Marketing and sales primer for IT people

Sanity Clause

As a technology guy who became a business owner, my learning curve about marketing and sales was steep and painful. In my corporate past, the marketing and sales department was steeped in mystery. We IT staffers thought it was magic because all the golf shirts, pens, mugs, etc. came from “marketing.”

They were all well-dressed, the women desirable and the men somehow not goofy looking (we suspected it was because they sent their shirts out to be ironed). We heard that there was a two drink minimum just to attend their meetings. Marketing people always seemed up beat and we suspected they had more than their fair share of sex.

The real mystery was their jobs. What the hell did they do all day? Their terminology is so wonderfully vague that it made our acronyms look coherent. It’s important to realize that their jobs, deep down, aren’t glamorous. The core work of marketing and sales is:

E-mail marketing (spam);

Direct mail marketing (junk mail);

Telephone sales (telemarketing); and

Web marketing (the black arts).

Those four methods of marketing and sales are gruesome. So marketing and sales people make up even more bizarre terms. One beauty is “brand equity.” Brand is clear enough; examples abound such as Pepsi, Nike, Hooters. But equity? Equity in your home is the difference between the bank’s assessed value of your house and your mortgage balance. So, what’s brand equity?

What’s the value of the Coca-Cola brand? If they distributed their pop in bland, unlabelled cans and called it cola, sales would plummet. But by how much? And you can’t sell off a brand without selling the product. To remove a brand from a market, you have to buy the company that owns the brand and close it down (see Air Canada and Canadian Airlines for how well that worked).

“Positioning the product” is another stunner. OK, position it where? On the shelf? No, no, in the minds of the consumer. Huh? I can hardly remember where I left my car keys, let alone figure out how to position the concept of a brand in the minds of people I don’t know.

Never allow anyone to separate marketing from sales. It is like Laurel and Hardy. One without the other is unnatural. But you will find marketing and sales people who say they don’t sell, they communicate features, functions, benefits and price to the intended audience. Without a point of sale (a store, a Web site, a fruit stand, etc.) marketing is pointless. It’s like writing a computer program without a computer. From an IT perspective, a marketing system outputs information and a sales system captures information, such as order and payment data.

The problem is that marketing and sales people are mentally disturbed because they can’t measure anything. The effectiveness of a marketing campaign is measured through sales, right? Sort of.

If you take the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, it takes about 90 minutes and you have time to look at racks of brochures. Imagine that someone picks up a brochure for the Salt Spring Island Extremely Nice Resort. That person leaves the brochure on their seat. Someone else picks it up, reads it and pitches it in the recycle bin. But they remember the name. Five months later, they decide they want to go to Salt Spring Island. They remember the name of the place and use a search engine to find the site. The resort might ask the guest, “How did you find us?” If the guest says, “On the Web,” that’s misleading. It’s like saying, “I heard about you from some guy I met.”

If you ever have the opportunity, talk to the marketing and sales professionals about their challenge with performance metrics. But don’t be too smug with your coherent code-compile-test mentality. The marketing and sales people are responsible for the company’s revenue, which then pays you.

Ford can be found pondering marketing and sales issues (muttering to himself) in Vancouver. Fresh selling ideas can be sent to