Stop Making Your Salespeople “Assume The Position” …

the buyer pat down without a positioning statement

By Mark Allen Roberts

In my last few posts have been about how buyers become “Brand Damaged” and this preventable disease will quickly eat away at any chances your team thought they had of achieving their sales goals. It is very difficult to heal damaged brands. Another marketing disease that frequents particularly large companies occurs when sales has to : Assume the Position of your product or service when presenting buyers. If your salespeople do not clearly understand your product positioning they are left to be pat down by buyers . Sales then assumes what it must represent to make this uncomfortable experience end,and the result is very dangerous. It is dangerous because you fail to close sales you probability could have won  and your sales team is promising things you can not execute.

I can hear some of you now, “ok, you have discussed branding and positioning in the last two posts, enough already!” My answer is no, I have shared branding and how your brand can become a damaged brand in the minds of your buyers. In this post I will discuss how far too many companies force their salespeople to ; Assume the Position their product or service has in the minds of their buyers and this results in lost sales that could have been yours.

Let’s go over a couple quick definitions;

Brand– Unique designsignsymbolwords, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer’s mind (see positioning). Thus brands help harried consumers in crowded and complex marketplace, by standing for certain benefitsand valueLegal name for a brand is trademark and, when it identifies or represents a firm, it is called a brand name. See also corporate identity.

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Position, Positioning, Positioning Statement –  Written description of the objectives of a positioning strategy. It states (1) how the firm defines its business or how a brand distinguishes itself, (2) how the customers will benefit from its features, and (3) how these benefits or aspects will be communicated to the intended audience.A positioning statement is a subset of a value proposition that optimizes it for marketing communications purposes. It identifies the target audience, the product and its category, a specific benefit, and is differentiable from the nearest competitive alternative. It is an internal, non-emotional statement that becomes the messaging cornerstone of an integrated marketing campaign.

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You can control your “positioning” by creating a unique selling proposition and using it in all your marketing communication. Over time, as people become aware of your products and services, you start building your brand in your prospects’ and customers’ minds. Positioning is something you can do now when you state the problems you solve and how you uniquely solve them. Branding happens over time. Branding refers to what your customers think or feel when they hear a specific word. Positioning refers to your position “relative to” or “in comparison to” your competitors. Positioning is sharing your distinctive competence with your market. Branding is your product’s identity established over consistently executing what you promised.

With that said…

Are your salespeople trained and aware of your product positioning? …are you sure?

When your salespeople meet with new prospects do they know your product’s distinctive competence?

Is your brand and position  true in the minds of your buyers?

Are some of your products; “positioning dated”?

Are your salespeople “assuming” they know what your product position statement is or sharing a dated position that worked five years ago?

Is it time to re-position your product(s) based on the market conditions and problems your buyers face today?

Salespeople are focused on closing new business and if you do not provide your product positioning that resonates with buyers, sales will assume and make their own tools to drive the sale to a close. The trouble is, from a buyer’s perspective, it feels very uncomfortable as they have to pat down salespeople to find products that may solve their problems. For a buyer it feels like the salesperson is playing feature and benefit BINGO. They keep tossing features and benefits expecting  the buyer to yell; “BINGO …I get it now, I know what problem you can solve for me.” The more this salesperson is left to find your product’s position the less credible they becomes in the mind of your buyer. The more salespeople you have on your team creating your positioning, trying to sell dated positioning, your market will lose trust in your company.

Don’t make your salespeople Assume the position when meeting with buyers.

Train your salespeople to seek unresolved market problems and understand your product’s position to solve those problems. The goal of positioning is when your target market associates a benefit with your company. When you fail to establish a strong foundation from a position that resonates with your buyers, you fail to create brands that create raving fans.

So hopefully you can see now that when salespeople are forced to Assume the Position of your product or service it creates an unstable foundation for a trust based relationship and is it any wonder buyers become brand damaged? A strong position in the mind of the buyer, reinforced over time connects to the buyers’ emotion and they begin to trust. It is at that point your positioning becomes a brand.

When salespeople are forced to assume the position of your product ;they make an ass out of you and your company.

2009 Health Care Reform Initiative Lesson #4: Your Previous New Product Launch success (or Failures) Affect Current and Future Launches



At the Austin Pcamp last weekend I was speaking with a young product manager and he shared sales and marketing do not seem to be embracing his current new product launch. The first thing I asked him was;

Have you launched other products or solutions recently expecting to sell 60,000 (and that was the sales goal) and you only sold 6…”

His answer was “Yes, how did you know that?”

I explained the one thing about having grey hair is I earned each one,and I went on to explain

“… you have a trust and credibility issue within your team and probably market you must fix first.”

As a salesperson and someone who has lead sales teams it is hard not to become a bit skeptical when marketing and product management “throws another new product over the wall for my team to sell”.

 It is particularly difficult to get excited about a new product opportunity when marketing and product management have throw two previous solutions over the wall and my team was given a goal for 60,000 and we only sold 6.

So I explained to this ( now wide eyed) young product manager that once you break trust with your sales and marketing team, once you no longer have credibility among your team members you have a much bigger problem you need to solve first. (And you need to solve it quickly)

I asked him a number of questions and the one that seemed to make him most uncomfortable was;

When the last product launch failed and sales was out in the market banging their heads against the wall trying to sell it (so they get paid) and you were at corporate…did you attend any meetings with your leadership team and when asked why the product is not selling…did you throw sales under the bus?”

big bus

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“Dumb and Dumber, FOX and Warner and how they are Planning on Delaying Deliveries to Red Box

dumb and dumber

                                                                                  Lloyd and Harry reach Aspen on Scooter in Dumb and Dumber


FOX and Warner Bros delaying new movie releases to Red Box and other kiosk vendors is like watching a new release of Dumb and Dumber.

In the Wall Street Journal article: Warner Bros. aims to lift DVD sales, will delay arrival at rental kiosks. They discuss how they plan to delay new releases to DVD rental kiosks.

The movie studios are concerned about their DVD revenues.

The market is not only speaking, but screaming how they are raving fans of DVD rentals Kiosks like Red Box.

The current big customers like Blockbuster and others are posting over 22% losses in revenues when kiosks like Red Box are showing consistent and impressive gains. Call me crazy… but your market is speaking guys…can you hear me now? Red Box Kiosks are described as; “The hottest thing in movie rentals is as old as the Coke machine — and just as red.”Their CEO Gregg Kaplan said “We are incredibly proud to achieve 200 million rentals and 10,000 locations nationwide.”

The studios have a choice, they can try to “control” the market, the buyers, or they need to intimately understand the market, buyers and needs and not only embrace the new ways consumers wish to consume content but enable it.

Thirteen years of my work experience was serving the movie distribution, rental and mass retail. How Warner and Fox are behaving is no different than how they all were behaving worried that this new thing called “movie rental stores “would erode their box office revenues in the mid 1980”s.

Market losers try to control the market and they protected their current cash cows while ignoring the consumer’s voice. They ignore the bright lights of growth and change trying to tightly hold on to past business models their markets no longer value.

Market leaders spend time getting to know their market and they quickly understand consumers who rent movies also go to movie theaters and some even buy movies and collect them.

When we rent content it is about wanting entertainment in a convenient and cost effective way for me as a consumer. You can try to control us, however when you do we find other ways to solve our needs and often they are much more severe to your bottom line. Besides, how long will it be before one of your competing studios blinks? Didn’t we live this same scenario “back in the day” And what happened…aggressive smaller studios emerged understanding the needs of consumers and and one of you big guys blinked. Some of you held your ground (more stubborn and stupid, driven by your own needs and egos instead of being strategic marketers) and how did that work for you back then? I remember, do you?

I can remember the 28,000 independent video stores and large movie distributors placing pressure on the studios to not ship new video releases directly to this 14 store chain in Texas called Blockbuster. At the time they were buying through distributors like Big State, Commtron, Ingram, and others. Well that little chain of 14 video rental stores quickly became a market leader.

I am a huge fan of Red Box.

They solve problems for me;

· I want to rent a DVD fast, I like the experience

· I want to rent a DVD and do my grocery shopping in one trip, in one location, one stop ( I am already late for dinner)

· I do not want to pay what Blockbuster charges , no late fees …but still a lot more than $1.00

· I only want the movie for one night

· I don’t want to have to join Net flicks or others and pre plan my month of movie viewing

· At a $1.00 rental, I feel like I receive a value , if I like it I go to Wal Mart and buy it

· I do not want to have to “shop” at a movie rental store only to find out they have all the new releases checked out

· I do not want to pay more for a new release than an older movie

· I do not want to buy movies through my cable provider as they are already raping me with what they charge

· The box office theaters are increasing their prices ( again, feels like they are thinking about their own needs and not mine)

So what are you going to do Dumb and Dumber? Are you going to repeat the past and focus on your needs or are you going to understand the market, it’s consumers and our changing needs and not only enable us to enjoy movie entertainment, but who knows you may even find new products and serves that solve our unresolved problems that Red Box fails to solve?

When I wrote my post : Attention leaders: Don’t look now but your lack of market knowledge is showing… I was talking about companies like you that have lost touch with their markets and they guess , assume, and use their gut and intuitions as their way of hitting their goals. They make inside-out versus market -in decisions and their shareholder values decline rapidly.

Your choice…focus on your internal needs and try to control the market… Or gain an intimate knowledge of your market today and it’s consumers like me and build products and service delivery systems that serve me and solve my unresolved problems.

Oh I can hear the movie exec’s now…”easy for you to say, we have billions at stake here.” Well you are right, you do. But you will eventually supply the kiosk companies with new releases at the same time as others. While you figure it out, Red Box will go to a mass retail store on the day of the new release and buy them. While you figure this out you will remove profit from your movie distributors.

So the question is how long do you want to be a “buggy whip” manufacturer saying this horseless carriage is a fad? Or, do you embrace your market, its changes and evolve into a new company that meets our needs today and into the future?

Maybe you develop a “imovies” since my kids seem to download their favorite DVD’s onto Apple laptops? The only hassle is the download from the disc. Not a big deal, but maybe you take the time to understand why they are doing this, the problem it solves for them and solve it brillantly?

We are all watching…

How about your company….

Are you trying to control your market? How’s that working for you?

Are you trying to control your vendors trying to slow down a new service model in your industry?

Are you the buggy whip manufacturer saying this new horseless carriage is a fad and will never last?

Or are you studying your market, your consumers and intimately understanding what and why they do what they do?

All is not lost by the way as some forward thinking buggy whip manufactures found as they learned to make leather seating for these horseless carriages.

Trying to control a market is foolish and expensive. Understand and embrace your market and become a market leader, not a market loser.

It’s an Epidemic! …Poorly executed Email Marketing Campaigns


Executing a poor Email Marketing campaign can not only black list you as a spammer, but send your targeted customers running to your competitor.

Your actions speak much louder than your message!

When I posted; Is your Email Marketing sending business to your Competitors? I was concerned how this salesperson, at this particular company that provides email marketing lists for business development did a number of things wrong. Not picking on this particular person, but my desire was to illustrate what not to do in email marketing, and then I received this;



Hi Steve, [my name is Mark! I am already not impressed!]

Are you looking to acquire a fresh-targeted email contact list? [Actually yes, I am]  Would you like to update missing data to your old database? [Yes that sounds good too, bugs me you did not use your own product to find my right name, but I will read on]

Set1[what’s a set?]: List Acquisition:  We assist Companies to acquire business list specific to their target audience with contact name, business name, job title, mailing address, telephone number, fax number, website URL, SIC codes, employee size, revenue size, Industry type and contact person deliverable email address. Companies can choose from the following selects: [again, sounds good, but if you are as good as you say why you got my name wrong?]

· Vertical Market (SIC) 

· Company Size by Employee 

· Company Size by Sales Revenue 

· Fortune 1000 Companies 

· Job Function, Title & Seniority Level 

· Geographic Location

Set 2[ there’s that word again; set, it may be something your developers use, but as a buyer this is not may language]: Appending: We can work with your existing in-house database which includes de-duping and providing only unique records. Following are the services includes in first set of solution. This solution is related to working with your existing in-house database.[ok, but what problem are you solving for me, and again, call me crazy but how can I trust you with my data when you can’t even get my name right? I feel working with you may be risky, I don’t know….]

  • Email appending – Appending missing emails for existing contact [sounds good]
  • Multiple contacts appending – appending multiple contacts irrelevant for list of companies [huh?]
  • Decision makers appending – Appending C-level, V-level and Director level decision makers for existing list of companies
  • Target title appending – Appending [appending? This is not how I talk, I can figure out what it means but you really do not know me do you?] contacts based on your job title specifications
  • Data appending – Appending any missing information other than emails

We would like to offer you free append test [really? Why are we talking price? How did you know I wasn’t ready to buy?]for 25/50 business records/consumer records to just test our quality of services.[ do I need to test your quality, yah, after you got my name wrong I do not feel all that warm and fuzzy]

Please let me know your thoughts. If there is someone else in your organization that I need to speak with please let me know or forward this email.[ oh, so again you don’t know me, you are not sure what I do, my title, and I should send you to someone else to do your job for you? Maybe you should buy a list of executives with their title, email, NAME,…oh that’s right that’s what you do?]


[Name removed]

Business Development [how’s that working for you?]

800-708-xxxx [good, you gave me your phone number, what about email? I guess if I am interested I could hit reply…but if you used one of those mass email services so I can’t black list you, you will never receive it…]


[Shame on you! You work in the space of email marketing and no opt out? Your company must not do much business,… I think I’ll pass]



How about your company, are you sending email marketing out like the above? You sure?


What could this guy have done better? ( I need experts in the space of email marketing to chime in, I know this feels wrong, but I am no expert, I am just a buyer, who has unresolved problems and I look forward to giving money to those that solve them.


Are you blindly sending out emails to your targeted accounts…hoping they will stick like the guy above?


Can your targeted key new business accounts hear your message over your actions?

88% of Those Surveyed Said Advertising Services Have Become Commoditized? Ad Firms Heal Thy Self!


I am a problem junkie. I see problems everywhere. Problems are awesome as they provide an opportunity for new solutions that we can monetize. Over the years I have called this “the art of thoughts”. Recently I was on the Advertising Age website and participated in a survey that said 88% of those surveyed feel Ad Agency services have become commoditized.

This really bothered me as one of the favorite companies I helped was an integrated marketing firm in North Canton Ohio called Innis Maggiore . I had hired this firm over the years when I was the VP of Sales and Marketing for a local manufacturer, and when our company was acquired Innis Maggiore group asked me to do what I do, and  help them grow. We served a variety of companies from a small Amish furniture maker to MSN.COM , Harry London’s Chocolates, and a local hospital as well as many more. It was easy to help them grow because their work …well it worked, it added measurable value to their clients’ revenues.

(Obviously they never let me help with client copy!)

Honestly, as a buyer of Ad firm services for years I lacked an appreciation of the what goes on behind the scenes. Many times the good firms just made what they do look too easy.The firms I hired would listen to what we needed and produce something that either drove the desired result, usually revenues, or their work had no effect, and I found another firm. Good Ad firm partners like Innis do a great deal of work to ensure their work produces a result. At Innis we often would listen to the client’s objectives, and after the meeting have more questions than answers. So we would go into our clients’ market and interview customers, non customers, and influencers. From these interviews we would gain a better understanding of the problem our clients’ product solves and then we were equipped to turn those amazing creative folks  loose on the solution. They say you need to “walk a mile in another man’s shoes…”well having helped this firm gave me a new appreciation for what goes on behind the final work for market leading firms.

Good Ad firms connect to the problem in the market, understand buyers and speak to those personas in a voice that emotionally connects. When I wrote “blame-storming” I referred to an ad that is amazing. Whoever led the creative for this ad connected with something almost every executive has felt in a meeting at some time…”being thrown under the bus”. This firm nailed it so well that it  made me feel Direct TV knows me…

What is the value of that kind of creative? Creative that cuts through the noise and gets your message to connect with a targeted buyer persona is not priced as a commodity.

When creative connects so deeply with your buyers that it creates an emotional attachment it shows you have a market leading Ad Firm partner.

Market Losing Ad firms will lower their billable hourly rates and write off more of their hours. They will replace their talented creative’s with young kids fresh out of college to drive down their costs. In a recent Ad Age article it discussed how firms are auctioning their services on EBay, offering free work and crazy low rates to capture large accounts from market leading firms.

If you are running an Ad firm today, you must” heal thy self.” Get out and understand the needs of your customers. Create buyer personas for your customers. For example, in today’s environment it should not shock us that the guy in charge of Ad Firms at P&G comes from a purchasing background. You have a new buyer persona. Like your clients, you now have many more people in the buying decision…make it your quest to understand them! If you speak to him in the voice you used with the past CMO you will fail. Get to know him, how does he make decisions? What are his problems, pain points? Just as you conduct focus groups to verify creative before you kick it off for clients, you need to test your new messaging before you launch your firms’ value proposition.

Or, you can keep playing let’s make a deal and keep complaining about how your accounts “just don’t value your work anymore…” And oh by the way, how is that working for you?

Advertising Age’s Jonah Bloom offered seven steps to fight commoditization;

1. Say No

2. Realize you are on the same side as your rivals

3. Specialize

4. Change the cost dialog

5. Accept risk

6. Stop selling ads as a solution to everything

7. Look for new revenue streams

Markets will always have bottom feeders doing stupid things, and rarely do they survive. It is your job to rise up and connect to your client’s needs of today and your firm will survive. If your entire business model is selling ads alone, then you are in trouble. When was the last time an Ad made you take action and buy something? An Ad may play a role in the overall buyer process, but buyers today are doing much more than waiting for the perfect ad to solve their problems. If your model feels like it has become commoditized it is because your customers have lost the connection between your work and the results your work produces. If all you have been “pitching” are more and more Ad’s then they have also lost trust in you.You are speaking to new buyer personas that make buying decisions differently than your buyers in the past. If you are selling a “one size fits all solution” in ads alone, you will fail.

I need to check in with Dick Maggiore. I learned a great deal working with his amazing team. Get to know the customer, buyer and users and speak to them authentically about how you solve their problems… my guess is Dick is struggling more with turning away clients than commoditizing his services.

Are “No-See-um’s” costing you revenue?


One of our favorite family vacations is to go to Hilton Head Island and stay in Sea Pines. My family and I rent bicycles and we go to the beach every day. My routine includes waking up at sunrise and fishing in the surf each morning before my family is awake. Our first year at the beach left me with welts that looked like mosquito bites but I did not remember seeking any mosquitoes on the beach. I thought that perhaps I received jelly fish stings, or I was having an allergic reaction to the suntan lotion.

I went to the gift shop looking for some calamine lotion and the clerk said “I see you found our “no-see-ums.”I found what? She said “no-see-ums” (like it was some biological term) and she went on to describe small sand fleas that are so small that you often do not see them however their bite later becomes an irritation. If left untreated these bites can become infected and some people have allergic reactions to the bite.

Does your business have any “no-see-ums” that bite your customers? It can be things you feel are little like not accepting American Express credit cards because their fees are higher than Discover card. It could be little irritants like not being able to make a reservation online or packaging that requires your customers to repackage your product before distribution. It could be requiring customers to complete incoming inspection of quality or you will not honor returns as they may have been freight damaged. It could be a number of small quality problems and your technical service line is always busy because you have not staffed it properly. “No-see-ums” are inside out processes that only serve you and actually cause your clients pain.

In one of the companies I served we supplied plastic video cassette packaging for video rental stores. We sold our products through a network of video distributors. To help make our product price competitive we offered free freight for orders of $2500 or more. We analyzed our costs to process and stage orders of $500, $1000, $2000, and over $2500.At one point we decided to gain a larger percentage of our distributor’s business we would increase our free freight requirement to $5000. (That way our clients would buy more from us to get free freight)One of our first distributors was a company called Island Electronics on Long Island in New York. After increasing our minimum freight I noticed their sales had decreased substantially so I booked a flight to determine why sales had dropped so quickly. When we arrived we noticed a warehouse bursting at the seams with products. Since my last visit, Island Electronics had picked up a number of new lines all competing for the already limited space in their warehouse. As I walked past my competitors master cartons as we walked to the owners office it hit me…raising our minimum freight requirement was an inside out strategy that did not meet the need of my buyer. My competitor who produced product in Edison New Jersey visited this account every other week and offered free freight on orders of $1000. My competitor understood the bigger challenges Island Electronics faced (SPACE). Our new freight program was a “no-see-um” and it also bit us. No-see-ums always bite more than once. First they bite your customer. If your buyer’s irritation becomes painful enough, the bite will negatively affect your revenues.


Market leaders are constantly in their markets observing, listening and sensing their buyers’ needs. They identify each “no-see-um” and create processes and procedures to prevent future negative experiences.


Market losers are focused on their internal needs with little regard for customer challenges and limitations.


Do you have any “no-see-ums” when clients deal with you?


How often do you visit your buyers? Your users, and observe their use of your product?


Have your salespeople identified “no-see-ums” only to be quickly dismissed?