Sales vs. Marketing

I’ve never been fond of outright selling. I dislike cold calling, I’m no fan of talking someone into doing something when they’re not interested, I’m not big on the persuasion methods some sales folks use.

And yet I’ve had success selling big ticket items. And recently I’ve been studying more about selling, thinking it would be useful to be a better salesman.

Which leads me to the question: “What’s more important, Sales or Marketing? And why?”

If you walk through your local mall, there are the ubiquitous kiosks with people hawking RC helicopters to hand lotion to calendars to jewelry and everything in between. Some of those folks are downright aggressive in engaging you!

I’ll also bet money you’ve walked by an Apple or Starbucks store that was busy, yet no one accosted you to go in and check out their wares. With this seeming low-key sales approach Apple and Starbucks haven’t been hurting for sales.

How is this?

PR, Marketing and Sales are three legs in the process to achieve The Close. The better the PR & Marketing, the less effort is required by Sales. In the absence of PR & Marketing, Sales is left with the daunting task of getting someone interested and convinced in spending that precious commodity called money for the product in question.

To achieve viral growth, the sales process has to be fast and easy, with the end goal of the sales process merely being the administrative aspect of swapping dollars (or credit/debit cards) for goods and services.

The handling of objections, the changing of minds, the answering of questions, the more these are addressed with PR & Marketing, the easier the sales process is and the easier The Close is achieved.

The better the Marketing and PR, the easier the close. Conversely, if getting the close is tough, then behind it you’ll find ineffective or non-existent Marketing and PR.

If you look at the history of Starbucks, they started their company on straight PR. They continue their efforts with great PR and Marketing. It’s so good, you NEVER think of anything bad about Starbucks. Ask anyone, coffee drinker or not, about Starbucks and they’ll say something good or great about the brews, the confections, the stores, the entire experience.

Apple also has great PR and Marketing. Their customer experience is fabulous. By and large people have a great opinion of their products.

Conversely, people dislike buying cars. They hate the dealership experience. Once the car purchase is decided with the sales person, they visit the dreaded guy or gal who wants to sell them more insurance and warranties and protections. And it all takes hours and hours and hours!

So obviously the sales process needs to be improved. But behind that, the majority of people today research their car purchase on line and find out what appeals to them. Their decisions to buy are influenced by how effectively the information is presented to them. This is MARKETING. Even with a lousy sales process, people are buying cars in great numbers this year. Why? Great Marketing, great presentation of data.

The nice thing is that MARKETING can be automated. PR can be automated. A few people create and prepare and execute the campaigns while millions are the recipients of the campaign.

Other products fall into the same boat. Let’s ignore which dish soap you buy, or laundry detergent or brand of cereal. Which grocery store do you choose? Nobody accosted you on the street and said, “Buy your groceries in our store! Right this way!” You made a decision of where to shop. Chances are there are several grocery stores in your extended neighborhood area. What made you pick your favorite? Certain foods, cleanliness, layout of the store, advertisements, coupons and sales, etc.

Where do you buy the tires for your car? Where do you buy your furniture? Where do you buy your home improvement supplies? Yes, for each of these things there is a final “sales” step, where you pick which brand of tire and the appropriate characteristics, or which ceiling fan or which vertical blinds.

Furniture stores do a lousy job of marketing. They do a great job of advertising, but how many people walk into a furniture store and say, “I want the Banyon 650 sleeper sofa with the massage option and built-in surround sound speakers?” No one! They say, “I’m looking for a sofa,” then look at every sofa in the store, sit in a bunch, look at prices, maybe ask about quality, and then if the sofa looks like how they want it to look and the sales person knows how to close, they buy a sofa. If not, they go to the next store “looking for what they want.” No marketing! The only real “marketing” is of the store itself, not of the products.

How many times have you gone into a tire store needing tires and walked out without buying tires? Chances are you did some checking, figured where to buy them, then got to the store and worked out your best deal.

PR and Marketing got you into the tire store and pre-disposed to buy from them. The sales closing consisted of matching the brand, type and price to your needs and budget. There was no need to close you on, “Should I buy tires or not?” or “Should I buy tires from this store?”

I’m a car nut. Car enthusiastic, to be politically correct. I shop online, have even bought tires online. Being an enthusiast, I was marketed to by an online store with ads, sponsorships and displays at races, technical content to answer questions, all of which got me pre-disposed to seriously consider them for my purchase decision.

That’s Marketing.

Get the idea?

The better the Marketing and PR (and PR is a whole ‘nother but related subject that influences peoples’ opinions), the easier the sale. If the Marketing and PR is superlative, the sale is already made and you just have to give them the contract to sign or take their money. They were closed before they (or you) walked in the door.

If you’re having a tough time with sales, and assuming you know how to close, then your Marketing and PR needs to be improved. You know you have great Marketing and PR when people are asking you to buy your product or service. It’s as simple as that.


Magic? Luck? Divine Intervention?

There are cases on record of companies going viral and it was completely unexpected. Good fortune befell the company and they were showered with fame and fortune.

However, when preparing a business plan, having as a key step, “Then a miracle occurs,” isn’t going to give a venture capitalist the warm and fuzzies. Odds are extremely high that same venture capitalist is going to politely decline your incredible opportunity and wonder what planet you studied business on.

Going to market against an entrenched competitor with nothing more than a wing and a prayer is suicide.

Going to market in any kind of business circumstance with nothing more than a vague idea and a website, even with a great product in hand, is worse than playing the ponies or the lottery. And a whole lot less entertaining.

“Any plan, no matter how poorly conceived, if boldly executed, is better than inaction.”
U.S. Infantry Manual

With Sun-Tzu practically required reading in business these days, a military corollary fits right in.

The fact is, when going to market with your killer app that is guaranteed to succeed, one piece is already in place: you’ve created a killer app, and that takes planning. If you’ve done your research well you know what customers want and a good chunk of your planning and preparation is complete.

Now you need your Go To Market plan. Take your overall marketing strategy and develop a marketing campaign, then each component. Itemize, to the degree necessary to get the job done, each target and task you need to complete. If you’re going against entrenched competitors, even if you’re leapfrogging them with your technological quantum leap, lousy planning for marketing and PR will kill you.

It takes more than a slick website and a couple of handouts to create the market presence you need to go viral. While putting the Go To Market plan in place and executing it may not be more work than what it took to develop your product, it will sure seem like it.

There’s an old saying, “Fortune favors the bold.” I have found that being bold in business without a decent plan decreases the fortune. Develop a plan.

Execute the marketing campaign and monitor progress. Tweak the plan as you go. Make wholesale changes if necessary. But start with a Go To Market plan and then do it!

If you’re going against entrenched competitors, or even any competitors worth their salt, part of your plan needs to include defensive measures. You’re going to get attacked. Whether it’s in the press in interviews, articles featuring the competition, or plain old word of mouth, the competition is not going sit idly by while you take market share away from them.

Plan not only for defending against their attacks, but how to take those attacks and twist them to your advantage. If the competition touts how advanced their product is, counter with your product being simpler and easier to use.

Very seldom does magic and luck come into play. I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck with hard work focused on the Three Pillars of Going Viral: Great product, great marketing and PR, followed up with great support. Develop your plan, work your plan, execute the three pillars, and success will follow.

WOW Developers

Often times our failings and shortcomings in the real world define what we’d like to happen, what we wish existed.

When an airliner crashes, experts carefully comb through the wreckage to find out why. Engineers study the result to trace back to what the cause was, and then develop new materials, new processes, new technologies, new methods, that will prevent that from ever happening again.

Nobody likes it when software fails. Due to our dependency on technology today, when technology fails the result can range from mildly inconvenient to catastrophic. Unless you’re in the medical profession, catastrophic doesn’t mean life threatening—but something like Wall Street shutting down for four hours has a huge impact.

To a business, a software failure at a critical time results in a poor customer experience and loss of revenue. How the customer experience is impacted can define whether the repercussions impact future revenue.

All of this leads me to one inescapable observation: brilliant software developers are worth their weight in gold to an organization trying to go viral.

Bugs happen. Even the best devs, with a stringent and thorough QA dept backing them up, don’t solve everything. Different software combinations, different hardware, conflicts somewhere within the bazillion lines of code are inevitable. Yes, we strive for perfection. Yes, mistakes happen.

How do we recover from that mistake? First and foremost we have to communicate with the customer and let them know what’s going on. Good, bad or ugly, telling the customer the truth and what’s being done is paramount. They won’t always like it, but I have yet to see a case where giving the customer a “spin” story did anything but backfire somewhere along the line.

Second, the problem has to be identified, resolved and rolled out. This is where the best developers shine. They know the code inside-out, how it’s supposed to function, they know the system architecture like the back of their hand. When a glitch happens, they can dig in and identify where in the software work flow it failed. They can dig into the code and find the recalcitrant syntax error, the wrong call, the command that’s sending electrons to the wrong location.

That’s where the great developers come to the fore. Sure, great devs have fewer problems. But even more so, they can respond to a crisis, identify and get resolved a critical problem in short order.

There’s the old story of a consulting engineer who was asked to troubleshoot a critical problem with a machine. He went into the plant, looked over the machine, then after an hour of pouring over the controls and mechanisms, pointed to the offending part and said, “That’s your problem.” Sure enough, it was, and the next day with the repairs complete the machine was up and running.

The company received a bill for $10,000. The company balked, questioning the amount for one hour of work. The engineer responded, “One hour of work, $150. Twenty years of study and research to identify the problem in one hour, $9,850.” The company paid the invoice.

Great developers are like this. They know how and why the whole package is doing what it’s doing. When a glitch occurs, they know where to look and find problems quickly. They’re almost god-like in their knowledge of the system. Some say they can walk on water when it comes to software.

WOW developers. Worth their weight in gold.

There are three pillars of going viral: Great Product, Great Marketing, Great Support. When the crap hits the fan, and it invariably will, that WOW developer identifies and solves the problem fast, getting the resolution into the customer’s hands. The customer’s reaction? “Wow, that was GREAT service!” Which further strengthens your reputation and gives a second meaning to “WOW Developers.”

WOW Developers. If you don’t have a couple, get some. You’re going to need them.

Channeling Buckminster Fuller

“To change things, don’t try to fight the existing reality. Build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

A couple of posts ago, I laid out the four types of business climates one faces when launching a new product:

1. New product for a brand-new market, ala the iPod
2. Emerging market with several players vying for market share
3. Seasoned market with major players (ala the current car industry)
4. Seasoned market with one to three entrenched players who dominate the market

I also recounted a few cases where dominant, entrenched players were displaced by a quantum leap forward in technology.

The industrial revolution happened seemingly overnight, thanks to our history books. The fast pace of industrial development, from horse and buggy to fully enclosed cars, in reality took about forty years, from 1885 to the mid-1920s. The first production automobile, the Model T, was released in 1908. Enclosed cars that protected occupants from the elements and become a truly viable form of transportation occurred less than twenty years later.

In comparison, the personal computer revolution started in 1975 with computer kits, and 1977 saw the breakthrough Apple II and TRS-80. It’s now forty years later and we’ve gone way beyond the viable personal computer level. In reality, we hit the point of viable personal computers in 1992 with the release of Windows 3.1—although some will argue that Apple beat Microsoft by a wide margin.

There’s a point to this comparison. The cost and effort of inventing technology in the launch of the Industrial Revolution meant that it was harder for competitors to leap ahead. Serious hardware had to be built: parts designed, forged and cast, machined, assembled, etc. These are what’s called “long lead” items, meaning there’s a lot of lead time from concept to completion.

In the Information Technology Revolution, all it takes is a few geniuses sitting down at a keyboard and racking their brains and pounding their keyboards to create quantum leaps in technology.

My last couple of posts focused on how to enter a market with entrenched competitors, what had to be done to overcome the market dominance of major players who own the market.

While it will take decades for a Tesla to unseat a Ford or Toyota, the same is not true in the software world.

The flaming ascents and crashes of major software vendors makes a 4th of July fireworks display look pale in comparison. Why the crash? Their entrenched market position was obliterated by another company’s quantum leap forward in technology.

The fast pace of technological advancement means there are always quantum leaps forward, which results in two things:

1. The seasoned market with one to three dominant players is effectively moot. These market types are treated like a brand new market. The exception is when the market segment and players are at the level of a Microsoft, Apple or Google.
2. Never, ever, ever sit on your laurels. If you’re not advancing rapidly with quantum leaps forward in technology yourself, chances are very high you’ll be relegated to the also-rans in a couple of years.

There’s a movie called “Paycheck” starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. In the beginning, Affleck’s character develops a new monitor that doesn’t need the monitor. In effect, he’s created a holographic image generator that displays the monitor display in the air. Talk about a quantum leap forward in technology!

There are a whole bunch of Really Smart Software Guys in the world. On sheer numbers alone, that’s a whole bunch of creativity ready to create and invent really cool new stuff. They’re not constrained by who the competitors are, they’re not limited by rules and restrictions. In many cases they’re not restricted by corporate bureaucracies.

They’re really doing what Buckminster Fuller said, “To change things, don’t try to fight the existing reality. Build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

That means that there are a large number of people trying to leapfrog entrenched competitors.They have no fear, no respect, they’re hell-bent on creating and developing cool new stuff that will blow customers away.

This isn’t a business climate for the faint of heart. This isn’t a business climate for the conservative.

It is a business climate where innovation—smart innovation—triumphs. It is a business climate where quantum leaps in technology strike gold.

Innovate wisely and win. Don’t innovate and you’ll be competing for the leftovers.

If you’re the market leader and you do innovate, don’t sit on the innovation to protect your entrenched market position. If you’re not going to market with quantum leaps forward in technology, someone else will.

If you’re considering taking on an entrenched competitor, bring to market the technological quantum leap.

If you’re the entrenched competitor, you’d better be “quantum leaping” yourself before some Really Smart Software Guys beat you to it.