Selling vs. Buying: A Marketing Wake-up Call

06/01/2010

Rooster Marketing 150x150 Selling vs. Buying: A Marketing Wake up CallLast week I posted a New Marketing Framework which sparked a set of interesting conversations about how marketing is changing.  I believe that marketing needs to shift its focus from selling to helping customers buy and product marketing has a big role to play.

The categories of marketing we’ve used traditionally have been very focused on “selling”.  The big 4 marketing groups-Branding, PR, Communications, and Product Marketing, reflect this inside-out, sales-oriented thinking.  Even at startups traditionally “marketing” has meant communications.  PR was outsourced to an agency and product marketing was assigned to product management where it was generally ignored.  Helping customers buy has not been a major focus for marketing.

The world has changed a lot, particularly around how customers discover and evaluate products.  The result is a big shift in control of the sales process toward prospects and away from companies. For this reason marketing now has to shift from selling toward helping customers buy.  Here’s what’s changed:

  • We don’t believe advertising (in fact we don’t believe much of anything companies tell us)- There was a time when if a company said they the best at something, we believed it.  But those claims weren’t always true so now we don’t believe what companies tell us anymore.
  • Customers can broadcast to the world – They might be happy, they might be upset but they now have a way to broadcast their stories without going through any media gate-keepers.
  • Prospects can easily communicate with each other – Before, during and after the sales cycle, potential customers can ask each other questions and learn about your offerings and your company in a way they never could before.
  • Information about products is easy to get (without having to talk to the company directly) – Old media might be suffering but if you are looking for product information, there are more sources than there have ever been.  There have been an explosion of niche blogs and review sites covering products.  Everyone from consultants to resellers and service providers is a potential source of information that can be accessed anywhere anytime.  Gone are the days when your first step to getting information about a product was to contact the company.  For many prospects, that is now the last step.

So what does this mean for marketing?  What changes when we are helping customers buy rather then selling them stuff?  A lot, including:

  1. Messaging – Your messages need to be understandable and clear. They need to be free of vague or unsubstantiated claims.  They need to help prospects answer the question “Is this offering a good fit for me?” (rather than trying to convince people it’s a good fit for everyone) and it needs to be able to answer that question in a matter of seconds.
  2. Content – Customers are looking for materials that can educate them and help them determine what they should buy.  Prospects are looking for information that helps them understand different options for solving a problem and what the benefits and risks are to those options.  They are looking for best practices and knowledge to help them do their jobs better.  They are looking for the benefit of your expertise.  Your offering is only one piece of that – your content is another, very important piece.  Stated simply – your content needs to be helpful to be effective.
  3. Customer Relationships and Retention – In a world where the customer is highly in control of the buying process, customer relationships become more critical than ever.   Existing customers have given you permission to interact with them (something you don’t have with folks that are still just prospects), which is a huge opportunity build trust and loyalty.
  4. Visibility – In a world where customers don’t want to hear from companies, companies have to rely on other people to carry their stories and in some cases, sell for them.  How do you make it easy for non-users to see that others are customers?  How can you encourage people to share your content or invite their friends/network to become customers?  How can you demonstrate to prospects the benefits that other people/companies just like them have seen from the solution?

None of these is handled well within the traditional divisions of marketing.  In my opinion, in the next year we will see a rethinking of how a typical marketing department is structured so that these functions will have more clearly defined ownership within marketing.

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