Sense And Respond Marketing

Gary Hamel was the first management thinker to write about the concept of core competencies. It’s too bad this concept has fallen out of favor.

For all the talk about new marketing approaches like search engine optimization, social networking, and the like, few marketing execs can really (let alone honestly) answer the question: What is my marketing department really good at — that is, what are our core competencies?

I (only half) jokingly often say that most marketing groups have perfected the three Ps of marketing: 1) Predicting what customers will buy; 2) Pushing a bunch of marketing messages out to those customers/prospects; and 3) Praying for a better response and conversion rate than the last campaign.

The emergence of new marketing pressures (like SEO and social networking) will require marketers to not simply understand and utilize these new vehicles. The changing behaviors and attitudes of consumers will require that marketers develop a new core competency. I (and apparently, others like IBM) call this competency sense-and-respond marketing:

The ability to sense consumer needs and intentions based on their behaviors and actions, and to respond with appropriate advice, guidance, and offers.”

When addressing the core competency question, marketing execs should assess how well their marketing department can:

  • Sense where a customer is in the buying cycle based on the clues that they provide through in-person, call center, and online interactions;
  • Alter the sequence, quantity, and content of messages based on those clues; and
  • Respond within an appropriate timeframe (this does not always have to be “real-time”) and through the appropriate channels.

The predictive ability that many firms have developed over the past 20 or so years will support them going forward. But the nature of this ability changes from simply predicting product need to predicting “message” need (awareness message, advice message, sales message).

Successful salespeople have a sense-and-respond capability. They look and listen to their prospect and then respond and guide the prospect through the steps of the buying process.

This is marketing’s new competency requirement: Improving its ability to move customers through the buying cycle with a sense-and-respond capability.

For more discussion on this, see Jim Novo’s Marketing Productivity blog.


7 thoughts on “Sense And Respond Marketing

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  2. Pingback: Marketing Productivity Blog » Blog Archive » Sense And Respond Marketing

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  4. For a contrarian opinion about trying to measure marketing ROI (the good news is, you actually can’t no matter how hard you try–which you shouldn’t), and for an argument that sense-and –repond must be adopted as a managerial model in order for S&R Marketing to be sustainable, see —I am the individual who named and created the concepts and principles of S&R as a business competence at IBM in the early 90s.

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  6. Hi Ron, Thanks for stopping by NextUp. I think your definition of Sense & Respond Marketing is pretty good, but as Stephan Haeckel pointed out, the core competency needs to extend beyond Marketing to include the entire organization. Moreover, Haeckel will tell you that Sense & Respond is not about “predicting”, although it can appear that way. It’s really about being adaptive – knowing earlier and being able to act faster. Not sure if you have read Haeckel’s book, but he has a pretty good prescription. Unfortunately, Haeckel presents his case in highly academic terms. Most executives will have a hard time getting through it. Nevertheless, the concepts are spot on.

    Last year, I was part of a small, cross-functional team charged with developing a Sense & Respond competency at my company. The project was abandoned a few months ago as we were never able to get the Sr. Mgmt to understand the concepts (that speaks volumes).

    There are clearly companies that have this competency from a marketing standpoint. I think Amazon is a good example. Wal-Mart has it when it comes to supply chain. Beyond what you describe, I think there is the element that Greg Verdino was getting at in his post and which lots of other “influentials” are referring to as Age of Conversation. Before people had all sorts of tools to communicate and collaborate, Marketing was pretty much a one way street. “This is my product and here’s why you need it”. In today’s hyper-connected world, people are empowered to share, connect, collaborate, discuss, debate, and ideate. Companies that understand the value of “Sensing”, will engage in conversations with their customers and listen to what’s being said about them. This goes way beyond “predicting product and message needs”. True Sense & Respond organizations; those who openly communicate and collaborate with their customers, are letting customers define the brand.

  7. Doug, we’ve not met, but were on a phone call together last fall with Adam Drake. After that my Circuit CIty screen went blank and It wasn’t till I read your post above that I learned why.

    To the extent you are able to talk about it, I would be interested in learning more about the concepts, ideas and practices that Circuit City senior managers found most difficult to swallow/digest. In fact, I’d like to chat with you about alternative ways of inttroducing S&R — especially when Senior Executives haven’t signed off on it.

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