HOSU 27 | What You Don't Do

Why You Need To Tell People What You Don’t Do With Sean Campbell

Don’t wait for your competitors to define what you don’t do. Every software has its failings and limitations. Tell your customers what you don’t do to establish trust. Matthew Sullivan’s guest in this episode is Sean Campbell, the CEO and Founder of Cascade Insights. Sean shares with Matthew how powerful it is to tell people that these are the audiences in specific areas you don’t serve. Not only will it make your visitors’ lives easier, but it will also attract the right clients. Don’t miss out on this episode!

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I’m delighted to have you on. Sean, you’re the Founder and CEO of Cascade Insights. I always think that you’re going to do a much better job of explaining what your company does. What’s the overview? What’s the summary?

I am the CEO of Cascade Insights. In fairness to my business partner, it’s been jointly owned since we started. We work for B2B technology companies, which we define as cloud services companies or hardware companies. For them, the large majority of what we do is market research, but we also do some marketing services for them because our main client in a B2B technology company is a B2B marketer who’s either experiencing some market pain or they’ve got some market opportunity they want to take advantage of.

That’s been us since 2006, and we’re about 30 employees or so. I used to say we based in Portland, but when COVID hit, we’d been making noises about closing our offices before that and the minute we did it, half the staff went to different points of the compass. They were like, “I always wanted to go live in Bend,” then they were gone. Now we’re spread across the whole US at this point.

The important thing is your business is much focused on B2B. In other words, you don’t deal directly with the end consumer and you’re focused on technology businesses. What were the beginnings, as it were? Where did the business come from?

The business originally came from a business before this business. There’s a business before BB. That business was 3 Leaf Solutions. The 3 Leaf Solutions, when I stepped out in entrepreneurship, came from two other guys wanting to co-brand as independent trainers and me. I use independence a little bit loosely because we were training a lot of Microsoft technology at the time when Microsoft was 97% of what everybody used. This pre-Cloud, this is when Windows was dominant, all this stuff.

We were teaching networking databases programming, but we went out to become independent trainers from this outfit we previously worked for, all three of us. There were three of us left out of four total instructors. That’s a whole other story about us leaving the small company. We started the first company, co-brand, built a business, started selling to Microsoft. That leads to selling that business, then that leads to this business. This business started in 2006. I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years now.

The interesting thing is that when you got involved in the early 2000s, it was in the early days of the internet. We had probably Windows 2000.

It was Windows 2000, Windows XP. It was that era of computing. The internet existed. I vividly remembered in 1999 or somewhere around that. I remember seeing Google with a beta sticker on it or something like that. It was the early internet. Everything was done on-premise in terms of software installations, all that stuff.

I suppose the major challenge from your side then, and probably still now, is you’ve got tech companies that are building B2B solutions. If you’re training those, what comes out of that is you find that they’re building stuff either where the audience doesn’t exist. In other words, if you build it, they will come. I can cast my mind back to the early 2000s where enterprise software was unfathomable in terms of how you use it. It was sold as infinitely configurable, but no one knew how to configure anything. Is that still the case nowadays? Tell us more about the title.

We hired, I don’t want to say new, because it’s a new position for us. We had somebody in the role who grew up into it, but now we hired somebody from the outside who’s had a lot of experience with this as a Director of Operations for the company, all the backend systems. I was having a conversation with him on this point about usability. It’s fascinating because we have a young company. It’s fairly full of Millennials and they have incredibly low tolerance software that, even if it has a good business purpose, it sucks to be used. It’s poorly used. It doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to administer. It’s hard to use.

The bar for that is way higher than it used to be back in the day like you said. Back in the day, back-office software was job security for a bunch of people because it was hard to use in many cases and now the bar is a lot of people should be able to use that software pretty readily. That’s not to say there aren’t complex software packages and installations in use nowadays. There certainly are.

Softwares have gotten a little more beautiful, usable, and easier to configure.

As a rule, the software has gotten a little more beautiful, usable and easier to configure. I’m not much of a Windows guy anymore, but my family uses Macs all day long and they have for years. They don’t call anybody for help. They don’t talk to anybody. They get stuff done. There was a day where you couldn’t go more than two days without your computer keeling over and dying in an office setting. We’re way past those days now.

Describe a typical customer engagement.

A typical customer engagement usually falls under either pain or opportunity-driven. From a pain standpoint, they’re facing a competitive landscape problem. They’re facing a competitor who’s doing better than them at marketing, sales or delivering a product. From an opportunity standpoint, they either have like a new area of the globe. Do you know that they want to go serve?

They have a new customer segment. Maybe it’s an alignment thing with a new offering that they’re merging into the company that they purchased. That’s all opportunity-driven. In either one of those cases, usually, they lack a certain amount of information. They lack a certain amount of knowledge about the space they’re moving to or where the competitive threat is coming from. They’ll then call us to help investigate that threat.

To paraphrase something I heard, most business leaders exist to make decisions all day long. People are bothered by that language like, “Should it be more communal or collegial?” I would say get over it a little bit because at the end of the day, even if it’s communal and collegial, somebody still has got to make a decision. Those decisions are based on the quality of information they receive. Our goal is to make that quality of information that much greater than they can make effective decisions and we’ll also coach them through the recommendations from our studies on what decisions they should make.

Honestly, it hasn’t changed for several years. People either come to us for pain or opportunity. To be honest, probably 80% of the time, it’s a pain because pain drives activity more than opportunity. You can always look at a Greenfield and say, “I think we can figure that out.” What happens on the opportunity side is normally they try to go to a new market, new geo, address a new customer segment, and they can’t quite figure out why it isn’t working. In a weird way, that’s pain-driven a little differently.

In your blog on your website, which is full of interesting information, you talk about making your customers love you and, historically, people would hate their software with a vengeance. Do you find that the people that you work with, primarily in the tech sector, do they always leave customer profiling and user profiling to the last minute? Are you seeing much more of that initial design coming, profiling and market research happening first because many of the products that you deal with have consumer-facing products as well as enterprise-level products?

There are a few things in what you said, but I would say yes. Compared to a number of years ago, there’s a greater emphasis in tech on trying to understand the users who are going to implement and leverage that product on a daily basis. There is a famous quote, “The future’s already here, but it’s not evenly distributed.” Large enterprise companies sometimes struggle to get out of their own way. Sometimes they’ll continue to ship a product that’s deficient because it has an existing market share and they struggled to fix it or it has a lot of features in it that they don’t know how to curve that surface area up to make it more comprehensible.

The other factor is there are a lot better feedback loops. If you offer a cloud service nowadays, the amount of telemetry you have on your user base is stunning compared to if we’re talking about several years ago. Even there, a lot of that answers the question of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, but it never answers the why. It doesn’t answer why they’re avoiding a feature or why they’re not using a part of the interface that you think they should. Those questions are spot on, good for things like qualitative research in the like.

If you’re dealing with pain primarily as the driver, does that bring in creativity as a result of that or do you find that, “Let’s fix this problem,” and then move on? Do you find yourself in a position where you’re able to drive these customers to a new level of product design?

The thing I think everybody lives for around here is at least on the research side for sure is we delivered some findings. There were some recommendations. At some point, sometimes it’s weeks or months. If it’s a complicated decision, it might take a year. We look back and that company is different. That’s what we live for. We can’t always guarantee it because, as anybody knows, you can put great information in front of somebody and great data, even a great recommendation and you might have somebody say, “I believe differently based on gut instinct or whatever.” That may play out for them or it may not. That’s one of the biggest things we aim for is trying to change these companies in some meaningful way. Otherwise, why do the research at all at the end of the day?

HOSU 27 | What You Don't Do

What You Don’t Do: If you offer a cloud service today, the amount of telemetry you have on your user base is stunning compared to 20 years ago.

I think the biggest challenge that you’ve got presumably is coming up with insightful market research that uncovers things that the companies that you work with weren’t looking for in the first place.

This may be more nerdy about the market research industry than it’s necessary but the reality is the market research industry is objectively full of vendors who serve all kinds of different audiences. They’ll do one project in M&M’s and do another one with healthcare, and then another one with oil and gas. They’re methodologically driven like, “We do this analysis well. We can do it for everyone.”

The problem where that falls apart in market research, I think and it’s why we’ve only stayed focused on a certain type of customers. If you’re a hospital and you call us, it’s great, you’ve got a problem, but I’ll try to direct you to somebody else, but we’re never going to work with you. You got a lot of money and a lot of revenue, I get that, but we don’t know hospitals.

The reason I say all that is I don’t think you can give great recommendations. I don’t even think you can find the right participants all that effectively for study because some of it in B2B is understanding who you add to the study, what backgrounds they have and do they have the right opinions to share? The whole process of doing the research all the way down to the recommendations requires context. If you don’t have the context and all you have is the method, you might ship data at best, but you’re never going to be able to interpret it.

An argument happens at the end of every research study, but there may be a little bit of truth to it. At the end of every research study, we deliver anything that’s truly meaningful that is going to drive change. There’s always somebody in the company who believes differently. It only stands to reason. There’s this moment where the research has to bounce off that person’s opinion.

At that point, we have to have enough context to be able to stand behind the findings and say, “This is happening in your market and you need to react to it. You really do.” If you’re this broad generalist, I don’t think you can do that. What’s the downside to us? We have to manage our growth appropriately within the sector we’re in. We can’t take everything that comes through the door, but honestly, philosophically, I think that’s a great way to fly from my standpoint.

I agree because what happens is you then end up with insight that you wouldn’t have got which then allows you to guide your clients rather than saying to them, “You give us the questions that you need and we’ll go and ask them.” Is it far more challenging operating in the B2B space than B2C because the amount of information that you can get is presumably limited to the contacts that you have? Trying to get someone in a business environment to respond to surveys or to answer your questions, is that a major challenge that you have?

That’s one hill we had to climb early on. The targeting matters because you have to be talking to the right person, but the outreach and how it’s structured matters a great deal. In a way, it’s much like an outbound sales team. To get someone to respond, to get someone to slow up enough to read your email because that’s the first barrier. You’re scanning emails and hitting mark is red, you’re reading subject lines. It has to have something in there. The only way to make that happen is to understand the audience you’re trying to outreach to and write an effective piece of outreach. Whereas conversely, if you’re working with all these different sectors, all the time, all you can do is a blast. It’s fairly generic.

What I would say, the other problem with market research when you come to B2C and B2B is a slightly different one, which is not that what you mentioned isn’t a challenge. It is, but market researchers have an easier time in B2C for probably one simple reason. They buy the things they’re researching 9 times out of 10. They can project a little bit of what is going to happen in that purchase. They shouldn’t do that and they probably don’t do that to a large extent, but they can conceptualize what a box of cereal is because they buy boxes of cereal. In B2B, to your point, things are a lot more opaque unless you understand that buying cycle, the chain and the products that are sold.

If one day I had to go work with oil and gas, I’d have to spend several years figuring out the oil and gas industry before I could give the same strength of recommendation I can now because I don’t know what happens on oil there. I don’t know what the whole infrastructure looks like to take oil from that, derrick, back to the refinery and all the different things that go into that. I think what happens in B2C is that the researcher can at least understand what that purchase funnel looks like because they experience it themselves. In B2B, unless you’ve lived it for a while, there’s no way to do that.

You have to be good at marketing. You have to be able to demonstrate your ability to do the things that you’re selling to your client before you can get any information. You’ve got the challenging business because you have to be able to prove your ability to engage customers. Your marketing has to work. Otherwise, you don’t get any feedback. The feedback and the information you get from your clients, that’s what you’re selling. Do you find that you have to not be reinventing yourself but constantly trying to fine-tune your approach to be able to get the information you need to make it to turn that into valuable information?

Understand the audience you’re trying to outreach and write a compelling piece of outreach.

We’re not syndicated research. Whatever our clients are telling us is proprietary and information we don’t disclose. The research studies are private because when you said we take some of the information and then use it to market, that’s not true, but you’re right. We have to be constantly attenuating to what’s happening in the marketplace so that we’re always aware of what’s going on and on top of trends and market forces. We know how to outreach to different audiences and we know what’s driving them. That’s one of the beauty of being a research firm is you’re embedded in that all the time anyway, as long as you don’t spread yourself out across 1 million different texts.

You’ve been doing this for many years. Are there common threads that you see emerging from a large number of the conversations that you’re having that you can share with me? No one else is listening. It’s between you and me. Key things were in key level layers of insight that you find time and time again with the clients that you work with, that are problems that they’ve created or problems that unnaturally are in the industry.

One of the perennial ones is that our clients always aim too high with their marketing. They have this weird problem where on the sales side, they remember that the person who was the ultimate gatekeeper was the CIO, the C-level or somebody like that. Their marketing becomes, “How do we get the CIO, C-level, etc., to pay attention to us? What we rarely see is somebody do what intuitively you know they know but they don’t do it. Who’s coming to the website? Is it the C-level?”

It’s probably the most junior person in the organization that’s been delegated, “Go find a vendor.” Yet, none of the messaging on the site is designed to make that person take the next step. It’s all much broader, bigger picture messaging that’s like, “You as a C-level you as an organization is going to take this product and it’s going to change your life.” At the same time, what you’re trying to do is facilitate the purchase funnel by get that relatively junior person to feel confident to move you forward.

They don’t need all the details. That’s where things like testimonials might matter more, the logos you’ve worked with more, or it might be even more messaging that’s targeted at the benefit of your solution to that junior-level person. If they advocate for you, how are their lives better? We hardly ever see that. We bring it up all the time.

It’s way easier in a meeting to say, “These last ten deals we lost when we got into the office of the CIO, we need better messaging for the CIO.” When that’s the sales funnel, eventually, in the sales funnel you get to the C-level office, but the C-level, I doubt they ever visited your site. Even if they signed a bazillion-dollar contract with you, why would they? That’s not what they do all day. There’s this weird hierarchical disconnect when it comes to personas in marketing.

The other big thing I would say is that we tell people this all the time, “Tell people what you don’t do.” Tell them what you don’t do because, in tech, they know all software is bad in some way. It all has failings. It all has rough edges. Instead of forcing them to go through your website to try to find what you don’t do or let competitors define it for you. They’re the ones that say, “You suck in this way or that way.” It’s much more powerful to tell people these are the audiences in the areas that we don’t serve but people are reluctant to do that, even though they know there are clearly parts of the market that they’re not going to access anytime soon.

My next question is, what are the things that successful companies you work do? Are there common elements that successful companies that have launched a new product? We’re not talking about the established players. We’re talking about upstart companies who managed to gain significant market share punch way above their weight. What are the things that they do that differentiate them from other people in their class?

To a large extent, I think they do a good job of defining where their market is in the early days and sticking to it. I would say that’s true of almost anybody I’ve ever worked with, even down to the level of small services firms. It’s tempting to keep adding customer bases, even in my own entrepreneurial journey. I’ll give you an example of a large company that comes to mind when I think about this mistake and then what companies would do well. There was a period when we started Cascade where I started doing a lot of speaking engagements and then all of a sudden, I was in Singapore, Hong Kong and in Europe and all this stuff.

We started to get all of these clients from all over the place and all these different sectors. This happened for about 6 to 9 months, and then I realized there was no way we were going to be able to give great insight to Exxon, Merck, Microsoft and a bunch of people in different sectors. We paired it all back and we gave up on companies like Exxon or Merck, which I know somebody out there screaming, “How in the world would you ever do that?” Maybe some people would love to hate on Exxon, but anyway, they had a lot of revenue. I think there’s that inability to limit who you serve in the beginning and the inability to evangelize specific low-level audiences that are going to drive your initial marketing that makes sense.

Tableau comes to mind as an example of a company that did that well early on. They tried to make people superheroes at the lower end of the market. You see that with a lot of interest in smaller SaaS solutions. On the side of the ledger of where things can go bad, a company, I won’t mention their name, but they’re a fairly large mid-market SaaS player. Their CMO sent us an email once to said, “We need help. We serve 2,000 different distinct customer bases now.”

HOSU 27 | What You Don't Do

What You Don’t Do: Stall Points: Most Companies Stop Growing Yours Doesn’t Have To

How they got there was, they kept everybody that wanted to fill out their credit card and buy a license they were willing to go work with. Eventually, that creates all these problems because it’s like, “How do I convert those customers to larger paying customers with all different types of customers? How do I market to them?” Initially, it feels great because the boat’s filling up with dollars.

At some point, you can’t do things effectively across all those different customer bases. I could summarize successful companies say no to opportunities sometimes. They do it for an extended period of time. Apple’s a good example. They expanded some of their service profile, but this isn’t a company that all of a sudden decided they wanted to offer everything to everyone. They’ve tried to stay focused and there’s a lot of power to that. That’d be my advice to folks that we’ve seen to be successful.

Do you see this issue representing itself in the design or the development of the software itself, where in an effort to try and be all things to all people? The product it’s gets bigger, fatter, heavier and slower, and I think the term bloatware springs to mind. Have you seen that? Is it much easier to try and overdevelop your solution to try and capture everyone rather than making the composition?

I think that happens regularly. It’s so endemic. I don’t know if I could say anything other than it happens all the time. Pretty much all of our clients don’t know how to limit their features and capabilities in a meaningful way at times. There’s always one other audience, one other knob they want to add, and that creates havoc if you let it go on for too long.

Where’s this driven from? Is it the CIO, founders of the companies or the technical side that wants to build stuff? In your experience with the technical companies that you work with, how drowned out is the marketing officer’s voice in these scenarios until it becomes a problem?

It depends on the type of company. There is a book I read once called Stall Points, and that always stayed with me. It’s a fantastic book. It’s not all that well heralded, but if you talk about large companies, where the blind spot comes in is that whatever the founding product was tends to work a lot of the company’s thinking and you see this over and over again. Stall Points made a point of saying, “Looking at the board for these large companies, if you look and see where these people started their careers, it’s always in the founding business unit.”

Microsoft, for decades, was warped by everything has to be about Windows and we have to sell Windows. Mac was worked for years by the Mac and you can an argument that nowadays is as much as the iPhone successful, they’re being a little bit worked by the iPhone. Maybe there is some innovation that could be doing in other places and other ways for sure.

On large companies, that’s the issue. For small companies, the issue is that the founding team usually started off well because they had innate market intelligence. They understood something about the market and that’s how they got funding and support. At some point, they’re not the ones talking to the market anymore. That smart CEO and founder, he’s not having conversations with buyers anymore. A Certain amount number of years or months go by, depending on how fast their market’s moving and then there’s this gulf that happens, then ego gets in the way.

An example, there was a well-known CDN supplier and I remember this story vividly because it sticks out to me. This individual says, “We don’t need to do any branding. We don’t need to do any marketing because we’re well known.” They’re in the Bay. They probably got a billboard on every stretch of 101 and everybody could see that. That’s a bit of a soup down there of everybody knows everybody. If you’re a tech company, you probably get a lot of visibility fairly quickly because that’s what the whole area is about. This individual goes back to their hometown, which happened to be a city in Canada. No one knew about them, not a soul.

The marketing team had been like, “We need brand mark.” The sales team would be like, “We can’t sell in any other market. We can’t. Nobody knows us.” The CEO is like, “Come on, everybody knows us.” What had happened is they had grown out of the Bay, grown into other regions and there was that mapping of what the CEO thought they knew about the market and that was no longer true. You could almost say that what you worry about on the startup side is how connected is your leadership day-to-day to customer conversations, market conversations, interactions with competitors. If you could almost graph that gap, then you’ll know when you’re in a danger zone. It’s when you’re starting to make decisions with incomplete information.

The other place I would say is sometimes companies will hire competitor employees and they’ll say, “That’s how we’ll get the information. You used to work for so-and-so and sure don’t share anything NDA, but you can tell us a little bit about what’s going on.” Even those people should have an expiration date on it. At some point, they don’t understand what’s happening in a competitor, particularly in tech.

Tell people what you don’t do.

If you’re no longer working for a tech company a year later, outside of cultural aspects, you probably don’t know anything because tech companies move fast. How do you even remotely know what’s going on over there? What happens is that person is seen a little bit like a seer inside the company and every time there’s a meeting about the said competitor, they ring in Bob or Mary and they say, “Mary, what do you think about the competitor?” Mary wisely says what she knows, but Mary worked there several years ago.

You got one year’s worth of knowledge that’s ten years old.

It should have like a milk expiration on it. It’s done, but this is a self-monitoring thing in a lot of ways. You’re the leadership team. Nobody’s going to tell you that. Somebody, seven levels beneath, isn’t going to tell you. You don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s usually doesn’t happen.

Someone has to be there to say that. In other words, I wouldn’t say dysfunctional board, but typically as businesses grow, then there are gaps that emerge in certain areas.

Usually, the performance of the business dictates that and then all of a sudden, somebody, an investor or somebody else says, “There’s something we don’t know.” Part of what happens when we deliver research is there’s a bit of an argument. That argument is that moment where somebody is trying to map what they thought they knew about the market to what we’re telling them about the market and they’re trying to bridge that gap mentally.

Is it like the five stages of grief?

We’re going to be better suited to do that if we have the context about the market that we can say, “We get it. We understand the pattern you’re dealing with, but it doesn’t take away the reality of the pattern.” We can then coach him on what to do, but there’s this moment of crisis and catharsis that if the research findings are impactful and the company’s experiencing a good pain or opportunity moment, there’s almost always this little cathartic moment that has to happen for them to make a change.

Do you find if you put your three C-level executives in a room and ask each one of them what are the key messages that your company delivers or what is your company about, did you find in most cases when you were working with them, you get three completely different answers?

My favorite story on that was I read in HBR article once that said in terms of companies not knowing how many messages they’re communicating internally and to the market. How many directives they’re thinking they’re shaping themselves around? I don’t get the numbers exactly right, but it was something like, they go to the CEOs of these companies. They say, “How many strategic objectives do you feel your company is executing on based on what you’ve communicated?” They’re like, “5, 6, 7, 10, 12.” They go talk to all the lieutenants. When they add up the number of strategic directives the company is operating on, it was something like 180 because what had happened is the CEO and the founding party had said something in a meeting someday and somebody had decided that was important. Nobody checked down and said, “Should we even do this?” There’s a lot of that.

I want to be clear that not everything has to change. To throw something in and I always think about a time like this, G. K. Chesterton has this great story where he talks about whether you’re allowed to change something and whether you should. In the actual written version, it’s way better than this shorthand. He says, “Somebody wants to go change the gate and they want to remove it.” I say, “if you can tell me why the gate exists, I will let you remove it, but until you tell me why it was here in the first place, I won’t let you get rid of it.” There is this corollary to like, “I’ve lost sight of the market things must change.” Before you make the change, make sure that you understand why it exists, to begin with, and that takes us all the way back to context.

A lot of times, we can understand why they were doing what they were doing. In the example of that SaaS company that had 2,000 different use cases. We get it. You’re a SaaS company. You’ve got a form that says, “Here’s my credit card.” You’re a kind of productivity software. It makes sense that anybody on the planet might sign up for you. We understand that. It doesn’t mean that you should stay where you are. I’d say that’s true of a lot of senior leaders.

HOSU 27 | What You Don't Do

What You Don’t Do: Before you make a change, make sure you understand why the situation exists.

As a general coaching point, if you want a senior leader to change, start by telling him or her, “You understand why they are making the decisions they’re making. You understand how they got to where they are now. Even though you understand that, you think something should change.” Most people jump over that part. They never explain to anybody why the fence is there to begin with. What you find out is sometimes they don’t know, and then it’s dangerous to let them make a change.

It’s there because it’s always been there. That’s the answer.

Nobody knows. It’s something I think about fairly often.

How hard is your job then to try and shape the market? If you look at blockchain technologies, this fairly nebulous undefined suite of products that you know is beginning to emerge. Do you work with blockchain companies? Do you work with companies that develop new types of technologies of that ilk? What challenges do they have compared to trying to break into a market where there are already well-defined parameters?

We deal with that maybe a little bit less because sometimes they’re new and they’re small that they don’t have the ability to do any research at all. I would say the biggest initial question is companies have to ask themselves is, and this isn’t true about blockchain like It is being used by lots of people, does anybody even want what you want? Tech is innovating things all the time.

It may be that we don’t need a seventeenth note-taking app. They may be hard for you to hear. Capeesh is doing like this note-taking winner’s bracket take all survey thing. There are twenty major note-taking apps now. It can’t possibly survive. I get that Evernote eventually got crufty and sucks and everybody wanted something different, in the days where Evernote was the only thing we thought of was note-taking.

If somebody wants to be the 21st note-taking app, maybe the answer is no. The other one is, can you articulate your value prop in a way that is compelling? I know that’s a little bit simplistic, but we see that a lot. We’ll talk to somebody and they don’t know how to do that well. They jump over it. It seems like an elemental thing, but if you ask that growing startup like, “Quit telling me about your potential. Can you explain what you do in a simplistic way?” They struggled to do that, which is why people may like or not like my pain and opportunity, but it works for us and everybody understands it. I go talk to clients and I say, “You’re going to hire us for 1 of 2 reasons and you’ll probably hire us for one over the other ones.” They’re like, “I get it.”

It was someone pretty famous and pretty smart you said who wrote a speech. I think he might have been Churchill who said, “It would have been shorter if I’d have had more time.”

It was Mark Twain because I use that quote a lot. People say it wasn’t even Mark Twain. He was creative. He picked up a lot of things. He wrote some amazing stuff himself, but he was an aggregator, a little bit like Churchill. Churchill is quotable too, I’ve used a ton of his quotes, but Twain said. “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” Brevity is hard and it takes refinement to get there. I talked to a startup. They’re going to be a new client, but the CEO got on. I think he took ten minutes to explain what they do.

Of course, you wouldn’t understand.

In this case, because we understand the space we do, which let me at least interpret but to your point, I don’t know if that would have been a compelling customer conversation if that’s what they’re going to go. He’s going through the whole thing. I don’t want to knock them too hard, but they look like they’re going to do well overall.

Ego gets in the way of growth.

When people realize that less is more succinct, if you can explain what you do in simple terms that everyone understands, then that probably means that you’ve got something that’s highly valuable.

That’s the last thing I’d stay on that too because I know we’re probably getting tight on time, but the thing I’d say is that’s a corollary with even saying what you don’t do. People go to your website and I think now it’s what we do with Amazon reviews. Do we sort by most favorable or at least favorable? Most of us, unfortunately, pessimistically, all know, let’s look at the ones with stars.

That’s where the truth is because the five stars are paid for. It’s weird in that when we’ve gotten people to think about it that way, they say what they don’t do and they do it. It’s amazingly powerful because what you’re doing these days is you’re instantly creating trust. People are desperate when they read a piece of information these days. This is a broader statement than B2B, but it’s obvious. They’re desperate to figure out where it’s not telling the truth. They will hunt, peck and look for that all around.

The Amazon analogy is a good analogy because everyone can relate to that.

If you do that and you have the gift of brevity in your messaging and if you can marry brevity with this is what we don’t do, I think it’s an incredibly winning combination. What people do instead is, as we talked about, they don’t know how to be brief. They say they do everything, then the poor soul on your website goes off somewhere else looking to figure out what you don’t do, which is probably a third-party review site. They’re sorting by one star, looking to see what you don’t do.

That itself is hugely valuable information. It’s looking through the lens the other way, looking at it from a consumer’s perspective, as opposed to that’s through everything, but you’re right. We should move on because I have some super brief questions here that I want to ask.

Go for it.

As part of my Hooked On Startups, quick-fire questionnaire. Question number one. What is your favorite word?

I have to admit this is the one time I didn’t want to think these up on the spot. My favorite word, it’s probably a phrase, “Can we?” I’ve like more of a, “Can we go out? Can we go camping? Can we go fishing?” I don’t say I get bored easily. I can remain focused on things, but I like to do things.

Question number two. What is your least favorite word?

This one I struggled with. I have to tell you I don’t know. I love the English language. I love turns of phrase. I have stuff for other ones. I don’t know this one. I got to be honest. I couldn’t think of one that’s like my least favorite word in the English language. Tongue in cheek, I’d probably say no, but then, it’s important to say what you don’t do. It can’t be that. I’m not sure.

HOSU 27 | What You Don't Do

What You Don’t Do: Don’t rely on a limited amount of information when making your decisions.

Question number three. What are you most excited about now?

Fishing. This is the end of the fishing season. It’s usually a glorious time to be on the water. We went fishing for my birthday with the family, caught a bunch of basses. If you call me in December, January, the answer to this question would be skiing because I turn to them.

Question number four. What turns you off now?

People who’ve taken a limited amount of information to make their decisions. I would say that is beyond the business environment. I think that’s a thing that drives me crazy. Here’s my one data source. I’m going to convince you of everything that’s wrong with the world with that one source. End of one is not good decision making.

Question five, what sound or noise?

The sound would be the sound of a boat in the water or in the winter skis on snow. There’s something to me about the sound of that water slapping against the side of the waves.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Snoring. I love my dog, but he snores like a freight train. If he sleeps in our room, I have to go somewhere else and he gets to sleep there.

You can’t say anything, the poor thing.

No, but he snores loudly at times.

What’s your favorite curse word?

I grew up in Chicago where certain words that were used as adjective, nouns and adverbs.

Explain what you do in a very simplistic way.

Is it time for a new one, do you think?

I honestly tried to dial a bit of that back. I would say now I don’t have one, but yes, as a younger man, I had ones that were used. Probably everything.

Question number eight. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

A fishing guide or ski instructor, probably.

What profession would you not like to attempt?

Anything where I don’t get to solve problems and I have to do the same thing all day long.

Sean Campbell is sitting on the assembly line, having a boss who has read one line in the newspaper and then knows everything. Question number ten, the final question. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

I would say one that does exist and I would say, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” From there, that’s the only thing you should say at that point.

It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for such amazing distilled wisdom. Final question. How do people get in touch with you and with Cascade Insights?

Sean@CascadeInsights.com. I’m always happy to talk to entrepreneurs. If you’re not a fit for the company, I’m always happy to be a coach and a shoulder to lean on if you’ve got questions about the world of owning a business. If you’re looking for the work we do and you’re a B2B technology company, go to CascadeInsights.com.

Thank you once again, and it’s such a pleasure to meet you.

Thanks for having me on. Great chat.

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Sean Campbell

Co-Founder & CEO

Sean is a well-regarded consultant, speaker, author, trainer, mentor, and educator. He has delivered talks for Fortune 50 companies and top tier conferences around the world and has written extensively on technology and business topics.

Sean has been a professional services firm owner for more than 20 years. His work has spanned consulting engagements with tech giants and startups you’ve heard of, the sale of his first company, and the growth of delivery, sales, marketing, and operational practices inside professional services firms.

Sean specializes in helping organizations find success and opportunity in the B2B tech sector via market research insights, smart strategy, and powerful messaging.