Once in a while you read transforming words. They grab you and make you reconsider if not redirect your business energy. As a sales manager often called into a marketing role, reading these words gave me pause. “Every major industry was once a growth industry" (Ref A, p. 45).
Consider that for a moment. At one point, not just every large company, but every large industry was started in a garage or den or kitchen, and then went through a period, incredibly short or amazingly long, of growth to maturation. This reminds major companies that they were not always major companies, and therefore a replacement or alternative company or industry could be just over the horizon.
More profound wisdom came to my eyes as I read, “There is no such thing as a growth industry, I believe. There are only companies organized and operated to create and capitalize on growth opportunities" (Ref A, p. 47). Are you running a company poised to create growth opportunities? Is the entire organization focused on pulling the industry along faster than it thinks it can be pulled or is your organization satisfied with what it hopes is a one-step lead over the competition? Can any organization know that it will in fact retain a dominant leadership position?
"The point of all this is that there is no guarantee against product obsolescence. If a company's own research does not make it obsolete, another's will" (Ref A, p. 50). When a growth company stops growing or begins to decline, it is the fault of current management in missing the marketing opportunities, not of the market per se. They had access to the same information and the same resources as the company that may soon put them out of business.
The principle task of the marketing function…is not so much to be skillful in marking the customer do what suits the interests of the business as to be skillful in conceiving and then making the business do what suits the interests of the customer” (Ref C, p. 78). This information is most easily accessed by talking with customers about not only what they want to buy today, but what they might want to buy tomorrow, why they want to buy it, how it will impact their lives, and the financial value they see in the buying it.
The author continued on the difference of selling and marketing, that "Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller's need to convert his product into cash; marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering, and finally consuming it…A truly marketing-minded firm tries to create value-satisfying goods and services that consumers want to buy" (Ref A, p. 50).
Pillsbury president Robert Keith (Ref D, p. 35) wrote, “Companies revolve around the customer, not the other way around. Growing acceptance of this consumer concept has had, and will have, far-reaching implications for business, achieving a virtual revolution in economic thinking. As the concept gains ever greater attention, marketing is emerging as the most important single function in a business….No longer is the company at the center of the business universe. Today the customer is at the center.”
On the opposite end of the continuum, some companies have displayed "marketing mania" and "have attempted to 'serve' customers by creating complex and beautifully efficient products or services that buyers are either too risk-averse to adopt of incapable of learning how to employ" (Ref B, p. 180). Marketing must bring to the company profitable opportunities the market wants to buy, not cool products that they would like to sell. How many cool gadgets have failed miserably not because of technology, but because it didn’t add value to enough people’s lives to allow the company to make a profit?
Who wrote these insightful words of marketing advice to drive us forward today? As the list below shows, they were written 35 to 53 years ago. Ponder that for a moment—before the Internet, cell phones and SMS, personalized direct mail, marketing was described a customer focused.
Is marketing really any different today than it was two generations ago? No. Some of the tool are different, but the charge to marketing—and any business owner—remains simple.
1. Know what your market wants today and tomorrow better than your competition
2. Find out by spending more time talking with your customers and less time talking to them
3. Never forget that profitability is a function of delivering more value than your customer expects
A: Levitt, T. (July-August 1960). Marketing Myopia, Harvard Business Review.
B: Levitt, T. (September-October 1975). Marketing Myopia 1975: Retrospective Commentary. Harvard Business Review.
C: McKitterick, J. B. (1957). What is the marketing management concept in the Frontiers of Marketing Thought and Action, Frank Bass, ed. Chicago: American Marketing Association. Pp. 71-82.
D: Keith, R. J. (1960, January). The marketing revolution. Journal of Marketing, 24, pp. 35-38.
Jeff Bowe is a doctoral student in marketing at Anderson University and is Principal and Chief Sales Strategist for ACTUM Group, providing outsourced sales management to business owners and teams that need tactics, strategies, and processes for success...and who need to like each other again.