Getting stronger Featured

6:00am EDT September 21, 2006
One of the most common challenges for marketers is delivering profitable growth from existing markets. Often, corporate initiatives for this purpose meet with inconsistent success at best. Then the tendency is to try to “overpower” the initiatives with resources, resulting in growth at the expense of profit.

Smart Business asked Carl Cullotta, vice president and principal of Frank Lynn & Associates, to address the issue of profitable growth in existing markets.

Why do manufacturers find profitable growth so difficult to attain in existing markets?
Growth in existing markets is difficult because it usually comes down to a market share game. Market share gains are not easy to come by when there are established competitors with known value propositions and market legacies.

To overcome this market inertia, manufacturers often try to implement initiatives to change the game. True game-changers, by their nature, will appeal to a specific market segment or niche. Therefore, the key to delivering growth rests in aligning the appropriate initiatives with the proper target customer sets. We have found a compelling framework that assures this discipline in doing so; the ‘customer decision map.’

What is a customer decision map?
The customer decision map is a ranking of the factors customers use to make brand and source decisions. It is built on an actionable understanding of customer buying processes, needs and priorities. The decision map is designed to prioritize the decision factors based on the weight customers place on differences between suppliers. Here is how the map is organized:

‘Importance’ is on the horizontal axis. This scale measures the relative importance of the factors customers consider in their decisions. Usually, these factors are weighted on a 10-point scale. (As you would suspect, price and availability are often rated extremely high in importance.)

‘Value’ is on the vertical axis. It measures the relative weight the customer places on differences between suppliers. For some variables, there is a minimum expectation and little value is placed by the customer if you exceed that minimum.

Every customer, however, has a limited set of decision factors for which high value is placed on the supplier who exceeds industry performance standards. These variables are often the key to saving the customer money and/or reducing risk associated with the purchase. If you can find and deliver on these high-value items, you will have a competitive advantage in addressing that customer.

Based on the importance and value ratings of the customer’s decision factors, you may classify those factors into three groups:

‘Antes’: factors that fall into this band can be considered basic requirements. Alone, these antes are unlikely to win you the business.

‘Raises’: as the name implies, factors that map in this band offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage. Recognizing the variables that fall here and gearing your value proposition to exceed competition affords the customer a defendable reason to pay more for your offering and/or select you from among equals.

‘IBI’: this last band identifies variables that are ‘interesting but irrelevant,’ to the customer’s decision process. The customer has enough variables to consider before introducing these unimportant ones. Reallocate these resources to raises and you will realize share gains.

How can the marketer complete the decision map?
Populating the map with objective customer data can only be done by asking the customer. We have found several technologies, particularly when used in combination, effective:

Qualitative interviews: multiple decision-makers/influencers within the customer’s organization are interviewed. They are asked to describe the brand/source selection process and identify/rank all factors that the organization considered. Respondents are asked to describe in detail the last purchase decision made as a reality check on the decision map.

Focus groups: groups of buyers from similar customer segment are brought together and presented with a hypothetical purchase decision. The group is asked to come to a brand/source decision and explain their reasons behind it. Moderators observe and document the decision tradeoffs that are made.

Internet research: often to support one of the above techniques, an Internet survey is conducted with a cross-section of decision makers from a target customer set. These buyers are presented with a hypothetical purchase decision and asked to rate factors that determine brand and source selection.

How does the decision-mapping tool support strategy development?
One of the most powerful outcomes of the decision-mapping process is the ability to identify customer segments and the differences in their decision-making priorities.

This provides a powerful context from which to select your target segments and the type of investment you will make in each.

CARL CULLOTTA is vice president and principal for Frank Lynn Associates. Reach him at (312) 558-4823 or