Before I turned to making marketing qualified leads for a living, I was a production manager in a chocolate factory. It was a dream job for a chocoholic. We used to take raw materials at the making end (or “wet” end, as we called it) and make sure that as the sweet sugar center of the candy bar journeyed down the conveyor belt, all the steps to shape, cut and enrobe the bar were carried out correctly, and every stage added to the overall quality of the end product.  

After passing the last enrobing station, the bar entered a long, dark, lonely tunnel. Thanks to the precise timing of the conveyor belt and cooling cycles, ready-to-pack chocolate bars soon emerged from the other end of the tunnel.

When the bars entered the packing room, workers were standing by to dispose of any bars that did not meet agreed-upon standards. It was considered better to have a lower conversion rate and throw the bad stuff out than let a misshapen bar clog the packing machines that wrapped bars at 350 units a minute. Finally, the packing machine operators would receive the acceptable bars into their machines and pack the end product for the sales team to deliver to eagerly awaiting customers.

So, why do I tell you this story on the SiriusDecisions blog?  Well, this experience has provided me with a great library of visualization scenarios to bring key alignment concepts to life throughout my marketing career:

  • Service-level agreements. At the chocolate factory, the production tunnel actually went through a wall as it progressed from the “wet” end to the “dry” end (the packing end). Can you imagine what would have happened in the factory if the chocolate-makers sent their product through the wall and just hoped that someone was ready and knew what to do with the product? In B2B sales and marketing, the supply and receiving functions must enter into a service agreement detailing exactly what is expected of both parties.  
  • Lead quality.  When sales shouts, “Give me more leads!” I imagine what would have happened in the chocolate factory if I skipped a few steps in the making process or increased the speed of the conveyor belt without altering the cooling levers: The factory would have wound up with one mighty, gooey mess of badly formed bars congealing in a heap in front of the packers – a mess that no one could sell!  Increasing the quantity of leads without taking steps to maintain the quality will lead to less – rather than more – success.
  • Resource planning. When the teleservices team (which plays a role similar to that of the packers in the chocolate factory) cries out, “We can’t cope with the volume of leads,” I imagine what would happen if I had slowed down the factory conveyor belt: We would have had frozen, crumbly, inedible bars, or the highly paid sales staff might have been forced to begin wrapping individual chocolate bars!  Reconcile demand creation against capacity constraints to better target efforts and reduce inefficiencies in the demand creation engine.

With these scenarios in mind, I think of all the marketing dashboards I have created, the number of leads I have generated and how many leads have been lost due to poorly aligned demand creation processes.  I try to grasp what those numbers mean in terms of wasted money and human effort.  

Let me tell you, factories are noisy and intense places of work.  But one of the worst sounds is absolute silence in the packing end.  When you have seen a thousand chocolate bars disappearing off the end of a conveyor belt every minute  – and when you have heard the “thud, thud, thud” of product hitting the ground, and the scraping sound as some poor chap literally shovels all the bars you have worked so hard to produce into a large waste barrel, then you can truly feel the pain of a poorly aligned marketing factory.