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What Happens When The Customer Doesn’t Raise His Hand?

by David Brock on January 20th, 2012

There has been an important revolution in marketing thinking over the past years.  The move from thinking about campaigns to rich content programs and nurturing is important.  It recognizes something important, that customers want to learn, they want to be educated.  These programs enable us to develop “relationships” with customers and nurture them up to the point of their deciding they need to take action and start a buying process.

In our nurturing programs, we design them to have the customer take different actions through the program that help us gauge their level of interest, their urgency, and their readiness to buy.

This is important and needs to be the cornerstone of our marketing programs.  But there is a problem with this–it requires a customer to have an interest–to want to learn–to want to consider a change, to be thinking about their needs.  Not necessarily to do something today, but to be thinking, “perhaps we need to change at some point in the future, I should start learning and looking around now.”  In essence, nurturing works best when the customer raises their hand.

But what happens when the customer should be raising their hand, but isn’t?  What about the case where the customer is so busy just surviving day to day?  What about the customer that isn’t looking to learn, that isn’t thinking about the future, who isn’t thinking about how they might improve their business?

They may never be a part of our nurturing programs because they don’t recognize the need to be nurtured.  They may be part of our programs, but they aren’t taking the actions they should be taking—but aren’t.

Pull is an important part of developing the customer need, knowledge and enabling us to enter a buying cycle when decide they need to buy.  But I think push is still critical.  But it’s push in a very different sense.  It’s helping the customer recognize that they need to change.  It’s helping them understand they are missing an opportunity.  It’s helping them understand that them see new ways of running their business or function.

Sales people must bring ideas to their cusotmers!  Sales people must provoke and challenge their customers.  Sales people must create the reasons for customers to raise their hands, to say–I need to do something now–entering into a buying process.  Alternatively, to say–that’s something I need to start looking into.  I might want to do something later.

I get concerned as I start to see the sales pendulum swinging to “pull” oriented sales strategies.  I think exclusively relying on pull–which I see many organizations seriously considering is irresponsible.  It’s not because we “aren’t” driving our sales growth as aggressively as possible–though that is irresponsible.  But it’s really irresponsible because we see that our customers are missing opportunities to grow and improve and we aren’t taking action to help them understand this.  It’s irresponsible because our customers often look to their sales people for ideas–to understand things that are happening in their markets, best practices for their functions, how to be more efficient.

We have to help our customers understand new opportunities–if we are truly customer focused, value based, trusted advisors, we need to get them to raise their hands.  Our nurturing programs may not do this.

Creating great value for the customer, developing meaningful relationships requires a careful balance of push and pull.  They can’t exist by themselves–we can’t have push only strategies, nor can we have pull only strategies.  We have to purposefully execute both.

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  1. why dump it all on the lap of the sales professional? marketing is indeed stuck on nurturing…but that doesnt define inbound sales and marketing entirely. nurturing unfortunately to most is an extended version of what we believe sales and marketing to be…dumping our information on people that dont have the time to investigate us…why can marketing take the lead by developing marketing content that educates…provokes…and pushes…additionally, you are making a blanket statement that you seem to think applies to all solutions and all sales reps across all industries…well…unfortunately…that is not the case. selling vision…provoking your prospects to see that they need you is a strategy best suited where the solution is innovative or the use is innovative…in mature markets where there is saturation there is very little a sales rep can do to get a customer to move…example…name me a CIO that hasnt considered automated General Ledger…what could a sales professional do to articulate the enigmatic value of automated General Ledger??? that CIO needs to be fired…not the sales rep that refuses to cold call him.

    • Vincent: Thanks for the comment — it’s a little difficult to follow all the streams. Actually, I believe the approach can be well applied across a broad variety of sales situations, including those that are commoditized. Some of the biggest successes I’ve seen in this area, are in fact in areas where the product has been commoditized. If the organization wants to de-commoditize and stop competing on price, they have to rethink what they sell, how they sell, and how they can get their customers to think about their businesses differenlty. One example in a commoditized electronic component area, we reworked the approaches of the sales team. They were able to completely reframe their positioning wiht their customers. With one of their major accounts, this transformation in relationship changed revenues from that customer from roughtly $70M per year to over $300M per year in 18 months.

      If we are stuck looking for GL because we sell GL, we’re not likely to be successful. However, if we rethink what we’re doing and how we do it, it can be very different.

      The stories abound. It’s really exciting for sales people. The real secret to sales success is not innovative products/solutions–those are quickly surpassed by the competition. The real secret is the innovation in the customer engagement process–it’s with sales.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Vincent. Regards, Dave

  2. ronlameij permalink

    Well, Dave invited me to comment on this, so ofcourse I will.
    I agree with Dave that clients sometimes are so caught up in their day-to-day business issues that they will not see the change that is necessary. Examples of companies that missed the signals all together can be found in the management literature, writers are fond of companies like Kodak, Philips, IBM (that rebounded!), Sony that are struggling or were struggling.
    Read Snap Selling by Jill Konrath to understand today’s frazzled customer!
    If, as a supplier, you think you have some remarkable insight the client needs, I agree with Dave: push! Or rather, figure out how to deliver this insight. If the client trusts you this will not be seen as pushy.

    So, sales (….and marketing….) should 1) gather market intel. client intel and figure out trends, insights and 2) present them to the clients.

    Clients might actually expect this from you! But haven’t got the time to share the expectation.

    • Great comment Ron! All of us point out the “big examples,” like those you point out—I guess there are so many. But I think sometimes we make in more complicated than it need be. We need to look at the level of folks we deal with, at the functional levels–bringing them ideas that help them look at their functions differently. It’s not just at the top of the business that we have an impact, it’s at all levels.

      I like your point that customers have the expectation for us to bring them ideas—though they may not have shared it. Regards, Dave

  3. Hi, Dave. Hope you’re well. Meg Heuer at Sirius pointed me to this post.

    Meg an I have discussed how to address this from a sales support viewpoint.

    You and Ron make an excellent point (and Jill wrote a book about it) about the crazy, busy B2B environment. I’m a bit biased about this because most of my clients have prospects who aren’t looking for them or anyone!

    Besides the too busy to look prospects, the other big bucket where prospects aren’t looking for solutions:

    • Completely new solutions – when savvy companies realize that they can solve a new pain that prospects are struggling with but don’t know it. If prospects don’t know it, they’re clearly not looking for a solution.

    Search is brilliant and quite useful for the companies where prospects are…searching. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all tool.

    Let’s hope Innovation is always a part of our world. And as long as it exists, there will ALWAYS be a need for great Push strategies.

    Bravo you for pointing it out.

    • Maureen, thanks for the great comment (Thanks to Meg as well.) You are talking about a fundamental point that I think is missed by too many. We know how to handle the too busy, but in reality the biggest category is those who are not looking for solutions, but perhaps they should. This category of customers will never respond to our pull campaigns because they don’t recognize the need to be pulled. This is where the role of the sales person is so important. Engaging a customer before they realize they have a problem or should be looking. Getting them to think differently. This is where the sales plays a very critical role.

      You also point out something that too many of us forget. These provocative and challenging conversations are not so new, though we act as though they are. They are the bread and butter of entrepreneurial start ups—and have been occuring for years.

      Thanks for the great contribution to this post!

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