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How to Avoid Looking Stupid in Marketing and Sales

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In life insurance and annuity marketing and sales anyone can be an “expert.” Just ask and they’ll give you instant ironclad answers. They may take a pass on other issues but not this one. All that’s needed are “fake facts” (opinions) to be an authority.

This may help explain why so much time, money and effort goes down the drain in countless ill-conceived marketing initiatives and sales programs. So, if you want to look smart, then here are faulty assumptions you should avoid:

The role of marketing is to serve sales. Even though it may come as a surprise to salespeople, sales managers, and CEOs, marketing’s role is not to be a handmaiden to the sales department.

(Related: Someone Is Out to Get You. Count on It

Marketing has its own, distinct job—and that’s to create customers, those who want to do business with a particular brand. And it’s the task of the sales team to get the orders. Of course, they must work closely together and support each other, if they are to make their numbers, but each one has a separate role.

If an idea sounds good, go with it. Your boss rushes back to the office, gets the team together, and announces a new marketing initiative, one he heard about at a seminar. “This is really going to work, so let’s get going,” he says.

New and different ideas are appealing, particularly to the uninformed, who don’t want to waste time getting bogged down in debating whether or not the idea is appropriate or a good fit for the company’s strategic plan. Just do it! Anyway, the boss wants to do it. It’s a textbook prescription for failure.

Buying decisions should be based on price. Far too often, “cheap” is the corporate standard for evaluating marketing and sales programs. “What will it cost?” is a definitive question. If it’s cheap, “Go for it.” A medical office moved to a new location and sent patients an attractive, nicely designed full color postal card—except that there were ink smears on both sides. Without knowing it, they sent their patients the message that they don’t sweat the details.

Jumping on the next big wave will guarantee profits. Don’t get left behind. Be known for being the first to jump on the latest trend. You’ll be a stand out and it will get attention on your resume. And be sure to dazzle everyone with the right lingo. You won’t accomplish much, but by the time they figure it out, you’ll be on your way to an even bigger gig.

Never ask for feedback when you present an idea or initiative. The goal is to get going, not dilly-dally around. Anyway, asking for feedback is the kiss of death. There are always those who will take you up on it; they are naïve enough to think you want their input. If you take feedback seriously, it will only mess up your idea or shoot it down. Think about it, many CEOs and presidents never make this mistake.

Muscle man (Image: Thinkstock)

(Image: Thinkstock) 

This is only one part of the story. Far too often, team members just sit in silence, even though they know from experience that an idea is faulty. Some are silent because they don’t want to look like obstructionists, while others smugly wait for the train wreck.

If you say you want feedback to help improve a program, hear everyone out and take their comments into consideration.

Just know what the customers want. Thinking that you know, based purely on your gut feelings, what customers want is plain scary. Even so, too many sales and marketing decisions are based on the assumption that someone claims to know what customers want. The list is legion—from the infamous Ford Edsel, the Apple Newton Pad, to Microsoft’s Zune, and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

The danger is in becoming absorbed with what “seems like a winner” and then believing it. It happens in large companies and small businesses. Asking customers what they want is irrelevant, while working at understanding their situation can point in a better direction. For example, Ford, would have been better off going with a smaller car than the Edsel in 1957, at a time when energy costs were rising and the economy was slowing down. Enter the Datsun, and a string of other fuel efficient small cars that consumers went for in a big way.

Always set the sales team’s numbers out of reach. The same game is played every year, and the team is good at it. They know what management wants to hear, even though it’s unrealistically aggressive. So, they go along and when their results fall short, they have their excuses ready. The day will come, however, when some brave person says, “What if we took time to understand why our sales are flat—why we can’t get out of this rut?”

The problem is a lack of customer loyalty. The loyal customer is a myth. If some are still believers, they’re either lazy or don’t have smart phones.

The problem is far more basic than having too many distribution channels. From all indications, shopping is dead. Retail is imploding, thanks to the small screen. What keeps the crowds going to Amazon and others like it? It’s the Amazon customer experience: easy, convenient, clear, flexible, responsive, reliable, transparent, and always improving. This is what attracts and holds customers.

All this is not to suggest that every marketing and sales assumption should be thrown out and replaced with something new and different. That would be a mistake. However, it does mean that our assumptions must be constantly challenge with an eye to improvement.

— Read Present Your Way to the Top on ThinkAdvisor


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