Before I joined the awesome team at LendingTree, I interviewed for a marketing position at an international company that produced and sold industrial street cleaners. Yup, those trucks that move slowly across the edge of the street, with the massive power washers and rotating brushes, that you somehow only get stuck behind at the most inconvenient times. I could’ve had a glamorous career selling street cleaners.
This manufacturing company had only recently began it’s foothold in the United States and was looking for someone to manage and update its marketing campaigns and efforts for the American audience. A big task for, at the time, a small operation (their overseas operation is much larger).
I remember driving an hour and a half to the middle of rural North Carolina, eventually only seeing nothing but cows, corn, and this sad little church, before coming across a tiny, unassuming warehouse off the main country road. I wanted to double check my GPS and call my recruiter to make sure I was in the right location, but I lost my signal a few miles back.
I eventually stepped out of my car just to make sure I was actually in the right place, and sure enough, I was. The U.S. operations for one of the largest industrial cleaning vehicle corporations in the world was in the middle of nowhere.
Inside I met with the hiring manager and North American director. They discussed their needs, asked me some questions about my background and the usual questions regarding what I could do for the company. But one question in particular stood out to me. The director had handed me one of their product brochures for their vehicles and we went over it together. He then looked at me and said, “Street cleaners as you probably know, and to be frank, we’re not a cool or sexy product. What can you do to make street cleaners sexy?”
I had to pause and think about my answer. One, I had, and to this day still have, absolutely zero experience with street cleaners. And two, I felt this was probably one of those important trick questions and had to choose my words wisely.
This really was a great question and it’s something every business owner should think deeply and reflect on for his or her product. Not just if he or she sells street cleaners, but any product that would probably be considered ‘hard to sell.’ The mundane products. The uncool, unappreciated by the everyday person products. The products as unassuming as this warehouse I was interviewing in.
How do you market and sell that? Well, here is my answer and recommendations to you.
1. Your Product Doesn’t Have to Be Sexy in the First Place
One thing business owners and marketers sometimes make the mistake of doing is trying to make their brand or product something they are not. And ultimately to the customer, the messaging can come off as disingenuous or muddy the water of what the brand and product ultimately is and represents.
I would follow up this question with another, “Why does your product need to be sexy?” Why can’t it be brawny? Or smart? Or whatever? If your product isn’t sexy or cool, that can be completely okay as long as you have the right customer demand. Trying to make effort to be cool and sexy could be a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Instead, play to your brand, product, or services’ strengths and find the right image for your particular product and industry. Then communicate that image through the right channels to reach your actual target customers.
2. You Just Need to Be Sexy to the Right People
Sexy is relative. Cool is relative. What’s sexy and cool to one person may be completely different to another person. If you want to be sexy and cool to your customer, you need to know what makes your customer tick. Understand their wants and their needs. A good marketer and salesperson will first try to understand what their customer is looking for in a product, before providing them a proper solution for their needs.
On a larger scale, invest in market research on your customers and get the data to support your marketing decisions. You might learn that what you think your customer wants and how they behave may be completely different from what they actually want and how they actually behave.
Sales marketing is not necessarily about altering people’s perceptions of what they want. It’s creating a product and message that communicates something they already want. Once you know what your customers want, then you can sell and innovate your product more effectively.
For example, this company had an entire brochure section pitching how their vehicles had top-of-the-line computerized controls, advanced displays, and how they had new, innovative green fleet vehicles that could save customers money over time while helping the environment. This section went on for pages compared to the rest of their core products and they discussed creating a message around these features and vehicles.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being technologically innovative or being a green company. But, say most of their customers didn’t want a green fleet or highly technical features in their vehicles. Maybe they understand the long term savings and benefits, but simply don’t have the short-term funds for the premium costs. Say their customers just want simple, functional, sturdy vehicles, at a cost effective price. Then their current messaging is no longer effective because it doesn’t focus on what their customers care about most. If their customer wanted a tough, sturdy vehicle at a good value, then that’s the product message that would be sexy to them.
3. If You’re Going to Be Sexy, Flaunt It in the Right Place
Location, location, location. This basic business lesson doesn’t just apply to your physical business presence, but your marketing presence, including your marketing efforts online.
This company’s product was street cleaners. Clearly a business-to-business product, not a consumer good. Any small business owner, especially those heavily involved in sales, understands that getting customer leads is one of the toughest aspects of the job. This company, however, did very well by going to various trade shows.
However, the interview eventually came across the topic of other marketing channels including social media. Social media is, undoubtedly, a useful marketing tool and delivers results. But, like any tool, it should be used with discretion and with thought as to value for your particular business. Given this company’s product and target audience, it probably could’ve potentially benefited from some social presence. Maybe on LinkedIn to make professional connections or market to organizations. Or on YouTube where they could provide quality videos featuring technical demonstrations of their product. However, as a business-to-business company, they might not need a heavy presence or effort on Facebook or Twitter. Why? Because it’s unlikely that’s where their customers are going to be.
Be alert of potentially just jumping on the bandwagon because it’s the cool thing to do. Pick the marketing channels that make sense for your business and your brand and make an informed decision. This applies to social media or any other marketing channel that is available. You can have the coolest marketing campaign in the world, but it won’t matter if either no one sees it or if none of your right target audience sees it.
Ultimately, the position didn’t work out for me. But that’s okay as it allowed me to join the best place to work in the universe! Still, these three rules apply to create a solid marketing effort that will help sell your hard to sell product. Remember, find the right image and brand that fits your specific product, message what actually matters to your customers, and sell where your demand is.