Marketing Leverage Times – Summer 2004

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Welcome to the second edition of the Marketing Leverage Times. Our goal is to provide you with useful information and thoughtful commentary on marketing and business issues to help you improve your organization’s leverage to market. We hope you will enjoy this regular collection of tips, tidbits and tools. We welcome your input and feedback. Tell us what you like and don’t like and what you’d like to see featured in future editions.


One of my earliest employment experiences was, believe it or not, with the Ringling Brothers Circus. No, I wasn’t a trapeze artist or a lion tamer or even an animal handler. I was one of the vendors hawking refreshments in the stands during circus performances.
Each year the circus would come to Northeastern Pennsylvania during spring break week. Signing up as a food vendor meant a chance to be backstage, have fun, and see the performances for free. We were paid minimum wage, but received a percentage of product sales. The more you sold, the more you made.

As the new kid on the block, I was given peanuts as my wares. Now the elephants may love ’em, but they weren’t a real big seller among the folks in the stands. No matter what I did, I couldn’t sell very many of those brown bags of nuts. This led to the first of my Marketing Takeaways: No matter how hard you try, you can’t sell people a product they’re not interested in.

The real sellers were sodas and cotton candy, but they went to the more experienced vendors. A few performances later, I did manage to get assigned to the snow cone concession. Snow cones weren’t a bad choice, since it could get pretty warm in the arena during performances. But there was one problem. Each tray of snow cones came with an assortment of four flavors: cherry, orange, grape and root beer. Cherry and orange were extremely popular and went quickly. Grape had enough followers that they’d eventually sell. Root beer? Well, let’s just say it was never clear why they were even included at all, given how few people actually wanted these.

There was one more twist. You had to sell your entire tray of snow cones and turn in the money collected before you got a new tray to sell. Ergo, the rub: how to get rid of those last 4 or 5 root beer snow cones before they turned into inedible brown slush. (Did I mention that it got quite warm in the arena?)

I looked around and noticed that few of the other vendors bothered to climb the bleachers to sell their wares-preferring instead to pass the food up from row to row and the money back down. This mid-performance distraction was not particularly appreciated by the unwilling bucket brigade in the middle.

A thought occurred to me: What if I turned the tables and took the product to the customer? What if I climbed the bleachers and made it easier for the customer to get their treats-removing the poor middlemen from of the picture, too. Sure enough, as soon as one family saw I was willing to climb up to them, another one on the other side called out “Hey can you come here next?” Witness Marketing Takeaway #2: Make it easy for the customer to buy from you vs the competitors.

But then an amazing thing happened. There I was up in row 17, handing over the last couple of cherry and grape snow cones, when a man just behind me turned to his wife and said “Gee, maybe we should get snow cones while the kid is here?” And the wife looked at my tray of ices and said, “But dear, all that’s left is root beer.” To which her husband said, “But hon, no one else has even bothered to look this way, let alone climb all the way up here. Let’s get them while we can. Better root beer than nothing at all.”

Marketing Takeaway #3: Go out of your way to take care of your customers. They will appreciate and reward you, buying your product or service even when it doesn’t exactly match their ideal specifications.

By the end of the week, I was able to grow my snow cone business significantly. I was also ready to trade the thrill and hard work of circus life for the more mundane world of high school.

Marketing Takeaways

You can’t sell a product people don’t want
Make it easy for the customer to buy from you
Go out of your way to take care of customers

What Do People Say About Us? Please see our testimonials.


One thing I couldn’t quite figure out from my circus experience was why the concession people insisted on putting root beer snow cones on every tray, when focusing on the more popular flavors would almost certainly have increased overall sales.

Sounds like they may have fallen for Marketing Myth #3: We know what our customers need.

We understand our customers and their market. We’ve taken our knowledge of their requirements and built the products they will need to move forward in the future. In fact, we know what our customers need better than they do.

With your existing expertise, you may already know quite a bit about what your customers need. Or at least what you think they need. But have you really taken the time to look at the situation from their perspective? Have you taken the time to understand their business and the issues and challenges they face, now and in the future? Have you asked what keeps them up at night, what they worry most about? Do you understand their competitive situation, from their unique perspective?

You may have even built a product line that incorporates many features that you think might be valuable to your customers. Based on your research, you may have built what you know is a great product. The real question: Is this the right product that meets my customers’ needs today? Have I really stopped and looked at the world through their eyes? Better yet, have I asked my customers for feedback on the bundle of features and functionality we’ve collected in a product? Have I talked to my channel partners to find out what really sells and why? And, have I stopped to listen and integrate this feedback? In other words, have my customers and sales partners already told me what flavors of snow cones I should be selling?

Are Marketing Myths Hurting Your Business?

For more popular Marketing Myths, see our website.

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