Episode #123: The April Fresh Smell of B2B Selling

Grad Conn

April 30, 202115 min read

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Is there really any such thing as B2B selling? We’re never selling to a business; we’re selling to a business person. And that person is an actual human being, with goals, aspirations, and concerns. Too often B2B marketers fall back on selling features and functions — but that’s not what anyone is buying. In today’s episode, I reveal the secret of Downy fabric softener, and use that secret to explain the real reason B2B buyers buy your products and services. I can almost guarantee it’s not what you think.

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Welcome to the CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn, Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr. And I’m here to blow your mind today with a really great story about fabric softener. Blow your mind, that’s my promise to you. Not that I don’t blow your minds every single time you listen to this show, but today is going to be kind of special. This is a story I used to tell a lot during speeches, I haven’t done it in a while and haven’t done a stand-up speech in more than a year for, I think, obvious reasons. And I think even then I probably had started to take it out of my usual stump speech because I just had so many other things to talk about. But this is a story about B2B marketing, maybe a little bit about marketing in general, but B2B marketers are particularly bad at understanding emotion. And so, there are two connected stories I talk about.

I have some facts about B2B marketing which are kind of fun. And then I’ll talk a little bit about how to think about B2B marketing from a B2C context. I like to tell people that I’m an ambidextrous marketer, because I started my career in B2C and have done a lot of B2C over my career. But I’ve also spent probably last 15 years, maybe more before that, because I had mixed businesses in B2B. And I got a B2B2C background, a B2B background, a B2C background, so kind of all the Bs and all the Cs, and all the Bs are all there together. I have a general perspective that at the end of the day, we’re just selling to human beings. And that person who’s buying an Xbox is going to be making an enterprise software decision next week at work. You need to think about everybody as a person. And for some reason, people, there’s some slight differences, but people tend to think there’s a big difference between B2C marketing and B2B marketing. And I think it’s a smaller difference than people realize.

So, what’s the core issue in B2B marketing? In my opinion, one of the core issues in B2B marketing is we have a tendency to sell the speeds and feeds (that’s an expression from Microsoft), tend to sell the features, we tend to sell the things that people can compare products to each other on. But at the end of the day, you’re not really selling those things. And B2C marketers do maybe understand a bit better that people buy based on emotion. People buy based on wanting to express something about themselves or wanting to show the world something about themselves. B2B marketing is arguably simpler than B2C marketing because there’s only one emotion that people are selling against. That one emotion is career success. That’s a very rich emotion, career success is tied to self-esteem and prestige and ultimately leads to things like status and money and your ability to support a family and support yourself. But ultimately, you’re selling career success. If I buy this product from this vendor, will it help me advance in my career? Or is there a chance that the decision to buy this product will get me fired, and it was very popular in the 1960s and 70s to say that IBM – this is kind of an IBM positioning, it was not an official positioning; this is what people used to say, about IBM, they would say, no one ever got fired for buying IBM, the idea being there were other competitors who were upstarts. But if you’d made the decision to buy an IBM mainframe at the time, you can point to your board and say, I know the project didn’t work out. But gosh, we bought from IBM, it wasn’t like I bought from you know, Uncle Bob’s House of Mainframes, I actually bought from the leading mainframe manufacturer, the fact that didn’t work, it, come on, can’t be my fault. I made the right decision. That’s not a positioning IBM really has any more. But I think there are people out there who have positionings like that. I think people can say that, for example, about Salesforce. I think if you make a decision to use Salesforce as a CRO, no one can really blame you for making that decision. And there are many issues that people have with Salesforce, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty safe decision just to go with Salesforce, so we’ll leave that out there for a minute. So, your emotion is selling against this idea of career success. And so that’s going to be really long bar, then a really short bar would be I’m going to get fired if I buy this.

So, let me create a contrast. And this is where I’m going to blow your mind and create a contrast with a real B2C example. I’m going to talk about fabric softener. Now, I’m going to speak from a position of reasonable amount of expertise here, because I worked at Procter and Gamble for nine years. And I was, the whole time, pretty much in the laundry room, I started in the wash cycle with Tide, moved to the rinse cycle with Downy, ultimately got to the dryer with the Downy Sheets business. And then also oversaw a lot of other brands, but worked my way through the laundry room, from wash through the rinse through drying. And then I got onto the floors and under the dishes and all that kind of stuff. But I was always in surfactants, always in detergents.

And what most people don’t realize, of course, is that almost all things are detergents. Your soap is a detergent, unless you’re using ivory, and your shampoo is a detergent, and your dishwashing liquid, which we call light duty liquids (LDLs) that’s a detergent. What you put in your dishwasher, that’s a detergent. And the thing you call detergent, which is thing you put on your clothes is also a detergent, although it would be kind of fun if the thing you put on your clothes that you call detergent wasn’t detergent, and everything else was detergent, that’d be really cool. But that’s not true. It is kind of true in the nut category, I always find it kind of funny that pine nuts are not a nut, they’re a seed, whereas almonds very much a nut. I’m a bit allergic to nuts, to put it mildly. And so, I’ll say to people, “Hey, are there any nuts in this?” And they’ll say, “Well, there are pine nuts”. And I’m like, not a nut, I’m good with that? They say no, no nuts then. Then I say, “What’s the crust made of?” “Oh well, that’s made out of almond flour?” Almond flour, that’s a nut! So that’s a little bit of an aside.

So, we come back to this. Downy is a product, where, if I were to describe it to you the way a B2B seller would typically describe their products, I’m going to guess it’s probably a product you wouldn’t want to buy. So, I’m going to do that first. And then I’m going to tell you how Downy really sells itself, which you’re going to be familiar with. And then I’m going to just wind that back around the road one more time to connect it to this whole B2B idea of what you’re really selling in B2B is career success. And you know, honestly, I think that as a company, instead of looking at NPS, or happiness or whatever, you should look at how many of your customers got promoted this year because they’re using your product. How much are you doing to help the careers of the people that are making a commitment to you, that would be a great positioning.

Let me come back to Downy. So, what is Downy? Downy is a fabric softener, that’s what people are saying, “It’s a fabric softener”. Oh, great, great. Okay, it’s a fabric softener, there’s a few out there, there’s Snuggle, a couple of other No Name brands and stuff like that. But what is a fabric softener? Right now, we’re going to talk about the liquid version that you put in the washing machine. And with modern washing machines, you put it in the compartment, and then it’s dispensed at the right moment. And that right moment is after the wash has occurred in the rinse cycle, post detergent, post wash. And if you’re using a slightly older version washing machine, you have to catch the rinse cycle and put the Downy in, unless you’re using something called the Downy Ball, which I was kind of famous for. And the Downy Ball was an automatic dispenser that mechanically was set up to open when the rinse cycle started. So, when the machine started to spin at rinse cycle speeds, it would automatically open and release the Downy … most of the time. And if it released it early, you never knew, it still seemed to work. So, what is Downy, what is fabric softener? What is the stuff that you’re putting on your clothes? No hands? This is my favorite part of doing it as a speech because at this point, everyone is dumbfounded. They’re like, “Yeah, what is that stuff?” Especially the dedicated launders like myself, I use fabric softener in every load. What is it?  What, in fact, is fabric softener made of? How does it work? No idea, right? Never even crossed your mind. You have no concept of how it works.

Detergent, you’re probably a little closer on. The suds in detergent are a bit of a giveaway. Detergent, as you probably know, is a series of molecules that are all with a positive charge. And so, they repel against each other. And they are attracted to the negative ions in the water and then they repel against each other and then repelling, that’s what creates a bubble, and that reaches underneath pieces of dirt as they repel from each other and then lifts off the dirt. So that’s how detergent works. There are builders that tie up the hard water so that too much of the surfactant doesn’t get attracted to negative ions in the hard water, all that kind of stuff that goes on but ultimately a straightforward process.

What’s Downy made of? What’s fabric softener made of? How does liquid fabric softener work? I’ve got all day here, folks, come on. Wait a second. You can’t talk to me right now. Okay, so I’m going to tell you. So, let me describe what it does. When fabric feels rough, like a rough towel, the reason it feels rough is that the various fibers of the towel are matted together, they’re kind of overlaid and tied together and sort of matted together. And as you run your hand over it, it feels rough and uneven. A really soft towel, the fibers are all separate from each other. As you run your hand over it, the fibers very gently sort of caress your hand all in sort of series like beautifully played set of piano keys when you run the back of your hand across it. Very even feeling, very soft feeling. What fabric softener does is it helps the fibers stand away from each other, so you get that soft feeling. So how do you get fibers to stand away from each other? Well, you coat them in something, you coat them so that each coated fiber stands apart from the other coated fibers. That’s how fabric softener works. it coats your fibers. With what? Hey, Uncle Grad, what are we coating our fibers with? Well, I’m glad you asked. One really great way to do this is to use clay. This is a little bit why sometimes if you use fabric softener all the time, like I do, every once in a while, you do a load without it because your towels stop absorbing water. If you’ve ever noticed, a heavily fabric softenered towel is not very absorbent, because it’s coated in liquid clay.

That’s what fabric softener is. Fabric softener is liquid clay. I know. You want to just pour that all over your clothes right now. Listen, I still use it. And I know more about fabric softener than I ever wanted to know. But I use it all the time. I love it. Also, clothes are easier to fold and a lot easier to manage when they’ve got fabric softener in them, but they are coated in clay. And the reason that you put them in the rinse cycle is that if you put them in the wash cycle, the clay would be removed by the detergent. That’s why I gave you the detergent lesson a few minutes ago because clay is, traditionally speaking, dirt. It’s clean clay, I mean the clay in Downy is very clean, clean as a daisy. And that was the other name we were going to have for a product. And so, it’s beautiful clay. It’s beautiful, gorgeous clay, but it’s clay. Okay, so that’s a B2B pitch for Downy. And generally, I don’t know how many people that want to rush out and buy a pile of Downy right now. Wow, I’m never using that stuff again.

And that, to me has always been an interesting story because no one really knows what Downy is made of or how it works. And no one really cares because Downy sells itself a very different way. The way that Downy sells itself is it focuses on people who do a lot of laundry, who are focused on doing a great job on laundry and for whom a great smelling pile of laundry is a sign of love for their family. What they do is they have pictures of parents, moms, dads, etc. wrapping their children in these soft towels. Sometimes there’s a demo showing bubbles not exploding when they land on the soft Downy towels, but mostly Downy ads are about – smells amazing, looks amazing and, oh wow you really love your family. You really love your family, and if you really want to show love for your family, you’re going to use Downy and in fact, the brand strategy for Downy is Downy is love in a bottle. Isn’t that great? Downy is love in a bottle. not clay in a bottle, which is what it actually is, love in a bottle. And I think a lot of B2B sellers would benefit from saying that their product is success in the cloud, or however they want to define it.

Last little bit on love in a bottle – there’s another great product from Procter and Gamble, called Olay, used to be called Oil of Olay. It’s called Olay now. And it also has a very similar kind of strategy. Olay is something in a bottle as well. And this goes way back, way back to when it was called Oil of Olay. I usually would ask people, what do you think it is? You know, is it and then people start shouting out answers. So, one person would say, because they just heard the Downy story, they would say, Olay is love in a bottle. And I’m like, “No, no, that’s not love in a bottle. It’s something different. And then people start to go to functional attributes, like an attractiveness, youth, that kind of stuff. And those are not emotions. And it’s actually quite amazing to me. I just have just done, at this point about 15 minutes, on emotion, like what emotion is, emotion, emotion, emotion. And then when I start to ask these questions, people are all over the map with functional benefits. They instantly forget about emotions. The emotion for Olay is Olay is hope in a bottle, hope in a bottle. I love that.

Anyway, so today, we were talking about emotion versus features. And I think you can see that if I were to describe what Olay is made of, things would really get crazy. Okay, so you don’t want to know that. And you don’t need to know that. What you need to know is that you can exercise an emotion by buying that product that’s important to you. And I would say the same thing should be true of B2B and not enough B2B companies take advantage of that. And for the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and I’ll see you … next time.

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