How to Market "Marketing": a primer for business people who market

I just returned from a Frost & Sullivan marketing conference in which I participated in discussions around the alignment of sales and marketing.  The mere mention of the topic brought out emotions on both fronts and it was clear that done poorly, the relationships devolve into a Dilbert cartoon (or “sock puppet theater” as one presenter noted), with both parties suspecting the others of subterfuge and buffoonery. Marketers are often left wondering how they can better market “marketing” within their organizations and to their leadership teams.  

Let’s face it, many companies de-value marketing.  Some consider it the department that makes pretty pictures or that it is simply the administrative support for the sales team.  Others strongly value the strategic involvement of marketing in product strategy, branding, strategic planning, and industry leadership.  I am blessed to work for an organization that models the latter, but I certainly am familiar with the former.

Usually, this lack of respect or understanding for the role of marketing in the organization takes two forms:

  • Exclusion from decision making and strategic conversations (a focus on tactical execution only, often exemplified by only having junior marketing staff who report up into another function like sales or G&A)
  • Lack of adequate resources to do high-quality marketing work (budget, time, or resource limitations that keep the work tactical and reactionary)

This topic is a big one (worthy of more than one post).  To get the conversation started among follow marketers, here are four key questions that you can ask yourself to help you answer the question of how to market “marketing” in your organization.

1. Can you express your motivation for wanting to market marketing in terms of overall business results?

Do you think that investing in a marketing automation system and nurturing campaigns will generate 20% more revenue next year?  Do you believe that improving the brand consistency across the organization will lead to higher customer perception of quality and improve gross margins by 2% for the next product launch?  Do you believe that developing a new interactive platform for sharing product benefits with your sales channel will reduce the sales cycle by 2 months resulting in a 13% increase in revenue with the same effort?  Do you believe that having a seat at the decision making table would improve the company results or employee engagement demonstrably? Can you describe, in plain English or in understandable data, the financial benefits and returns of marketing investments? These are the types of questions you should be asking, when you are thinking of advocating for anything in a business environment.  What is the business impact for the change you are advocating?

If you don't know how to answer these questions, it could be an indication that you are not yet ready to advocate for a larger and more impactful role for marketing in your company... and that you should get ready.  That in itself, should be a call to action to learn more about your business, your drivers of value in the market, your customer problems, your solutions, revenue or customer attribution models, and overall business strategy...and how score is kept financially in your business.  You must strive to be a business person, as well as a marketer.  And today, those should be distinguishable.

And don’t be lured into advocating that there is no ROI on marketing investment.  That is an archaic way of viewing the world and simply isn’t true.  Sure, people have wasted money in “marketing activities” (I’ll get to that below).  Sure, some data is just too expensive to get reliably in marketing (and I would argue, in every other function of a business), so business decisions must be made based on the limited information available. But you can describe the financial impact of nearly every decision of your business and marketing is no exception.  If you find yourself defending "marketing" without data, go watch the movie Moneyballand see yourself reflected in the dialogue between the salty sports recruiters and Brad Pitt’s character.  It’s a new era for business people doing marketing, with more transparency and accountability than ever before, and you must be leading the charge.

2. What is the perception of your brand and that of "marketing" in your organization? What should it be?  What is the gap?

Before you would embark on a brand building campaign, you would always begin with data to identify the "as is" state and to quantify the "to be" state.  And to identify the gap between these states.  Often this accomplished with surveys, voice of the customer, share of voice analysis, or other tools.  Why not do the same thing within your organization to gauge how far away the organization is from what you envision as the ideal?  

It is also important to know whether your brand is strong enough in the organization to lead that charge?  What are you known for, personally, in your organization?  Why do people come to you?  Does that align with what you need it to be to advocate the change you are advocating?  What can you do to change the perception and reputation, if necessary?  Are there projects that you need ot delegate to others (ie, the company holiday party, responsibility for the receptionist, etc) to improve the perception of marketing as strategic in your organization?  Who else do you need to advocate on your behalf?

3. What "marketing" does your customer really need?

This should probably be the first question, as anything (besides that which is required for regulatory, legal, or financial compliance) that isn't seen and appreciated by customers, probably isn't worth doing.  It is the definition of waste and the hallmark of bureaucracy.  But coming back to my point, what value does the customer perceive in the marketing you do?

Are your customers able to make better and faster purchase decisions because of their access to technical information?  Are your resellers able to sell more because of the sales tools you provide?  Are they able to reduce their costs with more accurate quoting resources?  Are they able to achieve business results because of the value proposition of the products you provide?  Does your marketing help set your company and brand apart in measurable ways?

Some service firms have found that dedicated sales and marketing staff is not nearly as effective as sending their consultants right out to their clients to share expertise directly and we their appetite for more (a topic covered extensively in Patrick Lencioni's book Getting Naked).  Some technical engineering firms, web site developers, or agencies find that their engineering teams are best equipped to sell and market to their technical buyers and that all that is needed from marketing is some communication tools to help facilitate these conversations, as learned from colleagues at a recent event held by the Technology Association of Oregon at which I presented on this topic.  In our business at Planar, there is a lot of "marketing" that happens in customer conversations with account managers and technical sales professionals in the field.  This is good and necessary for our technical, system-style products.  Part of the marketing team’s role in this case is to equip their sales colleagues to have these conversations and to aim them at the right targets for best success.  Each business will be different, but successful marketing begins with an understanding of the customer.

and finally...

4. What is the winning formula that is worth repeating?

Like any system, it is important to look and inputs and outputs.  If you want to answer questions 1-3, a good place to start is your wins.  Where are some situations that have gone well that you think are worthy of replication?  Go back and analyze a big order, a design win, or project award and ask everyone involved how it came to be, the touchpoints with the organization, what sales tools or marketing resources were used, and what made the difference.  There is no sense automating or "improving the efficiency" of things that are not effective.  Said another way, finding faster ways to lose money is to find a better way to drive yourself out of business.  But, if you focus on what is going right, you will find a platform from which you can advocate smart change and gain the respect of the organization and the resources to replicate what is working.  And chances are, if you know it is a winning example that can be replicated, others in the organization will as well, and you will have a common foundation to build trust and understanding.

Special thanks to Lisa ColeAllison CerraLeilani Brown, and Mark Wilson for helping to refine these lessons learned.