Let’s be honest here: Twitter, for me, is 90 per cent a marketing tool. – Ricky Gervais
The most useful marketing model I have come across in the last five years is the one above, by Neil Rackham, most famous as the author of Spin Selling. Neil’s work sparked a bit of a revolution in the art of selling – albeit one perhaps unnoticed by much of the world. Spin selling was about listening to the customer, understanding their situation, diagnosing their problem, understanding the implications of that problem and working out what they needed to solve it.
And then life moved on and the Internet appeared and started to change things. The thing with Spin selling is the implication that you as an expert add value – you’re the one that can come along and look at the situation, diagnosing a problem like a doctor prodding a lump and telling you what’s wrong with you. And being an expert in the days BI (Before Internet) had value – because you had knowledge and people trusted you to tell them what to do. As a car salesperson, for example, you could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of models with customers and if they trusted you and bought from you and found that you had told them the right things then they’d come back and buy from you again.
But in these AI (After Internet) days you know as much as any salesperson. I remember being a little surprised when using an agent to rent out our property that he came along with a printout of local listings – something I could have done myself. I expected him to add something extra – but what is there to add? Our doctor goes onto Google to check details like what a number should be. And why should that surprise us? No one is as expert on anything as the entire Internet – this hive mind that holds everything and that can be interrogated for answers.
And this has caught out a lot of people who have lived through the BI and AI transition and who depended on their status as experts to make a living. Everyone knows what they know now or can find it out with a search query. In the past, if a car salesperson helped you out with advice you were ok with paying a bit more for a car to cover that person’s commission. That’s the dashed line in the chart above – a little more service, a little higher the price. These days you double check what they say and then buy something wherever it’s cheapest. Expertise has lost its value. But what has replaced it?
It’s the other line in the chart. The middle of the market has been eviscerated and the pandemic has shown that more clearly than ever before. On the left hand side of the curve live transactional sales – where anything, whether cheap or expensive, can be described in a listing and put up for sale. The best listings get the most views and make the most sales. You need modern marketing skills – the ability to create content, craft ads, get attention, promote deals – all the things you had to do offline as well, but now even better online. If it can be understood and specified and described you’re going to go to a marketplace and pick it up. No humans needed in the delivery of the product – they’re all sat behind their computers crafting their listings.
On the other end of the chart is the world of consultative sales. This is where you don’t know what you need or want and need to work it through with someone. Not an “expert” – those are redundant – but someone who can work with you to figure out what needs to be done. A collaborator, a participant, a fellow traveller. On that side of the curve everyone is an expert at what they do. What you’re trying to do is work together to improve a situation. The difference is between asking a doctor to help you out and two colleagues working together on a particularly difficult case. It’s about working together to figure out what to do, not about “fixing” a problem.
I think that when you understand these two models you’ll start to see them everywhere. Transactional sales are what makes the Internet hum – and it’s going to steadily take over every product that relies on a description and listing. What’s left is collaborative problem solving – informed participants working together to make things better and sharing the value they create. And that’s it.
Right, now for something different. This particular group of posts started off as something around a book idea called “Community” and it has been hard and painful going. Mainly because, I think, I was trying to figure out what I was thinking as I was writing it. But that’s ok, that’s the nature of first drafts. The book’s probably somewhere in the last few tens of posts – there’s 70,000 words that must have something useful in there somewhere… But I think I’ve just run out of steam for this particular group.
Now, I think I might spend a few posts just reflecting on the writing process so far. I’ve learned a few things along the way that make things easier and I’m a fan of easy. I think hard work is pointless – you should make things so easy to do that there’s no point putting it off. If it’s hard the chances are it won’t get done. So let’s see where that takes us in the next post or few.