1 June 2002
Time to Revive the Marketing Concept
By Ed Ross
Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." This statement, usually erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, is true because nobody knows what to do.
Everybody talks about the slow conditions in the industrial and technology sectors of the economy, including motion control. We wait for the weather to change.
The consumer segment, two-thirds of the economy, is doing well. Home sales, automobile sales, and restaurant services are all doing fine. Why aren't businesses spending as freely as customers are?
There's an obvious answer: Consumers are getting what they want. Industry isn't.
My wife and I have bought a new car, garage door openers, garden plants, etc. I used to buy a lot of software, which required hardware and peripherals. We're happy with our consumer purchases that do what they were supposed to.
My computer-related purchases have trailed off. Each piece of software tends to be a nightmare. It's dictatorial and recalcitrant. There's no manual. If you wait forever, you can get someone on the phone, who usually knows only what I already know. (At this very instant, Microsoft Word is insisting that I change the preceding sentence so it reads ". . . get someone on the phone, which usually knows. . . ." I use the "who" to indicate that a person "usually knows," not an inanimate phone. There ought to be a command such as "Down, Gates" that makes Word leave me alone.)
I'm curious about the Segway, for example. Do you wonder how much consumer input was in that stand-up scooter?
There used to be something called the Marketing Concept, according to which you tailored your efforts to satisfy the customer. After World War II, consumer goods were scarce. They were easily sold at high prices. Manufacturers stopped trying to satisfy consumers and still made profits. As manufacturing capability improved, costs were reduced. Instead of trying to supply products the consumer wanted, manufacturers reduced prices until profits declined drastically.
The same thing happened when the automobile replaced the horse. And it happened, more recently, in the computer business and related technologies.
Telecommunications aren't providing the kind of services people want. For instance, everybody hates to make a telephone call and hear a menu of numbers, followed by a long wait. This isn't the only thing that irritates customers, but it's a good example.
Let's make a comparison.
Dining out is still a big thing in America, with restaurant sales doing fine and prices sufficiently high to make a profit, but. . . .
Suppose a restaurant delivered a steak to your table, smothered in mayonnaise you didn't order. You call the kitchen from the phone provided for your table. A voice says, "Please listen carefully, as our menu has changed. If you are calling because your order is too hot, press 1. If it is too cold, press 2. If you would like more mayonnaise, press 9. Otherwise, stay on the phone, and a waiter will speak with you. Your call is very, very important to us. Do not walk out of the restaurant. Our calls are answered in the order received, and you will lose your place if you decide to come back. We repeat, your call is very, very important to us."
If restaurants behaved this way, the restaurant business would soon be in as bad a shape as the telecommunications industry.
The first recommendation I'd make to any telecommunications company is that the CEO be required to go through the number-choosing procedure each time he wants to speak with his secretary. That, and spending time on the phone with his customers, should solve his company's problems.
It's not as easy to fix the motion control industry's problems. Motion control is a segment of industrial automation. If OEMs' sales are slow, they don't need subsystems or components.
Is there nothing a motion controller can do about the corporate weather? There's plenty.
Learn what your industry needs. Talk to end users and OEMs. Find out what they needor think they do. See what your engineers can do to meet those needs. Your engineers will have the ideas in your technical field. Create communications channels to the OEMs. Bad times are the times to prepare for good times. See what your engineers can propose. Don't expect their buyers to tell you what to do, or your reps, or even your salespeople. Help your potential customers to create new products.
I don't know exactly what you'll discover. The Marketing Concept may not be a quick fix, but you will find it well worthwhile. MC
Edward A. Ross is president of Ross Associates in Needham, Mass., and author of The Ross Guide to the Motion Control Industry. Contact Ed at (781) 449-5123.
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