Sell to people, not job titles

February 15th, 2008 Posted by B2B Selling 2 thoughts

Maybe you remember the old TV show or the line that it made relatively famous: “Kids are People, Too.” Well, for those of us whose businesses involve selling products or services to other businesses, we might do well to remember, “Job Titles are People, Too.”

Consumer marketers learned long ago that a target audience is far more than a demographic profile. And the more personal and resonant the message, the better the response to it. Those of us in B2B marketing have been a little slow to catch on.

We tend to identify our prospects through SIC codes and industry affiliations. We consider carefully the roles different individuals in the prospect organization play in the process, and give them shorthand tags for our own convenience: the gatekeeper, the technology buyer, the financial buyer, etc. Then we try to use those designations to make sure our messaging is relevant to the primary concerns of each audience.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with any of this. The business-to-business sales process is far more complex than most consumer buying decisions and the sales cycle far longer. That makes it imperative to at least understand the many dynamics at work.

But I think many B2B marketers go astray when all this analysis leads them to consider the typical B2B sale as dispassionate, clinical, and mechanical, and that every decision a prospect makes is a reasoned response to a careful weighing of relevant information. Maybe that’s a textbook example of the most logical process, but it’s not the real process. That’s because in the real world you are not loading your information into a data-processing robot. You are sharing it with people.

These people are, first, human beings, with spouses, children, homes, cars, regular concerns, and an awareness of the world around them. They may coach Little League, and take their daughters to Hanna Montana concerts. And they might have a sticky door at home they’ve been meaning to fix.

Sure, they consider your “pitch” with their business hats on. But it can be a big mistake to write copy and craft sales materials and presentations as if you were speaking to the nameplate on the desk. Talk to the person behind that desk instead.

I believe strongly in the simple philosophy espoused by legendary copywriter Luke Sullivan in his entertaining book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! “You’re not welcome until they like you.”

In my view, it applies at every contact point with every prospect, whether you’re sitting across the desk from him or her, sending a letter or mailing piece, making a phone call, or placing an ad in an appropriate trade publication. All your marketing intelligence is very helpful in building the case for buying your product. As long as you remember something else.

“You’re not welcome until they like you.” If you (and your materials) talk to them as people and not merely job titles, they’ll like you more, and sooner. And they just might listen seriously to what you have to say.


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2 thoughts on “Sell to people, not job titles”

  1. I think this practice would be useful in so many fields. Sales is sales no matter what industry and noone wants to simply feel like the next name on the list. How would you recommend researching the personal lives of the individuals we contact?

  2. Mike Marn says:

    I’m not advocating an invasion of their privacy. Personal information is difficult to get, and would likely make most prospects uncomfortable anyway.

    What I am saying is that marketers should not be afraid to build some humanity into their marketing communications simply because they are in the “business to business” arena.

    I’m talking about things like humor. References to current events. (Gas prices?) Storytelling. A personal experience.

    It’s the same reason a convention speaker starts with a story, not the five top benefits of his company’s products.It just helps to relax the audience/reader, and establish a little feeling of “we’re all in this together” before launching into a sales pitch.

    The first paragraph of the original post is an example of what I mean. Does it “need” to be there? No. Does it help engage the reader? I hope and think so. And I didn’t have to mention “the bottom line” or “increased efficiency” to do it.

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