The Marketing Midfield Maestro

17 June 2021

Thirty years ago. May 1991. There is much excitement in my world as Apple launches the innovative System 7.

I had bagged a job at the AppleCentre in Basingstoke two years previously, and, from a standing start, I’d fallen in love with Macs, DTP, artwork and design.

Computers, and the world of business, were still new to me.

So, very often, when I learned new software, I didn’t necessarily understand the practical reasons behind what it did. But, one of the tools I loved on my Mac SE (2MB of ram and a 20MB hard disk, don’t you know) was called Hypercard.

One Sunday, as a bored 20-year-old who didn’t want to watch another episode of Little House On The Prairie, I went into work, sat at my Mac SE and built a “Stack” in Hypercard containing all the specialist fonts we were using in the studio. Unbeknownst to me, I’d just created my first database.

Mac SE and Hypercard

Hypercard led to Filemaker Pro, and the more I used it, the more I understood the ideas around it. When I set up my first proper business in 1997, I built a database system using it to manage our clients and our jobs. The power was immense.

A client could call up, start talking about a job and by the time they’d finished their sentence, we could have the details on screen – how much it cost, how much time it took and what we charged.

We loved it, clients loved it, and it’s fair to say it played a key role in helping that business grow at the time.

I still use Filemaker Pro for myself now – nearly 25 years later – it’s a great application for non-programming data geeks.

Wood for the trees

When it comes to databases, project management systems and CRM’s (Customer Relationship Management) there are now a bunch of cloud-based choices available off-the-shelf: Clever systems that allow integration with a whole host of other applications to create an ecosystem of data for companies to maximise.

This access to data has created an obsession. We need data, reports and stats to help us analyse ‘stuff’.

But in our quest for data supremacy, there is a problem. We’ve not asked why¬†enough.

And this is why so many SME's fail with CRM's

They don’t fully identify the most useful KPI’s (or any) in the first place. And, when they do, they very often aren’t so great at sharing them with the team.

So, while some colleagues crack on, filling in certain fields on a form (justifying their job and how busy they are), they don’t really understand the point of what they are doing. They cut corners and put in the easy answers, which is compounded when the system itself is simply not intuitive – and a lot of them aren’t.

You know what they say: Shit in – shit out.

Then we have marketing data.

Most reports I see these days are more about a marketer demonstrating that they have been ‘busy’ rather than demonstrating any tangible successes. KPI’s are set and justified that aren’t actually for the business – social media follower growth; post or web page views; likes. None of it is actually that relevant, especially if the corresponding content is wanky, or click-bait for the sake of it.

Is it all an exercise for the sake of it?

Customer service is a people thing

How many times have you called up a large company that plays a message telling you how important your call is? Then they push you around an automated system, allowing your frustration to build… Only for you to get put through to someone reading off a script.

It may save money, but it’s not customer service.

My point is this.

In a world where any company can set up a database cheaply and automate some of their customer service and marketing processes, there are some essential bedrocks to consider.

Firstly, most businesses I work with are about customer relationships. Automate that at your peril. Why try and offer the same service as some large conglomerate – to look bigger or save money – when you are still small enough to pick up the phone and engage people based specifically on contextualised data you’ve collected? Less quantity, more quality.

Then there’s data itself. It can be so powerful when mixed with technology. It helps personalise some processes. But, what are you actually doing with your data to enhance customer experience? What does data even mean to you?

We need to learn from the days where customer relationships mattered. Where sales were made based on relationships, which were developed over time and nurtured. When rather than a salesperson simply being an order taker, they got to know customers and their stories. When data was just called background information.

In itself, no amount of marketing can really make a personalised experience happen in a service-led business.

It takes people.

Great customer service and great salespeople who use their knowledge to offer the ideal solution a customer doesn’t mind paying for.

In fact, I always remember the MD of that AppleCentre business I worked for in the early nineties telling me, “This business is like a football team, and the salespeople are the centre forwards. They earn the most money, but they have to keep scoring goals.”

As a marketer, I see sales as the thing that makes a business tick and an integral part of what I do. I need to understand a company’s sales process so I can deliver useful support that allows sales to flourish.¬†

If a salesperson is the centre forward, marketing needs to be the midfield maestro who can spot the gaps on the pitch to slide the ball through for them to run onto.