Good. It resonated.
So let’s talk about how we chart a different course.
(Yes, that’s me above – around the time I started my first business. You can’t tell from the photo, but we were sailing past the Statue of Liberty.)
In 1973, the management guru Peter Drucker wrote a line that would change my world 30 years later.
“… the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.”
By 2003, I was six years into running my company – a digital design agency. We had surfed the highs of the Dot-Com Boom and survived the lows of the Dot Com Bust (just barely).
By any standards, we were a successful business.
We had happy clients.
We had happy staff.
We made money.
And yet … I felt like a fraud.
Because my business didn’t work like other ‘grown-up’ businesses.
At networking events, ‘real’ business leaders would ask me how my sales team were doing.
And I had nothing.
Government support consultants would ask about planning – and my ‘sales pipeline’.
And I had nothing.
Because we weren’t selling.
We were telling stories, building relationships and taking the time to know and understand our clients.
There were no ads, no phone calls. No relentless ‘friendly’ follow-ups.
It was the kind of business I’d read about in Seth Godin’s books. The kind that starts from an attitude of service and flows from the customers’ needs, not ours.
Then I read Drucker’s words and finally got it.
Great marketing makes selling superfluous.
To be clear, I wasn’t really doing any traditional marketing either. But Drucker had gone on, and the rest of the quote is just as valuable. Here it is (although the bolding is mine).
“… the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits them and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available.”
Think about that second sentence for a second.
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits them and sells itself.”
When we think about business this way, everything changes.
And the world starts to make more sense.
We aren’t trying to ‘convert’ a prospect or ‘close’ a sale.
We are working with them, not on them.
Their needs, not ours. Their schedule, not ours.
And when we do that, something magical happens.
They come to us.
Which brings me back to the horrible experience of the double-glazing salesman.
My parents didn’t buy.
For all his techniques and manipulations, he couldn’t get them to sign. When he asked for a third cup of tea – a delaying tactic as he hadn’t closed a sale – my Mum sent him packing.
In 2017, the BBC released a comedy called White Gold set in the world of 1980s double-glazing. I think they cracked it.
Anyway, there’s a HUGELY empowering reminder here for those of us who don’t like traditional sales.
People dislike being sold to.
The hovering shop assistant. The anonymous cold call. The endless spam.
Who wants that?
We want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want to be valued.
Not just as ‘funnel fodder’, but as people.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been building businesses for 25 years. I’m entirely in favour of creating value and making money.
At the end of this sequence, I will make an offer.
But if the stories we’re telling don’t match – if my offer doesn’t ‘sell itself’ – my advice is to walk away.
Because if we’re building a business for the long-term, there’s something way more important than making a sale.