Why CMOs mustn’t be afraid to tell their staffs to go sell.
Although we at Deliver® are not given to profanity, be advised that today’s column indulges repeated use of the four-letter word “sell,” along with the related terms “sales” and “selling.”
Our apologies if we shocked you. Or, if impressionable children looking over your shoulder happened to see the words. We have no wish to offend. Rather, we wish make a point. We think it’s high time not only to stand up for the above-referenced S-words, but to wear them proudly like the badges of honor that they are.
Many marketers bend over backward to avoid using the S-words. Asked what we do for a living, not a few of us prefer words like “marketer,” “communication professional,” “representative,” “service provider,” “product consultant” — anything but sales. The trouble is, there’s always someone who can’t quite make sense of the euphemism du jour. When that person presses us, we find ourselves forced to mutter something about, er, um, well, “getting people to buy stuff.”
Come on, admit it. “Getting people to buy stuff” is selling. Think back to the unit on logic you endured in high school, when you learned that if A means B and B means C, then A also means C. If the purpose of your direct mail is to get people to buy from you, and the only way they can buy from you is if you sell to them, then the purpose of your direct mail is to sell.
You may not personally go door-to-door or spend time on a sales floor. Your job may be strategizing, creative-directing, writing, designing, production-managing, data-manipulating, sorting, account-executiving or what-have-you-ing. But the raison d’être of the direct mail you create is to complete a transaction or generate a lead. Which is another way of saying that your job’s raison d’être is to—guess what—sell.
Chin up! There’s no need to be so darned apologetic about the business we’re in. To be sure, we can call ourselves marketers (and so forth) if we want, and there is no harm in it—provided that we avoid slipping into denial about what marketing truly is. When we fail to concede that we are in the business of selling, we risk mistaking the execution for the goal. Prose that would make our English professor proud and design that draws praise from the art community are all well and good, but if they fail to sell, they are not marketing. And when we refuse to acknowledge as much, we are not marketers.
We are serious about that wearing the S-word like a “badge of honor.” Responsible, customer-oriented selling makes an economy thrive, and making an economy thrive makes society thrive. As any economist will tell you, a sure way to help the world out of a recession, not to mention promote long-term prosperity, is to put money in circulation. Money circulates only when there is buying. And there is buying only when there is selling.
Which means not only can you admit to selling. You can admit to it with pride.
Why do some marketers seem to avoid use of the S-word? One reason may be the utility in reserving “sales” for what customer-contact people do, and “marketing” for what people locked away in corporate departments do. If so, the delineation is fading. Today it’s not unusual even for people on the sales floor to eschew the S-word. Clothing salesperson? Bite your tongue. The high school student working part time for minimum wage in that trendy mall store is a personal fashion consultant.
Another reason may be the association of “sales” with not altogether underserved negative stereotypes. Indeed, abuses occur in the name of “sales” and, to be fair, in the name of “marketing” as well. So here we must make a distinction between selling and hustling. We are all for selling, and wholly against hustling. There is no honor in pushing people into buying what they don’t want, in fooling them into thinking they must purchase what is in fact wholly optional, or in committing them to spend what they cannot afford. Neither is there honor in making false or exaggerated claims that lure trusting people into shelling out for products that do not perform as promised.
Responsible, customer-oriented selling consists of presenting relevant products and services to likely prospects, and persuading them with solid benefits. (If you happen to market — sell — by use of direct mail, pat yourself on the back. There is no better medium for pinpointing likely prospects, or for presenting solid benefits in detail.)
What you call your profession is your business. But let’s proudly own selling as the point of what we do, and allow it to drive our work. And, let’s remind the naysayers that responsible selling as described above is both socially beneficial and needful.