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Who Are You Dealing With?

In a recent blogpost, business and marketing author Seth Godin posed a question to his readership: “Are you selling to a professional or an amateur?” 

Godin noted that professionals often have an established procurement process and method of evaluation. Seasoned experience helps them to delegate, prioritize, and make deals. 

Smaller startups, or “talented soloists,” are exposed to amateurs more often because they can’t always afford to invest in a multi-year sales approach. 

If you’re promoting a high-level B2B product or service, you might feel familiarized with a certain kind of interaction. There’s a process to it. You can identify a hierarchy. You can reverse-engineer that organizational logic and figure out the best way to align yourself with fixed processes and strategic plans. But you might be targeting a different category of customer, by choice or circumstance, and that type of person may be less discerning. They may attempt to negotiate a discount by comparing apples and oranges. 

Godin wrote, “A professional isn’t going to think she can do it herself and isn’t going to make it an emergency. An amateur, on the other hand, may or may not follow any of those principles. An amateur is comparing you to what? A miracle? To free? To something in between?” 

Godin also floated the idea that the outcome might lie beyond your control. 

He wrote, “When you don’t get the gig, it’s not because of something you did wrong at any particular meeting with an amateur… the mistake might simply be that you’re having these meetings with amateurs at all. Or that you’re going to amateur meetings expecting to be meeting with a professional.” 

His post captured some of the frustrations of doing business, with a neutral tone. But these complications might also be welcomed as a challenge. A marketer or salesperson can effectively “professionalize” the amateur by holding their hand through the sales process. 

In an interview for this article, Matthew Hunt, a marketing consultant, told me that it’s important to engage on a one-to-one level. The marketer or salesperson should first try to figure out what is important to their prospect and what they are trying to achieve. 

Hunt explained, “They need to be able to describe their ideal client’s problems better than the prospect can describe it themselves. When they can do this, then they’ve niched down enough to understand their target audience and will start to write copy and create advertising that stands for something and stands out to those ideal people.” 

Perhaps the amateur buyer shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Instead of lamenting the fact that there isn’t a clear thought process governing a decision-maker’s selection, marketing and sales teams can inspire thoughts and guide the process. They can share their knowledge about the specific product or service and, in subtle ways, impart wisdom about the buying process itself. 

Sam Feldotto is Director of Growth at the outsourced sales development agency Pipestry. When I asked him about Seth Godin’s blogpost, he made a case for the so-called amateur’s redemption. 

Feldotto said, “I think it’s counterintuitive for a marketer to ignore a customer base because of how they perceive your product and only aim for the educated buyer. Sales reps oftentimes don’t want an ‘overly educated’ buyer because there is less room to show value and they believe they know enough to not listen to you.” 

Feldotto said that amateur buyers can still be great prospects. If marketing teams convey relevant value and gain their interest, then sales teams can step in to helpfully challenge any of their misconceptions. 

And those misconceptions do exist. I have personally witnessed business owners operating under the logic that they should outsource tasks to the lowest bidder in the global gig economy. I have then watched them throw good money after bad. They, or their employees, spend time trying to correct or iterate upon work that wasn’t up to par. Some of the contractors vying for these projects may have been overlooked because of their pricing, even though it rightly reflected their quality. But the amateur buyer isn’t always aware of false economy, or their pride prevents them from recognizing it. 

I asked Feldotto about apples and oranges comparisons. He responded optimistically. 

“Apples to oranges can be an exceptional sales conversation because you have the opportunity as a sales rep to show them something they’ve been missing out on,” he said. “Imagine walking into a grocery store and your friend points to oranges and says, ‘I’ve had apples before, they’re both fruit and grow on trees. Oranges probably aren’t much different.’ Imagine their surprise when you tell them how much they’ve been missing out on. You can create genuine excitement.” 

Feldotto said that this type of excitement could be skillfully generated during a meeting with an amateur buyer. 

“Yes, they might fight on price, they might expect a miracle, but that’s the opportunity that a great sales rep looks for,” said Feldotto. The sales rep can challenge beliefs, generate excitement, and then drive home the end value. 

“Yes, apples are cheaper, but oranges have 10 times the vitamin C. Imagine how much better this year will be if you’re sick less often and can use your ‘sick days’ for a vacation instead,” said Feldotto. 

He concluded, “Marketing doesn’t need to list off every benefit of oranges over apples, or how to buy them or what is better. They just need to generate enough attention [so] that the buyer wants to learn more. If my marketing team sent out nurture campaigns with our process from A to Z, I’d have a pretty boring job.”

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