My guest today needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him a small one anyway. Seth Godin is a serial entrepreneur & multi-best selling author. As I’m sure our readers are aware, Mr Godin hasn’t just commented on the massive changes that have occurred in marketing during the past decade, but he has in fact shaped them. We’re going to be talking to Seth about his opinion on the B2B landscape as it is today. Seth, it’s such a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining me.
Seth: What a delight! Good to meet you Tabi.
So, Conventional wisdom amongst B2B organisations suggests that sellers need to mitigate risk and uncertainty for their buyers, which largely explains why B2B marketing errs on the side of caution. Hence the expression “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM”. How do you reconcile that fear of risk with the purple cow philosophy of being bold, different and remarkable?
Seth: Alright so, we’ll break it into pieces. The first thing is that almost all B2B sellers are not selling to the owner of the company. You’re selling to someone who has a boss. And they are asking themselves only one question when they do something for the first time, and that question is: ‘What will I tell my boss?’ That’s it. It’s not their money. All of their personal drama about money is irrelevant. ‘What will I tell my boss?’ And if a marketer has surrendered to commodity thinking, if a marketer has nothing to say, if an organisation is just saying ‘you can pick anyone, and we’re anyone,’ then the only thing the buyer can tell their boss is ‘it was the cheapest one.’ And that’s why you have a race to the bottom.
The alternative is to build a company that is worth telling a story about so that the buyer can say to the boss, ‘this is why it’s gonna make us look good to make this decision.’ And so, when people talk about ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘IBM solved the what should I tell my boss problem.’ It costs extra to buy IBM, but if you bought someone cheaper, like a Univac, you gotta explain to your boss why you were risking everything to save a couple bucks. IBM didn’t do that. IBM said, this, for people who are seeking the one everyone else is buying, is worth paying extra for.
Absolutely. With that in mind – are there any B2B brands on your radar at the moment that are really ‘purple cow’-ing in 2021?
Seth: Y’know, the book Purple Cow, (I love the fact that the title has spread far and wide) is actually very specific about what a purple cow is. It’s not a gimmick. It’s not risky. It is worth talking about. Why would someone talk about it? They don’t talk about it because they’re trying to help the company, they talk about it because they’re trying to help themselves. That talking about a viral video doesn’t help the person who made the video, in your eyes, it helps you for looking cool! Right? When you think about status and affiliation and everything else.
So, the biggest shift that’s going on in B2B marketing, because so much of it is sold remote now, is you can get to scale without a salesforce. And that means there’s lots and lots and lots of tiny little organisations that are building things that businesses are depending on. Because of the network effect. Because of connection. Because they’re seeking something that advances the ball for them. Not because it’s the cheapest by spec. But because it changes everything. So if we look at StreamYard, or we look at Zoom, or if we look at any software service businesses that have grown, they’re growing because it pays for you to tell other people – ‘Oh! Pay me via Stripe.’ Because there’s something in it for you, and that’s how Stripe grows.
Pivoting ever so slightly, within B2B, a particular sales philosophy has become hugely popular over the last decade called the “Challenger Sale”, in which the author argues that because customers now have access to so much information, the old model (solution selling) of waiting for them to come to you and simply asking lots of questions is flawed. Instead, they advocate a more assertive (challenger) style, in which the salesperson interrupts the buyer earlier in their journey and takes control of the conversation. Many of your books, from Permission Marketing to This Is Marketing would seem at odds with the Challenger Sale thesis. I’d love to know your view on this more confrontational approach?
Seth: Well, no one wants to get hustled. No one wants to get hyped. No one wants to get pushed. No one wants to have their personal space invaded. I don’t think those are valid things to build a career on. Sales is a useful function and its function is helping people get to where they know they want to go but are afraid to go. The salesperson helps the customer overcome inertia. Now, we need permission to do that. If you join a Crossfit gym, your coach might yell at you, but you signed up for that because your goal is to get to the other side.
So I think that there’s a blend here. And the blend is, first let me understand what story gets told to buyers like yours when you’re having a good day. And then let’s work together to overcome your fear of telling that story. Because if you don’t wanna tell the story that I’m bullying you into telling, then I’m taking from you. But if I can coach you to a story that gets you to the other side, then you’re happy that I showed up.
Tabi: Yeah, definitely. So, maybe they’re more similar than they first appear.
Seth: Well, there are a lot of fearful people who misuse marketing and sales techniques to be selfish. And they’re covering up the fact that they’re not confident in what they have to say. And I don’t have any patience for those people at all. So, it’s possible to read the Challenger sale as ‘yeah, your job is to be a jerk.’ But I don’t know many people who have succeeded in doing that.
Tabi: No, nor me! Well, I suppose those were all the questions that I had for you today, Seth. Thank you so much today and for answering [the questions] so fantastically.
Seth: It’s a pleasure.