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Are You Experienced? – A Declaration for 2012?

When I was a wet behind the ears sales rep in the Rolling Meadow’s Illinois branch office in 1986 (yes, they had computers back then :)), I remember the big sign that hung on the wall;

Calls + Demos = Sales
Now this office sold everything from PCs to copiers (yes, IBM sold copiers) to mini computers (S34, 36, 38, and later AS/400 and RS6000s) and the biggest S360 Mainframes.  Though the sign belonged to the “Office Machines”, ie Copiers,  team, I quickly learned in my territory of small manufacturers and distributors, the key to selling the minicomputer lay in not just having the right software package, but in putting a killer demo in front of the customer.  As Jerry Maguire might say, “show me the money” and I say then and now, “show me the demo”.
Fast forward 25 years or so and I now have come to the corrolary to this sign for B2B technology vendors:
Marketing + Experience = Sales
As I have blogged about extensively, I believe that B2B technology sales and marketing is being transformed, as we move from products to services, we must move from traditional evaluation based product sales to experienced based service sales, this is true in SaaS models but in many other places too.  In fact, just walk into any Apple store and see this in action, they are built to be giant experience labs, contrast that to the traditional cell phone store or Best Buy with product under glass covered cabinet shelfs or sitting tied down on turned off or canned displays.   
Why is it then that B2B Software and SaaS providers continue to hide their experiences in the equivalent of a locked glass cabinet, behind weeks of qualification and sales calls that make a customer “prove” that they should be able to give it a go?  Why not put the experience (trial, freemium, demo instance, whatever) front and center in your go to market?
I believe there are 3 main “reasons” for this hesitancy.  They are:
1) The belief that the customer will not see enough “value” in the trial or demo experience.
2) The belief that my competitors will learn so much that this will put them at an advantage over us.
3) They simply haven’t invested yet (mentally or financially) in transforming their mindset, service and tactics to take advantage of experience marketing.
As you might guess, none of these reasons hold water for me.   The first and second are simply outdated vestiges of the old way of thinking.  If #1 is true, than shame on you for not delivering value, you best be fixing that regardless of your go to market strategy.  
Reason #2 is just living in a fantasy land.  First of all, a determined competitor will get a hold of your product or service, even if you spend a lot of effort and time to prevent it.  Without passing judgement on tactics, I’ve seen shell companies, resellers, consultants and others to be effective paths for “back door” acquisition.  It’s really not hard.  
As for reason #3, rest assured, if you aren’t making this investment, one of your existing or soon to be competitors is.  EVERY market is being disrupted and re-invented, you best be the one to do it to yourself.  You can’t afford not to!
So with that I’d like to declare 2012 the “Year of Experience Marketing”…care to come along??

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