Marketing our products and services today requires us to re-think the dynamics of customer relationships. As a starry-eyed kid copywriter fresh out of college, I truly believed that customers would be fascinated and moved by whatever I wrote. Many brands and sales people still believe the very same thing.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that most people couldn’t possibly give less of a crap about what “we” have to say.

Customers—both B2B and B2C—are looking for advocates: brands who want to help them achieve more, be better at what they do, even change the way they do things. Unless our products are extremely disruptive like the iPod/iPhone or Uber, just saying “we’re better and different!” lacks evidence. And the only way you can become an advocate is by hearing specifically what keeps a customer up at night.

I’ve adopted the concept of “PIERS” (as if the world needed another acronym), which stands for:

Productivity – How to accomplish things faster, better, or more cost-effectively

Image – Establish a true point of differentiation in the market, or at least level the playing field

Expense – Reducing the cost of doing business and improving margins

Revenue – Generate higher sales, or to be able to charge more for what they sell today

Stability – Minimizing risk and enabling business continuity

It goes far deeper than that, of course. It’s a matter of gathering information about their real challenges. In their own words. Not what we think. But getting into specifics about what stands between a customer today and a more successful tomorrow. It’s also about, to some degree, restraint. In conversations between salespeople and clients, it’s so tempting to blurt out product features and benefits at any given opportunity. But it’s important to resist that temptation before we have a full understanding of the client’s problems, challenges, goals and opportunities.

It’s also about getting to the heart of how companies make decisions, and by whom. It’s about knowing exactly what a customer’s aspirations are, and presenting sufficient evidence to demonstrate why your cost, value, service, or product (or combinations thereof) to truly solve real business problems.

And how do you get to the root of all these things? Through meaningful, substantive conversations, whether that’s through a well-coached and disciplined sales team, surveys and market research, segmentation studies, or feedback. In other words, data is everything. That’s how I identify puzzles and put the pieces together to solve them.

That’s my approach—and it’s how I have developed successful programs for a variety of clients and companies.