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Mass Customization, Creating “Markets Of 1”

by David Brock on April 16th, 2013
Assembly line

In 1999, Joe Pine published a fascinating book, Mass Customization.  It focused on transforming manufacturing, moving from mass produced products sold to mass markets, to more focused products manufactured for smaller markets-ultimately for individuals.  In manufacturing, there is the concept of “lot size.”  Essentially, that’s the quantity manufactured in a certain run.  Products with exactly the same features–same color, same options are grouped together into a single lot and manufactured together, creating greater manufacturing efficiency.  The line doesn’t have to be reconfigured since each product is exactly the same.  The number produced in each run determined the lot size.  Manufacturing efficiency experts spend a lot of time looking at optimal lot sizes and increasing manufacturing efficiency.

At the time, Pine suggested that with flexible manufacturing processes, manufacturers had the capability of creating “lot sizes of 1,” that we could essentially custom manufacture products as efficiently as those with large lot sizes.  In effect we could mass customize very efficiently, at very large scale.

We see lots of manufacturers doing this.  This had been one of the greatest capabilities of Dell (interesting, they are moving away from this).  I could specify the specific computer I wanted to buy and it could be manufactured on a flexible line with computers for thousands of other people.  Many car manufacturers do this, as well as many others.  It’s becoming more common practice.

While manufacturers have the capability of creating “lot sizes of 1,”  it’s interesting that we still stick to “mass marketing” approaches.  (Before I go on, a lot of on-line e-commerce sites have been doing this for years.   When I sign on to Amazon, I get an entirely different set of recommendations, based on my buying and searches, than my wife does.  Increasingly, search sites like Google, are customizing search based on their knowledge of you and your past searches.)

Rather than tailoring messages specifically to an individual (Market Lot Size of 1), we focus our messaging on the masses–certain markets, functions, and industries.  The message a CEO in a global 10 manufacturing company would be the same as a message to me, the CEO of a boutique consulting company.

While we have the capability, we still tend to market and sell products in a “one size fits all” approach.  We create Personas—CFO personas, VP of Manufacturing, CEO and others.  We may create personas for CFOs in healthcare, CFOs in telecommunications.  We may further create personas for CFO’s in large telecommunications operating companies, CFO’s in large telecom infrastructure companies, and so forth.  But largely, we still think about “go to market,” rather than what my good friend Tamara Schenk refers to as “go to customer.”

Our marketing content is still very general, that is we send similar markets and segments the same things.  The limits of “customization” seem to be “Dear Dave,”  and a few select fields.  but the message is relatively general.  They may address some of my needs, but they really aren’t focused on “me.”

While the sales person is supposed to bridge that mass market messaging, connecting with individuals and building relationships with each person involved in the decision-making process, too few do this–at least effectively.

I get dozens of sales calls everyday.  Sales people talk about how much their great products can help me.  But then I ask, “Do you know what my company does?”  “Do you know what I do?”  There is a strange silence.  One sales person said, “I know it has to do with partnering,” — a good guess since the company name is Partners In EXCELLENCE, but then he admitted, he really didn’t have a clue.  Then I asked, “How do you know that your product can really help us?”  Again, silence.

We can create “Markets of 1,”  both in our marketing and in certainly in our sales approaches.  Rich analytics enable marketers to increasingly customize their messages to the individual–not the market, not the company, not the role, but to the individual.  We have the capability of creating content focused on unique profiles of each person–not persona.

Some companies have done this for some time–some have complete histories of each transaction with a customer.  They tailor their messages–both marketing and sales, based on that individual history.  Communications to me are different from the communications to each person in our companies.

Other companies are leveraging technologies to get information about current and prospective customers.  Soon, they can know the music I’m listening to at the moment (Tonight, Tonight by The Smashing Pumpkins), incorporating that information into a specific communication to me.

Emerging location based technologies will know, as I walk down the wine aisle of my supermarket, that I like Silver Oak and it would go well with the rack of lamb in my shopping cart.  My smartphone will vibrate, with a reminder and an offer on Silver Oak.

So there is great promise for mass customization in marketing–and there is already rich, yet unexploited capability.

With sales it’s simpler, there is simply no excuse not to deal in markets of 1–that’s a sales person’s job.  No call should ever be blind or un-researched.  It only takes a few minutes to know me—look at my LinkedIn profile.  Read my Twitter timeline, look at my last blog post or two, look at our company’s website.  I’m a market of 1, it’s pretty easy to tell who I am and what I might be interested in.  I’m not just a CEO.  I’m not just an angel investor.  I’m not just a consultant.  I’m not just an avid bicyclist, motorcyclist, and triathlete with a slightly offbeat sense of humor.  I’m not a persona, I’m a person.  Connect with me in that way.

If we can “mass customize” products on the manufacturing line–creating products with a lot size of 1, we can certainly tune our marketing and content to approach that.  And no sales approach should be anything less.

We need to focus less on markets and more on people.  We need to ban the concept of mass marketing and define our approaches in terms of “markets of 1.”  We need to stop thinking “Go To Market,” and start thinking, “Go To Customer.”

We can start now–with sales.  With technology, tools, rich analytics and thoughtful approaches by marketing, soon marketing can create content for “markets of 1.”

If you are curious, read Pine’s book, but every time you read “manufacturing,” substitute marketing and sales.  It will transform your strategy for engaging customers.

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, being launched on May 24, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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8 Comments
  1. Great article and insight. With the overwhelming amount of content available and demand for people’s attention, it has gone beyond important and is becoming essential to bring specificity to each engagement.

    It’s not your job to figure out if what I provide has value, you’ve got too much to do and will not spend the time. Rather, it is my job to articulate specific insight and value to you if I want your attention.

    Sales needs to get better at this, and pushing it to marketing is natural. Sales and marketing leaders (and perhaps survivors) will figure out “how”.

    • Jim, you’ve hit right to the heart of the issue. Concreteness and specificity is critical. It’s our job to do this, not the customer’s! Thanks for the great comment.

  2. Brilliant blog post – and thanks for mentioning my blog on GoToCustomer issues 🙂
    I think it’s a real challenge to define this very fine line between more general market content and the need to be really specific in sales. Not only that marketing is often still creating content for different C-level personas, they also do it for services you simply don’t need that, because no C-level should ever be involved in those decisions.
    So, there is a need to be focused on personas (internet, mass media, etc.), but please, focus on relevant (!) personas. More important for us in sales and sales force enablement – the urgent need to be focused on the specific person.

    Dave, I totally agree with you, that there is simply no excuse for a sales person for being unprepared on a call. It’s easy and accessible for everybody, to check out a LinkedIn profile or a twitter feed or a blog.

    And this is where technology could deliver even more value – to connect the dots between sales messages (that are already tailored along the customer’s journey, mapped to industries and buyer roles) and the specific adjustments that are necessary and make the difference – whether the person calls Dave or Tamara…

    So, the GoToCustomer messaging framework should be designed in the first place, focused on problem, pattern, path and proof. Then, I’m sure, technology is able to create much more value – and effectiveness for both, sellers and buyers.

    • I’m not sure it was brilliant Tamara, I’d settle for good 😉

      You raise so many important points.

      For marketing, I’m tempted to say it should be aspirational. Marketing needs to provide much more refined and focused content. But in certain areas, the “market of 1” concept will become mandatory. The two big things driving this are mobility and big data. Certain retailers are almost doing this already. For example, I can go into certain stores, swipe my credit card or store affinity card, and they give me customized coupons for deals. As more manufacturers and retailers seek to capture more wallet share, mobility and big data give them the tools to do so immediately.

      For marketing in B2B, I think we have a much longer way to go–not because the buyers don’t care–they actually want to see things customized uniquely to them. But too many marketing organizations are so far behind the power curve in content right now. They have “one” set of content. Nothing that’s industry, segment, or functionally focused. They don’t even recognize what a persona is. But this is where the sales organization must bridge the gap. Sales must translate the general into something concrete and specific. They are the bridge to the “last mile” (or 1.60934 kilometers in your case). Marketing and sales enablement must provide the tools to help sales bridge the gap from general to specific. They must make sure they use the tools, initially to talk about what peers in the industry are doing, but as they progress through the sales process, to be increasingly specific and concrete.

      As you and I have discussed, there is a category of tools coming onto the market that enable sales people to be specific and concrete. More tools will be providing this capability, marketing and sales enablement need to put these into the hands of sales people.

  3. Dave, this vision is optimized when organizations learn how to create content that is tailored to address all important relevance factors as Tamara’s blog points out. Without the right content, technology has nothing to mass customize.

    Few organizations have figured out how to do this. But it is possible. Unfortunately, we’ve found it requires a re-engineering of the traditional “point production” approach to content, to a manufacturing and supply chain approach to content operations that you allude to in your post.

    • Jim, I couldn’t agree more. Most organizations haven’t figured it out, the unfortunate situation is that too many don’t care.

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