Saturday, January 16, 2010

Marketing 101

The other day I overheard something at my haircutter's that once again reminded me of one of the most important things I ever learned in my thirty-eight year professional career.

I worked in Information Technology -- or Data Processing as it was called in the late sixties when I started. One of my jobs was to select, purchase and install a vendor-written payroll system to replace the out of date, homegrown one that existed at the time. I was a manger on a project team composed of technical and business people.

The software supplier whom we ultimately selected was represented by two women -- a Marketing Representative, whose name I no longer remember, and Belinda, the Tech Rep. Both of them were attractive, early-thirty year olds, and smart.

"Nameless: spent most of her time with the business people explaining what the new system would do, how easy it was to use, and how little (in reality) it would cost. Us geeks would see maybe once a month when she would drop by unannounced and hang out with us for an hour or so. She also pointedly paid the bills at the restaurants at which we were feted during our trip to the vendor's User Conference.

"Nameless" was a Harvard graduate -- something she managed to mention at least once in every conversation. She also had a habit of unhooking at least two additional buttons on her blouse before every meeting with the male portion of our project team. This was pointed out to me, with some sense of bemusement, by one of the three female programmers in my group. To a woman they hated "Nameless".

Belinda, on the other hand was all business. You asked a question, she got the answer. Something didn't work, she got it fixed. And she stayed buttoned down. Techies of both genders loved her.

We signed the contract and became unalterably committed to the new system. As we tested it the business people began to discover that certain parts of the software did not perform in the manner that "Nameless" had told them it would.

"Nameless" had not been in town since the ink dried. So Belinda (who was still hanging around doing her job) was dragged before the tribunal to explain.

The business folks listed item after item of impropriety -- after each of which Belinda would gently explain that "No, the system doesn't really do that."

"What's the answer?" management demanded to know.

"Marketing people say marketing things." Belinda calmly told them.

So years later there I was in our hair stylist's shop waiting for Mars. The television, which I had positioned myself not to see, was tuned to some cable television reality show about people buying a house.

The potential purchasers in this episode were an about-to-be-married couple and her preteen daughter who were looking in Staten Island, New York. They, and the female real estate agent, spoke with stereotypical Noo Yawk accents -- "WHADSA madda wid da way Noo Yawkers tawk? Nuttin', brudda, 'cept dat dey wud be da foist to tell you dat dey tawk wid a unique accent."

I was trying to read a book so I had pretty much tuned out the TV noise. But somehow I heard the heard the agent saying, "Shoor you hafta share da bathroom. But just look at dat CHANDELIER!"

No matter how you say it, Belinda was still right.

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