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[SDS] Sales medium is the message

[SDS] Sales medium is the message

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
3 min read

[Reading Time: 2m 42s]

1964 was a big year for media theory.

A Canadian guy named Marshall McLuhan published a book called Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In the book, he coined a phrase that you might know: “the medium is the message.”

McLuhan himself admits that the phrase is fantastical and meant to get your attention. But it’s a big idea: there are coded messages we get about content based on how it’s delivered.

For example, most people listen to podcasts for entertainment and information, and they usually do it when they have a free moment. This information is transmitted subconsciously and is encoded into the medium itself.

The buying experience you create is full of coded messages too. Just look at the SaaS market. Most software products that cost, say, more than $100/mo per user require you to talk to someone before you buy. The message this sends is that the product is extremely valuable, and decidedly different from the ones you can just buy on your own.

From the seller’s perspective, requiring a demo gives them a chance to build a sales story for each individual buyer. It says to the buyer “this software is valuable, and complicated, and requires explanation.”

The tradeoff here is that the sales process is longer and more complicated. More friction is introduced into the buying process, which means fewer people will buy. This creates a math problem for your business: what’s the right balance between price and volume to maximize client value and your revenue, and how should your sales process be organized to support it?

You can think of the buying experience – and your own sales process – as being on a spectrum:

Let’s look at the examples in the graphic.

In the consumer market, there’s no better example than Apple versus HP. Go into Costco, or Best Buy, or any other retail outlet that sells Apple and you’ll find a miniature Apple Store inside. Usually there are more associates in the area, and they’ll help you out if you have questions. It’s no accident. Apple charges more, and the buying experience signals that it’s worth it because you’re getting something with Apple that you wouldn’t get with HP.

To most buyers, it’s less relevant that Apple is actually better than HP during their purchasing experience. They can’t project what it will be like to use Apple v. HP over the next 24 months – they can only decide today based on their buying experience.

In the SaaS market, Salesforce is one of the biggest names around, but they’re in a very crowded CRM category. They’re a sales-heavy organization. Look no further than their annual conference Dreamforce, where they’re spending tens- or hundreds-of-millions to solidify their premium position in the industry. On the other end of the spectrum is Pipedrive, a DIY solution that emphasized ease of use and affordable pricing – no conversation with a salesperson required.

There are so many examples in the services market, but an easy one is accounting. The simplest accounting service is bookkeeping: it’s highly commoditized, easy to buy, and price competitive. You can buy bookkeeping services online without talking to anyone, and you’ll probably get acceptable service. On the other end of the spectrum is a specialized accounting CPA or tax attorney who plans tax strategy. This requires a high-touch, relationship-driven sale and deep expertise.

The question for you is: what kind of signals do you want your sales process to send?

Whatever your answer, keep in mind what’s missing from the graphic above:

  • On the left: lower cost, higher volume, lower touch selling with a faster sales cycle
  • On the right: higher cost, lower volume, higher touch sale with a slower sales cycle

The bottom line is that your sales process creates a buying experience.

Are you creating the buying experience that’s best aligned with your services?