Recently a woman on the board of directors of a foreign-student- hosting program told me, “People say they don’t want a stranger staying in their house.” She asked,” How can I counteract that fear?” Puzzled, I asked the context of the objection and was told, “When we asked people belonging to my church to host a student.”
I stared at her. “You asked people point-blank to host a student?”
She stared back. “Why not? We needed more hosts.”
This exchange stayed with me for days. I believe it illustrates the dangers of selling when marketing would be much more effective.
Although this oversimplifies the difference a bit, selling involves asking people to make a purchase, or to expend effort or non- financial resources, while marketing involves creating a demand so that you don’t have to pitch something one-on-one.
Selling works best when it goes into gear with a pre-selected population – people whom you have reason to believe need or want what you’re pushing. Even then, selling often involves direct confrontation with potential buyers and psychological intrusion. “So, would you like the 673e in blue or black?” “Can I put you down for a $250 donation this year?”
When put on the spot, people say lots of things. “I’ll ask my husband and get back to you.” “I gave at the office.” Usually these don’t represent real reasons but rather excuses – synonyms for “You know, I just don’t want to.”
Marketing, on the other hand, creates an opportunity for people attracted by a proposition to say, “Hey, I’d like that.” Confrontation, intrusion and excuses don’t come up because those not attracted by the proposition simply ignore it.
If the foreign-student program marketed hosting instead of trying to sell it, they’d present panel discussions featuring the foreign students and hosts, invite local reporters to write about the international friendships formed, write op-eds for the local paper and radio station about the program’s surprises and challenges and encourage existing hosts to describe what they were doing whenever they met someone new.
By concentrating on attracting those who had motivations that matched the typical satisfactions offered, they would never go head to head against excuses. Marketing fits many situations but not all.
In my twenties, I fell off my bicycle and hit my chin on the pavement. Dripping with blood, I persuaded someone in a pickup who stopped to see if I was OK to drive me and my bicycle home. After I took a look in the mirror and realized I needed stitches, I walked to a nearby parking lot and asked people I didn’t know if they would drive me to the hospital.
” Come on,” I said to a man in a suit who hesitated. “It’ll take you twenty minutes. Just drop me off there.” That was a sales pitch – and though he surely had better things to do on a warm summer day, he agreed. In this situation, there wasn’t time to market. Only a sales pitch could have succeeded.