Do you push your customers around?

An interesting article in Marketing Week on the working relationship between sales and marketing functions got me thinking.

Diageo seek greater sales and marketing unity.

Set in the context of retail marketing the article says the two functions at a major retail supplier are going to work together to push customers to a sale.

I found this use of language interesting (not withstanding the organisational problem of marketing and sales not working together)

What does ‘push’ infer? Sounds to me like customers are seen as resources to be exploited? Isn’t this the ‘sales’ led mentality that is criticised in conventional marketing management theory.

Don’t get me wrong, of course companies need sales and profit, and yes they are under pressure to compete, and for sure customers need compelling reasons to buy.

To be ‘pushed’ to a sale? What is this saying about how this retailer sees ‘you’ the customer? Are you an unthinking dupe who has to be told what to do? Are you incapable of making an informed choice between offers of value?

If the value proposition was any good wouldn’t you see it’s relevance to your needs and your life?

I feel for the marketing function here. Seems probable they are the junior partner and not making their advertising pushy enough for the sales team?

The Dread Of Going Shopping

On Saturday I visited a major outdoor clothing retailer. The experience confirmed why I dread shopping and got me wondering about the management thinking that underpins and drives the activities of sales assistants.

Much has been written about the changing role of the retail outlet in the context of increased online shopping. It seems apparent to me that there is a disconnect between the rhetoric of retail changing to suit changing shopping behaviours and the death grip of a pushy sales mentality.

Retail psychologists will recognise some of the irks I have. Firstly the experience of being mugged the moment you step across the threshold with the notionally friendly greeting of ‘are you alright there?’ . Whilst the content of the communication is friendly, it is socially inappropriate and is not an expression of interest in my welfare. It is a vacuous utterance from a shop employee who really wants to ask me if I’m going to buy anything from them. In that sense it is deceptive.

Talk about ‘processing’ customers as resources to extract their value. Step one open the ‘process’ with a technique that obliges people to say ‘yes’ because pop psychology tells us this is a good thing. Good for who? The customer?

Having resisted the urge to run out the store because my need to privately explore the product range I have been browsing on the Internet is stronger, I am then confronted with my ‘new best friend’. My new friend wants to follow me around the store to notionally help me but the ‘spider like’ attempt at constraining me in a silken cocoon of product feature verbiage is suffocating.

I just want to escape. I don’t want to be in the place. I don’t want to ‘helped’ to make a buying decision as if I’m suffering from a knowledge and capability disability.

When will retailers learn that sales assistants (sic) driven by an aggressive sales philosophy sugar coated with facile friendliness is bad for business?

People are going shopping for different reasons now. They are going informed and they are going to explore. In that exploring they will use their own capability as thinking adults to buy the product they want.

This was a black experience for me and one that might just stop me exploring the outdoor brand I like in that retail outlet even though the T shirts tell me I shouldn’t.

Is Selling The New Marketing?


Pick up any classic marketing text and one of the first things you are told is that ‘marketing isn’t selling’.
Not only that you are told that selling only has a bit part in the whole marketing performance, and that marketing done properly means selling isn’t actually required.

On the other hand, walk into any business and get talking to the staff and one of the first things you are often told is that ‘this is a people business’. That people develop trust between one another and that they buy from people who help them solve their problems.

Doesn’t this strike you as strange? In practice, the arts of social influence, relationship building and service are seen as key. In text books these very same things are relegated to a mere feature of the marketing mix.

Robert Louis Stevenson said “Every one lives by selling something”
It is how things are made to happen. Its how people are persuaded and convinced of the benefits of value propositions. In mass consumer markets selling is invariably the responsibility of marketing communications in business to business it is what happens face to face.

Skilled selling is a strategic necessity for business. Skilled sales people can differentiate your company/brand from the competition.

The September 2009 edition of the European Journal of Marketing carries a special series of articles themed under the title, ‘Sales Evolution and Revolution: The Sales Function in the 21st Century’

Over the last few years Sales has been rediscovered and its strategic importance re-stated. Its no longer necessary to keep sales at arms length as the domain of silver tongued masters of deception. The province of mere functionaries who do the bidding of ‘marketing’. Selling is increasingly being recognised for its strategic value creating impact (see Harvard Business Review special edition on Sales- 84 7/8 2006 -The Top Line by Thomas Stewart)

Susi Gieger and Paulo Guenzi in their European Journal of Marketing article say that academic interest in selling is moving on from what Williams and Plouffe (2007) classed as concerns with motivation, the Saxe & Weitz SOCO scale, relationship building and trust. Most of these issues are now well taped by practioners. Academics need to help in other areas such as scenario, sense-making and forecasting capabilities.

So what is happening with this changing attitude towards Selling then? Storbacka, Ryals, Davies and Nenonen say that businesses now see Sales as a process not just a function, that it is integrated rather than isolated, and crucially strategic not simply operational.

Sales people might be last step of the getting a product to market but they are frequently the first step in getting the market to the organisation. Classic marketing explains what happens in linear rational terms. Everything is about getting your ‘ducks in a row’. Now that might be fine for creating planning documents but it doesn’t reflect what happens in reality. A more systemic view seems more appropriate. Seeing things this way emphasises inter-dependencies and the simultaneous nature of ‘doing business’. As Peter Senge explains, thinking is circles rather than lines is more like reality.

Are you sold?

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Why Won’t Sainbury’s Let Me Alone?

brass glasses-greta garbo-sainburys

A friend recently reported a shopping experience irritation during a visit to Sainbury’s. In the middle of a rush shopping trip she was stopped hassled by a member of Sainbury’s staff asking if she could if she was adequately insured.

All in the name of service no doubt. Or is it? When does a marketing philosophy become a marketing mantra? When does a marketing philosophy become a convenient gloss for the real intention of the organisation?

Kurt Lewin said “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”
In other words ideas drive actions.

So what is the idea that is driving the action of Sainbury’s? Back in 2004 Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch wrote an article in the Journal of Marketing called “Evolving To A New Dominant Logic of Marketing”. In this article they pulled together streams of thought that had been developing over previous decades concerning ‘Service Marketing’ (Gronross et al).

This ‘theory’ has sat in the background quietly influencing marketing strategy and justifying marketing actions. We no longer trade ‘goods’ they argue we are focussed on “intangible resources, the co-creation of value and relationships” So the man in aisle isn’t ‘selling’ anymore he’s establishing a ‘service relationship’ in order that value can be co-created between the moment your tin of tuna is taken from the shelf and placed in the trolley!

Sainsbury’s have evidently bought into the ‘service dominant logic’. Or have they? The rhetoric is about service the reality is exchange. I have something that I want you to buy from me. You have money in your wallet and I want it to be mine, all mine. The ‘sales dominant logic’ of Sainbury’s simply can’t be hidden from view that easily. Psychologically it’s an ideal situation to sell to somebody. The rationalising defences are down because you are focussing on your regular house hold shopping and the distraction of the service stalker makes you amenable vulnerable to sales messages (clever! see Pratkanis The Science of Social Influence)

Surely when someone goes shopping its in their time? What right has a retailer to take your time and take advantage of you simply because you are on their premises? The argument that it simply making you aware of additional services seems rather hollow.

Now, as part of the Brass Glasses service to readers, I’d like to offer you a solution to the in store stalking problem. Of course as critical thinkers you’ll know what I’m up to. So here it is:

The amazing new Garbo badge. Imagine walking around Sainsbury’s without interruption, simply wear this badge and Sainsbury’s staff will know that you “vont to be let alone”

Update October 2009:
Witnessed an OAP approached by an in store sales person selling insurance. The chap was a bit confused. Hardly surprising he was doing his shopping not thinking about insurance. The gentleman was then obliged to discuss his financial affairs in the aisle next to the tinned tuna. How lacking in empathy and courtesy.

I believe this is an unwarranted intrusion into shopper privacy and just because you have walked onto the premises doesn’t mean you should be a target for unsolicited sales propositions.

This is something different I don’t want to try thanks!

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