The world has become much more transparent during the recent decade. In the old days, you could turn a ‘decent’ product into a commercial success through clever marketing. Nowadays it’s impossible to claim product benefits that are not totally true, or even not entirely true. And it’s hardly any use to boast superiority, when there is a doubtful relation to what you can actually deliver — it’s called vapour ware. Customers are not impressed by advertised claims, because all too often they have been disappointed by the actual capabilities of touted products and services. Hence, the effectiveness of traditional push strategies is diminishing rapidly.
Previously, one-way media were dominant; predominantly adds, brochures and catalogs. Now it’s all about two-way media; the internet, social media, bots. And limiting yourself to just transmitting messages doesn’t really take advantage of the media that customers use actively. Two-way media implies engaging in a dialogue.
Technology empowers customers to research, investigate, verify, and compare offerings and hence to make better decisions. Consequently, customers go through a significant part of the buying cycle before they contact potential sellers and service providers.
Although we are all aware of the efficiency and effectiveness of surveying and pre-selecting relevant suppliers, we tend to fall back on conventional selling strategies in our approach to generating new business. That is, we predominantly use push strategies — because “customer engagement activities”, like number of prospects generated, number of leads contacted, and number of calls/meetings is what sales staff is measured on. However, the difference between push and pull ist significant and decisive, and it shows in the way how consumers are perceived and approached.
Push perceives potential customers as passive but responsive agents who will look, listen and react to messages that are directed at them. The message is being force-feed to them. Push is to subject prospects to your products and services via whatever means available. Push can be stereotyped as using advertising to bombard customers with an endless stream of claims messages, until they buy the product. Whereupon the customer will receive additional cross-sell offerings in a similar manner. In online media the old methods are dominant as well, e.g. traditional advertising options, such as popups, and intrusive commercials being displayed before you can view a YouTube clip or read a blog post.
Many companies use ‘Customer Relationship Management’ (CRM) systems as a means of nudging or pushing customers in an unsolicited fashion. Messages are tailored to individual profiles as much as possible, but they are still unsolicited. As long as the marginal revenues are sufficient, the company is satisfied with low response rates, high waste, and a small number of customers that opt out upon each blast. Such activities are not useful for engaging in a dialog and developing a relationship. Push is by definition intrusive. Because the target audience is confronted with unsolicited commercial expressions, they tend to be much less receptive and mostly un-engaged.
Pull is in every aspect the opposite of push. Pull is all about “the customer being in control”. Pull regards customers as active agents who will actively communicate their needs. Today’s customers are avid researchers. They traverse the internet for information, look at reviews, and seek insights from peers and references. In pull markets, buyers collaborate on competitor research.
The customer is not looking for specific product benefits. He has a need or a pain-point, for which he is searching a solution. Therefore, simply transmitting product features and benefits as perceived by the seller may not be very useful to the buyer. What is useful is listening to needs, and talking about ways to fulfill these needs. The real and specific needs of customers shape the dynamics of the market. Not the seller, but the customer decides when and how he or she would like to be served.
Pull regards customer engagement as customer-driven and includes letting customers decide if and when they want to talk to you. Making it easy for customers to find you, to contact you, and to reach you for answers – and listening and being responsive – is key to your success. Pull strategies implicitly result in a higher level of engagement, because the customers are seeking out the companies they would like to work with themselves. As a result, the probability of offline and online word-of-mouth referrals is much higher — because customers will tell others when they are happy.