The Pitch: Marketing Success Takes Common Sense

Posted: 07/2000

Marketing Success Takes Common Sense
By Maureen Rhemann

Marketing does not come naturally to everyone. In many ways, it is an acquired skill rather than an innate ability. The whole idea behind marketing is the ability to use a collection of techniques to entice a customer to buy a product. Many companies make the mistake of cutting back on marketing dollars when times get tough, but hard times are exactly the moment when companies should focus on marketing in much the same way a farmer plants seeds and manages his crop for the next harvest.

Forget B-School; Use Basics

Timing is everything. It’s as important as getting the product and promoting it the right way. The new breed of post-deregulation telecommunications companies has been incredibly dependent upon venture capital and financing by the public market. With investment dollars pouring into the tech sector and speculative investors becoming less cautious, competitive baby telecom service providers truly have been born with silver spoons in their mouths. But as the euphoria wears off and the industry shakes out, the reality is setting in. It’s time to get back to basics.

* Love the Customer. Unique products are invented by people and companies trying to solve a legitimate problem. Of course, profit potential is always a big motivator for solving the problem quickly. Designing the product and putting the customer’s needs first or figuring out the customer’s decision process for buying the product requires being close to the customer. They both require thoughtfulness and caring–basically putting others first. (Remember Alexander Graham Bell’s invention? The telecom industry really got its funding and its start by using signal processing as a means of helping the deaf.)

Customers are fabulous folks; they will give you every clue you need to sell to them. Developing a good marketing strategy means getting into the customer’s head. Become the customer. Learn to think like a customer. Practice putting others first in all situations, because unless you do this in everyday life, you can’t do it in business.

* Know Your Competitor. When it comes to really evaluating how the telecommunications and technologies markets are shaping up competitively, you don’t have to look far for market clues. In just a few short years, market infants have become the granddaddies of the industry. The rules of the game no longer apply. Little companies, armed to the teeth with tons of market capitalization, can go on a shopping spree and buy rivals that may be 10 times their size.

The competitive landscape is changing daily. Just look at the sponsors for the National Football League from year to year–Ericsson
(, PSINet Inc. ( and E*Trade
( Recent startups are now players in the big game.

A market zooming along at full speed brings with it new players and a host of new teams. These teams are armed with a myriad of new products and innovative strategies. Following the status quo is just not an option. Success in the telecommunications industry is usually short-lived. It doesn’t take long for another company to copy a
successful product or service. Here are a few tips for knowing your competitor:

* Know the strengths and weaknesses of the players on the other team;

* Learn to think like the other team;

* Analyze the other team’s offense and defense carefully; and

* Make intelligence gathering a marketing priority.

No Rules

Strategy is a game that requires being several steps ahead of your opponent and knowing your opposition better than
yourself. Check out the sci-fi thriller, The Matrix. In this futuristic story, machines have taken over the world and people lead their ordinary lives never knowing that they are living in virtual reality. The story’s hero realizes that the machines running this virtual reality work from rules based on logic; and to gain an advantage, one must break these rules by detouring from the logical path. He stops thinking like a human and dives headfirst into the machine’s mind, thus turning the tables and saving humanity.

Thinking outside the box takes practice. Firms that corral their people into cubicles force their thoughts into cubes as well. Remember when you were a kid and thought anything was possible? Tapping into those limitless thought processes is essential to marketing strategy. Try bringing Play-Doh and big fat crayons into strategic planning sessions to get people to think in terms of “no rules/no limits.”

As organizations become larger, marketing organizations are exposed to ever-increasing limitations and become less creative. Add some tough times and cost reduction to that equation, and your marketing organization is burnt toast.

How do you revive it? One step at a time. We are not talking about large cash infusions here. Sometimes the best things in life are free. Start by changing the work environment. Practice getting people out of the office or out of the cubicle. When a new idea emerges, don’t point out why it can’t be done–figure out how it can.

People First

People are a strategic asset. In fact, they are your strongest asset. In this tumultuous, topsy-turvy world where the equation can change at any time, you need one factor you can count on. Your competitor can copy your product, copy your marketing strategy and try to hire your people. The one thing you can do is keep your people happy so they, in turn, keep the customer happy, stay with your company and safeguard your strategy.

We can look at scholars such as Frederick Herzberg who have evaluated how people are motivated. Money is not usually the motivating factor unless someone is without a job. People like job satisfaction; they like comfy work environments where they are respected and well cared for. Good people hire and refer other good people. Strong customer relationships can outlast onslaughts by market competitors. Some suggestions are:

* Hire good people with high standards and good values who know how to put others first;

* Always hire people whom you believe are brighter than you are;

* Recognize and reward people who contribute to the organization in a sincere and timely manner; and

* Keep looking for new and innovative ways to keep your people happy because low turnover in your marketing and sales team can be your strategic advantage.

At the end of the game, the winner declares victory by having a good strategy that comes from within.

Maureen Rhemann is managing partner for Telecommunications & Business Strategies Group
(, a marketing consulting firm. She can be reached at

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