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5 lessons learned in push versus pull marketing

July 3, 2007

I stumbled upon Erik Keller’s blog from a few months ago about whether companies should change their sales and marketing business from a “push” to a “pull” model. It was good timing. I had been thinking about blogging about how that change in thinking affects marketing priorities.

Enterprise software providers have conditioned sellers that they will lavish limitless time and attention on them for any type of deal regardless of buyer budgetary outlook and size. Though buyers may not realize it, they are paying for this inefficiency via bloated overhead costs. Unfortunately, for software sellers this behavior (and overhead) cannot be changed without a massive business reorientation.

Most overhead expenses are more associated with the selling of a software license then the deployment of services to install software as well as continuing maintenance payments. Thus when you look at the income statement of software vendors from this perspective, a key measure of corporate efficiency and productivity is the ratio of overhead (S&M plus G&A) to software license sales.

Atlassian didn’t change it’s business model — it had always sold software online with the so-called pull model — but I had to change my thinking when I came to Atlassian. Atlassian has a pre-sales team that handles orders and answers incoming questions, but no sales force or outbound sales team.

Shifting the paradigm from a push model, where sales reps are pounding the streets and shaking people down to uncover leads, to a pull model, where the customers find you, changes tactical marketing decisions in some fundamental ways.

  1. There’s no hard sell. Either the customer will like your product or they won’t, you don’t actively try to convince them of anything. For marketers, it means we don’t have to spend the time writing feature/benefit cheat sheets for sales reps to memorize. My 30-second elevator pitch about our products is rusty from neglect.
  2. The product is the sales tool. My second job out of college was at a small, independent textbook publishing company. The owner of the company had a mantra: our best sales tool is the product. Glossy 4-color brochures about a book don’t cut it. Get the books into the hands of the college professors to review so they can make a truly informed decision about the book they want to adopt for students. Same idea goes for the pull model. We can write heaps of glorious text about our products, but when it comes right down to it, if the customer can’t get their hands onto it and try it — really try it — then why would they ever want to buy it? Lesson here: lower all barriers to evaluation. Then lower them even more.
  3. Upfront policies. All enterprise software companies have pricing sheets. But buyers will rarely, if ever, see the unadulterated versions. The sales rep wants to sell you first, then worry about price. You like the product, they become more willing to give you a starting price. That changes with a pull model.
  4. Let go of the lead. Sales reps can influence a sale, but they have no control over it. Letting go of control over the sale allows the company to spend more time on dreaming up and developing great products. Great products are easy to market.
  5. It’s about the user. Perhaps the biggest difference between a push and pull model is that marketing becomes about the user. A push model organization is focused on the happiness of the sales people. Push the product, get a commission, hand off product deployment to a project manager and move on. In pull marketing, user experience and satisfaction is important from the start of the evaluation period. The lesson here for marketing was looking beyond traditional lead generation to customer satisfaction, which means looking at user community resources, support, service, education and training.

I would argue one last point: this is all not possible without a little, or a lot of, transparency.

One Comment
  1. September 11, 2011 3:11 pm

    It’s so true that lessons learned can be adapted to business. You provide a smooth and understanding tone for anyone seriously looking for a way to decide if push versus pull marketing is a better way for small business to make a concise decision about which method of marketing will work best for them.

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