Several years ago I met Davis, an executive in Ohio, who segmented his product lines into “Bought, not Sold” and “Sold, not Bought.”
“Bought” products, he said, were familiar to prospective buyers. They had self-diagnosed what they needed and self-prescribed a product solution for that need. Often, they’d previously purchased a product in the category.
By contrast, a “Sold” product presented an unfamiliar solution—so the prospect couldn’t self-prescribe, and may not have self-diagnosed. In fact, their need could be latent and wouldn’t be recognized without prompting.
The implicit questions to be answered for prospective buyers are the biggest difference between the two situations.
Might some of your products or services benefit from a “Sold, not Bought” communications approach?
An early stage company with a novel, truly innovative product or service usually realizes that a “Sold, not Bought” marketing and sales approach is required.
Their marketing and sales communications shouldn’t proceed directly to answering “Why buy our product or service rather than Competitor X’s?” because there are questions in buyers’ minds that must be addressed first. The innovating company’s messaging must bring clarity to the:
Mature companies, too, must realize that a portion of their marketing and selling must be “Sold, not Bought.” Assuming that all prospects are familiar with the category is probably why so many companies lead with product, or an “our product is better than our competitor’s product” angle. They have an implicit belief that the prospect already knows the category and its benefits, and where it fits in their business/life. That’s not a safe assumption! Even if most of their prospective customers are experienced in the category and operate in “Bought” mode, there are situations when “Sold” mode is the right approach:
In my work with a software-as-a-service firm, I examined their website and those of their six major competitors. All of their home pages answered the implicit question, “Why should I buy your software and not your competitor’s?” Based on the Voice of the Customer research we did, it’s clear that prospects weren’t well-served by leaving crucial questions unanswered as they initially researched the solution and possible providers.
That presented an opportunity to stand out with messaging that better aligns with the questions that are most important to the prospects, and thus starts building trust from the beginning.
By looking at the full buying context and communicating a comprehensive value message that extended beyond the product or service itself, they’ve begun to effectively defend themselves against pricing pressure.
Marketing spend has heavily shifted toward search engine pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but you may have to use them cautiously.
Search ads are tricky for “Sold, not Bought” products and services. The prospect usually doesn’t know what keywords to search on. They don’t know the product or service solution, and so can’t search on solutions. If, however, prospective buyers can self-diagnose well enough to search for their problem or need, marketers can test ads that speak to those needs and see if the response and payback justifies the investment.
Google AdWords and other PPC ads are an easier fit for “Bought, Not Sold” because the prospect most often knows the search keywords to try.
Other forms of online advertising, such as display ads and videos, are a likelier bet for Sold, not Bought.
Do you have a sense of how your potential client population splits between the two? Do you focus on one or the other?
If your business needs to reach customers with messaging that speaks to what they most want to know, let’s schedule a complimentary consultation. Just head over here.