Back in the day my MBA program in marketing had really small class sizes. We were pioneers; brave to invest a lot of money on a degree in a track that was mysterious, misunderstood and often mistaken for being an education in sales training. I’d like to think of us early MBAs as members of cults like Apple users or Starbucks drinkers. What’s marketing anyway? All everyone could relate to was either advertising or sales. The marketing department was thought of a few employees in a cubicle staring at the ceiling thinking of the next promotion.
The sales industry was booming with as many training programs and trainers as there were people willing to buy. Sales was pseudoscience (how to get them to say yes) and part brainwashing that started with singing hymns to pump yourself up before a sales call and ended with mumbling to yourself “always be closing” during the presentation. If you want to experience what it is all about I highly recommend you watch Tin Man, one of the best movies ever made on the topic.
The 4-Ps (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) of marketing made it seem way too simple. As Seth Godin points out, the industrial era was all about “push marketing” - shove as many promotions, discounts, advertising and incentives down consumers’ throats. Everyone was buying something.
And then the internet showed up and turned the pyramid on its head. The previously perceived “dumb” consumer became very savvy. The Net created a level of transparency: knowledge and choices that are out there for everyone to grab. The internet transformed the business world into a Buyer’s Market, with a shift towards “pull marketing”: it became “Why should I buy from you?” instead of “Buy Now. Limited time offer”.
Something funny happened to salespeople who were spending way too much time planning how to spend their commissions. Customers started saying no. They began to show up armed with research and competitive info and sales as we know it began to change. For those who refused to accept the new rules and insisted on selling, it was a painful decline. Some, thought they could outsmart the new world and merely adjusted their presentation. They fooled no one. Marketing, in the age of the internet, has taken center-stage. It is about identifying, connecting and nurturing those connections. It’s about seeing the world from a customer’s perspective and finding out everything you can about your potential buyer. This is how marketing has replaced sales. If you don’t do marketing, you don’t earn the right to close.
Don’t get me wrong, we still need to close - the final transaction that has to take place in order for goods and services to change hands. But everything that happens until that point is marketing.
Marketing requires in depth soul searching with a heavy dose of empathy. The soul searching process is critical - what are you all about? Why are you in business? How much do you know about those who you hope will give you their money? Clearly identify what is your true value in the transaction and how it is different than what else is out there.
Sales was about “have I got a deal for you”. Marketing is about “I accept that you have choices, I have done my homework and I think I understand what you are looking for. Let me share with you what I learned and I have some suggestions that will address your challenges and provide you with the confidence that your investment in my product or service will return clear and measurable results.
The internet has caused a massive shift in consumers' behavior. Think of it as buyers reclaiming what was always the domain of salespeople - "knowledge". We felt inferior because we did not know as much as the car salesman. It was a helpless and frustrating era. But now we know: invoice price, cost of upgrades, end-of-month incentives and what other dealers are selling it for. If you still sell the old fashioned way, you're going to be pushed aside and, in the not so distant future, become irrelevant. I have recently walked out of two car dealerships whose sales tactics simply nauseated and infuriated me. It was an insult.
If your sales team can't make the shift, replace them with marketing oriented salespeople. If your company is still fixated on commission-only selling, quotas and guidelines that perpetuate the old sales behavior, you will experience rapid decline in growth and worse.
It is not about "getting with the program". It's literally about your ability to survive the new order of business with marketing at its core.