Buyer Stereotyping: A Slippery Slope

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How do you want to be stereotyped? If you’re a buyer, here are some of your choices:

Current, Brand new, and Lost

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

If prospects knew the funky taxonomic triads that business developers use to pigeonhole them, would they say “yeah, that seems right!”—or would they just roll their eyes and mutter “whatever”? Stereotyping, in sets of three. The labels are easy to grasp, easy to remember, and Tweetable without abbreviating.

Other experts offer more stereotyping choices to classify buyers. 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 those categorical labels reduce to two convenient meta-labels: Mobilizers, and Talkers. The entire universe of buyers—cleaned, peeled, cut, chopped, compressed, neatly packaged, labeled, and shot off the assembly line in two simple boxes. How good is that? At least the authors have solid research to back them up. Not everyone can say that.

Unfortunately, even good survey methodology won’t prevent people from misusing the simplifications posited in the article. Stereotyping has issues. It’s never fair, and it creates assumptions that lead to disastrous sales outcomes.

It’s too reductive. Imagine winnowing your prospect universe of thousands to just a handful of archetypes. I understand the appeal. With social media there’s so much information about individuals that it’s easy to get bogged down in detail. Instead, 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! Non-switchable, Assassins, and Clueless Customers? Please, keep them away! If I hadn’t witnessed so many formerly Committed Buyers appearing on Lost Sales reports, and a handful of Assassins becoming raving fans, I might agree that emotional labels serve a useful purpose.

Categories are not mutually exclusive. What distinguishes Information Gatherers from Evaluators from Committed Buyers? These labels assume that a Committed Buyer doesn’t evaluate other choices or gather information. Anyone want to put a wager on that?

Stereotypes are a lame proxy for rigorous learning. Whether you call it generalizing, profiling, or stereotyping, broad categorizations offer a convenience and speed that sacrifice understanding large pictures and recognizing subtle nuances.

Marketers and Demand Generation Analysts will tell you that applying labels to large groups of people isn’t so bad. It’s done every day. And while I agree that most VP’s of Sales aren’t Joe Arpaio, here’s what I know: for selling, adhering to stereotypes compromises the ability to exercise sincere curiosity and to ask effective questions.

It’s hard to call that competitive advantage.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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