Last week I was in the check-out line at a major retailer, reading a very interesting story on my iPhone while waiting, when a salesperson from a company that was showcased in the store approached me and started selling to me. The person was a very, very good salesperson and doing a very good job, but the whole experience underscored how broken the sales & marketing process has been for some time: I was annoyed by the interruption, I wasn’t in the market or interested in the product at the time, and even if I was, it was a high-consideration purchase that I certainly wouldn’t make without wanting to do a great deal of research and investigation on my own and with my wife.
Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same experience we encounter online and offline multiple times a day; while consuming content, doing work, or punching through our email, we’re bombarded with interruptive marketing that is often irrelevant or poorly timed. And for the consumer, that sucks.
But it also struck me that this experience sucked for the salesperson too – a decent amount of time and energy was invested in selling to me, despite the fact that I’ve never actively considered buying what they were selling and may not for some time. But the bigger issue is the opportunity cost: there’s a very good chance that some of the other people who were also waiting in the checkout lines may have actually been in the process of researching the solution being sold, but they walked out of the store without being touched – and may perhaps fall into the hands of a competitor.
It’s a problem that has always challenged marketing and sales organizations: assuming there’s a market for your product (if you haven’t read Marc Andreessen’s post on Product/Market fit, make sure to read it after finishing this post), how do you make sure that most, if not all, of your marketing & sales efforts are aimed at people who are interested in, need, or better yet want, your product? It’s been nearly impossible to precisely synchronize the delivery of a message to someone who is predisposed to receive it.
The good news is that there’s a shift underway as more and more marketers embrace inbound marketing – the practice of turning your company into a customer magnet, and marketing to people who want to buy your products and services. By producing high-value content that teaches, informs, or entertains customers, and optimizing that content so that it’s easily discovered through search engines and shared by customers, marketers are realizing that it’s far better to help interested customers find you instead of you trying to find them. It’s like using a bug light to attract and zap insects vs. running around with a fly-swatter trying to hit them one by one.
Thanks to the introduction of technologies like HubSpot, Marketo, Eloquoa, and others, a golden age of sales and marketing is unfolding, where instead of sucking for the consumer and the marketer/salesperson, it’s a win for both: consumers easily find resources that make them smarter when they’re interested in buying, and marketers & salespeople spend all of their time with people who actually want to buy.
For more on the concept of inbound marketing, check out this great series of videos by HubSpot founder Brian Halligan on the Inc.com website. Ironically, you’ll need to endure some interruptive splash pages, some pop-up surveys, and pre-roll videos, probably about things you don’t need or care about, before you can watch it. We still have a long way to go, but at least there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.
p.s. if the salesperson who I encountered is reading this, you did a fantastic job and this isn’t an indictment of you and / or your sales approach – you were very good and I’d hire you in a second 🙂 But I’d make sure we’d find a better way to direct your sales skills at people who were predisposed to buy.