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(March 02, 2004) - If you want to see failure in this industry, simply look at the marketing departments. In general, Job Board and ATS vendors see themselves as masters of technology. In typical fashion, marketing is relegated to a minor share of the company budget. The net result? Products that are disconnected from the customer.

Marketing, in general, suffers an unnecessarily bad reputation. The marketer's job is to convert the engineer's idea into something that a customer can understand. This creates an environment with a good deal of poetic license. Sometimes, the license required to simplify a complex topic is extended to say just about anything. Somewhere between an ignorance of the product, a lack of disciplined market research and shortchanged budgets, marketing departments can get caught in the process of spinning stories from whole cloth.

Ultimately, bad marketing is a reflection of the CEOs failure to understand the basics of business.

It's easier for technologists turned executives to feel confident about spending into the next software change. The early days of a company's development often involve intuitive insights about product functionality. Most of the technical services offered in our industry (and in general) are not developed in response to a need. They are developed by an 'inventor' who is sure that she can make a better mousetrap.

Certain that the answer is exclusively technical, plenty of the vendors in our space have invested in marketing in extremely meager ways. Since most of the day to day interaction with customers involves things that are fixed by a technical department, it's easy to lose sight of the critical role played by a marketing department. From a certain perspective, it all looks like software development, the pig that eats all of the food, at most vendors.

Technical marketing in a Business to Business (B2B) environment is not regularly taught in the "B" schools. Most marketing education focuses on consumer products, since that is a relative science. Professional marketers in the B2B world get short shrift across the board. Almost no one teaches or comprehends the value of marketing in an Internet context.

Perhaps the hardest part of the marketers job is the apparent complexity:

  • Product design, function and nomenclature are marketing questions.
  • The company message and its control, from advertising through phone scripts at all levels demand marketing intervention. This simple category includes all of the variations on communications, from trade shows and advertisements to interactions with the receptionist in the company HQ.
  • Sales depends on Marketing for lead generation.
  • The portfolio of products and positioning of each are the work of marketing.
  • New products should have their birth in customer needs, collected and sifted by the folks in marketing.
  • Customer service, the hallmark of a great B2B technical operation is best delivered under the direction of marketing.
  • Market Intelligence, from demand forecasting through competitive analysis keeps the enterprise alerted to strategic obstacles.

It's a great big plate of unfunded work in most of the firms in our business.

Sadly, without marketing, technical companies become low price point providers of repetitive services. In the big picture, marketing creates a huge percentage of a company's perceived value. "Vision" and "innovation" are the things that ex-computer programmers turned executives want to substitute for solid marketing. Meanwhile, the industry muddles along without ever having considered simpler questions like "which potential customers are a fit for our product.

The really tough job is learning to help the company see what the customer sees. Few customers are happy with the products that are delivered to them. While there is a conventional disconnect between appetite and budget on the part of customers in general, there is no excusing the unusable deliverables that require a host of consultants to fix. By acting as the voice of the marketplace, marketing should be driving the technical excess into workable offerings.

Tomorrow: The one company who really gets this right.

John Sumser

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