The 11 commandments for effective supply chain marketing

By Carl Melville | Never before in the outsourced global supply chain has there been more opportunity for providers. However, global pressures, increased commoditization, and supplier stratification have drastically increased the competitive pressure necessary to win and sustain profitable business. The supply chain marketing rules have changed.

Old guard providers have proved laggard in adopting modern marketing and lead development technologies. This produces opportunity for firms willing to engage prospects using these new tools and best practices.

That buying habits have changed will surprise no one. However, there is a strong bias amongst many in the supply chain that their’s is a “relationship business”, and therefore is unique, special, and different. They are different, just as every business and industry are different. This does not make you immune to the laws of the marketplace or of the impact of evolving technologies and practices.

In our firm, we benchmark not only supply chain companies, but best in class performers in other sectors. We combine these already-established best practices with our specific supply chain marketing expertise to produce superior outcomes for clients.

We have learned many lessons along the way. The following supply chain marketing rules are what we call our 11 Commandments.

#1: You are not as well-known as you believe you are. This one is always a shock, and I cannot understand why. Yes, your current contacts in your current accounts know whom you are. Your previous customers know whom you are (or at least who you were). After that, it tends to drop off fairly quickly. You may have name recognition; that does not mean that people know whom you are. They may not be aware of the position you are proclaiming, or the virtues of your particular offers. After 15 years in this industry, I cannot think of a single supply chain competitor that is suffering from overexposure. No matter how well-known you believe you are, never stop increasing your awareness. It is an uphill battle that must be engaged every day. If you take nothing else away from the rest of this list, work on this point tirelessly. You are not as well-known as you think you are

No one wants your services. They only want the situations your service claims to produce.

#2: Someone Needs You — or They Do Not. There is a fallacy that you can generate demand for supply chain services. The fact is no one needs or wants your services in the first place; they only want the outcomes of services produce — and only when they have a particular need to fill. Therefore, the objective is not to create demand, but to identify and cultivate individuals that will benefit from your service today or into the future. The science and technology around this is significant and has undergone tremendous change in the era of inbound marketing. What has not changed are the fundamental facts. It’s about engagement. Someone needs you — or they do not.

#3 Engage Your Marketplace. It is not a coincidence that many of the biggest and most successful providers are also heavily involved in supply chain industry panels, leadership roles, and other opportunities to build the identities of their leaders and of the company. There is a prevalent attitude that such engagement is about vanity or merely “talking to my competitors”. This is flawed logic. Executed strategically, marketplace engagement produces identities of trust and value their lead to future business, superior margins, and more fulfilling business relationships. Engage your marketplace.

#4: Show Me an ROI. I have never met a CEO that doesn’t demand one, nor have I met a vice president of marketing comfortable in delivering one. Having served as vice president of marketing for some of the industry’s best competitors, it was something I struggle with constantly. There is no reason that the modern marketer cannot deliver an ROI. Once vague notions of impressions have been replaced with searingly accurate metrics on identification, nurturing, conversion, and ultimately closed sales. Any marketer not availing himself of these technologies is putting his permit a disadvantage and opening himself/herself up to career risk. Not only must you have an ROI, it is essential that you get buy-in from the CEO and or other significant members of your firm’s leadership team. You will need that buy-in in the future. Show me an ROI.

#5: SMO Alignment. SMO, or Sales, Marketing and Operations Alignment is as big as any external challenge the marketer will face. I find few firms are well aligned on these three axis. The challenge, for those that are aligned, is that as soon as you move out of your comfort zone, your teams are out of alignment again. Most supply chain organizations are operation driven. In second place comes the sales organization, with marketing being a distant third if it exists at all. In today’s marketplace, Marketing must have a seat at the table and it must have the heft, respect and resources to gain the alignment necessary for success. Lacking Alignment any significant marketing initiative will fail. SMO alignment requires C-level commitment to be meaningful and lasting. Seek and sustain sales and marketing operation alignment.

#6: Invest in the Right Tools. Many CEOs that are comfortable committing to significant investments to boost operational efficiencies are leery of marketing expenditures. No supply chain marketing rules can avoid this reality. There is abundant reason for this, including historical lack of ROI, wasted previous expenditures, and a general lack of comfort or understanding of what exactly is being purchased. It is the responsibility of the marketing executive to overcome all of this. The aforementioned ROI and Alignment become crucial in this internal sales process. In today’s marketplace, the right tools must produce a closed system that begins with awareness moves through interest and commitment through ongoing engagement. The exact structure and mix of these tools will be as varied as the situation the marketer finds himself in but the fundamental requirements do not change. Invest in the right tools.

#7: Show Me Something Interesting. No one cares about your PowerPoint presentation, or your website, or your vacation photos. They don’t care about pictures of your team or how wonderful your culture is. In fact, they don’t care about you. What they care about are their customers, just as you care about yours. Give them something interesting. Teach them something they don’t know. Help them serve their customers better. Make them look better to their boss. The answer to all of these questions comes down to content. How can you show leadership to your customers? You can produce content that shows mastery of your domain and add value to their world. This content helps establish you and your firm as an industry leader, rather than a follower. Show your customers something interesting.

#8: Educate Your Sales Team — and learn from them. Notice that I did not say “train”. A disconnected sales force will doom every marketing initiative in the supply chain to abysmal failure. While your salespeople do not need to understand the technology or psychological underpinnings that drive modern inbound marketing systems, they do need a solid understanding of what is your organization is attempting to do. They need to be in a shared understanding of the value proposition, the narratives, the talking points, the use of the tools, the proper execution of CRM and other sales technologies, and they need to be committed to making this system work as a means of fulfillment for satisfying their ambition. Your sales team must be an active participant in the system. There is a load of information that they can provide you about how offers are perceived in the market, and the real-world encounters with customers. Marketers that live on lofty summits unattached from the sales team are a relic of the past. Educate your sales team — and learn from them.

#9: Measure Twice — Cut Once. this is actually an old carpenter’s admonition, but is a reminder of the importance of testing. Most of us compete in relatively small universes compared to marketers in other sectors. Before blazing a trail across the industry with a flawed campaign that will fizzle (or worse, backfire), test it. Testing can be formal, it can be informal, it can be quick, or for large campaigns it may take months. The science behind testing is complex, but the commitment to test is fundamental. The biggest stated barrier to testing is usually one of time. The biggest hidden barrier to testing is often ego. Measure twice — cut once. Always test.

#10: You Can’t Eat an Apple from All Sides at Once. Integrated business development systems are composed of many components. Each of these contain many variables and moving parts. These variables grow exponentially as the system is combined. If you try and do too much at one time, you are dooming yourself to failure. Real-world situations cannot wait for everything to be perfect. It is possible to begin using a partially implemented system while you’re continuing to build. It requires activating components that will begin adding inherent value to your business development initiatives while the other components in your system are still being assembled. Knowing what to launch and when will be essential to your success. You can’t eat an apple from all sides at once.

#11: Get Good Help. This one cannot be made any simpler. You are responsible for the executive level execution and ultimately the success of your organization’s marketing and business development endeavors. That does not mean that you need to do everything yourself, or that you need to be the master of all subject matter. Know what good help looks like when you see it. Engage with that help respectfully. Demand performance and accountability from everyone. Protect outsiders when necessary from the rest of your organization. Replace help as necessary. Get good help.

If you are looking for one silver bullet here, then you are likely disappointed. Measuring your organization against these supply chain marketing rules, or 11 Commandments does hold the potential for producing and sustaining business development systems that generate superior outcomes, build enterprise value, and reveal your capacity to produce future outcomes essential to the organization.

[Carl Melville is the managing partner of TMG (The Melville Group) a marketing strategy and execution firm focused on helping supply chain organizations produce superior revenue solutions.]

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