When The Customers ARE The Strategy

    May 11, 2006

I attended the Business Marketing Association conference in San Jose, and had the chance to hear a great presentation by Justin Crotty, who is the VP of Channel Marketing for Ingram Micro, a $28 billion technology distributor (#72 on the Fortune 500 last year, for what it’s worth).

A few bits of Ingram’s strategy were communicated. Why does this matter? Because Ingram is in perhaps the most “commodity” business in the world. What do they do to differentiate?

They connect with their customers.

At first, Ingram was going to do an ad campaign around “partnering” with their customers. They pulled some prospective ads together.

The ads were abysmal. Stock shots of the attractive business people of all genders and races, smiling cheerfully at the camera. Ingram knew their customers would (rightfully) call B.S. on them. So, the drawing board was revisited. Here’s the result:

In other words, it’s not that the strategy is aimed at the customers…the customers ::are:: the strategy

Crotty brought up a number of very salient points. In particular, he shared another insight that was spot-on, especially in a commodity business. “If you can get customers to help you develop your go-to-market strategy, the you don’t need to sell to them anymore.” Think about that for a second.

Now, check this out. Last year, CRN (one of the go-to resources for Ingram’s industry) did their annual “Top 25” executives list. Number 19 on the list was Scott Goemmel, one of Ingram’s customers. They promote their customers, relentlessly, according to Crotty. (Apparently this ruffled at least one set of feathers…Ingram’s CEO was listed at #20, behind Goemmel on the list. Heh.)

A couple of other key quotes from the presentation:

  • “Relationships create emotional barriers to exit.”
  • “Supermarket card programs reward card ownership…they don’t reward loyalty.” (For example, how many times has the checker at the local supermarket swiped a “dummy” card for you?)
  • “Every business is a small business…your word is everything.”

Good stuff. Whereas a number of the other presentations have been a little too close to “marketing business as usual” throughout the day, Crotty’s presentation was an unexpected oasis of clue.

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Christopher Carfi, CEO and co-founder of Cerado, looks at sales, marketing, and the business experience from the customers point of view. He currently is focused on understanding how emerging social technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking are enabling the creation of new types of customer-driven communities. He is the author of the Social Customer Manifesto weblog, and has been occasionally told that he drives and snowboards just a little too quickly.