Establishing Customer Relevance Drives Sales, Spells Relief
by Michelangelo Celli

There's an old axiom: "Nothing happens before you make the SALE."

"Except marketing."

Marketing has evolved. But most corporate marketing approaches have not. And in a tough economy, those who have not are feeling the pressure - but who's taking the heat? Why, the CEO, of course.

Marketing has grown from the most simple, measurable tactics (put a sign in your window and see how many people come in), to a world of complexity never envisioned even a decade ago. Buyers are better informed, more savvy and with more options than at any time in history. Higher levels of product innovation, increased personalization of services, and cheaper foreign competition set the performance standards higher for all of us. As a result, the customer is much more difficult to hold onto. Most companies have not kept up; the outcome is increasing frustration at their inability to tie marketing to results.

Those companies that have a tighter grip on the customer than their competition know the key to keeping and winning customers is what it has always been - relevance. Relevance is at the center of your customer's buying decision. Is your product or service directly aligned with their need? Companies seeing sales stagnate or decline are finding out the answer is no. CEOs are struggling to produce more predictable outcomes in the modern marketing environment. But they have not taken the time to understand how to configure these elements for control. And configuring the elements involves a new look at relevance as the heart of any marketing effort.

Here is a quick way to understand the product, market and customer relationship and the importance of relevance to getting the outcome you desire.

Envision a crowded cocktail party (the marketplace). You (the product) are on one side of the room, and you have agreed to deliver a message you know is important (the promise) to a person (the customer) on the other side of the room. The party is noisy (the status quo), and crowded (the competition), so they cannot hear you shouting, or see you waving your arms.

You are irrelevant to their discussion, and even though the information you have is more valuable, they're still having a good time. Unable to penetrate the crowd, you find a chair (the innovation), stand up on it (the strong position), and now that everyone has stopped what they were doing to pay attention (the alignment) to you (the market leader), you deliver your message (the marketing), "IT'S A BOY!" The person smiles, laughs, and then weeps with joy (the relevance), crosses the room pushing the crowd out of the way, gives you a hug (the adoption), and then hands you a cigar (the sale).

There are many marketing elements at work in coordination in the above example, but relevance closes the deal.

Companies that are succeeding in the marketing war right now are focused on strengthening customer relevance first by methodically and systematically understanding the full customer need, and demonstrating total commitment by building an offering that meets every aspect of that need completely.

The truth is, once relevance has been established (and it's not easy), marketing can deliver more meaningful and measurable returns than any other function inside of your business. For sales, relevance offers a stronger position. For marketing, relevance develops context. For the CEO, relevance spells relief.

Michelangelo Celli is President of The Cornucopia Group, where he works exclusively with CEOs of privately-held b2b companies that sell expensive products or services and whose sales depend on strong customer relationships to allow them to systematically develop more predictable outcomes from their marketing and sales efforts. To find out more, visit The Cornucopia Group Web site at or email Mr. Celli (mcelli at

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