The curiosity consultant

Paul Nolan

General Electric executive Beth Comstock called Brad Grossman “human CliffsNotes.” Oscar-winning Hollywood producer Brian Grazer found Grossman to be literally irreplaceable as his “cultural attache.” Grossman founded and operates Zeitguide, a company that uses e-newsletters, custom publishing and one-on-one coaching to keep business executives up to speed on the topics they need to know to stay ahead of the curve and the competition.

SMM: Your former boss Brian Grazer wrote a book called “A Curious Mind” about how his penchant for asking questions creates valuable business insights. That’s really what you do for your clients now, right?

Grossman: We’re providing the knowledge – the insights – they need to stay up to speed as the world continues to change. We work with high-level executives and help them understand what they need to know for themselves, but also for their teams and their customers. We basically put everybody within their ecosystem on a learning journey so they can transform themselves.

SMM: How does it work?

Grossman: It’s a three-prong business model: I work one-on-one with clients in what we call one-one-one Zeitgeist coaching sessions, kind of like what I did with Brian and also Beth Comstock. I also work with their teams and we do these get-smart quick sessions on any subject they need to know. In that second tier of the business model, we produce custom content – in newsletter form, digest form or any kind media – that is used as internal educational platform or external thought leadership. The third part is our consumer product, Zeitguide.

SMM: Are your clients seeking trends within their industry or is the point to broaden out beyond that?

Grossman: They like to drift outside, now more than ever. Where we provide a competitive edge is to show our clients how other companies and other industries – those they never really thought were their competitors – how they are experiencing the world of change and what they’re doing about it. It seems that digital technology has flattened the world of verticals and sectors. They are all becoming competitors. While everybody has their real jobs and is trying to succeed and survive, there are constant changes that are forcing them to rethink their businesses. We’re 24/7 studying and reading and interviewing people, and going to conferences so we ensure our clients that while they’re doing their real job, we’re making sure they know what they need to know.

SMM: What are the biggest benefits?

Grossman: There are two reasons why we help them think beyond themselves: First, to see how other leaders in other industries in which they might not have relationships with are responding and driving their strategies. Second, that they could be potential partners or competitors moving forward. We live in a world where digital technology has reconstituted the way that companies are working with each other.

SMM: Sales itself seems to require knowing a little bit about a lot of things so you can find a connection that can start a conversation. Is that part of the reason people want your services?

Grossman: It’s interesting you say that, because a lot of our clients are sales forces. Salespeople traditionally got their content from marketers or product suppliers or product creators within their organization. Now, salespeople have to be completely on top of the trends and understand the problems that the brands they are selling to are having. They expect salespeople to provide insights into solving their problems. It’s important for sales teams to constantly be learning and staying up to speed so they can help the people they are selling to understand how their innovations are going to solve their problems.

SMM: One of the trends you highlight in Zeitgeist 2018 is helping workers be happy. You say a focus on employee experience will rival that of customer experience.

Grossman: Customer experience continues to be the hot topic for all of sales and marketing. You’re not going to make any money unless you serve the customer. But if you go one step deeper, companies won’t provide a great customer experience if the employees that are supposed to provide it aren’t happy themselves. Happy employees make happy customers.

SMM: What are companies doing to create the type of culture that embraces this?

Grossman: In the same way you enhance a customer experience by having empathy and knowing your customers’ pain points, you also have to have empathy for the employees that work for you.

SMM: You also expect to see more of the blending of the chief marketing officer role and the chief revenue officer role into a chief growth officer.

Grossman: In terms of logic, companies don’t want their highest level executives to just keep spending money on campaigns. Traditionally, the marketer’s role was to spend a lot of money to make sure everybody knew about the brand. It’s frustrating for a CEO right now because you can’t really find what the ROI is on a lot of marketing and advertising. The CMO now has to think more in terms of a chief revenue officer: “How do I use my creative talents and my relationship within the sales and marketing world to help bring money into the company and grow the company?”

SMM: You address the trends that will be shaped by what you call Generation Alpha, whose oldest members are only 5. That’s looking ahead!

Grossman: It’s not just the fact that they’re being born with tablets or phones in their hands, but especially in the United States this is the generation that is being born during the Trump administration. How will that shape the attitudes, behaviors and proclivities of younger people? But in truth, this generation may be less digital. The human element is going to become more important. I think that the experience of selling face-to-face is going to come back more than ever before. Digital ecosystems are going to help transactions happen a lot more seamlessly, but the technology is going to happen in the background and people are going to still crave that personal connection. That’s why all of us should not be scared about AI taking our jobs. We should just become better at being empathetic, understanding connectivity and really helping [customers] understand what the product is and how it’s going to make their job easier. It’s because things are becoming so complex that the salesperson and the marketer are going to have to be better teachers.