Free Thinking

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One of my favorite stolen lines is that customers should never be allowed to engage in unsupervised thinking. Unsupervised thinking is dangerous as any deposed despot will attest.

Outbound marketing is entirely about communications.  It involves guiding the thinking of different people (buyer genotypes) at different times (sales cycle, product/market lifecycle) and for different reasons (aid discovery, educate, motivate, close).  Enterprise buyers engage in thinking throughout a sales process, unlike consumers who can often be sold through pure emotions.

This came to light recently while coaching a client on a thought leadership paper, and one member of their team viewed the developing collateral as a sales piece, bemoaning the lack of mention about their product features and benefits.  I explained that buyers were an ornery lot, prone to cynical (and typically correct) suspicions. Adding product details not only distracts the reader from cementing their knowledge, but also raises alarms about the spin behind what they are being fed. The goal of a thought leadership paper is to lead reader thinking, to reach a set of conclusions.  Once their brains had been properly washed, then promoting a product that matches their newfound and supervised thoughts would be appropriate.

All  marketing communications should guide thinking when you anticipate the average customer will think at all.  Thinking involves discovery and learning, and in those processes acquiring beliefs about the problems to be solved or the advantages to be gained. Keep this in mind the next time you drop by a vendor web site.  Do their pages easily and rapidly guide you through the phases of discovery, establishing the issues and criteria, and then matching your newfound beliefs to a product?  Do those same pages give you the ability to think without supervision?  Odds are the former is false and the latter is true.

Outside of Congress, thinking tends to be systematic.  B2B buyers often have their thinking supervised by bosses, peers and committees. In order to reach the check-writing phase of the sales cycle, you have to intervene and guide the thinking of the buyer in all issue, and often the thinking of bosses, peers and committees too.  Each needs to be led through the phases of issue discovery, framing, criteria prioritization and solution set selection. Helping the point buyer to supervise the thinking of bosses, peers and committees is often essential when the point buyer is also the gatekeeper.

The marketing lesson herein is that left to their own, buyers will think on their own.  This always causes problems. Examine the steps your typical buyers take in reaching a purchase decision, detail what they seek to learn in each phase, then document their curriculum and model your outbound marketing to match.  Leave buyers no room to think without your guidance.

Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing. Guy has lead marketing strategy for a variety of technology companies vending high-availability backup software, wireless middleware, enterprise software, infrastructure software, mobile applications, server virtualization, secure remote access, risk management applications, application development tools and several open source ventures. Before turning to marketing, Guy was a technologist for NASA, McDonnell Douglas, Circuit City Corporate Headquarters and other organizations.

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