for an introductory meeting. I was being brought in as a subcontractor of a PR firm that had an established relationship to do a project related to rewriting the website copy. In reviewing the website I found they had a plethora of press releases in their “News” section. Every time they signed up a new customer or partner for the past 5 years they had gathered quotes from the client and put out a press release. The quotes in those releases were fabulous. They told me why their customers bought what they bought. How they anticipated their needs being met. When I got to the introductory meeting I felt like I knew the client and their customer.
This allowed me to make a much more positive first impression at the introductory meeting and have a sense for the clients corporate tone. I was able to ask leading questions, refer to what I had read to clarify the value proposition of their services and most of all show I cared more about their needs than about my fees.
Do you have a sense of humor?
You don’t have to be a standup comedian and your brand mascot doesn’t need to be a cartoon character to effectively infuse humor or levity in your messaging. Humor shows you don’t take yourself too seriously. It shows you are approachable and opens a dialogue where the prospect is more relaxed and willing to share.
I worked with a company a few years ago who sold fairly boring data products to insurance companies. They took national weather service data and produced historical models showing where past weather events had happened. They attended an annual conference where all the vendors bought the same 10x10 booth and popped up the same canned graphics and were given the same 6 foot table with two chairs in which to set out their brochures. This client was small and needed to stand out in a sea of recognized names.
They knew they had to visually do something different. We built a campaign around 1970’s disaster movie posters such as Earthquake, Swarm and Towering Inferno. We created a movie poster for their product heralding it as the “Anti-Disaster Film of the Year”. Instead of the normal table and two plastic chairs they bought Director’s Chairs and rolled out a red carpet in their booth and debuted a 4 minute movie about their product while they served popcorn and gave away movie passes to anyone who sat through a demo.
Those who didn’t attend the conference could view the movie on-line and schedule an on-line demo for the same giveaway. Their name recognition exploded and inbound leads increased ten-fold. They were memorable and quirky and that was refreshing to their prospects.
What traits make up your B2B Beer Test? What techniques have worked to improve your brand likability? Is that something you think about?