The Purple Shoe Diaries

David Johnston

David Johnston

The UK's authority on mapping governance, risk, compliance, regulation and legal services markets.

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Kate was at her wits end. She had to get some shoes to match her dress before the hen party. Themed parties; ‘dontcha just hate em’. But who has purple shoes? Let alone in that size. With only hours to go, she headed to town and poured through every shoe she could find in the largest shoe shop. None in purple. The assistants were very helpful; dark pink? Floral? A type of blue that in the right light could pass? After half an hour she had every assistant in the shop running around after red and blue shoes. None fitted the bill. Shop 2, same story. Shop 3,4,5 ditto. Within an afternoon she’d covered every shop in town, but it was no good. She’d have to go to the party with the same ol’ flesh coloured shoes that went with everything.

That evening in the pub in town one of the assistants resting their weary feet recounted the story of the crazy lady wanting purple shoes. We’ve had people after purple too, said another. ‘Yup, us too’ said a third. ‘Has Madonna or Taylor Swift started a thing here’ they mused? And so the message went to buyers the next day: source purple shoes; and quick. Big demand; bound to sell lots…

But it was one distraught party girl. No more, no less.

Listening to customers is the heart of marketing and market intelligence. The textbooks tell you to run focus groups, try some secret shopping, put the CxO on the till for an afternoon, etc. And all of these efforts have their place.

The simple fact is you get in a rut. Any business finds a sales technique that works. Often it’s the founder or owner manager’s charisma and local network or previous corporate experience. But then it just ‘settles’. It gets comfortable. You assume you have to replace the last BDM with a similar one, farmer with farmer. When results get harder, you just need one more of the good performers, not more of the average ones…

In professional services especially, however, the one question that always gets asked in due diligence is not ‘how scaleable is your marketing effort’, but what is your addressable market. This is nearly always answered with platitudes such as X million SMEs, or  Y million property owners. The fact is it’s usually a much smaller number, especially for high service quality players.

The secret that nobody shares is that the successful players know the customers they should have, but don’t yet have on the books. By name too. They know the DMU, the blockers, the current suppliers/competition, and they have strategies in place to play the timings.

These teams know when the law of diminishing returns forces your hand; they can anticipate it. They know which clients to avoid. They know how to scale ‘white-mail’ or supposedly unsolicited approaches. They know when having Client X means they are therefore never going to get Client Y on board. They can outspend anyone on the clients they know they need (by a hefty factor), because they don’t spend at all on the ad hoc or irrelevant ones. They know when to avoid the purple shoe trap because they’re obsessing elsewhere.

In GRC services we see this day-in-day-out now. The regional sales team models are struggling. The professional services ones are motoring. Content marketing and social media are stupidly expensive (and wasteful if you get it wrong). Get it right, and you can kick up your heels at the end of the day with a smile.

DR Johnston is the author of NED Intelligence, the GRC weekly market intelligence service from NEDLegal.

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