Perry Marshall Interview: Getting to the Rock Bottom of Real Problems to Reduce Competition

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Perry Marshall is the ultimate guru when it comes to sales and marketing. Touted as one of the world’s most expensive business consultants, he is an expert at getting to the root cause of business problems. That’s why his sage advice is an indispensable tool for all Change Creators. His book, “80/20 Sales and Marketing,” was rated as one of the “5 Best Sales Books of 2013” by Marshall describes the book as being “as valuable as a year at MBA school.”

Among Marshall’s many accomplishments is the founding of the $10 million Evolution 2.0 Prize, with judges from Harvard, Oxford, and MIT. The world’s largest science prize, announced at the Royal Society in Great Britain, aims to solve the biggest mystery in biology — to find the origin of the genetic code. This is remarkable when you consider that his roots are neither in biology nor in marketing — he has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Nebraska.

Easy Problems and Quick Fixes

In our exclusive interview, Marshall shares with us some key elements to business success. Through his founding of the Evolution 2.0 Prize, he came to learn that “most people only try to solve superficial problems.” This issue can be applied to practically any profession. Most of us, if given a choice, would prefer to just solve the easy problems we encounter with quick fixes and just get on with our day. Marshall, on the other hand, suggests we should ask ourselves what the most challenging (business) problem we’re facing is that we actually have any chance of solving and then mount a campaign around that.

Digging Deep

Marshall likens asking the tough questions and solving complex problems to digging in a swamp. The bottom of a swamp, once you dig way down, is made of hard rock on which you can lay a foundation. In the same manner, repeatedly asking yourself tough business questions like “Why is my competition doing better than me?” and “Why can’t I afford the click prices in my Facebook advertising?” will help you get to the root of the problem as opposed to putting a band-aid on the issue. And when you get to the rock bottom of your problem, you’ll see that the competition starts to fall away. He reminds us that this is a necessary step because all of our problems are deeper than we think they are. 

Are Your Business Objectives the Right Ones?

Asking yourself a lot of tough questions about your business will help shed light on where you are and where you need to be.

And a lot of times you find out you’ve been putting your ladder of success on the wrong wall.

You may very well find that you don’t even have the right objective to begin with. Marshall admits it may be a bit of a painful process, but digging deep into your business issues will hurt a lot less in the long run than blindly plastering it with band-aids.

We also recommend: 

Transcription of Interview (Transcribed by There may be errors.)

Announcer 0:01
Welcome, this is the Change Creator Podcast.

Adam Force 0:11
Hey, what’s going on everybody? Welcome back to the Change Creator podcast show. Thank you for being here. And if you missed our last episode, it was with Drew Dudley — he talks about how to become a better leader that makes a difference in this crazy world and we know we need better leaders these days, right? So that’s an episode if you missed it, go back. Check it out. I think you guys are gonna get a lot of good nuggets out of that from Drew. This week, we are talking with the one and only Perry Marshall. If you guys don’t know Perry Marshall, he is the probably one of the most expensive and sought after business consultants out there.

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3.0 and we are in the depths of making this baby happen. And we have gotten so much incredible feedback from people. We are excited to roll this out. So we’re looking at a September, a late September-ish roll out, maybe mid September if we can keep things going as quick as they have been. And it’s going to be really cool guys powerful stuff.

So, the application of taking what we’re teaching around marketing and storytelling and strategy and all this stuff, and really applying it to build automated systems for your business.

So that, going forward, you have sustainable growth. So yeah, that’s exciting stuff. And you guys, check that out. There is a waitlist right now if you go to the Captivate landing page, you can get on the waitlist for the announcements. Alright guys, I don’t want to hold you up any longer. We’re gonna dive into this conversation with Perry and really talk about what he has going on and tap into that marketing expertise. 

Hey, Perry, welcome to the change greater podcast show. How are you doing today?

Perry Marshall 3:00
It’s a beautiful and very warm day in Chicago. And it’s there’s a nice big, bushy green tree outside my window. And it’s fun to look at it. So how are you doing this afternoon?

Adam Force 3:12
I’m doing pretty awesome. I’m in Miami, it’s also warm and the weather is nice, the sun is shining. So can’t complain over here, either. I don’t have a tree outside my window. But I do have some water! So let’s dive into what you have going on in your world today. I know that you’ve got you got a lot of incredible experience. And I just want to hear like what’s the latest right now? What’s going on?

Perry Marshall 3:39
Well, the absolute latest, which I would say is in some sense, a lesson in 80/20. I’ve had a project called evolution 2.0 now for, well, about five years, to the external world much longer than that for me internally. And, I organized a technology prize to solve one of the deepest problems in science. And something very interesting happened to me.

So as of about a couple months ago, it was a $5 million prize. We’re searching for the origin of the genetic code, which is really a very relevant problem to everything. Because if we could solve this, we would also actually have a real AI. Siri is as dumb as a box of rocks. Anybody noticed? Siri could not convince a six-year-old that it’s a real person for more than about 30 seconds, right? I think if we could actually we would actually have real AI if we could solve this problem. And so I had a $5 million prize.

Well, I get this email out of the blue from an Oxford professor who goes, Hey, you don’t know me, but blah, blah, blah, bottom line, you know, me and this other professor would like to have you come to the Royal Society in Great Britain, and talk about your prize and host a media event.

And after I picked my jaw up off the floor, because the Royal Society’s basically the most prestigious scientific organization and old, I’m like a Yes, sir. I’ll be there. And then I flew into action. And, and I went to all the backers that had turned me down before. And I got a couple more to come on board. And it enabled me to raise my prize to $10 million. And it got ran in the Financial Times two days later.

So why am I telling you about this? Well, I guess the first reason is because you asked, What does this have to do with the average entrepreneur? Well, I want you to think about it like this: I have an electrical engineering degree from the University of Nebraska and I do marketing consulting for a living.

And about 10 years ago, I was so distraught at certain things in science that I decided to write an evolution book. And the question is, how does a guy with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering who does marketing consulting for a living, get invited to the Royal Society? Okay, well, believe me, it wasn’t because of some wacky publicity stunt. Or, I know some trick I came up with on LinkedIn or any, anything like that at all.

Okay, here’s what it was, what it really was. I identified a very, very basic fundamental problem that nobody has solved. And I came up with a new way of skinning the cat, that was completely legit. That’s how I got to the Royal Society, like, well, 10 million real dollars by real investors and a properly defined definition of the problem, and relationships. So like, along the way, I get the leading geneticists at Harvard Medical School on my judging panel.

And, and so I’m a complete outsider in that business, okay, I’m not, I’m not a credentialed scientist. But and here’s what I found, what I found was that the average typical rank and file scientist wouldn’t touch my project with a 10-foot pole. And it’s not because they didn’t think it was interesting. But it was because I was too much of an outsider. And they couldn’t, you know, most of them can’t really take risks.

The ones that did take interest in did play ball were the Titans, actually, they were the big guys who are bulletproof. And now, I think there’s actually a very deep lesson in this in and here’s what it is, most people only try to solve superficial surface-level problems, right? And so, like, if you look at any profession, I don’t care if it’s scientists or chiropractors or injection molding machine makers or podcasters, or anybody, okay. Most people, they’ll only tackle the easy problems.

Adam Force 9:02
Yeah, yeah. tends to happen that way.

Perry Marshall 9:04
And then they’ll and they’ll collect a paycheck. Right? Um, I think your mission should you choose to accept it is to look around you. And ask yourself, what is the biggest, baddest, deepest problem that I have any chance of solving, and that I actually have some idea how you might go about doing that. And then mount a campaign to actually take it out.

Adam Force 9:35

Perry Marshall 9:36
Now, this is not like quick and easy advice that you can do in like three hours. Okay. This project, I’ve actually been working on it for 15 years. 10 years, in earnest in the form that it’s become now. Okay, but again, how many people do go do anything at the Royal Society? And I’m not bragging. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Okay? I just say, when you deal with really, like when you go to the roots of things, or I like to say the bottom of the swamp, where you like you touch, like, it’s not, like the bottom of the swamp isn’t swampy at the bottom of the swamp, like, there’s granite, down there.

There’s limestone, like, there’s cement, it’s like, there is a solid rock bottom. When you get to the rock bottom of problems, you’re in a whole different playing field, and you have a whole lot less competition. And, and that is so different from the usual advice that people are giving. I think that’s what we should be talking about today.

Adam Force 10:58
Yeah, I agree. 100%. And do you have just based on your experience, and you know, I know, you have a lot of experience in the marketing consulting world and all that kind of stuff, we could talk a little bit about the 80/20. But based on what you’re talking about, and taking on bigger problems, just the thought process, because I think you’re right. I mean, there’s a lot of people that have taken it at the surface level, and they say, you know, what’s the easiest problem, I could solve the itch and get a paycheck.

And, you know, part of what we’re all about is, is getting into systems thinking and taking on bigger and larger problems that are solving real social issues. So it does take a different mindset. And I guess, you know, if it’s something that you’re passionate about, and it aligns to your values, you might have more motivation around it. I’m wondering if you have thoughts around, you know, just approaching those larger problems and the thought processes around it?

Perry Marshall 11:49
Yeah. So first of all, I just want to point out that when we’re talking about getting to the bottom of the swamp, this doesn’t just have to be gigantic global issues. Okay, this could be the immediate problems that are on your desk right now, in in the course of you know, what came up this afternoon at work. It could be that, but what I’m talking about is that you actually get to the root of the problem, instead of putting a bandaid on it. So right. So let me give you like a marketing example, that anybody listening to this can understand. So. So you say, Hey, you know, I’ve been advertising on Facebook, but the clicks are too expensive. And I can’t afford to do this anymore. And so then, somebody says, Why?

Adam Force 12:46

Perry Marshall 12:48
Well, because I’m not getting enough click-through rate. Oh, okay. Well, so we go fix that by writing better ad copy or having better pictures, and then we get a better click-through rate. And then, oh, you know, I still actually have great ads, and they have a quality score of nine. But I, but I still can’t afford the click prices. Why? Well, maybe then the next answer is you’re trying to sell $20 ebooks in a market that’s selling $5,000 Mediterranean cruises.

And the economics of the cruise companies are way better than yours. So there’s no way you could do that. Right? And then and then we go, Well, why are you selling ebooks? Why don’t you sell cruises? And you go, Oh, well, like that’s too hard. Right? Or maybe, maybe then you start selling cruises because you work out a deal with some company but some other company is kicking your ass. And, and they can pay twice as much as you can. And you go, Why? And it’s because they have a back end. And they can afford to acquire a customer at a breakeven or even a loss and not making any money because they’re going to make money three months, six months, 12 months down the road. And then you say well, why can’t we do something even better than that?

And where it’s going to usually end up taking you is — Well, you know what people, we need to design a fundamentally better, more appealing vacation than everybody else’s Mediterranean cruise. And your real problem is you’re just a look alike. Like you’re just like everybody else. Okay, so you, you can go through all these layers, right? You can read a whole book on Facebook advertising. And then you can fix that part of a problem. But you still have a problem. Like, and that might not fix the problem at all.

Because you’re trying to sell $20 ebooks and your competition is selling $5,000 cruises, and there’s no way like ever that your economics whatever, keep up with that, right? And, and so and so if you ask “why” five times, you’re probably getting pretty close to the actual root of the problem. And what I find, what I find is true is when you finally start getting to that why number four, or why number five, most people don’t even want to go there. They’re starting to cringe. They’re like, Oh, my word. Like, is that what we’re going to have to do?

And a lot of times you find out you, you’ve been putting your ladder of success on the wrong wall. Like you don’t even have the right giant objective to begin with. And then what happens is, is there’s all these shallow people going around and going, Oh, well, you know, I’ll get you 10,000 clicks to your website for only $179. You need me, right? And like, that’s, you know, if it ever works at all, it’s only a band aid, and it probably isn’t even going to work anyway. But then desperate people who don’t really want to fix their real problems, they’ll fall for it. And this happens just all the time. Right? And so if you ask why five times you will probably get to the real answer.

Adam Force 16:38
Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I love that you brought it up. And it’s such an important exercise. And it’s actually something a small piece of something that we take people through in one of our programs as well. And, you know, you mentioned that people cringe. And in our, you know, members, like private group, we ask people to share certain things so they can get feedback, and people are afraid to share their five “whys.” They don’t want to share it. That’s your point. They’re uncomfortable with how deep it goes, you know? It’s a common thing.

Perry Marshall 17:07
So yeah, you know, all of our problems are a lot deeper than we then we think they are. And but again, when when you go after the deep problems, so for example, you know, I got famous in the marketing world for Google ads, and I would have all these people come to workshops, and they’re like, okay, so Perry is going to fix my Google ads.

And so here’s a perfect example. So I had a guy. He was he was in the car shipping business. So if you want to ship your car from Dallas to Los Angeles, on a truck, then these are the guys you call. And so he had taken our Google Ads courses and gotten reasonably good. And then he signs up in this program. And I think what he thought was going to happen was we were just going to get better and better and better and better and better at Google ads. Right?

And on the first coaching call, it said, Okay, so, Michael, the name is Michael Strickland. Michael, why should I buy car shipping from your company instead of any and every other car shipper or broker out there? Because there’s a ton of them? He’s like, uhhhh… He didn’t really have any answer. Okay. And I said, Okay, dude, you’re living on borrowed time, I’d say you got about six months to figure out a really good answer to this question, and lock it in place. Otherwise, somebody is going to eat your lunch, and they’re going to replace you, they’re going to outbid you, you’re going to drown you’re going to be out of business. And so, so we went through a whole process that we call definitive selling proposition, where we started asking the systematic methodical attacking these questions.

Alright, so what can he do better than everybody else? How? How can? How can he have a guarantee? What kind of guarantee would we do? And what we ended up with was, we created this, this guarantee, so if you go to ship a car direct com, which is his website, you’ll actually see it’s got a picture of a blue Ford Mustang in the gloves. And the white gloves of somebody holding it in his hand. And it says, if your car experiences any damage, we pay the insurance deductible. We guarantee that your car gets there safe.

Okay, now, all by itself, a guarantee like that is only sort of interesting. But see this is this is where it actually kicks in because he was a broker, like he’s not a shipper, he finds the shippers, yeah, this means he’s got to get shippers that aren’t going to damage his cars. So now he’s got to have an internal rating system for all the different shippers. And he’s got to based on all his his previous experience.

And so what he did was he created a system where all the different car shipping companies, there’s a private bidding system, where every time a job comes in,  they can all see that it’s come in and they can bid on it. And they rank prioritize the ones it’s kind of like Yelp except internal to them, right? Well, only the five star guys ever get a job. Maybe once in a while a four star guy might get one. But none of the threes or twos are ever going to get any jobs. Okay, well, that’s actually called network effect, because he has a way of matching consumers to vendors with the knowledge that is not available in general marketplace. And the bigger his company gets, the more that knowledge he has, and it just snowballs. And this is how he became the number one car shipping guy in the industry.

Okay, and remember, he started thinking that his problem was Google ads. And what we did was we said, Why, why, why, why? And you can follow it all the way to Oh, well, now now we have a private ranking system for all these trucking companies. And they all have scorecards and stuff. And that’s why, like, that’s why you should buy for me, it’s not even because I have a sexier Google ad. Right? It’s like, look at all my testimonials. And then you look, he’s got all these stars and all these reviews. And it all feeds itself. Right. And that’s because he asked why, why, why, why, why? And, I mean, believe me and some of these coaching calls and some of these questions that we would be asking each other, it got to be nauseating and granular and, and you know skullduggery to, it’s like, well, how do we build this thing out to the nth degree? But he’s got it built out. Yeah, it’s a really valuable business.

Adam Force 22:30
Yeah. Wow. That’s a great example. Just to show the depth because you’re right, that differentiation, especially today, and I’m curious to get your perspective on something, which is, you know, you have your business differentiation, which is powerful for the beneficiary, right for the for the customer.

And I’m curious as today as people are going through these processes, you know, to talk about differentiation, which is the founder, like, look at Blake Mycoskie, with TOMS shoes. And there’s a major differentiation that nobody can copy or steal, which is his founder and origin story, the reason that TOMS started and the value the value is it aligned to so his, which he guided all the decision making for TOMS. So he’s in Argentina, saw all these kids in poverty, no shoes on, that kind of thing. And nobody could steal that story from him.

And I’m curious if you’re seeing an evolution in companies and how consumers are interested in people who are doing good business, and they want to know, who is this person? And can I trust them? And do I want to do business with them and buy their products?

Perry Marshall 23:40
So I think there’s a yin and a yang to this. I think the Yin is, is that your own story is the most unique thing in the world, and nobody can steal it from you. And that is a great start. And the Yang is on the back of that story. You need to build a business system, that eventually nobody else’s really great story can overcome because of what it’s intrinsically able to provide. So I don’t know whether Michael had a great story for his ship a car business,

I don’t recall that he really did. But he was a little smarter than everybody else in some respects. And he had gotten ahead of everybody else. But then he had to turn that guarantee into a shipping network. And now and so now he has both sides. So it’s kind of like, you know, there, it’s like, you might need a temporary moat around your castle just to keep the cowboys and Indians out. Right. And it’s made out of plywood. And that might actually be okay, for a little while. But eventually, you need bricks. You know? And stones and moats and everything like that.

Adam Force 25:06
Yeah, I think that makes sense. And, you know, if you don’t have a great, you know, authentic origin story, then you need a great product story.

Perry Marshall 25:14
Right. So, right, right. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you. Although, yeah, your own personal story, certainly. And, and I find that, you know, and really transactional products, these, these stories aren’t such a big deal. But when when you get to highly considered purchases, or if if they’re going to be following you for a long period of time, your personal story becomes more important than the particulars of your product.

Adam Force 25:45
It’s true. And I’ve interviewed people where even you know, small companies who are having a big impact, they will have customers that say, I’m so excited when I buy your product, because I’m proud to be part of the story. I’m proud of, like, what you stand for. And so people are really into, you know, trying to make good decisions that they they’re happy about like that.

Perry Marshall 26:05
That’s right.

Adam Force 26:07
Yeah. So I know, we’re going to be closing out on time real quick. But you know, man, you got so much I could pick your brain on between Facebook and the 80/20. We didn’t get to tap into too much. I’d be curious, like, you know, you know, will will, as far as Facebook goes – you know, you kind of mentioned this, it’s kind of like the tactics don’t matter if you don’t have like a strong foundation so that if the strategy is broken, that that actual, you know, the differentiation we’ve been talking about here, and you know, what really makes you stand out? If that’s not there, then all the tactics won’t matter. Right?

Perry Marshall 26:43
That’s right. That’s right.

Adam Force 26:45
Yeah. So do you have any insights just to close this out — and I’m gonna let you go — just on Facebook marketing, because everybody does want to win on Facebook, including our team and we have certain successes with things starting a sales funnel with like, certain free downloads, right versus just trying to sell a product directly. So any any top level advice for the small budget, starting entrepreneur who wants to get small wins through Facebook?

Perry Marshall 27:14
Well, so I’ll give you a quick tip. And then and then a larger strategy. The quick tip is that I think almost all pay per click now starts with remarketing and retargeting and and you start with that. And you think of it as your inner concentric circle the bull’s eye, and then you go,

Okay, so how can I expand this retargeting out a little further like, well, it could be retargeting people for five days instead of three days, for example, or two weeks instead of one week. And then how do I go to the next step? So that’s, like, just a really quick tactic. The strategy is everything in online advertising is 80/20. It follows 80/20. So it with with one minute to go here, I’ll just tell a quick story. A week ago, I had beers with a friend of mine, not exactly from my business world, and he’s getting ready to spend $206,000 on a two year MBA program.

And I said, Hey, have you read my 80/20 sales and marketing book? And he goes, I have it, but I haven’t read it. I said, Look me in the eye. I looked him in the eye. He looked me in the eye. I said, this book is as valuable as a year of MBA school. And he goes — he’s got a PhD from Cambridge already — and I said, he goes, are you serious? And I said, I’m serious. This book will totally change your life. We sell it for $7, including shipping at If you go buy it, you’ll find out why. If you understand 80/20 at a deep level, you’ll be able to figure out almost any Facebook problem at a level of principle. So, I must go. It’s been great. Great talking to you today. Thank you for having me on.

Adam Force 29:06
Pleasure to have you, Perry. I appreciate your time and expertise and keep up all the amazing work. Good luck with everything.

Perry Marshall 29:12
Thank you, thank you.

Announcer 29:13
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