One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes make is treating product development, marketing and sales as three independent pursuits.
Truth is, they are all hopelessly intertwined parts of the same process. And, without fail, the more innovative energy you give to the first, the less time, money and energy you have to spend on the last two.
Let’s look at the fitness industry as an example…
Your average health club is packed to the gills with rows of cardio, TVs, 30 or 40 resistance training machines, free weights, functional exercise toys, mats and a room or two for classes. Throw in a smoothie bar, jazzier lockers and childcare and you’ve got a modest claim of differentiation. But, fact is, rare is the club that spends any real time, energy and money on developing their product into something that delivers not only a massively different, but vastly better solution. Especially for the 85% of Americans who, despite 30 years of marketing and public service campaigns, still won’t touch health clubs with a 10-foot pole.
So, for the most part, your average club can be defined in one word—fungible.
It’s a clone club. And, that creates a big challenge for both the folks in marketing and sales. With a few exceptions, beyond the window-dressing, you could swap one brand for another fairly easily, leaving price and convenience as the primary selling points. In a market where there’s little competition, that’s survivable. But, as soon as more clubs with similar features arrive, you’re left with price as the primary differentiator and that’s a bad place to be.
In an attempt to try to overcome clone club syndrome, club owners task marketers, advertising agencies and PR people with “positioning” their solution as bigger, better, cooler, cuter, edgier, hipper, funnier and different, when in reality it’s not.
This leaves them singing that classic line from The Sound of Music, “how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” while simultaneously trying to overlay (read “hide) the lack of killer differentiation by wrapping their best shot at an ADD-worthy ad campaign around a humdrum product in an effort to create enough fabricated cuteness, angst or the appearance of differentiation to drive people into the club. And, that whole process gets repeated every month.
Once at the club, prospects are met by the “sales” team.
If you’ve been around the industry for more than a few years, you know the reputation old school club sales people have (and, so does the FTC). Fast talking, objection-overcoming, pressure-pouncing, you must sign before you leave contract crusaders. Sales people have had the monumental burden of creating enough urgency, often through one-time-only offers and enrollment fee waivers, to compel the prospect to sign up before they leave. Anything less is failure.
Because once a prospect arrives and tours the club, it becomes fairly clear that, when it comes down to it, this place is pretty much like all the others, save a bell here and a whistle there. And, if they don’t realize it at that moment, the sales people know if the prospect leaves and visits somewhere else, let’s say $10 a month cheaper, that sale is lost.
And, even if a prospect signs on the dotted line, most stop coming fairly early on, leading to average annual drop-out of 40% and massive, unending new client generation and sales burden
Man, that’s tough to sustain.
Stepping back, here’s what really happened.
A lack of attention to kick ass product differentiation put a ton of pressure on marketing to fabricate a reason for someone to join that was strong enough to get them to visit. They were then charged with mercilessly recreating a new illusion to keep people interested and walking in the door month after month and the club was charged with paying them to do it.
Then, sales people had the insane burden of locking down prospects before the disconnect between the cool, cute, different vibe wore thin.
Does this strike anyone else as a smart way to run a business?
What if you turned the time, energy, money and innovation funnel upside down?
What if, instead of rolling out largely insignificant changes in your business model and customer solutions year after year and leaned on sales and marketing to keep you afloat, you stepped back and spent the vast majority of your time, energy and money not on incremental line improvements, but on blue ocean solutions?
What if you did to the fitness world what Cirque du Soleil did to the circus and theater? What if you created a new paradigm that was so different, so appealing, so much better at solving the health, fitness and lifestyle problems people have, especially those currently alienated by health clubs, you literally expanded the market and, in doing so, made the competition irrelevant?
How would that change your marketing and sales burdens?
Instead of putting your marketing and PR people in a room and paying them to brainstorm largely trumped up ways to position your brand as something hip, cool and different, they could spend a fraction of the time saying, “Holy crap, this is so damn cool, all we really have to do is let the world know we’re here.”
Their job would change from monthly fabricators, illusion-builders and buyers of interruption-driven mass media…to match-lighters.
The time, energy and money needed to “market” becomes instantly and drastically slashed. Because you’ve created what Seth Godin calls “a purple cow.” Something that people cant’ stop talking about.
And, if your marketing team has a remotely decent understanding of word-of-mouth marketing, social media marketing, the psychology of persuasion and viral buzz creation, the potential of bringing to market something that leaves people panting to text, tweet, call, IM, e-mail, post and update everyone they’ve met since kindergarten is huge.
You’ve just deputized an army of people to become your FREE marketing department
Now, let’s follow this through to the fine folks in sales.
Remember that classic “what, does your husband/wife make those decisions for you?” high-pressure close fest sales encounters we talked about earlier? The ones that had prospects checking if their watches were still there and sales people turning over every 5 minutes, rushing to meet quota and feeling largely like slime balls along the way? Those days are gone.
Sure, you still need well trained sales people, but if you do your product development and marketing right, every prospect walks in the door 90% sold already, leaving the sales person largely to confirm that everything a prospect has heard is true. Add in a savvy elicitation of primary buying criteria, tie your solution to that and maybe hint at the fact that membership is growing so fast, it might have to be temporarily capped (and it might)…and it’s game over.
How do I know this process works?
Because it’s the approach I’ve used to build two successful companies in the health and fitness world. One was a private training facility that literally broke new ground and created an environment, programming, pricing structure and culture that was so utterly different, it left people running to tell their friends, tore deeply into the fabric of previous fitness haters and made other studios and gyms largely irrelevant.
Then came a yoga center and teacher training institute that, again, broke nearly every rule. Instead of targeting the “indoctrinated” market of yoga practitioners with incremental benefits, we went after the non-foofy, uninstalled yoga-phobic market with a solution and a setting that was so different it created new ground in the yoga world and took off just quickly as the earlier personal fitness center had.
In both cases, I spent the vast majority of my time cultivating an understanding not of the psychology of the market being served by the existing fitness and yoga solutions, but the vastly larger market being ignored by them. This allowed me to create solutions that didn’t just serve the existing market better, they expanded the market by including those who’d normally never exercised or done yoga.
And, in both cases, by the time someone walked in the door, the sale was largely done.
More importantly, from the perspective of the guy who created these entities (with plenty of help from amazing teams, btw), treating “solution-development,” marketing and sales as one unified endeavor or, as I call it “marketing from the heartbeat out” is just so much more rewarding. Because, I get to spend the vast majority of my time creating innovative ways to solve more peoples’ problems bigger, better and faster than anyone else. Often creating new models along the way, drawing in entirely new markets and building a magical culture that people line up to participate in.
Sure, I know how market and sell from the outside in. I can create and bolt on innovative marketing campaigns, train sales people to close hard and fast and write copy that inspires a boatload of action and gets people talking about “the campaign.” But, when you start, instead, from the heartbeat and work your way out, people stop talking about how cute, funny or outrageous your ads are and they start talking about how their lives are changing…often for the first time ever.
And, that’s not only pretty damn cool, it’s exponentially more lucrative.
So, next time you think about how you can better market and sell what you’ve got, you might want to take a bigger step back and look at exactly what it is you’re selling.
Ask what you can do to make the fundamental solution you are providing so seriously kick-ass, so radically different, so much more compelling, especially to a market that stretches way beyond your current one, that marketing and sales become the functional equivalents of lighting a match…and offering a marshmallow for the fire.
That’s what marketing from the heartbeat out is all about.
As always, just thinking out loud.
What do you think?
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