Death of the Salesman

There’s no question that the Willy Lomans of this world have been dying a slow, agonizing death—only instead of losing the fight to travel exhaustion, the opponent is the Internet … And marketing

There’s no question that the Willy Lomans of this world have been dying a slow, agonizing death—only instead of losing the fight to travel exhaustion, the opponent is the Internet.

According to a recent CEB article in the Harvard Business Review, 57 percent of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier, and Gartner Research predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human. That shouldn’t surprise anyone since we spend much of our days tapping on keyboards or flicking our fingers across tiny screens.

In Willy’s day, the lead generation process would have consisted of making a phone call, setting up an appointment, hopping a plane to the prospect’s office, and dragging a sample case through the airport. In the 1980’s, that sample case turned into an overhead projector, then a slide projector and a laptop, and finally a mini projector linked to a mobile device or thumb drive. In 2014, salespeople are lucky if they can connect to a prospect on a video conferencing call.

Clearly the days of gathering in a conference room for the sales pitch are long gone. We’ve always known that sales people talk too much and buyers, who’ve never had the patience to listen, now have the tools to avoid them altogether: websites, whitepapers, case studies, videos, LinkedIn groups, webcasts—virtually anything and everything to avoid talking to sales.

As a result, the sales function has now been placed squarely in the hands of the content strategists and creators. And yes, that means that the sales function is now in the hands of marketing.

Now a different problem exists. Most marketing folks don’t know how to help the buyer along their journey because that’s not how they’ve been trained. They have no idea how different types of buyers think, or how they search for information, or make decisions, so they don’t know how to create nor position content in a meaningful and relevant way—and that’s long been the complaint of sales. In their opinion, all marketing does is churn out “fluff” that is irrelevant to a serious buyer.

Now marketers must step up and really understand how to optimize marketing tools in order to help that buyer reach the right brand decision at the end of their journey. That’s really why content has become the marketing buzz word.

And just like we despised the salesman who talked too much, potential buyers despise content that is full of sales-speak. While a product brochure has a purpose, it is not strategic content. Similarly, a webinar in which most of the supporting slides are simply advertising for the product, turns off participants who quickly express their displeasure via online chat tools to the host and by logging out of the event.

Great content should seek to:

  • Be authentic: What you say needs to sound genuine and ring true—no one believes you are the only solution to a problem. On the contrary, the discovery process is all about evaluating your options (the pros and the cons). Avoiding a question because your answer may reveal the flaws of your product or service only shines a spotlight on the issue. Honesty is always the best policy.
  • Be relevant: Share insightful information that leverages your expertise and experience; help the buyer connect the dots. “How to” articles are popular, as are comparison charts—if you’re not going to do it, the prospect will be doing it for themselves anyway, so why not help by pointing out comparison points (that benefit your product) they might not have previously considered?
  • Be timely: To get a leg up in the marketplace, you need to be prepared to add value when the timing is ripe. It’s highly unlikely that your marketplace hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. Help show buyers how your product/service is relevant in today’s marketplace—how it deals with challenges you know they’re facing or are going to face tomorrow.

Smart marketers have a lead nurturing strategy in place—an organized and logical method of sharing relevant content along the buy cycle. And that content is well written and segmented by type of decision maker. The CFO has a different set of evaluation criteria from the CEO and the CTO. Business owners look at purchase decisions through a completely different lens than a corporate manager.

Depending on the industry, business buyers have different problems they’re trying to solve, so generic content has less relevance than content that addresses specific issues in an industry segment. Those in healthcare, for example, perceive a problem from a different perspective than those in transportation.

The new name of the selling game is “Educate the Buyer—but in a helpful and relevant way.” And while Willy Loman may continue to sit at his desk making cold calls or sending out prospecting emails, the reality is nobody has the patience or interest to listen to his sales pitch any more. So marketers need to step up and accept responsibility for lead generation, lead nurturing and, in many instances, closing the sale.

The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ – Ode to Solitude

Alexander Pope is making a 21st Century comeback. I’d love to be in Google’s conference room as the team there decides just how to adhere to a European court’s decision that European citizens have a right to be forgotten (on Google). Or what about email? A UK court just took a British retailer to task—John Lewis—for having a pre-checked form box for new customers that permits an email communication to the paying customer, along with an easy-to-use opt-out

Alexander Pope is making a 21st Century comeback.

I’d love to be in Google’s conference room as the team there decides just how to adhere to a European court’s decision that European citizens have a right to be forgotten (on Google).

Or what about email? A UK court just took a British retailer to task—John Lewis—for having a pre-checked form box for new customers that permits an email communication to the paying customer, along with an easy-to-use opt-out. The court found that a customer having to uncheck a box is just too taxing, and more than that, a privacy violation.

Here’s an interesting Ken Magill point of view.

I confess that I, too, am a bit of a reactionary to all of this. If commerce is so evil, if advertising is such a privacy violation, maybe we should just pack it up and go back to serving consumers and making money—and paying taxes, and generating jobs—here at home.

Can you imagine what types of costs Google will incur in its attempt to comply—never mind the impact on Google’s utility in Europe? Certainly John Lewis is taking the matter seriously, as it should. As reported in The Register (UK):

A John Lewis spokeswoman said: “Mr Mansfield voluntarily gave us his email address, set up an account online and chose not to opt out of marketing communications when that option was available to him. This case was a very specific set of circumstances and in this instance whilst we do not agree with the decision, we will abide by it. We apologise to Mr Mansfield that he was inconvenienced by our emails.”

Let’s be sure none of this zaniness creeps into our policy and case law here (ethics and best practices are another story), for the sake of our economy.

Sometimes I look to Europe and I scratch my head—yet there are some in America who want to bring these inflexible regimes here. While I respect different cultures for privacy around the world, let’s not sacrifice trade and commerce on the altar of some notion of gaining privacy, when in truth, marketing innovation and privacy can, and do, move along in concert. I guess some parts of the world figure that advertisers are all big brands who spend money only on image campaigns, and then sit back and wait for customers to come to them. In short, if you don’t have the Euros, you don’t get to compete.

Seriously, if an individual wants to be Rip Van Winkle, go to sleep for 20 years and don’t bother participating in the marketplace. Don’t drive. Don’t vote. Don’t shop. Don’t look at your mail. Don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines, or watch TV. Don’t browse the Internet. Don’t donate to causes—or to campaigns. And please, don’t tell me you’re a privacy advocate, or even participate in opt-out programs.

Because I’m just going to flag your name and store it in a database somewhere so I can reference you (apparently inappropriately) along with other “privacy-sensitive” folks, or to omit future communication. I certainly don’t want to bother you with any information—such as a product or service to help you protect your privacy, or bolster your security.

The “business” of privacy is booming, even as the “ethics” of privacy in marketing have been around in industry codes for decades. Browsers offer private surfing, and there are apps that allow you to cover your tracks. But how could someone know to learn about these services if we’re all forced to forget such a person by default?

All marketers want to do is create and serve a customer—and they go to great lengths to ensure an opt-out is honored. Where’s the harm? Answer: In commerce, there are only winners. While we can choose to lower our profile through myriad ways, to mandate such profiles as a legal default is to deny the very intelligence—and our consumer economy—that data has served to create.

And here is Alexander Pope on the matter:

Ode on Solitude
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lye.

—Alexander Pope (1688-1744)