You’re Not Different

3 min read

Some years ago, I was working at an international sales conference for a giant pharmaceutical company. One of their sessions included a motivational speaker/sales training guy; some slick dude with a smooth rap and a table full of books with his picture on the cover at the back of the room. You know the type.

“You know,” he said to a roomful of salespeople, “everybody always says their market is different. ‘But you don’t understand, Joe,’ they say to me. ‘What we do is entirely different from everybody else.’ And I have to tell them they’re wrong–they’re not different. Some of the particulars are different, but sales is sales. The same principles apply no matter what you’re selling.

“But I’ve come to realize there’s one market that really is different. And that’s oncology sales. What you guys do–well–there’s just a kind of compassion there that’s unlike any other sort of sales. You guys really are different.”

That’s the point at which I knew I didn’t have to listen to anything else this guy had to say. He was a liar. He was using flattery to get his audience to like him. I could hear him using the same line on his next sales meeting: “But I’ve come to realize there’s one market that really is different. And that’s pipe fittings.”

Listen: everybody thinks his market is differentand, by implication, all the other markets are the same. Everybody is wrong.

The other day in a meeting, I heard more than one consultant say, “Well, (our market) is different.” And everyone else in the meeting nodded knowingly.

But it made me wonder how long it had been since those consultants had worked in any other industry. Because, the truth is, people are people, and they respond to your marketing as people.

Boutique owners are people. Homeowners are people. Gay parents are people. Administrative assistants are people.

Turns out doctors are people, too. Doctors like stories. They read books and go to movies. They have emotions.

And that’s the key: no matter what you’re selling, you still have to appeal to the emotions. You still reach them at the basic level of desire. To hell with what your customers and prospects need. What do they want?

Tapping that desire is the essence of successful marketing. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling horseshoes or health care, banking or bicycles or blintzes.

And, of course, there are lots of differences in the specifics. But that’s like saying that everything is different from everything else. No, we don’t buy a car exactly like we buy a can of beans. But we don’t buy a can of beans exactly like we buy a chest x-ray, either.

Usually, “(Insert market here) is different” means one of two things: either a) “I’m trying to butter you up for the generic crap I’m about to sell you,” or b) “I don’t want to deal with hard questions about the recommendations I’m making.” Either way, don’t buy it. You’re not different. And if you realize that when you’re planning your marketing strategy, it can make all the difference in the world.