Selling a theme versus “stuff”

2018-03-02T08:56:54+00:00 October 4th, 2017|Insights|1 Comment

A few weeks ago I was in Boulder, CO for a client engagement. I ordered Uber first thing in the morning, and walked outside to wait for the driver. A minute or two passed, and in pulled a minivan…not my normal ride. I hopped in, said hi, confirmed with my driver who I was and where I was going, and then started the journey. My driver seemed to be in his early 30s. We started a conversation, and when appropriate I asked him why he was driving. In a chirpy response, he mentioned he was driving to pay back his investors. I was hooked. I asked him what he invested in, and he told me he had invested in a food carts. He gave me a few details about it. They had 53 food carts on rotation for the afternoon and evening slots, and rotated them through so customers always had variety and wouldn’t get bored with the venue. He said they also had a back area where games could be played with outdoor seating. Coming from the Northwest and visiting many food carts in Portland Oregon, I honestly wasn’t intrigued.

Then he asked me what I do, and I mentioned I focus on helping sales reps and buyers have better selling conversations. I then decided to test one of the provocations I’ve been using lately. I told him I’m starting to ask prospective clients, “Are your sellers selling Stuff or are they selling a Theme?” I asked him what came to mind when I asked the question. He then said he thought they were selling a theme. He mentioned the theme they are striving for is a “backyard party.” He invited me to stop by that evening, and I said I would. I was curious enough. I showed up around 5:30pm to a reasonably sized crowd with a few places left to sit. There was a vibrant fun atmosphere with yard games on AstroTurf, live music from a stage, multiple picnic tables encouraging people to sit with others they don’t know for an opportunity to meet new people, great beverages on tap, and a huge fire pit with a roaring fire central to the whole backyard party experience. I enjoyed some fantastic food and a beverage, and watched the crowd start to build. After about an hour, I moved into the covered area to see what was inside, and took a seat on a couch. The place was hopping inside too, with tons of people standing around drinking beer and engaging in conversations. Looked like a raging cocktail hour. My Uber driver showed up a bit later with his daughter in tow, saw me on the couch, and took a seat next to me. He was there checking on things, replacing towels in the bathrooms, getting the sound setup for a live band, etc. He asked me what I thought, and I said I was fundamentally blown away! As an aside, he mentioned their original business plan was to sell 155 beers a day. We both busted up laughing. They were probably selling 155 beers every 15 minutes.

I thought you might like this story as it highlights the power of a great theme. Who doesn’t want to go to a super fun and festive backyard party versus just another staid food cart village? So back to my provocation to you, are you selling Stuff or a Theme? I see many B2B sales reps getting ramped up with product training so they can get out and sell Stuff. Don’t get me wrong … there’s a time and place for talking about all the Stuff. Unfortunately, many lead with the Stuff conversation and unfortunately lose the interest of their prospect out of the gate, versus leading with a Theme and getting folks excited about a broader vision before talking about the Stuff. A few of my favorite Themes I’ve seen reps lead with are “One Experience” from Microsoft to sell mobile, desktop and enterprise solutions and IBM’s latest big bet theme “outthink” designed to help sell consulting, big data, analytics and cloud solutions.

I would love to hear from you on your take on the importance of selling with a Theme versus selling Stuff. What are some of the great themes you’ve seen sales run with, and what were the offerings being sold?