Ditching the drill-bit... The new world of tech marketing.

Posted on January 26, 2016 by Toby Brown

Selling IT used to be so simple: find the person in charge of IT and show off the features and benefits of your product or service: it’s bigger (or smaller!), faster, slicker or more powerful. If it met their needs, the deal was done. Easy.  

I’m oversimplifying of course, but in comparison to today’s world of on-tap computing, the old-days seem enviably straightforward. Today, it is not only harder to make a profit, with cloud-based business models, the number of potential stakeholders and decision makers involved in buying technology has also grown significantly.

This is a difficult bind for big tech firms. Finding you now need to spend more time and money selling your wares, and often at a lower price point, is not a nice place to be. What’s more, you also need to reach new buyers who simply never would have been involved in technology purchases in the past.

From HR managers, to marketers and the C-suite (beyond the CIO or CTO), these roles are frequently vital influencers in big technology decisions if not entirely new entry points for technology sales. The problem is, of course, each of these groups has its own needs, wants, hopes and fears. One thing is clear though, they don’t give two hoots about how many terabytes you’re packing.

Logic says that you should research, define and cater for each individual in your messaging, marketing and sales approaches. But this can be hugely complex, expensive and doesn’t account for the numerous idiosyncrasies of individual businesses. There simply is no ‘typical decision making unit’ today and the job titles involved in decisions can be many and varied.  

What’s more, recent data from the CEB, as explored in its recent book The Challenger Customer, finds that too much tailoring of offers, and even content in some cases, can actually be detrimental to the sales process. The group dynamics of decision making today is frequently leading to decision paralysis and a multitude of different messages can confuse things further.

In the seventies, a man called Frank Watts came up with the idea that marketers ought to sell their products based on the needs they fulfil rather than their specific features. This concept came to be known as solution-selling. In other words: don’t sell the drill but sell the hole that the drill creates as that is what the customer actually needs. Cunning stuff indeed.

Solution-selling has been misappropriated and misused over the years to the extent that the concept is often derided in marketing circles – ‘evening hunger solutions’ anyone? However, it is perhaps more relevant today than ever before, particularly for evolving tech vendors.

In the world of ‘as a service’ you’re rarely selling physical benefits anymore; more often than not you are selling the future success of a business. Today, your success is often based on how well you both frame the challenge for potential clients and sell your vision of their future, through ideas, content, collateral and face to face.

We call this ‘flipping your proposition’ and it requires you to take a step back and address the challenges that you solve for each of your key audiences. Consider what’s happening in your audience’s business, in their industry and what issues might be keeping them awake at night, or conversely – exciting them and getting them out of bed in the morning. How are you relevant to this agenda? How can you capture their vision in your thinking? If nowhere else, this is where to focus your marketing guns. We’ve developed an in-depth guide to help you do this, which you get here for free.

With so many people vying for a stake in their business’s IT now, you can no longer afford to rely on features-led selling alone. It’s time to stop selling the drill-bit and start selling the hole.


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