It’s springtime, which means pothole repair season. Midwest road crews have shed plows and salt/sand spreaders and are now gearing staff and equipment for filling those car-crunching cracks and crevasses (at least in Minnesota, spelling and word choice intended).
All of which reminds me of an important way sales and marketing teams can collaborate powerfully. Especially at a time of year when many organizations are mid-plan, still well ahead of next year’s planning and budgeting cycle.
Start by asking yourself this question:
Are we serious about fixing potential potholes in our value proposition
and sales pipeline, or should we continue to patch them over?
My friend, Mike, asked himself this question a few years back. He’d just signed on as a product manager with a company that makes gizmos. Mike’s predecessor had convinced leadership (and they, in turn, convinced themselves) that their gizmo already enjoyed 80 percent market share. Based on that assumption, it was easy to justify why sales had been largely flat for a while.
Not a caretaker by nature, Mike sensed something was amiss. He struck a deal with the sales VP to enlist field reps as on-the-ground market researchers. Knowing the reps were motivated by money, Mike and the sales VP figured out a way to meaningfully reward the sellers for becoming temporary survey takers.
Mike developed a simple questionnaire, then asked the reps to pay a visit or make a call to their wholesaler customers. The survey asked two questions:
- How many gizmos did you buy last year?
- Who did you buy them from?
In other words, a fairly painless piece of research for reps and customers alike. But fairly painful, it turned out, for the company’s cozy assumptions. As results were tabulated, that solid 80 percent market share crumbled, pothole like, to about 50.
Then Mike developed a second, more detailed survey. This one asked questions about what distributors liked, and didn’t, about gizmos and the manufacturers that produce, sell and deliver them.
When Sales returned with those results, Mike was awash in customer insight and competitive intelligence. Enough to approach manufacturing and logistics for some suggested product and delivery tweaks. Enough to craft a more aggressive, differentiating message and marketing plan for the coming year.
It wasn’t long into that new year before Mike’s product-line revenues were clipping along at a 33 percent higher rate.
The takeaway: A product marketer and his sales colleagues decided to look more closely at the road they were travelling. They dared to wonder whether they might find potholes. And, upon finding some big ones, they decided to engineer a fix, instead of slapping on another patch.
Specifically, they recognized that:
- Flat revenue means a plateau — but not necessarily a lofty one.
- Any time sales and marketing can collaborate on knowing customers and the market better, that’s a great investment of time and effort.
- It pays for marketers who inherit product lines and distribution channels to question assumptions (trust, but verify).
Got potholes in your pipeline? Cracks in the market position and brand perception you believe you enjoy?
If so, they might not be visible from headquarters. But you could very well spot them, and be able to repair them, by going on the road to talk with customers.