What is a Cashmere Sweater?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012 06:30
Blog author: 

"What is a cashmere sweater? It's some fabric, some buttons and a zipper". Les Wexner was having a teaching moment. He was explaining to a conference room full of Limited Brands merchant executives that in order for a cashmere sweater to command a premium price, it must be marketed compellingly, going well beyond simply describing its components.

How does this lesson apply to everyday selling opportunities? Read on, dear friends...What is a Cashmere Sweater?

The fact is: each of us is a merchant. What differs amongst us is the "merchandise" that each of us is selling at any given time. An R&D client of mine recently expressed to me his realization that the selling process doesn't just occur at retail. It occurs daily during the informal and formal pitches we engage in with corporate influencers and decision makers. Unfortunately, many professionals (particularly technical folks) aren't hard-wired to be effective influencers. They are more inclined to explain than to persuade. Is it any wonder that many of them are frustrated that their ideas aren't adopted nearly as often as they would like? 
Richard Hutschings, an R&D colleague of mine at the Drackett Company (a division of Bristol Myers), achieved a good measure of professional success in no small part due to his uncommon ability to communicate complex technical information in an appealing, plain spoken way. He could make abstract ideas very understandable to non-technical folks. He also knew how to romance technical ideas to make them very attractive to his business counterparts. He did this at formal presentations as well as informally, during watercooler moments. He was a natural salesman. 
How effective a salesperson are you? Could you be even more effective? More on this topic next week. 
Open Innovation: Bandwith Issues?Just prior to the Holidays, I received a call from the open innovation liaison from a global CPG company. "This is the call you've been waiting for all year", she exclaimed. She had some great news: a technology lead of mine that she had been seeking to promote within her company for the past 6 months had finally earned significant interest among executives from one of the category business teams. This, in fact, was great news!However, she also bemoaned the fact that it took 6 months for her to gain their attention! How many company gatekeepers have the resolve to continue promoting a new technology with internal clients for that period of time? Why should they have to beat the drum for so long to earn the attention of the people who stand to benefit from it?
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for internal customers to have extended periods where they lack sufficient bandwidth to dedicate to evaluating and considering new external opportunities. They are caught up in the day to day business activities and are unable to make time to consider anything other than what's most pressing. In these instances, it is very easy for a lack of response to be interpreted as a lack of interest. The unseen opportunity is declined, and the benefit it could offer the company is lost, probably forever.
My sense is that this type of issue is fairly prevelant within companies practicing open innovation. Is this a problem within your company? 

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