Railway Age, November 1991

We Are All Marketers

"Marketing is too important to be left to marketing people," observed Gordon Kuhn, Senior Vice President, Marketing at Conrail, at the Conrail Short Line Meeting in Philadelphia.

Gordon wasn't talking about wrenching the marketing function from the hands of his marketing staff. Instead, he'd like to expand the ranks of Conrail's marketers to embrace each of the railroad's some 25,000 employees.

His point is well taken. We're in a service business, and every one of us has to be aware of how the decisions we make affect the customer's perception of the railroad. Conrail's Continuous Quality Program was created for just this reason. The goal is to enlist the employees' dedication to "making Conrail the carrier of choice in every transportation market we serve."

Every transportation market includes, of course, the Class I/ feeder line partnership, where a fresh look at business-as-usual can yield sales dividends for both parties. To illustrate this point, let's move to another Class I and one of its feeder-line partnerships.

The South Central Florida Railroad (SCFE) interchanges with CSX at Sebring, Florida. The SCFE found a potential 60 cars of business that could be snatched back from the trucks if only they could provide a reasonable and dependable transit time. They could pick up 20 cars from another shipper if only they could shave a day or two from the transit time -- and 70 more from a third shipper if they could help him turn the cars faster once they were placed.

But the SCFE can only do so much to improve reliability and transit times. It's up to CSX to do the rest.

The good news is that CSX has set up a separate business unit to address just such concerns. Working together, CSX and SCFE staffers found that cars released Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday move the fastest. Thursday and Sunday cars take another day. Saturday takes two additional days. By timing their car releases to take advantage of the better transit times, shippers can increase the speed and reliability of their rail transportation. This is a prime example of non-marketers (e.g., transportation department personnel) working to fill a marketing need. (CSX and SCFE are also working together to aid the third shipper in constructing the additional siding he needs to turn his cars faster.)

Opportunities for marketing partnerships in Class I/feeder line relationships abound. But what about within the short line itself?

Here the short line has the edge over the Class I. To have a meeting of all of its employees, Conrail would have to hire Veterans Stadium. The entire staff of most short lines can gather around one coffeepot.

So it's easy for short line people to trade marketing in- sights across functions on an informal basis. The locomotive mechanic can tell you how a locomotive breakdown hurt a customer and how to prevent repeats. The conductor can tell you he sees more trucks than usual at a customer whose rail business is flat or down. The data entry clerk remarks that her 11-year-old son is playing Little League ball with a kid whose mother is the new VP Manufacturing at your Number Three shipper.

Not one of these employees is a marketer in the job-descrip- tion sense. But their marketing communications can point the way to the sales opportunities, service opportunities, and operating efficiencies that spell success for the short line.

How does the short line manager start to involve the entire staff in marketing intelligence gathering and recommendations? Too often the number crunchers, operating people, and market strategists miss the "softer" aspects of the business. In other words, they miss out on what the business could be. However, to energize and empower your workers to amaze and delight customers is to find new markets and ways to serve them.

It helps, of course, to hire the right people in the first place. Perhaps one of the best short lines for employee empower- ment is the South Carolina Central, a RailTex unit run by Bill Strawn. Bill's hiring guidelines are his Three A's: attitude, aptitude, and application. Is the applicant a team player? -- are the skills for working in the short line environment present? -- and will those skills be applied? Bill's approach obviously works: South Carolina Central won the coveted Golden Freight Car award this year.

Depending on your personal style and your organizational culture, you may want to structure a formal program, with bench- marks, objectives, incentives, and slogans. Or, you may imple- ment an informal program in increments. As One Minute Manager Guru Ken Blanchard (probably a distant relation) says, "catch them doing something right." Keep a watch for the train crew that hustles cars through the yard to make better connections or get a hot car to a customer...or the clerk who works through lunch to chase down a rate request. Recognize and reward their contributions to your marketing effort-and make sure their coworkers know it.

Marketing is too important to be left to marketing people. We are all marketers. And it shows.

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Created July 21, 1995. Send comments to lblanchard@aol.com