How Sales (and Marketing) Is Like Dating

Buyers and sellers. Interest in a product/service. Research, consideration, commitment. Closing.

I’m talking about sales and marketing, right? Yes. I’m also talking about dating and relationships: Women are the buyers, men are the seller-marketers.

Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, hear me out. Despite your likely gut reaction (“C’mon, Paul, dating is nothing like marketing!”), the parallels are stronger than you might think. (Plus, I moonlight as a love detective, so you could say I have some experience as a student of human relationships.) Below is a step-by-step illustration of how human courtship mirrors the the 6 standard B2B purchasing phases.

1. Research
Buyers give out buying signals, and marketers look attentively for those signals. After receiving the right signals, marketers attempt to get the purchase order in various ways, either directly or indirectly (depending on the buyer’s readiness). Buyers look for the best products, evaluate multiple options, listen to sales pitches, and ultimately decide whether or not to purchase. Sellers try their best to make their offerings look great and educate buyers as to their worthiness, all the while sizing up the buyers’ interest level. In the initial stages of courtship, we consider physical appearance, age, personality, family and job status.

2. Relationship
Thus the campaign starts. Marketers try to convert buyers over the course of time. Different signposts mark the journey: Website visits, email subscriber, resource downloads (phone number, first date, first kiss). Eventually, a purchase decision is made. Is the buyer going to commit? Does the woman want to be the girlfriend? A commitment isn’t made until the buyer is ready. And only the buyer knows when she is ready. All the marketer can do at this stage is wait, listen and be ready to help the buyer at any point along the way. The man attempts to create ideal conditions for the woman to buy, but can’t force that decision. The buyer sets the tone.

3. Decide
First men ask for the number, just as the marketer might ask for personal information in exchange for a valuable resource or custom pricing request. Men clean up, take the woman out and put on a show, all the while sizing up how amiable the woman is to their charms. Women study his actions, give him tests to pass—physical attraction, confidence, chivalry, sense of humor—and decide whether or not to accept a 2nd date. Eventually the buyer makes a decision: Qualifying or disqualifying the product, sometimes after a test run or two, sometimes after getting initial poor service.  First impressions are everything, and only winners come in first.

4. Buy
After enough time, the buyer comes forward. The woman says, “Are you seeing anybody else?” (Translation: “Can we be exclusive?”) Assuming the man likes her enough, she becomes the girlfriend. The buyer becomes a customer. The couple negotiates “going steady.” One party gives on one thing, the other on another. Compromises are worked out to spend time together and be faithful to the relationship in a mutually agreed-upon way. Everybody’s happy in this transaction, at least in the beginning. …

5. Support/maintain
Once a purchase has been made, the relationship enters the next phase: Maintenance. The marketer looks to keep the buyer happy and support the purchase in whatever way possible. By continuing to do the things that make the buyer happy, a long-term value is created either through customer support and/or the timely addition of extra features/service add-ons.

With the proper relationship maintenance, the buyer is likely to continue to commit to the seller-marketer as the relationship matures. Sometimes future purchases are bigger (marriage, house, children), sometimes they’re just a matter of extending an existing contract—a long-term partnership with the original mutual benefits. Either way, without a great product and/or great follow-up service (or romance, affection and support), the relationship does not go the distance. If the customer gets bored or is taken for granted, she will look elsewhere. Eventually the seller’s competition looks more appealing, and fissures emerge. Shaky ground. The woman wonders, “What have you done for me lately? Where’s the spark?”

Maintenance is the glue that holds customer and romantic relationships together for the long haul.

6. Replace
If the seller isn’t getting it done (bad product/horrible service/apathy/neglect), the buyer will move on. In today’s world of information overabundance, it’s rare to not be able to find a competitor offering comparable things. When the man treats the woman like yesterday’s newspaper, she will walk. On the other hand, if a service contract ends or equipment expires, the buyer could come back to the original seller if she still perceives at least the minimum value she perceived at the initial time of purchase. In this case, she could want to celebrate an anniversary, go on vacations or have more kids. If not, then suddenly the competition starts to lay claim to her heart. The fickle buyer is apt to look elsewhere. A relationship that is not tended well is one that ends … sooner or later, at least with any self-respecting buyer.

Courtship and buying cycles
As you can see, human romantic relationships can teach us a lot about customer relationships, and vice-versa. Winning sellers understand their audiences and act accordingly. Remember, when the buyer’s ready, she will let you know. In the meantime, you better be doing your job, namely, everything within your power to make the purchase decision an easy one.

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