“You can’t market what we do and you can’t sell what we do. We’re a commodity and an expense; companies aren’t looking for us – they only call when they need us.”
I’ve heard some version of this statement from dozens of clients and prospective clients over the 8+ years we’ve been in business. I heard it hundreds of times from my sales and marketing partners when I was in corporate software sales and marketing.
It’s a total bullshit statement put out by leadership that hasn’t kept up with the market or is too lazy or afraid to take on a new challenge.
What’s prompting my “outrage” here?
It was triggered by a post Mark Schaefer put up on LinkedIn: Why marketing technology is sucking the life out of out the marketing profession.
I completely agree with his assessment, and I commented that the challenge with marketing technology is that it seems to make everything measurable. We can see what “works” and so we do more of it – more email (spam), more cold calls, more AdWords. Tactics we can measure. And in the process, we allow executives to totally miss the point of marketing – it isn’t advertising and it isn’t a single tactic (what I hear many days) but rather the collective group of actions, tactics, and research that get to what the customer needs, wants, and will improve their situation measurably.
Back to the bullshit statement
If your business is focused on customer needs and wants and your goal is to improve their situation measurably, you are not a commodity – full stop.
If you’re paying attention to your market and your customers (as opposed to yourself), you can find new ways to package and present your services or products. Consumer product companies understand this and are always looking for new ways to package and offer what they have to a new demographic. B2B companies, in general, miss this point completely.
If your company is B2B – a business that only (primarily) sells to other businesses – you have to avoid the trap of thinking you’re marketing and selling to other businesses. Businesses are made up of people, and it’s them you’re marketing and selling to – and just like in the consumer world, there are different demographics that seek out information in different ways and learn things differently.
If you’re an executive in your firm, you need to remember that the people you marketed and sold to ten years ago are now in different roles (like you are) and it’s likely someone younger has replaced them – and they do things differently. So what worked for you ten or fifteen years ago probably isn’t going to work today. You may not be a digital native, but the person inside the company you’re selling to, whose attention you’re trying to get, probably is.
It isn’t about doing more and more of what worked (you know it worked because you could measure it). It’s about being creative in your approach to market with your product or service.
And if you sell a complex product or service – one with a long sale cycle – you have to remember that nurturing a lead by giving them useful, helpful information over the length of their buying cycle is in fact marketing to them in a way that will influence them to buy from you when they need someone.
We don’t like to be sold, but we do like to buy
If you think marketing = advertising and when you think 'sales' the local used car dealer pops into your head, let’s do a quick reset.
Marketing is the process of helping your prospects along their buyer’s journey by offering them information and insight that helps them make the right decision (for them). It’s not just the tactics (the promotion P in the 4 P’s), but also packaging and communicating the right value at the places they’ll go (often the internet) to learn how to solve their problem (the other 3 P’s). Marketing is a one-to-many activity and is a team sport played with sales. And there are hundreds (thousands) of tools that can help you do all of this more effectively.
Sales is the process of helping someone making a decision choose your alternative over the competing alternatives. It’s the process of showing how your product or service solution can best help the individual customer meet their individual need(s). Sales is a one-on-one (company-to-company) activity that your CRM system has to help you do better. But a CRM system is only as good as the way you use it.
Tying it together
So let me take the loose strings hanging about in this post and tie them up in a bow for you.
Your product or service is not a commodity. If you’re packaging and pricing it like everyone else, you’ve put yourself in a position where it feels like everyone is just deciding based on price (a commodity problem). Creativity and the guts to break the mold are called for: the CPA firm that charges based on value. The lawyer that prices on outcome. The software company that provides services at a fixed price. The marketing company that guarantees leads (yeah, we do that). These aren’t unique per se, but they are different and are not a commodity.
What worked before won’t get you where you want to go now. That new way of packaging or pricing your products and services needs to be promoted to a new buyer in a new way. Every B2B executive I talk to says they don’t think they have any use for Facebook – but 95% of business execs are on Facebook. (No, not for business, but who cares – they’re there and you can reach them. It’s the same reason AWS has been advertising in NFL games.) SEO strategies that worked before to get eyeballs to your B2B site work less well and will require a bigger investment to get the same result – voice is changing the game. Do you want to keep playing the same game or should you look for another way to get leads? Millennials aren’t fond of email, but text and instant messaging could work – how do you try that?
Updating your vocabulary and understanding is a requirement. There are hundreds (thousands) of marketing automation vendors – but each has a different nuance you need to understand. Semantic search will affect SEO in dramatic ways. All the social platforms have new and different offerings that may make sense to leverage in your business. Text messaging, instant messaging, and chat all change the natural flow of a conversation. Directory optimization is important for some businesses and meaningless for others. I joke (kind of) that I get a PhD in marketing every two years. If you’re investing in learning about this stuff, hire an agency (a team, not one person) that is also invested.
Metrics are important, but not the only measure of your marketing. An email campaign worked well because the subject line happened to line up with a national news story you didn’t count on – is that a baseline measurement you want to use? Or do you use the trade show lead that closed as your biggest deal last year as a metric for the show success (because you don’t realize that the only reason they came to your booth was because a friend forwarded them an email they received from you. And they forwarded it because they thought it would be relevant based on a discussion they had with you at a cocktail party)? Some metrics are outliers. Some are lightning in a bottle. Some are accurate. If you don’t do enough marketing programs on an ongoing basis to know which are which, they are all irrelevant.
If you’re still reading, thanks. For your next step, stop and take a look at your marketing. What you are doing, have been doing, and plan to do. Have you asked the hard questions about whether you are doing it because it “kind of” worked before or you don’t know what else to do?
We’d be happy to ask the hard questions and provide some insight into possibilities. Give us a call or drop me an email.