A lot of people, marketers included, hear the words "inclusive" and "diversity" and immediately feel intimidated, as if getting there is an insurmountable climb. Where do you even start?

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If you ask Sydni Craig-Hart of Smart Simple Marketing, she gives an appropriately simple answer: Talk to your customers. "If we are going to own this responsibility and learn from it and grow with it and enjoy it, we actually need to be having conversations with the people that we are claiming that we want to serve," she says. "If you're talking to different types of customers on a regular basis, you're already training your mind to think with a more inclusive lens."

On the latest episode of Marketing Smarts, Sydni—who has developed a framework for inclusive marketing called LISTEN—explains why connecting with your customers is such a vital part of today's marketing landscape.

"We have all been dramatically impacted by the events of the last two years," she says. "We have been forced to examine what is important to us....Your audience is demanding that you put them first and that you show them how you align with their values, and that you show them that you're really interested in them and that you get them."

That includes demographics, yes, but also behaviors and backgrounds. People "use different expressions, they have different cultural experiences, different travel experiences, different family dynamics. Making folks feel like that's for them over there, that's not for me."

For more on LISTEN and how to tackle inclusive marketing, check out Episode 528 of Marketing Smarts. You can listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

"Marketing Smarts" theme music composed by Juanito Pascual of Signature Tones.

Full Transcript: Inclusive B2B Marketing Strategy Techniques You Can't Afford to Ignore

George B. Thomas: I hope you're excited. I hope you are ready for something that you can't ignore. We're talking about inclusive B2B marketing strategy techniques you can't afford to ignore with Sydni Craig-Hart. This is not the conversation that you think it is, so please, if you're judging it, keep playing this episode.

Let's talk a little bit about Sydni Craig-Hart. Is your organization looking to gain market share and deepen loyalty with small business women or minorities? Sydni Craig-Hart is co-founder of Smart Simple Marketing and a fourth-generation entrepreneur. Since 2006, her multi-award-winning team, having worked with over 11,000 small businesses in over 79 different industries, has been helping progressive brands to drive engagement with sought-after growing market segments through results-driven, inclusive content marketing solutions.

If you want to increase the value of existing customer spend, recapture marketing investments, grow customer lifetime value, you can contact Sydni on LinkedIn to discover how her team is doing this for companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and more. Be sure to ask Sydni for a copy of their best practice case study. Of course, with a bio like that, you know that Sydni is about to drop some bombs.

I'm super excited because today we're going to have a conversation that needs to be had and we're going to come at it in a couple of different directions. Unfortunately, it might not be the thing that you're thinking about most, but in 2023 it absolutely should be. Today's conversation, inclusive B2B (it could be any marketer, by the way), inclusive marketing strategy techniques you can't afford to ignore, and we have Sydni Craig-Hart here.

Sydni, how are you doing today?

Sydni Craig-Hart: I'm doing good, George.

George: That's good. I always love when guests are doing good because that equals great episodes. I want to start with a question that I love asking because I really like to dive into the minds of the experts like you. Pertaining to this conversation that we're having today, what the heck keeps you up at night?

Sydni: One of the things about this topic that keeps me up is that we as marketers have this incredible responsibility to open doors and break down barriers, to create communities and bring people together and help them learn and help them grow, and we don't do right by that. We get very caught up in our KPIs, what management said, what the C-suite is demanding, what our competitors are doing, and we forget about our customers. We like to toss around, "We're customer-centric, we always put the customer first," but from a marketing perspective, I don't really think that we do that great of a job at that. I am on a mission to help our community of marketers be more effective in that regard and really own that responsibility, learn from that responsibility, and enjoy that responsibility.

George: I love this so much because this is going to be one of those down-in-the-trenches conversations. Marketers, I would beg you to open up your minds and go on this journey with us. Sydni, you started almost to rattle off what historically would be marketing buzzwords. I want to just say that inclusion or being inclusive with your marketing collateral, your content for your sales and marketing teams, is never a buzzword, it's something that should be taken seriously.

Let's start with this. What do marketers need to be thinking about? By the way, if you're sitting here like, "But I am doing a great job," stay tuned, I'm sure there are still lessons to be learned. But what do marketers need to be thinking about pertaining to inclusive marketing strategy techniques?

Sydni: I'm definitely not here to criticize, I'm here to encourage and empower. I hope that as you're listening to this conversation between George and I, that's the spirit in which you accept what we're sharing.

The first thing that I would say that we need to do is regularly have conversations with our customers. It never ceases to amaze me how few of us are actually doing that. I get that you're busy, and I get that you have too much on your plate, and you probably have a user experience team, or a user research team, or a customer service team who engages with your customers all the time. Whenever I start working with a new client, I always ask them, "When is the last time you talked to one of your customers," and usually they give me a deer-in-headlights look, "one of our customers? Oh, Sydni, I don't have time to do that," or someone else does that.

I think there is a huge disconnect there. If we are going to own this responsibility and learn from it and grow with it and enjoy it, we actually need to be having conversations with the people that we are claiming that we want to serve. I think that is the best first step and one of the easiest transitions to make in terms of how you're thinking about being inclusive. If you're talking to different types of customers on a regular basis, you're already training your mind to think with a more inclusive lens.

George: I love this so much because I was transported as I listened to you back to when I was a kid. You started to talk about we have this team, we have that team, and the marketer is like, "You mean one of our customers?" I was transported back to when I was a child and we used to play that game Telephone where you'd have a line of five, six, seven, eight people, and you'd say something, and you'd get to the other end, I think there might even be a gameshow around this whole principal, what you get at the other end is completely different. If you're listening to this and you have said, "We have that team," are you playing the game of Telephone or are you getting it from what they might say is the horse's mouth and are actually having these conversations?

This next question I fully get might sound stupid, but I think it's actually one of the important things in life for us to know why something that we're learning, why the conversation that we're talking about is important. When we go back to the higher level of inclusive B2B marketing strategy techniques, why is it important to have this focus? Maybe even 1.2 of this question is, and why now?

Sydni: That's a great question. The first thing I'll say is because we have all been dramatically impacted by the events of the last two years. Why now? Because everything has changed. I am not the same person I was in 2019. I'd venture to say you're not either. I don't really know anyone who is.

We have been forced to examine what is important to us. We have been forced to really look at our priorities and the way we do everything. We talk a lot about pivoting in business, but we've had to pivot in everything. When the pandemic started, we had to pivot how we bought groceries. We were all trying to get on Instacart to get our groceries delivered.

Everything has changed. Whether you are marketing B2B, which I know is the primary focus of this audience, or you may have a dual of B2C also, your audience is demanding that you put them first and that you show them how you align with their values, and that you show them that you're really interested in them and that you get them.

Also, your audience is more diverse than it has ever been. We are seeing dramatic changes right now in the corporate landscape in terms of where people are working and the roles people are taking and executing every day, people are losing jobs, people are getting new jobs. The whole landscape is shifting, so you can't assume that the same people you were selling to a couple years ago are the same people that you're selling to now. They may be of a different ethnic background. They may speak different languages. They may be new to their role, having transferred from a different industry.

It's really important that we think about inclusive marketing now and we embrace this because this is the way it should be done, this is the way effective marketing is done. Our audience is demanding it, they are spending money in alignment with their values. We can't afford to just keep doing what we always did and go back to "normal," because everything in the world has changed, so this is another area that we need to pivot in.

George: I think that's definitely a rewind point in the episode. There are so many directions that my brain went as I was listening. One, doing the same thing that we've always done is insanity. You need to stop it, break the cycle, and actually realize that there has been a dramatic shift. By the way, even minus the dramatic shift, there are always micro shifts, things are always changing. Sydni, I love that you mentioned Instacart because there was one thing that I once thought was stupid but now has become a vital part of my life, and that's DoorDash. I was like let's just get it delivered and I don't even have to see anybody.

The other thing that's really interesting to me is—Marketing Smarts listeners, do not judge me—I was sitting on the couch the other night watching Dancing with the Stars with my wife and my daughter, and it was '90s night. The reason I'm bringing this up is because they were spoofing all the things that used to be cool, all the things that we used to say and do. My daughter said these words, "Y'all really used to say that stuff?" I realized the language of people who might be moving up into the C-suite, into jobs that are being placed now, they speak completely different languages, they're completely different people than who we might think they are.

I love that section that you just gave us. Let's keep going down this journey, because it is a journey, to get started. We're talking to these folks who thought they might be doing things right, or they might have said, "This is definitely a conversation I need to dive into," when they saw the title. How can they get started on the journey from going where they are now to implementing inclusive marketing techniques moving forward?

Sydni: Thank you for asking. The first thing to keep in mind, as a follow-on point to what you just shared, the other reason why this is so important right now is because somehow we've turned this inclusive marketing culture into something that has to do with race. I don't know how we got there, but that's actually not what this is about at all, this has nothing to do with race.

Obviously, demographics are important, and that's what we're talking about, inclusive marketing and making sure that people feel seen, feel heard, and feel understood, but this isn't a black versus white or anything versus anything issue. As we stated, people speak not only just from different places on the Earth, but they use different vernacular, they use different expressions, they have different cultural experiences, different travel experiences, different family dynamics. Making folks feel like that's for them over there, that's not for me, whoever them happens to be.

The first thing that I would suggest that our audience take advantage of is the opportunity to speak to your customers. If you have not had the chance to actually talk to one of your customers in the last 30 to 60 days, then I would love to see you make an appointment to do that. Invite one, three, five customers in, maybe for lunch or to do a virtual lunch session with them, or a virtual coffee date where you buy them a cup of coffee, what have you, and just talk to them. Not about your messaging and about your product and about how great your offer is, but just get to know them and what's happening in their life, what's happening in their world, and what goals they're trying to achieve and what their pain points are.

The more you learn about them, from a marketer's perspective, the better you are going to be able to connect with them. That would be my first suggestion is you make an appointment to just sit down and have some conversations with folks who are doing business with you and learn from them instead of you trying to push something on them.

George: I love this so much because the idea of listening to understand instead of listening to convince or listening to move somebody in a direction is amazing. By the way, if I even step out of the whole marketer and marketing conversation, a superpower that we can have as humans is to have an open mind, to allow it to grow and to poke into areas that we once thought were maybe something that we wouldn't do, wouldn't be, couldn't be, or shouldn't do. Open-mindedness is a superpower, ladies and gentlemen.

One of the things that I like to do on the Marketing Smarts Podcast is give people some down-in-the-trenches tactical here's what you can do. I'm curious, and I don't know if there is or if there isn't, maybe it's steps, maybe it's a framework, maybe it's just Sydni saying, "I've been doing this for a long time, I've seen a lot of people go in this direction," but I'll ask the question. Is there a simple framework to ensure that you're creating an inclusive customer-centric strategy, whether this be when you're sitting down and listening, or maybe something after you listen?

Sydni: What I'd say is to just LISTEN. Actually, that is the framework and that is where you start on the path to successful inclusive marketing. I love acronyms and I love frameworks. It's something I created to help our community step outside of their own biases and step outside of their own assumptions and preconceived ideas, because all of us as humans have them. I have them, you have them, that's just how we're wired, we kind of size people up and we give ourselves more credit than we usually should about what we know about a person.

It takes a lot of effort for us to step away from that, to step back from that and say, "I'm going to listen to learn. I'm going to humble myself and see what I can learn from you. I just want to get to know you as a person and appreciate you as a person. Let me sit back and learn."

When I talk about LISTEN, I talk about six steps that make up this framework of LISTEN. The L stands for learn. The I is for investigate. S for speak. T is for types. E is for empathy. N, which is my favorite piece of the acronym, is no excuses.

When we talk about learning, we're doing exactly what you and I were just saying, learning with the goal of understanding. Not learning to teach. Not learning to sell. Not learning to convince or impress. Just to learn what you can from this individual by having these really organic open conversations.

When we think about investigating, it's making sure that we are validating what we gather from those conversations and making sure we understood. We're investigating and making sure that we really do get how our customer is struggling and what their goals are, and we get clear on how we can show up for them and make a difference in their life or their business.

With regard to speak, it's speaking directly to the problems that they face. Especially in the B2B space, we have a tendency to talk about how great our products and all of the features, it was built for this and it can do this, but we're not actually talking about what problem it solves. Again, instead of focusing on what we want to say, we want to focus on what matters to the problems that they are looking to address.

T is for types. As I mentioned earlier, diversity and inclusion and multicultural marketing, etcetera, is not a racial issue. This is about diversity. Diversity with gender, with their physical ability, with the interests that they have in our topics. Some people have a personal interest in it, some people have a professional interest. There are all different types of people who are interested in our products, interested in our brands for varying reasons, and we want to be inclusive of them and make sure that when they are engaging with us that they feel heard.

The E in the framework is for empathy. Having this deep understanding not just of what the person thinks right now and how they feel right now, but how they got here. What is it that they experienced in their life, in their career, in their family that has created this opinion in them, has created this mindset in them, and do we really understand that? Because if we don't, we're not going to be able to create an emotional connection with them. That emotional connection is still very important even in B2B marketing, but we're not going to be able to have that emotional connection and really approach them with an empathetic message. So, we want to make sure that we have a really deep understanding of how they got to where they are.

The last letter is N and that stands for no excuses. Even though you may have a number of constraints in your business and in your role and there are things you are not able to do, don't let those constraints become excuses and don't focus on what you can't do. I would implore you to focus on what you can do and look for ways to continue making progress.

If we look at this first tip that I recommended of talking to customers and listening, and we do it with this framework, you're going to walk away with a much better idea of how to engage with your audience in a meaningful way.

George: So good. Here's where I go... By the way, I hope you had your notepad or your iPad. If you didn't, shame on you. Rewind and get it out. Get some chalk and write on your wall, I don't care what it is. If we as marketers could have this focus and it could drip into the sales team, into the service team, into the C-suite, if we can be the agents of change for this LISTEN framework, I will tell you between now and when you have implemented it for a while, the difference in your marketing and the love that you will have of your potential customers will be dramatically different.

You said two words that are so true and dear to my heart. The ability to be humble or have humility in everything that we're doing and be empathetic, which you used a word earlier in the interview, the people that we serve. If you can be humble and empathetic and serve, versus it just being "I'm a marketer who makes marketing things about products and services," it's a dramatic difference. I love this so much.

We've gone through this journey, people have a little bit of a framework, they understand how to get started from where they are to where they want to go. I'm sure this is not easy. I'm sure that you in helping people and talking about this across the globe have seen what we might call potholes or hurdles. What are some of the hurdles that we can let the Marketing Smarts listeners know about that they might fall prey to during this transition so that maybe we can help keep the road a little bit smooth and get them where they're trying to go faster? What are the hurdles they should watch out for?

Sydni: The first one I would say is to watch your own fear. I see a lot of people who when it's time to take action on the things we're discussing, they're scared. They're scared of making a mistake or of offending or botching it up. It's okay to be scared. It's hard work to do. I get that fear, but you can't let that fear hold you back.

You can't let fear of making a mistake hold you back. You may make some mistakes along the way and you may unintentionally offend someone. When you create this as a culture and a habit, your audience will see that. We're much more forgiving of a mistake when we see genuineness behind it and when we see transparency and people are very honest about whatever the situation be.

Focus on being of service. Focus on giving. Focus on creating an inclusive community instead of how you personally feel.

The second fall is related to a lack of humility. That is thinking that because you read a book or because you talked to a few people now you have all the answers and have this all figured out. Inclusivity is a skill, just like social media marketing and content marketing and all of the other things that we do as marketers, so it needs to be learned and developed. That's one of the reasons why we have developed training on this topic. We have a program called The Empathy Lab and we take it into organizations to teach marketing teams this skill and we give them frameworks and tools to be able to do this well. If you don't have this skill, if your team doesn't have this skill, if your management doesn't have this skill, then this is a place where you need to make that investment and build that skill. Just as if you needed to develop some other talent on your team. You wouldn't go grasping at straws to figure that out. You would get the resources you need to do that. Don't try to do it alone, support it.

Then the third pitfall that I often see is feeling like they don't have enough authority in the organization to do this well, so they use that as an excuse. It doesn't really matter what your title is or what your job description is or what expectations are of your role, you can lead from where you sit. You can always be a good example to your colleagues, you can always be an advocate for your customers, you can do well, even if you're the only one doing it. You don't have to cave to, "I'm low man on the totem pole." That's really an excuse. You as an individual have this responsibility and you have an opportunity to do right by your customers, so I encourage you to be a leader no matter what.

George: Sydni, we are kindred spirits. I want to talk about some things that I want to unpack from that last section. The first thing that I want to do so that I don't forget, you said you have an empathy program. What was the name of that again for the listeners?

Sydni: It's called The Empathy Lab, and it's a hands-on workshop where we come in and train you on how to do inclusive and diversity marketing properly. We teach those skills and we give you a toolkit that empowers you to completely revamp your marketing and do it with an empathetic and relatable lens.

George: I'm going to make sure that I get a link to that to put in the description of the show. Make sure you check that out because, trust me, this is somewhere I would say education is key and diving into this is going to be amazing.

In that last section, you talked about some points fundamentally where I'm like I must just be weird, but I think about things differently than most humans. You mentioned the word fear. To me, one of the things that I heard a speaker say a long time ago that I grabbed hold of and ran with is that the word fear actually means false evidence appearing real. Meaning we only fear things in the future, we never fear what's in our past.

The other thing you referenced was mistakes. I would say that there actually aren't any mistakes, there's only learning lessons in life. The third thing when I knew you were my people was when you said you can be a leader without being a leader. Ladies and gentlemen, you have all the skillsets to do the thing and lead the way from the back of the row or wherever you feel you're at in your organization, because you will be that contagious change that your organization needs.

Let's keep going. Sometimes we want to know what success looks like. To use a sports analogy, it's the Olympics and we're on the number one pedestal with the gold medal. How do I know I've reached inclusive marketing success, what the heck does that look like?

Sydni: That's a great question. First of all, the short answer is, it depends. It depends because everyone is at a different starting point. I would say the first way to identify what success is going to look like for you is to first identify where you are. When you're looking at your buyer personas, when you're looking at your audience personas, when you look at who you are typically featuring in your success stories and your case studies and your testimonials, when you are looking at doing focus groups in your organization and who you're pulling in, you want to be honest and take stock of where you're at. That's the first piece is to create a baseline.

Then what you're looking for in terms of success is that your customers are more successful. When you start sharing more of their stories, when you start seeing that you're getting more word of mouth referrals, especially from diverse audiences, when you are hearing stories of transformation in their life or their business and those transformation stories look different than what you've collected in the past or seen in the past, when you can look back over your own calendar after a year and say, "I had 12 conversations with customers this year. On average, once a month I sat down and talked with a customer, and I really used what I learned in my marketing and in my work," when you have invested in training those skills and you're honing those skills, those are all the things that you're looking for.

Yes, there are all of the typical marketing KPIs and that's going to depend on where you're at in your organization, but I want you looking for some of those more intangible things and starting to see a shift in your culture. When your team is talking about inclusivity and pulling in different people and you're pulling in diverse vendors to support projects, maybe videographers, or photographers, or writers, when inclusivity is becoming more of a culture, that's when you'll be able to say, "Wow, look at where we've come from. We've diversified our supply chain. We've diversified our workforce. We've diversified our success stories. We've diversified the types of businesses that we are targeting in terms of who we're supporting." You start seeing those, and that's what success in this space really looks like.

George: So many gold nuggets of wisdom in this entire episode. This has been absolutely amazing. Sydni, one of the things that I love to do is to end with this question. You've been on a journey, you've been helping people, you have this overarching look and mentality around the conversation that we've had today around inclusive B2B marketing strategy techniques that you can't afford to ignore. With that said, what are some words of wisdom that you would want to leave the Marketing Smarts listeners with today?

Sydni: I think what I would say is when you're thinking about this conversation between George and I, keep in mind that I have been a business owner for 17 years, I'm a fourth-generation entrepreneur, I'm a Black woman, I have been doing this work with enterprise organizations for 10 years, some of the biggest organizations in the world whose apps and tools you use on your phone every single day, and I've seen behind the scenes at a lot of businesses, I've seen all the skeletons in the closet and all of the mistakes that are being made. What I've shared with you today is based on all of that. This is real world, this is what's actually happening, this is almost 20 years of experience in doing this type of work.

Just get started. Don't overthink it. Don't wait until you get all of your ducks in a row. Don't wait until you figure it all out. There are points that George and I discussed today that you can implement immediately when you are done listening to this podcast. I encourage you to do that, to start taking action today, to start building momentum, to start talking to other folks in your organization, to start talking to folks externally. You have such a great community at MarketingProfs where you can connect with individuals and discuss this topic and find out what they're doing. Reach out to me if you want to chat and have a conversation. Start taking action. Don't keep thinking about it and trying to figure it out on your own.

If each of us takes action, my goodness, what type of momentum we can create as a community and how could we improve upon some of these really oppressive issues that we see happening in the world today? We could improve our careers and we can improve our brands, and everybody wins. So, you have nothing to lose by taking action on this, so go do something. Go do it. If you need some help along the way, feel free to reach out and ping me and I'd be happy to have a conversation with you about it.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk to Doug Binder about the attention economy, how time impacts your customer journey, content events, and other B2B marketing efforts, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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