I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a sales person. But I have studied the tactics deployed by sales people and recently thought about how we’ve had to re-evaluate and evolve our tactics in order to sell to a digital world. Several decades ago, in the day of the door-to-door salesman, the key lesson to make any sale was “put the product in their hands”. Something happens when you are handed an item, and you get to feel it, sense it, have a tactile interaction with it. Ask any woman who loves shopping. She’ll see a bag or a dress from a good few meters away and, while it looks good enough to appeal to her and draw her in, she’ll instantly want to pick it up, feel the fabric, ensure that the quality is just as good as the aesthetic. And for this, we trust our tactile senses greatly. This is something that some clever, astute salesman picked up on at the dawn of the industrial and sales era and this was often the one thing that closed the deal.
I’m not sure if everyone reading this is old enough to remember, but a while back, before we had the freedom of information at our fingertips, encyclopedia salesmen used to be quite a thing. And while they probably were met with many “no” replies, they knew all they needed to do was literally get a foot in the door. You can talk about your sale as much as you want. You can highlight how your product makes life better, easier, more enriched or convenient. But often, talk really is cheap. That’s when they reach into their bags and pretty much pull out the ace from their sleeves. The moment you are handed that one small part of a huge collection of books, open it up and see the vast richness of information and the abundant accompanying images, you see the value in what is being offered. Suddenly the product has gone from something you’re only half listening about and not too sold on, to something you want to go sit down with and just page through at leisure. This tactic worked great on most people for well over a century. And then the digital age arrived.
How do you sell something, anything, to someone who might well be sitting on the other side of the planet, having a sandwich and randomly browsing for anything that catches their eye? How, in a massively oversaturated sea of information, do you stand out enough to stop someone dead in their tracks? The playing field has gone from being moving from town to town, one place at a time to a small potential customer base, to now being visible everywhere, at the same time, with the exact same level of exposure. There’s only one catch: you can’t put the product in their hands anymore. So what do you do?
The experience of being online and part of a global community has evolved our needs, standards and also our level of gullibility and cynicism greatly over a very short period of time. In the beginning having a website was already impressive enough to get you business. Over time though, you weren’t so unique or special at all anymore. Finally it reached the point where we all came to believe that there is no such thing as a unique idea or concept and everything started becoming just a little less remarkable, in terms of product sales. Society started returning to the basics, they became enthralled not by flashy signs and who makes the bigger promises, but by the humanity and relatability of what they saw. Suddenly it wasn’t the big corporate with the $5 million ad spend who people were talking about. They were talking about the video they saw of a kid who rides his bike to a slummy part of town each day to go buy his grandmother her favourite meal because she is too ill to get there herself. They were talking about the total outrageousness of the guy who put marbles in a blender, just to see what happens. What started getting people were not the promises, but the stories. Either that, or just the complete randomness of being weird, or the undeniable connection we feel with young animals and babies. In a pretty shallow world, what people seek out now more than ever, is sincerity.
The “put it in their hands” salesman who wore a suit and was very well spoken, suddenly has no power over us. Today, you can’t put your product, your service, your brand, in anyone’s hands, physically. You have to ignite their imagination or stir the warmth of their humanity. I firmly believe there is still a place for the physical aspect of marketing. It’s not in the traditional way at all though. It’s in understanding the value of your customer and sending them a hand written card signed by a person who took the time to do that instead of sending out a generic email. It’s in acknowledging the individual and celebrating them as much as a family member or friend would. It’s in understanding that, in spite of all the tactics, all the tricks, all the methods, all the money, it’s still people just talking to each other and wanting to feel valued.