Marketing-driven fits the times

Friday, December 13, 2002

Sales-driven doesn't do it anymore

By John R. Graham

With effusive CEO testimonials and countless articles and books describing how companies have transformed themselves into tightly focused, totally energized commerce machines, it would seem that change should be easy.

Let's face it. If it were simple, there would be more of it. Even when the evidence for change is compelling, most companies continue to cling to the known, the familiar.

Selling is very much a case in point. The sales-driven approach to moving every type of product or service struggles to survive in the face of obstinate hurdles. Even though a marketing-driven strategy makes sense to more and more salespeople, there is a reluctance to let go of the tried and true, even while there's obvious evidence pointing to diminishing returns.

The difference between sales-driven and marketing-driven selling is anything but subtle. It has nothing to do with semantics and it isn't "just a matter of emphasis," as some would have us believe.

Marketing-driven selling represents a completely different way of looking at the sales process, an 180-degree shift in both thinking and behavior.

"I have been in business for 15 years and I didn't get the difference until last Friday," says Daryn Ross of Your Image in Kearney, Mo., a manufacturer of promotional products. "I don't understand why it took me so long to realize that we see our products as commodities. It shouldn't come as a surprise to us that we've been selling them with razor-thin margins."

Even with all this, sales-driven remains the only way to go for many. The life insurance industry has demolished thousands of potentially first-class salespeople over the years with it. After some training, the agents are sent out to accost friends, family and neighbors. In effect, their task is to con them out of a premium payment. Once the list is exhausted and all the names have been crossed off, they don't know what to do next and quickly leave the business.

While this may be a somewhat blatant example of the sales-driven approach, it captures its essence. Dress it up, change the words, make it sound more sophisticated, but the process remains the same: Go find someone to talk to. Get out there, get in front of prospects, and get the orders.

In effect, sales-driven selling isn't as much a function of skill as it is of sheer luck. Salespeople get excited that they are in the right place at the right time. Something went wrong. A supplier failed to deliver on time or made one too many mistakes. The regular salesperson didn't show up.

Marketing-driven takes a different tact. It is just as interested in sales, but it is more interested in creating customers first. And it's not a con game just to get the order.

If this sounds like a "soft-headed" strategy, then so be it.

We have long held that sales-driven companies send the wrong messages to their employees, customers, prospects, and everyone else.

Ultimately, they also get the wrong results.

The problem with a sales-driven company is that it is willing to do everything and anything to make the numbers. The ads may talk about "customer driven," "customer service," and "client satisfaction," but behavior tells a different story. Management may preach its gospel of doing good, but actions reveal the true motivations.

There are marked differences between sales-driven and marketing-driven selling. Here are a few: ·

Salesperson's basic approach

Sales-driven: figure out a way to get through the door.

Marketing-driven: be invited through the door as a result of being viewed as a valued resource.

Salesperson's strategy

Sales-driven: build a "personal relationship" as quickly as possible.

Marketing-driven: be perceived as a competent, helpful adviser.

Salesperson's goal

Sales-driven: sell something, i.e., get an order.

Marketing-driven: create a customer, i.e., someone who wants to do business with you.

Salesperson's prospects

Sales-driven: lucky breaks, being in the right place at the right time, cold calls.

Marketing-driven: a steady flow of new business by identifying and cultivating prospects carefully and continuously.

Salesperson's behavior

Sales-driven: contacts the customer when there's something to sell.

Marketing-driven: stays close to the customer with ideas and suggestions for achieving customer's goals.

Salesperson's agenda

Sales-driven: sell what salesperson wants customer to buy.

Marketing-driven: demonstrate that you are a consultant.

Salesperson's mission: Sales-driven: get an order as quickly as possible.

Marketing-driven: build long-term value.

If salespeople are to be respected as professionals, it will be their commitment to being seen as experts who are valued because of what they bring to their customers that gives them such status.

The differences between sales-driven and marketing-driven selling are deep. One begins and ends with the order, while the other begins and ends with value to the customer.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass., 02170 (617-328-0069; fax 617-471-1504);

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