“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” — Mark Twain
If it is your desire to change the way your manufacturing company goes to market, then you will need to let everyone know about your pilot program successes. I will warn you in advance, it will not be easy. People generally do not like change. Some people will be jealous of your success and work behind the scenes to undermine it. Others will point out all the flaws in the idea or declare loudly that the success was a fluke. I’m sure your idea will be fantastic, but you will find a lot of resistance when you try to introduce a marketing strategy that does not pitch the product.
Even your own boss might be against the idea and, depending on the character of your boss, she may not be completely supportive of your efforts behind closed doors with her peers and superiors. It takes guts, determination, and persistence to change the culture of the product and introduce a new way to go to market. On the positive side, you may just make a name for yourself and earn a promotion or, maybe even better, a higher-level position at another company.
My first pilot program, which eventually evolved into a go-to-market strategy pivot, was a live educational seminar. I was the marketing manager for a company that manufactured measurement instruments. It was a strong product culture. The product managers held the profit and loss responsibility, and they ruled with an iron fist. My direct boss was a bit more open minded than the product kings, and he was interested in trying out new ideas. He supported me in developing a seminar program that educated the people in our target audience about the science behind the measurement and about the parameter, with no mention of products as part of the educational material. There was very strong resistance from the sales team. They ridiculed the idea and claimed no one would even show up. The product bosses at the headquarters also ridiculed the idea because it did not promote their products. They had a very self-centered view about their products and failed to really understand the challenges and pain points common in their target audiences. Yes, indeed, the product force was strong in this company.
With the support of my direct manager, I went ahead with the seminar idea. Interestingly, in a company filled with highly educated scientists, no one was willing to step up as the subject matter expert and speaker, so I made myself the expert based on my engineering degree, self-education, and field experience with the measurement applications.
The results were beyond my wildest expectations.
I sent out one email invitation. In those days, the registrations came in via fax. Within twenty-four hours of sending the invitation, I had more than thirty-five people registered. I readily admit I was not a polished speaker and the material was a little rough around the edges, but the reviews from the attendees were very positive—enough so that I planned three more seminars over the next few months. I was lucky enough to have a good boss who continued to support the effort in spite of the derision I believe he received from the product bosses overseas. The ridicule continued for more than a year, in spite of continued successful seminars. Eventually, the seminars became accepted and adopted as a standard inclusion to the annual marketing strategy. Some of those who ridiculed the seminars became strong supporters when the sales leads increased and the growth rate started to increase. I made sure to let people know about the success of the seminars.
I did “shout from the hilltops” about this new way to engage with the target audience by helping them to be better at their profession.
This second story occurred a few years later. Once again, I was facing a strong product culture and would have to overcome the resistance to a new go-to-market idea. As technology was improving around broadcasting through the Internet, I proposed the idea of educational webinars. Recalling my experience with the live seminars, I knew what I would be up against. I learned that it is hard to buck the status quo of the product culture at a manufacturing company. I knew it would be hard to introduce new ideas to an old company. I also learned that sometimes you just have to push through the resistance and go ahead with your idea. Naturally, I learned that I would need support from at least one friendly higher-up and, fortunately, at this new company I controlled my own marketing budget.
I had started as a brand-new marketing manager at this global measurement instrument company, and they were struggling, with growth numbers in the single digits. It was a traditional manufacturing company where the product was king and sales was queen. Product managers had the profit and loss responsibility and, therefore, the power and influence. Further, guess what, the product managers were at the corporate headquarters in Finland, of all places. I didn’t even know where Finland was on the globe. Not only was I faced with a strong product culture, I was faced with a completely foreign corporate culture and a foreign culture in general.
I was eager to put my newly minted MBA in marketing to good use. I was and still am a big advocate of lifelong learning and professional development. I had read about webinars and how some thought leaders in the marketing space were using webinars as an education tool to engage with the people in their target audience. Keep in mind this was more than ten years ago when the term content marketing was just emerging and the technology to produce your own webinar was available but just in the early adoption stage.
I remember the day quite well. It was a gray and rainy Monday morning when we got “the speech” from the general manager. “The speech” was usually meant to be a combination of inspiration and fear, causing motivation and trepidation. This one was no different. The bottom line message was that the company was losing market share and everyone needed to pitch in and work harder because the bosses in Finland were on her case for more cash flow.
I was young and I was inspired. I went into the general manager’s office and pitched my idea about using a webinar to educate the folks who were in our old Lotus Notes database about something that mattered to them as a way to get more leads and fill the sales funnel. She said, “You mean teach them about our product?” I said, “No, we’ll teach them how to be more effective whether they buy our product or not. That way we’ll get TOMA.” She said, “What the hell is TOMA?” I explained that TOMA stood for top-of-mind awareness and it is the key to long-term and robust growth. She laughed and she laughed and then kicked me out of her office, claiming she had more important things to do and that I should focus on my next postcard design for the quarterly direct mail campaign.
Needless to say, I was less inspired, but I believed in my idea and I believed in the concept of education as a way to engage with the audience and grow a business. Undaunted, I proceeded to visit the U.S. product manager to pitch my idea about educational webinars. His response was “We tried webinars and they don’t work.” He went on to explain that the product team tried webinars on two separate occasions to launch new products and only a couple of people signed up; therefore, the conclusion was made that webinars do not work. I tried to explain to him that people do not really care about the products. Naturally, as the product manager, he was appalled and personally offended. I said, “They don’t care about the product or the company, they care about WIIFM.” He said, “What the hell is WIFFM?” I explained that it means “What’s in it for me?” from the audience perspective, not from the company perspective. He laughed, but it was more of a good-natured laugh than a mean and dismissive laugh. He told me to go ahead and put this educational webinar together, and he agreed to fund it as a pilot program.
I was very excited and re-energized. In spite of the derisive looks I got from the leadership, salespeople, and even my own marketing peers, I put it together. When I had everything ready, I sent out an email invitation to our database of about 10,000 customers and prospective customers. One day after the email invitation hit the inbox, about 200 people registered! Ultimately, approximately 500 people registered for that first webinar! The laughing had stopped. The country manager now wanted to know more about this idea of educational webinars. We even had some notice from the executive team in Finland. It seems that getting the company in front of 500 people from the target audience to spend an hour with your experts at a cost of about $2 per registrant is an impressive feat.
I expanded that webinar program from one to a series of eight educational webinars. The business grew at a rate of more than 20 percent per year over the next few years. Was the growth all due to webinars? At that time, we did not have the tools to prove it, but I suspect most of the growth was because of TOMA, credibility, and reciprocity created by the webinars. The pilot webinar program was the beginning of the strategic shift to what I now call the new way to go to market.
When you have success with your pilot program, you need to shout it from the hilltops, metaphorically speaking. The shouting should not in a boasting or arrogant fashion, but should be in a practical and one-on-one discussion, demonstrating the results in as tangible a way as possible and explaining the direction you are heading with your new way to go to market. Be sure to talk the language of the person or group whom you are addressing. When you talk to the C-suite, you must talk the language of the C-suite.
- As you prepare your pilot program, include a plan to share the anticipated success of the program. You might include one-on-one conversations, group presentations, lunch and learn presentations, announcements in the internal company newsletter, postings on the company intranet, etc. Communicating the success in a smart and relevant fashion will be critical to introducing the new way strategy.