The Sales and Marketing Disconnect
Printers' Self-Promotion Programs
I recently attended an industry dinner meeting that included a panel of Bay Area printers discussing their self-promotion programs. The panelists were enthusiastic about their efforts, sharing freely their ideas for open houses, sponsored paper seminars, participation in buyers' association events, and eNewsletters. They also passed around samples of their brochures, direct mailers and calendars.
Particularly impressive, one printer boasted of the fact that he programmed his marketing efforts to get something in front of customers and prospects every two to three weeks. Even my best and most organized clients are challenged to keep up with the monthly schedule we program.
When the question and answer portion of the meeting opened up, I had many burning questions: How did they measure the ROI on these efforts? Did they have a formal brand platform on which to base their marketing messages? Had they developed a customer feedback mechanism, so they knew who their customers were and what they wanted? And, finally, how did they involve their sales teams in the marketing effort, so reps could take advantage of the programs?
Not surprisingly, none of the panelists could measure in dollars and cents the return on their marketing dollars. All, however, were confident that their efforts paid off. Most pointed to the random comments made by customers that a brochure was "beautiful," the open house was "fun," or that the paper seminar was "informative."
I was especially interested in this question, since it's one my company is often asked by prospects. As a result, I've often quizzed my own printing clients too find out if they have a way of measuring the return on the marketing dollars they spend with us. I'm afraid most of them also rely on vague feedback, such as: "thank you" and "keep up the good work" letters from customers; a sales rep's comment that her customer "really liked" the new brochure; or an opt-in eNewsletter that steadily generates new recipients' email addresses.
While gratifying on a feel-good level, these testaments to the value of marketing hardly constitute a statistical ROI analysis, an exercise for which few companies are prepared. In fact, a recent study by Accenture, an Internet research firm, found that 68 percent of polled marketing executives cannot measure a marketing campaign's ROI. The reason, according to the executives, is that they are unable to share customer data across the organization, citing their biggest challenge as the integration of their company's sales, marketing and customer service efforts.
Only one of the panelists had begun to create a brand platform for his company. Before attending the dinner meeting, I'd reviewed the panelists' company websites and, after looking at the pieces that were passed around, I noticed that their messages were inconsistent. One printer's website promoted the company as being easy to do business with. But the site itself was so filled with flash animation and confusing graphics, the message got lost in the medium. Another printer promoted itself as a high-end commercial printer, while the mailers he passed around promoted a down-home, nice-guy brand. I've written in previous columns about the importance of brand, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice it to say, a clearly defined brand platform should be a prerequisite for any marketing effort.
I've also discussed in previous columns the absolute necessity of including customer feedback mechanisms in your marketing program. These may include focus groups, routine customer satisfaction surveys, customer visits by company executives, and customer audits (which also double as a key component to a brand/marketing audit). Recently conducted audits by my company for clients other than printing companies have revealed many disconnects between how a company views itself and how customers view the company.
In 1988, long before the term customer-centric entered the marketing lexicon, a Harvard Business Review article by professor and senior associate dean for publications Benson Shapiro recounted the story of an Indianapolis-based manufacturer of flow controllers for process industries like chemicals, paper and food. Sales and earnings were plummeting and market share was down in all product lines. In brief, the company president/CEO instituted a full-sharing policy of customer information throughout the organization. The marketing department was told to provide every department, from R&D and production to sales, with data gleaned from market research and sales statistics. This information enabled all divisions and functions to make well-coordinated decisions, such as prioritizing customers for sales and service, and execute them with commitment, without the usual territorial bickering. Within a year, sales, earnings and market price of the company's stock improved.
To replicate this market-oriented approach is no easy task for printers, especially in view of the power sales reps hold in this information-sharing paradigm. However, it's a goal worth pursuing, since one cannot be customer-driven without the benefit of concrete information about customers.
Aligning Sales and Marketing
Perhaps the most revealing comment by the panelists was to the question of how they involve their sales reps in the marketing program. "That's like herding cats!" one panelist said, to nods and laughter throughout the room. Believe me, I'm very aware of this disconnect. With a few notable exceptions, throughout the 15 years we've conducted marketing programs for printers, there's been little direct communication with sales, not to mention sales management and other critical organizational constituencies. But that was then.
Now, before we engage a prospect or plan a new program for a client, we conduct what we call a marketing-readiness audit. It's a requisite study we conduct to help a company examine itself in terms of its brand platform, systems infrastructure-including a viable marketing database-organizational decision-making, and, most importantly, sales integration with marketing efforts. If a company doesn't have a clearly defined brand platform, we'll conduct a brand audit, identifying priority customers in each industry tier and then surveying them to determine issues and needs. We examine competitors' websites and sales materials. We also survey stakeholder tiers-from key executives, administrative and sales staff to production personnel-to determine core brand concepts and possible alignment discrepancies.
Together, these data help us define a company's brand and market positioning, with the deliverable of a brand strategy document that sets both visual and verbal directives for brand building and market messaging.
To involve sales in the marketing effort, we tailor programs sales reps themselves have told us they want. This might be an Internet-based plant tour so they can easily talk and walk customers or prospects through the full extent of their company's capabilities. Other reps may prefer a direct mail campaign to give them a reason to call on a prospect. Seasoned reps may be more concerned with maintaining communication with existing customers, in which case a regular email program may be a better fit for their needs. Another rep may not have the time to research priority customers' industry trends, in which case monthly trend reports would be valuable.
Whatever the vehicle, sales reps need and want marketing support. They've just not been asked or involved. And, from all that I've read, it's in a company's best interests to involve them. Even cats in the wild depend on order in their environment and need the support of an infrastructure to survive.
Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.
© 2001 Charlotte Mills Seligman