Bought versus Sold

My colleague Anton Dam recently introduced me to the idea of products/services that are “bought” versus “sold.” Having moved to the enterprise software universe, I’ve been looking for a way to distinguish the difference between a Marketing-led approach versus a Sales-led approach, and this dichotomy of bought versus sold works perfectly. It’s so good!

What’s the difference between “bought” versus “sold”?

Something that is bought is generally understood as a necessity for a consumer. Something that is sold is not fully understood as a necessity for a consumer. Thus the former is easier to convert a prospect into a buyer; the latter is much harder to achieve.

If we think about the typical “crossing the chasm” view of how an early adopter is “pre chasm” — they don’t need to get “sold” because they are irrational buyers of products/services that have made up the fact (in their minds) that they need the product/service. For those who have crossed the chasm, they’re moving from a “sold” mindset to a “bought” mindset if the product/service becomes commonplace.

In a world of “bought” products, the idea of branding etc has credence because the product/service has become commoditized. In this world, classical design can be especially useful as a means to differentiate. At least for a period when one’s competition hasn’t figured out how to make that kind of complex investment pay off. Or, a competitor may be working on a better technology that will disrupt and upend the maturing industry — so design won’t really make a difference at all when/if that happens.

“Sold” products aren’t dependent upon design, per se

The world of “sold” products/services tends to be connected with complex products/services that require a lot of understanding and knowledge to fully find a strong fit with a consumers’ complicated set of needs. Those needs are often spread across many parts of an organization, in the enterprise universe, so the actual “painpoint” is only vaguely understood — because it’s spread across many stakeholders. For that reason, enterprise salespeople are miracle workers for the heavy lifting they do to find product-market-fit much differently how a conventional consumer-facing product achieves product-market-fit. Design of the actual product/service matters much less than the art of selling the product/service.

You could argue that the selling process itself is a kind of service design. That’s what I learned by going through a 12-week MEDDPICC enterprise sales training course. LOL.


Scott Brinker pointed out this process automation map by Bernd Ruecker: