Marketers generally think about customers as their target market. But in reality, there are a couple of groups who are not customers who are vital to the success of the business. Marketers ignore these groups at their peril.
In the business to business world it’s fairly common for organizations to have a sale force or a network of distributors. What that means for the marketing department is that there is not just one target audience (i.e. customers) that marketers need to engage – there are at least two audiences (the distributors/sales force as well as the end buyers). Think of it as an external audience and an internal audience. This is an important consideration for marketing departments – here’s why, illustrated by a couple of companies we’re working with right now.
The first company is a multi-national in a very traditional industry. The industry is just starting to go digital, right now they operate in the mainly physical world of boxes and bricks. As you would imagine, the sales team that works in this market is pretty traditional themselves. They’re great at what they do and know their customers and their needs very well. But the world around them is changing – namely, software is now becoming a more important part of the day to day reality. For the company itself, software is the key to the future. Within 10 years the industry will be utterly changed, and the company needs to stay ahead of that process. That means it needs to start moving customers towards software. To do that, it has to first move its sales team towards software. If the sales team is not comfortable with software there’s no way they’ll be able to sell it.
As a result, the marketing this company needs to do has a heavy internal focus at the start of this process – call it year one. The company has to raise awareness among the sales team that it has a software solution. It has to create a positive brand perception of the software. It has to educate sales reps on the benefits of the solution. All of these activities need to happen internally long before they happen externally - there’s no point generating a heap of leads from interested buyers if the sales team isn’t going to know what they’re talking about when they call.
The second company is an OEM of major systems used in the retail automotive industry – there are about 15,000 of their (or competitors’) systems across North America. The OEM has no direct sales force – only distributors. The challenge for this company is that the industry is changing and the traditional distributor value chain is breaking apart. Loyalties are disappearing and once-exclusive distributor relationships are no longer the norm. Everyone is fighting to stay alive.
The marketing reality for the OEM, which makes the most technologically advanced and highest quality system available, is that it must demonstrate its value not only to the end market but also to its distributors. The distributors have very little reason to promote the OEM’s products to customers if they themselves aren’t sure if or why it’s better.
For this company, marketing to the distributor network is essential to success. Some might call it marketing while others, education or sales training. Whatever the name, it’s all about making sure the distributors clearly understand the value of the OEM’s product and promote it to customers. Commissions are one way to make this happen – and probably the most powerful – but education and understanding is a solid second.
The point - while the external customers might get the bulk of the attention in most marketing budgets, never forget the pivotal role that internal customers (sales force and distributors) play in sales and marketing success.