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When Will We Stop Thinking Our Customers Are Stupid?

by David Brock on October 3rd, 2017

I’m beginning to think far too many sales and marketing people think customers are stupid.  What else could it be?

As an example, recently I participated in a discussion on LinkedIn.  The author proudly declared victory for social selling with the statement:   “LinkedIn empirically proves that 51% + of revenue is now influenced by social across some key industries.”  Accompanying the statement was a chart displaying research data looking at the % of revenue influenced by social selling across various industry/marketing groups.

But when I looked at the research, all sorts of questions started popping up.  For example, the companies researched were limited to companies that had made a major commitment to social selling and that had been implementing social selling approaches for at least 6 months.  Then, somehow the revenue resulting from a large percentage of their deals was attributable to the use of LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

To illustrate how preposterous this is, I could pose the question, “Are Left Handers smarter than Right Handers?” (I’m clearly biased because I have the good fortune of being left handed).  I could conduct “research” by surveying only Left Handers.   Any guess what the response might be?

I could go further.  I could narrow my research to only top performing Left Handed sales people, then make the statement, “Because they are left handed, they are top performers!”

You get my point about the silliness of this data and analysis.  If this survey were the exception, we could clearly set it aside, unfortunately, we an our customers are pummeled with poorly conceived and presented research—fake news, fake data!

The problem with all of this, is customers get it.  Customers are smart, they ask reasonable questions, like, “What are the underlying assumptions?”  They tend to challenge the data, as they should, trying to understand it and what it might mean to them.

(Not long ago, we actually conducted a research study on this issue.  You may be surprised by the results:  92% of Top Performers Do This)

When we present such obviously bad analysis, it’s really an indicator of how we hold our customers.  It shows we think they are gullible enough to accept it at face value and not question it or try to understand it.

But our implicit attitudes about our customers doesn’t stop with this horribly poor and manipulative research.

Our attitudes, what we think and how we hold our customers is displayed in so much of our marketing and selling.

We don’t take the time to research, we don’t take the time to target and segment our approaches to prospects, we don’t take the time to make sure what we present is relevant and meaningful to customers.  Instead, we pummel them with 10’s of thousands of meaningless, poorly constructed emails, messages, and calls.

Clearly, we think so little of our customers and their time, that we don’t put in the effort to create relevant and impactful communications and engagement.

I could go on, I could cite horrific and manipulative sales approaches, any number of poorly designed marketing programs, customer success programs that focus more on our success than the customers’ success.

Implicit in the design and execution of these programs is how we think about and hold our customers.

But customers are smart!  They get it!  They act in resounding ways—mostly by ignoring us, or doing everything they can to avoid us.

They constantly tell us:

  • You don’t understand me and my business.
  • You waste my time.
  • You can’t present the value of your solutions in meaningful ways.
  • You are more concerned with your success than ours.

They tell us that we produce no value by looking every where else for insight and education.

They let us know that our approaches don’t work by spamming our emails, by not answering the phone.

It’s clear to see that much of what we do now fails–but rather than trying to do what our customers ask us to  do, we end up pumping up the volume of stuff that isn’t producing results and isn’t engaging customers.  We play the “numbers game,” yet the numbers are no longer working.  Why else would the percent of people making plan and percent of companies making plan continue to decline.

Our customers aren’t stupid, yet we persist in treating them as stupid, by our approaches.

Perhaps it’s really us that are behaving stupidly.

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2 Comments
  1. We don’t even consider that just maybe buyer’s haven’t fully defined their “need”, maybe they’re in the early stages of trying to discover the extent of the problem that’s plaguing them, maybe they can’t agree on the criteria and/or just maybe they prefer to find ways to solve the problem themselves or with something they’re familiar with.

    S&M operates under a failed system that manages only a small part of the buying decision. We blame buyers, blame products, blame marketing efforts, blame ourselves and never blame the sales and marketing model.

    This is why the buyers seem so stupid.

    We are focused on the need, the pain and the price. Buyers are focused on keeping their business running

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