December 24, 2011
For years I have been promoting the concept that you must “humanize your selling strategy.” The short explanation for this plan is that you must match your sales approach to the individual or company that will buy your product. How will it benefit them?
Let’s use envelopes as an example. What sets your very ordinary product apart from all the other envelopes that your customers can choose from? Your selling strategy. How you sell. The relationships you have built with the buyers. The pricing, quality and delivery that you are able to promise, and then the follow through. Because you’re not just selling envelopes. You are selling a person.
That strategy has been my ace in the hole for my entire selling career. And no matter how much the customers change, the formula continues to work.
I just finished reading Seth Godin’s fascinating new book that reinforces my thinking. Starting with the curious title, “We Are All Weird,” I was taken with his observations: Godin says that “human beings prefer to organize in tribes, into groups of people who share a leader or a culture or a definition of normal. And the digital revolution has enabled and amplified these tribes … who respect and admire and support choices that outsiders happily consider weird, but that those of us in the tribe realize are normal (our normal).
“My argument is that the choice to push all of us toward a universal normal merely to sell more junk to the masses is both inefficient and wrong. The opportunity of our time is to support the weird, to sell to the weird and, if you wish, to become weird.”
He explains that years ago, mass marketing led to greater profits, that specializing or acceding to choices was not necessary because producers could make more money from “forced compliance and social pressure.”
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Godin cites a statistic that in 1918 there were 2000 car companies active in the United States. You might recall that Henry Ford’s production line process changed car manufacturing forever. And he’s rumored to have said that a customer could have a car in any color, as long as it was black. Was that the beginning of mass marketing?
On the contrary, years later Microsoft “knew that every single company in the Fortune 500 was using their software, usually on every single personal computer and server in the company.”
With that sort of success, Godin asks, “Is it any wonder that market-leading organizations fear the weird?”
Godin predicts the end of “mass” as we know it. And he says that may make you uncomfortable if your work “revolves around finding the masses, creating for the masses, or selling to the masses.”
Rather than seeing this change as a threat, he says it is the opportunity of a lifetime: “The way of the world is now more information, more choice, more freedom, and more interaction. And yes, more weird.”
I can certainly relate to Godin’s premises. My customers are not the folks who buy plain old No. 10 envelopes. They need all sorts of specialized products that they can’t find at the mega-office supply store. I would not characterize them as weird, but we see each account as having specific requests and needs that we can fill better than any other company.
Our company motto is “to be in business forever.” We can’t accomplish that if we refuse to accommodate the specific, unique and occasionally weird orders that we receive. Because if we don’t do it, someone else will. And we are happy to take customers from other envelope manufacturers that don’t appreciate the “weird.”
So let’s go back to humanizing your selling strategy. Whether you are selling face to face or through a website, your customer has to feel like his business is your most important account. Do you know enough about them, about their lives outside their work, about why they buy from you rather than another vendor? Do you tailor your sales presentation to address those needs? Can they trust that you aren’t just all talk?
Will this trend put mass marketers out of business? Probably not, but small businesses should pay particular attention to this phenomenon, because they can most easily adapt to selling to the “weird.” Call it what you want, but Seth Godin makes being “weird” the new normal.
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