As a cerebral seller, I love studying the various approaches, formulae, messages, and tactics vendors use to gain the interest and attention of their target buyers. As a buyer I’ve seen amazing examples of this. I’ve also seen some of the most brutal. But through it all I’ve noticed an interesting mathematical relationship between two critical factors; the perceived value of your solution and the attention you need from your target buyer to notice it. As a seller or marker, understanding this relationship is critical to ensuring you focus on the tactics and activities that get you the best return! Let me explain.
Some products and services are unique, innovative, and amazing. Their value propositions are compelling and clear. Like the iPhone. Others are mainstream and exist in a sea of undifferentiated similar solutions. Like flatscreen TV’s. At the same time, some sales and marketing organizations do a fantastic job of capturing buyer’s imagination and mindshare. Others can barely raise an eyebrow.
My first take at describing that relationship was the simple inverse graph illustrated below.
The idea is that as the perceived value of a product increases, the degree of attention or mindshare you need from a customer in order to take notice decreases. For example, Apple rarely has to do any heavy marketing in order to whip up a frenzy around the release of their latest products. They simply issue a press release letting everyone know when they plan to make their next official announcement and immediately lines start forming at retail stores around the world. On the flip side, when McDonalds announces a new kind of hamburger, a consumer may have to see it advertized dozens (if not hundreds) of times on billboards, commercials, and transit ads before they start to notice. High perceived value, low attention requirement. Low perceived value, high attention requirement.
Assuming that most companies want to get their products noticed, the question is, where does your company sit on this curve and what tactics should you use to ensure your message gets heard the loudest and with the least amount of friction? Shifting the simple inverse graph to a matrix format (i.e. the Attention/Value vaue) provides additional clarity.
Apple is an example of an organizations that falls into the Game Changing category.
When it comes to Game Changers, buyers see the value of not only their products but the innovation they bring to the market as high. While their advertising spend may be large, in a sea of technology hardware providers, they are well differentiated and don’t really need to invest all that much effort in order to attract buyer attention. When Apple speaks, people listen. Tesla is another one. They don’t just sell cars, they sell a vision of the future. As proof, with pretty much zero advertizing dedicated to their latest pre-production electric car, the Model 3, they’ve managed to secure approximately half a million orders!
To provide a non-tech example, suppose that after years of hard work and experimentation, a small, little known life-sciences research group at the University of Toronto discovered a definitive cure for cancer. With zero advertizing dollars or marketing plan, it’s likely that that kind of news would rip through outlets around the world at a lightning fast pace. Billions would instantly stop what they were doing and pay attention. That’s the power of Game Changers.
Most Game Changers are mission-driven organizations and their followers are disciples. If your solution has the potential to be part of this elite group, a go-to-market plan that showcases your belief system (i.e. how you intend to make a dent in the university) should dominate your overall strategy.
Sea of Sameness
Unfortunately most technology vendors fall into this category as do fast food restaurants, banks, and pencil manufacturers. On the surface, the perceived value and differentiation of these organizations is low. That means they require more effort and ingenuity to secure the attention of their target buyers.
For example, in the Marketing Technology space alone, the number of vendors has increased from 150 to almost 5000 in the past 6 years. Many of these solutions (or new features for existing products) are not revolutionary but instead represent variations or improvements on existing solutions. It’s not that these solutions can’t be game changing, it’s that because they all sound the same on the surface, buyers can’t be bothered to dive deeper.
Buyer inertia, the defence mechanism designed to protect our focus, blissfully carries prospects forward as they keep doing what they’ve done in the past. If you’ve been to the vendor expo at any technology conference you know what I mean. Dozens of vendors with signage that all say the same thing: “Increase win rates by X%”, “Reduce administrative costs by Y%”, “Improve customer satisfaction by Z%”. Without innovative tactics and messaging, their sales and marketing teams won’t break through enough defences to capture widespread attention.
This is where vendors fall into limbo. If you feel your organization exists in the Sea of Sameness, your goal should be to get out of there as quickly as possible using the tactics described in the sections below!
These are solutions that are actually perceived by most reasonable buyers as high value and worthy of investment but still require a ton of effort to break through consumer’s defences. If oat bran, fibre, daily exercise, and regular relaxation were solutions, they’d be in this quadrant.
While this category is the least populated out of the four, it’s unfortunate that some solutions find themselves here. The key to breakout success here is focus. More than any other category, the Unlucky Virtuous need to aggressively target their buyers. The more targeted the outreach, the less attention will be required.
For example, organizations that provide annual flu shot vaccinations, health and wellness programs, or blood donation services often visit companies onsite to reduce buyer friction. Using a different approach, vendors in this category as well as the Sea of Sameness can use online retargeting techniques to resurface products a buyer has already searched for (and presumably finds valuable) across digital properties to drive conversion.
Finally we arrive where most vendors aim to be. When it comes to the Innovative Minority, these organizations have figured out how to cut through the noise. Because their solutions aren’t widely perceived as game changing at first glance, their strategy is to get buyers to notice them by working smarter, not harder.
Companies in the Innovative Minority are often created, not born. That’s good news because those stuck in the Sea of Sameness or the Unlucky Virtuous can transition to the Innovative Majority simply by incorporating some of the approaches discussed in previous posts. These include:
- using a more innovative medium like video for your outreach
- transitioning from a tiered or industry-based prospecting strategy to more focused account-based marketing (ABM) tactics
- getting prospects to pay attention using quirky tactics like old-school hand-written notes or the highly progressive piñatagram (great when used as part of an ABM strategy!)
- mobilizing the customer advocates that already love you to make referrals and warm introductions (this strategy can be so effective if done right, that the associated leads typically convert at rates 50 times higher than email campaigns)
- using bold, polarizing, and customer-centric messaging in your sales and marketing outreach to disrupt your customer’s inertia
- arming and enabling your sales team to take advantage of sales psychology principles like conviction and reciprocity in their customer interactions.
What’s even better is that those on the leading edge of the Innovative Minority can drive themselves further down the attention curve curve with the right approach. The key is to remember this isn’t a one size fits all proposition and organizations should never fall in love with their tactics. It’s about continuously refining and reinvesting in the winning strategies and promoting greater consistency in your approach.
In this age of relentless deadlines, limited bandwidth, and a sea solutions, many companies are encountering a new breed of customer. One with a shorter attention span and lower tolerance for their value proposition. The relationship between the perceived value of your solution and the attention you need from your target buyer to notice is one that affects every seller. Regardless of where your organization sits in this matrix, your goal should be to take an objective, data-driven approach to assessing your position, and employing the tactics that create the best results with the least amount of effort.
What tactics is your organization using to become a coveted member of the Innovative Minority?