The title of this article might just confuse you! Surely, they are both just as important, aren’t they? Here is the reason for what might seem to be a very strange question -
In these times of enforced isolation, I decided to carry out some primary research in my own area of expertise. Sales and Marketing…
Over my very long (now 43 years +) career which has covered sales and marketing, then promotion to sales and marketing management and ultimately large corporate business leadership I have always felt that society (at least in the UK) seems to accept or admire marketing quite readily, but looks down on selling. So, with some spare time I went online and looked for undergraduate (1st Degree) courses in the UK that focussed on marketing or sales in 2020. The results, quite simply, astonished me. Here is what I found through my searches…
According to the Guardian's University Guide 2020, there are more than 500 undergraduate courses in the UK with a major/core marketing component (marketing led). While some are combined with related fields such as economics, psychology, design or fashion, there are a lot of ‘pure’ marketing courses. There is a total of 2,809 courses across 133 institutions covering “management, marketing and business”. On searching, I quickly realised there isn’t even a search category or sub-category in the University Guide for sales!
Nothing came up in any of the official guides I could find. So, I reverted to “pure google’. I found one University advertising four sales degrees. However, on digging into the site, each one is actually entitled ‘Sales and Marketing’ – the content seems about even. Another University offers a ‘Sales and Marketing Management’ degree – same story. Three more universities advertise sales degrees, but on getting into the detail, one says its management course can lead to a career in selling, the others, again, offer marketing degrees with varying amounts of sales content. So, on reflection, I would suggest that to say there are 5 real sales degree courses in the UK is actually being pretty optimistic.
For the UK then, my research comes up with 500+ marketing degrees, 2,809 ‘Business, Marketing and Business’ courses. And 5 ‘Sales’ courses. Really? Seriously?
But perhaps it is just Degree courses that have this leaning? I then searched for what we in the UK term ‘Further Education’ courses instead – you know, night school, study at home etc. I got much the same result.
How can selling become more professional and accepted, how can standards rise, against this societal judgement and backdrop? What is the picture in your country? Is it the same? Better? Even worse?
Let me step back here. Where am I coming at this from? My career has led to me being awarded Fellowship in both the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Sales Management. My feet are firmly placed in both ‘camps’. I don’t have an axe to grind but I am evangelical about improving standards in sales. Not so much in marketing. Why? Well, just look above – there is already plenty of support and activity geared to helping all marketing disciplines improve.
Since I left the corporate world, I have worked to help over 40 promising start-ups improve their business prospects. When those with the big idea come from, say, scientific or academic research backgrounds I am often asked “what’s the difference between them anyway? Surely, it’s all much the same?” At that level I will reply with something like “Both exist to help the business meet its commercial goals, grow and prosper. But marketing is typically ‘one to many’ and is focussed on letting your target market(s) know you exist (market visibility, PR/awareness activities) and then creating leads to pass to sales, which can ultimately result in revenues. Sales is usually ‘one to one’ and takes those leads (or works itself to find them if there is no marketing support) and actually takes each one along the resulting sales pipeline, hopefully to the close and delivers the actual revenues required by the business”. Now, I know for this audience, that is very over-simplistic but you get my drift, when explaining at a very high level for those who have no understanding yet.
I see both sales and marketing as critical to any business. They are co-dependent, they should be synergistic. But sales actually delivers the revenues that drive the business and the economy. How then can society and education be so unbalanced? And what can we all do to influence/change things for the better?
For my part, I can imagine a situation where there are a greater number of sales degrees (or indeed, study courses of any kind). Some might argue that perhaps sales doesn’t merit a full degree course. That might be true, but I can assure you the same was said for marketing years ago! However, I can easily imagine – today – sales led and badged degree courses that have that absolute focus but which also cover other associated areas such as business studies, international trade, economics, marketing, PR and management through modules in these disciplines.
In the UK, organisations like the ISM are already doing a fantastic job in working to improve awareness and standards within the selling profession and outwards. But what can we each do? The imbalance I see today is damaging to our economy and to all our futures. What do you think?
I don’t come to this from a perspective of having all the answers. But I do see the problem every day…
Before I get to my own urgent message can I just wish everyone who reads this, both safety and health for you and your families and friends in these very difficult times. Our focus must be on keeping safe and helping others too where we can...
Anyway, this was never a message I ever imagined I would be posting! The book launch has gone very well, particularly on Amazon. Thanks to you all - another blog will cover this in more detail!
BUT, on looking for my book on Amazon a few days ago I found another book sitting alongside mine, written by 'JIM IRVING'. It has a pretty strange title ( LIFE'S GREATEST LESSON TO BUSINESS SUCCESS: LEARN THE BASIC RULES AND QUOTES TO A SUCCESSFUL LIFE) and the cover is, in my opinion, not exactly professional. But it has my name on it and is listed alongside mine. Strangely enough there are no contact details or author background or any information of any sort about the provenance of the book. As you can imagine, I am investigating with Amazon. Goodreads have already removed it from my listing and 'deassociated' it. I also note that they have removed the 'Goodreads Author' title from it too.
So, until the work with Amazon is complete, please be assured I have only written ONE book - The B2B Selling Guidebook! Anything else is, well...
Keep safe, Jim
Because if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
This first blog is closely based on the opening chapter of the B2B Selling Guidebook. I think it contains an important lesson for all those who sell B2B (although the first example actually comes from my own experience as a B2C prospective customer!) Others in the series will focus on some specifics of selling, plus business and life more generally...
I was recently in the market for a new car – just a small ‘run around’ to replace a larger, older and less efficient car – doing my bit for the planet. I looked at three options which were all very close in specification. In each case I took a test drive and then said I would think about it. All three salesmen (and in this case they were all men) seemed professional and competent. I was a real buyer… I had cash and motive… I gave them my contact details... I was really interested in their products and told them so… Now ten months on, not one has followed up to see what I was doing. Such a shame and also such a lost opportunity for each of them. If just one had followed up and truly been interested, they would almost certainly have their commission now. Has that happened to you in your own personal life? How do you feel when a salesperson simply lets you down? This ‘poor service – v - fantastic service’ feeling in a customer can be enormously useful to you in B2B selling.
The simple fact is that salespeople often commit and promise to do, more than they actually deliver. A lot is said, but less is done…
An Example from my Working Life
I was trying to break into a critical target account in Manufacturing. I was, as we all often are, hitting my head against the proverbial brick wall. Nothing seemed to have been working. But I had obviously done just enough to get noticed as I was then invited to compete with their incumbent supplier for the next large deal, which was really
important to their business success – a truly strategic procurement for the customer. I had built an effective network of friends and contacts, both in the sector and in the local market and I heard through my grapevine that the incumbent supplier was totally unconcerned about our presence. They had a multi-year joint history, a great ongoing working relationship, good technology and a couple of staff deeply embedded (full time) with the customer. Thinking back, I guess if I was them, I would have been pretty confident too!
I racked my brains but could not think of any traditional way to win the deal and the customer relationship going forward. Then I had an idea and decided I would try what I later termed ‘Service Led Selling’. (Note: not Services Led, which is another thing entirely…) It was an initial, fairly unscientific attempt to win over the customer by contrasting their experience with us and with their incumbent supplier. Luckily the prospect was a large, traditional organisation with a methodical approach to the buying process and with a lot of their people wanting answers to a large number of questions. The tactic was very simple. We cleared a whiteboard in the office and I and the pre-sales team agreed a headline which read… “Every request will be answered the same day”. As the questions flowed in, we ‘crawled over broken glass’ to ensure that, no matter how difficult, we always got at least the basis of an answer back to them before midnight that same day. And we openly and honestly answered every question. When we simply didn’t know the answer AND couldn’t get it before the end of the day we still responded, explained what we did know, what action we had taken to answer their question and when we would be back to them with a definitive answer. We recorded them all on the whiteboard to ensure none were missed. It was HARD work for everyone. At one point we even figured out that the customer had perhaps guessed what we were trying to do as a lot of difficult questions seemed to come in around 5pm! But we persevered.
We did this without fail throughout the length of the four to five-month campaign. Of course, at the same time we were doing our traditional sales job - needs analysis, problem solving, running presentations, speaking to their technical staff and executives and building our proposal – all the normal big ticket, B2B sales activities.
On decision day we found that we had won the deal – and the account - outright. The incumbent suppler was beyond shocked. One of their flagship accounts was gone and they just couldn’t figure out how it had happened. Had they perhaps taken their customer too much for granted?
Over time as we got to know our new customer, we kept on hearing the same phrase – “From the beginning we just felt we could trust you more to deliver this critical project”.
The constant drip, drip, drip of us responding quickly, fully, honestly and effectively to every request, compared with the normal approach from a big vendor – answering
questions in a few days or so, not answering everything fully (particularly if a truthful answer didn’t look good), sometimes completely missing out the answers that were not positive – had created a powerful impression and impact. Your customer contacts may have highly tuned business skills and professional qualifications. BUT, they are still people and they have feelings/reactions to what is happening around them. Psychology talks about the fact that ‘negativity bias’ (your bad feelings towards something caused through bad experience) is actually stronger than the equivalent ‘positivity bias’. So, if one vendor is constantly (perhaps unconsciously) reinforcing a negative experience and the other is reinforcing positive actions and attitude, then you will subconsciously start to feel that there is a big gap between them. But, putting aside the psychology theory, all I know is that it worked very well for me!
I would love to be able to say that I have done this religiously on every major deal since then, but that just wouldn’t be anywhere near true. HOWEVER, on those once in a while, highest-level, critical deals AND assuming you have a team that will truly agree with the idea and actively support you, this tactic can have an amazing impact on the customer relationship and trust.
So What is the Lesson?
Hard work pays off. Hard, consistent, detailed work pays even better… If all else is equal, then being a more responsive supplier, with a more open attitude, greater consistency and a much faster response time will directly, although subliminally, impact on the individuals you deal with. They will ‘just feel’ you are a better bet for them. Put simply, if you continue to do the right things, then the right things will happen. A warning however - you can’t ever ‘half do’ this. Starting out to work in this way and then dropping off your effort will have the exact opposite effect; they will become increasingly disappointed in you. “We thought at first you were better than that…” James Muir describes selling as “A sample of how you solve…” and that is what we are doing here. Start this way and then continue in the same manner and you will have an incredibly strong relationship with your customer. Service Led Selling is a fantastic tool to keep up your sleeve for when it’s needed…
Jim is the author of The B2B Selling Guidebook and The B2B Leaders Guidebook and a 'fairly experienced' sales person, sales leader and corporate executive. He is also addicted to chocolate!