“DEVELOPING!” – is the stock answer I give when people ask me “how ya doing”. I view my personality, skills and career in constant evolution and I’ve learnt a trick or two over the years as a consequence. Being open and acceptant to potential sources of knowledge has increased the perspectives that I’m equipped to analyse information and challenges from, broadening my understanding. At the centre of my radar is the language I use to explain the development of my thoughts, as resistance can range from the obvious to the obscure! I’m not suggesting that I get my language right all the time, but being aware of the power and importance of effective communication, helps me to articulate a message that resonates positively according to the audience.
Evolution is a constant in today’s world of technical revolution and continued fiscal turbulence and to those that favour the status-quo, it must be frustrating and limiting. The language used by our media to drip feed and describe the day’s unfolding events is so sensational that it has whipped the average Joe up into an uninformed frenzy. This has facilitated the growth of armchair football managers and financiers and a longing for an honest politician! But my view on this is “good luck with that, Joe. It is not the fit that survive it is those that adapt!”
Prior to banker-bashing and politicians’ expense scandals, the humble salesman has been abused with suspicion for decades! Pretty much each company I have been connected with I have witnessed a resistance from both customer and colleague to the salesman’s patter! I’m not sure if there is one definitive attribute of a salesman that activates our inbuilt suspicion radar, but culturally the average Brit (when compared to an American) is not predisposed to be sold to and therefore may account for some of this resistance.
The damage to the salesman’s reputation has not been achieved single handily or by anyone group or industry. Popular culture and literature have set the tone, from Death of a Salesman, to Tommy Boy to Boiler Room, these tales have bombard the public with negative stereotypes. So it is little wonder with images and a reputation like these, a survey asking college and university students “would you consider a career in sales” resulted in a resounding NO! This survey was in the Harvard Business Review and it was a statistic that shocked me. As to obtain 0% of the vote is really saying something about a department, especially since on average it pays higher salaries than other departments and is critical to commercial survival.
Selling the product or product centric marketing has worked for generations, but it was realised sometime ago that possessing a great product and being able to talk about the features and benefits was not enough; James Dyson can testify to that! James built 5,127 prototypes prior to hitting the market with the perfect dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. The concept was pure genius and yet he couldn’t convince anyone to buy it. James’ first sale came from a Japanese shopping catalogue, which snowballed into international recognition and an Innovation award. At this point Britain sat up and was ready to listened, but the product sales pitch was over; Dyson’s message had progressed from a product pitch to a vacuum revolution!
The days of the madmen marketers’ product-centric pitch has evolved since the 60s to a customer focused softer dialogue, which in essence was a logical progression. Marketing 2.0 or Solution Selling is a sales methodology that augments the simple promotion of an existing product, requiring the salesperson to focus on the customer's pain and looks to address the issue with their product offering (product and services). The resolution of the pain is what constitutes a true "solution". A limitation of this approach is that not all customers buy to address a "pain", not every need is a problem needing a solution. But many a company has made the mindset shift from marketing 1.0 to 2.0 and sent their sales teams out in droves to get to know their customers. One of my old bosses once said “knowing your customer means to know their needs and only then can you innovate with solutions”. Well in the linearity from 1.0 to 2.0 he was right and at the time I was caught up in the mind-shift to solution selling, or as I like to put it “the King is dead, long live the King!”
But when I sit back and unpick solution selling (marketing 2.0) I find further limitations with the methodology, as its arrogance relies on the customer’s inability to surface a solution other than via the knowledge of the salesman (subject matter expert). But in my experience, the customer is pretty smart and will usually possess a playbook by which to educate themselves. To combat their knowledge gap, the client will invite multiple companies into review the issue, building up their knowledge and in many a case, to the point they are able to commoditise the sale from a value based solution to a transactional sale. The further we progress with technology the greater the knowledge gap shrinks between salesman and client, thus reducing the effectiveness of solution selling.
Tim Berners-Lee changed all our lives beyond recognition with the invention of the internet. But for the sales person it was a double edged sword. Although the web increased the salesman’s scope of opportunity offering a greater reach, it changed the competitive landscape exponentially. One by one, organisations opened their digital shop windows to allow customers to browse their products. In many cases it allowed those that had achieve the mind-shift to 2.0 to regress back to marketing 1.0 perceiving their internet presence as merely a digitised brochure. Mixed messages and tactical marketing often confuses the customer, uncoupling the marketing pitch from the sales pitch and generating suspicion. Today’s customers are information hungry and are seeking ways they can trust the company and the salesman, reaching out for tangible and intangible cues of credibility. Consumers look to translate the intangible into tangible cues through websites, social media and purchasing forums.
network more than they trust the experts in the company!
Consumers are engaging in a similar practice, by going beyond the borders of the corporate website and the sales pitch; they are forming opinions based on content that exists in social media and gauging the personality of the delivery? Here marks the death of solutions selling! Why? Well if the customer now understands all that he needs to know about your company and your staff, what is left for the salesman to say? The salesman and his product are now just a commodity and back in a price war with his competitor. Where’s the REVOLUTION?
Referring back to Dyson’s journey, you would have thought he’d learnt a lesson after his vacuum cleaner. But that didn’t stop him launching the washing machine that washed clothes faster and used less energy. Did it sell? A few! Did he cause a revolution? No. Are they still making the washing machine? No! Was the washing machine a brilliant solution in today’s energy strapped environment? In my opinion, yes!
So what’s the answer? Well marketing 1.0 and 2.0 are not wrong, they are just limited and therefore its marketing strategy is prone to demise with the increase in market competition and competitor strategy replication. What is also likely to transpire is that the market will become so crowded with one message (strategy) that the intended message will get drowned out or lost. But knowing what I know of management and marketers, marketing 1.0 and 2.0 are the easy-go-to when it comes to offering differentiation.
An alternative is for a company to connect with their customers beyond their product offering, requiring the articulation of their corporate cultural personality and DNA. A company’s culture and personality is the essence of their differentiation, but most managers’ are either ill equipped to translate and articulate their company’s culture or are concerned that the values that designed to hold the culture together are not authentic.
Achieving and translating authentic differentiation as the differentiator is the first step to the development of marketing 3.0. At this state or marketing evolution a great product or service is expected (operational excellence), but it is the history, personality and values that the customer is searching for. Brand image that is non-authentic will soon be spotted and cost the company dearly, as trying to sell a contradicting service personality repeatedly is sure fire failure!