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The Offer Culture

  |  February 13, 2002   |  Comments

In some organizations, sales and marketing functions have grown so divorced, you can almost forget that both are aimed at winning new customers. Here’s how to get the two reconnected.

Over the past year, our team has had the joy of watching a client organization become, bit by bit, transformed by our collaborative efforts.

Let me tell you something. After 18 years of laboring in this particular vineyard, what excites me now is what excited me in the first days of my chosen profession. It’s a lot of fun making a dramatic, measurable difference in the success of a company.

Not too long into the initial conversation with this particular client, we recognized a common problem. Some marketing activities were deemed strategic. These were largely well funded and utterly resistant to any but the most anecdotal forms of measurement.

Other activities were deemed tactical. These were the red-haired stepchildren of marketing. They were (or, at least, could be) easily measured and directly tied to new leads and, eventually, sales.

To repeat: On the one hand, this marketing stuff called strategy wasn’t related to selling anything and couldn’t be measured. On the other hand, this stuff called tactics was all about generating leads and helping to close sales.

OK, here’s a hint for your next senior executive meeting. The most strategic thing your company can do is stay in business, that is, sell things. I’m sorry if that offends the well-groomed, high-society, white-gloved marketers and advertisers among us.

I have observed that many organizations are nearly crippled by a bizarre disconnect between what marketing is allowed to dream up and what sales organizations are compelled to do. In some companies, marketers don’t talk to ordinary sales folks. And sales folks haven’t clue one about how marketing can truly change the game.

Back to my story. My team, of course, adopted the client’s red-haired stepchildren. That’s what we do.

Underpinning all of our work are three principles:

  • If you want measurable results, you must embark upon measurable initiatives.

  • Enable a prospect to learn about your "space" in the context of her real business needs and you are selling, whether you know it or not.

  • At the end of the day, marketing that doesn’t create customers is marketing that doesn’t create value.

We began our engagement by talking about (and putting our full weight upon) the three columns that support direct marketing and e-marketing success: the list, the creative, and the offer.

In business-to-business (B2B) email marketing terms, you can do a lot worse than keeping your eyes peeled for the right lists, spending some time crafting messages that speak to the interests and pains of a given job title or vertical industry, and making an offer that is an organic extension of the business problems your service or product solves.

That last sentence is a brainful. So, pause and review it. List, creative, and offer. Each of these aspects of direct marketing is like a pair of glasses that changes your way of looking at the business marketing tasks before you.

Take, for example, finding the right lists. When you begin thinking about this, certain questions spring to mind: Who are your present customers? More specifically, what job titles do they have? What industries are they in? If you could make a list of companies that you would give your CFO’s right arm to have as your customers, what would they be? Are you finding that your company is selling at too low a level in the client organization and, as a result, making only halting inroads and smaller sales? Are you planning a new product that has features of particular value to a given industry? Are there Web sites where your decision makers "live" (e.g., Purchasing.com has one target locked up: purchasing managers and directors)?

The questions above are just starters. When you start researching lists, you begin a process of moving your marketing efforts closer to the real world of your customers and prospects. You find yourself having to think like a CFO might think. Or an IS director.

(You also learn curious things. Did you know that there are next to no Web resources focused on the service management community? Yes, there are huge service organizations, each with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of engineers and repair technicians. And there are certainly millions, if not billions, of customers, like you and me, waiting for copier repair guys, who have those pointed tiny tools and semi-sheepish demeanors. But there is not one media Web site that serves as a chief resource or professional journal for directors of service operations. Is this because they don’t use the Web? Or is it because -- and this is my working hypothesis -- that service isn’t the priority it should be?)

Over the past year, our client company and its red-haired stepchildren have come a long way. We began small: with targeted email campaigns featuring analyst group reports, e-zine sponsorships, Webcast promotions, and low-volume executive direct mail. We re-engineered and relaunched an email newsletter that had not seen a new issue since October of 1999. We designed and created a "learning center" as part of the company’s Web site because firms that are industry pioneers must educate their markets. There is no great value in being a thought leader unless others can follow your thoughts. We took the company’s marketing database in-house, managed it, and grew it -- until the client’s Siebel system was up to the task.

In short, we created (or breathed new life into) a series of measurable marketing platforms, offering prospects a variety of entryways into the client’s brand.

We’ve observed some wonderful signs of success along this path: sales that can be directly traced to our efforts and a consistent 15 percent response rate (measured in actual appointments) for CXO-targeting direct marketing programs.

But something far more substantive has occurred. The company’s corporate culture has slowly evolved into what we call an "offer culture." Now, with all of their marketing efforts, company executives think in terms of what will constitute an appropriate offer to various segments of their marketplace. They arrive at these offers by (imagine this) collaborating with their sales teams.

With one recent campaign, the client recognized (without a nudge from us) that the company could make an offer that would, in essence, jump-start a sales cycle and, at the same time, create something of real, objective value for prospect organizations.

"Offer thinking" has so permeated the organization that the CEO is now considering making a dramatic offer to the marketplace via public relations and promotional activities.

In the white-gloved marketer’s universe, this is the tale of an ugly little tactic grown into a monstrous strategy. But, for the rest of us, I hope, it’s a happier story. It’s Rudy. It’s blue-collar. It’s rolling up your sleeves and thinking like your markets. It’s recognizing that marketing’s role is to create a continuum of messages and opportunities that lead to sales. And, best of all, it works.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Maher

Chris Maher is president of FOSFORUS, an Austin-based company that provides business-to-business advertising, media, marketing and interactive services. For seventeen years, Chris has been a top creative director and agency principal. His campaigns have generated a cumulative total of $200 million in technology sales for companies like Dell, Tivoli, Microsoft, i2 Technologies, ClickCommerce, and FreeMarkets.

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