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The Man in the Chair – new rules

The Man in the Chair is perhaps the most famous B2B advert of all time. Created in 1958 to promote magazine advertising in McGraw Hill publications, it was still a vital reference in 2009 when the Business Marketing Association brought it up to date and turned it into a conference video.

But in barely the blink of an eye, the fundamentals that held true for 50 years have been blown apart by changes in buyer behaviour. If you’re a big brand, the 800lb gorilla of your market, you don’t have an awareness problem. The new challenge is relevance.

With instant access to a depth of information that couldn’t be imagined in the 1950’s, today’s buyer starts the process earlier and engages sales later than ever before. Better informed, they are self diagnosing and selecting against criteria you don’t control. As a result, the final shortlist they create will have at least 3 suppliers that can do the job; leaving the buyer free to focus on price and terms.

It turns out that you can have too much of a good thing.

The information age has flipped the whole equation. The buyer already knows who you are, already knows your company and has some pretty firm ideas about where you fit. So with their mind made up before the first meeting, and 57% of the sale is complete before the salesperson walks in the door, how do you sell to a customer that already knows what they want to buy and only wants to talk about the price?

If you’re a big brand and it’s a complex sale, the answer increasingly looks like The Challenger Sale. If you’re start-up or niche player the old rules still apply, for now. But wherever you work, marketers have to understand and respond to these changes to maintain momentum in 2013.