Friday, November 4, 2011

Lightning Bug Road Maps

I met recently with the team from InvoTek to review progress of their key not-for-profit program’s first year and plan for its second. As we looked back, what we found surprised us. It was no surprise that we worked with more clients than we had planned, nor that dozens of people encouraged us through donations and other types of support. What surprised us is how we got there.

We knew going in that the path we’d laid out for the program, Be Extraordinary, would change. What we didn’t know was how radically it would change. We met people and organizations we’d never heard of twelve months ago and they in turn connected us with others. It was an amazing trajectory, almost like watching a lightning bug get from point A to point B.

Here are three imperatives I learned from this past year that are applicable for all marketers:

· Be flexible – the marketing journey is non-linear, which is a tough pill to swallow for a bunch of engineers. We like logical processes, where you complete one activity and the second one begins and each activity builds neatly on the preceding one. Life, especially life dealing with a disability, is anything but linear. The team was open to new paths and had faith those paths would get us closer to our destination, which they did.

· Be tenacious – the Be Extraordinary program is a difficult concept for some people to grasp. We have to tell our story repeatedly to various audiences and at various times to get through. A great example is with a potential product distributor. We made numerous contacts with the distributor but could not get them interested in carrying InvoTek products. One day, a customer of that distributor called and asked if he could buy through the distributor. We told him of our experience. He contacted the distributor and in days we had a verbal agreement for them to carry our products. Had we given up earlier, we never would have begun this new relationship.

· Be patient – tenacity and patience are two sides of the same coin. Tom, InvoTek’s founder, recently began meeting with staff of a major hospital to see how InvoTek could assist their patients. However, hospital procedures threatened to stop the relationship before it got going. After backing off for a few months, those problems somehow worked themselves out and now Tom and this hospital are working closely with rehab patients. Knowing when to push and when to wait is an art.

What I learned from this is what I imagine people living with a severe disability already know: while you can plan your destination, you can’t predict how you’ll get there. That’s a great lesson for all marketers to learn.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's More Than Brown Sugar Water

In their textbook, Marketing Management, marketing gurus Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller suggest companies tend to see the market place through various lenses. Kotler’s preferred lens is the Holistic Marketing Concept, where a company creates lasting client relationships through integrating sales, marketing, customer service and all client touch points. Another lens some companies use is the Selling Concept. The Selling Concept states that, since consumers will not buy enough of the organization’s goods and services on their own, the organization must employ aggressive selling and promotional efforts. The authors quote Sergio Zyman, former head of marketing for Coca-Cola as saying, “The purpose of marketing is to sell more stuff to more people more often for more money in order to make more profit.”

If you are over a certain age, the name Sergio Zyman and the irony of his statement are inescapable. Zyman presided over the classic New Coke debacle, the “Edsel” marketing mistake of the Boomer generation. Zyman’s quote conjures up the image of Herb Tarlek, the plaid coat / white belt advertising sales guy from the 1970’s television show WKRP in Cincinnati whose selling technique seemed to employ equal amounts of high pressure and begging.

Successful selling is not pushing. Successful selling is recognizing needs and meeting them better than anyone else. Successful sales people do these three things:

  1. They plan relentlessly: They’ve done their homework. They understand the issues the prospect faces, the business drivers, and even the internal politics. They know the players in the buying process and what personal agendas drive them. And they’ve worked up a plan to address each person’s perspective.
  2. They listen aggressively: Of course they listen to what is said, but they also listen to how it’s said, by whom, when it’s said, and what was not said. They look for non-verbal clues and voice intonation. They look beyond the words to the meaning. And they know the right questions to ask and when to ask them in order to generate dialog and uncover opportunities.
  3. They think strategically: The successful sales person lines up the stated and unstated needs and takes a big picture approach to matching those needs with his / her company’s capabilities. They look for a way to improve the client’s business first. They think big but understand a successful relationship often begins with small projects. And, if their firm’s capabilities don’t match the prospect’s needs, they skip the chance for a short term sale with an ill fitting solution in favor of a more profitable, higher value relationship down the road.

Trying to sell more stuff to more people is not the answer. Helping the client meet a need profitably is.