No matter what position you occupy in the company, most of the time you are part of some marketing process, even if you don’t realize it. I hear you – a technical guy explaining something about marketing?! Right. At least I will try to put some things into a different perspective.
Me as an impressed customer
We all know great marketing can do wonders for any company. This is how I was sold the zoom-zoom essence of the Mazda brand long before they even started promoting it as such. It was decades ago; I was still in high school, and I didn’t even have my driver’s license. My uncle had just bought a new car. Since these were still the late 80s, Japanese cars were in short supply (in the CEE region). The car import business was in its infancy, and my uncle had gotten a car dealer to import a suitable car from the Netherlands. Once he got the car, he figured that he didn’t have any real information on how to use and maintain it – the user manual he had received was in a language very few people in Slovenia understand – Dutch.
So I got this big idea in my head. I wrote a letter to Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima explaining that I would like to purchase an English user manual for my uncle’s new car. Those were the romantic times, when everything was done the analog way. I remember spending more than an hour with an employee at the local post office, studying the procedures on how to send this simple letter across the globe. I even had to use several stamps, surely the most I've used in my life for a single letter.
Then, I waited. And waited. Nothing happened. After a month and a half, a package arrived. It was a brand new user manual – in English. Mazda had sent it for free. There was even a letter thanking us for buying their car. I was impressed. I was amazed. With this gesture of support alone – mind you, these were socialist times where customer care wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today (it was barely existent, some would argue) – they got a lifetime customer.
I'm sure that about three decades ago, many car manufacturers would have simply ignored a letter from a teenage boy asking for a manual for his uncle. Mazda didn’t, and today (and for most of my adult life) I own (and have owned) several Mazda cars. And I will continue to do so in the future.
So, lesson number one – details are important. Even in post-sales stages. Listening to and caring for customers, no matter how small or unimportant they might appear to you, will get you far. Small fry can turn into big fish. Some scale big time and even become billionaires. You wouldn’t want to pass the chance to impress them, would you?
Me as an (unconscious) salesman
The second story is more recent, and took place approximately a decade ago. Microsoft’s NT conference has always been the biggest and most prestigious IT event in Slovenia, as it attracts around two thousand attendees each year. They all gather in a nice hotel resort, and usually the first thing they do is connect to the WiFi network. Before 2005, WiFi connectivity at the conference had always been a big issue – to be honest, most of the time it was a total nightmare. But in 2005, NIL as a partner took over the architecture of the conference LAN and WLAN networks. Since NIL has always been a pioneer and a major reference in the networking space, we took this task as seriously as we would any other project. That year was the first time the NT conference didn’t have any WiFi connectivity issues, and everybody on our team was praised for it. But as soon as we returned back to the office, we realized our bosses weren’t so happy with our work performance at the conference. You see, we also heavily invested in marketing activities (even had an aerobatic pilot fly around with his plane doing crazy stunts), but ended up with almost no direct (immediate) results (e.g. orders).
Later, we landed a big client – a company whose door we had previously tried to get our foot in, but were shut out every time. That time, they approached us and requested an offer for a network upgrade. We got the contract, even though our proposal wasn’t the most affordable one on the table. It was the one that promised their network would work for a decade (actually, it's been working ever since). This company is still our valued customer.
After some time, I got the chance to talk to an IT specialist who was employed by this customer, who had previously worked for Microsoft. I asked him if he had any knowledge on why we hadn’t been immediately dismissed for being more expensive than most competitors (as was the case many times before). He replied: “We saw your approach and commitment at the conference. You were one of the few who delivered on your promises. We believed that you treat your customers just as well, and we simply want a reliable network solution for our company. We knew that we could trust you to deliver.”
So, there you have it. Even when you don’t realize it, you might be in the process of making a (future) sale. You have to be professional – everywhere and all the time. It’s similar to being scouted in sports – you have to deliver the best you have every time you're on the field, since you never know who is watching...