Competition

Marketing Trigger Words.


In workshops and coaching with sellers, I see a recurring language pattern that’s shutting down the client conversation before it even truly gets under way.  With all the best intentions, sales reps toss off careless simplifications of their client’s business and marketing needs.  In uttering or typing these Marketing Trigger Words, the seller ends up with no idea of the damage they have caused.  They know only that the sales call and the relationship have gone sideways, but they don’t know why.

There are several Trigger Words – and Phrases – but there are a couple of threads that tie them together:  predictability and lack of specificity.  In terms of the predictable, it’s almost as if we’ve passed around a book called “Stuff Reps Say”…. Lazy casual phrases that are tossed into emails and conversations with no real research or understanding.  And even when the seller does have a clue about what their client might need, they talk about it so generally that it ends up falling flat with the customer. A few examples:

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“Reach.”  This is a very real thing, of course…just not in the way most reps refer to it.  “This customer really needs to reach millennials!”  Yeah, maybe.  But they don’t necessarily need you to help them do it. Reach is a math problem they can solve lots of other ways.  What are you really bringing to the table?  The ability to tell the audience a better story?  Insights to help the marketer connect with that customer?  But if you open with “reach,” you’ll never really get a fair hearing on what you can really offer.

“You compete with…”  This is a swing and miss for so many reps.   Not because it’s a bad idea to bring up the client’s competitor…no, that’s a great idea!  It’s just that the seller tosses out the most simplistically obvious one.  Ford/Chevy, Coke/Pepsi, Samsung/Apple, Verizon/AT&T and so on.  To make the competitive dynamic meaningful, you must make it specific.  Don’t mention five different competitors; pick one.   Don’t leave it at the corporate or brand level; say which specific products, car models or cell plans are in competition.  Speaking specifically about your customers fight is your first chance to show them how much you know and care.  Don’t half-ass it.

“Branding.”  This might be the mac-daddy of them all.  Sellers who are diligent (or lucky) enough to get face time with marketers will then casually toss out the B-Word.  “Our company can help you build your brand in the eyes of our audience!”  If the advertiser is able to get past the feeling of condescension in that statement, they will then realize that the rep has little idea about what goes into building a brand – or how customers are moved along the scale from awareness to association to preference to intent.  Good rule of thumb:  If you can’t explain it, don’t say it.

You and your company have a lot of great things to offer to marketers and agencies.  How tragic, then, that it often goes wrong so early.  Take care with your words and you’ll find yourself in the deeper, more productive conversations that both you and your customers crave.


Meet Your Competition.


Working with scores of companies in the digital ecosystem, I end up being the go-to guy on a persistent question:  “How do we compare with the other guys?”

Individual sellers and whole sales organizations demonstrate a serious need to be benchmarked.  There are great companies out there who offer this as a service:  they’ll tell a given company whether they are number one, two or twenty-three in the eyes of agencies or marketers.  Or you can always fall back on whose is bigger (comparing revenues, page views, video streams….whatever.)

But nevertheless, they ask me the question, because I’ve spent close time with many of the companies they perceive to be competitors.  And they really, really want to know how they stack up.

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The answer is simple, if also a bit frustrating:  If you’re measuring yourself against any competitor, you’re embracing ambivalence and courting failure.   Give power and currency to someone else and you immediately make it all about a company and a sales team and issues that you have no control over.

The right approach is to localize the questions:  Given our resources, skills, voice, capabilities, scale, etc., what is the best we can possibly be?  How might we become indispensable to this customer at this critical time in their business?

Tell your team (or tell yourself) to stop comparing your insides to other companies’ outsides.  The more you obsess about your ‘competitors’ the more you stop paying attention to the customers whose money you hope to earn.  Your competition is you….your benchmark is your potential value to the marketer.  All the rest is noise.

When a member of her staff would ask Oprah Winfrey about the latest guest that Jerry Springer or Arsenio Hall or Sally Jesse Raphael had booked, she always offered the same admonition:  “Let them do them.  We’ll do us.”

Priceless.


So, Who Do You Compete With…?


So Who Do You Compete WithIteration cripples and marginal thinking kills.  But we still see too many examples of companies and teams who think only about being one feature ahead or one degree better than a perceived competitor.  Blue Ocean Strategy, a business classic, is both antidote and recipe.  Here’s what I wrote about the concept back in 2010.  Perhaps even more relevant now.

The master premise of Blue Ocean Strategy is that in formulating strategies, companies spend far too much time benchmarking the moves of their competitors; defining exactly who is in the competitive set, what they do, how well, and how to do it better or cheaper.  Because of this, most companies end up competing in “Red Oceans” for tiny margins through incremental improvements in performance or reductions in price.  These are called “Red Oceans” because they’re crowded with other fish and the water is quite bloody.  In our business it’s almost impossible to miss this phenomenon playing itself out across ad networks, digital agencies, technology players, data providers and sales organizations.  Massive human capital, creativity and energy is burned away in a dispiriting ‘race to the bottom’ that’s inherent in a Red Ocean World.

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Many breakaway successes, on the other hand, employ “Blue Ocean” strategies in which they create whole new market spaces for themselves, spaces where “…competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.”  There are a handful of core principles and strategic moves explored in the book — “Value Innovation,” looking across market boundaries, and creating a ‘New Value Curve’ — and it’s far more detailed in its tactics and examples than just about anything else out there.

And it’s hard to argue with the examples of successful strategies here:  Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines, [yellow tail] Australian wine, Bloomberg, NetJets and even the NYPD all employed Blue Ocean strategies and achieved magnificent results.  The best part?  A Blue Ocean Strategy doesn’t rely on a massive influx of funding or new resources:  one of its strengths is that it helps you manage resource tradeoffs to maximize your customer value and zag while all of your former competitors are still zigging.

Think quickly of the three most dominant names in the digital media and entertainment world today and arguably you’ll come up with the same list I do:  Apple, Google, Facebook.  None of them achieved market dominance through benchmarking and iteration, and all created — and dominated — their own Blue Oceans. I’ve got more work to do but I’m convinced these principles can help many other talented companies break out of the Red Oceans that are sapping their value and burning out their best people.


Into the Blue.


Into the BlueLast week’s post on design thinking and asking beautiful questions has me thinking a lot about sales strategy and how to unlock it. In 2010, I wrote this post on Blue Ocean Strategy, and it seemed worth another look, especially as so many companies and individual sellers are once again navigating so much change.

The master premise of Blue Ocean Strategy is that in formulating strategies, companies spend far too much time benchmarking the moves of their competitors; defining exactly who is in the competitive set, what they do, how well, and how to do it better or cheaper.  Because of this, most companies end up competing in “Red Oceans” for tiny margins through incremental improvements in performance or reductions in price.  These are called “Red Oceans” because they’re crowded with other fish and the water is quite bloody.  In our business it’s almost impossible to miss this phenomenon playing itself out across ad networks, digital agencies, technology players, data providers and sales organizations.  Massive human capital, creativity and energy is burned away in a dispiriting ‘race to the bottom’ that’s inherent in a Red Ocean World.

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Many breakaway successes, on the other hand, employ “Blue Ocean” strategies in which they create whole new market spaces for themselves, spaces where “…competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.”  There are a handful of core principles and strategic moves explored in the book — “Value Innovation,” looking across market boundaries, and creating a ‘New Value Curve’ — and it’s far more detailed in its tactics and examples than just about anything else out there.

And it’s hard to argue with the examples of successful strategies here:  Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines, [yellow tail] Australian wine, Bloomberg, NetJets and even the NYPD all employed Blue Ocean strategies and achieved magnificent results.  The best part?  A Blue Ocean Strategy doesn’t rely on a massive influx of funding or new resources:  one of its strengths is that it helps you manage resource tradeoffs to maximize your customer value and zag while all of your former competitors are still zigging.

Think quickly of the three most dominant names in the digital media and entertainment world today and arguably you’ll come up with the same list I do:  Apple, Google, Facebook.  None of them achieved market dominance through benchmarking and iteration, and all created — and dominated — their own Blue Oceans. I’ve got more work to do but I’m convinced these principles can help many other talented companies break out of the Red Oceans that are sapping their value and burning out their best people.