Marketing on the Orient Express

(Originally published as a a Marketing and Business Development column in the
February 2001 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

When planning a marketing and business development program for a services organization, one of the first things the marketing manager may address is what type of marketing or promotional activity is likely to work best. Questions relating to the tradeoff between what is most effective, what is least expensive and, ultimately, what is most cost-effective typically consume a great deal of time and thought without easily leading to a specific answer. The reason is very simple - there is no specific answer!

In Agatha Christie's classic novel, "Murder on the Orient Express", a murder takes place on the famous transcontinental luxury train. [Note: Read no further if you do not want the surprise ending to the novel revealed. However, read on if you want to build and execute a successful marketing and business development program.] The corpse is found on the train with 12 stab wounds, and there are 12 suspects. Who committed the murder? Well, they all did!

It is exactly the same thing in marketing and business development. Which one of your organization's marketing and promotional efforts was responsible for bringing the new account in? Well, they all did! Let me explain.

Whenever a prospect calls my organization for the first time, I am very careful to first listen to what is being requested, and then framing my initial response accordingly. However, before the initial conversation is over, I always like to ask the caller, "Where did you first learn about our company?"

The answer I like best goes something like this: "Well, I'm not sure! I heard you speak at an AFSMI World Conference two or three years ago, and I've been reading your columns in The Professional Journal ever since. However, my boss just told me yesterday that we need to have a customer survey done, and he gave me a copy of a direct mail piece he had received from you about a year ago. I remembered that I also had a marketing piece that I picked up at the World Conference in my file drawer, so I dug it out and looked up the names of a couple of your clients, who I called for references, and they recommended you highly. But I'm still not sure how I first learned about your company."

This kind of response is much better than "I just saw your ad, and thought I'd give you a call" - period, or "I just read your article, and saw your phone number" - period. That kind of response may be nothing more than "lucky timing". Just as in real estate where the three most important factors are "location, location, location", in marketing and business development, the three most important factors are three different - or four, five or six different - factors, all working together. It does not necessarily take 12 marketing and promotional activities to effectively get the message out. However, using only one or two promotional activities alone is generally not good enough.

The next questions that most marketing managers typically ask are, "Which ones should we do first? In what order? How many?" Again, the answer is not clear, as the marketing and business development approach must be customized to each organization, as well as to each of the markets in which it serves. The good news is that there are many activities to choose from, and all of them will ultimately work in conjunction with one other.

For example, direct mail is easy to use, and is not particularly expensive. On the other hand, by itself, it is not optimally effective. However, by utilizing direct mail to announce your upcoming AFSMI World Conference vendor booth, where you will be handing out copies of an article that you just had published in the Journal, and where you will be demoing your company's new product, you can maximize the impact of conducting multiple marketing and promotional activities in tandem.

Also, by utilizing telemarketing or telesales to collect prospecting information and promote new services, while offering each contact a complementary industry "white paper" that describes a success story between your organization and one of its customers, you can get more "bang for your buck" than by just making a telesales call, or just preparing a "white paper" that only a few people would be likely to see on your website without any specific prompting. By "marrying" a telesales call with one, two or three related "events" or by providing complementary information as a "token of your appreciation", you can effectively reduce the relative cost of just making the calls.

Further, as a result of the exploding use of the Internet and the proliferation of company websites, virtually any marketing or promotional activities can be conducted jointly with some form of web presence. This way, an article, "white paper" or press release that used to have only a relatively small distribution or short shelf life, can now provide an ongoing impact in conjunction with other marketing and promotional activities that your company may use over time. However, you will need to remember that while good material remains "timeless", bad material runs out of time very fast. Keeping your website, and its content, continually fresh must remain a high priority of your marketing organization.

Try it out! See how many of your marketing and promotional activities fit together in a cohesive, coordinated fashion. You should have many to choose from, including direct mail, telesales/telemarketing, advertising, trade show participation (i.e., exhibiting, speaking, presenting, etc.), press releases, customer newsletters, company websites, and more. With apologies to Agatha Christie, maybe it is time your organization "took a stab" at maximizing the impact of its marketing and business development activities by leveraging, and coordinating, all of the options it has available. Which one of these activities will ultimately close the sale? They all will!

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at

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