In well-run American companies sales and marketing are high-prestige areas to work in. Sales and marketing people have direct and constant contact with the market. They establish and deepen the dialogue with the customers about their needs.

If the customers are the focal point of any business, then those close to them are in a position of power. For it is they who receive the messages from the customers, then interpret and pass them back into the company.

Sales and marketing is the bridge, the interpreter, between problem and solution. At its best, sales and marketing is the highest form of commercial activity. It is where the business transaction takes place.

Sophisticated and precise

The ability to persuade, to sell, both inside of the company to internal stakeholders and decision makers, as well as outside of the company to business partners and customers, is critical to every company’s overall success.

In German companies engineering, product development and manufacturing are the high-prestige areas to work in. Germans are technically oriented. Their products are sophisticated and precise. They address complex and sophisticated tasks.

The strength of the German economy has always been based on scientific and engineering know-how. Their core talent is in making machines and products for those companies who in turn make products for the end-consumer. Germans believe, and with ample evidence to support it, that if you build a better product, it should sell itself.

Not necessarily the best

Americans are likely to say: “Anyone can manufacture. We off-shored most of it long ago. The key to success is sales and marketing.” Germans are likely to say: “The key to business success is the technical solution. Sales and marketing should open the doors for our engineers and then simply get out of the way.”

“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door,” is a commonly-used expression in American business. But it is a pejorative. It has a negative or disparaging meaning: Very few products are so good that you need not sell or market them.

Interestingly, “Build a better mousetrap . . . ” is a misquotation of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who in the late 19th century wrote: “If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.”

Very possible. But what about those people or companies whose corn, wood, boards, pigs and church organs are not clearly better than anybody else’s?

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