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The Matthew Effect

Much as I would like to insist that the ‘Matthew Effect’ is the positive impact I have on people when I walk into a room, alas, it’s not (and those in the room quickly realise it isn’t either).

I am, in fact, talking about a concept that’s very relevant to the way deals are initiated, conducted and resolved.

Over 50 years ago, a sociologist called  Harriet Zuckerman asked herself a simple question about scientific discovery: are scientists more effective working alone or in teams? She interviewed 41 Nobel Prize winners to see if she could find out. What emerged surprised her. She didn’t get the answer she wanted, but she discovered a new question. The eminent scientists all told her that once they’d achieved their Nobel status they didn’t like joining research teams because, when that team discovered something new, they – the Nobel Laureate – would get all the credit. 

They were already rich in eminence and reputation and, it seemed, despite trying to be modest, they would gain more credit and reputation. In other words, the rich would get richer and the poor… would keep toiling anonymously in the labs. Zuckerman wrote, “The world is peculiar in this matter of how it gives credit. It tends to give credit to already famous people.” That’s true in all walks of life. And it’s true when it comes to those who have already won contracts (sometimes repeatedly) and have become incumbent vendors or suppliers. 

Zuckerman’s insight became known as ‘The Matthew Effect” after the New Testament passage, Matthew 25:29 – “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” In fact, Zuckerman experienced the effect for herself. Another sociologist, Robert Merton, who was far better known in sociological circles than Zuckerman, named it and is now given credit for it! 

You can’t win. But, maybe you can. As an incumbent you must avoid complacency – it’s the quickest route to losing we know of. As a challenger you need to stand out and prove that the incumbent is resting on their laurels, without delivering ‘me too’ messages such as “it’s time you changed.”

Both endeavours take effective communication.

You have to tell a story: one which proves that, despite being around a long time, you are still agile and innovative; or one that proves you are the better choice for meeting the customer’s needs.

The key? the messages you create, how they resonate with the customer (more on that in a later blog I’m sure), and how you deliver them, all represent your greatest opportunity to differentiate yourself. Depending on your starting position, it’s your message that will enable you to either capitalise on, or break down, the Matthew Effect.

Sure, we’re all things to all men – we’re in sales and marketing after all. But our experience in winning deals for clients, means that we can focus communication skills and techniques to tell the right story to a small but well researched audience.

See more about Deal Based Marketing here.

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