My friend Elliot Ross recently posted about IT staff who can use all kinds of IT wizardry, but who don’t solve your IT problems. He was describing people who follow the old saying “when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Some marketers are just as guilty of this conduct. Some fall prey to latching onto the newest automation tools and social networking platforms just because they are bright, shiny objects. What makes it worse is that they can mount campaigns that buy people’s attention, producing big splashes that look like they’re accomplishing something, but ultimately do very little. Marketing for its own sake is useless. It’s just like ordering Saganaki at a restaurant, you get a quick flash-in-the-pan, but expectations quickly return to normal; aside from the grand opening, you’ve ended up with just an average result.

Kids, don’t play with Matches, Pans & Pure Alcohol

B2B can be a tough crowd to pleaseHow can you tell when someone pitches you a marketing idea just for the sake of experimentation or one that doesn’t actually fit your business needs? Here are some telltale signs:

  • I’d be worried if the first thing a marketer suggests is the creation of a corporate brochure. It might be the right thing for your company, but compared to what you need right now, it might be the least important marketing activity they could spend their time on.
  • I’d also get skeptical if a marketer set down to work without first asking what your objectives are.
  • If your field reps are using their own home-grown collateral and presentations, instead of what marketing produces, alarm bells should be sounding in your head. Sales reps use materials based only on one criteria: whether or not they work. So if they’re not using it, marketing has somehow failed to convey your message.
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Accept no Imitations

Here are some ways you can distinguish marketing consultants or internal staff that truly want to gain traction, not just burn a lot of your money for nothing:

  • You can tell that marketing’s initiatives are purpose-filled when they ask strategic questions: are you in a growing or declining market? Is your share of that market growing, shrinking or flat? Where is your product innovation vis-à-vis your competitors? What strategic objectives, do you need to reach this year? The answers to these questions should be repeated back to you when that person pitches you with their favoured marketing activities.
  • Wise marketers divide their goals into short, medium and long-term time horizons. We all have fast-approaching deadlines, but marketing is supposed to look over the next hill and see what can be prepared today that will not only satisfy today, but will also address what you need tomorrow. I once worked with a client whose focus didn’t extend for longer than a week. When the idea of a marketing calendar was first suggested, he couldn’t see the point of it. After working together for a while, he became so fond of using it that we couldn’t plan something until we had assigned it a date and and saw how it worked into the timeline. That’s called looking ahead on the horizon!
  • Smart marketers view work in terms of projects. By working backward from large deliverables, they know what small items need to be put in place to satisfy key project goals. For example, a sharp marketer will determine where in the sales funnel the need for marketing help is greatest. So if sales opportunities are suffering at late-stages in the funnel, they’ll recommend case studies that help prospects overcome fear/uncertainty/doubt. If your urgency is in grabbing attention and raising awareness, they’ll focus on materials that introduce your solution and give calls to action.
  • If you ask why a particular tactic is being used, capable marketers will give you plain-English answers that make sense. Poor marketers will refer to the fact that this tactic worked well at the last few companies where they worked well or they’ll say (in a dismissive or patronizing tone) ‘you wouldn’t understand it’. These aren’t acceptable answers, marketers worth their snuff leave their egos (and their hammers) at the door.
  • Flaming CheeseMarketers that are selfless should be open to feedback from sales. They may have to endure sales’ harsh criticism of their collateral, but then they can usually count on sales to then tell them how the materials can be fixed to move prospects through the funnel.
  • In a B2B context, marketers should be able to visualize how a customer uses your offering and how your clients make money or save money with it. Some clever person at a bank I deal with figured out a way to display on the website how much money it has paid its clients in interest! To people inside the bank, this would have been just another statistic, but to a savvy marketer, it represented proof of the value it posed to every customer with a savings account.
  • Reality is, it takes time for good marketing to work. So let a marketer have a set amount of time in which to perform and at the end of that time, ask to see results. It takes patience to do this, but if you prematurely stop someone’s effective marketing, you’re taking a gamble with someone else’s idea and that dissonance caused by a switch in message will be reflected in your sales funnel for some length of time.

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I think that the last line of Elliot’s blog post sums up my post too: “The business problem to be solved could just require a screwdriver.” Mediocre marketers should heed his warning and put away their hammers. I have been told that I’m the type of marketer that produces the right tool for the job.