A topic that comes up often in our sales meetings and in general conversation is "cutting through the noise." In a world crowded with messages, promises and hype, how can we get noticed, trusted and ultimately win the sale? The marketing experts on Madison Avenue are paid very high fees to get their clients noticed, most often on a national or global market. Based on my narrow view of the results, I'd say they fail as often as they succeed. And, they're the experts.
I'm convinced that although different, the challenges we face as small businesses are just as real and intense. The noise that we compete with comes in a lot of varieties. You may have a lot of competition vying for the attention of the same customers. They may have similar products or solutions, and they may have very different products and solutions. You may have good competition (quality providers, quality products, good reputations for performance, competitive prices), and you may have bad competition (poor performers, inferior products, misleading business practices, unrealistically low prices). Your customers may be very knowledgeable about what you do and have a clear vision of what they want from your technologies, or you may have customers that are unfamiliar with what you have to offer and are not clear on how to apply technology.
A type of noise you don't have control over is the noise generated from within your customers' organization. They may have factions from within vying for funding or resources. They may have internal, self-proclaimed experts who steer your customer in a different direction after you leave a meeting. Even worse, they may have external influences from friends or acquaintances who are self-proclaimed experts on our technology who offer uninformed and sometimes very misleading opinions about what your customer should do.
Then there is the noise of unreasonable expectations created by the media. A great example comes from those of us who sell video surveillance systems. Most of the surveillance technology displayed in television programs like Las Vegas, or in the movies either doesn't really exist, is a long way from being perfected, or if it exists, is far outside most customers' price range. Nevertheless, they expect their new networked video surveillance system to give broadcast quality images, even over the internet. They expect search features at speeds a super computer would struggle with, and they expect it all for a very small investment.
The noise is everywhere. So how do small integrators compete with the noise?
The first step, like with most multi-step programs is recognizing the problem exists and beginning to identify the many influences that compete with your marketing and sales message. As you talk this over with your sales team, you will begin to develop a comprehensive list of specific competing influences unique to your customers and your market.
The second step should involve bite-sized strategies that tackle the most damaging influences first and then work down the list. A wise man once said, "If you have a bunch of frogs to swallow, swallow the biggest one first, but don't try to swallow them all at once." That's pretty good advice for anyone tackling business and management problems. Since I know that most video-surveillance customers have unrealistic expectations of what video on a budget can provide, I usually tackle this issue at the beginning of a meeting or presentation. Asking a few questions helps this process. These can include: What kind of detail do you expect to see from a surveillance image? Have you ever used a system that you were completely satisfied with? What bad experiences have you had in the past with this type of system? What opinions have you received from others that have similar needs or a similar system?
The third step should involve the fine-tuning of your marketing message and materials. If your goal is to establish your company as the expert, consider expanding your message beyond just your experience and reference list to include demonstrations of your expertise. Phrases starting with the words, "It's been our experience that--," followed by messages that counter common misconceptions or misinformation, may be used to establish dominant experience.
You may find that when selling church sound systems, consistently your biggest competitor is the self-proclaimed expert in the church who happens to think he has a cool home theater. This, of course, qualifies him as a sound expert. To counter this, you might direct a marketing or sales message up front. The message might read: "The strength of your congregation is most likely found in the committed volunteers who give of their time and money, but some things should always be left to the professionals. When it's time to turn to a professional to help you sound your best, turn to Audio/Video Magic." It needs some work, but you get the point. A similar message, well written and presented, cuts past the noise and gets right to the point. It respects the opinions of others while quietly defining that your opinion is the only one that eventually counts.
It's just not enough anymore to develop a marketing message and just put it out there, hoping it will stick. You need to carefully evaluate the environment in which your message will find an audience. Then, design your message to cut through the noise and hit the target.