If sales and marketing were one-size-fits-all endeavours, we’d be out of a job.
There is no singular true strategy that works for every business, because every business is different. Different people, different customers… different products.
Today we’re going to talk about products and how they impact sales and marketing strategy. Let’s get started.
Necessity, Interest, and Complexity
Whatever product you sell, it has dimensions. Not necessarily physical dimensions—more like marketing dimensions.
A product can run the gamut from utterly necessary for your customers to completely novel; from highly interesting to totally mundane; from extremely complex and conceptual to highly simplistic.
This is where our emojis come in. A product like toilet paper ranks high in necessity, very low in interest, and very low in complexity. Strategies to sell more toilet paper will account for these dimensions.
Contrast toilet paper with a new iPhone. It’s somewhat necessary, depending on if the customer has a working phone already or not. For most consumers, a new phone is very interesting, and purchasing one can be a fairly complex decision.
Finally, investment banking services, represented by our graph emoji. It’s arguable how necessary this product is—from a survival point-of-view, not very, but from a retirement point-of-view, very. While some people find investing interesting, most people simply want to see their investments return a profit. As for complexity? Yeah, the financial sector is pretty complex.
What kind of product do you sell?
Our examples are just three of many possible combinations of necessity, interest, and complexity. If you apply the same framework to your own products, what are you selling? Consider how your customer base perceives your products, not the general public. Within your industry, are you more like toilet paper, or like investment banking?
How to sell toilet paper
Outside of panic-buying in early 2020, demand for toilet paper is static. It’s a product that steadily runs out, where the average household can expect to purchase it on a regular schedule through each year.
It’s not an exciting product—most people would rather not think about it—but it is a fairly universal product in North America. Marketing campaigns for toilet paper don’t talk up its revolutionary technology, and they certainly don’t show the product in action. Almost every toilet paper advertisement focuses on either or both of the following attributes: softness and durability.
If you sell toilet paper, your customers are coming back to buy your (or a competitor’s) product sooner or later. It’s like there’s a gravitational pull dragging them back again and again. Maintaining customer loyalty (or undermining loyalty for competing brands) matters a lot more than demand generation for toilet paper sellers.
How to sell iPhones
Buying an iPhone is expensive. For most people, it’s a long-term commitment of at least two years, barring theft or accidents. Buying a new phone is an exciting and even social event. Consumers may comparison shop online for weeks before making a commitment, reading reviews and asking friends for advice. They consider all factors: price, design, features, reliability, even deals and offers from mobile carriers.
Exciting products with high price tags and complex buyer journeys must double down on brand experience. You probably know someone who is a die-hard Apple fanboy, or a Volkswagen enthusiast. Although a Samsung phone or a Toyota vehicle might do the job just as well, these people know, trust, and love their brand.
That feeling of brand ownership matters. Branding doesn’t begin and end during the purchasing journey. For expensive, interesting, complex products, selling never stops. We want people to enter our brand ecosystem, fall in love, and never leave. In fact, we want them to shout from the rooftops how great our product is—even if it’s a lot like our competitors’.
How to sell investment banking
Finally, we have an arguably interesting, debatably necessary, highly complex product. This is the realm of insurance plans, IT consulting, and other professional services.
Perhaps the greatest hurdle for selling investment banking is overcoming its complexity in the minds of customers. Investment banking deals with a sensitive subject—personal finances. It involves complex legal and financial utilities, concepts and ideas that are foreign to many people.
This means that first-time customers can have unrealistic expectations of investment performance, or may be highly skeptical of the discipline itself.
Selling these complex products requires plenty of nurturing and education. It means establishing trust and personal relationships over the long-term, easing customers toward a purchasing decision.
Complex products also have to pick their spots. Specializing their service offering can help them resonate with a niche audience, rather than getting ignored by a broad audience. By maintaining a narrow focus on their preferred customers, companies with complex, “boring” products can hone their messaging and sales tactics to become highly proficient at explaining their value and coaxing out a sale.
Open focus, not product focus
To conclude, the nature of what you sell informs your sales and marketing strategies. A complex product isn’t better or worse than a simple one, nor is a necessary product definitively more valuable than a novel one.
While evaluating your products and how your customers may experience them can help you contextualize your marketing strategy, don’t commit yourself to a pure product marketing strategy. Instead, use this framework to understand potential gaps in your sales and marketing.
We all need toilet paper and phones, but that doesn’t mean we buy them the same way!
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