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Sales and Marketing: Lessons from the Titanic
Blog / Sales & Marketing Alignment / Nov 29, 2017 / Posted by Richard Forrest / 5842

Sales and Marketing: Lessons from the Titanic


I never really went in for poetry at school, but one poem, The Convergence of the Twain by Thomas Hardy, has stuck with me for over 40 years. Here are its opening lines:

In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

Hardy is writing here about the infamous sinking of the Titanic as a result of her collision with a giant iceberg. One of the primary messages of this poem is the level of arrogance mankind had achieved in thinking they could really build an unsinkable ship.

The poem got me to wondering if B2B sales and marketing teams are guilty of the same thing. Have they become so focused on the relatively small, easy-to-reach market segment–the tip of the iceberg–that they’ve become ignorant of vast opportunities below the waterline?

We know how it goes when the bulk of an iceberg is ignored…

The world of B2B sales has changed remarkably with the rise of the internet. The work that was once accomplished through considerable effort and personal contact is now broadly automated through digital marketing campaigns. Sales leads are generated in an almost “set and forget” manner.

Where has this led us? To the point that an incredible, untapped source of sales leads and prospects is just not on the average sales professional’s radar.

Think of your target market as an iceberg. The top section–the part you can see–in the B2B space represents about 20 percent of your market. It consists of the prospects you are reaching with digital marketing.

It has become a world of online advertising, email marketing campaigns and social media–and almost all of it is automated. It is this automation that has made us complacent.

It might appear to you that you have a sales pipeline loaded with prospects chomping at the bit to buy. In fact, however, your database is probably out of date, and the percentage of prospects in that pipeline with whom you are actively engaged is quite low.

But what about that part of the iceberg submerged below the waterline? It’s a whopping 80 percent of your market. In most cases, these prospects are being totally ignored by your sales team!


We are led to believe that online marketing can be automated, reaches a broader audience and is easy compared to face-to-face conversations, leaving us time for more worthwhile activities. In actuality we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, and are commonly caught in one of two traps:


With a majority of shoppers shopping online, it’s easy to believe we can reach as many people as we want or need via email, online ads and social media. And if we can’t find them, they can find us with an online search. All we need to do is have a team of salespeople on standby to take orders.


Let’s say your customer is looking to buy new CRM software. Chances are, they’ve done a few online searches to compare features and prices, they’ve read reviews, and they’ve decided on the type of software they want and who they’re going to buy it from. In other words, they’re well educated and informed before they get to you. Often, when they do finally call you, they are just shopping around to confirm the choice they’ve already made, so it’s easy then to assume there’s no point trying to sell to them and change their minds. It’s just too hard.

Many businesses are falling into these traps, and it’s hard for them to find a way out.


Sadly, these traps aren’t even the worst part. Your biggest problem is that your competitors are doing exactly what you’re doing.

They have a great website, just like you do. They are using SEO and Google Ads just like you are, targeting the same audience with the same search terms. They are using the same social media platforms as you are, producing similar content to lure their audience in.


Online marketing most definitely has its place, and often gives a generous return on investment. It’s an important part of the marketing mix.

But when sales people become complacent and use this as their ONLY means of sourcing leads, they stop reaching out to the rest of the market where there is a HUGE opportunity.

Believe it or not, there are customers out there who need what you’re selling but can’t find you – or aren’t even looking for you online.

They may be simply living with a problem that you can solve, but they don’t know you even exist. Perhaps they’ve given up and have resigned themselves to the idea that their problem is unsolvable. They may be so busy that they just haven’t had time to look for a solution.

They may not even be aware that there is a better way of doing something until you point it out for them.

These customers are all sitting below the waterline, in the untapped 80 percent of your market, which is a topic covered further in my new book The Ultimate Guide to B2B Sales Prospecting*.


It’s frightening to think that 80 percent of your market isn’t looking for you, and your sales and marketing team isn’t focused on finding them.

But this can change.

There are a few companies who have started to realize the potential sitting below the waterline and have begun to talk to these prospects.

How? By including P2P prospecting in your sales strategies. Person-to-Person. And this is when things get interesting.

For customers who aren’t even aware they have a problem yet, or that you have a solution to a problem they are living with, a genuine conversation is the only way you’ll be able to engage them. It’s not a sales pitch, but an open and frank discussion about their pain points.

When you catch them, and alert them to their problem before they even know they have one, you’ll be able to tap into a source of customers in a way you’ve never experienced before.

For P2P prospecting, it’s important to remember that your approach needs to be consistent, long-term and strategic. It’s easy to expect results to come quickly (as they might with online marketing) but for conversational prospecting, you must have patience and realistic expectations. A successful prospecting campaign will need 3-6 months to develop and build real momentum and sales.

P2P prospecting is the only way to initiate a conversation with these potential customers before they become visible to your competitors. You have what your customer needs – they just don’t know it yet, and you need to convince them.

So, it’s time to ask yourself one question: is your company in Titanic mode?

Are you blindly heading towards an iceberg that’s ultimately going to spell disaster? Or have you spotted the dangers and are broadening your P2P sales and marketing horizons?

I’ll finish with another quote. Not from a poet this time but from comedy character Alan Partridge whose disastrous show Knowing Me, Know You was likened to the Titanic.

“Let me tell you something about the Titanic,” Alan ranted. “People forget that on the Titanic’s maiden voyage there were over 1000 miles of uneventful, very pleasurable cruising before it hit the iceberg!”

One minute you’re cruising along quite nicely, and the next you sink without a trace.

* For more information on how to access your hidden market, simply drop me a line at or connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll send you a copy of my book.

About Author

Richard Forrest through his company Forrest Marketing Group, delivers professional lead generation, telemarketing, and customer service solutions across Australia. FMG in 2006 with 2 clients and a team of 3 telemarketers now a team of almost 90 staff working on over 100 active campaigns each week.

Author's Publications on Amazon

The Digital Age has brought with it a host of marketing and sales tools. When these tools were still new, they were remarkably successful, but today, e-marketing campaigns are no longer generating the cut-through they once enjoyed. Sales teams are struggling with a shrinking number…
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