Come, take a walk with me and let's talk about sales; in fact, I'd like us to put on our prospect hats because the experience is unique, it's really important to our discussion.
When I put on my prospect hat, I am immediately hit in the face with tidal wave of information and media – it knocks me over and I drown. Business, consumer, buy this, read that - it comes at me as a giant wall of water. So I do what I expect everyone else does, quickly screen things out and build the network of me. I figure out whom I trust and what information I respect and how I want to receive it. It's experiential rather than planned, but now I've got the websites bookmarked. I scan my inbox. Different stuff is on my phone. And TV is just for movies. Inside the network of me the noise is down to a dull roar, I can stick my head up for air.
All sorts of messages crash in and crash out of the network of me, but to stay on the network you've got to earn it everyday, better than everyone else. If you do, you've got the inside track on sales.
The network of me. It comes up in every research interview I've ever conducted. People parse their trust and respect based on human, individual and business criteria – what information do they need and how do they want it. Anything else is trash. The network is how they learn and act.
Let me give you an example:
I was interviewing the CIO of a regional bank. He was explaining his process for staying abreast of changes in technology and how he decides what to purchase. He recounted the conventions he attends, the regional bank technology association he belongs to and the online and print sources he frequents. But, if he has a particular problem, he turns to a specific service provider. This guy took the time to learn the CIO's needs and the needs of the organization, and satisfy them, to get and stay on the network of me as a trusted and respected technology source.
What does this provider offer? Certainly his core technology, and:
- The provider has staffed and trained technical personnel to help the bank as needed.
- Through his network, he will research and problem and present a solution in many other areas of technology
- He has developed reseller relationships with several trusted corporations to bring service and support right to the CIO's door.
I tip my hat to this guy.
There are three foundational things you need to do to get on the network of me:
- The people who work with, recommend and buy your product or service we call prospects, which is somewhat dehumanizing and generic. We've got to understand them as people, as individuals, with both professional and personal needs and preferences. They establish their own criteria for their own networks.
- Develop a brand that speaks to these people simply and clearly. Answer the prospect's three questions: who are you; why should I care; what's in it for me?
- Put your arms around each prospect and develop the extensions and value-adds that increase your span of influence and the value you can provide. Think of it as a brand ecosystem – an extended family that can increase the prospect's satisfaction and their preference for you.
It is my belief that this is where marketing, and particularly business-to-business marketing is going. I call it the network of me, others call it opt-in marketing, but one thing remains true – the prospect has put themselves in control. It's their network, and their hat.Scott Hornstein is an author, lecturer and consultant, with over 30 years experience in all phases of marketing, research and implementation. He is president of the consultancy Hornstein Associates. His latest book, Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing, was just published by McGraw-Hill. Scott can be reached at email@example.com or 203.938.8715.