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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for the ‘on Selling’ Category

Olson on Selling: The Story is Very Important

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I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2007 BlogHer conference this weekend in Chicago. At the event I was able to put a lot of faces to names since a lot of loyal FeedBurner users and evangelists were among the speakers and attendees. Talking to people like Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes is always a great way to clarify my thinking about the product and what publishers want out of it. It also helps me to see what we should be looking to do in the future.

Anyhow, since I spent much of my time chatting at the Google/FeedBurner booth and in the hallways I didn’t get a chance to see many sessions. In fact, I only sat in on one but it was a very good one to sit in on.

The topic of the panel I sat in on was crafting and how blogs and the internet effect it. There were a lot of great folks on the panel including Amy Sedaris. For those unfamiliar with Amy, she’s a riot. I had seen her on Letterman a couple times so I knew the panel was going to be entertaining. However, what I didn’t know was that one of my past thoughts on this blog would be brought up.

I have been thinking about a store on the web for microfinance goods for a while. I first wrote about the idea in a post titled “Opening Markets for Microfinance Goods” where I talked about the idea as a simple online store. As the idea evolved in my mind though I began to find that a simple online store wouldn’t do it. Why? Because in a typical online store with many products the story of each product can’t be fully told.

For the microfinance goods store I figured that the story of each item needed to be told in a compelling way to make the idea work because people wanted to buy more than just an item, they also wanted a story and would perhaps even pay a premium for it.

This is why a lot of the fair trade stores on the internet haven’t made a huge splash. With too many products “on the shelf” the story of each product simply can’t be told in a compelling way so consumers will simply get the cheaper alternative in their local store.

Woot.com then became an inspiration to me. The way they have set things up is exactly the way in which a store devoted to microfinance goods, goods with a very rich story, would thrive.

Tell the story well and items will sell.

This same theme appeared in the middle of the crafting panel at BlogHer. When pricing and selling came up one of the panelists mentioned that telling the story of how she makes each item in a detailed and compelling way not only lets her sell her items quickly but also allows her to command higher prices for them then she would have been able to otherwise.

The other panelists then began to chime is stating that they have seen the same thing happen with their crafts. Wow, I thought, so this theory really does produce compelling results. With woot.com and these crafting ladies backing things up I then turned my attention onto some of the more compelling companies to come out of the Web 2.0 space and I found that they too were telling compelling stories.

Take FeedBurner for example since I am intimately familiar with how things were done there. We always had great content on the site and witty banter that made the company feel more like a person. Not only that but we, along with other companies in the space, used our blogs as a communication platform to both tell the story of FeedBuner and engage with our users. While this is slightly different than telling the story of a specific item and then selling it I believe it still follows the same framework.

Bottom line: People love stories and are willing to be more loyal to a company or pay more for a product (or even simply buy the product in the first place) if they understand the story and feel they are an intimate part of it.

In fact, I notice myself following that behavior as well. Although I do think Cervelo bikes are superior to other bikes I do love the fact that they tie in a good story to the bike about how they are obsessive about their engineering and work on every little piece of the bike to make it better. That story alone has drawn me to Cervelo. (However, their bikes are still a bit pricey for me but maybe they’ll throw me a bone for the free publicity.)

Next up in the Olson on Selling series: Support is King

Written by Eric Olson

July 29th, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Olson on Selling: Customer Centric vs. Product Centric Selling

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I have recently started to think more about how products and features should be presented to potential (and even existing) customers. At FeedBurner we always did what comes natural to me so I had never given it much thought (oh, and we also worked 24×7 so I didn’t have any time to give it much thought!).

The natural way to talk to potential customers about products from my point of view is something I term Customer Centric selling. Yes, I know all selling should be “customer” centric meaning that the customer should always come first but that is not what I mean by customer centric in this article. I am referring to the approach of bundling ones products/services/features together in a unified sales pitch which can be tailored to each customer’s needs.

This particular approach allows each potential or current customer to have one sales/biz dev guy they know they can always count on which drives stronger relationships over time and customer loyalty (this should equate to more sales). It should be said that the sales people in this case will have multiple customers though.

What is interesting to me is that most large companies (from what I have seen) do not seem to operate in a customer centric way. They typically sell products separately with different sales people representing the different products. This is what I term Product Centric selling since the products are what divides the sales team not customers.

I can see a handful reasons why larger companies may want to break things down by product rather than allowing all sales people to sell every product they have.

1. There are too many products so sales people won’t be able to experts on all of them and therefore won’t be effective.

2. The products are vastly different from one another so it doesn’t make sense to bundle them.

3. Account managers are part of the team and they jump in post sale to handle and build the relationships.

Those are all valid reasons to keep products separate but I would have to argue against number one on the list by saying that people are smart enough, generally, to handle working with more than one product especially if the products make sense to sell in a bundle.

It seems to me that the goal of selling should be to get the customer exactly what they need in an efficient manner while building a relationship that can last a long time. Bundling products can help the business and its’ sales people deliver the most complete solution to the customer in the fastest amount of time while creating a one on one relationship that should continue to grow. Easier cross selling is also enabled in the customer centric model since multiple sales people do not need to be involved to cross sell.

What do you think? Should more large companies look to create a sales force that can sell anything they offer? It seems to me that a cross trained sales force could be deadly to a companies competition and very helpful to a companies customers.

Written by Eric Olson

July 23rd, 2007 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Business, on Selling