Death to Sales and Marketing: Why We Killed Traditional Departments

By: Dusty Wunderlich, CEO

So what does a group of misfit entrepreneurs do after growing 600% in a year?  We blow it up and completely reorganize half the company to adapt and adjust to the new economy.  We did this by killing sales and marketing and this is why…

Technology has ushered in the new economy and is also forcing the modern day entrepreneur to constantly rethink every aspect of business.  The rapid pace and adoption of technology has completely changed how we look at transactions and assets. The entire customer experience has changed. The largest cab company in the world owns no cars and the largest room provider owns no real estate.  Innovation and technology is turning assets and business on its head yet the traditional business departments and silo’s are dying a slow death.

Over the last year our team kept noticing friction and dissension among sales, marketing, and customer service.  Nothing more than the usual push and pull between these segements of a business but for some reason it kept eating away at us.  Something was flawed and needed to be changed but none of us could put a finger on exactly what.  Not to mention our company grew 6X last year indicating that something was working within each of these departments.  Were we trying to innovate for the sake of innovating?  Should we just trust the system we built?  Trust what has been battle tested over the years?

Nothing we do in our company is traditional yet we continued to hang onto the traditional sales, marketing, and customer service silo’s.  It did not align with our culture or thinking.  We knew the days of large sales teams traveling around the country taking potential customers out to dinner to try to get the sale was over.  Being a data driven company we knew that the spray and pray marketing and advertising was also an extinct method of generting sales.

Consumer behavior has completely changed which is forcing companies to adapt to stay relevent in the marketplace.  The combination of technology advancement and adoption which is driving consumer behavior changes is forcing companies to completely rethink the traditional business structure and specifically sales and marketing.

More than 80 percent of consumers use their phones to decide what products to purchase while in the stores

If this does not tell you that your traditional sales and marketing structure is killng your company then its probably time to think about selling your company.  The adoption of smart phones in our society and the quick and unlimted access to knowledge has completely changed customer behavior.  The customer in the store trusts the device more than they do the sale associate and would rather not be bothered by a sale associate at all.  The customer is now at odds with the salesperson and marketer.  The customer no longer trusts either of these groups and no longer has to now that they have all they need to make decisions in their pocket.

Of online consumers, 69% agree that the quality, timing, or relevance of a company’s message influences their perception of a brand.

Out With Sales & Marketing – In With Customer Acquisition & Customer Experience 

Lets take a moment to ask a dumb question.  What is missing in sales and marketing?  The customer!  How have we gone this long with forgetting the very essence of business – The Customer.  Once we broke it down to its simplest form we realized that our underlying messaging and language was flawed.  We were not trying to market to our customer, we were trying to give our customers a great experience.  Furthermore, we were not trying to sell products to our customers, we were trying to acquire business from our customer.

To sell means you are persuading or inducing someone to buy something.  To acquire is to gain for oneself through one’s actions and efforts.  We want our customers to acquire our products and services, not to be persuaded or induced into buying something.  We believe that the medium in which to facilitate customers to acquire the products and services they want is through a great customer experience.

Our underlying philosophy needed to be focused on customer acquisition and customer experience which put the customer in its rightful position – first.  So we took the word sales and marketing completely out of our business and eliminated all our silos between marketing, sales, and customer service.  We put the customer first in our language and thinking and eliminated the need to think and operate in silo’s.  This took a major reorganization and elimination of many traditional positions but we believe it was absolutely necessary.

This might seem like semantics but language is very important and language changes underlying philosophy and in this case it shifts the attitude from a position of pride to humility.  It takes the focus away from what the company is trying to influence to how we can serve the customer.  This langauge and philosophy also aligns with the new economy customer that is more independent and infomed than ever before, they do not want to be told what to buy or persuaded into making a decision.  The new customer wants to be informed through a friction-less process that builds trust and the space to make their final decision.

What Entails A Customer Acquisition & Customer Experience Philosophy?  Below are a few of the key areas in which we focus and all of these encompass our entire team from our technology team to our concierge team, we have eliminated the silo’s so that we can also focus without friction on what is best for the customer.

    • Frictionless Products: Do you remember the first time you opened up the packaging to an iPhone, booked your first Uber ride, or used one click shopping on Amazon?  I can as if it was yesterday.  The process was simple and fluid – frictionless.  It surpassed any experience I have ever had as a customer and all the sudden I started to think how important packaging was or how bad my last experience in a cab was.  Great companies show us what a well designed customer experience is all about, it completely changes our buying habits and behaviors.  Building frictionless products that focus on a great customer experience is crucial in shifting towards a customer-centric philosophy.  It is why silo’s have to be eliminated since a technology team designing the product is just as important as the communications team messaging the product, all must be focused cohesively on a frictionless customer experience.
    • Data Driven Decisioning:  Humans are biased and emotional, we make poor decisions due to these shortcomings.  When looked upon objectively an individual human has terrible probability of making good decisions.  This is why big data predictive modeling helps organizations make good decisions for the customer.  At Bristlecone, we use thousands of data points to give our customers a  great product and fair price.  We monitor customer experience data daily through surveys and other metrics and fire partners that do not meet the standards of our customer experience.  We take the guessing and emotions out of the process and let the customer and market data drive our organizations decisions to build the best products and experience for the customer.
    • Personalized Experience:  You can’t be all things to all customers but in the modern day of technology and big data personalization is possible and should be expected.  Customers should obtain a personalized experience.  When we launched Bristlecone we made the conscious decision to build a unique brand and product for every industry we entered.  We did not want to be a one size fits all company and we owed it to our customers to go above and beyond to deliver a great customer experience.  This is not easy but it forces us to think through all the details within an industry and the experience the customer wants for that particular product or industry.  We believe that this type of personal experience creates trust with the customer and ultimately a great customer experience.
    • Thoughtful Communication: Customers want consistent and simple messaging that reduces noise and gets to the heart of what they are looking for.  There is too much content in the market and too many distractions and why communication is key to getting the appropriate information to the customer.  This communication can be a combination of written, verbal, or visual but most importantly it has to be simple, elegant, and consistent.  We take langauge and messaging seriously as does the customer, its a crucial and often over looked aspect to the customer experience.

We are by no means perfect and have a long way to go in order to truly understand the customer and I believe it will always be a work in progress for us.  I think it has to stay that way because when you think you have arrived is when it is over.  But one thing is certain we are no longer focused on sales or marketing, we are obsessed with the customer and how we can deliver our customers a great product and experience.

In Closing, I have to give credit where credit is due and that goes to the incredibly  innovative team of entrepreneurs at Bristlecone.  They have driven this innovation and new thinking and been confident to adapt to pivots and aggressive reorganization to deliver the best to our customers.  For great thought leadership on this subject follow our VP of Customer Acquisition & Experience, Kristin Stith’s blog Humble Brand, and our Customer Experience Manager, Katie Shive’s blog Humanizing the Customer Experience.