Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's More Than Brown Sugar Water

In their textbook, Marketing Management, marketing gurus Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller suggest companies tend to see the market place through various lenses. Kotler’s preferred lens is the Holistic Marketing Concept, where a company creates lasting client relationships through integrating sales, marketing, customer service and all client touch points. Another lens some companies use is the Selling Concept. The Selling Concept states that, since consumers will not buy enough of the organization’s goods and services on their own, the organization must employ aggressive selling and promotional efforts. The authors quote Sergio Zyman, former head of marketing for Coca-Cola as saying, “The purpose of marketing is to sell more stuff to more people more often for more money in order to make more profit.”

If you are over a certain age, the name Sergio Zyman and the irony of his statement are inescapable. Zyman presided over the classic New Coke debacle, the “Edsel” marketing mistake of the Boomer generation. Zyman’s quote conjures up the image of Herb Tarlek, the plaid coat / white belt advertising sales guy from the 1970’s television show WKRP in Cincinnati whose selling technique seemed to employ equal amounts of high pressure and begging.

Successful selling is not pushing. Successful selling is recognizing needs and meeting them better than anyone else. Successful sales people do these three things:

  1. They plan relentlessly: They’ve done their homework. They understand the issues the prospect faces, the business drivers, and even the internal politics. They know the players in the buying process and what personal agendas drive them. And they’ve worked up a plan to address each person’s perspective.
  2. They listen aggressively: Of course they listen to what is said, but they also listen to how it’s said, by whom, when it’s said, and what was not said. They look for non-verbal clues and voice intonation. They look beyond the words to the meaning. And they know the right questions to ask and when to ask them in order to generate dialog and uncover opportunities.
  3. They think strategically: The successful sales person lines up the stated and unstated needs and takes a big picture approach to matching those needs with his / her company’s capabilities. They look for a way to improve the client’s business first. They think big but understand a successful relationship often begins with small projects. And, if their firm’s capabilities don’t match the prospect’s needs, they skip the chance for a short term sale with an ill fitting solution in favor of a more profitable, higher value relationship down the road.

Trying to sell more stuff to more people is not the answer. Helping the client meet a need profitably is.

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