Monday, October 26, 2009

How Managers Help Marketers Increase Their Value

In my last post, I suggested some ways that marketers can increase their value in their respective firms. That caught the attention of marketing guru Suzanne Lowe who responded with a post on her own blog entitled "Can PSF marketers alone make "Marketing" indispensable? No way!" Her main point was that firm managers needed to get on board if marketing is to truly succeed.

No argument from me. But I wasn't trying to address the whole marketing conundrum, simply offering some advice to a group that often feels marginalized. If you've followed this blog, you know that there's been no shortage of recommendations for firm managers regarding how they can improve the marketing and business development function.

This week I return my focus to managers, this time taking up Suzanne's challenge to suggest ways managers can help marketers enhance their impact and influence:

Create an ambitious vision for the marketing function. Marketing (as contrasted with sales) in our business suffers from low expectations. We generally don't try to measure results and usually don't have specific outcomes in mind. Even many marketers don't seem convinced that marketing can produce reliable, tangible results. No wonder managers often look here for cost cutting in tough times.

We can do better. Marketing, well executed, brings customers to your door. It reinforces a distinctive brand. It positions your firm as a formidable player in your target markets. Good marketing is a strategic asset, and that includes the marketing professionals who make it work. Enlarge your vision of marketing and you're more likely to see marketers step up and demonstrate their real value.

Establish clear priorities and stick to them. As long as marketers are subject to the beck and call of their technical colleagues, their strategic value will be diminished. You need to define what marketing activities are most important and clear the time for marketers to work on them. Sure, everyone needs to shift priorities at times to pursue timely opportunities as they arise. But you can't achieve strategic marketing goals when your marketers function purely as an internal support group to those who don't really understand marketing.

To keep the marketing effort focused on what matters most, management should team with marketers to define goals and priorities. I suggest doing this at least quarterly. Then commit a specific portion (say 60-70%) of the marketing group's time to those priorities. Important marketing tasks shouldn't be done with leftover time. If unplanned requests for marketing resources exceed the remaining allotment, I advise an executive-level decision on whether to reallocate marketers' time. This helps sustain marketing as a strategic function rather than merely a resource pool for reactive business development activity.

Empower marketing staff with appropriate policies and procedures. Having established goals and priorities, it's helpful to put systems into place to reinforce these. In most A/E firms I've worked with, the de facto priority for marketing staff is working on proposals. Unfortunately, they are too often asked to spend enormous amounts of time on proposals where there's little reasonable chance of winning. And they're often unable to persuade their technical colleagues to respect proposal schedules and guidelines. Guess who gets judged by these misguided efforts?

This is a good place to start to add discipline to your business development process, if you haven't already. You want a go/no go decision process with some teeth in it, some rules for engaging marketing staff, requirements for meeting internal deadlines, standards for the work product and process. Management needs to stand behind these protocols without being either too rigid or too flexible. Such policies and procedures help build a wall around your marketing priorities, and help marketers preserve time and energy for more productive tasks.

Provide the professional development opportunities that marketers need. Many young marketers enter the A/E profession with a marketing or other relevant degree. Then they are schooled how to do business development by technical professionals with limited marketing expertise (or by other marketers so taught). I believe this is a significant reason why we see so few marketing breakthroughs in our business, as David Maister duly noted (see last post).

If you want marketers to excel, they need opportunities to learn from the marketing masters. Expose them to the best available workshops, books, videos, websites, blogs (of course!). Better still, find some way to offer mentoring or on-the-job coaching. Define professional development goals that propel the individual down the mutually-agreed-upon career path. Link training and development with your marketing vision and goals.

But--and here's an important point--if you want your marketing staff to learn best practices, be prepared to make some room for them to apply what they've learned. This is a fundamental shortcoming with much of the training we do. We don't reinforce (or in many cases, actually discourage) the application of what our people have learned. That limits their potential--and the positive impact on your firm.

Engage marketers in setting company strategy. I've facilitated many strategic planning meetings and I'm surprised by how often even senior marketers are excluded from the process. That devalues both the role of marketing and those charged with executing it. You can at least solicit input from your marketing group in advance of planning events. But having some marketing representation at the meeting is advised. Marketing is simply too important a function to be left on the sidelines.

My last employer regularly involved me in important strategy meetings even while I was still in a temporary, part-time marketing role. That enabled me to better understand the firm's strategy, to contribute to the process, and to build relationships with the key decision makers scattered across the country. Those experiences better prepared me to not only make substantial contributions on the business development front but to eventually step into other management roles during my ten years with the firm. Access is usually a critical step towards more success.

Consider creative ways to draw on your marketers' distinct skills. People with marketing backgrounds bring different strengths to your firm, strengths that you may find valuable even outside the marketing arena. Marketers often have good people skills and can be effective team leaders for various corporate initiatives. Some (like myself) have eventually grown into non-marketing management positions. Marketers should be strong communicators and can help with both internal and client communications. They may have skill as meeting facilitators. Many marketers are strategic thinkers and add another dimension to problem solving. They can be a valuable help to your firm's staff recruiting efforts (another form of marketing).

Wouldn't these activities pull marketers away from their primary responsibility of marketing? Perhaps. But aren't the most valuable people in your organization usually those who contribute in multiple areas? In my experience, being able to demonstrate value to the firm in other areas increased my credibility as a marketing professional.

I can think of other ways managers can help marketers succeed, but let these suffice for now. What about you? Whether manager or marketer, you probably have something to add to the discussion. Please do.


Unknown said...

Great list and I wanted to refer to some of your points.

"Establish priorities" there are times when it's a battle between billable and non-billable time and I remember some instances when I was told "I'm on a project, I can't work on a proposal" and I will at best, get something so slipshod to include in my document. Unfortunately, there are some principals that accept that behavior, view the technical staff as saints and leave marketing to pick up the pieces.

There seems to be a misconception that marketing is a "cure all" for anything that's wrong with the firm. I worked at a place that had me submit proposal after proposal for work that the firm clearly lacked any competitive advantage and needless to say, never made it to the shortlist. Fingers got pointed at marketing.

I wish more firms were supportive of the professional development opportunities that are available to marketers.

In terms of corporate strategy, it would be nice to just stay in the loop.

Mel Lester said...

Hi Liz,

I can empathize. The kind of issues you describe are unfortunately commonplace. That's why I needed to write the sequel to "How Marketers Increase Their Value." Is there anything more critical than business development, especially in this economy? That's why we can't relegate it to leftover time and reactivity.

I really appreciate the feedback. Best wishes,