Fable Friday: The feckless marketer and the question you should have asked

I used to work for a company that sold campaign management software, and provided consulting help to companies that engaged in large marketing campaigns.  One of our clients was a big telecommunications company that had segmented its customer base and then designed direct mail and email campaigns to these segments in what we and they agreed was imprecise and expensive.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedWhen a company spends millions of dollars on marketing campaign management, it’s critical that they carefully calculate the expected returns from the total campaign investments they make to each segment.  Some segments merit no investments at all, as no return is expected no matter what is done.  As dangerous as it is to under-invest in a key profit segment, it is just as dangerous to over-invest in one that offers no returns.

Using this investment against return logic against each identified segment, allows the company to define the “treatments” for each segment, the treatment being the aggregate plan for how to touch the customers in the segment over the year, also known as “value exchange optimization marketing,” to make it sound sexier.

Our project with this client was to gather the entire marketing staff, put them into small teams, assign each team one segment, then guide them to design a marketing program only for that segment, including the offers, the frequency of contact and of course total costs.

They did a magnificent job, and when we were finished with the project we were very proud of ourselves for helping them create a unified campaign management program with exact investments to achieve maximum return.  And the cherry on top of the cake was that the total campaign investment came in at just over half a million dollars less than the client had spent in the previous year.

So you would think the client’s marketing director would have been thrilled, right?  Don’t pop that champagne so quickly. Here’s what happened.

After the presentation of the recommended campaign plan, our project director met with the client’s marketing director, who told us flat out that he didn’t like our approach.  He said, “If I go with this, and I know I probably should, the risk is that if it works and I save the half million dollars, I’ll never get that money back in my budget again!” He was afraid of losing budget dollars!

Ultimately, they elected to create some superfluous treatments for segments that had no promise of return on investment, spent the same money they had in the previous year, used a few of our ideas and went on with business-as-usual.

And aside from the needless waste of money, we left with a hollow feeling, as we failed to show the success metrics that good consultants need in order to demonstrate success, write case studies, get testimonials and grow our own business.

In retrospect, the project manager told me there was one question he should have asked the marketing director at the beginning of the project, that he didn’t ask.  And I’ve since thought that it’s the one most important question you should ask anyone you are trying to help, whether it’s to sell to them, negotiate with them, coach them or manage them. Heck, it even applies to parenting!

What is that one universal question that should begin any similar interaction?  I’ll let you tell me. Drop me a line with your best thinking, and next week I’ll tell you the answer, along with some useful examples of how the question is phrased in many similar situations.

Meanwhile, continue to…

Think Like Your Customer


About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

2 Responses to Fable Friday: The feckless marketer and the question you should have asked

  1. William Cologna says:

    How about “What are your goals or expectations for this project?”

    Will Cologna Assistant VP, Product Solutions Guaranty Bank 1341 West Battlefield, Springfield, MO 65807 V: 417.520.0289 | F: 417.520.6155 100 Years of Experience. Dedication. Hometown Service.

    • Now how did I know when I saw your name that you were going to hit a home run with this one. The key here, and I’ll elaborate next week when we get into negotiation, selling, coaching, parenting, or whatever it is you want to do with someone else, is to simply ask, “What do you want to get out of this?” “What are you trying to accomplish?” Nice going Will!

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