4. Can other work functions benefit from learning the art of selling?
Oh my gosh, yes. Selling is really just about communicating your ideas and enrolling others in a common vision. It's really close to leadership (not authoritative leadership, but true visionary leadership). Anyone in a boardroom or in a lunchroom has ideas they'd like for others to help them act on. The components of selling -- establishing trust, sincerely trying to understand someone else's perspective, relating your ideas to them, addressing their concerns, asking for what you want, and following through -- are applicable in almost any setting. They even work within relationships with friends or significant others. But, I always tell my students that they need to use these powerful tools for good, not evil!
5. How can companies better manage the customer’s perception of them?
This really puts us into a conversation around branding and positioning. I think it's still really about relevance, but maybe at a little higher level. The number one thing is to be honest. Overboard honest. Sincerely honest. Customers can see fake from a mile away. That's really hard when it's a large organization.
It's easy for marketers to make up stuff about what a company stands for, but delivering on those promises takes good hiring, solid training, and really has to be engrained in the company's culture. A lot of companies focus too much on the products they make. It's understandable. They spend a lot of time developing them, training on them, perfecting them. Customers don't care about products. They care about what the products do for them. A customer never buys a drill because they want the drill; they buy a drill because they want a hole.
The problem is that not every customer wants the same kind of hole. Not everyone wants a hole in wood, some want it in concrete or drywall. So we have to connect and create perceptions about the benefits they get from working with our companies, not just what we sell or even what we stand for. Positioning isn't about products, it's about an emotional connection.
2. What led you to become a professor years later?
I started teaching banking courses in the early nineties and loved it, enough so that I decided to start teaching at a community college, Ivy Tech. I did that for a couple of years and then had a banking client who was an executive at Caterpillar who taught for Indiana Wesleyan University. I began teaching at IWU and did that for a couple of years, and then started teaching at Purdue when a grad student acquaintance had to leave right before classes started and they needed a replacement. All of that was while I was still in banking -- early mornings, nights, or weekends. I joined Purdue full time in a staff role in 2000. I had a friend who started his PhD in 2001 and was almost done with classwork when we vacationed together in 2002. I thought, "I can do that!" So, I worked full time while doing my PhD full time, starting in 2002 and finished in 2007. My department had not been able to fill my Dad's vacant position for several years, so they actually hired me into his vacant position!
3. What advice would you give to young professionals interested in Sales and Marketing?
Sales used to be about persuasion. It's not any more. At least not in a business to business setting. Today it's about understanding your customer. Not just so you can sell something, but you must have a genuine curiosity and desire to help someone else to be successful. Marketing has changed too.
There's so much clutter, that marketers have to work hard to get attention. It's not enough just to talk about how your company or product is the best. You've got to be relevant. People don't want to hear about general messages of value, they want to know how something is going to affect them personally.
6. What impact do you believe the Internet (readiness of information, social media, customer reviews,…) has had on companies today and how can they use this to their advantage?
The internet is not something we've figured out yet, frankly. Over the last three years, there has been a LOT of money that has moved to online advertising. I think the ability to use information about online behavior to get that relevant message to someone is terrific. It's also a little spooky at times, but there will be more tailoring available. Customer reviews is a whole different ballgame. There are terrible stories about inexperienced companies who try to defend themselves online. Really bad idea. The good thing about customer reviews, and the internet in general, is that memories are short. The bad thing is also that memories are short. Meaning, in general, dollars spent online have a fleeting effect. I'm not sure we know how to use all the capabilities that are out there. There are plenty of opportunities to spend money though.
What does the road to success look like? Some people believe that a linear career path in which each step makes consequential sense is the correct strategy. But, in this day and age, is this truly the case?
Other schools of thought preach that a diversified portfolio can offer greater insight. In today's world, adaptability is often seen as a tremendous asset. From working in banking for years to earning his Ph.D while working full-time, Associate Professor Scott Downey can offer a great deal of insight when it comes to seeing things from multiple views. His experience in the business world has enabled him to now inspire thousands of students to learn the art of Sales & Marketing.
Read on to learn of his school of thought when it comes to career navigation and where he believes business is headed in this ever-changing world:
1. How did you first come to the conclusion that you wanted to work in Agribusiness specifically?
I kind of grew up with it. My grandparents all farmed. My great, great, great grandfather cleared ground just north of Wabash, Indiana in the mid 1800's... 150 acres cleared with horses and axes... I can't imagine how hard that work was. My uncle and cousin still run the family farm, now located just south of Wabash. I've always had a green thumb and liked to be outside doing gardening and landscaping kinds of things. I had terrible allergies as a kid, so couldn't be outside on the farm as much as I wanted, but it's kind of been part of our family all my life. That said, I didn't really grow up with farming. I came to agribusiness through the business side. I worked as a banker for fifteen years before coming to Purdue to be an Associate Director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business. My dad started the Center in the mid-eighties. The new director hired me a few years after my dad retired. It wasn't really an intentional destination for me, but I'm really happy working in this field.
I really like the idea of providing knowledge and information to customers who are passionate about a topic. This is where social media works really well. But most companies don't realize the obligation they create to continually provide content. It's cheap to build an online presence. It's really expensive to maintain one. Marketers who want to be effective online have to have real, relevant information multiple times a day, or at least multiple times a week, if they want an audience to follow them. That means they wind up, essentially, creating, writing, editing, and publishing a newspaper or magazine multiple times a week. And it has to be good or you lose eyes. That's super expensive. Very few have the energy to maintain the pace that's required.
7. In one of your previous articles, you mentioned prioritizing information based on the customer’s needs and preferences. How has technology affected this process?
I talked about that in a sales contexts. The beauty of technology in this process is that it lets a salesperson keep track of customer comments over time and from a variety of sources, if the technology is used correctly. Information from a billing department, a service department, technical teams, and sales calls, coming from multiple levels in a customer's organization, can all be aggregated and searched to spot trends and better understand what is happening in a customer's business. Most companies don't use this very well yet. The number one reason most salespeople use CRM is to look up customer addresses. Progress is being made with tools like salesforce.com. But a lot of times "systems" are created for managers and not sales people.
8. What processes can companies use to innovate in today’s constantly changing world?
Hmmm. I'm not sure I have a good answer for this one. I think the best systems model organic life systems -- they're complex and messy. But, I'm not sure I have a great example of that. I do like google's approach of creating time or roles for people to dream.
9. How can Organizational Behavior impact the success of a company?
Wow, that's a huge issue. It's also one that is generally undervalued. There is a lot of work being done on human capital, and specifically around knowledge transfer. The power of knowledge existing with one individual isn't as great as when knowledge is shared and utilized across a team. I'm not sure we know a lot about the "how" yet though.
10. How do you believe technology will alter the way Marketing and Sales are done in the future?
I think it's going to be around this idea of shared knowledge. At it's most basic, sales and marketing are approaches to communicating information. The former to multiple people, the latter to individuals. That's also what I do as a teacher. It used to be that teaching meant taking what was in my head and transferring it to others. Today, it's not really like that. Today, most of the salient knowledge in my head is available online. So what we're doing today is figuring out how to help people recognize, prioritize, and think. Not all knowledge has the same value. News, for example, is reports of exceptional behavior, not reports of optimal behavior. News is exciting, but reports of optimal behavior are boring, yet, many people decide what they think on the basis of news headlines. News is just one example of how people gather information. Our task as teachers, or as marketing and sales people, will be to help people gather good information, think more deeply about it, and make good decisions even when the tools needed to do that aren't exciting.
Based in Chicago, Jessica reports on career motivation, marketing, entrepreneurship, and many other topics. She is devoted to helping others see things in a different light.