The Most Surprising Things Marketers Can Learn From Salesmen

Written by Irakli Beselidze - May 1, 2015

Olga, our director, was similar to Ivan the Terrible as she repented and beheaded with the same enthusiasm. Having given me the marketing department and having promised not to interfere, now she kept an eye on my every step. “What are you doing?” I could easily read this question in her eyes. I was doing the same thing – tried to understand who our buyer was and what he cared about. Without this knowledge it was useless to develop any efficient marketing strategy.

Who knew our buyers the best? Of course those who daily communicated with them, answered hundreds of questions they ask, dispelled their doubts, assured to buy our product, and if things went well, said goodbye to buyers adding, “Thank you for choosing Gutten. We’ll be happy to see you again.” So, made a decision to speak with our sales team. If anyone knew how buyers chose Guten, sales managers were the right people to ask.

The sales department was on the second floor. This room was for people who communicated with our dealers and dealt with paperwork that wasn’t convenient to be done in the showroom. This room was also known for its tennis table where we sometimes played ping-pong after work.

I found three colleagues near a table tennis. Two of them – George and Alex – were playing ping-pong, and Nick (one of our best sales managers) attentively watched the game. Having greeted them all, I stood next to Nick and explained them that I wanted to understand who our buyers were and why they preferred Gutten to other roofing materials.

“So, you want to know who is our buyer, right?” Nick repeated my words not looking up from the ball. “Good on you. Well, our buyer is a summerite. And as you know, a summerite is the most ungrateful buyer.”

“He is a cheapskate,” George added. “When you offer him an installation, he answers that he’ll do it by himself. When you offer a delivery, he refuses telling that he’ll do it again by himself. No chances to make money off such a buyer.”

“A summerite will never miss a chance to save money. Do you know what he cares about most of all?” Nick gave me a questioning look. I shook my head. “A p-r-i-c-e!” Nick spelled. “But it’s impossible to explain this to Olga. She asks why sales are decreasing. Buy why should they increase? Give people discounts. Provide them with some presents. Make promotional offers. And then you may ask me about sales growth, right?”

The match was over. Alex lost. Both men put their racquets on the table and came up to us.

“Tell me please,” Nick insisted, “how we can work when Gutten costs more than profiled sheeting? Also add the cost of accessories here… It costs a small fortune!”

“People are not so stupid to pay more,” said George. “They’re bargain-hunting buyers.”

“A summertime,” added Nick, “feels a profit a mile away. You won’t fool him.”

“Wait a moment, what about metal tile roofing?” I asked impatiently. “It costs more than Gutten but people prefer buying it.”

“It beats Gutten! Metal tile roofing is safe as it’s metal-based. You may not worry about hail, fallen branches. Besides, it’s wind- and rain-resistant. The summerite understands what he pays for.” Nick concluded. “Do you know what he says about Gutten?”   

I didn’t know.

“He says it’s too weak and unsafe,” Gosha fell into the conversation. “Won’t Gutten melt in hot weather? Won’t it burst in a freezing weather? How long it will last?”

“We’re really genius! We produce the worst roofing material – expensive and of a low quality.”

All three men became sad thinking their own thoughts. We decided to drink some tea to cheer up. George took cups, Alex brought biscuits and made tea to everyone. Nick went on reasoning:

“If there’s anyone who can save our Gutten, you’re the one. You can influence Olga’s decisions. Explain her that if we cannot compete with metal tile roofing in quality, we need to reduce prices, offer discounts, and launch promotional offers. We need to attract summerite’s attention,” assured Nick, “and he is very sensitive to discounts.”

“Do you remember mega discounts provided by Roofbuilding just before the New Year?” Asked George excitedly. “They sold everything like hot cakes.”

“And the BestBuilders company also made a special offer,” Alex started speaking for the first time. “They wrote that ‘only 198 sheets at old prices were left’ and managed to sell half of their stock.”

“That would be great if we could do something similar,” said George dreamingly. “We’d perfectly sell Gutten then.”

“Please talk to Olga,” Nick advised me. “You’re a marketing expert and understand perfectly well how it works. We’ve got no other change to attract our simmerites. They’ll move to our competitors.”

“Talk to her,” echoed George and Alex. “Olga will defer to your opinion.”

I was looking at these three men begging me to radically change the situation and didn’t know what to do. I came to them for getting an answer to my question why people bought Gutten, but instead I got to know why people bought profiled sheeting. I expected to clarify what Gutten features attracted people but just discovered things that detered people from buying Gutten. Salesmen’s arguments gave Gutten no chances to survive.

Though I didn’t like Nick’s nagging, I agreed with him that pricing was highly important. Competitors were right to constantly conduct promotion campaigns and sales. But Olga didn’t like the idea of activities like that. Besides, if we agreed to base our marketing strategy just on promotions and sales, we proved our professional impropriety. But Olga’s patience was running out, I had no other ideas, and it wasn’t clear what to do next.

When Michael made a decision to pursue answers to his questions in the sales department, he didn’t bear in mind that marketers and sales managers perceived buyers differently since they had different tasks to cope with. But it doesn’t mean that the departments of sales and marketing should act separately. On the contrary, they should work in close cooperation as only their coordinated actions will help the company to succeed.

The Departments of Sales and Marketing: a Different View on Buyers

So, what’s the difference? Marketers perceive potential buyers as a target for communicating products values. Their aim is to show buyers that your product perfectly fits their needs and encourage them to go and buy it.

In contrast to marketers, sales people perceive buyers as an object for applying special sales methods for getting money in exchange for your product. These methods are aimed at getting an immediate result. Since the sales department doesn’t see reasons that have triggered the buyer’s decision to enter a shop, it just focuses on reasons allowing to close a deal. And the price serves as one of the most evident reasons. But low prices, discounts and presents are just one of the ways to add value to your offer. This approach works when a buyer is almost ready to buy your product. By reducing prices or giving some presents, you provide additional arguments for your product, thus, you convince the buyer to purchase your product instead of competitor’s one. This is the picture the sales department sees, and that’s why they often exaggerate the value of prices.

The marketing department sees everything differently. They focus on the product’s value rather than on prices since it’s the value that plays the crucial role in the buyers’ final decision to make a purchase. The price is just a perception of product’s value in a cash equivalent. For example, imagine you’ve got the following problem: in winter the floor in your office is always dirty because of a bad weather. You may solve the problem in several ways:

  1. 1.      Give boot covers to everyone who enters the office.
  2. 2.      Hire an office cleaner.
  3. 3.      Buy equipment that quickly packs boots on the leg.
  4. 4.      Ask visitors to take off their shoes.

All these solutions have a different cost, and you’ll choose the variant based on how important it is for you to solve the problem. The objective of marketing is to understand why you’ve chosen a particular variant of solving a problem with a dirty floor, follow your buying cycle, analyze reasons of the decisions made at each stage of the cycle and understand the product’s value in your eyes.

It’s important to note that marketing shouldn’t create new values. It should identify the value buyers find to be the most important one and provide customers with information highlighting this value. The sales department will help you understand whether your efforts were successful or not. It will help you see what else you should do for assuring people to buy your product. In other words, marketers need to constantly communicate with the sales department to understand why not all potential buyers are ready to buy your product.

The efficiency of the marketing department work should be evaluated along with the sales department work. While the work of a sales expert is evaluated by buyers, marketers’ work is measured by executives or business owners.

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