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Revisiting the Grumpy Man in the Chair

A Timeless Insight About Customers...

...That Urgently Needs Updating

This famous McGraw-Hill print advertisement first ran in Business Week in 1958, and was named one of the 10 best ads of that year. Since then the "Man In the Chair” became an iconic image recognized by just about every marketer and ran off and on for more than 30 years.

For those of you who are too young or unfamiliar with the story, the grumpy man represents your B2B prospective customer. Imagine you are the salesperson, and your job is to engage this man in conversation about why he should buy your products. Not only is his body language negative and off-putting, but his suit is unfashionable and no nonsense, and the bow tie sends the message he is the type to dig into small details.

The point behind the ad remains timeless and relevant. No customer is going to buy from you if they don’t know and trust your brand and products.

Starting from the basic timeless principle, however, the ad would require a massive leap forward to be truly relevant now.

  • First off, he’s a middle-aged white man. Today’s workforce has much more diversity and the lead decision maker is just as likely to be a woman or Asian or both – or anybody.
  • Good corporate governance practices make it unlikely in 2019 that one grumpy person in a chair will be the decision maker. Today’s salesperson must navigate purchasing department requirements, review by specialists and committees of purchasing executives. It takes a village to make a decision.
  • Today’s customer is curious and empowered to learn about their purchasing options. They don’t rely on sales reps to educate them, or on trade ads. They do their own research, and scan blogs, reviews, competitors sites, media and analysts reports for information to help them assemble lists of possible vendors and evaluate them. In fact, Gartner says B2B decision makers are 57% of the way through the customer journey before they even contact a company.

So with all that in mind, here's what the ad might look like if it was written today - more than 60 years later.

Current Asia knows this modern customer and journey well. That's why instead of simply selling on behalf of clients, we design ways for their next customer to find them, faster,

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