Augie MacCurrach | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Augie MacCurrach

Background:  

Customer Portfolios is a marketing and engagement company that has grown to 40 employees since it was founded in Boston in 2001.

The Mistake:

We underestimated the importance of explaining what we do and of differentiating ourselves in the marketplace.

At my previous company, a management consulting firm called DiaLogos here in Boston, we got into databases and analytics. So we were kind of think tank at the strategy and then we were also helping companies get started.

We would help them get going, but we saw time and time again that as soon as we left the building companies would struggle, all the people we trained would leave, and the knowledge wouldn't get passed down. There were blinking lights but nobody was home.

Then the dot-com bubble burst and all that project money that was driving the growth of DiaLogos went away. We decided to convert everything into a managed services model so that we provided the technology, the closed-loop marketing platform, and the expertise as a single solution.

That was our vision, but what I didn't know when I filed for incorporation was that September 11 was going to happen and a struggling economy was going to get worse. I also underestimated the things that drive the tech market.

In the early days, we were being compared to people that we wanted to be compared to, big guys like Epsilon and the other database companies. But then we were being compared to companies who weren't doing what we wanted to do.

The first time somebody said, “How are you different from Omniture?” I was so stunned by the question I almost couldn't answer it. And I guess what we began to realize was how much the technology space was continuing to be cluttered with people claiming to be the be-all, end-all solution. We were probably slow to respond and have a clear marketing response.

You have to be able to crystallize your value proposition​.

The Lesson:

We have been slower learners on this, but I think the lesson is that you really have to be able to crystallize your value proposition—why your clients are going to value you and how they're going to get value and a return on their investment from you. I think we're doing a much better job of that today, but in 2005 we must have been very complicated to understand. Our clients were trying to get their heads around everything we were saying and we should have brought it down to the simplest point that any marketer or sales executive would be able to understand and to buy.

Follow Customer Portfolios on Twitter at @CustPortfolios.

Photo courtesy of Augie MacCurrach

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Boston.