Sunday, June 26, 2005

Two Big Words -- Context and Consensus

Those who know me, know that two words tend to drive my actions. The first is obvious if you’ve been paying attention to this blog … CONTEXT. The second also flows a lot here … CONSENSUS.

The better we understand the context of the buyer’s situation, the better we can customize the marketing and sales resources so that they deliver the value message so that it is personally relevant to everyone on the buying committee. Context must be understood if we are to gain the trust of the customer. Context shifts the discussion from how great we are to how great they are. Context brings purpose into the marketing and sales process by focusing on the customer’s situation and using your knowledge of the situation to deliver more personally relevant value.

Consensus is a different breed of cat. It is focused back on the internal team. Our businesses are a maze of silos, each of which is important to success, but each of which seldom marches along the same path. Internal politics. Individual goals accentuated by reward systems that often create more internal barriers than senior management realize. Individual processes and cultures that grow up in the silos and stand apart from the organization.

Effective marketers must pay attention to consensus building if major programs stand a chance of being successful.

I first learned this lesson some 25 years ago when I was responsible for running marketing programs at a manufacturer of home building products. I lost support for several good programs because I failed to build consensus with the managers in manufacturing and finance. Once this pain became severe enough, I decided to drop down out of the marketing ivory tower and get input from these other managers before I created big marketing programs. When people get the chance to provide input, they begin to buy into the program. Then when it launches, they have a sense of ownership and they do everything they can to help make it successful.

My next lesson in consensus building came about five years later, at the promotion marketing agency that I had helped found. We were producing promotion programs for major global clients, and doing it with significant success. Well, sort of. The programs did generate tons of sales leads, and the leads were qualified by our telemarketing team before they were sent on to the client’s sales team. And that’s where progress stopped. The marketers we worked for were confounded at their inability to get sales reps to follow-up on the leads being sent to them. On our end, as the agency developing the programs, we were well aware that if our programs did not result in closed sales, then our future was rather dim.

So we pulled the consensus thing back out of our bag of tricks. We convinced several of our clients to let us work directly with the opinion leaders in their sales teams. We involved these reps in the program development. Once they had a sense of ownership in the program, they were more likely to engage in the whole process. Result: A significant and measurable increase in pipeline activity.

Lesson learned: Come out of the ivory tower and get input from the internal team, including sales team opinion leaders. Incorporate their ideas into the marketing programs. Build the consensus across the organization. Result: more effective marketing programs and greater flow into the sales pipeline.

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