An industrial products firm recently held a meeting for senior managers to discuss marketing strategy and implementation. An outside facilitator, who led a discussion about improving marketing effectiveness, encouraged participants to list the key issues facing the firm. The blackboard in the meeting room was soon filled with two lists:
- “Marketing people do not spend enough time in the field. They don’t take specific customer complaints seriously enough. Marketing needs to establish a system for better field communications.”
- “Marketing should be more demanding with R&D and manufacturing to alter product designs and production schedules.”
- “Biggest frustration to our sales reps is lack of timely information.”
- “Sales reps’ compensation should not be penalized for price erosion. . . . That’s a product issue out of our control.”
Marketing people say:
- “Salespeople are always asking for information that they have already received. We spend much effort gathering and writing up product and competitive information, send out that information, and reps call a week later for the same information. . . . This takes time away from other important tasks we have.”
- “We are underresourced: too many chiefs and not enough implementation people.”
- “Our success depends on fulfilling customer expectations for tomorrow, not just today.”
- “Sales is happy to criticize, rather than accept responsibility and suggest constructive improvements.”
These comments reflect the changing tasks these managers face. Salespeople in this firm need more information, more often, from more marketing managers, as sales tasks involve more customized product-service packages at accounts. Conversely, marketing’s complaints about “too many chiefs and not enough implementation people” reflect a situation in which product managers must work with more functional areas (and especially with field sales and service), even as cost-reduction pressures shrink staff support resources. Also, while sales generates more customized orders and complains about marketing’s seeming inability to alter product designs and production schedules, marketing managers respond that “our company now has highly automated manufacturing operations, making design and other product changes a complex process.” Hence, marketing rightly evaluates these requests with more than sales’ often account-specific specifications in mind.
Especially for industrial firms, these interactions can be costly. Studies indicate that as many as one-half of new industrial products fail to meet business goals and consistently point to the management of the product launch — and, in particular, the hand-off from product management to sales and service groups — as key to new product success or failure.