What Problem Do You Solve?

Back in college (McGill University, Montreal), my friend Rick and I were somewhat obsessed with Sixties music.

I’m not sure how that came about, particularly since neither of us is quite old enough to have paid much attention to this decade as it was happening.

But it didn’t matter; we were hooked.

We bought 45s down at Sam the Record Man on St. Catherine Street.

We made Sixties mix tapes and brought them to parties.

We tried to impress women with our knowledge of Sixties music trivia. (File that under, “Yeah, well, good luck with that.”)

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But by far, our favorite Sixties-related pastime was playing “name that tune.” A song would come on the radio and the object was to name the song and the artist as quickly as possible – and, of course, before the other guy could.

There was one thing though, that I always found odd about this game: My brain only worked in one direction.

So, for example, if you said, “Kind of a Drag,” I could tell you without hesitation that it was sung by The Buckinghams.

Carrie Anne?” Obviously, The Hollies.

And on and on.

But, if you instead asked me to name a few hits by Tommy James and the Shondells, I wouldn’t get much past “Crimson and Clover” before I’d be tapped out. I knew plenty of their songs, I just had trouble accessing them in that direction.

I mention all this because when it comes to word of mouth marketing and the resulting stream of prospective clients that can result, “memory direction” matters as well.

Here’s what I mean…

Most solo professionals understand the practical necessity of being able to clearly explain whatever it is they do. You meet someone, they ask what you do for a living, you provide a (hopefully) coherent answer.

And while plenty of solos don’t ever come close to doing this well, most of us realize that it’s something to strive for.

The thing is, that’s not usually how word of mouth works – it goes in the other direction.

Think about it. Word of mouth happens when two people are talking – at Starbucks, in the office break room, while waiting in line at Sam the Record Man – and one of them blurts out a problem:

“I need a math tutor for my son.”

“I need a recruiter to fill an open sales slot in my software company.”

“I need a doctor who specializes in erectile dysfunction (it’s for a friend).”

At that point, the question is simply this: Can the other person help by matching the stated problem to a particular person or product or company?

Not, “Here’s the name of a professional, can you tell me what he or she does for a living?”

It goes in the other direction: “Here’s a problem, can you suggest some professionals who might be able to fix it?”

It’s not the same thing, is it?

If you’ve come to be associated, therefore, with a particular problem (chronic illness in the workplace) or target audience (high school students with a learning difference) or methodology (dancing traffic cop), there’s a good chance your name comes to mind, and you get a referral.

If, on the other hand, the way you describe your work is bland and generic – attorney, financial planner, coach, management consultant, etc. – well, you’ll get your fair share of once in a blue moon referrals, I guess.

And so I have two recommendations for you:

  1. Try to become associated with a particular problem or situation. In other words, what’s the thing someone is going to say to that friend in Starbucks that will make the other person think of you, snap their fingers, jump out of their chair, slap themselves in the forehead and say, “I’ve got just the person!”
    The closer you can come to being the only answer, the more word of mouth referrals that will come your way.
  1. When you describe yourself to other people, focus on being remembered, not being impressive. There’s nothing wrong with being impressive, however, at the point that word of mouth occurs (i.e., way early in the sales process), it’s not yet about how good you are, your process or what kind of credentials you possess.
    Rather, these conversations are simply the solo professional version of name that tune: Someone sings a few notes of their problem and the other person tries to come up with an answer. It’s about matching, not vetting (that comes later).

Here’s the bottom line. Our brains are not Google-searchable databases. If they were, I could list all those Tommy James songs that I know but can’t think of right now.

If you want to win at the word of mouth game, you need to make it as easy and obvious as possible for other people to bring you to mind when a problem you can fix arises.

Now about that doctor…

P.S. We covered this topic in great depth earlier this week in my Word of Mouth Marketing webinar. If you missed it (shame on you) you can still register and we will send you the complete recording and slides. More here.

P.P.S. Now that I’ve opened the box, I know you are eager to share your favorite Sixties tune! Post it below (Extra Credit: link us to a YouTube recording of it!).

49 thoughts on “What Problem Do You Solve?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My pleasure, Charles, thanks. (And thank you again for the heads up about my not having updated the audio! I knew there was one more step before hitting send!)

  1. Bruce Horwitz

    Hi Michael,

    A great reminder for any type of sales situation. People don’t buy things, they buy solutions to a problem them have (or are persuaded they have). People don’t hire employees, they hire (people who are) solutions to a problem or need they have.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      And yet so easy to fall into the trap of forgetting that.

      And speaking of reminders, Bruce, I hope you have July 23rd on your calendar for the Blue Penguin Ice Cream party this year!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Jim. That was the best six minutes of my day! (I love those lip-synched variety show appearances!)

    2. Sabrina

      I know that my “under 40” age range shouldn’t make me remotely eligible to answer, but you’d be mistaken. Shocked that Michael AND I inexplicably savvy re: 60s music. Who would have thunk?!Love these songs Jim. Hope you’re well btw.

      Here are my picks:

      I love this song called Bus Stop by the Hollies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It75wQ0JypA

      And while they were not a “real group” I love the I was a huge fan of the Monkees – I was singing the theme song the other day in fact and I really like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGLx4WenGwQ&index=5&list=RDJEYNuU6Xtms

      1. Michael Katz Post author

        Hey Sabrina, those are great! You sent me on a Hollies jaunt for about 20 minutes on youtube just now. Lots of great stuff!

  2. Mary Van Peursem

    I, too, remember the sixties. In fact, in the early 80’s my college graduation gift from my dad was a ’66 Charger. The first time I got behind the wheel, I turned on the radio and “Winchester Cathedral” was playing. Thanks for bringing back a great memory, Mike!
    WC starts at 3:00 on the video.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Very nice. There’s definitely too little whistling in today’s music. And (I didn’t google this), didn’t Petula Clark have a hit with the song?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Those are great, TJ. The best part of Hot Smoke and Sassafras is their completely unnecessary overuse of the stereo effect!

  3. Michael Katz Post author

    These are great, everyone! What do you say we all get together tomorrow afternoon in my backyard, drink some beer and play every one of these?!

      1. Michael Katz Post author

        Total throwaway line! You’re welcome to sit in my backyard but I won’t be there.

        But… the blue penguin ice cream party in july is as bona fied as they come. Mark your calendar for the 23rd.

  4. Tom McNamara

    Michael, this is one of the best posts I’ve read on this subject. Being concrete and relevant with the problem you solve is key to being memorable. “Online marketing consultant” becomes “Small business accelerator” or “Website turnaround specialist” or “Deblanding Expert”. Ok, that last one is a stretch (I do think you can go over the top with this stuff) but the point is to get people to probe for more info and lock what you do into their lizard brain so that they can easily recall it when they hear the problem you solve come up in conversation.

    I submit two songs for your 60s favorites list:

    “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver: http://youtu.be/vLBKOcUbHR0
    “Downtown” by Petula Clark: http://youtu.be/yHNGvEdTwBQ

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Tom!
      I like “deblanding expert.” Maybe “snore-removal specialist.” Or maybe not. But i totally agree on the lizard brain concept.

      And thanks for the mellow entries on the sixties hit parade. I’m still coming down from TJ’s hard rocking recommendations above, so these will be good to listen to!

  5. Mark Wayland

    Michael, the critical words in this post are “being remembered” … and maybe the 2014-words for that is “being an authority” … it’s (the emotionally connecting) what you stand for that most people remember long after they’ve forgotten the words.

    By the way, did you ever think that you would have been more of a chick magnet had you chosen 70’s music?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Well said on the idea of being remembered, Mark.

      On the chick magnet question, I have no idea if 70s music would have made me more of one. Let’s just say that it could not have made me less of one.

      And, I believe this is the time of year when our mutual fun-poking shifts hemispheres and I send you my “sorry that winter is coming” best wishes. I’ll raise an ice cream cone in your honor!

      1. David

        You know, Michael, I can’t remember most of the songs and artists “from the sixties” posted so far. Therefore, by your standard, I must have been there.

        That said, I could hardly challenge almost any song [released during the ’60s] from iconic songwriter-singers Johnny Cash (one of my first thoughts on reading your invitation to post was “I Walk the Line” — but that came out in the ’50s) or John Denver, whom others have nominated before me in this comment thread.

        I would like to nominate another equally talented, but lesser known [due to “blacklisting by the LBJ and Nixon White Houses] singer-songwriter, performing one of her songs that is, itself iconic, and expressive of the angst of the sixrties.

        Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier – YouTube
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGWsGyNsw00 Cached
        Buffy first narrates on how she wrote, then sings Universal Soldier

  6. Barbara Boustead

    Hello Michael

    Great post, as usual! I have enjoyed the” trip down memory lane” immensely while also gaining much from your words of wisdom. I went back to some of your previous posts and was intrigued by the e-newsletter support you provide. I also think its great that you have such a high level of comfort in working on your own website. I’d like to make changes/updates to my website but don’t know how to go about this. I planned to ask the webmaster, but not sure she could advise me on content, so if this is something you do or if you do a webinar on this, I’d like to hear more about it.
    In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying your great insights and expertise! Thanks for sharing so generously! Enjoy your ice cream social! Sounds like a great time!


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Barbara. And see if you can get your web master to set you up in Word Press like this site is. It allows you to make updates and do all kinds of things without having to learn a lot of technical things. The freedom to make changes as they occur to you is great, as well as, of course, to post things to a blog whenever you’ve got something to say.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Just cut and past, David. Go to Youtube, find the song, copy the URL and paste it in!

      1. David

        Thanks, Mike. I was working when I asked with a new to me, and first of its kind to me, Android tablet. And was not finding the “look and feel” what I have been used to with a desktop or laptop computer.

        Now that I have the opportunity to be using a desktop, the process is as usual, so you will find two contributions from me upstream.

        Or, as the late, great, Gilda Radner might have said, in her Emily Litella persona:

        Neverrrr mind!

  7. Doug Johnson


    I hadn’t had a chance to check out this newsletter until today and I have to say that it was extremely enjoyable. In fact, the “enjoyableness” (is that a word?) of it is exactly the point of your message and that’s what makes it even better. You really brought home some memories when you mentioned 60s music. In the late 60s and early 70s I worked security at rock concerts. I saw every major band of the day with the exception of the Beatles. I even stood guard for Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, actually having to stand on stage with Clapton while he played to keep the crowd away from him (those were the days of tear gas, anti-war demonstrations, etc.). You and your readers came up with some great songs, and there are too many to list. Some of my favorites of that era included:
    She’s Not There by The Zombies
    Gimme Some Lovin by The Spencer Davis Group
    You Really Got Me by The Kinks
    Long Cool Woman by The Hollies
    Green Onions by Booker T. & the MGs
    House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
    Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by The Animals
    Up on Cripple Creek by The Band
    Sunshine of Your Love by Cream
    White Room by Cream
    Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who
    Midnight Rambler by The Rolling Stones

    Thanks for the memories!

    1. Doug Johnson

      Diana, that is a great one! In spite of its drug reference, it was one of the best songs of the 60s!

  8. Michael Katz Post author

    A note to everyone on this thread.

    1. If you want interaction and a sense of community on your blog, ask readers questions they can answer. “Share your favorite Sixties song” is an example (look how many comments there are here).

    2. “Not enough time” is not really what keeps people from participating. It took time for the commenters here to think of and then find video clips and post them. When people are interested, they make time. The question then, is how do you get people interested?


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