The customer-creating power of a marketing mindset

July 15, 2010

By John R. Graham

As the insurance organization’s marketing meeting began, the president said, “We need more sales.” This may seem like an inappropriate comment for a marketing meeting, but it accurately expresses the confusion that exists in so many companies when it comes to marketing and sales.

A sales mindset is based on figuring out how to get in front of customers to persuade them to buy. A marketing mindset, on the other hand, focuses on building relationships so customers will want to do business with you. One is all about trying to find customers, while the other is about customers finding you.

Matt Davis, an inside salesperson for Craftmaster Hardware Co., Inc., of Northvale, N.J., explains the two mindsets clearly.

“I had never done inside sales before I took this job four years ago,” he says. “When I started, I was told to make outgoing calls all day. I did, for about four months. Sure, I was able to ‘get lucky’ along the way and make a few sales, but I couldn't meet my draw. Becoming nervous, I knew something else needed to be done. (After six months if you don't make your draw you have to pay back your commission over the next month.)”

He continued, “We had a new catalog and I acted quickly. I drafted a letter introducing myself, added information about our services, and enclosed a catalog. The response was outstanding. I've made my draw (and more) for the last three and a half years and I now regularly beat out some of the other salespeople who have been here for over 10 years. I consider myself an informed consumer and have cultivated my clients to seek answers as well. I teach and train them and that's why they come back to me.”

Matt figured out the value of a marketing mindset. Here are more insights into this concept of creating customers:

1. The power of a marketing mindset. Even marketers who think they possess a marketing mindset often lack one. They can be captured by the company’s “message” or the company’s “story.” This is actually an “anti-marketing mindset,” a way of thinking that puts the company at the center of the marketing. Whether it’s an ad, an e-mail message, a Web site, or a newsletter, the message is all about “us.”

It’s easy to spot an anti-marketing approach — the focus is on how well the company serves its customers and how much it does for them, but they never get around to understanding what their customers want.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Progressive Insurance, the direct insurance writer, embodies a powerful marketing mindset, particularly with TV spots. The customer is put at ease in a “retail store” environment. “I’ll bet you want to save money on your auto insurance,” asks the quirky clerk. In another spot, the same clerk asks the reticent customer, “How much do you want to spend on your insurance?”

With its marketing mindset, Progressive Insurance stands insurance marketing on its head: rather than being sold insurance, customers buy it as they would any other product. It’s as easy as going to a store and taking what you want off the shelf. In other words, Progressive puts the customer in charge of the sale.

2. Strategy drives success. Most marketing efforts are doomed to failure from the start: they lack a strategy. This applies to the use of social media, all types of advertising and public relations, and every other marketing activity.
As one sales manager was heard saying, “We’re behind the curve. We need to use the social media.” Now that videos are popular, they are next on the “gotta have” list. But starting with tactics is like building a home without a set of plans. It doesn’t work.

All too often entrepreneurs and sales managers find planning a useless and time-consuming exercise. Thriving on spontaneity, their approach is to “just do it.” Ignoring testing, they grab an idea and run with it. Then, it’s on to the next one. They become impatient when someone asks, “What’s the strategy? What is it we want to accomplish? How does it all fit together to produce a clear, customer-focused message?”

Is it surprising that employees, customers, and prospects have a foggy understanding of a company’s message?

3. Marketing activities should enhance your brand. Although there’s endless talk about “brand,” it’s little more than that, endless talk. Somehow it doesn’t sink in that a company’s most essential task is not production or sales, but brand management. Everything else pales in comparison to that responsibility.

If there’s any marketing rule that’s near sacred, it’s this: If it doesn’t enhance the brand, don’t do it. For decades, Toyota was relentless in cultivating its brand with a powerful emphasis on quality and safety. Everything else took a back seat. Then the gas pedal issue hit the headlines, with the loudest voices predicting the downfall of the Toyota brand. Some suggested it would take a decade for the company to recover.

Toyota responded dramatically and unpredictably by shutting down its factories. This decision sent a clear message to consumers: the company is dead serious about maintaining brand integrity. In spite of negative publicity swirling around the company, including a U.S. Senate hearing, Toyota let the auto buying public know that it would solve the problem before the assembly lines started up again. On top of that, they created more goodwill by paying their employees during the shut down. Toyota’s commitment to brand management was put to the test. Then, when they introduced an aggressive marketing strategy, sales picked up almost instantly.

4. Stop telling and start helping. This may be the most critical issue of all, and the one that’s most often ignored. If there’s anything about Apple that’s unique, it’s the company’s ability to know why they are in business. Others try, but no one comes close.

The day of the introduction of Apple’s latest product, the iPad, New York Times reporter Brad Stone captured Apple’s essence when he interviewed a customer at an Apple store in San Francisco. “It’s beyond technology. It’s a culture. It’s a community,” said Rey Gutierrez. Stone described him as “a diehard loyalist with a tattoo of the Apple logo on his left hand, who got in line at the San Francisco Apple store at 4 a.m.” He added, “No other company can drop a device and generate this much energy. Every big brand is envious of what Apple can do.”

Time Magazine’s Stephen Fry said it succinctly: “It’s not about the features — it’s about the experience.” Apple never talks about what its products can do; it’s always about what consumers can do with its products. This is what creates the excitement and passion with Apple customers.

But that’s only the beginning. Unlike just about every other manufacturer, Apple products are deliberately unfinished when they hit the market. They are designed to grow on you. Consumers pour themselves into Apple products, and this is what creates continued interest, excitement, and a WOW experience that renews itself over time. Rather than “telling” the customer what to do with an iPhone, Mac computer, or iPad, Apple says, “Come in and see what it can do for you.” This is why Apple stores are always packed. It’s all about the adventure, the ultimate expression of a marketing mindset.

At a time when salespeople are having trouble finding customers, and an even harder time persuading them to buy, the marketing mindset changes the game. As Matt Davis says, “I teach and train them and that's why they come back to me.”

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing, and sales issues. Contact him at 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170, 617-328-0069, or [email protected]. His blog is, and his Web site is