This morning, a colleague called to brainstorm ideas on how to promote an upcoming program on "reaping the benefits of a diverse workforce". Her concern was that the small business owners she was targeting had opted not to attend other programs on diversity.
To address her concern, I immediately donned my strategic marketing hat. Some would say that when you have a hammer, everything is a nail...
Helping prospects recognize they need what you have to offer
My first observation was that the prospects probably didn't recognize how much they might benefit from the program (the second of nine potential obstacles to a sale). Else, they would have expressed more interest in similar programs. This could have been for any of the following reasons.
They may not have recognized that:
- They have the problem the solution purports to addresses-or believe their current solution is adequate,
- The solution is relevant to their situation
- The source of the solution was credible and/or
- The proffered solution would resolve the problem,
We approached these reservations one at a time. First, we determined that it was likely that many of the small business owners did not already have a solution for "reaping the benefits of a diverse workforce".
We based this assumption on the fact that most companies hire "people like them", and most business owners tend to turn to their peers for advice. We believed that the target audience would agree with our conclusion. So, we looked for ways to persuade them that the program would be relevant.
Stepping into prospective buyers' shoes
To do so, we tried to step into their shoes.
To anticipate their concerns, we asked ourselves two questions. The first was, "What might come to prospects' minds when they thought about diversity?". Then, we asked, "What was most important to them right now?"
We guessed that most people think of diversity in terms of differences in race, sex, age, or national origin. Yet, the term has broader implications. It can also refer to a host of other populations that share common circumstances that differ from our own.
We anticipated that what would make the program relevant to a group of small business owners was examples of how a "diverse workforce" would significantly affect the success of their businesses. Luckily, we had recently encountered a few great examples.
Buying from those we know and trust may not always be the best approach: a personal example
Recently, I decided to migrate my website to a modern platform-and began looking for potential vendors . Some of the "usual suspects", recommended by my colleagues, prepared proposals that addressed a number of my stated requirements such as maintaining the "look and feel" of my current site. Nevertheless, a number offered alternative designs despite the fact that I had indicated this was neither a need or a preference.
That said, at the heart of my requirements was a need for strategic guidance. I indicated this by stressing the importance of ease of maintenance and ease of upgrading the site-to accommodate future unknown requirements.
I began to fully recognize my need for strategic guidance, when the bids that came in had little in common. At that point, I began to search the web and social media for resolution to the disparities.
My research surfaced only one company that focused on strategic issues-and provided numerous examples of its capabilities in this area-and that company was located overseas. Given the sample size, I'm not sure if this company had a different perspective because it was located in another country or if this was an individual difference. Nevertheless, it was interesting to me that no US firm popped up in the couple hours I spent searching the web and social media.
Credible sources help raise awareness of value: additional examples
There are more influential sources that we could draw on to demonstrate relevance. One is Jeff Howe, the author of the bestseller Crowdsourcing. He notes (on page 152 of his book) that it takes a diverse group to devise innovative approaches to challenging problems.
Another came from panelists at last week's conference on the future of marketing. In discussing what it takes to develop successful products, they advocated building cross-functional teams composed of marketers, developers, and designers.
Their rationale was that when professionals work in functional silos, they tend to approach problems in much the same way they did in the past. They noted that companies only come up with market-disrupting solutions when employees work in teams that can view situations from multiple angles.
Strategic marketing is a never-ending process
I felt we had come up with some great ideas for helping prospective attendees recognize how they would benefit from the program. At the core, was demonstrating how diversity can help companies achieve competitive advantage.
Now, "all" that was required was to summarize the above "arguments" in concise compelling copy and move to the third of nine potential obstacles to a sale-creating the sense of urgency that would render our prospects "ready to buy".
Whether you're a small business or a strategic marketing consultant, assemble a diverse team
What struck me as ironic, when considering all of the above, is that the very reason we often don't recognize the need for products and services-that might benefit us-is that these products and services are a) unfamiliar, b) don't seem relevant because we don't have examples of how people like us have benefited from them and/or c) are not recommended by the people "like us" that we know and trust. Perhaps we need to involve a more diverse team in our buying process.
Written by: Barbara Bix