Morton Salt, theft of croissants, and how to get your own market niche

I conducted a series of sales workshops in Chicago recently, held at a big hotel. I like hotel venues because there are always a lot of other sales meetings going on, and I often chat with the companies in the neighboring rooms.  Sometimes they have better food than my client provides and I can cadge a croissant too, but I didn’t tell you that.

So on this occasion, the company next to me is Morton Salt, and there’s a big sign that says “Morton Salt Sales Meeting.”  This drove me crazy all day. Why would Morton Salt be having a sales meeting I wondered.  Is it a marketing promotion?  “Eat more salt today!” Or, “Salt, it’s a diuretic!”  Maybe, “Blood pressure too low?  Try salt on your bacon!”

Or maybe they were thinking of changing their packaging.  No, that couldn’t be it.  It’s the same blue box they’ve used since I was a kid.  Oh, how about a price war?  No, salt is not like gasoline. It’s about the cheapest thing you can buy. No one says in reviewing the household budget, “Honey, we’re just going to have to cut back on salt if we’re going to make next month’s mortgage payment.”

Okay, then maybe a competitor has moved into this space and giving them fits.  Are you kidding?  Go look on your shelf and tell me the brand name on the salt box.  You have Morton Salt just as I do.  The thing is, Morton Salt pretty much owns the market.  Everyone buys salt and the salt they buy is Morton’s.  No one complains about the price as it’s negligible. I would imagine there is very little that Morton has to do to keep this good thing going. I never did figure out the purpose of this sales meeting.

So why this post today?  It’s to remind you that you don’t have the advantage that Morton has.  You and I have to do something to differentiate ourselves in a positive way in the marketplace, and we have to keep thinking of new ways to do so all the time. 

I learned this early on in my business.  I did both custom-designed training, and also offered “shelf-training”, or standard sales training for various markets.  But once a client bought one of these products, they seldom needed the same one again, and I learned that I had to create brand new ways to attend to finer issues. If I had a sales training program for Business Bankers that was popular, I now had to rewrite it specifically for the Healthcare industry, which I did.  I had a program on negotiation skills, and then had to write programs that were specific to asset recovery teams and real estate foreclosure issues as the economic downturn created these needs.

And every day while I’m designing new stuff and writing furiously at my desk, I think about those lucky guys in that Chicago hotel that day, feet up on the table, eating croissants and daydreaming about new and different ways to market Morton Salt.  Some guys have all the luck.

Think Like Your Customer