Dec 20 2004

The Gift of Insight

The Gift of Insight

Jonathan Schwartz has a great post entitled “Every Customer Visit is a Lesson.” It’s so true…if you want to give yourself a gift this holiday season, give yourself the gift of insight and spend some time in the market with a few of your top customers or prospects.  I’ve always found that to be one of the most valuable ways to shape the business, both strategically and operationally.

One of the most vivid memories I have to illustrate this concept is a meeting that I had with Crate and Barrel, a prospect, in the very early days of Return Path, back in 2000 or 2001.  I went in with my colleague Sophie Miller, and with a number of product sales specialists from our reseller, DoubleClick, for an all-day session with C&B’s online marketing team.  We collectively were pitching everything, possibly including the kitchen sink — ad serving through DART, buying online media through the DoubleClick Network, using Abacus to expand the reach of their catalog, sending email through DARTMail, renting email lists through DoubleClick’s email list business, oh yes, and using Return Path’s ECOA service to keep their email database clean.

The meeting was a mess, and as far as I can tell, it didn’t really lead to any meaningful business, either for us or for DoubleClick.  I learned two things in this call the hard way, but both were incredibly valuable lessons that continue to shape our business today.

First, we created massive confusion by bringing multiple sales people in to each present a specific product to the customer, rather than sending in one senior, consultative sales person to present a holistic digital marketing solution.  Picture yourself as the head of e-commerce for a major retailer, expecting an insightful day with the leading vendor in the space…then walking into the meeting and seeing that vendor’s SEVEN different sales people introducing themselves to each other!  It was a mess.  Since then, we have tried hard (and I think DoubleClick has as well) to run with a single sales force organized around the customer, not organized around our own products.

Second, we discovered that the original version of our flagship ECOA product (which was still in beta at the time) had a couple of flaws in the business model that were probably going to make it a non-starter in the retail/catalog vertical.  We also learned, happily, that the client loved the concept, but there were some details in the original product that had to be fixed if we were ever going to get traction with key customers in that key segment.  We fixed these problems and were able to successfully re-launch ECOA later that year, but more important, we now stay much closer to our customers as we develop new products and features so we make sure concepts are more firmly market tested before they head into development.

There are many more examples of this Gift of Insight, which I’ll share in future posts.  Happy Holidays!