Chasms of Failure

Five Critical Steps to Knowing Your Customers

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It’s a trap into which marketers of all kinds fall:  assuming your customers are just like you in their preferences, desires, and buying characteristics.  It can happen because we lack information to figure out what customers are really like or because our own inherent biases cause us to ignore information that would contradict our assumptions.

In a series of studies (published in the AMA Journals), Hattula, Herzog, Dahl and Reinecke found that marketers putting themselves in their “customers’ shoes” were more likely to assume their customer is just like them rather than the generally expected outcome that they would understand their customer’s needs and desires even better.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Hattula noted, “That tendency [toward egocentrism] is so strong that we’re willing to ignore objective data when we make predictions about others.”

You Are Not Your Customers

Yes, he is saying that in our data-driven world, the more empathetic (and maybe more expert) we become, the more likely we are to just ignore the data and use our own intuition to make assumptions about our customers.  If you’ve been in a marketing organization for any length of time, this should not surprise you (though it may be hard to admit).

Simply put:  The more you assume your customer is just like you, the farther you get from building a relationship with and serving that customer.

In our daily lives, we develop relationships fully realizing that the people with whom we become friends or partners or any other form of relationship are not exactly like us.  Success in each relationship requires that we develop an understanding of what drives the other person and how we fit into their lives—and how they fit into ours.

Consider this:  You walk into a room, and a man approaches you.  He tells you why he is in that room (at that event or party) and then proceeds to tell you he knows you must be there for the same reason.  Maybe he harangues you to engage in ways that suit him well or to help him meet the people he wants to meet.  You can tell pretty quickly this person had no interest in you or your needs.

When you make the assumption that your customer is just like you, you start off your relationship with that customer on the footing I described in the previous paragraph:  you alienate your customer and make them feel like you have no real interest in meeting their needs.

This can be exacerbated by the common marketing practice of developing customer personas.  Personas are just descriptions of prototypical customer types.  If the egocentricity bias that Hattula describes enters your persona development process, the personas can start to look an awful lot like the people who are developing them (One way to check this is to ask someone who knows you but was not involved in the process to look at the persona and describe how much like you it is—as long as you can trust that person to give an honest answer.).

The Importance of Data

Marketing has become, for the most part, a data-driven endeavor.  Marketers work hard to gather and analyze data on the actions of those who engage with the company, on how those actions lead to (or don’t lead to) sales, on the costs and ROI of specific marketing activities, on how customer usage leads to repeat sales, and on so many more things in your everyday activities.  One of the things on which marketers have relied for a very long time is market research.  Assuming it uses well-designed research, the data gathered can inform many marketing decisions and challenge many assumptions.

But challenging assumptions, especially within an organization, is very hard.  When the data clearly contradicts any assumption we make about our customers—from buying habits to feature preferences—Hattula’s study shows we tend to just ignore the data—even when we know the best course of action is to adjust our own assumptions to match the data.

Where Does This Lead?

Hattula’s study suggests that employees who are disengaged from customers are in the best position to understand objectively what the data they receive is telling them.

My own experience says that getting a direct, personal understanding of your customer, including developing empathy (maybe by putting yourself in your customer’s proverbial shoes), gives you insights that data just can’t.

The irony is that in order to truly understand your customer well, you need to do a good job of both getting closer to them and distancing yourself from them.  You need to:

  1. Gain direct exposure, understanding and empathy with your typical customer’s needs, preferences and desires.
  2. Ensure you are gathering good, unbiased data on customers’ needs, preferences, and desires
  3. Pay close attention to even the smallest hint of contradiction between your empathetic understanding and what the data is telling you.
  4. Get objective viewpoints that can tell you when your assumptions about your customers are really just a projection of your own needs, preferences, and desires.
  5. Have the courage to challenge organizational assumptions about your customers.

Did I promise this would be easy?  It’s not.

But if you want to stay close to your customers and continue to succeed in delivering what they want and need, in the way they want and need it, you will have to make sure you are meeting their needs.

Not yours.


Escape Social Media FOMO: Ask the One Right Question

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If your company or brand is trying to have a presence in every social media outlet possible, you might have social media FOMO (fear of missing out). But fear not, there is a cure, and unlike consumer FOMO, you don’t need to stop marketing completely.

“Don’t I have to be on every social media outlet? How will I find my prospects and customers?”

If you’re asking this question, you probably already have FOMO. You can escape FOMO with one simple question:

“Is this the media in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?”

EAT24, in what is now a well-publicized move (much to their benefit), recently broke up with Facebook. If you haven’t done so already, you should read their tongue-in-cheek-but-entirely-serious rationale, as well as FaceBook’s response.

What they really are saying is they don’t believe social media (specifically FaceBook, but this applies to any social media) is about blasting out ads to their fan base. Rather, it is about establishing relationships and raving fans. They conclude, given that FaceBook allows them very limited organic reach, they cannot succeed in engaging their fans and building relationships (even those based on sushi porn) in this particular media.

Will this cost them exposure? Yes. And while I have no inside knowledge of their media strategy, it’s easy to conclude there are other media which are more effective for their prospects.

They could buy more exposure on FaceBook, but it’s also obvious that the amount and depth of engagement is simply not worth it — there are better places to spend that marketing budget.

Applying the test above, it becomes clear their customers and prospects don’t really prefer to build relationships on FaceBook, so it’s not worth spending the time and money.

In another recent high-profile move, OKCupid strongly urged its customers not to use the Firefox web browser on their site, due to the homophobia of Brendan Eich, the now-former head of Mozilla, the organization that publishes Firefox. Given Firefox’s 10.5% market share (source: April 2, 2014), this could be a risky move.

Firefox isn’t a social medium, but it is an important means of accessing OKCupid’s services (and every other service online). OKCupid is making two statements with this action: 1) their customers and prospects care about equality and will act on that belief, and 2) it’s easy to engage with them using another browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.).

Applying the test above, OKCupid clearly believes that once the information about Eich’s homophobia is known, Firefox is not where its prospect and customers will prefer to engage, so it does not feel the need to be easily available in every browser.

Back to your brand: How much time and effort are you investing in making sure you are available everywhere — on every browser, every social media outlet and everywhere else? Are these time and budget investments well-spent? Do they have the expected or needed ROI?

You know who your customers are. You know which prospects you are trying to target. Make sure you’re spending your time and money doing what they need you to do to build those relationships.

So before making an investment in a new media outlet, ask yourself: Is this the medium in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?

It’s a surefire cure for your FOMO.


3 Reasons Recurring Revenue and Renewals are Critical [Podcast]

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I was honored to be interviewed by Linda Popky of Leverage2Market Associates and one of the leaders in marketing innovation in the technology business. We discussed a range of topics, including:

  • Why recurring revenue and renewals are so important to so many companies
  • Why many companies (particularly in the technology business) don’t invest enough in recurring revenue
  • How marketing and selling to renewing and repeat customers is different from new business
  • What companies can do right now to increase recurring revenue and renewals, and reduce churn

You can find the podcast here (just under 30 minutes). I hope you find it useful – please let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc


Making Better Investments in Your Customer Relationships

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for PAKRAgames. It is part four of a series of four.)

Business relationships are not this intuitive (though I contend they should be), but let me ask you this (if you’re in a long-term relationship, think back to when you were single).

When you started dating, you had opportunities to begin and pursue relationships. How did you make the choice of which woman/man to pursue? Was it the best looking? The smartest? Maybe the most accessible or one you thought would say yes? And if you were lucky enough to have several people from which to choose, into which relationships did you invest your effort? Was it with the cutest partner? The one who seemed most likely to succeed? The one most likely to commit to you?

I’d be willing to bet you made these decisions based on some form of intuition. You probably agonized, analyzed and got lots of advice from your friends and family, but some sense of the “right” choice probably made itself apparent, and off you went.

We don’t do the same with business relationships. We look at forecasts, financials and, if we’re smart about it, marketing and culture compatibility. Specifically, when we look at our customers, we have pretty much one measure of desirability: Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which is essentially a net-present-value of expected future revenue from that customer.

But if you ask your sales people and customer service and support representatives, you might see a very different story. You’d hear endless anecdotes that go something like this: This customer may not produce much revenue for us, but they (pick one or more of these) helped us fix several critical bugs, showed us some new uses for our product, are really devoted to us, use only our products and never our competitors’, or have been our best reference customer and a big advocate in the market.

How much value do you place on any (or all!) of those things? My guess is that when it comes to making decisions on how much effort to put into the customer relationship or how hard to try to save them if they suggest they may not come back next year, you put not much value at all (or maybe a little, as an exception).

But you should. Companies that do have customers who keep coming back to them and not their less-successful competitors.

Here’s one example of why: Clayton Christensen’s (@ClayChristensen) “Innovator’s Dilemma” suggests (among other things) that as companies grow, they miss the customer doing something weird with their product. Smaller entrants see it, find the new market based on it and can disrupt the larger company’s market in doing so. But if you — I presume you are the larger, growing company — found the customer doing that weird thing and knew they were valuable, then worked to keep them, you would be able to see the new opportunity and capitalize on it.

There are similar examples for any number of the possible reasons noted above that customers can have value beyond CLV.

So what do you do about it? It’s a simple yet hard answer: Develop a model that can evaluate any given customer’s true value to you (building and helping you manage this model is one of my firm’s main services). That model must include revenue (CLV), but also must include the other dimensions that could make a customer useful and valuable to you. Not all possible dimensions will apply to all companies and, even among the subset that applies to you, not every customer will have much value in each one.

Once you have a model that can assign a quantitative value to each customer relationship, you not only know how valuable each customer is, but how to rank them and know who is genuinely more (or less) important to you. Then you can make well-conceived and well-informed investment decisions. You’ll also know why exactly you are making those decisions.

So when it comes time to allocate budget, time and people to ensure customers are happy, you’ll know who to make happiest. It’s not exactly intuition, and your friends may not have much to say about it, but it will ensure you are doing the best for your customers and for your company, and building relationships that last.


Over the four parts of this series, I’ve suggested a new way to approach improving and deepening customer relationships, which can reduce churn and ensure customers who walk in the front door this year don’t walk out the back door next year.

I’ve covered:

– Rethinking our business model to ensure we’re making the most of recurring revenue

– Building an effective and measurable sales and marketing process for renewal revenue, and why that’s just as important as your acquisition process

– Learning to understand the value our customers place on our services

– Valuing customer relationships and making better investment decisions

I hope this has helped you think about your business model a little differently and more clearly, and that it has helped you focus your efforts on maximizing the power of your recurring revenue model.

We’d love to hear your story about how you are making the most of your recurring revenue model. Tell us in the comments. And thanks for reading!


Why “Sell how your customer wants to buy” doesn’t really work that way

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It’s a Sales 2.0 mantra:

Sell the way your customers want to buy

and it’s one of the oft-repeated phrases at this week’s Sales 2.0 Conference.

It’s also a perfect idea. If you want to be successful in selling figure out the process your customers use to buy the kind of thing you want to sell them, match everything you do to that process, and your whole process will be as frictionless as an air-hockey puck sliding across the table right into the goal.

Making that happen in the messy, friction-filled world of everyday business is far more challenging. What this perfect mantra ends up meaning in most organizations that attempt to put it into practice is that we work to find what we want to think is a typical way our target customers would buy, and we design a process around that.

Then, in so many of our individual sales processes, reps are running to managers for exception approvals, and the process is only  followed at best approximately and at worst in concept only. This happens because the typical buying process to which we design is really an average of our target buyers which is the reality for no individual company, so every buyer requires some kind of exception or adjustment.

So what do we do about this?

Sometimes lost in the ever-growing focus on repeatable and scalable process based on technology is the fact that sales is a relationship business. To be clear, I don’t mean the old stereotype of the slick sales rep who can schmooze anyone into a deal, but rather the truth that in order to achieve that kind of exceptional success we must truly understand both the customer’s processes and the people, including their political dynamics. Then we have the ability to revolve friction as it arises and move deals to close more quickly.

But again, that’s a perfectly ideal thought and not a reality of how to do business. So what do we do in the real world?

Keep the process-focused methods we have. They are necessary and valuable. And you can’t make strong relationships happen without them. But let’s also design processes around how relationships between our companies – and maybe more importantly the people in them – develop.

Do we know just how that happens? Yes we do! There are a special few people I’ve met in my business career who seem to have no clue how to develop relationships with others, but the vast majority of us do, and we generally do it quite well. We do it in so many areas of our lives everyday (I love comparing long-term customer relationships to a marriage!), and most of those relationships are in business. Use that knowledge (intuition, people skills or whatever you want to call it), get it out of your head (and your heart) and into your selling practices.

So sit down with your sales, sales ops and marketing teams and work out how your target customers want to build relationships. Then institutionalize it in your sales and marketing processes.

Then make it work in your support and service processes also so all of your new-found customers don’t leave you next year.

And call us if you need help making this happen.

Then add your thoughts in the comments: how do you build relationship building into you sales process?


Is the “Age of Conversation” Coming of Age?

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It’s a bit like that ‘fool me once…’ adage: When the second observation showed up this week, I started wondering if this is a trend. Then I realized it’s inevitable.

There are few people left (at least among those with internet access) that would dispute that, in the past decade or so, technology has changed the way we interact with and relate to each other. Whether you call this the ‘Age of Conversation’ or refer more generally to the social media/social networking trends, it’s been clear for some time that the skills of technology have been applied to the art of human relationships, and how those relationships manifest has changed.

Another point that few would argue is that the social media/social networking phenomenon has changed the way corporate – actually, all – marketers see the world and related to and communicate with their target audiences. Even the simple use of the phrase ‘communicate with’ in the previous sentence is symptomatic of the change – 15 years ago I would have said ‘communicate to.’

I found it interesting when two unrelated experiences began to triangulate (yes, I’ll still need a third to fully triangulate – care to offer one in the comments?) on these ideas.

  1. Over an otherwise social dinner, a friend who is a successful CMO told me he’s thinking of leaving his position to start an agency. When I pressed him for the reason he wanted to do this after many years working in corporate organizations, he said ‘Marketers have forgotten how to market.’ He explained (and I mostly agree) that most marketers have become so caught up in the social media trend and have focused on a long list of not-well-developed-conventional-wisdom approached and tactics, that some of the fundamentals – like knowing how to segment a market, understand basic customer needs, and focusing on messages (read: content) that is of critical interest to your customers and prospects – have been lost in the shuffle, or worse, forgotten.
  2. I watched a Tom Peters video that talked about the importance of being able to write well and coherently (you can judge for yourself if I’ve mastered that skill). Yes, the very same Tom Peters who is always ranting about big strategic ideas and the importance of challenging the status quo, is now talking about a very basic skill in which most of us became at least moderately proficient in high school. His explanation for this is that in the age of quick e-mails, facebook statuses (statii?) and Twitter, where writing is reduced to the fewest characters possible and sentence structure gives way to compact meaning, being able to communicate well and coherently is still a highly valued skill. In fact, good communication – including written – skills are critical for business success (his new book, in fact, focuses on the importance of the so-called ‘little things’). I would add that for marketers, being able to express yourself well rather than briefly (in most cases), makes it more likely that your audience will understand your message.

A return to fundamentals is the core idea that ties these two observations together. Good marketing is, well, good marketing, no matter the tools, channels, media or relationships. The core elements of understanding how to relate to your audience and how to get a message across in a way that is compelling and results in action (presumably buying, but not always), along with the rest of the basic marketing tenets, are still the things we must do right every day to make sure that, whether in old or new or social media, we can be effective communicators. The same is true of the basic skill of written communications (admit it, you love reading blogs – obvious, because you’re reading this – but you know that so many are poorly written, and sometimes hard to decipher).

I would never make the argument that the so-called ‘revolution’ in the nature of the relationships among people and between companies and their audiences is coming to an end. In fact, I’d argue that it’s only just begun (but I won’t argue that right now – maybe later). Relationships must and will change, and they will change dramatically.

We are no longer at the point where we are experimenting with what the new tools can do. We have reached the point where we’ve played with the new tools and now we have to go start finding out not only what they can do, but where they are useful and how to make them a part of our own lives, our own professions and our own relationship. Then we have to use them to redefine and rebuild those lives, professions and relationships in ways we may not fully understand.

As we do, we should not forget that we still have lives, professions and relationships, and the need to do the simple things right – to live lives, to practice professions and to relate to others – and to do them well has not changed, and I don’t think it ever will.

Add your story about how you see good fundamentals returning to blend with a radically changed world in the comments


Long-Distance Romance

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If a marketer’s dream is to have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of his or her customer, then that marketer’s worst nightmare must be to know nothing about the customers who they so fervently hope will buy whatever it is they are selling.

In what I consider an inconsistent, if not surprising move, the FCC announced recently (via BusinessWeek) that it was going to look into what is becoming a fairly common marketing practice: tracking potential buyers’ web browsing behaviors and patterns.

How is this inconsistent? This administration prides itself on populism, and more specifically, enabling people to take power and control over themselves and allow opportunities to create all kinds of value. (I feel an argument coming on here…maybe next post? or in the comments if you like). This moves stops them. It simply puts up an artificial barrier that says “what I do, how I act and what I create on-line cannot be shared.”

Huh? Isn’t the populist, Web2.0 world of the internet all about creating shared value? What ever happened to the pro-sumer? and since when do my browsing patterns, along with what I create from them, not my “production?” (could you even go so far as to argue that link streams – mine here – are a proud publication of at least some of where I’ve been? and could be considered a lite version of a browser tracker? maybe).

But the point isn’t the politics. It’s the marketing.

For generations, companies have marketed to demographic, ethnographic, psychographic segments (and more…) trying to find the common behaviors of their potential buyers (in my now-distant youth, I recall ads for Cheerios in racquet clubs…clearly assuming a connection between racquet sports and a desire to eat healthy). Cross-marketing campaigns, partnerships, and so forth have been a staple of good marketing as long as there has been good marketing.

With the proper cautions, warning and knowledge (and willing participation of the potential buyer), tracking web browsing habit is no different. It tells us as marketers what our potential customers might be interested in, what they are looking at, and ultimately, where we should focus our efforts and with whom we should team up to best find and engage our potential buyer.

Wait -Â I know you’re about to argue for the right to privacy. Yes, obviously. None of this should be done surreptitiously. It probably should have the same level of user control and awareness as cookies do now. It feels about the same. Chime in if you like on the privacy controls needed.

Here’s where the nightmare begins:

Consumers, and for the most part business buyers, are on-line. They are browsing, searching, shopping and so forth. We all know the social media adage “The conversation is out there, are you?” The same applies to your potential customer. They are on-line. Are you looking for them?

If consumer behavior in the mass-market society could be done with cross-marketing campaigns and consumer habits determined (at least in aggregate) by survey, then consumer behavior in the social market must be determined by where your potential market (of one person) is going, who they are associating with, etc.

As a marketer, you cannot even begin to know your potential customer without knowing these things (and there’s so much more).

If you were not allowed to find ways to trace the patterns of an individual’s behavior on-line, you cannot know that person in the way you need to in order to make relevant and useful products available.

You would be relegated to doing nothing more than shooting the proverbial arrow in the dark. And that’s any marketer’s nightmare.

So what about the potential customer?

No, I would not want the feeling of being watched. But I do like to share what I’m doing and what I see. (e.g. this blog, my LinkStream, my tweets, etc.) But I also hate all that useless advertising I see.

So what if I set my browser to allow some set of marketing companies to see some set of information about my browsing habits (say, purchases, shopping, searches, abandoned shopping carts, etc.)? I’d get useful information (with, I hope relevant ads). I’d be able to see more of what I care about, even if it is promotional.

I would appreciate those companies that took the time to invest in thinking about me and what I do and like before they came to me and made me an offer. I’d be much more likely to buy.

I would be creating opportunities for me to find, discover and learn, and, yes, buy. And I’d be much more inclined to join the brand that did all of this.

This unusual move would, in one fell swoop, take a significant bite out of the rapidly evolving buyer-seller relationship, and drastically change the course of the new developing social marketplace.

As a consumer, and as a marketer, I seek out opportunities to create and strengthen relationships with those I buy from and those I sell to. I hope the FTC doesn’t send me back to the industrial age of the mass blast and the 1.5% return.


Not Just Hammers

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A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but you don’t get very far unless you take the second step (and then the third, and the fourth and so on…)

Not long ago I was having dinner with a friend who also spends time supporting not-for-profits and we were lamenting how hard it can be to get people in general (the general public, mass audiences, whatever you want to call it) to do the (sometimes simple) things it takes to make a big difference in the world, whether in human services, environmental protection or any number of other fields.

Which is the same challenge marketers face every day – how to get people to act, or specifically, express interest and buy.

How is this the same thing? When we talk about lead generation, demand generation, the marketing funnel, prospect and customer engagement and any number of other terms we use to describe the parts of the journey from first prospect contact to closed sale and beyond, we are really describing a journey of increasing commitment by the buyer to the seller (and, I hope by both to the on-going relationship)

Let me offer this as a way to think about the development of the buyer-seller relationship:

Start with Awareness. Someone in the market becomes aware that we offer a product or service that he or she may need. From the seller’s point-of-view, we become aware that there is a group of potential buyers in a target audience. One example of how we make this happen is advertising.

Then we move to Interest. That same prospect has determined that there is a potential that our offerings may meet some needs and is willing to explore further. We see positive response to our communication (regardless of vehicle) and become interested in pursuing the potential buyer. We provide information, marketing offers and other ways to engage and get this information.

Next is Motivation. Now the prospect has determined that she has a motivating need and that our offering can help. He or she now actively wants to pursue a purchase. And we see the possibility of turning the developing relationship into a source of revenue. We might offer a sales call.

And then comes Action. The prospect buys. We sell. We deliver.

Finally, at that point we have a developed Relationship. The customer wants to succeed with our offering, we want the same. We provide help and support to make that happen and cultivate on-going sales and other offers as we learn about more needs.

Granted, there’s a bit more complexity here and we all know it’s never that linear. And you probably label your process and funnel stages quite differently, but I have not found many people who’d disagree that Motivation precedes Action, that Interest precedes Motivation or that Awareness precedes Interest. It might all happen in an instant (think about the last time you bought a candy bar at a grocery store register display – “there’s chocolate”, “I like that”, “I’m hungry/craving”, “I’ll buy one”, granted not much of an on-going relationship there if you don’t count, as Ms. Morgenstern would have called it, the relationship between the chocolate and your hips!)

So, now back to the problem.

The problem, remember, is getting people to take the actions they might know are right, beneficial or helpful. For example, we know that recycling is good for the environment, but most of us don’t recycle much of what we could. The same can be said about the other small shifts we can all take to improve the environment, better support the not-for-profits we choose and act in a number of other ways that seems obvious to us (side note: I now see that this is true of preventative healthcare as much as sustainability)

I’ll spare this rant, but please consider there to be a long set of paragraphs aiming to debunk the economic view of people as rational beings and that all of this is a result of utility maximization. Suffice to say, it’s not.

Let’s look at how we convince people to do green acts, and participate in (volunteer, donate) not-for-profits.

Many not-for-profits (this is particularly true with ones focused on diseases and serving the under-privileged) try to generate Awareness. They want people to know about the cause or problem.

That’s an admirable goal, and an important step. But not nearly enough.

Once I know about your cause, why you think it’s important and how big the problem is (usually what I hear from these organizations), now I need a reason to move to interest. At this point, I am more likely than not to say something on the order of “that’s nice, I hope you solve that problem” and move on.

What we leave to chance is Interest, Motivation and Action.

So why don’t many organizations succeed at these steps? Mostly from not having built tools. Often, the question is asked “OK, I’m ready and willing – what do I do?” and without the tools in place, action is not possible

No sales organization would consider trying to get a prospect emotionally charged about their offering then just sit back and expect the prospect to show up with a contract, check, cash, whatever, in hand. There’s a process, there are tools there are specific actions every sales rep takes and tools they use to give their prospects as many tools as possible to close the deal.

Not-for-profits can learn a lot from their commercial counterparts.

And dare I say, many of those commercial counterparts can learn a lot about where their marketing is missing a step just by looking at their customer’s journey and on what parts they are not partnering.

I know from my work in sustainability and not-for-profits that we have lots of problems that need to be solved. Now.

I also know most of them don’t look like nails. But let me suggest that we at least start showing people how to get hammers. And whatever other tools they need.


Stop Circling the Wagons

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This past week I had the privilege of attending The Economist’s 2009 Marketing Forum. As you might expect, the topics this year were focused on managing through challenging economic times, how to prepare for what we all hope will be better times in the near future and how we might know when better times are coming.

The audience was smaller than in past years, which was not at all surprising, but still represented the marketing leadership of a diverse set of companies and organizations – enough so that it was not hard to see how different sectors and industries are faring, and how the thinking differs – or doesn’t – across these businesses. (you can read more on the twitter stream, some commentary on it from day one and day two and read another perspective on the conference)

I heard discussion of the expected topics, such as measurement, marketing mix and spending and investment allocation, plus branding, promotion, channels and the long list of things marketers think about. But after a day and one-half listening to and talking with this group of marketing leaders, there were two things that were notably missing.

I’m pretty sure that if you’re bothering to read this, you don’t need to be convinced that an economic downturn, regardless of how severe or prolonged, is the time when it is imperative that great companies (read: the ones that want to survive) innovate – not just creating a few new, related products, but re-think the way they relate to their customers and the rest of their market, they way they develop and roll-out product (I am intentionally avoiding the word “launch” here) and how they manage the marketing investment for their companies.

I won’t suggest that there were no interesting ideas offered. There were a few. But out of 12 panels and presentations, not one was focused on innovation in marketing or how companies can create the kind of significant differentiation that will allow them to succeed in bad times and dominate when the market turns up again.

I would hate to suggest that, among this group, not one person was thinking about how to do this for their company (or clients for the branding firms in attendance), but there was little to no talk of this, either on stage or in the hallway between sessions. The thing that struck me also, is how much of the conversation still assumes that marketers own and define their brand themselves (hint: your market owns your brand) and how much the style of thinking is still command-and-control-driven in most marketing organizations.

So what was missing? Let me start with these perspectives:

  • The CMO as the portfolio manager of a range of marketing investments (some of this was hinted at by Ward Hanson of SIEPR)
  • The CMO as the steward (not controller, or owner) of the brand in the minds of the members of the market
  • The CMO as the facilitator of the conversation around the company and the brand
  • The CMO as the steward of the relationship with the market(s)
  • The CMO as the driver of a sustainable business model (no, I don’t mean green products)

This is the opportunity that faces us in this challenging market. William Pearce of Del Monte Foods suggested that one of the key responsibilities of the CMO is to be the “driver of growth” – and with that comes the challenge of how to put your company in position to lead the market (and gain market share) in challenging times and to accelerate out of this downturn, leave your competition in the dust and become dominant in your market.

Your market is thinking differently about its relationship with you – and your competitors. Are you willing to do what it takes to enter into a new relationship, start to think differently about how your company operates and markets, and become the organization that everyone else wishes they were?

I hope so – and I’d like to hear how you are getting started.


Just Ask

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At this morning’s Social Media Breakfast (great discussion with Anneke Seley, author of Sales 2.0 on using social media in sales), I was talking with Sue of KITList and Clare about how to improve the conversation and engagement of the thousands and thousands of KITList members. The three of us wrestled with updating the blog, creating an e-mail discussion list, maybe a social media service presence (Facebook, Twitter?), but we weren’t really sure what would engage the large and very diverse group that is the KITList membership. Then came the “a-ha” moment:

Clare said “Why don’t you ask your members?”

Which is, of course, applying the basic social media principle to figuring out social media.

Marketers are always working hard to understand customers, prospects and future prospects better. We think we’re pretty good at asking people in our market what they think, want and need. We also think we’re pretty good at translating often disparate answers into a coherent theme that then, we hope, guides our strategy.

Where this morning’s conversation started was in the “market research” mode of asking a few people. Sue asked me and Clare, and told us she had asked a few others, but still had no good answers. So a few hours later, she wrote a blog post (and sent an e-mail) to the members and asked everyone.

A few hours later, I saw the news that Facebook, after the recent debacle, has now decided that changes to their terms of service will be open to discussion by all members and subject to vote of the membership (Can’t you hear the lawyers cringing?). A social media icon now adopts real social media practices in a way that much of the technology industry is proverbially famous for not doing for so many years. This means no more misunderstandings (we hope) and terms of service that the community of Facebook members actually wants to abide by (I’ll refrain from a rant on the use of self-interest as a motivator being better than the threat of lawsuit). Facebook is actually asking everyone, and the result is almost certain to be a service that’s more appealing to its members.

Not everyone will answer. But I can’t think of a better example of how to learn what your whole market thinks, and not just the select few you’ve chosen for research. This is not quite crowdsourcing, but it’s close, and it uses some of the same ideas about collecting opinions from many, many individuals.

So when you want to know what your customers, prospects and market really want and need (and I hope you always want to know), do you let a select few speak for everyone? or do you really ask – everyone?