A few years ago, I heard marketing uber-guru Seth Godin speak about business growth through innovation at a conference hosted by my friend and mentor Gerhard Gschwandtner, CEO of SalesOpShop.com.

I ran across my session notes from that conference recently and decided that Seth's ideas were definitely worth sharing:

1. Invent a New Market Segment

Position your product or service at the "logical extreme" of some aspect of your product category. For example, if the typical product in your market is expensive but comes with free service, make your product free and charge a subscription fee for the service. If you're making a commodity product, go for something either huge or tiny. Seth used the example of Hummers and Mini Coopers, but I think a better example is the PC market, where most of the growth in the past five years has been in high-end game machines and tiny netbooks.

2. Exchange Your Sales Funnel for a Sales Network

Traditionally, sales is envisioned as a funnel, with prospects shoveled into the big end and customers trickling out the bottom. Today, however, there is now so much market clutter that it's increasingly expensive to locate new prospects. So rather than concentrating on lead generation, create products and services that are so remarkable that existing customers can't wait to tell their friends and colleagues about them. Find ways, like contests and special offers, to help your happy customers get the message out.

3. Market to the Trailing or the Leading Edge

With the Internet, informed customers can always find whatever they want for the lowest possible price. Growing your business therefore means finding either two types of customer: clueless or brilliant. Clueless customers don't know what they want and thus can be persuaded to want whatever you're selling. Brilliant customers are so knowledgeable that they can to be persuaded that what you have is special and therefore worth seeking out. It's only on the fringes of your market where there's either sufficient ignorance or sufficient knowledge for your offering to command a premium price.

4. Create a Story That Shows How You're Different

The old model of  mass marketing meant creating a product that appeals to an average buyer, then interrupting as many prospects as possible (with commercials, direct mail, sales calls, etc.), hoping to convince a percentage to buy. This is no longer effective because today's consumers tune out any message that doesn't interest them. You have to "earn" the right to sell to people and this is only possible if you have a compelling story that shows how what you're offering is different and better from everything else that's available in the market.

5. Sell the Story Rather Than the Product

Businesspeople make decisions based on logic, right? Wrong! In every product segment, there is at least one brand that uses a story to convince people to pay extra for that brand.  Seth used the example of office furniture. "A chair is a chair is a chair, but the Aeron chair sells for several times the average price because the manufacturer has positioned it as the chair companies buy when they value the health of their white collar employees," he explained. He also pointed out that people pay up to $5 a quart for bottled water because (so the story goes) it's "healthier" than tap water.

BTW, Gerhard recently interviewed me on video for his new SalesOpShop.com site.  Here's the link!

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