My client (let’s call him Tim) says his company is blind to the strategic role of marketing. During a phone meeting last week, he told me that “if you have flies in your eyes, you can’t see them,” attributing the quote to the 1961 novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I tried to verify the quote and couldn’t, but it sure sounds like something Heller would have said in that book, considered by some to be one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.
The culture at Tim’s company is all about building a great product and then giving the sales people whatever resources they need to close the next deal. This approach worked for a long time – the company where Tim works is the recognized leader in a big market. But now their pipeline is shrinking, customer engagements are steadily more difficult, and downward pricing pressures are eating into their profit margins.
Tim’s company has a marketing department, but they aren’t doing anything strategic, they’re working on a checklist of activities. When Tim tries to confront the issue, the marketing people say “just tell us what you want us to add to our list.”
That’s the problem. Tim doesn’t want more lead generation programs or another case study. He wants marketing to evaluate every step in the buying process, assessing the needs of the sales people and the prospective buyers who are engaged in that process. He wants marketing to segment buyers and think critically about a messaging strategy that targets each segment’s most compelling needs. He wants marketing to use the segmentation data to make careful decisions about how to allocate the budget, identifying just a few activities that will reach buyers on their own terms. And he wants to see ongoing analysis that reveals what’s working and what isn’t, so that the company can continuously improve all of the above.
You may think that Tim works for your company, but I doubt it. It’s just that nothing about Tim’s situation is unusual (except that this is the first time I’ve been told that “flies in the eyes” are the source of the problem).
Whatever the cause, there is no simple solution. The company’s strategy worked for many years and no one expects to take direction from the marketing people. So I told Tim that he can’t be the source of the information – he needs to get data from real buyers who have recently chosen not to do business with his company. Tim needs to conduct interviews with several of the buyers where they won and lost deals, searching for real insight into what goes on during the buying and selling process. Surprisingly, buyers are usually quite willing to talk to someone from the company about their decision, so long as that person is not in sales and does not try to change the outcome of the deal.
Tim would benefit from having one other person, maybe the product manager, participate in the interview process. This will make it easier to record as much as possible about what is said, while mitigating the concern that Tim is coloring the information based on his own agenda.
Then Tim needs to present the data he uncovers, along with a convincing plan to influence the buyers and steps in the process that he heard were broken. Tim’s opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant. But speaking in the voice of his target buyers, Tim may just begin to clear up the company’s vision.