Fun fact: 30% of the population learns by listening.
Not-so-fun fact: If your website only offers written content, you could be leaving behind a big chunk of your target market simply because you’re not speaking the same language.
Meet David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices, a fast-growing online platform that connects buyers and sellers of one creative service: the human voice. He joins Betsy and Tony to share how he thinks a little differently about the customer journey and generously shares ideas for ways to improve your standing with prospects. Start by taking down the gates to your website content and determining which written content can be translated to audio. Be their guide (not the hero) in helping them achieve their goals.
Thanks for your insights, David!
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the Podcast here:
About David Ciccarelli
David Ciccarelli is an entrepreneur at heart. For the last decade, David, with the help of his team, has grown Voices from the ground up to become the leader in the voice over industry. More recently, he has led the charge through Voices’ transition from a voice over platform to a creative services marketplace, newly adding translation, audio production, and music composition to the services offered on www.voices.com. As Chief Executive Officer, David is responsible for setting the vision, executing the growth strategy, creating a vibrant culture, and managing the company on a day-to-day basis. He is frequently published in outlets such as The Globe & Mail, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal.
REALLY Knowing The Learning Style Of Your Customer With David Ciccarelli
Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Customers?
I am so excited to have David with us because he brings out some amazing and interesting points. We talk about the customer journey and really knowing your customer in a lot of different ways. One point that hit home for me is the idea that you should be treating your buyers as customers. We talk through this extensively in various ways throughout the conversation.
One thing that we bring out is that you have to reduce the risk of a buyer. The buyer is sitting there thinking, whether it’s B2B or B2C, “What’s the experience going to be afterward? What do I not know?” Their anxiety is rising. That risk and anxiety can be a huge obstacle to making sales. We talk about how do you potentially take the customer experience and move it forward so that the buyers can experience, to some extent, what it’s like to be a customer to lower that anxiety and risk so they can more easily say yes?
People are doing all their research ahead of time, so by the time they get to you, it’s not, “Why should I buy from you,” but, “How should I buy from you?” I thought that was fascinating. The other thing I always enjoy is the founders’ stories and how they were a husband and wife team that had a very small little company that has morphed into this massive global company. It’s fascinating to me and also all of this stuff he’s learned along the way that he shares in this episode. With that, let’s jump in and meet David Ciccarelli.
Welcome, David. We’re so happy to have you on the show. We can’t wait for this conversation.
It’s great to be here. Thanks to you both. I agree. We’re going to have a great chat.
Let’s dive in and get us and our audience up to speed on your career path, which is fascinating, and how you landed at where you are and the work you’re doing. Tell us about your clients. Level set everybody on everything about you.
It is a love story but I will make sure I weave that one in. I grew up with a fascination with all things sound. My mom and dad had a record player and a short-wave radio where I could tune into radio stations from around the world. I had this interest my whole life in sound. I graduated from an audio engineering school and program. I opened up a small recording studio of my own. I got my name in the local newspaper on my birthday of all days. That introduced me to the local business community.
One of the people who saw that article is now my mother-in-law. She passed the article off to Stephanie, my wife, who’s the Cofounder of Voices.com. At the time, she was a classically trained singer. She would sing at weddings and special events. Her mom cut out that newspaper article and said, “Why don’t you get your singing repertoire recorded at this new studio that opened up?” She came down to the studio, chaperoned by her mother. We ended up recording that singing repertoire.
With that newspaper article, other small businesses in the city wanted a female voice for some local radio commercials and phone system greetings. I only knew one girl in the city who I had met. I gave Stephanie a call and said, “I’ll be the engineer if you could be the female voice talent and we’ll split the money 50/50.” That’s how we ended up started working together. One thing led to another where we fell deeply in love, got married and still are. That was the genesis of how it began.
With that initial seed of work that we began to cultivate together, we put up a website that soon attracted other freelance voice actors, people who did celebrity impersonations, narration for audiobooks and documentaries, commercials, different languages and everything you can imagine. Concurrently, there would be clients who would discover this website in the earliest days and say, “I work at a video production company. I see the name of a voice that you have on there and I can hear them but how do I hire them?”
That was the a-ha moment where we realized, “Why don’t we get out of the production business ourselves?” We have several talents listed on this website. Let’s step back from the production business and reinvent ourselves as a marketplace where we connect that voice-buying client with the voice-selling talent. That’s what we’ve been doing for the better part of many years. We’re holding onto that simple idea of connecting buyer and seller of this one creative service, the power of the human voice.
You’ve grown significantly since then. Tell us a little bit about that growth and the entrepreneurial piece of all of this.
We did start as a husband-wife cofounding team. Like most growth stories that are long and slow for about a decade until several years ago, we were upwards of 100 full-time employees serving millions of community members and people on the marketplace from around the world. We were successful in raising some institutional capital from Morgan Stanley, a private equity group out of San Francisco.
Up to that point, we bootstrapped by selling a product and service, taking on some bank loans, paying them off and getting a bigger loan for working capital. We realized to push forward to that next chapter we needed to professionalize the business with stronger, more sophisticated investors who could help us grow and also help us complete our first acquisition of another company. We also established a board of directors, which we hadn’t had before and set up a leadership team, an executive team.
There were a lot of learnings through that experience where it wasn’t like cofounders running the whole thing. We recognized the importance of having a leadership team and learning to delegate all things that, for some founders, are tremendously difficult to do, I being no different. Hopefully, I’ve improved that aspect along the way but I still am actively involved in all aspects of the business.
David, your client base is all over the place. You don’t focus on an industry or anything like that. It’s a big, huge marketplace, correct?
There are two different customer groups. There is the voice talent of whom there are well over two million registered voice talents who range from those who are aspiring, who they’ve been told their whole life, “You’ve got a great voice. Maybe you’ve been in acting class or public speaking. You’ve got a knack for this but it’s more than just having the God-given gift of a great voice. You need the audio recording technology. You also need to know how to breathe life into that script to create a character.” We have one customer group being those talents.
On the other side would be those clients that are not of a particular industry, maybe if one stands out, the advertising industry. They create a lot of content for ad campaigns or perhaps a product launch as well too. There are 160 countries of clients from around the world. If there’s an advertising business or a broadcasting industry in a particular country, there’s probably a need for voiceovers. What we aim to provide is access to that talent, help those brands and organizations be able to tell their story, educate, simply inform or otherwise entertain their audience.
It’s so fascinating to think about the breadth of what you do. Betsy and I have this show which helps generate business. This is one of the reasons we do it besides the educational side. In a pre-sale situation, we’ve noticed this trend growing over the last couple of years. We were doing an interview and our guest said that 80% of the decision is made in B2B sales prior to them picking up the phone or sending an email to the company to say, “I want to talk about buying something from you.” With what you do, how does that play in? We had an interesting conversation about this in the prep session. I want to go there.
I agree with that comment that the buying decision and that discovery is happening before the customers reach out to the company. In which case, we need to be thinking about having our brand’s presence in several channels way earlier on in the cycle. There’s this notion of the difference between demand generation and demand capture. Often we think about demand capture, “What did somebody do right before they signed up, registered or fill out the lead form?” It says Google search, as an example, is where they came from.
In reality, that journey of awareness and interest started perhaps weeks, if not months earlier. That can come as simple as, “I’m thinking about perhaps starting a podcast of my own. I might be listening to other podcasts about what equipment I need. What are the different forms of a podcast? Is it interview-based? Is it a monologue? Is it more of a panel? Do we do a video? Do we do audio?” There are a lot of questions that arise in this almost education phase.
Ultimately, the customers are on a journey. Too often, businesses try to put themselves as the hero in that journey, talk about they were founded in 1948 and we made it through this era, that era and the whole back. The customer doesn’t care. They want to know how you are going to help them. More importantly, be a position as a brand or even a thought leader is to be their guide in helping them achieve their goals. That posture of being a guide means that you’re supportive. You’re putting out a lot of information that once was held behind gated content where you have to fill out a form to get access to it or sign up to speak to somebody at the company.
Those organizations that are winning are, in effect, content producers. They’re publishing that content, making it freely accessible. By the time the customer wants to engage, they’re all well-informed. They’re reaching out to your sales team or account executives more about, “How do I buy from you?” Instead of, “Should I buy from you?” That’s a big distinction. If you can get somebody to that point, we’ve generated all the demand. Now we’re capturing it and guiding them through the rest of that process of engaging with your organization.
You get two different schools of thought about the gated community. I love that you said you’re not a big fan of the gated content. Freely giving and helping someone get to that, “How do I buy versus why should I buy?” If they’re not going to be your customer, they’re not going to be your customer. Why not help somebody at least get the information they need, whether or not they’re going to be your customer or not?
This is where comparison charts, tips and tutorials are, where putting this information out in whatever form factor your business wants to be and you’re comfortable with in terms of being a publisher. If you have a subject matter expertise in your organization, they ought to be the publisher of the content or the spokesperson for your organization. It’s so much more authoritative if that knowledge expert is the one who’s on as a guest on other podcasts, whose name has the byline on the articles and tutorials.
You almost have an affinity with the person. Even though you’re buying from an organization, you end up following those people. You see them on LinkedIn. You’re having almost this one-on-one conversation. You feel like you have a relationship with that individual, even though, ultimately you might be buying from and engaging that organization as a whole.
If you enjoy being on podcasts, there are lots of opportunities to be on podcasts. If writing is your thing and you want to articulate your thoughts, maybe do either your own blog, a medium or even being frequent and consistent on LinkedIn. I’ve seen several people build massive audiences being consistently publishing on LinkedIn or long-form trends or research reports. There are lots of form factors. That information you create in your industry expertise can shine through that one individual who ultimately becomes the spokesperson.
It’s fascinating because, on this show, we talk about really knowing your customer. What you’re talking about is allowing the customer to know their supplier and their partner and building that trusted relationship. It’s funny because Betsy and I have had this experience where we go speak at an event and probably have done an episode with the organization before we go speak at their event.
We’ve probably written an article or blog post for them. We’ve done several things. When we get there, people feel like they know us. They come up and start talking. We’re like, “Who are you? Did I forget who you were?” It’s almost like a minor celebrity status but it becomes out of your expertise. I love what you’re saying because that’s an interesting way to think about it.
I want to tie this back to the voice talent that you have. In a lot of companies, they have these experts and many times, they don’t allow the experts to come to the top. They’re a thought leader organization but also, not everyone’s necessarily the best writer or speaker. How would you go about helping a company like that bring the expertise out but maybe they don’t have the right voice?
It’s a skill that’s learned over time, like most things. Not everyone’s going to feel comfortable being front of the house and on stage. If that’s the case, I’d still challenge to find that person who will be the known entity that the customers can identify with. Sometimes that is hiring someone outside of the organization and bringing them on. Either on a contract or interim basis to be a host of a series of webinars or broadcasts, perhaps being a host of a podcast without necessarily being a front of house and on stage.
Where I’d say it differs from voice talent, in a lot of ways, they are an audio ambassador but they’re not the thought leader and subject matter experts. It’s for commercial content where it’s an advertisement or perhaps internal corporate training or a phone system. You are there to find somebody who represents your brand. There’s often not a name associated with it and they’re not an employee of the company.
That’s where I would differentiate a couple of examples of people that are employees. There’s a fellow with Deloitte, one of the big accounting firms, and his name’s Duncan Stewart. Every year, Duncan puts out his state of technology, his predictions for the year. He does a whole roadshow as well. In the same deck where he runs through all the trends, several large banks and accounting firms have a similar type of format.
You end up looking forward to this event. Duncan’s coming up. You see him. His presence in his profile rises during that time when he’s relaying the trends. The beauty of having that happen year after year is you can say, “Here’s what I got right, what I got wrong and where we are.” He’s a humble fellow. I have a great admiration. I’ve seen him several times presenting. If you can find someone like that within your organization and maybe they aren’t ready to be on a podcast or video, perhaps a media training might be worthwhile as well. That’s if you have somebody.
If you don’t and you’re thinking, “I still want to position our organization as being an expert in the field, a leader in technology and innovation and at the cutting edge of the current trends and developments,” you could work with someone outside. I’m reluctant to use the word influencer because I don’t want to make it sound like purely a social media play.
For every industry, there’s going to be one person who’s a prolific blogger. Whatever they publish gets hundreds of comments on LinkedIn. There’s probably somebody that most folks follow for every given industry. It could be a physician who’s out there publishing or someone who does deep dives on research or a strategist. Whoever that person is, maybe try to find a way to work with them in some type of partnership if you don’t have that expertise in-house.
David, Tony and I are coming out with a new book. I’ve been pre-talking it up to some of our friends, clients and prospects. We’ve had several replies like, “When is it coming out on Audible?” That trend is changing things. What else do you see out there that in a few years frame you could see shifting in terms of work that relates to what you do?
One of the trends is the shift from pure video to video and audio. Even audio is a standalone channel. I did a quick couple of googling to find the stat on this. There’s an entire segment of the population that are auditory learners. They learn best by listening. I would consider myself one of those. I’m sure some people like podcasts and audiobooks and learn by even hearing someone read it out. That’s how they absorb the content and information best. That’s one of the things.
The status there is as much as 1/3 of the population. Thirty percent of the population globally learns best by listening. In which case, what’s the content that we have out there that will help that cohort to learn about your organization? If you’ve written the manuscript, that’s the hard work. I’m sure you’ve learned that the hard work of creating the manuscript and then converting it into an audiobook is, by comparison, a relatively trivial exercise.
Audible, for those who may not be aware, is an Amazon company. They were independent for years. Amazon recognized the parallels between a lot of people who prefer buying the audio version. For a 4 or 5-hour book which is probably 180 to 220 pages, somewhere in that neighborhood, might be 4 hours of actual run time. When it comes to recording it, the rule of thumb is three times as long as recording it. As an audiobook narrator, you might be looking at 10, 12 to 15 hours in a studio, which might be over a series of days.
Recording an audiobook is like a marathon. It’s not the monster truck rally or hard sell car commercial. This would be a sprint. This is the marathon over several days. In which case, there are a couple of options for authors, either they record it themselves. If you have a massive following and you’ve built up a community around you where they want to hear from you because they’re already familiar with your voice, that’s an option. In some ways, it is much encouraged because people have an affinity for hearing and knowing the authors.
If, on the other hand, maybe that whole task seems a little daunting, then working with an audiobook narrator would be a great option. It’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 per finished hour of content. The folks who do this do it a lot. There are not a lot of edits and retakes. They know how to pace themselves, to stay in character throughout that entire time. That’s an example of some options for other book publishers or content producers who maybe have a manuscript and are considering creating an audio version. You’re right. Audible would be a great outlet to be able to publish too.
What I love about that customer experience side of it is if you are getting to know your customer and understanding, “Are they visual learners, auditory learners or kinesthetic learners,” it’s like I could create a white paper but that’s only going to get absorbed by a small percentage of the audience. How do I turn that white paper or essentially that content into an audio format or a presentation?
We see the presentation formats come out. You got graphs and charts and that. There’s more and more on this audio content that people are going to want because I can listen as I’m driving to work or making dinner. I can absorb a lot more content. I’m fascinated by this. It’s not just the whole pre-sales. It could be the how-to afterwards. If there’s so much content that companies have, they could essentially translate it into audio or audio and video put together that would make their value to the customer go up dramatically.
I view this as you’re repurposing content you’ve already created. Looking at something like Google Analytics you’ve probably even identified, “What are the top pages on our website? What is content that already seems to be resonating where there are several page views on our blog?” Maybe that makes sense to create a video or have that as a theme in an upcoming podcast. Have an entire talk on it on your podcast or maybe go out and find a guest or an expert to speak to that as a special guest on our podcast.
I love what you said about the ability to multitask or do another concurrent activity. Brian Tracy was referencing books on tapes to go back several years. He was describing this as listening to cassette tapes in the car as being the university on wheels. I find myself in the same situation where I’m in the car and enjoy listening to podcasts on the drive-in and drive back.
Interestingly, a lot of podcasts are in that 20 to the 30-minute range because it is the typical commute. It’s the morning commute there and then the evening commute on the way home. It’s more than a coincidence that people like to listen for a period of time to complete some type of task. It’s the other place I find myself and maybe others as well too, whether it’s working out or walking the dog around the neighborhood. There’s almost this desire to go deep on a subject in that customer discovery phase.
I’m learning all I can about this particular subject. A lot of people do searches on Spotify to find podcasts or on the Apple Podcasts directory and podcast store to see, “Is there any content that’s out there?” I’ve found several leaders, prolific guests and speakers who are sharing their knowledge freely. Often the entire book summary is shared as they do almost like a book tour but a podcast tour. You can learn a lot of information quite quickly by hearing directly from the expert.
For me, it depends on what the content is. For example, if it’s something I want to understand, study and think about, I do better reading and highlighting it. If it’s something where I want a cursory knowledge of something, then I’ll listen to a podcast on the way to work. The other thing about what you said that struck me is thinking about this whole commute thing because of the last few years where people weren’t commuting into the office and how that changed how people are taking in this content. One thing I wanted to touch on is the fact that the customer journey is non-linear. Can you talk about that a little bit?
There’s a fellow who’s enlightened me to this notion. His name’s Chris Walker. He’s talked a lot about this call concept called The Dark Funnel. Historically as marketers, we think of the customer journey as being very linear. You start at awareness, have some interest, make a decision and become a customer. We try to design these customer journeys to be linear and then that software attribution says somebody came from a Google search.
In reality, their customer journey started with some type of interest that they had, maybe of a problem they’re facing. It might begin with a very topical-based or information-based search but not maybe on Google. Maybe the search begins on YouTube or perhaps they’re thinking, “Who are the experts in the field? Let me go look at Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Who’s talking about this? Who might have a good solution where I can learn more? Am I understanding the problem the right way?”
Several marketing channels are invisible to attribution software. Attribution software says what happened. I like to think of it as a tattoo or a stamp that happens right when someone fills out that customer lead or sales lead form. What are all of the touchpoints that happened previously? Somebody who participates reads something on LinkedIn. They didn’t do anything but they read it. It influenced but it’s not captured anywhere. Listening to a mention on a podcast, participating in a Twitter spaces conversation, perhaps even watching a YouTube video, you’re learning as you go and it’s a little all over the place.
A personal example is my daughter and I are looking to hike the Camino trail. It’s about 500 kilometers or 300 miles across Northern Spain. We’ve never done a long extended hike before. We’re learning. We bought a few books and watched a movie and some videos. At no point is the airline going to know that that’s what we’re trying to do until we book the tickets or even purchase any of that equipment? They don’t understand the journey that we’re on but we’re almost this sponge-type, “I’m going to soak up information wherever I can get it.”
How we tie this back to a B2B experience is recognizing that your customers aren’t going to look for information just on your website or blog. There’s probably an entire collection of places to publish that are offsite and therefore relatively invisible when you go to try to run marketing reporting on where did our customers come from. The way that a lot of people, and us included, have been getting around this is to ask a simple question, “How did you hear about us,” when they go to fill out that form. This is important that it’s a free form text field. We don’t want to introduce any bias where the first option says search and then everyone defaults and clicks to search.
I was shocked. We had about 20% of people saying that they heard about Voices.com on TikTok. We have no TikTok presence. Somewhere somebody is creating videos saying, “If you want to become a voice talent, this is a good place to do it. You can create a profile.” That is invisible to us. We were unaware until we asked that question. It’s the same thing with a lot of people saying they watch videos on YouTube.
This notion that there are these might be perceived as consumer-oriented marketing channels. They’re people listening, learning and watching as part of that non-linear customer journey and ultimately expressing that interest at that moment that they’re ready to buy. I would encourage businesses to think about new channels, perhaps run an experiment or try something different but recognize that people are learning way earlier on.
You’re best off being present earlier on in that initial awareness phase where there’s hardly any competition. By the time they’re on the G2 crowd or Software Advice, they’re stacking you up against all your competitors. You’re much better off considering where you are in the mind of your prospect and hopefully, your future customer if you can be doing that way earlier on in the journey.
When you were talking about this, I’m thinking about how times have changed. I remember years ago if somebody were inclined to dig into the research before they made a purchase, it was waiting for the right edition of Consumer Reports or going to the library and looking through back issues of Consumer Reports to see how they rated. Now to look at all the different ways that you can research before you purchase is fascinating to me.
When customers come to you, they’re asking, “How do I buy,” versus, “Should I buy from you?” One of the trends that I’m seeing, again and again, is that consumers are going out there, whether it’s B2B or B2C, it doesn’t matter, they’re saying, “Show me the how-to videos and what it’s going to be like once I buy. Do they have the information I need or not?”
I’ll give an example. I got this thing called a Supernote. I don’t know if you have one of these little tablets. I love it. Betsy got one and she convinced me to get one. I reached out to her and said, “Is there a how-to manual on this thing?” I found some great reviews but as far as I can tell, there’s not a lot of good education on how to use this. I’m going to learn how to use this but there’s an opening in the market for them where any other competitors come and say, “Here’s how to use this,” and show all these how-to videos.
They could take market share rapidly. I am seeing the same thing happen to other industries where some companies are thinking forward like, “Let’s show them what the experience is before they even get there and what it’s going to be like to be a customer.” Are you seeing that in the work that you’re doing? Are companies coming to you and saying, “We need to up-level and get our how-to videos, consumer videos and customer videos afterwards high caliber because we recognize it’s marketing?”
I delineated between pre-sales and post-sales. The shift you’re describing is almost treating prospects as if they’re already customers. Put the information in advance. “Do I need to go through a sales demo, a discovery call and sit on the call for an hour before I can see how this thing works?” The do-it-yourselfers want the free trial of a piece of software but even if it’s a process, I’m seeing a lot more companies create a video to describe our methodology, especially service-based organizations describing our approach to publicity and cost accounting.
They develop this framework and then create videos on, “Here’s what you can expect to experience once you’ve signed on with us.” That’s on a service-based app. If it’s hardware and there is something to show, you benefit from educating your customers in advance because it eliminates the anxiety over, “What happens when I buy the thing?”
The more questions that you can answer in advance, maybe not everybody wants to go deep on that but those who do, you’re building and firming up that bond and desire to go deep, probably creating fanatics along the way of people who learn about your product and services and are in a position to tell others and share that experience as well. I agree with what you’re sharing. It’s a deep observation of this notion of pulling what would be historically eLearning or customer onboarding information forward so that prospects can also see it and factor that into their decision-making process as well.
David, this has been great. Thank you so much. Before we do let you go, on our show, we like to let our guests give out a shout-out to an organization, nonprofit or somebody that’s doing good in the world. At this time that we’re going through, we need a lot more awareness of those organizations that are doing good things. Is there an organization or charity that you’d like to shine a spotlight on?
One is here in Canada, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. In the US, it’s the American Foundation for the Blind. There’s a shortage of resources that are available for those who may be challenged in such an area. We’re here to put forth good messages in the world and hopefully make the world a more accessible place through the power of the human voice. That is our mission. These couple of organizations certainly align to that from our perspective. I wanted to give them a shout-out.
Thank you so much, David. We appreciate it.
This has been awesome. I will let David go. He’s busy. He’s got a lot of things to get back to. David, thank you. This has been fantastic.
There is so much good information. We look forward to staying in touch with you, David. We’ll talk to you soon.
This is a fantastic interview. One of the things that stands out for me is not something we’ve talked about on this show before. There’s an element of really knowing your customer that David hits on here, specifically knowing their learning style. Are they an Audible audio learner, a kinesthetic learner or a visual learner? Take the content that you have and repurpose it in a way so that it resonates with them. Thirty percent of people are audio-based learners. If you have a white paper and you haven’t converted that to audio, you could be missing 30% of your likely customers.
I love how he talks so much, not just about what his company does but educating people on how best to get out there. He also made a point about the gated content thing. I like that he’s thinking differently about that because everybody tells you, “You got to capture their email and do this to get past this gate so that you get something for it.” I like his mentality of, “Put it out there. Help people. The ones that it works for will find you, have the conversation with you and become your customers.”
Honestly, that’s how I’ve always felt about it. I get that you need emails for marketing. I like the mindset of putting this content out there and then trusting the process that the people that want to find what you do will find you and become your customers. With that, thank you for joining us on the show. We so appreciate our audience. If you like this episode and our show, please give it a like and set your notification bell so that you can find out when we have a new episode coming out. Until the next time.
- David Ciccarelli – LinkedIn
- Canadian National Institute for the Blind
- American Foundation for the Blind
- The Rarest Advantage: How to Co-Create Strategic Value to Retain and Expand Your Key Customer Accounts
- ProphetAbility: The revealing story of why companies succeed, fail and bounce back
- The Congruity Group
- Tony Bodoh International