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Translating Technology

Keep it Fresh

Keep it Fresh
9. August 2017 by Nick Burchill
Last week, during a telephone conversation, a colleague jokingly compared selling technology to selling potatoes. He implied that the two had nothing in common. The more I thought about this, the more I became convinced that the humble tuber might have a few valuable marketing lessons to teach us. A light hearted look at common marketing challenges:

The Potato was 'disruptive' in its day

Today, the potato is the fifth most important crop worldwide after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane.

When the potato was introduced to Europe in the mid 1500s by the Spanish, it was a disruptive product with huge potential, but it faced some significant marketing challenges. Some people insisted that potatoes were toxic. Others considered them livestock feed.

Despite serious food shortages, proponents struggled to demonstrate the value and versatility of the potato.

Marketing disruptive technology can be a 'hit' or a 'miss'. How you present a new product or service to the market can make a huge difference. Don't underestimate the impact of your product launch.

Potatoes and tech products both have finite lives

While aging technology isn't as pungent as rotting potatoes, both have a limited shelf life, and both are best marketed in their prime. Their value diminishes the longer they sit around.

It is important to manage expectations upfront. Good customer service should include educating clients around the anticipated shelf life so they can adjust their procurement plans.

Customers who are willing to accept that a potato will go bad, may be less receptive to learning that their 10 year old sonar is past its prime and due for upgrade or replacement.

You can spend a lot time and money selling toppings when some people just want the potato

Sometimes the 'best' product isn't the 'best value' for every customer. Know your market, your clients, and adjust your value proposition accordingly. Aligning features with customer expectations and needs ensures that every customer is satisfied with their potato.

Some crops are better than others

Take advantage of the good seasons and plan for the bad. Droughts happen. Be prepared. Your customers need to eat and will be forced to look elsewhere if you can't deliver. On the flip side, if there is a glut in the market, you may need to target a new market for your product or drop your price. Take care to consider the long-term implications. Selling your prime dinner potato as livestock feed may permanently devalue your product.

Anyone can make a potato look good on their menu

Potatoes can be presented in beautiful and unusual ways. It isn't enough to make a product look good, your reputation for consistent quality counts too. Back the first impression up with facts.

Customer testimonials are extremely important. In the technology market, proper presentation can generate a great deal of interest in your products. Scientific papers and demos tell customers if the product is solid, reliable and a worthwhile investment.

Fries are worth more than potatoes

Tech products and potatoes, on their own, may not be as valuable as if they are part of a solution or system. Sell the solution.

You don't always need to grow your own potatoes but reselling potatoes may not be your thing. French fries are sold in burger chains at a gross margin of 75%. Potatoes in supermarkets are often loss leaders.

Use good potatoes and a proven recipe. Don't experiment on your customers.

About the author

Nick Burchill

Subsea Sales Manager, Kongsberg Maritime, Halifax

Nick Burchill is a subsea specialist based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Nick has more than 25 years of experience selling high-tech systems to the ocean technology and telecommunications industries he also enjoyed 14 years of service as a Canadian Naval Officer.