The next person who was kind enough to participate in the Middle series was John Mecke. John is a revenue optimizer and true operator. John has experience in all kinds of organizations – small, large, start-ups and mature organization, so his world view is balanced I suspect by the diversity of organization, products and strategies he has pursued/developed over time. This interview not only turned out to answer the questions, but perhaps has some good use cases which I can steal and use for myself, hopefully you can to.
What marketing roles have you had and in what markets?
I’ve had just about every role from a marketing perspective – Business Development, Corporate development, Product Management. I was even lucky enough to be a CMO, which is one of the toughest jobs to ever have in marketing! I’ve not only been a marketer, I’ve done a good deal of work in other functional areas – support, professional services and operations which provides a good lens to view the market from.
From a market perspective, I’ve participated in teams delivering enterprise application development platforms, e-learning and human capital, non-profits and B2B infrastructure solutions.
When you look at your career in marketing, what discipline/component have you found most interesting/challenging?
Demand Generation. In my career I have worked primarily with products and services that are in either the early majority, late majority, or laggard parts of the technology adoption life cycle. When solutions reach this stage of their natural evolution, customers and prospects are not banging down the door to buy your products. Prospects typically have multiple vendors they could purchase their solution from. The key challenge in this type of environment for Marketing is how to enable the organization to find, develop, and close high value opportunities. Most battles that occur in later stage technology companies occur between the Marketing and Sales teams. Sales feels that marketing never delivers enough quality leads and Marketing feels that the Sales team is sitting by their PCs and fax machines waiting for the orders to fly in on their own.
What do you feel the most important component of a successful marketing gig? (Product, Brand, Positioning)
Positioning. For middle to late stage technology companies, honest self assessment of the firm’s realistic position in the competitive landscape is critical. The reality is that in established markets there is a pecking order for the vendors in the market. There are always the leaders (as measured by revenues and customers), the middle tier players, and the niche players – think of Geoffrey Moore’s Gorillas, Chimps, & Monkeys. In middle to late stage markets the players rarely change where they fit into the pecking order via organic growth. Typically changes occur because of mis-execution by management teams (think restructurings, investments in products/services that never had a chance of succeeding, layoffs, or liquidation) or by mergers and acquisitions. Go to any technology company’s website and you will find the term in their ‘About Us’ section “We are a leading provider of . . . . “ In many cases the management team and especially marketing really believe that they are the leading provider — if the market would just really understand how their solution was ‘superior.’
If you have the courage to really understand where you fit into the market, there are dozens of strategies and tactics that can be employed from a product, brand, and positioning perspective to steal existing business from both competitors that are larger as well as smaller than your firm is.
Since you selected Positioning, how have you seen that contribute to revenue?
I can think of several situations where realistic positioning has materially contributed to revenue growth, but I’ll talk about two specific examples.
When I was in the enterprise application development tools business in the 1990’s we sold these very expensive Computer Aided Software Engineering products. These were tools used by application developers in Global 2000 enterprises to model business applications and the generate the actual application code for COBOL, C, IMS, DB2, Oracle, Sybase, CICS, IMS, MQ Series, Tuxedo, & BEA environments. My company, Sterling Software, was the largest player in the market primarily as a result of five roll up acquisitions. Once we were established as the leader we still have fend off the chimps and monkeys who were riding the e-business market wave in the late 1990s.
We realized that only 15% of the Global 2000 would ever respond to our core value proposition. The most receptive people believed in the theory of ‘model-based application development.’ This theory was somewhat of a cult – the adherents truly believed that by modeling their business requirements and systems designs using rigorous graphically based meta models that they would catch errors much sooner in the application development process and as a result deliver higher quality applications faster and cheaper in comparison to traditional application development approaches. All cults have leaders. Our market was strongly influenced by technologists like Ed Yourdon – the father of structured analysis and design, Peter Coad, James Martin, and Grady Booch. We created a concept called Component Based Development (aka CBD).
We decided to leverage these trends and create a concept called a concept called Component Based Development (aka CBD). We then promoted one of our internal senior architects as the definitive expert on Component Based Development. Dr. Allen Brown became a prolific writer published by Prentice Hall (these were pre-blog days). You can check out Alan’s publications at http://tinyurl.com/5kgvpe . We also formed a USA-based and International CBD Customer Advisory board that held meetings twice a year in very nice locations. Our ‘cult’ of Component Based Development enabled us to market and sell effectively to the 15% of the Global 2000 that were receptive to our core value proposition. It also helped us to maintain extremely high maintenance retention rates on our software maintenance business as well.
Another great example of how realistic positioning contributed to revenue involves the concept of Competitive Steal Aways. How can you create enough hard dollar savings that would encourage users of a service or product to move to another service or product. The concept of competitive steal aways typically are a late stage laggard market play. The biggest challenge is that you can’t only provide price reduction, but you need to provide more value over the current provider. That requires effective positioning, promotion and placement to be successful.
What experiences brought you to this conclusion?
I have had the opportunity to work in startups, companies that were ‘crossing the chasm’, as well as companies that truly were providers of legacy solutions to existing markets. Sitting around the executive table the common lament has always been “how can we grow revenue in a tough market environment.” I’ve seen companies deny the reality of their true competitive and market position – most of those companies eventually failed or were acquired at what could only be considered to be a discounted valuation. I have also worked in companies that had the courage to accept the reality of their situation and creatively find ways to execute against their competitors.
If you could design the perfect corporate environment for a marketer to be successful what would that be?
Ideally I would love to be in an environment that comes up with the next Google or iPhone. Working for a company that creates and then sells the hottest product or service is a dream almost everybody in the technology world wants. Since I have as much of a chance of winning the Mega-Millions Lotto as I do of stumbling into that type of situation the perfect corporate environment for a marketer like me would be an executive team that has a firm grasp on the reality of their competitive landscape and the courage to use highly creative approaches for demand generation.
How far is this from reality?
Not far at all. The number of technology companies that truly dominate their markets is few. The number of technology companies that wish they could dominate their markets is measured in the thousands. The concepts I have laid out here are applicable to all of them.