We must develop a selling culture

Walter May says Welsh companies should adopt the ‘American way’ in their marketing strategies

When it comes to understanding organisational buying behaviour, companies act in similar ways to people. Some like the new whiz bangs products and don’t mind the early versions that can be low in functionality, expensive and often unreliable, through to the ones that wait for a perfect product and a low price.

Making an entrepreneurial Wales


Tomorrow: Walter May says Welsh entrepreneurs abroad can help those at home.

We live in an age of lowering product life cycles, rapidly changing and converging technologies and huge choice. Witness what is happening with the emergence of new devices such as Kindles, iPads, and iPhones.

Every day small entrepreneurial companies are trying to bring even more innovative technologies to the market, often having a ‘neat’ technology searching for an application. Mark Zuckerberg said as much about Facebook: “In the early days we knew we could make money from what we had, we just hadn’t figured out how”.

Having worked for US software companies for many years, I find a stark contrast in their attitude to business compared to Wales. A desire to dominate their market and a relentless focus on achieving short-term (weekly, months, quarterly) goals is a core discipline that drives their success in starting and growing technology businesses.  The sales attitude – “what have you done for me lately” – and emphasis on top line revenues forces the constant reappraisal of the companies products and ‘go to market’ strategy, driving excellence and innovation across all disciplines. As Sir Terry Matthews said recently, at a business leaders event in Chepstow, “You can’t have a bottom line, without a top line”. And he added, “If you can’t demonstrate measurable progress within six weeks, what the hell have you been doing”?

For any young Welsh technology business seeking to grow or find an application for its products, adopting the ‘American way’ would be a good place to start. As they say, no one does anything until someone sells something and selling only starts when the customer says ‘No’!  Young and not so young entrepreneurs and business leaders are often bemused by their lack of ‘go to market’ success. They fail to understand why their sexy technology is not appreciated by their target customers. Things are only going to get worse as ‘barriers to entry’ become greater, competition more intense and the cost of doing business on an international basis more expensive.

So what can an aspiring Welsh based business do to give themselves the best chance of being the next global success story? A good place to start would be to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the ‘technology adoption cycle’ and then reappraise their sales and marketing strategy and make the appropriate changes. In addition become a process driven business and seek out ‘lean’ ways to achieve results.

Couple this to the ‘sense of urgency’, sales driven mindset and short term focus that typifies the US business culture would combine to give any business a much better chance of success.

If you are not achieving the sales success that you anticipated or find yourself stuck with stagnant or declining revenues you could benefit from reading Geoffrey Moore’s seminal Crossing the Chasm. It perfectly illustrates the pitfalls and huge challenges that await technology companies in trying to reach the holy grail of the ‘early majority’ customer group. On the journey they must negotiate the deep chasms that have to be crossed in moving from the innovator (those that will help you perfect the product and not use up your precious cash) to the early adopters (that are looking to get an edge on their competitors) and the early majority. Beyond are periods of focusing on ‘economies of scale and cost reductions, leading to the late majority and so-called laggards.

So why is it that some companies go to inordinate lengths to understand their customers buying behaviour and psychology while other businesses seem to ‘wing it’ and hope they get lucky? Technology based firms need to become more analytical in deciding who they want as customers, match their ‘go to market’ process with their buying behaviour and fully appreciate what’s required to ‘cross the chasm’.

So the next time you purchase a technical product, observe your own buying behaviour and see if you are you an innovator (techie), an early adopter (gadget man) or a laggard?

Walter May is a lead mentor on the Welsh Government’s ‘High Potential Start-Up programme’. In November 2012 he organised the inaugural ‘Entrepreneurs Wales’ conference followed by a series of related seminars through 2013. He organises the LinkedIn Group ‘Welsh Entrepreneurs’. To join contact Walter May at [email protected]

6 thoughts on “We must develop a selling culture

  1. For me, this article nicely encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the ‘American Way’…namely, an aggressive desire for domination, and an obsession with ‘profit at any cost’. The mentality that has given birth to the Monsantos, MacDonalds and Halliburtons of this world. Oh, and Facebook as well. Corporations that are indifferent to the well being of their staff or customers, or anyone/anything else, as long as the bottom line is growing and shareholders are satisfied.
    Companies that manipulate customers in to buying endless new products they neither want or need, to distract us from the reality that the religion of consumerism is actually making us miserable, at the same time as bringing us to the brink of a true global meltdown.

    This thinking is so last century! And no longer fit for purpose.

    In a world where we will soon be able to order all kind of specialist products from the guy with the 3-D printer at the end of the road, where parks will be full of crops because imported food has become unaffordable because of the scarcity of oil needed to fly it around the globe, we need the courage and imagination to go for ‘business as un-usual’. Paradoxically, it will be the people who can think outside of the profit-box (the one that dinosaur CEOs are till so keen to tick) who will be making money in the future.

    The current fragile state of the global economy and ecosystem clearly shows we urgently need to smarten up and find a more intelligent and inclusive way of doing business.
    One that prioritises our personal and planetary well being, and that of our fellow world citizens, rather than the futile process of adding numbers to virtual bank accounts; giving up our addiction to abstract concepts of ‘wealth’ (our ‘affluenza’) so we can work on creating more happiness and health.

    A good place to start is by supporting (as customers and as investors) more ‘social enterprises’ – innovative businesses that make money by meeting real human needs, and which create communities without damaging other people or the planet. Businesses that are about creating wealth rather than just ‘making money’.

    Footnote: Many people feel that our political system is no longer responsive to their interests, but money still talks. If we spend it supporting the kind of companies we trust, such as fair trade and local companies – including farmers markets, of course! – then we can and will change the world for the better and create the future we actually want.

  2. I most certainly buy this line! With Scotland navel gazing about devolution .Wales should take a long look at how we could,improve our business with that countries’ trade.Promote Welsh Whiskey ,Mineral Water.Meat,
    Ship Repairing,Packaging,Dairy Produce,to name but a few products in competition to our former team mates in the North. Its time to get ready for an immediate sales drive should Scotland decide to go it alone later this year.

  3. I wouldn’t disagree with your views and we should aspire to create and support businesses that act in the way you describe. However, technology is developing at a rapid pace (the food sector may be different) and creating huge wealth for nations, so why not ours. When you have an innovative product or service (where the benefits are intangible) you have to have an effective way to sell, US base tech businesses have proved to do this better than anyone. In the long term, this can only be achieved by acting ethically, building trust and delivering to expectations – the only way to create a sustainable business.

    Happy to meet up and debate this more fully?

  4. Although too many in Wales get snooty about the words ‘selling’ and ‘American,’ Walter May’s thesis is based on two undeniable facts, whether one likes them or not. Fact One: the prosperity of Wales depends on building viable businesses. Fact Two: viable businesses depend on their ability to sell their products and services. Ergo basic logic leads us to the conclusion that the prosperity of Wales depends on our businesses selling their products and services – Fact Three.

    All prosperous nations, including but not only the USA, understand this. Wales does not. Ergo Wales is not a prosperous nation relative to others in the West. We ought to try to change that.

    Selling should not be unethical. Although ‘mis-selling’ can bring short-term gains, any good businessman will tell you that the only way to sell in the long-term is to provide products and services people actually need or feel they need. Meeting human need is prima facie an ethical activity.

    Good selling is actually the solution to Steve’s complaint about people buying endlessly replaceable consumer goods. We should be making more durable products and then making their durability a selling point. There may be a real gap in the market there.

    Steve is right that the free market is the closest thing we have to real democracy.

  5. In response to Peter Hugh Charles Davies, Scotland cannot “go it alone”, as you quirkily phrase political autonomy. No nation can. What the Scots have an opportunity to do, if they democratically choose to, is to step off the UK Titanic just before the iceberg connects. As someone who works from time to time in Glasgow and Aberdeen, I can attest that, whether they vote Yes or No, Scottish civic society is rapidly dismissing the Anglo-centric model of imperial prejudice, Euroscepticism and inept business practice in favour of a lean, efficient, outward looking, social entrepreneurialism. “Navel gazing” they certainly are not!

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy