Ted Levitt wrote a book many years ago called The Marketing Imagination that became very well-known – great book. And one of the wonderful examples he had in that book was that the railroads shared this very interesting challenge. When they were asked what business they were in, they said they were in the railroad business. And so when it came time and opportunities were abound in the transportation industry, the railroads were not primed and available, because their perception was much more narrow about who they were and what business they were in. So when it came time to taking advantage of other modes of transportation and being involved in other transportation opportunities, they weren’t available for it.
Now that’s about opportunities; but when it comes to selling, people and institutions have similar challenges. For example, when I was 26 years old, I was involved in a project called “Protocol”. There was 25 million dollars put into this project to revolutionize the telephone answering service industry by coming to the US market using a Century 21 concept, taking 10,000 answering services and converting them to this franchise “opportunity”. They brought in all this big, very corporate, slick, kind of a gray and blue upgraded look to all of these mom-and-pop entrepreneurs in the industry, and it was clear that even with all the money they did not understand their clients.
Their clients were not the answering services. Their clients were the owners of the answering services, whose mentality, whose spirits, whose raison d’être, they absolutely did not understand. And had the project been tailored and work and money focused on how to sell to those people instead of selling the benefits of being corporatized…
They needed to sell something totally different, but they didn’t know that. Just because you present something doesn’t mean you’re selling it, and so after 2 years they had to go back to Canada. There’s a lot of lessons in that project.
Let’s take former president Bill Clinton – articulate, eloquent, one of the great warm speakers, very personable. this man truly could sell ice to an eskimo, and I don’t even mean that in a bad way. His presence is so big, and his selling capability is so refined; it’s so extraordinary. He’s an example of just tremendous ability in his stature, his demeanor, his personableness, his body language, his speeches. I don’t agree with him on everything. I don’t have to, and this isn’t about politics anyway. But in terms of being a sales person, a really good sales person, that’s one of the highest level you’ll ever see right there – Bill Clinton. The best.
Let’s take President Obama for a moment. Basically, when it comes to selling, what he sold the American people was hope, potential – something that was very much needed in this country, so that’s the concept we all bought: hope. It wasn’t in the details; it wasn’t in what he really did for this country; but he sold hope in such a way that it resonated in the hearts and minds of people throughout the country. I’m not saying in everybody around the country, obviously; but he got the job. A lot of times people aren’t buying the details; they’re buying something else. Now, perhaps in the next presidency, hope won’t be able to be sold because people know better – they want it, but they know better. So he’ll have to tackle it differently – he’ll have to sell something that’s more harmonized with where things are now.
Steve Jobs is a great salesperson, great pitchman (he was). He has people buying $2000-3000 laptops when you can get laptops for $500-600 bucks. So what is that about? What are people buying?
Selling it is everything today in business, where the stakes are high, where you have a lot of competition… it’s not even like your competition is local now. You are competing with everyone in the world, everywhere. The whole game has changed. And even though people say “buy local, act local,” a lot of people will and a lot of people won’t. You’re competing against everybody and everything involved in whatever it is that you’re offering. You need to know: what are you selling, and what are they buying?