Learning to Sell and Chew Gum at the Same Time

I’ve written a lot in the last few years about what I call Service Oriented Selling. Unbelievable amounts of money are still spent by organizations trying to teach their salespeople strategies and techniques designed to manipulate and control potential customers. Slick openings, closes, tie-downs and overcoming objections are still often the norm. But when was the last time you bought something from a salesperson because they were smooth or slick?
If that same money spent on teaching sales people to educate and serve or reinvested in better experience, service or product design I convinced organizations would increase profits as customers beat the doors down. I beat the doors down at Starbucks and Apple and so do a lot of others.
Business Consultant Tom Peters has been touting design as the key Sales Advantage in the 21st Century well before that Century saw it’s first day. I’ve listened to him rant about the superior design of everything from Apple Computers to Oxo Kitchen Tools. He’s been right of course and I’ve seen the evolution happening in just about every industry.
I never really thought about it much with regard to chewing gum until I read the October 2007 Fast Company article written by Evan West. I mostly thought of chewing gum as a commodity with a couple of features and benefits that would determine an individual choice. The article got me thinking about my own choice of gum and I actually came up with at least 16 different feature/factors that at least slightly influence me personally.
In the article West tell us that in 2005, Wrigley Inc., the 116 year old leading chewing gum manufacturer opened a brand new 45 million global innovation center to design the chewing gum of tomorrow. Who knew?
The first new product to emerge from this high tech facility is a high concept brand called “5”. West says the development of “5” came out of a management edict to make an impact with image conscious young adults who see gum as an expression of who they are. Much of the idea went well beyond the usual issues such as flavor intensity and flavor longevity. With regard to package design Wrigley went where no gum manufacturer had gone before. Shooting for packaging that would make young adults feel comfortable with putting their chewing gum package next to their iPod they came up with a stylish, dark, sleek pack that masquerades as an accessory.
With that as a back drop, now I will share the different features and factors that lead me too my current gum choice. Until I really started thinking about them as a whole I was totally unaware so many different things had influenced my selection.
Flavor Category – My first choice is peppermint. It used to be spearmint but somewhere along the line I evolved. Since most gums have a peppermint as a flavor category this is not a big issue.
Individualized Flavor – All peppermints are not exactly the same. I can’t tell you how exactly except that they have slightly different taste qualities
Hit – Apparently “hit” is important to a lot of people because according to West’s article it is one of the features that the innovative people at Wrigley work on constantly. “Hit” is the initial flavor intensity.
Burst – I believe “Burst” is a relatively new feature offered in chewing gums. These gums have a liquid center that offers quick squirt with the initial bite.
Flavor Longevity – How long does it last? I have to tell you that I have tried more than one gum that I really liked but stopped because the flavor quit too soon. My experience is that fruity gums burn out before minty gums but I have no idea if there is science to verify this.
Breath Impact – I switched from one brand I really liked because a friend at church just couldn’t bear it. My fear was that others might feel the same.
Start Softness – I don’t like to work to hard to get a gum going. A person only has so much energy.
Wad or Chomp Size – I tend to like a smaller chew that encourages small mouth movements. I’m still sensitive about looking bad while chewing.
Fatigue Factor – This is primarily related to start softness and wad or chomp size but I list it here as a feature on it’s own.
Healthy Ingredients – My dentist of course recommends sugar less gum if some feels they must chew gum at all. It reduces tooth decay. But beyond that sweeteners have other health issues. Trident has come out with gums that use xylitol which is a sweetener from the birch tree. This has many chemical benefits including actually being an infection, decay, and bacteria fighter in addition to being generally healthy. My friend Brad Vander Ley turned me on to Trident Tropical Twist, which I chewed until a friend at church started complaining every week.
Package Profile – By profile I mean how much it causes a bulge in your shirt or coat pocket. Women who keep their gum in a purse probably could care less about this feature but as a guy who keeps his gum in a clothing pocket, this is important to me.
Package Access – How hard is it to get the gum out and into my mouth? My current gum is top drawer on this feature. This is somewhat about frustration and ease but it is also about how quickly you can get a piece in your mouth without making a huge scene. I like my gum popping to be subtle and for the most part unnoticed.
Package Hipness – I have to admit, even at age fifty I am a sucker for cooler hipper packaging. I think Wrigley is on to something. I do want my gum to look cool on the table next to my iPod.
Name- I like cool names too. “5” is a great name. I’m not sure why… I just like it.
Manufacturer- This isn’t huge for me but I do like a reputable brand name.
Whitening – Tooth Whitening is big business these days and Wrigley’s has come out with a version of it’s Industry Top Seller Orbit Brand that whitens as you chew.
Bubble Blow Ability – I haven’t thought a lot about this benefit since my baseball days but I bet the Bubblicious Brand people have.
Caffeine Kick – You can get Mad Croc which is an energy gum.
Weight Loss – Chewing gum is already a known calorie burner. Some brands have added green tea to enhance this effect.
If you’ve stayed with me this far you may be curious…. What is my current brand etc? As of this writing I chew Dentyne Ice in the Peppermint flavor. I am also chewing it’s sister product, Dentyne Blast in the Chocomint Flavor. They don’t have everything I want in the super premium gum category. I wish they used xylitol as a sweetener because I think it’s healthier. And their packaging isn’t as hip and cool as Wrigley’s new “5” is.
Wrigley got my attention and caused me to buy a few packs of “5” but they really lost me on access. The cigarette style case is clumsy to get open and closed and the sticks are individually wrapped. I can’t get to this gum easily. Further, the chomp size is too large. I feel like a cow chewing the stuff. The flavor is great and I love the look of the package. A few adjustments and they would have me.
Now what does this all have to do with selling? I have never really ever had the privilege of receiving a sales presentation on a package of chewing gum… unless you count TV Commercials, which really are a form of Sales Presentation. But after thinking through all this I bet I could be a great gum salesman. I bet countless consumers could be persuaded to select a gum more in keeping with their preferences… many of which they didn’t even realize they had.
I sure never realized I had all these preferences until Fast Company and Adam West came along with an article that got me thinking. Wrigley knows that gum is not just a commodity… so much so that they were willing to sink 45 million into an innovation center. And that’s just the start. That center has to be filled with employees, many of them highly paid researchers.
What do you sell and what are your customer preferences. Are you asking them? Are you doing a great job of communicating what’s great about your product or service in language they understand? Do you explain how these features really benefit them? These questions are core to becoming a true Service Oriented Salesperson.
As a sales manager over the years, I have often ridden with sales people who assume our product is a commodity. They grab any old sample out of the trunk with no thought of matching the samples to the style and preferences of the customer they are calling on. Our product/service is designed with about 35 feature-benefit sets that no one else in our industry matches. Only our top sales people regularly highlight these in an interactive presentation crafted to each customer’s individual preferences.
Tom Peters is right. Design is the critical feature set of the 21st century. Some of that design is functional, practical, and use oriented. Much of the design is becoming aesthetic with more importance gravitating toward how the product looks and feels. And much is about designing customer experiences, customer journey’s and other details that go beyond the product itself.
Think about what you regularly buy, where you buy it and why. I’m willing to bet that doing this exercise on a regular basis will give you some great ideas to make your business better. Whatever you sell, pay close attention to how you communicate and educate specific product design created with the customer in mind. It will make you more sales.