The Value Proposition Challenge
I love great salespeople. They know their customers’ business needs; they know their products; and – most importantly – they know how to link the two together. And there’s one more: they actively and positively engage marketing. One of the best sales professionals I know is Sean Harris, someone whom I’ve been honored to work with several times over the years.
Not too long ago, after Sean and I went on to different companies, he called me up to vent, which was uncharacteristic for him.
“Rob, I got double-booked after a major client changed a meeting between the executive team and me. I was supposed to speak at an industry event.”
“Sean,” I said, “you deal with this all the time. Just have one of your marketing people speak.”
“That’s the problem, Rob, they can’t.”
“Because of scheduling?” I asked.
“No, because they can’t give the pitch. Even worse, they don’t know the product and can’t interact with customers.”
“You’re kidding, Sean, right?”
“I wish I were, Rob.”
Sean’s dilemma is not at all unusual. Too often, marketers, as well as other people in an organization, can’t deliver their firm’s value proposition. Many can read it, understand it, and possibly write it, but they often stumble when delivering it live in real time. We can assume that both marketers and their marketing organizations invest continually in telling their story in the clearest and most compelling way, but we’d be wrong. Instead, they’ve invested heavily in social media while tragically abdicating the community dialogue to inexperienced people who can neither deliver nor comprehend the value proposition. It’s time to address these problems.
Fix #1 – Have marketers spend time on the phone with insides sales or actively participating in sales calls.
I’m sorry, but sitting in the corner, smiling, and saying nothing during a meeting with prospects and customers doesn’t cut it. Marketers need to know how their product or service can solve a customer’s business problem or enable them to penetrate new markets. They need to be business problem solvers and expert consultants. Beyond their job description? Absolutely not. They should be able to handle any challenge that comes their way. That’s where the rubber hits the road and the real marketing begins:
“I don’t need your product.”
“I don’t understand what you just said.”
“Your main competitor does this better.”
“You’re too expensive.”
“What I have is just fine.”
“I don’t see a return on investment that my CFO will approve.”
Ouch. Am I making this up? Go ask any sales professional if they’ve heard this. See if the marketers give the same answers as the sales team. I’d wager not.
Marketers need real-time, live action feedback to not just be good, but great: great at the value proposition and great at understanding how it addresses customer needs.
The Product or Service Challenge
Marketers also need to understand what their product does or how their services function. They must answer this from a customer perspective. In another piece, I wrote about the importance for marketers to know their products and study the documentation. Though these activities are relevant for marketers, they are more academic and represent only parts of the overall marketing effectiveness equation. Marketers can learn a great deal by spending time in either customer service or in the field to really learn about their product.
My customer service education came from Peter Wolf, now a support manager at IBM. Peter and I worked together several years back at Access360, a Southern California software company. Not only did Peter know exactly what our customers were doing, but his team was equally proficient in knowing them too. Spending time with Peter was a marketing goldmine, especially since our customers loved his services group. Over dinner one night, Peter explained it to me:
“Rob,” he inquired, “who gets paid more: engineers or customer service?”
“Engineers, Peter. I’ve worked on way too many compensation plans to know that,” I responded.
“Exactly, and that’s a huge problem. Customer service is the most important department for most companies, so why do we not treat it that way?” he asked.
Peter went on to explain the rationale and economics behind putting great people in customer service.
- Customer satisfaction is always world-class. It is great for marketing and sales.
- Customer retention is never an issue. Ensures profitability and important references.
- Repeat sales occur organically. Helps lower the cost of sales and drives revenue.
This was brilliant – truly brilliant. He also described the tight relationship – and respect and collaboration – that occurred among product development, product management, and customer service. All teams were aligned. He even described how people freely moved between product development and customer service with absolutely no stigma attached. Is there a lesson here?
Fix #2 – Put marketing people in customer service roles and in the field regularly
Marketers see real live use cases rather than trying to make them up. Marketing can see how customers use the product rather than trying to make it up. Marketers can see genuine customer impact rather than trying to make it up. Marketers can see measurable ROI rather than trying to make it up.
Sales and customer service are the keys to building a great marketing organization. Alignment between these two disciplines can help fix a marketing organization that might not be fully grounded in the reality of the markets served. There’s another important byproduct: it makes a company more cohesive by more tightly bonding marketing, sales, service, and product. But what about social media and the huge investment so many have made? Perhaps sales and customer service are the keys to fixing that too, but that’s a story for another day.
And what about my friends, Sean and Peter? Now I have a great reason to make some long overdue calls to them. The good part is I know the conversation will be great. Why? Because they both know their customers, which makes them some of the best marketers I know.