Timothy Mettelman
Timothy Mettelman 27 October 2014

Convincing The Impossible: What Marketing Needs To Learn From Sales

Why is marketing trying to convince everyone, everywhere?

An unexpected HBR article got me thinking this morning about perfect worlds.  The author posed a scenario of maximum competition between buyers and sellers, with perfect information flow between all parties, and derived the conclusion that hedge funds are, basically, proof that we’ll never live in a perfect world.  Noted.  The part about perfect information flow is – however – a bit more interesting.  When I need info for a client or a prospect I go to our rockstar marketing department.  But I know, and they know, and Mr or Ms Customer knows that whatever info I get will be presented in such a way that it ultimately helps me win the deal.  It’s understood that the content should convince them.  Nothing new here.  But I wonder, has that underlying motivation run rampant?  Why is marketing trying to convince everyone, everywhere? If information flow is imperfect – which it clearly is – why are we not taking advantage of that fact, like the hedge funds?  The problem is that marketers need to think more like salespeople than friends of the customer.


Wait, what?!


When I say marketers need to think like salespeople I don’t mean they should be trying to sell snow to polar bears or timeshares on a bridge, that’s still an act of convincing. I mean that marketers should focus on identifying who is a likely customer and separating them from the crowd.  When I go into sales meetings, I’m not only looking for a "yes," but also looking for a "no" and trying to get it as quickly as I can.  If my product isn’t right for you, I don’t want to sell it.  One day I will be selling something you need and I need to preserve the trust we have for that day.  Granted, I’ve spent enough time on the sales line that I can scout a ‘no’ well before a face-to-face meeting, but you get the point.  Marketers persist in convincing everyone because they believe that everyone can be convinced.  For them, the reason everyone isn’t convinced has to do with the limitations in ad budget, ad placement, and departmental resources.  Theoretically, everyone is a customer – they say.  False – say I.


Content marketing is camouflage.  There is nothing free in any loyalty program, ever.  People hate ads.  Trust me.


Steve Jobs famously said, "You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new." Implying that companies and, more specifically, marketers need to tell people what they want.  I think Jobs is spot on, but marketers go too far and interpret him as saying everyone is susceptible to being told what they want.  Even worse, this growing trend of customer centricity runs the risk of collecting input from everyone. That would just be a disaster.  The simple lesson that marketers need to learn from us salespeople is that some people will buy and some people won’t – save yourselves the headache and embarrassment by just focusing on identifying the people that are willing to buy, or, at least, willing to listen.


Truth and Consequences


Take a look at a wildly successful New England start-up called Planet Fitness.  They’re the gym that made a name for themselves with the “Lift things up and put them down” campaign.  From the beginning, they knew who they were going after: people who felt uncomfortable/awkward/not-fit-enough at traditional gyms.  There is a fair amount of people who feel intimidated by working out among ultra-fit strangers and Planet Fitness addressed a market need by providing a place for everyone who is not Arnold to work out.  Don’t forget to swing by for ‘Pizza Mondays.’


Planet Fitness is not shaming people into joining a gym, they’re not catching people after the holidays, they’re making fun of the traditional ideas surrounding fitness.  You don’t need huge biceps or six-pack abs, you just need to hit the gym every now and again and have fun while you’re there.  No one asked for Planet Fitness, but they drew a line in the sand and people came in droves.  This is what marketing should be and we’re all still selling – we’ve just stopped trying to convince. So let’s drop the act, highlight our intentions, underline the crazy in our message, and look for the ‘no’ as quickly as possible.


The Takeaway


We don’t live in a perfect world and we never will.  Hedge fund managers are not responsible for it, but they are taking advantage of it and good on them for doing so.  Why can’t marketers take similar advantage?  Is the idea of selling really all that bad? No! Of course not.  People need to be informed of products, they need to be offered the opportunity to purchase them, and they need to know what distinguishes one widget from the next.  But – and this is a big ‘but’ – marketers need to recognize that convincing is a useless endeavor.  Take advantage of the knowledge that not everyone will agree with me and be the first kid on your block to try new marketing! Realize that billboards claiming Economy Class is a better way to travel than Executive Class, make some people put down their coffees and start nodding their heads – no further convincing needed.  When a commercial says that cheeseburgers are part of a balanced diet, someone is out there raising their hand in solidarity.  These people are your market.  There are enough of them to grow any business. All you, as marketers, have to do is find them.


That last piece is undeniably the toughest.  Many of my creative colleagues in agencies and organizations are fairly good at controversial campaigns (find my favorites here, here, and here.) But it’s been the follow through that has fallen flat.  If marketers could identify individuals by their stated desires, dreams, and opinions, the sales guys and I would be… well, let’s say we’d be eternally grateful.  I am a much more effective educator than I am a salesperson.

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