Redefining the word Customer
We recently attended the InfoComm trade show in Las Vegas and came away thinking about the meaning of the word “customer” and the way one’s definition influences a brand’s marketing plan. Some of the companies we spoke with defined their customer as their distributors; some said their retailers or integrators; others said system designers or specifiers. Interestingly, few mentioned the “end user,” whomever that may be, such as homeowner, engineer, A/V specialist or business owner.
We see the same phenomenon in the Consumer Electronics and CEDIA segments – a tendency to think and market only as far as the first link in the sales chain. That kind of thinking makes a certain amount of sense. You could hardly blame a brand marketer for thinking “my job is to get my products into the first link of the sales chain, it’s their job to move it into the next link.” That approach has the benefits of focus and economy and, in the right circumstances, is the correct approach.
One of our clients, a start-up in the CEDIA channel, needs comprehensive national distribution but is working with a limited budget (dang!). Our marketing plan is 100% focused on building brand awareness within the trade – reps, distributors and integrators. As much as we would like to influence end users, we have to save that for another day.
But more mature companies must look and market farther down the sales path - every step from in-house “customers” all the way to the end user. Why? Because the sale can be lost at any one of those steps, starting with the brand’s own employees. That’s right, your own employees.
A former boss and mentor was fond of saying “the first people you have to sell are your own people.” A salesperson who doesn't burn with enthusiasm is a less effective salesperson. And don’t overlook the other people on your staff like inside salespeople and customer service reps. Every employee who interacts with channel partners or end users needs to drink the KoolAid too.
Getting back to the end-user, he or she is ultimately the most important link in the sales chain. Every other link in the chain could drop the ball but if the end user believes in your brand, you still have a shot of getting the sale. Doubt it? Consider those audio and video brands with household names that continue to sell enormous amounts of gear (sometimes commanding dominant market share) despite the best efforts of salespeople, spec writers, integrators and retailers to sell off their product.
Another mentor of ours was fond of saying “Retailers come and go, the end user is eternal.” Substitute any word you wish in place of “Retailer.” The phrase is just as true for integrators, distributors, reps, or any other entity in the sales path. The channel partner you spend all your time, attention and money to influence today could be gone tomorrow, but there will always be a community of end users.
Influencing the end user starts with understanding who that person is, what motivates their purchasing decision, and what media they consume. Those are topics we will cover in future articles. In the meantime, start by identifying all the people involved in getting your products sold and installed into an end user’s business or residence, including the end user. Ask yourself what you are actively doing to influence every one of those people. Talk to as many of them as possible to learn what’s important to them. From there you can start to build a truly comprehensive marketing plan.
About CE Marketing Pros
We’re a full service marketing/advertising agency specializing in helping commercisal and consumer electronics brands, integrators and retailers compete more effectively. Former marketing executives with two of the most successful CE brands, Al Ballard and Paul DiComo help brands STAND OUT in a crowded and confusing marketplace.