“…selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about.”
These harsh words are from Theodore Levitt’s seminal article “Marketing Myopia,” which first appeared in the Harvard Business Review almost 60 years ago.
They could have been written yesterday. In truth, they may actually be more accurate today.
Sales and sales technology appear to be flourishing. More than 10% of all jobs in this country are full-time sales jobs. It’s also true that almost 850 sales technology vendors are serving the industry, including a dozen or so Unicorns with billion-dollar-plus valuations. And the number of new vendors shows no sign of slowing.
But I’m not excited by our industry thriving. To be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed.
I see an army of salespeople with an arsenal of technology at hand, and yet I don’t believe it’s helping people buy better.
In truth, that arsenal is a bludgeon for interrupting, deluging and wearing down prospects. It’s also a sales crutch to compensate for a lack of real value-based selling.
In 1975, Levitt wrote a retrospective on “Marketing Myopia” in which he said that the article was meant more as a manifesto than a prescription. Frankly, sales as a profession is so sick today, it needs a prescription. So let me share mine.
When Ubiquity Replaces Scarcity
I’m dating myself, but when I started in sales, the concept of B2B mass marketing wasn’t possible. This was pre-Internet, pre desktop computer actually, and information was scarce. A sales rep could only reach out to a prospective buyer when we had enough useful information about a company to know whom to contact and what (of value) to say.
A rep’s job was to help prospects make an educated buying decision by bringing to them information on the industry, features, and benefits of products and solutions designed to solve their specific business problems.
Curating information on prospects by hand was hard work back then. It’s still work, but here’s the irony. Even with prospecting information becoming ubiquitous, fewer reps than ever appear to be putting in the effort.
They’re relying, instead, on generic and bulk outreach. In response to the shock-and-awe tactics of most reps today, buyers have become numb to the endless and inane solicitations of uninformed sellers.
Buyer numbness should have alerted the industry to a growing problem. Instead, sellers have tried to up their game. Not by doing their homework and engaging buyers as equals, but by turning to devious and trite tactics. They spoof local area codes when making phone calls. They drop pixels in emails waiting to be alerts of a ‘click’ and then auto-dial your number knowing that ‘you’re reachable’ for the next 120-seconds. Some even send gifts as incentives just for taking a meeting. Thanks, but I don’t need your ugly socks.
Think I’m exaggerating?
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
As I’ve moved into positions with greater decision-making and buying responsibilities, I’ve felt the sales pressure rise on me as a target. Now I’m the damn whale that every would-be Ahab dreams of landing.
Their pursuit has subjected me to an onslaught of inept selling tactics, uninformative messaging and complete ignorance about me, the company for which I work and our pain points.
From a perspective of self-preservation, I’ve built a 21st-century Hadrian’s Wall that the Roman general Maximus would have envied—creating an unbreachable barrier between the sales hoards and my workday productivity.
Just for sh*ts and giggles, here’s a snapshot of the invasion I thwarted in just this past week:
- Email: 159 solicitations (mostly standard boilerplate messages). None spoke directly to me or my needs; three didn’t even get my name right. Four offered gift cards up to $50 just for taking a meeting, and two invited me to private dinners with “important people.” Of the 159 emails last week, 27 were follow-ups to previously sent solicitations, and nine attempted to shame me, claiming I was rude for not responding to their prior emails I had ignored. Insulting a prospect into submission. Dale Carnegie is rolling over in his grave.
- Phone Calls: I received more than 50 unsolicited calls from 17 unique numbers last week. Nine appeared to be spoofing their CallerID as there are no meaningful B2B sellers in my 510 area code, and two persistent buggers tried calling me at least 10 times each. All but two of the 50 calls hung up before voicemail picked up, and I deleted both voicemails after reading the first sentence using a speech-to-text translation of those messages.
- LinkedIn: I received five connection requests from strangers; none of them explained why they wanted to connect. Feeling generous, I accepted three. But within 10 minutes two had sent solicitations via InMail, and now those f*ckers are blocked. I also received two InMail solicitations from people who didn’t even bother to connect. Also now blocked.
- Snail Mail: I received two direct mail pieces. One was addressed, “Dear David…” The other was a package with a solar phone charger. Alas, they didn’t do their research. It was for an iPhone and they were unaware that I proudly am an Android devotee.
With all that firepower aimed at me, I’m happy to report that not one infidel interrupted my week. Here’s some of the technology I’ve amassed in my unbreachable corporate wall:
- Call Blocking: A default on my Huawei (ironic, right?) cell phone allows me to block all but the phone numbers in my address book and send all others directly to voicemail. My phone only rings when it’s someone with whom I want to talk. Nirvana.
- Gmail Filters: I’ve tweaked and re-tweaked my filter rules to pattern match for unsolicited emails and I have those detected sent right into my Spam folder (I’ll send you copies of the code if you are nice to me). At this point, only a handful of solicitations slip through my filters to my inbox each week. They are quickly marked as Spam and my Google algorithm just got stronger.
- Pixelblock – A fantastic chrome extension that blocks any pixels embedded in emails so that return information on my opening of an email or clicking on a link won’t be sent to the email originator. I’m the most uninterest buyer to every salestech scoring my lack of engagement as I surf away undetected.
- LinkedIn Protocols: It takes some effort to reach me on LinkedIn because you need to know my email to even ask for a connection. I’m impressed and thankful for the customization LinkedIn offers in limiting exposure to my profile. I haven’t turned off my public profile yet…but I’m close.
Is It Really That Bad?
In a word, YES.
In 2019 to date, I’ve responded to a single solicitation. A LinkedIn employee read one of my posts, called “Fatherless,” and on June 20th sent what seemed to be a heartfelt note reflecting on my sentiments in that article. Gosh, could this have simply been someone expressing genuine gratitude? I responded back with curiosity, and son of a bitch, he tried to set the hook and sell me.
He mistook my generosity of a courteous reply with some inkling of interest and flipped immediately into selling mode. Damn it. If only he had waited a few weeks, a month even, and come back to me with something that was disconnected from our initial conversation…he might have had a chance of me paying attention.
A little foreplay people…please!
I Know My House Has Lots of Glass
At this point, some of you may scoff and say, “But Mark, you’re part of the problem. You’ve helped create this monster based on your last 10 years in the B2B data industry.” And it’s probably even possible for some of you to copy and paste a recent solicitation from a rep from LeadGenius into the comments below this post with a terse, “Have your team practice what you preach, Mark!”
Yikes! Point taken and concession offered. Our team can fall victim to the same siren song of generic volume of which I’m now being critical. But I’m also happy to report that I see every day in our clients that the most innovative and progressive marketers are pioneering much more effective outreach methods.
Personalized and Customized Data at Scale
Clients focused on effectiveness rather than efficiency are implementing highly tailored, myopically focused outreach campaigns – and doing so at scale. They look to LeadGenius to support them in their efforts to ensure they only connect with the best buyers at the most targeted companies. LeadGenius helps our customers with highly customized and personalized data to reach the right people at the right companies at the right time with the right message. It’s a rifle rather than a shotgun approach. LeadGenius clients utilize our data services to dig deeper into their total addressable market to identify their best prospects – both at a company and individual level. For our clients, it’s no longer about more data and truly a less-is-more approach…and it’s working for them.
Untouchable, but Not Unsellable
So you want to land me as a whale, do ya? You can buy my title, phone number (even direct and cell) and email from a myriad of sources as my contact information is in just about every database of leading B2B data vendors. But none of this standard, commoditizing data will allow you to get past my impenetrable wall nor help make a compelling case if you find a way around it.
To do both of those things, you need a more sophisticated method rooted in collecting highly personalized data. Only by taking this highly customized approach might you gain the insights and know the signals to land a big fish. It’s mostly about using the right bait.