Market Requirements = Garbage.

Last Updated Dec 27, 2007 11:56 AM EST

Marketing Requirements FailingLast friday, I blogged about a marketing decision made at Microsoft about a decade ago. You may have thought that screed was a bit off-topic for this blog, but there was method in my madness. I wanted to illustrate an important point about the proper role of Marketing inside a B2B organization.

Over the past year, I've tried to make the point that Marketing's sole purpose is to generate leads and that every activity that doesn't involve generating leads simply adds to the cost of sales without any corresponding benefit. Whenever I've made this point, sundry Marketing folk have responded with a list of supposedly useful tasks that Marketing is supposed to perform, like "generating market requirements" and "defining new product features."

While there may be some Marketing groups somewhere that can actually perform such functions, it's my observation that most of the time Marketing is the least qualified to make product design decisions. The reason is simple. Marketing folk are neither close enough to the customer to understand what they really want, nor are they close enough to the technical aspects of a product to understand either what's feasible or what's wise to implement.

When it comes to understanding what customers want, companies should look to the Sales team. They're the ones that hear the straight skinny every day. They know where customers are feeling pain. Conversely, when it comes to understanding what will actually work, the best resource is the Engineering team. They understand the technical issues and know what will (and won't) create big problems later down the line.

Needless to say, there's a natural conflict between these two perspectives, which is why Engineering teams and Sales teams frequently don't see eye-to-eye. However, there are many ways to lessen that conflict, like getting the engineers in the same room with customers to hash things out. (Engineers love this kind of interaction, by the way.)

By contrast, because Marketing almost always has an imperfect understanding (at best) of both the customer's perspective and the technical perspective, the kind of "product requirements" that they create are almost always off-base or confused. A stock figure in Engineering humor (like Dilbert) is the clueless Marketing geek who thinks he's a great technologist. The archetype resonates because, unfortunately, it's often true.

In the case of Microsoft, the decision to make the operating system permeable to outside applications was a case where I strongly suspect that a decision was made for Marketing reasons. That decision, while profitable in the short term for Microsoft, has created repercussions that are costing businesses billions of dollars every year.

Because I know, due to my background, how operating system programmers think, I have to believe that the operating system programmers at Microsoft warned Microsoft's management that the company was creating a Frankenstein -- and that those warnings were ignored. Thus the Microsoft example simply becomes a perfect example of the meddling of Marketing in an area of business (product design) where they don't belong.

Here's the nub: Marketing in a B2B firm has only one function, which is lead generation. Anything that lies outside that function (like defining new products) is either a waste of time or (worse) a recipe for disaster.