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The Perils of Definitives and Generalizations

by Hank Barnes  |  May 13, 2014  |  1 Comment

While it is hard to question the value that the Internet has brought to information access, it is not without its issues.  One of my biggest concerns is the emphasis on definitive statements or broad generalizations.  You see them every day.    “Everyone needs this”, “Why Your Business Has to be on Pinterest”, “Customers don’t contact vendors until late in the buying cycle”, and “The Internet means every business has to be global” are just a few examples.   And I wish I could confidently say that I never do this, but that would be another definitive–and would likely not be true.  But the most important thing is the advice may not be right for you or your business.


If you tried to take all of the advice, or even 20% of it, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed and confused—not sure what really matters. What is the biggest problem with these statements?  It is the lack of context.     When I go looking through my RSS feeds for articles to share, I constantly have to read the article to decide if I think it would be of value to people that follow me.   I don’t share a lot of general consumer marketing articles as they are not that applicable for B2B.

As an aside, while I like the spirit of the arguments that “there is no B2C or B2C, its all P2P (people to people) today”, that does not look at the reality of team based buying.  Yes, you have to connect at a personal, emotional level, but me buying another Sonos speaker for my home is a bit different than a company buying a new talent management system, for example.

But back to the original discussion.   What can you do in the face of these messages?  Do you really have to have a mobile strategy?  Must you sell online?    Is  it critical to have a strong social presence?   Maybe, but Maybe Not.   So where and how do you filter.    Here is one suggestion.

  1. Start with your target customer set – Ask yourself–would doing this provide more value to these customers?  Would it make it easier for them to be aware of us?   Put yourself in their shows.  Ask them what they think.  Watch what they do.  Expose them to new ideas and see their reaction.
  2. Apply additional context around your value proposition –  If a big part of your story is local personalized service, then selling globally may not make much sense.  And a global company may not be a big threat to your business?
  3. Assess your ability to execute – Finally, don’t start down a path that you aren’t prepared to commit to.  Not much is worse that an incomplete, inconsistent effort.  It usually does more harm than good, wasting time and resources and frustrating people.

Don’t expect definitives and broad generalizations to go anytime soon.   They are sexy headlines that cause people to pay attention.  But try to force yourself to look beyond the headline and apply the three steps I suggest above—or another filtering approach around the context of your business to see how it really applies to you.

And, if you are a content creator, recognize that over time attention grabbing headlines could backfire, causing your readers to trust you and your content less.  A bit less bombast could play defends over time as you build an audience that relies on and trusts your content to provide sound insights with clear context  of when it applies.


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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: context  definitive  generalization  marketing  sales  strategy  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Perils of Definitives and Generalizations

  1. Joseph Ferri says:

    Hi Hank

    Great article. Reading it reminded me of a quote from Peter Drucker – ‘The first questions have to be WHAT is the task, WHAT do we try to accomplish, WHY do it at all’.

    Cutting away all the noise and verbosity to isolate the actions that directly contribute the the desired end result is become critical today as there is so much more ‘noise’ with which to contend.

    There is a great mind-map of the ideas in one of Drucker’s books (Managing for Reults – It’s a great example of how to focus on the elements that really matter.

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