Marketing as Full Cycle: Jennifer Sherwood of Systems & Software
According to Frederick Webster of Tuck School of Business, marketing is charged with three distinct areas of responsibility: (1) communicate to the market the value proposition of their product for demand stimulation, (2) determine product strategy to improve their value proposition, and (3) craft the corporate strategy to capture the uncovered opportunities. While many new ventures struggle with these core functions, Jennifer Sherwood, Market Development Manager at Systems & Software puts all of these activities at the forefront, describing it as Marketing as Full Cycle .
Systems & Software markets to the Utilities industry Customer Information Systems (CIS), www.ssiutilitysuite.com. CIS systems are complex business applications that manage customer information and, importantly, bill customers for their energy, gas, and water usage. Systems & Software is headquartered in Vermont and compete nationally for business. They are not a start-up, having been in business since 1973. For the Chicago High-Tech scene, their story highlights how marketing infuses the organization as the industry evolves to semi-maturity.
“Marketing as full cycle” refers to integrating the mission and vision of the company hroughout the organization. This involves management by objectives, with long term and short term goals, and itemized action items on quarterly review. “Marketing as full cycle” also refers to creating a market driven company: studying the competition, analyzing customer needs, developing product upgrades that meet customer demands, and communicating to customers through multiple vehicles. “Marketing as full cycle” is far beyond the point of marketing as manufacturers of brochure, collateral, and color schemes, rather it places marketing at the focal point for the company charged with driving revenues and capturing opportunities profitably.
To accomplish all these goals, marketing as full cycle affects the basic activities of Systems & Software on a tactical level. For instance, in crafting the upgrade strategy, Ms. Sherwood gathers market data from a number of sources while simultaneously communicating marketing messages to her customers and prospects. In communicating to her market, multiple vehicles are deployed to deliver her message including direct mail, targeted advertising, trade shows, user meetings/executive meetings, and a direct sales force supported by product and project managers.
One method Ms. Sherwood employs to inform the upgrade strategy of Systems & Software is through direct customer contact of the installed user base. CIS systems, like many other IT systems, are sold with an accompanying maintenance contract. Customers contacting the Customer Support unit of Systems & Software are able to send in request for additional functionality. Systems & Software tracts this information and integrates it in the annual rollout of the upgraded product.
Systems & Software also utilizes the Direct Sales Force to simultaneously communicate and gather market information. The Direct Sales Force is in the market and gathers a wealth of information concerning the interest of prospects. She retains a repository of RFP questions and Systems & Software’s responses. Periodically, this repository is reviewed to track the areas where Systems & Software’s product didn’t fully meet the customer’s request and when new questions were raised by whom.
User meetings are an excellent means to capture actual data on how well a software product meets a market’s needs. Systems & Software facilitates the meetings but leave most of the content generation in the hands of the actual users themselves. In the past, they had four user meetings a year but have recently moved to one user meeting a year with multiple tracks. At the user meeting, there are tracks for each of the relevant audiences of Systems and Software’s market: an end user track involving customer support representatives, an IT track, and a manager track. User meeting pre-surveys are sent out prior to the meeting to ensure that the topics to be presented are relevant. Likewise, post-surveys are utilized both to measure how well the meeting met the objectives of the attendees and determine relevant topics for future meetings. In capturing market demands, Systems & Software facilitates focus groups to watch end users interact with the product, navigate the system, and discover new functionality.
Separately, executive meetings are used at Systems & Software to develop market relationships. Executive meetings are at a much higher level than user meetings and focus on business issues and industry trends. While some firms restrict attendance to existing clients, Ms. Sherwood invites executive prospects as well. One of their key draws is a presentation by a recognized industry leader. At executive meetings, Systems & Software facilitates panel discussions and executive presentations to enable the business leaders to discuss how they are using their product to deliver business results. For instance, at their upcoming meeting, executives will present on topics ranging from electronic bill payment and presentment to advanced reporting tools. In communicating to business executives, Ms. Sherwood shares the direction of the company and expected future functionality to reinforce the relationship of Systems & Software enabling their clients to conduct better business.
As the Chicago Tech industry matures, I am sure that many others of us will be implementing similar systems, meetings, and strategies to improve our competitive position.
The May Report, TECH BUSINESS BRIEFS, April 15, 2002