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What salespeople can learn from Nike

In 1987 Nike was in a bad way.

They were a distant third behind Reebok and Adidas and their profits were nosediving – they were even being sued by The Beatles. They needed to do something.

Back then, Nike was the running geek’s brand of choice. They made hi-tech shoes for elite athletes – that is what they did. So, they based their new TV ad around that.

The advert was aimed firmly at their traditional audience. Scott Bedbury had just joined Nike as Ad Director. He remembers seeing the ad for the first time: “You never saw a human being in the entire 60 seconds, just rain splattering on the track. Over it all a voice of God says: ‘It all started here, the fitness revolution that changed America’. It was Nike regaling at its past, speaking only to its devotees and to itself”.

Bedbury canned the ad and briefed their agency to find an alternative message.

What they came up with was three words that transformed Nike’s image from a narrow shoe brand for running obsessives to a lifestyle choice for all of America and eventually the world. ‘Just Do It’ turned Nike from an $800m company in 1988 to a $9bn company in 1998.

The importance of ‘why’

Nike’s transformation is a perfect example of what Simon Sinek calls the ‘importance of why’. He says that while most companies concentrate on talking about what they do, the best companies concentrate on talking about why they do it. Prior to 1987, Nike’s marketing had concentrated on what they did – produce technical sports shoes for athletes. However, the ‘Just Do It’ campaign saw Nike switch to a focus on why they existed – to help motivate anyone that needs to do anything. They had stopped talking about themselves and started talking about the customer.

Concentrating on the ‘why’ taps into a primeval facet of human behaviour – we are overwhelmingly driven by our feelings and emotions not by our conscious thoughts. As Sinek says “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

So, what can sales lessons can we learn from Nike?

Most of us tend to concentrate on the ‘what’. We talk at length about what we do and the various features of our products. Just like Nike in 1987. However, the best salespeople lead with ‘why’. Teaching the client why you and your brand are in their lives, allows the client to feel comfortable with working with you. Explaining why you are delivering a certain recommendation above another will give a rationale your client can take to sell-on to other stakeholders. Focusing on why allows your client to trust you.

Make the same switch that Nike made in 1987, think about The Why of your brand, The Why of your product, The Why of your solution, The Why of you as a salesperson. Go on, Just Do It.

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