By Eric Gombrich
Have you ever taken a standardized or admission test like the SAT or ACT? Are you like me in that you remember the analogy parts of the test where the pattern goes something along the lines of:
Carrot is to Apple, as Car is to _____
The answer is C, train. The logical thinking skill being tested is that the reader recognizes that both Carrot and Apples are types of food, and similarly, Cars and Trains are both forms of transportation. In my youth I might have argued you can ride a horse and therefore the horse is a form of transportation as well, and thus just as appropriate an answer. I like to think that as I’ve matured, I’ve learned not to be so argumentative on philosophical principals, but I suspect my family and friends would argue that’s simply wishful thinking.
I’m not sure why this particular test format remain top of mind, but I do find I use analogy a fair bit in my communication. I find that when trying to explain a new idea to someone, analogy helps them more quickly connect to the new premise.
One of the analogies I find myself frequently considering in my work is:
“Marketing is to Sales as ….”
I’m fascinated how the analogy changes based on context and audience.
For example, I recall when I asked how someone would finish the analogy, the response was “Marketing is to Sales, like Peanuts are to Peanut Butter.” The implication is that generally, they are the same thing in a different format. As I inquired as to their background and experience, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn most of it was in retail and direct to consumer environments.
In the context of those environments, the ‘sale’ typically refers to the point of transaction where in most cases, dollars are exchanged for goods. The ‘sales people’ involved in this transaction are predominantly focused on enacting or facilitating the transaction efficiently. In this context – and I’m certainly generalizing here – they come at the tail-end of the process, after the consumer has decided to proceed with the transaction. Furthermore, they tend to be employed by the retailer, not the manufacturer who is doing the Marketing.
We all can recognize nuances in this assessment, including the often-used example of the car salesman ‘convincing’ the customer to buy. But let’s briefly consider that example. It was the consumer that went to the dealership in the first place, walked in, and started looking around. It wasn’t like they went to the car dealership because they were hungry, and the sale person convinced them the solution to their problem was a new car; the consumer went there because they concluded on their own that they may be in need of a new car. The sales person didn’t create the demand or the awareness of a problem needing to be solved. What the salesperson might have done was help the customer buy, either through some great financial wizardry or more often than not, giving the consumer a credible rationalization for buying…”I couldn’t pass it up because…”
In most retail cases, the primary way of creating awareness and even possibly demand amongst the customer-base is through marketing, often times equated to ‘advertising.’ As such, it’s not surprising that the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry pours billions of dollars each year into their marketing and advertising budgets, while spending far less on sales. And even then, in this environment, sales is often times an extension of the marketing function, such as when working with retailers to obtain optimal physical product placement, maximizing consumers seeing the marketing messages; a great message not seen is as valuable as a bad message, or no message at all. This is what leads us to see Coke at eye level on the shelf in the grocery store.
But this is only one context, one environment. Another analogy that might be used in a different context is:
Marketing is to Sales, as Paper is to a Movie
In this analogy, Marketing is a supportive tool to Sales, just as Paper might be one way the script is conveyed to those involved in creating the Movie. The context here tends to align more with enterprise, or Business-to-Business (B2B) environments.
In good B2B sales methodologies, sales people don’t simply facilitate the transaction as they do in many retail environments. Instead, they provide a valuable service to the buyer in helping them recognize the value the product will have to the buyer, and in so doing, they are helping the buyer make the decision to proceed to the transaction. In fact, numerous examples are used to show how a business might buy from a supplier not because of the product itself, but how it’s delivered, how its supported, and other ‘peripheral’ things the supplier might provide of value to the buyer.
When sales in this environment is done well it creates a ‘win-win’ scenario and the transaction itself can be very efficient. Conversely, in many retail contexts the consumer ‘wants a good deal;’ they are focused on the price they pay. And thus Marketing looks to generally apply promotions and discounts to large segments of the target market. In retail, everything is generic, and based on making the consumer think they are getting a good deal. It works quite well in retail because the decisions to buy tend to be individual, or in the most complex cases familial such as where to go on a vacation. As the number of people making the decision decreases, the ability for emotion to drive the decision rises. This is the breeding ground for the marketing & advertising efforts to tap into our emotions; Apple is cool, Coke is hip, Disney is fun.
But in the B2B context, the buyer is more often interested in the value they receive, and the price they pay should be balanced against that. Decisions are often-times made by committees, and this tends to prevent emotion from outpacing value in the process.
Value is unique with each buyer, and thus the importance of the sales person. In this environment, Marketing – while it may do some advertising to drive brand awareness – is predominantly serving in a role of support to the Sales effort; it isn’t necessarily creating demand within the customer base, it is arming the sales person to convey value and in so doing, that drives demand and leads to the transaction.
So how you complete the analogy directly relates to the market you are serving, and your approach to driving demand and completing the transactions. “Marketing” and “Sales” are therefore dynamic concepts, and not absolute. So when you hear the terms, what are your biased reactions to them? Do you automatically complete the analogy before understanding the context and environment? If so, you aren’t alone.