Putting the customer centre-stage

November 3, 2010 — Leave a comment

The best marketing is insight-driven marketing. But how do you generate real customer insights? Do you try and read some meaning into the data? Or, coming at it from the other direction, do you try and quantify and qualify your experiences, assumptions and “gut feel”?

Personally, I prefer the latter (creative types generally shy away from rigid formulas).

Trouble is, we generally spend our working lives far removed from the customer experience and so our impressions are generally second-hand, or based on assumptions. It’s even more problematic for agency people (yet another step removed from the sales floor) and it becomes really difficult when you’re trying to solve for a product category that bears little resemblance to your own life. What would I know about negotiating a deal on a fleet of company cars, for example?

But there are people in every marketer’s organisation that know quite a lot about what goes on in the customers’ mind: the sales guys. These guys (and I’m using the non-gender-specific version of the word ‘guys’ here) might actually be in the sales department, or they could be from a retailer, or Business Partner, reseller or some other part of the channel network – it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that these guys live or die (metaphorically, of course) on their ability to understand what’s motivating the customer. And that’s why we were very excitied to finally get the opportunity to put a sales guy in the hot seat of one of our most popular w2fm games here in Sydney a few days ago. “What’s My Motivation In This Scene?” is a role-playing scenario which models the influencer and decision-maker ecosystem that surrounds any significant purchase, and although we’ve trialled it a couple of times before, we’d never really been able to get the customer viewpoint properly represented.


Having someone from sales play the role of the customer changes the whole dynamic.


We knew this game had potential to unearth some fascinating insights, but we didn’t realise just how effective it is when you put a sales guy in centre stage and give them the role of playing the customer. Talk about a revelation – suddenly we get to see how they view the marketing and the messages; when they want to hear from us and when they really, really don’t; and most importantly, who they have to answer to.

The other discovery of the day was how effective a really switched-on social media expert can be, playing the role of the ‘bloggosphere’ and the ‘twitterverse’. With the help of a laptop, they can call up and analyse social media sentiment on the fly, throwing the peer-to-peer dynamic into the mix and revealing the parts of the decision-making that these channels seem to exert the most influence over.


Here's a twist: colleagues from Melbourne Skyped in to the role-play via video


Although its not the aim of a session like this, one interesting side effect was a newfound appreciation from both sides of the sales/marketing divide (and, let’s be honest, it is a divide in almost every organisation of size). It may seem so obvious that it’s hardly worth stating, but unless marketing builds programs that actually help the salesforce, and unless sales actually pick up the marketing ball and run with it, we may as well simply rely on a spreadsheet to tell us what to do.

And, as a creative type, I can confirm that’s not what I get out of bed to do every morning.

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