One thing is clear to all marketers – driving demand is what companies are challenged to do in order to develop a sustainable business.

We are pushed to generate net new and install base business. We apply techniques such as targeting new customer segments, profiling install base accounts, exploring new industries and developing plans to conquer new regions or countries.  Today we face even more competition and thanks to the Internet customers have access to information, products and services no matter where they are located. In addition, we are flooded with offers from marketing technology companies with their latest tools and service providers, having the perfect process and knowledge in place to master these challenges.

Yes, we marketers never have a dull day. Quite frankly, we are often overwhelmed by these grand challenges. Oh yeah, and there are smaller budgets and faster cycle times which add to the equation.

In those moments I often remember two lessons I got as a marketer from my former CEO who was heading a major IT company.

Lesson Nr. 1

‘Grasping the size of the Market’

We were just entering the BRIC country Brazil. I was the Marketing VP for the Region and responsible to manage the CEO’s visit to Brazil. He arrived in Brazil’s Guarulhos Airport and then flew by helicopter directly to the roof of our hotel where we had a large Customer and Prospect Event. The CEO arrived in the Presidential Suite, got settled and a few minutes later he called me up and asked me to visit him in his Suite.

He was known to be brief, straight to the point and very effective (which was probably due to his German heritage). It was his first visit to Brazil and after a brief hello and welcome, he asked me to step forward and come to the large windows overlooking the city.

He then opened the curtains and asked me what I see. I told him that I see a mega city with more than 20 million inhabitants, living in countless homes and Favelas. He said I was wrong and that he sees something different. He clarified to me, ‘Tom I see a huge potential for our company to sell software’. After a few seconds of silence he closed the curtains and told me to go back to my office and segment, target, and profile this market. He asked me to find out everything I can about these companies, people and dreams so we can touch these companies in a relevant and convincing way.

I have to say that this lesson is burned in my head to this very day. Now each time when I approach a customer who wants to drive demand, I ask myself the following:

Do I know the target well enough? Do I grasp the entire potential of the region or the country? Do I segment and profile smartly before I launch a campaign?

It sounds so basic but my experience tells me that often this ‘boring and time consuming’ homework is not done properly. Many times we prefer the sexy marketing communication stuff versus the data driven stuff. Unfortunately too often money is wasted, as we tend to shoot the latest ‘Zeitgeist’ campaign straight from our hips to our targets. After all the Internet made it much easier for us and we must leverage internal or external resources to get the basics right.

Lesson Nr. 2

‘Knowing your top accounts and the sales pipeline by heart’

After a ‘memorable’ Brazil visit I accompanied my CEO to a trip down to Buenos Aires. The Europe of Latin America, known for good food, elegant people and passionate soccer/football fans. I expected it might be a big smoother and we might relax a bit after all. The first night we were sitting in the Bar of the Intercontinental. The CEO gathered a small group of people to discuss the next day and business in general. The local MD, the local Head of Sales, the COO and myself, the Regional Marketing Head.

At one point and after a few glasses of excellent Malbec the CEO asked me casually to name the top 20 accounts in the pipeline in Argentina. I was able to recite about 10 of them and then excused myself that I left the entire pipeline list in my room. Well, that did not go over so well. He told me with a firm and sergeants voice that as a marketer this is not acceptable and he expects me to know these accounts otherwise I am not able to support sales effectively. After all that’s the job marketing has to do. He asked me to come back to him tomorrow and do the test again with him.

I have to say that at first I was a bit shocked and tried to think – well, that’s the job of the sales chief or anybody else but me. Yes, I tried to find excuses and arguments. However after a good night sleep (to be attributed to the Malbec), I believed my boss had a strong point. My experience over the years leads me to believe that this is even more important than I thought.

If a marketer does not know the pipeline, the prospects and the customers, he or she will miss the real customer pain points and expectations and might never be able to efficiently support any sales organization. It is absolutely crucial that every marketer talks and meets with customers and prospects as much as he or she can. Too often we are sitting in our comfort zone and relying on stats and reports believing we understand what the customer wants.

Let’s get out there and become one with customers and sales and I guarantee you that this insight will make you a better marketer (let’s not forget that it’s also fun to meet customers).