Friday, February 01, 2013

Old-School Sales Isn’t Extinct, but it has Migrated

Studies show that on average half of every job is project management. Another 40% is sales if you define sales like Daniel Pink does in his new book entitled To Sell Is Human – The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. I guess that leaves 10% of the average job for getting coffee, water-cooler gossip and hopefully catching up on “best practices.”

Pink is defining “sales” as any action to move others to exchange resources such as money or time or behaviors such as attention or effort for something you have.

Doctors, for instance, are selling when they try to persuade us to eat right or exercise.  More than 1 out of 9 people still work in jobs defined as traditional sales.  However, Pink’s entertaining and fact-filled book makes an excellent case that the other 8 in 9 are still involved in some type of selling.

Customary sales is only one small slice of the pie when it comes to the full range of communication activities that fall under the umbrella of marketing.  However, in some ways, every element of marketing, especially advertising, fits Pink’s definition of sales as “moving others.”

In 1895, with only four motor vehicles registered in the entire United States, the first community-destination marketing organization (DMO) was organized.  However, in those days it was really only a sales organization, as far too many DMOs are still stuck today.

Within a year the first automobile dealership opened becoming the basis for a caricature of what many people have used to stereotype sales over the years.

However, today, the stereotypical sales-type is much more likely to work in politics including many working as lobbyists for special interests or on behalf of political action groups and some even in elected positions.

Many of the best examples of sales people working in politics are now found in traditional local downtown/economic development, particularly in communities where those organizations rely heavily on lobbying favorable treatment from local government.

Rather than becoming extinct, traditional sales people have found refuge in politics because that interplay between special interests, campaign donors, lobbyists and elected officials is one of the few areas still functioning as though access to information is still asymmetrical (where one party has more or better information than the others.)

This is why politicians and even some working in public agencies seem to prefer being spoon-fed rather than to read, eschewing data for anecdotal opinions and far too often for ego massage.

There too, these throw-back sales archetypes stand out because they specialize only in zero-sum, power-politics. To them, someone always has to lose if someone wins.

You are either on “their team” or you’re not.   For them, special interest is a calling card and conflict of interest a myth.

They are likely extreme extroverts, the kind who never listen because they dominate every conversation and stop only to think of what they will say next.

Nearly all are men, many thinly veil a disdain of women in power. They tolerate technology but almost exclusively prefer the telephone or face-to-face conversation.

When they get a response to a request via email, they almost always telephone back to have it repeated verbally. When they send emails, they almost always widely copy others. They practice cornering someone as an art form. Their expertise is self-proclaimed.

They can appear very successful but only in the absence of full-cost, triple-bottom-line accounting.  Many seek every means possible to handcuff community DMOs to facilities subverting their obligation to benefit the overall community.

Despite fitting a stereotype, these sales-types have always been rare but they will probably never be entirely extinct.

In his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, Duke behavioral economist Dr. Dan Ariely, while noting that we are all dishonest at some level, cites experiments revealing that those involved in jobs that require creativity, such as marketing where I spent my now-concluded career, are the most likely to be tempted to be dishonest because they are good at story-telling.

That being true, then the most tempted of the creatives are probably those in sales including many now working in politics because they are the most supreme of story-tellers, especially those who still mistakenly think of sales as synonymous with marketing.

According to experts such as Dr. Philip Kotler at Northwestern University, traditional sales is about unloading something you have while overall marketing involves “the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.”

Professor Kotler also notes that marketing is “terribly misunderstood in business circles and in the public’s mind,” and nowhere is it more misunderstood than in political circles, making them even more susceptible to sales pitches from special interest lobbies.

The most effective community DMOs embraced holistic marketing long ago while a few merely changed words around to mask that at heart they remain primarily sales-driven and conspicuous because they are facility-obsessed.

Those that remain sales-driven lock their communities into a perpetual and co-dependent dance - glorifying facilities, then subsidizing mega-events in hope of masking performance gaps.

Then they use these events as a rationale for an “arms race” with other communities for new or expanded facilities, all the while failing to fully exploit their community’s potential for visitor-centric cultural and economic development.

This makes these sales-driven DMOs highly vulnerable when their communities try to passively-aggressively chain them to specific facilities rather than enabling fulfillment of their community’s broader tourism interests.

More in the future on how to discern sales-driven from marketing-driven communities.

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