Can I tell you a story?
He was an older gentleman who walked into a high tech electronics store. As he made his way to the section for PDAs (Pocket PC, Palm Pilots and more), the sales folks gathered around because this wasn’t Best Buy and they were each working on commission.
The sales guy that caught his eye first initiated the conversation, “So how I can help you today?”
The response was one I’m sure he heard thousands of times, “I’m trying to figure out which PDA I need to get.”
I was standing behind the prospective buyer, about five feet away, so I heard every part of the conversation.
“Do you know whether you prefer Pocket PC or Palm?”
“What’s the difference?”
“The Pocket PC uses Windows, so it’s like the computer you have at home.”
“I don’t have a computer at home.”
“Well it also has a different processor than the Palm, which may make a difference if you’re running graphic applications.”
“I just need something to organize my calendar.”
“Both the Palm and the Pocket PC will store thousands of contacts and all your calendar events for years.”
“I don’t have that many contacts, and I just need to track a few months of my calendar.”
At this point, we were saved from listening to more of this painful conversation by a seriously-minded and clearly educated salesperson.
She walked up and interrupted the conversation, “I notice you’re talking about handheld PCs and calendars. How do you solve your calendar issues today?”
I thought I was ready for anything, but I wasn’t. The gentleman pulled out a full-sized refrigerator calendar, folded in half, and showed them how he managed his calendar. Wow.
And then the smart salesperson asked what the problem was with his current approach.
“This is just too big. I need something smaller.”
At that point, she directed him to the store next door, a Staples, where he could get a pocketbook calendar.
Inside Out Sales & Marketing
I won’t ever forget that afternoon. It was early in my professional career and I learned a lesson that stayed with me.
The guy that was talking about handheld PCs was selling the attributes of the product. And more importantly, helping a person pick between various options using the attributes.
It happens all the time:
A person has a problem.
They look for a solution.
The person “selling” tries to help.
But they start by assuming the buyer knows all about the nuances of the seller’s offerings.
Don’t believe me?
Call a company’s 800 number and see what you hear. Likely something like this:
If you know the name of the person you’re trying to reach, press one.
If you need help with an order, press two.
If you need to talk to an account manager, press three.
If you have technical questions, press four.
How do you know who you want to talk to? Before you know anything about the solution you need?
So you don’t know if you need an account manager or not. And you do have a technical question, but maybe you want to make an order.
Or you step into store to buy something as silly as luggage.
“Do you want the 22″, 24″ or 27″ roller?”
Um, how would I know. I don’t think of luggage like that. I think about it as, 3 day, 5 day, and 2 week trips.
You’re asking me to decide based on the attributes of your product (length of luggage) instead of the thing I know well (length of stay).
The marketing mistake we all make
When you’re caught up in your own world, selling something you look at or consider every day, it’s very hard to step out of your own shoes.
But to sell and market right, you need to change your perspective.
Instead of Inside-Out marketing, you need to focus on Outside-In marketing.
This means you start with what customers need and know. Which may have nothing to do with your offering.
Start where they are, and create the path to your offerings.
Outside In Marketing
Outside In marketing isn’t easy. Because the first thing you notice is that not all your customers are the same.
So right away, it’s more work that inside-out marketing where you can talk about your products all day.
Now you need to start clumping types of clients together into segments, and segmentation isn’t easy.
The benefit of this approach, however, is that once you have clearly understood segments, they’ll happily tell you what their pains are, and where your solutions best deliver value.
The result is a closer relationship with clients, the potential to solve more and better problems, and even the chance to price more effectively (per segment).
But it all starts by putting your internal dialogue on the shelf long enough to start thinking about things, and seeing things, from the outside in.
Want to see this in real life? Watch Undercover Boss. Every now and then you’ll see a CEO that suddenly sees their customers again for the first time.