We're All in the Marketing Business

This article originally appeared on the AMEX Open Forum.  I'm writing about "marketing" in general.  But you can easily make this apply to market research.

With today's technology, it's easy and much more fun to integrate functions that were considered separate departments - but now can work together.


Why are you in business?  Let’s cut through all those warm and fuzzy reasons and get right to it.  You’re in business to make money (preferably you keep more than you make).

I’m not here to minimize the significance of the products or services that you sell.  After all, if it weren’t for what you’re offering, you wouldn’t have a business.  But this is where we all get caught up in a modern misconception that we are in the widget business.  And it’s this fallacy that is actually at cause when sales are slumped.

Mousetraps don’t sell themselves

Your mouse trap really isn’t going to sell itself.  Go ahead and give it a try.  Build a bunch of product and pile it from floor to ceiling and watch what happens.  “Of course nothing happens,” you say “because you need sales people to sell it.”  This is very true.

Now, go get some sales people and show them your product.  If it’s small enough, they might be able to actually carry it around and push it on their mothers and neighbors.  Some will be wildly successful and many won’t.  That’s because selling in today’s environment requires what I like to call an “attractor strategy”.  You might call it marketing.

Throwing sales people WITHOUT a marketing strategy and marketing support is what we do when we think we’re in the widget business.

You might think that I’m going to take you down the long argument about what’s sales and what’s marketing.  I won’t.  For small businesses who wear ten hats at a time, they are one and the same.  When you hire a sales person and don’t give them marketing materials or a web site or anything, they will eventually start creating marketing materials themselves.  Not elegant, not pretty, but the only way they’re going to have a chance at being successful.

What happens when you decide you’re in the marketing business?

The first thing that happens is you take your attention OFF the widget and put it ON the people who are most likely to give you money for it. Take a moment and do that.  Ignore the widget and focus JUST on the people who will give you money.

If you force your customers to  focus on the widget, then they don’t see any difference between your widget and the other guys.  So they complain about price and everything else.  Widgets don’t have value –value is what you uncover about the person who will give you money.

Your customers will only give you money if you address what’s important to them when they are buying what you are selling.  Think about FedEx.  They don’t sell envelopes or boxes – they sell “getting your package delivered by 10:30am” because THAT is what’s important to their customer and that is what their customers pay top dollar for.

Come up with a list of five to seven items that are important to your customers.  Don’t list features, list things they might actually say to themselves.  For example, if you were a mover, what might be important to your customer is that you don’t break their stuff.  The feature might be the wrapping, or packing, but they don’t care how you wrap it or carry it, just that their stuff shows up looking exactly like it did when it left their home.

It’s this magical list of five to seven items that trip your customer’s  trigger that should drive how your widget occurs out in the marketplace.

Marketing systems have value to customers and to buyers

In his bestselling book Built to Sell John Warrillow’s character, Alex learns that a business that runs a like a system or money machine increases in value as well as in appeal to buyers and owners alike.   Alex develops a marketing system that includes a standard product and service.  Then he created a standard way to sell, create, deliver and pay for the service.  The changes that he made turned his business into a repeatable, teachable, sellable business that customers valued and he enjoyed running.

Being in the marketing business is more fulfilling

Being in the marketing business (even if you make physical product) is so much more fulfilling because you spend your days looking for ways to make your customers happier than they were the day before.  It’s like being Santa every day.

If you aren’t really a people person, then, by all means, run your business from where you get  the most joy and can bring the most value.  But be sure to find someone to run that business that LOVES your customers and is committed to bringing them more satisfaction and ease in living their life through your product and service.

Putting your company in the marketing business doesn’t negate your product or service.  It brings more depth and differentiation to it.  When you focus on identifying your ideal customer, and providing a product or service that’s important to them – you will reap more profit for it.