There are two types of people in the world: those who stereotype, and those who don’t. If my analytics are correct, the latter group contains about as many people as Republicans currently running for president.
Here are some of the ways buyers are stereotyped:
- Newbies, Students, and Experts
- Advocate, Apathetic, and Assassin
- Ready to buy, Need some education, and Tire-kicker
- Information gatherer, Evaluator, Committed buyer
- Knowing Customer, Solution Seeker, Clueless Customer
- Switchable, Non-switchable, Switchable for reasons of price alone
Do prospects know about these funky taxonomic triads? When business developers pigeonhole them into these thoughtful categories, would buyers say “yeah, that seems right!”—or would they just roll their eyes and mutter, “what-eh-vur!”
Stereotyping in sets of three! The labels are easy to grasp, easy to remember, and Tweetable without abbreviating.
If three buckets seems too simple for the populations you need to stereotype, don’t despair. Other experts suggest greater breadth. In an article, The End of Solution Sales, Harvard Business Review – July/August, 2012, Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman suggest seven: Go-Getters, Teachers, Skeptics, Guides, Friends, Climbers, and Blockers. And when you boil away all their explanatory verbiage, those labels reduce to two: Mobilizers, and Talkers. Now there’s a list of stereotypes that I can memorize!
Call them meta-labels. No digital strategy can work without using them, for they provide the entire universe of buyers—cleaned, peeled, cut, chopped, sorted, compressed, neatly packaged, labeled, and shot off the assembly line in two clear boxes. How good is that? At least these authors have solid research to back them up. If you clicked on the links to the other articles, you know not everyone can say that.
Unfortunately, even good survey methodology won’t prevent people from misusing the simplifications posited in the Harvard Business Review article. For all its quickness, stereotyping is never fair. And such off-the-cuff assessments create assumptions that lead to disastrous sales outcomes.
Categorization is too reductive. With social media, there’s so much data about people that it’s easy to get bogged down in detail. Not to worry. Just replace the whole gooey mess with a single smudged representation, and label it Tire Kickers. Insight, dumbed down to fit a column heading on an Excel spreadsheet.
It injects bias. Committed buyers, Switchable, Know problem. Good labels, all of them. Marketing – give me more, ASAP! The others? The Non-switchable, Assassins, and Clueless Customers? Keep them away from my department! Emotional labels cause sales teams to make judgements that are often not correct.
The categories are often not mutually exclusive. What distinguishes Information Gatherers from Evaluators from Committed Buyers? These labels connote that a Committed Buyer doesn’t evaluate other choices or gather information.
Stereotypes serve as a lame proxy for needed learning. Whether you call it generalizing, profiling, or stereotyping, broad categorizations offer convenience and speed, but sacrifice understanding and recognizing nuances.
I don’t know any business developer who would be proud to be considered the Joe Arpaio of sales. In selling, stereotyping compromises curiosity and stifles conversations. It’s hard to call that competitive advantage.