Getting The Edge In Professional Selling — Terence A. Hockenhull

THESE ARE THREE common terms used to move products from manufacturer to end-user or customer. But, what do they really mean?

Marketing, merchandising, or selling

Sure, there is some overlap, and for smaller companies at least, all three functions may be handled by a single team. But, it is important to understand the differences. The company that relies solely on marketing without any focus on selling may be doomed. Conversely, a business that aggressively tries to sell its products without paving the way through marketing may show similar lackluster results.

Marketing is a process, strategy, and activity that assists a product move from concept to customer. Determination of the salability of a product through market research, product packaging design, determination of price, choosing the most appropriate channels to reach the customer, and the implementation of on-going product promotions through advertising and other activities all fall under the broad umbrella of marketing.

It is simply a strategy to introduce a brand or product to the market at large. It is a way of telling people that a certain product is available, in the hopes that they will want to buy it. It can be a particularly effective strategy to introduce new technology. In some ways, we can think of marketing as a way of educating the buying public.

For example, let’s assume that a company invents a new type of car wax. The market for car care products is significant. By telling the buying public how this product differs from what is already available in the market and demonstrating some of its advantages, advertising and marketing strategies seek to offer an additional choice to the customer.

A couple of television channels are doing just this with their promotions of these types of products. What is perhaps interesting is that neither of the two promotional video segments shown on home TV shopping channels really try to sell the product. They are informative in nature. If one thinks about the majority of advertising, one will appreciate that the strategy is to tell you what the product does and where it is available. The decision to buy rests with the client. As the advertising promotion slogan says: “Advertising allows you to have a choice.”

Merchandising has a much narrower definition. It basically involves promoting the sale of products at the retail point. Usually, this is at the time the customer is closest to the product and, having determined what to buy, now makes the choice of which to buy. Merchandising activities include product display at retail (some overlap with marketing), free samples, in-store demonstrations, promotion girls (those pretty young things in short skirts who accost you in the aisles of supermarkets!) and special offers, to name a few.

Merchandising is similar to marketing. Perhaps less informative in nature, it seeks to maintain the customers’ recall of a particular brand name or product. With the significant choice we have at the point of sale, recognizing a particular brand name will probably influence our decision about which brand to buy. This is particularly true for a customer who has never used a product before.

Take an example of a housewife who buys laundry soap. The purchase of an automatic washing machine will demand she changes from bar soap to powder. Unless a product has been specifically recommended to her, she will probably favor a well-known brand. Faced with a bewildering array of products, those supported by merchandising materials will attract her attention and influence her decision about which brand to buy.

Selling is the final step in the chain of commerce where a buyer exchanges money for products or services. Salespeople have the responsibility of making this happen. It is, by nature, highly interactive, involving at least two parties. The salesperson must understand the clients’ situation and determine if they have a need for a particular product or service. Experience will help him meet the right prospects. Thereafter, he must use powers of persuasion to create needs and influence the client’s decision in favor of his own product. Effective salesmen can meet clients who have no inkling that they need a particular product, convincing them the purchase is not only appropriate but is very necessary.

There is one more factor influencing today’s buyers, and that is access to our own information and research. Ten years ago, I would never have bought any item on the internet. Five or six years ago, I started buying my air tickets online. I have just made a purchase of an expensive watch through a reputable on-line sales company.

A couple of weeks back, I talked about buying my new car. Although this purchase was actually made in a showroom, I already knew which model I wanted through extensive research on the Web. At the time I was ready to buy, I called the dealership and ordered the car. The role of the salesperson suddenly collapsed to order-taker (though she did this extremely well!).

Marketing, merchandising, and selling are important strategies to move products to a wide and diverse customer base. To use the right strategy, it is important for a company to know what they want to achieve. Certainly, for the high-end or major commercial sale, the role of a salesperson cannot be overstated and will overcome shortfalls in marketing and merchandising. Conversely, marketing without sales support will quickly impact a company’s bottom line!

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.