Saturday, January 06, 2007

sales has nothing to do with the product in itself

Seth Godin. Seth Godin.

If you're selling, marketing, advertising, or influencing anything in any way, you need to read Seth Godin. I can think of no other business book writer who is not only a hardcore, albeit eccentric (e.g., no comments), blogger, but whose blog really and consistently continues expanding the messages of his books.

Ah, to be fair though, Tom Peters, Shel Israel, Scott Ginsberg, and John Hagel III do it. Not many others, though.

I visit a lot of marketing blogs. Most marketing blogs, including my own Vaspers the Grate, has ups and downs, relevance and irrelevance, self-confessionals mixed with universal principles, exhibitionism burdening valid insights.

Yak yak yak we go, blabbering about still another worthless conference we attended or heard about, jabber jabber jabber we go, off on privately important tangents that bore our readers to death, on and on and on, about music or meals or mushy stuff.

Not Seth.

Every single post, though sometimes self-referencing and even self-promotional, always seems to contain a brilliant, practical, immediately usable lesson, insight, or marching order. He doesn't always tell you what to do. But he always show some path, an orientation, a potent principle or keynote.

I think of Seth's Blog as my school of higher learning in the realm of sales and marketing. I'll go there and just read a long string of posts, then usually I'll bounce off one in particular, and write a post about it and link to it, or I'll mention an idea I obtained, and credit him as the source.

One book he wrote disturbs me. It's his All Marketers are Liars. He says we should focus, not on features or benefits, but on a story that your customers really yearn to believe. I totally disagree with this. I think we're tired of hearing stories we wanted to believe, then got screwed when we found out the story was just a way to captivate us and our wallets.

I will buy or borrow that disturbing book and see if I can deconstructively gain any good information from it. Until then, I'm on the antagonist side. I still herald his Free Prize Inside as one of the most important and powerful marketing books ever written, right up there with Al Ries, Jack Trout, Laura Ries, Harvey MacKay, and Peter Drucker.

But here is a quite interesting post Seth recently posted. My running commentary is in [bracketed red type].

"The difference between strategy and tactics"


I got a note from a frustrated marketer yesterday. She wanted to understand how to grow her business. It felt like they were doing everything right. They had a motivated, well-trained salesforce, a great product, a decent website, etc. Everyone was working super hard.

[VASPERS: Not one word about the customer. "Working super hard"...for what? To create a great product? NO. You must work super hard to understand and fully satisfy the customers. The product is a mere afterthought, side-effect, or by-product of a more serious and relevant process.

This company seems all backwards to begin with.

It's not about us and our great products. It's about them and their great needs, dreams, and hopes. Our customers are what must drive and saturate everything we do. When the focus is on "we" and "us" and "our", our product, our marketshare, our mindshare, our success, then we are all screwed up, selfishly myopic and mediocre fools.]

Her question: "We sell something to manufacturing companies, something that would essentially replace a large part of the plant operations team. Obviously, we can't sell to them, because they want to get bigger, not smaller. We need to sell to the CEO, but we can't get his attention because the savings involved aren't big enough to get his attention. How do we get to the CEO?"

[VASPERS: Notice, in our deconstruction, how it's

"we sell something": the emphasis is on selfish motivation, it roughly translates, in the customer's mind as: "we like money and the way we obtain money, which we love, is to sell some shit to some chump".

Why am I so harsh?

Because the only "benefit" stated is the replacing of "a large part of the plant operations team".

It bears repeating, because I suspect it was blurted out, and meant to be immune to inspection: "...that would essentially replace a large part of the plant operations team." Do I detect a glint of glee in this strident statement?

It sounds arrogant and rude. It also contains no benefit to manufacturer or customer.

Why replace a stable and production plant operations team? With what? A "something"? Is it a machine? Doubtful. Then, perhaps yet another over-bloated under-tested Plant Operations Management Software Package? A web services scheme? How reliable and easy to use is it? How long will it take for the operators of the operations software to fully master? How secure from hacking is this "something"?]

This feels like a tactical problem. It's not. It's a strategy question. And the strategy involves the entire business and the products they choose to sell.

Here's the difference: The right strategy makes any tactic work better. The right strategy puts less pressure on executing your tactics perfectly.

Here's the obligatory January skiing analogy: Carving your turns better is a tactic. Choosing the right ski area in the first place is a strategy. Everyone skis better in Utah, it turns out.

If you are tired of hammering your head against the wall, if it feels like you never are good enough, or that you're working way too hard, it doesn't mean you're a loser. It means you've got the wrong strategy.

[VASPERS: Yes, but I would take it just one stage deeper into the heart of the matter: ya got the wrong ATTITUDE and the wrong VISION of what you're doing.

We don't need more terrific and astonishing products. We need more easy, painless, quick, dependable solutions to various problems. We need more power and opportunity to enjoy our hobbies, careers, families, and obsessive pursuits.

If all you've got is a miracle product and a genius marketing strategy, you're doomed for oblivion and poverty.

You need to become the customer, crawl into his or her skin, and experience the world through their lifestyles and moods. You need to be the knight in shining armor with the perfect solution. You need to worry and fuss about the customer. You should constantly wonder about better ways to solve more and more of the customer's problems. Get obsessed with the customer, and pull your head out of its narcissistic, "we/our product" BS.

Sales is all about the customer, and has nothing to do with the product in itself. No matter how miraculous and unique you've brainwashed yourself into thinking it is. I'll tell you what a real miracle is: for a product, and its ability to solve customer problems, to rise above mediocrity.]

It takes real guts to abandon a strategy, especially if you've gotten super good at the tactics. That's precisely the reason that switching strategies is often such a good idea. Because your competition is afraid to.


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