At one point in my career, I worked with a bunch of people who didn’t think marketing was important. It’s funny; one of the guys has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from a decent college. Other people, particularly those on the Board of Directors, didn’t believe either. They were believers in what they described as “hard core sales.” Hmmm, “hard core” sounds like a marketing term to me. Born in another industry, it must have passed by them.
So I thought about the company and its position in the marketplace. Losing money and no new sales for years were the headlines, followed by a blue chip client base and bad customer survey results. And last, high turnover in management and across the company. I joined to lead business development, which included Marketing.
Each quarter I would sit in the board meeting. I would look at the trail of successful executives walk through the door. One had a watch on his wrist that was so big he could have had someone along with him to carry his hand. I wondered if the exec was “sold hard” on that watch. Did the salesperson threaten or work him on price, delivery, or service? Was it a “deal he couldn’t refuse”? Or had our guy seen the advertising during the Masters golf tournament or the U.S. Open? Perhaps he succumbed to the messages from Madison Avenue or that cute shopping boutique in Vail, CO. Not sure, was it Marketing?
One day I bumped into another executive and board member on her way to the parking garage. We traded pleasantries as she climbed into her Porsche 911. I hopped into my Jeep and sat for a moment in the driver’s seat. I thought about the marketing Porsche did and how the product was a self-promoting machine in and of itself. I resisted banging my head on the steering wheel. Why hadn’t I been able to prove what had been so evident to me? That marketing activity enables sales. That the purpose of a business is not profits. That the purpose of a business is to create a customer. From customers, profits flow, particularly from happy customers. These are fundamental Peter Drucker truths they teach in business school. All of these guys had been to business school, except me. So why did I understand the central role of Marketing when they did not, or would not? The 911 buzzed out of the parking space ahead of me. I got the message loud and clear. For some, the pecking order even existed in the parking garage.
I thought long and hard about the people I worked with and their business principles. How they approached products, sales, and making money. I realized this was going to be a tough assignment for me. In fact, it was likely that I would get myself fired. Never a quitter, I decided to continue with the engagement.
I decided to go back to my roots. To hire the best people I could find and equip them with tools and information needed to perform their jobs. I had been part of a team that employed business case selling for enterprise sales before. We had great success with it in the past. So I decided to try it. I had also delivered a record $25 million sales year in a $100 million software business. I had used some of the same techniques and skills. So I focused on Marketing, the lead steer in business development. Over two years we built a real pipeline. The funnel included a prospect of significant strategic and financial size. We closed two deals representing the first new business in over five years. Sounds like success but unfortunately, it is not.
So the natural question is, why? How come a lot of activity turns out to be no activity? If you haven’t signed any new clients and you add two, why doesn’t that mean anything? Is this even possible? The answer is yes, and here are three reasons why. It is here where Marketing fails and why it often has a bad name with senior executives.
1. Good marketing can’t make up for poor marketing’s prior sins.
Apple’s marketing is legendary; so are Nike’s and Budweiser’s. Go hire the teams from these companies to come in behind the crew that delivered Sprint’s magic or the debacle that is Quiznos. You won’t have results in the same ball park. Why? The hole is too deep for even the best marketing in the world to change. Marketing takes it on the chin for being an expensive failure the first time around. Next, it is an even more costly effort to try to fix the failure. Add it all up and marketing is expensive and sucks. That creates a reputation that hangs around for a while.
2. Good marketing can’t hide poor products.
The lipstick on a pig analogy works here. People did this to fraudulently sell stock research back in the early 2000s. If your product doesn’t work, or you are breaking the law to pretend it does, marketing won’t fix it.
3. Good marketing can’t fix ineffective sales operations.
Sales operations are distribution. It’s how your products get into the hands and environments of your clients. Done well, it is the most important area of any company. However, poor sales performance can kill a product, brand, and company.
What did I learn from my experience? I had dealt with all three issues simultaneously. I had no chance, regardless of the numbers that I put up. But there is a silver lining to my story. Even at this point in my career, I learned some of the best lessons in my business life. At a minimum, I can share them here.
My best, Chris