Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1158
, Published on 23 November 2013
Competitive advantage would be one of the favourite words of most of the business managers and also the management students. But a billion dollar question is “is it easy to achieve“. Be it distribution network like ITC, be it brand loyalty like TATA, be it economies of scale like WALMART everything requires huge chunk of money and takes years to earn. Hence it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. So does it mean that it’s difficult to make the business competitive? Or there are any other ways to create differentiation through something which is not so expensive?
I was standing near the entertainment section in Croma which is one of the best performing sections owing to big brands like Sony, Samsung. A customer came asking for a TV for his kid’s room. He was a loyal and brand conscious customer of Croma and had a lot of faith in store people. After understanding his requirement, a person attending him started pitching for Croma TV and not the brands he was looking for. His pitching involved some persuasive facts like it’s at lesser price of compared to other brands with equal features and quality like them, also he mentioned about the fact that they manufacture products from same vendors as other big brands and if it’s not the TV in hall he can try a new brand this time etc. To my surprise, he managed to convince him to try Croma TV within half an hour. Now this episode confused me about some of my management concepts like brand loyalty, brand association etc.
Image Courtesy: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net
Here, the push was created by some company by investing billions and the customer was stolen away by some other company. This is the power of selling.
One can sell his products by sheer persuasive selling pitch and clever customer handling on the floor rendering all the marketing efforts of some brand ineffective. Today’s customer is smart and informed. He is becoming difficult to persuade through marketing. Owing to information technology customer knows how companies work, where they manufacture products from, how to check product specifications, how to compare products. If a smart salesman tries to rationalize them into why they should go for their product, at least 1-2% of them will surely not mind trying it. If product is really good it will have repeat purchase and word of mouth publicity. This could be one way to set the ball rolling for not so known brands.
Deloitte report on shopper marketing says, in modern retail stores about 66% of customers don’t exactly know what they are going to buy. So in such case sales people are the ones who can harness customers as per their will. When on floor (of any modern retail stores) customer starts engaging with the sales staff when he is interested in any product. It’s the first few seconds when the customer decides whether it’s worth engaging more or not. If a sales person says something cliché or misleading, he loses the customer. Recall the scene from the movie Dark night when Joker is holding Harvey’s girlfriend on the brink of the building conversing with Batman, where batman says ‘Let her go’ to stop him from dropping him and joker responds saying ‘poor choice of words’ and drops his girlfriend. Interaction of a sales person with the customer is exactly like this. Imagine that the joker as the customer, lady is his will to engage in conversation further and batman is the sales person. What he says is as important as this in initial few seconds. Poor choice of words and the customer is put off.
Often companies downplay the role of sales force vis-à-vis marketing force and consider sales as the supporter of marketing. It’s high time that we integrate and align sales and marketing and make sales accountable for not just short term targets but brand equity too. If you train your sales force to be competitive in selling and make them sell products like no one else does it would be an added differentiator. Sales person has lot of freedom about how he is going to interact with customer. He should be high on empathy (quality required to build rapport with customer) and ego drive (quality required to go extra mile to increase sale). His conviction and confidence is going to come through his interaction. Thus he is the one who is caretakers of your brand image right on the field not just the marketing activities. It’s his interaction with customer that’s going to decide how customer will perceive the brand and has potential to corrode or enhance the image of the brand set through marketing. Mere monetary incentive will not do the trick. He must wholeheartedly accept that his product is the best in market and should take pride in selling it, so customize the training program to inculcate these things in him. Don’t just treat him like a machine which can be squeezed to achieve more and more target.
Thus this is one of the few ways to smartly push products without really creating pull. And if you have pull in place then this would just be an icing on a cake.
To deliver best customer experience right when he is interacting with a sales person is critical. Master the art of mesmerising the customer through the interaction and steal the thunder. As Walt Disney said, "Do what you do so well that people want to get their friends to see you do it again. Be unique in your customer engagement practices making the selling the new point of differentiation and start eating the pie of competitors clandestinely.