One way or another I’ve been driving sales growth for businesses around the world for longer than I care to remember, but I’ve never considered myself a salesman.  In fact, I’ve always felt that where real marketers do their job salesmen aren’t needed at all.  

This sort of flies in the face of American business culture, which remains rather sales led and last time I voiced the opinion in an article I was inundated by angry salesmen telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, almost all of them from the US. This is ironic, considering that nothing proves my point more dramatically than the queues of eager purchases that form outside Apple stores the day of a new product release.  There’s no “selling” involved there, just take the money and wrap.  That’s because the marketers did their job in differentiating the product and building a brand.

This week I’ve been engaged in a bit of an argument with a couple of marketers on a LinkedIn group about differentiation.  I’m happy to say that on this occasion the weight of group opinion seemed to be on my side, but the striking thing is that both my combatants were American and each of them represented themselves as authorities on branding. One was even a Marketing lecturer.  Its no wonder that young marketers are so mixed up.

This exchange explored, among other things, the principle of the USP.  An exercise that in itself illustrated the inability of some marketers to think beyond the constraints of fifty-year-old marketing practices. Real marketers are innovators, revolutionary, leading the way rather than perpetuating standards and practices established before we really understood the psychology of brand.  We can all write books about our experiences, but by the time they are in print the lessons we have learned will have been superceded.  Such is the nature of marketing.  However, we can learn from the experiences of others and use them as launch-pads for our own journeys of discovery.

I therefore gained particular satisfaction from an article By Tim Williams on LinkedIn, which among other things reminded me that the highly regarded Peter Drucker was also on a mission to eradicate salesmen from the marketing process.  Tim’s post highlights a number of parallels with my own experiences.  I’ve helped numerous marketing services firms around the world achieve growth by client and competitor acquisition, but I’ve never found cold-calling to be the answer.  All my successes have been achieved by building processes that differentiate agencies and publicising them.

Tim also highlights a Bain and Co survey that asked executives if their products were differentiated.  80% said they were while only 8% of their customers agreed.  This tallies with the experience of my own Brand Discovery programme where I ask executives to list ways in which their brands are different from their competitors’.  Almost without exception they come up with long lists of things that any business could claim.  I can tell you that typically business leaders don’t understand the principal of differentiation.

These days products are rarely significantly different.  You have to think beyond the physical for the “unique” and its membership of the brand community to which the purchase is the ticket that is the differentiator.

Phil Darby
December 15, 2013

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