David Kirkpatrick

Product Marketing: You already know how to chew gum, right?

Kristin Zhivago, a longtime friend of MarketingSherpa, has over 30 years of experience working toward improving the alignment between Sales and Marketing. Through her company, Zhivago Management Partners, she works as a “revenue coach” for entrepreneurs and CEOs at companies from startups to Fortune 500 firms.

Her current focus is on making the entire sales and marketing process more customer-centric, and a major part of that effort is to conduct research and actually map out the customer’s buying process. This process is unique down to different customer groups (such as an IT buyer versus a C-level buyer) for specific products at specific companies.

Four product and service categories

During a recent conversation about how to create a customer-centric marketing organization at a B2B firm, Kristin also offered an interesting insight that applies to B2C marketers as well. After being part of mapping many customer buying processes for many different products at different companies, she developed the idea that all products and services fall into one of four categories based on the amount of scrutiny the customer applies to the buying process:

  • Light scrutiny products are impulse purchases and relatively inexpensive trinkets. She describes them as, “checkout counter” stuff.
  • Medium scrutiny products include items such as clothing. There are questions, but usually only one buyer, and these products run from the tens, to the hundreds, of dollars.
  • Heavy scrutiny products include items like cars and houses. Zhivago says they involve contracts, salepeople and possibly a demonstration or some other type of try-it-before-you-buy-it. Heavy scrutiny products involve lots of questions and most likely multiple buyers.
  • Intense scrutiny is everything involved with heavy scrutiny, plus, as Zhivago puts it, “you get married.”Intense scrutiny products involve some measure of ongoing services.

Knowing what category the product or service you are selling falls under is key to implementing the correct strategies for marketing to customers.

Marketing to the wrong category

Treating a light scrutiny product as though it was a medium scrutiny product only serves to waste sales and marketing resources. Little stuff like money and time.

And treating a heavy, or even intense, scrutiny product or service like it was merely a medium scrutiny product is a recipe for disaster. The customer has a page full of detailed questions and is looking for a little hand-holding while the company is whistling and tapping its foot with arms crossed, so to speak, and thinking, “Why don’t they just buy the thing already?”

Kristin told me she came up the four product categories after seeing companies making both of the above mistakes over and over again. As she put it, once a company knows what category their product or service falls under, they can stop making stupid mistakes like churning out newsletters teaching people how to chew gum.

I don’t know about you, but I think I have gum chewing pretty nailed down.

Related Resources

Guided by Buyers: Four tactics to create a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy (Open access until 12/25)

Conversion Window: How to find the right time to ask your customer to act

Kristin Zhivago Reveals What Businesses are Doing Right — and What They Are Doing Very, Very Wrong

Marketing Career: How to become an indispensable asset to your company (even in a bad economy)

Photo attribution: KonRuff
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Business To Business, Consumer Marketing, Marketing



  1. December 19th, 2010 at 16:18 | #1

    This is a very interesting point here and all to do with branding. My take is that is at the top – brand and price is everything and at the other end of the scale its trust and service.

    M

  1. March 11th, 2012 at 22:02 | #1