Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is much like the USDA's food pyramid. At the very top is the peak of self-fulfillment, which we might consider to be a taste of our life's calling. At the base are the physiological elements that keep us alive, like air, shelter and food, which many of us are fortunate to take for granted daily. However, one of the most important -- clean water -- is becoming scarce in many parts of the world, and this is where our CMO Spotlight flows today.
Snehal Desai is the global business director for Dow Water and Process Solutions, a division of Dow Chemical. A former chemist himself, Mr. Desai knows Dow intimately, having been a marketer almost exclusively with the company since 1987. For those who aren't familiar, Dow specializes in water separation and purification technologies worldwide, bringing in over $1 billion in revenue and putting 1,700 employees to work. And its customer base is expanding. Read on for four thirst-quenching, need-to-know marketing insights from Mr. Desai, all equal in the hierarchy of importance.
1) Build a bridge over troubled water
Dow builds relationships with its customers via consultative selling, which is another term for solving problems and providing reliable operations during product lifecycles. However, with more international spread and installations than ever, Dow has found personalized service to be a mounting issue. "The business challenge right now," Mr. Desai says, "is scaling this intimate consultative model in a manner that allows us to get not only to the thousands of installations" but also to those within a larger scope.
Fortunately, like many of us today, Dow's customers often attempt to troubleshoot their issues before contacting the company. "So now, we have to make those tools and some of that decision-making information available to them online," says Mr. Desai. One solution lives on Dow's website as a search app, which Mr. Desai hopes can become part of a larger effort to target new customers.
"People come to us for what they know they need, but there could be a lot of things we could do for them," Mr. Desai says. "If a person had a big question about something related to water, even though that may not be something that we do, we can direct them to a sister division, or a customer that does it." Dow uses its expertise to funnel the customer toward a solution, not toward a new sale. "A lot of times," says Mr. Desai, "there is no reason to advocate for anything other than one piece of the puzzle because it's the only one that is needed."
2) Build trust for watershed moments
This leads to our next insight: One can never underestimate the value of brand trust. When customers look to Dow for replacement water systems, trust lays the foundation for the conversation. As Mr. Desai says, Dow prides itself on its history of reliability, which keeps business booming. "We spend a lot of time showing how our products are working around the world. Doing this in our 35 years of business has resulted in a large amount of repeat buyers."
Dow also relies on a little help from what you might call "water influencers" to keep brand trust in tact. "Over the years, we've done a nice job finding the early adopters that are willing to embrace a change in scheme, a new operating technology, or are willing to partner with us to deploy it," says Mr. Desai. "We really cultivate references all over the world."
3) Don't fear the deep
At one time, Dow was less inclined to entertain change, following the old adage "If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it." Now, Mr. Desai says, Dow values innovation even if it doesn't necessarily lead to improvement. What matters is where that capital is spent. "It doesn't have to be big bets," he says, "but the important questions are, 'What do you choose to experiment on? What do you choose to pilot?'"
4) Prepare for the rain
Searching for answers in unexpected places also leads to innovation. "Over the last 18 months, I've spent more time at conferences and workshops that you wouldn't think Dow would be a part of," says Mr. Desai. Dow recently joined advocacy groups like the Value of Water Coalition and Water Resource Group 2030, entering the conversation on water scarcity, in what Mr. Desai calls "courageous collaboration."
"That focus requires us to engage with a variety of stakeholders to get this topic on the table because it's not a problem everywhere," he says. In this way, Dow is bringing greater awareness and urgency to what will soon be a global problem. "Our technologies may or may not fit at that moment, but we're at least informing the dialog," Mr. Desai says.