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Lean: Next Steps

Random Acts of Marketing Lead to Sporadic Sales

By Shari L.S. Worthington, President, Telesian Technology

I love this phrase, "random acts of marketing." Unfortunately, it all too often describes the approach companies take when reaching out to their markets. It’s the Ready, Fire, Aim approach. Run an ad once or twice, then abandon it because the CEO is bored with it. Create a web site, then never update it or never put any solid, technical information on it. Send a press release about an interesting product or service once a year, then send fluff in between (if anything at all).

Scary how close this hits to home, isn’t it?

This problem was aptly described by Jane Lansing, VP of Marketing, Emerson Process, at the 2006 ISA Marketing & Sales Summit. Jane’s point was an exceptional one: to succeed in marketing, we need to be persistent and we need to speak to our customers’ needs, not our own.

Isn’t It All About Me?
Jane gave a great example of how this plays out in the typical technology ad. Start with a picture of a product at the top of a mountain (to symbolize the peak of perfection, of course), add a block of text listing the product’s features, and finish with a logo at the bottom and teeny-tiny contact information. For those more advanced companies who think they are actually talking customer-speak, instead of the mountain, insert a picture of an oil refinery or a chemical plant in the background.

Is it any wonder our customers have trouble differentiating one company from the next?

The bigger problem is that most companies aren’t starting with a comprehensive marketing plan and therefore don’t know what to focus on. I talked with a senior marketing exec at the Summit who described his company’s struggle to manage the marketing of 6 major product lines with nothing drawing them all together. Without a plan that is tied directly to customer needs, you end up with "random acts of marketing."

So let’s review the key components of your marketing plan:

  • What business are we in and what do we sell? If you say something product-specific, like "flowmeters", you fail. Your business is defined not by what you sell but by what your customers need, e.g. fluid transportation.
  • Who can we best sell to and where do we make our best profits? Here you need to know your customers’ driving needs, by market segment; their buying habits; and who’s involved in the buying team.
  • Who are our competitors and how do we differentiate ourselves? If you don’t understand your competitors almost as well as you understand yourself, then you won’t be able to help your customer choose your product or service over all the others.
  • What price do we sell at? Most manufacturing companies set their prices as cost plus some arbitrary level of profit. The problem with this is that you may be leaving a lot of money on the table. If your approach is selling products to customers, then you’re pretty much stuck with this formula. But if your approach is satisfying customer needs, then you should be pricing according to the satisfaction you’re providing or the pain you’re avoiding for the customer. One way to think about it is what is the financial impact of NOT implementing your solution to a company?
  • How do I sell? Here you look at channel options, both good and bad, and decide which can best sell your product at a profit. This means they need to understand the technology and be able to talk to the customer about the customer’s needs.
Communications Follows Strategy: Create A Recipe for Repetition
Once you’ve analyzed the above, you’re ready to create the marketing communications plan. This is where you need to consistently present your differentiated message through a variety of vehicles that effectively reach the customer. You need to be reaching all members of the buying team. And you need to reach out to them multiple times, guiding them through the buying process.

You need to regularly reach out to the press with noteworthy news. Help them get to know your company and your offerings so they will tell their readers. Think about it like you are having a long conversation with someone who doesn’t really know you.  Every communication builds on what was said last time.  Remember, one press mention has more credibility than a year’s worth of advertising.

As for trade shows, you need to know what you’re doing BEFORE you go. Reach out to prospects, tell them what great things are going on at the show, and tell them why it’s important that they contact you or stop by the booth.

All collateral that is used in sales calls, at shows, and in mailers (electronic and paper) needs to communicate your message from the buyer’s perspective. Remember, marketing is about connecting with the buyer, not about creating a feature list from your engineering department.

Add to the above a solid, content-rich web site, an e-marketing program with search engine optimization, some knowledgeable telemarketing, and you’re off and running. But make sure you’ve mapped out what you’re going to be doing, when you’re going to be doing it, and what results you expect. Then make sure you track the results so you can adjust and optimize your plan and budget and avoid "random acts of marketing."


Shari Worthington is President of Telesian Technology Inc., a Worcester-based marketing and e-business services firm that works in the manufacturing and technology markets. She can be reached at [email protected].


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