Most marketers like to focus their time on designing – and executing upon – the 4Ps (or the new 4Cs) of marketing strategy. But I am a techy-turned-marketer; I was trained in Entrepreneurial Marketing at MIT Sloan by Barbara Bund, author of The Outside-In Corporation, to focus instead on the prospect’s pain and the deep analysis of a focused segment that will drive new product adoption.
Bund’s main point is deceivingly simple: companies should put the customer first – understanding the customer’s needs and learning as much as possible about her / his expectations – and then derive market strategies that match that analysis and understanding.
The formula, if you will, is simple: “If customer does X, then we do Y.”
Y should flow explicitly from knowing that X is true, or at least a strong assumption of X for the target buyer.
I’ve only been here a few months, but already Jack (@jwelde) is tired of hearing me ramble on and on about this book… In it, Bund looks at how companies like FedEx, Procter & Gamble, and others have used the outside-in model to design products, increase sales, and compete effectively in a global marketplace. One of her more contemporary examples is Nintendo’s Wii, which was designed with video-gamers in mind. Sounds like common sense, right? It seems more common now – perhaps because all industries are learning (the hard way?) about the value of great user design and user experience.
Bund also looks at companies that started out strong with outside-in thinking, ran aground, and had to right themselves – and these cases are, perhaps, the most powerful and inspiring. One example is IBM, which had a good vision initially, paying attention to customer needs and demands and building products accordingly. In the 1990s, however, things started to go south as the company focused more internally than externally. It took new CEO Louis Gerstner’s outside-in thinking to save the company, which he argued needed to be rebuilt “from the customer back.” And it worked.
Smartling From the Outside-In
I still find it’s a rare tech start-up that can be disciplined to apply market strategies only if they flow specifically from customer research or assumption analysis. We’re not perfect here at Smartling, but our product managers spent upwards of 75% of their time talking to (and analyzing data from) both enterprise and our small business clients – almost as an extension of our support team. That’s a critical measure in my mind. They are not writing product specs by talking all day with our Engineering team. They are writing specs after witnessing firsthand the user’s behavior, workflow and product use cases. They are good listeners – a very rare business skill! They listen actively, do not interrupt, ask clarifying questions, do not make assumptions, are naturally empathetic professionals.
For me at Smartling, this means I get to talk with a lot of bilingual bloggers, freelance translators and web marketers who want to “go global” but don’t know where to start or how to do it affordably. If anything, I have to be careful not to make implicit assumptions because I have been in that last category myself… I am an active user of my own Smartling translation platform to offer smartling.com in multiple languages to you now.
The challenge is to get yourself (as a marketer) and lead your company out of the box / office and out into the world of your users. Because translating customer insights into actionable product-pricing-promotion-placement strategies will set your company apart.
And in the end, isn’t that more fun, anyway?