On a Sunday morning, like I do every weekend, I cycled to IIT Madras (my alma-mater, which is an urban beauty — a densely tree-lined forest right at the heart of the city). I go there for conversations with myself and a delicious breakfast. It was uneventful until a 50-something looking lady came up to me and introduced herself. Let’s call her Dr.Angela. She mistook me for a student at the university (I graduated 13 years ago).
Dr.Angela did not introduce herself. She skipped straight to getting familiar with my name, my profession where I lived, etc. But she did that with a kind motherly tone and vocabulary that I had to answer all of them without skipping a smile. In spite of her generally flabby appearance and stained teeth, she was kind and poise personified.
She told me she picked me out to have a conversation because she was observing my body language and that it exuded confidence. Right then, my defenses were up. She went on to ask for my birth month, which I indulged with an answer.
“Ah, I knew you are a Leo. Your walk had the vibe of a leader” grinned Dr.Angela.
At this point, I was confused and embarrassed that I had to know more about her to decide if I have to continue the conversation or leave.
Dr.Angela, turns out, has a Ph.D. in Quantum Chemistry from IIT and now teaches ‘higher order’ social skills. She was a mind coach. I’ve feelings of both revulsion and pity for mind coaches. Most of them that I’ve met have never had an eventful life themselves, to be able to prepare others for.
But quantum chemist (I did not know that such a branch of study existed!) and a mind coach? My ‘fight or flight’ anxiety dropped a bit and I indulged her in her craft.
She jumped topics to find notions we both relate to — religion, sects, faith, and whatnot. I indulged her with affirmative nods, completely. At this point, I was studying her as much as she was. I had to know what was coming. I did not have to wait for long.
She pitched a course from ‘The Art of Living’ — a cult yoga group. My tryst with the group and its founder started around the same time I was still in the university. One of his followers invited me for his speech.
At the sands of Marina, we were waiting for him to arrive. He did arrive, fashionably late, in a cavalcade of Mercedes cars and SUVs, quickly whisked away from the crowd by ‘old-money’ looking followers, to be seated in a throne-like chair that adorned the stage. He said a few things I don’t recall. The crowd was in a mood of ecstasy. The master gracefully posed with his ‘trance-face’ on, every time the camera (there were plenty) filmed him.
The brand’s most visible cue — its leader- was actually faking it for the cameras.
Later on, as I dug further, I admired him for the marketing and pricing genius he was. He had neatly packaged Yoga products, localized for various regions, at price points that will put consumer goods companies to shame.
He was selling Yoga for the masses and ‘spiritual leader aura’ to the powers that he needed the attention of. He must have done well for himself. He now offers to mediate peace talks in Srilanka, run courses in terrorism-affected parts of the world, and regularly voices opinions on World Politics. He is building himself as ‘Global Soft Power’ scaling from a mere ‘Global Yoga Enterprise’. He knew the art of scaling. But behind all these, I doubted that the cult was nothing more than a camouflage to paint a ‘larger than life’ stature to feed the ambitions of the master.
So you’d by now gather that the institution and the face had a brand image that I totally did not subscribe to.
My conversation with Dr.Angela ended when I politely told her that I did not think highly of her Guru and the pontification from people like her that he exults in. She did conclude with a checklist of reasons why she had picked on me (honesty, integrity among other virtues that she deciphered from my body language!), as a last-ditch attempt to sign me up.
As she walked away with a limp, in spite of her yoga, I wondered why she did not get me in as a customer yet.
Why do some organizations, sell like there is no limit? Why do people buy Apple, in spite of it failing in what it is supposed to do well (Ask why a charger's center of gravity is so oddly positioned that the charger falls out of the socket)?
There are two reasons why some companies sell extra-ordinarily well, while other limp past the finish line — Brand Image and Honesty.
Marketers use the phrases “Brand Identity” (to define what they want consumers to perceive their brand to be) and “Brand image” (to describe what the actual perception is, in the minds of the consumers).
In Dr.Angela’s case (and by extension Art of Living’s) her company ruined it for her 13 years ago and consistently drove me away from them, with every touch-point. I just did not buy into their brand identity. My brand image of them is that of a crafty, manipulative institution(in spite of how good they are with Yoga, which is their core product).
But I do buy everything that some of my friends sell or if I don’t have a need for it, I recommend it to others. Who are these friends? These are founders (essentially sales guys) of companies that I meet in community gatherings. They never sell. They give suggestions, solve problems, care for me and I know that the products they build will exude those values. Even if the products don’t, I like to believe that they will get there one day. I will give them a chance or two or three.
People buy from people. But if you observe carefully, people buy from people they like.
But then, why do companies with star sales guys, still struggle. Why do star sales guys struggle and draw a blank in some of their jobs?
Because people buy from people they like and brand values they subscribe to. Some gullible consumers can be conned by sweet-talking sales reps but it’s hard to sugar coat and sculpt a brand’s exposure. You either truly believe in the values and identities that you want your brand to stand for or you don’t. Either way, it shows.
If you are a sales rep or a sales manager, you’d have to be aware of which quadrant you or your team members and your brand fall into. The dimensions of market conditions, segments & the familiarity/maturity of the sales rep are well documented.
But when it comes to high-value sales, due diligence on marketing stops with whether they generated an accepted % of qualified leads.
The chasm to cross for organizations that already have the accepted % of qualified leads, is that of graduating from being a consistent sales machine to a super-conductor like selling machine that never loses energy.
That happens only when you have a genuinely caring sales force on the ground, coupled with a brand image that is totally in sync with the values you want your brand to be associated it. That’s hard to achieve, as getting it right means getting it right in many areas — Culture, Engineering, Support, Hiring, etc. — places where we’d not enquire when evaluating sales performance.
Sales heroics do not scale. What scales is harmonious brand and sales culture.
Build a brand that cares. Build a sales & marketing organization that cares not just for the month's numbers but the brand's promise over the years. That’s the unfair advantage you can give your sales organization.
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Note: This blog post appeared first on Medium.
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