No Problem, No Job

One of the most important marketing lessons I ever received came from a television sales executive.

It was the holiday season of 2000.  I was part of the team at ESPN/ABC Sports working on a huge Bowl Championship Series sponsorship program for one of the company’s largest auto clients.  The BCS, as it was known, was the pre-cursor to today’s College Football Playoff and included the four most important college bowl games of the year (Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange). 

I was new to the company, new to media in fact.  It was my first big assignment so I really wanted to impress.  The lead sales executive was a tough, smart woman who, for the purposes of this story, I will call Marcia. 

Marcia had been selling sports advertising in Detroit to auto clients for close to 30 years, didn’t take shit from anyone and had no tolerance for whiners.  But she was also a generous teacher who went out of her way to help set up the new guy, me, for success with the client and internal stakeholders.  I didn’t fully appreciate this at the time, but one can only imagine what Marcia had to endure breaking into the male-dominated sports television business in the 1970s.

Things weren’t going well.  I don’t remember the specifics but we were behind and I was concerned.  I called Marcia one evening to complain.  She listened for a bit before starting to laugh.  Marcia had a great sense of humor and a quick, sly wit, but I didn’t think what I was saying was all that funny.  She could tell I was confused.  After a moment she said, “Hey, Fred, never forget, no problem, no job.”

Marcia taught me two things that evening.  First, in any customer facing role there are always unexpected problems.  Great customer service is about making your client’s problems your problems, and doing whatever it takes to fix them.  Even better, learn to anticipate and solve them before they arise.

I didn’t put it together right away but her comment also included an invaluable lesson for marketers.  What she was trying to tell me is that fundamentally all marketing starts with a problem.  In fact, she could have said “no problem, no marketing” and it would have been just as true.

She wasn’t talking about any problems, what she meant is stay focused on the customer’s problems.  Many businesses confuse their problems with those of customers.  Driving revenue or reducing churn, almost always metrics we use to evaluate marketing, are business problems.  Customers don’t care about that stuff. 

Great marketing always begins by understanding the problems of the customers we seek to engage.  We come to understand their problems by knowing the right questions to ask.  If you have not asked the right questions and defined the problem you can solve for a customer, your marketing campaign will inevitably fall short.

I didn’t make a mess of the BCS sponsorship all those years ago.  Thankfully the client was very pleased, largely thanks to Marcia’s guidance.  These days whenever I find myself getting hung up on problems at work Marcia’s distinct Midwestern twang echoes in my mind, “No problem, no job.” 

Thanks Marcia, wherever you are, not only are you one of the best salespeople I ever met, but you’re also one of the smartest marketers too.

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