The Lean Marketing Divide: From Push to Pull

January 1, 2019 • ILE LAB • Boaz Tamir

Organizations that intend to survive over time must give up their aggressive push marketing (advertising and PR) methods and replace them with a selection of products and services that are suited to the customer’s wants and needs.

“But this isn’t a non-profit organization!” responded one of the managers in the business sector with whom I have held conversations over the past few months.
His response made me uncomfortable. A non-profit organization was one of the last things on my mind.
“Whatever made you think that I think that this is a non-profit organization?” I asked.
“It is inconceivable that you are suggesting that we clearly prefer the interests of our customers over promotion of our products and still expect us to maintain even a semblance of profits….”
“Interesting,” I thought, “And what would happen if you sent your customer to your competition because in your opinion, the organization across the street can provide him or her with a product that is better suited to finding a solution to the root causes of their frustrations?”
“I don’t believe in those fairy tales,” the manager retorted immediately. “We have greatly improved the quality of our services, range of our products, and availability of our sales people – all so that we can place the customer at the center.”
In contrast to traditional PUSH marketing methods, Lean PULL marketing is geared towards maintaining customers by positioning the customers as the protagonists and the product and services (value proposition) in the role of the guide who enables them to cross the chasm (the villain) towards the future goals they view as necessary.
The common denominator in my talks with managers and marketers can generally be summed up by stating that while they understand that it is necessary to adapt products to changes in market trends, provide courteous customer service, improve accessibility, and cut down wait-time – they also believe that all of this must be accompanied by a sophisticated marketing and advertising campaign. In contrast, Lean proposes adopting a holistic view of the customer and relates to her as a complete human being who is confronting a frustrating experience or struggling to fulfil her life objectives.
It isn’t simple to approach a customer through a lens that doesn’t focus on the crack through which a product can be pushed, especially for someone who throughout his life has been exposed to a culture of pushing products or services by commercial interests and measures success solely in terms of sales that bring immediate profits.
It is especially difficult to digest and understand changes in the focus of business attention: from pushing a product or service to building a comprehensive, complete, and broad approach to the customer that creates loyalty.  It is difficult to internalize the idea that this second option is actually both profitable and sustainable. Similarly, it is difficult to give up the sell even when the service or product provides a precise response to the customer’s needs.
At times, when I meet with someone who has been involved in selling by pushing, I feel that they view my questions as a form of intellectual pretentiousness or even as a provocation.  The culture of advertisement developed as a response to the need to “manage demand” and guarantee maintenance of the level of sales of a product in which a business has invested capital in development and manufacture so that it can reap profits from its investment.
The challenge is clear: it must be economically proved that the creation of a true response (not based on falsifications, manipulations, or advertising) to the customers’ needs will, in the long run, bring greater revenue to the company’s reputation and financial and human capital than any response that is based on achieving a sales target determined according to considerations other than the needs of the customer. Reality has shown us that not only does a full response to the customer’s needs not negatively impact on income (which is, of course, the bottom line), but also improves revenues (the top line) over time, strengthens the ability to compete and also thus reinforces the company’s viability.
Evaluation of trends in development of social, economic and technological systems by management researchers reveals that in a changing business environment, every organization, whether for- or non-profit, is dependent on its ability to define its customers, identify the strivings, conflicts and frustrations in their lives (caused by their visible or hidden antagonists) and, accordingly, to develop and build enabling processes, a relevant plan, and an organizational culture that will provide a precise response to these needs.
I heard a most interesting response to the question of the tension between the level of profitability and providing a response to the needs of the customer from a manager who was deeply involved in the process of change.  He said, “The customer can be compared to an oil well, and, you could say, as an Israeli,” he added with a smile, “to a gas well with a defined potential.  Commercial companies that seek to promote the sales of their products in any possible way can be compared to someone who is satisfied with connecting the pipe (the product) with a relatively small diameter to the well, without any understanding of the treasure that is in their hands.  They thus lose the full potential for producing gas from the well, because they can’t see beyond the existing product.”
And so, back to the beginning: An organization that wants to survive and flourish over time (for which profits provide a critical foundation) must abandon the method of push marketing and adopt a mindset in which the customer is provided with the space and opportunity to pull the basket of products and services that he considers valuable from the provider who has gained his trust and loyalty.

Boaz Tamir, ILE.

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