The art of ceasing to sell
On perceived customer benefits, human emotion, reading value and credibility
The first thing I once learnt about B2B marketing is that it is the buyer, not the seller that drives all sales. And that all communication is made on the receiver’s terms. So, what does your offer mean to whom? What are they curious to know more about or what are their worries? What do they know, what are they wondering about, what are their misconceptions? Who do they believe, who do they trust? And last but not least – what happens when your analysis is sloppy?
In the late 70’s, Xerox Sweden (then called Rank Xerox) launched its first “Document System Editor”; a forerunner to the personal computer that by today’s standard is incomprehensibly primitive – and ridiculously expensive.
Very few people had heard about the dawning digital reality. Almost all managers, administrators and even professional writers, dictated their letters and reports or scribbled down uninterpretable writings by hand. An army of secretaries and typists then had to refine these materials and turn them into correct and neat documents. That function was about to be rationalized and made more effective.
A first launch directed at the management of certain target companies was carried out with sound financial arguments, spiced up by a pinch of the usual technological boasting. The well-trained sales force followed up with profitability calculations and long lists of arguments at the ready.
It all ended in disaster: Very few machines were sold, and the pioneers that were going to be trained to use this new technology came screaming and crying out of the education centers. Not surprisingly, though since al the competitors had gone in the exact same direction and faced similar problems.
A new marketing team was drafted and a new advertising agency was assigned to deal with these problems and started off by delving deep into the frustrating work tasks of scribes, relationships, frustrations, knowledge and hopes for the future. This all led to a whole new approach that was imprinted on the entire sales force and laid the foundation to a new communication strategy and a new education program.
The core of the new communication strategy was a book written in an easy-to-read Reader’s Digest-format. In this book the joys and challenges of the secretary profession, today and tomorrow, was discussed from different viewpoints. The new ideas about “what has once been written never has to be written again” were described in a way that was easy to understand. A report from a Swedish hotel company touched the subject of reinforcing new routines for writing and new tools, but without the sales talk and boasting. And so on.
The advertising was limited to three full-pages of long, narrative texts in the three largest morning papers. With the slogan “Free the secretaries!” a new and brilliant outlook on the future with more fun, qualifying and independent work tasks was described. This resulted in more than 10.000 (!) ordered books which in turn made way for sales education, course seminars, product demonstrations and introductory courses with an entirely new, more pedagogical training material. The sales gathered pace and Xerox became the market leader.
This all happened in the cradle of the digital era, almost 40 years ago. But the importance of choosing the right target group and finding out what matters to them is still as crucial today. Regardless of which target groups it matters, through which channels and media you choose and regardless of if the solution means more technological, strategic, financial, environmental or – as in the case of Xerox - user focused communication.
How can you help your customer to buy what you are trying to sell?