It’s a common scene in the corporate world. It’s the first of the month, and marketing has just handed you a report full of vanity metrics meant to show you why it’s worth keeping them around for another month.
You could think of it like a ritual burnt offering — meant to appease the management gods and prevent calamity from striking the marketing department.
But before you start feeling too good about yourself, here’s a thought to keep you up at night: your customers don’t give a damn how many people visit your website.
Why is that a problem? Because marketers have been trained to spend an obscene amount of time tracking metrics so they can prove ROI. They get so distracted trying to secure their own jobs that they completely miss the main objective: building trusting relationships with customers.
Now I’m not here to convince you to give up your KPIs or abandon your favorite marketing automation platform just yet. But if you’re convinced you’re “doing marketing” just because your team feeds you a regular diet of analytics, then you (and they) are missing most of the point.
The great news is there are several ways you can empower your marketing team without spending a lot of money. But to do that, we need to identify the underlying issues that are sapping your success.
So let’s get into it!
1. They don’t understand your technology
Unless you’ve hired marketers who have a background in science or engineering, your marketing team is probably made up of people whose experience is weighted heavily toward — wait for it — marketing.
Designers, copywriters, web developers, and the like, tend to view the world through the lens of their expertise. Which means they don’t get up every morning thinking about math. In fact, some of them probably went into this field to avoid STEM subjects in school because that’s not where their strengths lie.
Does this mean they can’t effectively market your technology? Of course not! In fact, not having a technical background may help them see things from an outsider’s point of view.
In many cases (like mine, for instance), they may have a keen interest in science and technology and find joy in sharing that excitement with others. But it presents a steep learning curve, especially for someone with no experience marketing in a STEM-related industry.
Solution: Get them involved in your technology development
Invite them to product development meetings. Have them sit in on some customer calls. Bring them into the lab and show them what you do.
If you send them to training, make it relevant to your industry instead of only focusing on generic marketing tactics and trends (the basics of their craft shouldn’t require that much maintenance anyway). Provide endless opportunities to learn about your products and processes and make them feel welcome in your technical community.
2. They don’t understand your audience
If your team lacks technical experience, they’re probably also unfamiliar with STEM culture. Since scientists and engineers likely make up a big chunk of your audience, well… you can start to see the disconnect.
There’s also a significant component of your audience that could be non-technical — executives and other decision makers, government officials, investors, etc. It is crucial that your team understands what motivates each segment, as one will often work with the other to make product selections and business decisions.
Solution: Get them plugged in to your technical and business communities
Similar to helping them understand your technology, getting your team plugged in to your internal technical and business development communities will go a long way toward building bridges with your audience.
Observing customer calls and going on lab visits are a great place to start on the technical side, and bringing them in for quarterly or annual business planning sessions will provide valuable exposure to the business mindset.
Trade shows and conferences can be beneficial as well, but they require significant time away from the office, along with travel and lodging expenses. And if a member of your team doesn’t have a specific support role to fill while they’re there, they can get bored pretty quickly. That said, it’s usually a good thing to experience at least once, just to see the dynamic of several industry players in one location.
3. They don’t think like business owners
The business owner mindset may not seem intuitive at first since your marketing team is made up of employees after all, and not business owners. But the paradigm in which your marketing team is operating can have a massive affect on the work they produce, and ultimately will affect the growth you can expect from your marketing investment.
Picture two different teams, Team A and Team B.
Team A is made up of well-meaning individuals who get along with each other and everyone in the company. They are responsive to all requests and provide quick turnaround for most projects.
The people of Team A believe they are here to provide a service to the rest of the organization. Team A is well-liked by everyone from HR to QC to the C-suite. Why? Because Team A gets things done. And they also produce lots of those metrics you like so much. Because they love you. And they want you to love them. Please be their friend.
Now compare with Team B.
The members of Team B see themselves as part of the leadership team that sets goals and direction for the organization. Sometimes this rubs people the wrong way, especially if they are used to a marketing team that just does what they’re told.
Rather than sitting quietly through management meetings and awaiting instructions, the members of Team B will voice their opinions, challenge your assumptions, and generate some lively discussion. Team B doesn’t care if you like them, because they know they’re not getting paid to be your friend.
Team B believes the success of the business depends on how well they position it in the minds of your prospects. Team B thinks like business owners because that’s what they would want their employees to do if they were in charge.
If you see marketing as simply a “service organization” that cranks out basic collateral or throws together last-minute presentations for your key account meetings, then all you really need is a collection of interns who do whatever you tell them.
But if you are a savvy business owner, you know that marketing represents a strategic investment that can generate multiples of growth in return. And for that, you need a team that takes some pride of ownership in your investment.
Solution: Champion an entrepreneurial spirit and lead by example
Bring your marketing team into high-level strategy discussions and encourage them to participate. Like your sales and support teams, your marketing team will have their own insights into your audience and the best ways to reach them.
Show them how to think like a business owner, and encourage them to treat your business like their own investment. Both sides are guaranteed to benefit from the open communication.
4. They don’t have clear direction from company leadership
Setting the direction for your business takes conviction and a tolerance for risk. You are going out on a limb to declare where you are going as a company, and there’s always a chance that you’re pointed toward a dead end. This is probably why companies keep churning out vague corporate objectives every year during planning season — because they can vaguely achieve them and not have to worry about experiencing real failure.
But you have to also weigh the risk of not setting a firm direction. Do you really want to be making payroll on a group of people who are vaguely working toward a bunch of vaguely written corporate goals? I’m guessing not.
The opposite extreme is when you set objectives that are impossible to meet. It’s easy to think you are “doing leadership” because you have set some “challenging” goals to “stretch” your team. Sadly, you are really just demoralizing them and setting them up for failure.
Solution: Commit to realistic goals and involve marketing in the process
Two things are absolutely required to give your marketing team clear direction: conviction and communication. You (and your management team) need to be completely invested in the direction you have chosen, and you should communicate it to your marketing team as clearly as possible and as frequently as necessary.
The best way to communicate your direction for the coming year is to actually have your marketing team in the room when you roll it out. Handing it off to management in hopes that they will communicate it down through the org chart is like trusting your business strategy to a bunch of preschoolers playing a game of telephone. It must come directly from you if you want it to be clearly understood.
5. They don’t have good resources for market intelligence
I would wager one of the biggest reasons technical companies view marketing as an expense rather than an investment is that they have totally forgotten to include intelligence gathering into their mix. It doesn’t matter how engaged or strategic your marketing team is — if you can’t provide actionable intelligence about your market, they won’t be able to target it very well.
Solution: Connect your team with experts and prioritize intelligence gathering
If you’ve been in business for a while, you probably have seasoned employees who know your market inside and out. This is especially true of sales or field apps staff that have spent a lot of time in the trenches. These people are a gold mine of information for your marketing team and for the company in general.
Even if you do have dedicated market intelligence staff, the rest of your marketing team should be meeting with your sales and/or field apps staff on a regular basis to share in the tribal knowledge.
Make sure everyone understands that you must have solid, actionable market intelligence before you commit to a strategy. Declare an end to the practice of shooting in the dark!
A note on hiring for market intelligence
Unless you really know what you’re after, be cautious about hiring specifically for market intelligence. Outside of specialized market research firms, finding experienced, knowledgable people who really know your technical industry and know how to find the information you need are hard to come by. Look for someone with a proven track record of compiling deep and insightful information about your market.
6. They don’t have a strong team leader
Being the boss can be a lonely and thankless job. But it’s also true that the loneliness one feels in that position is inversely proportional to the strength of one’s leadership.
If your marketing leader has done an effective job of building up her team, she knows she doesn’t stand alone because her team stands beside her. Each member feels empowered and respected for his or her contribution. They’re in this together.
On the other hand, if the team leader is passive, lacks conviction, and frequently complains to her team about having to go to bat for them, then she is effectively on an island of her own making.
Solution: Give them room to fail
Marketing, like research and development, is a scientific endeavor. People tend to associate marketing with creativity and clever advertising campaigns, but the creative is always being tested for its effectiveness in the marketplace. As with any DOE, we are learning from an iterative process that frequently produces what we might call failure. And at the risk of sounding like a cheesy motivational poster, if we don’t fail, we can’t learn.
If the marketing leader is always under the gun to produce sub-par promotional material or is under the microscope for spending too much money, they are going to avoid taking risks and trying new things.
So give them room to fail. Make it clear that you want them to try new things and that you are genuinely interested in the outcome. Not because you are eager to express your disappointment if things don’t go the way you hoped, but because you have the characteristic curiosity of a scientist and you want to see what they’ve learned.
Conclusion: You’re in this together
If the marketing team believes churning out a bunch of metrics every month will make you happy (and keep them employed), then that’s all you’re ever going to get. Because like most humans, they would much rather give you what you’re asking for and keep their jobs than to challenge your thinking and risk falling out of your good graces.
Behind most of these problems is the fundamental issue of how the marketing staff see themselves, and how you as a business leader see the marketing team. Do you see them as servants or partners? Do they see themselves as leaders or followers? The paradigm shift must occur on both levels, and can take a long time to actualize. But the results could mean the difference between achieving real business growth and remaining stagnant.
Make the marketing team a part of your team, and everyone wins.