Today, I got an email from a company offering to lower my TCO. Yeah, I didn't know what that meant either. After considering it, I think it means total cost of ownership. I have no idea who this company is or how good they are, and my intention is certainly not to embarrass them. The only reason I noticed the email is because it completely nailed the problem that small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs) are having in the market today.
The vast majority of companies across the board are complaining about three things:
- How difficult the market is.
- How unwilling customers are to properly value offerings - thus putting tremendous pressure on margins.
- How difficulty it is to get a prospective client to talk to a seller.
While I will certainly admit that competition today is fierce, and breaking the buyer code is tougher; the bulk of the problem is being caused by the inept way businesses are going to market. I was talking with a client of mine recently about the challenges he was having with a new salesperson; and I commented that the root of the problem was that long before the rep had an opportunity to say anything the rep's actions and approach were commoditizing the company. So, no matter how well the rep "talked" they were going to be defined by their price.
Here's a highlight of the solicitation email (again, I am showing this not to embarrass the company but to (hopefully) enlighten readers):
There are four fundamental mistakes the seller made here:
- I did not ask for this email.
- It created no value. (Points 1 & 2 make it SPAM).
- It pretends to make a promise; but because the promise isn't clearly defined AND it speaks their language instead of mine - it means NOTHING. (BTW, the promise would mean nothing for either of those reasons, the fact that both occur just amplifies the problem.)
- Their slogan "change for the better" means absolutely nothing - does their competition stand for "change for the worse."
Without meaning to, this company has clearly communicated that they mean nothing; that there is no compelling reason I should break from my current thought patterns and allow them into my world. As a result, the solicitation creates a result that is worse than having done nothing. If I wasn't looking for this type of service, the solicitation does nothing to create demand, and if I were looking for this type of service, the message commoditizes the company and I'm going to burrow right to price. I'll take up their sales time (increasing their sales costs) and decrease their margins at best or completely waste those resources at worst.
It's unfortunate, because this company is so close to having a positive impact. The email looked good, and the intent of their message is good. I could (emphasis on could) love the focus on total cost of ownership. The reason I don't (yet) love it is because: a) they talk about lowering my TCO and I have no idea what that means, and b) even if they did mention total cost of ownership - I don't know what my current cost of ownership is, so I have no way of understanding the value of the offer.
If instead of trying to convert me to a buyer, they had taken to opportunity to begin a conversation, they would have been on to something. Every SME I know is looking for creative ways to reduce costs while improving their capabilities - THEY JUST DON'T KNOW HOW. And, until I know how to do that I am incapable of understanding them. With their current offer, even if I were curious how to lower by costs, I would be afraid to call them because they've positioned themselves (unintentionally) as a peddler rather than a trusted, subject matter expert.
This solicitation makes the single biggest and most frequent mistake of marketers - it's asking me to think like the seller. Your job, as a growth executive, marketer or sales exec is to think like your customers. Stop making your customers think like you.
This is what the content revolution is all about - creating thought leadership; and allowing that leadership to lead the sales efforts. Sure, it's harder than peddling your wares, but it's got three key benefits:
- It provides bigger margins.
- It actually shortens the sales cycle.
- It makes you competitor proof.
So here's what I'd recommend:
- Drop the slogan - it adds nothing and isn't necessary. Speak to me like a person.
- Create a campaign that creates value for key buyers. To do that, the seller must first go through a painstaking process of understanding who their customer really is (which I can tell from this solicitation they have not done).
- Create content that supports their value proposition - and teaches me (the potential buyer) how to understand their value proposition in a way that creates value for me, the buyer, even if I don't buy from them.
- Make a clear promise - one that is easily understood and valued.