With year-end approaching, many organizations are beginning their requisite employee evaluations. While evaluations are intended to provide fairness, paper trails, and opportunities for “improvement,” they are of limited value in either helping marketers become exceptional or creating a high-performance marketing organization.
This blog is expressly for marketers (not the managing partners I write to normally) who must play in the unique and messy world of professional services. Your role and environment are unlike any other marketing role. As a result, it requires a unique set of expectations for your leaders, yourself, and your teammates.
I expect that:
1. You see yourself as a businessman/woman, not as a marketer.
Learn the business. You cannot have a strategic impact on the business unless you understand the entire business. The great Peter Drucker laid out the role of marketing in no uncertain terms:
- “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”
- “Business has only two functions—marketing and innovation.”
- “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.“
The line may say that they have this role covered. Do not accept that statement. Most have a limited perspective (line of business or geo perspective.) and are focused on short-term revenue goals. No one is going to teach you the business, and associates may even hesitate to share data with you. It is up to you. NEVER let it be said that you do not understand how your firm makes money.
Connect with the other functions, ask questions, listen and absorb anywhere you can. Each year, pick one or two areas of the business and go deep. Start by understanding the client base. Know the best, worst, most profitable, and least profitable clients. Learn the mix of services each client buys. Follow the top clients via the Wall Street Journal, industry reports, or Google alerts and look for opportunities to bring your firm’s services to bear. Make it your life’s mission to be the voice of the client.
2. You should have recruiters calling you regularly about new job opportunities.
This expectation freaks out partners and HR. They can’t believe that I would plant a seed that could encourage talented people to leave the firm. Their fear misses the point. If recruiters are not calling you on a regular basis, then we have other problems. One: you have not developed the skills the market is demanding and are, therefore, not adding maximum value to your current role. Two: you are a candle hidden under a basket. You are not demonstrating your value in the business community. Instead, you must be building the necessary relationships with other business people to grow your career. If other firms neither see nor prize your competence, why should your current firm?
3. You live with unimpeachable integrity.
No lying. No gaming the system. No gossip. No backstabbing. No BS. The first test comes after I set the recruiter expectation. I tell my teams that I also expect that each person will let me know when a recruiter calls. This makes people squirm in their seats because they can’t imagine that doing so will not be a career-limiting move. They are unsure if this is some nefarious game or if my offer is sincere and confidential. Inviting this conversation serves two purposes.
First, it allows both the marketer and me to demonstrate trust. Sharing potential job opportunities with your manager can be like trusting a wolf to play nice with your pet bunny. My response demonstrates my commitment to team members. Their responses demonstrate their desire to grow and their willingness to take risks. Second, sharing gives me the chance to sit down and help team members to make the best career decisions for them. To get the best out of people, they must know that I am vested in their growth and success. This means allowing him to pursue something better. As a leader, these conversations always create some of the best days because I know that the team has a foundation for high performance.
4. You will be measured by results, not activity.
Normal professional services goals for marketing are built around clicks, page views, brochures written, and event attendance. But how can you objectively measure a good party (er, event)? They are the goals and expectations of what I call the Productivity School of professional services marketing. I believe in the Strategic School— a professional services marketing approach that delivers strategic impact and growth goals that are focused on pipeline contribution, marketing qualified leads, brand relevance, market share, referrals, etc.
5. You act and perform at a level above your current title.
If you are a marketing coordinator, then act like a manager. If you are a manager, then act as a director. A director? Act as a VP, A VP? Then act like a CMO. People advance because others in the firm see that they demonstrate the capability. Start playing the part before you are cast.
6. You will move out of your comfort zone.
I expect you to take risks. Jump into the deep end of the pool! It’s much better to try something, fail and learn than to maintain the status quo. As a marketing leader, you are going to take a lot of punches for the team. My teams count on me to lead by example, both in taking hits and in taking risks from the first day. There is no failure, only feedback. Create an environment for people to take risks–and learn.
7. You will not be labeled.
Few things are worse for your advancement than being labeled with some narrow capability in an environment of busy, client-focused consultants caught in static perceptions. Becoming the “PowerPoint guru,” “Make it pretty” person, or “Social media expert” at the expense of real strategic marketing capability serves no one but the line person demanding a narrow tactic. I am not proposing that you not serve your “internal” clients, but I am advising that you learn to discern when you are becoming a label. As a marketer, you must say “no” at times, or consultants will keep coming back to the well. The inability to say “no” or put the proper operational systems in place to counter labels is the death knell of a high performing marketing organization.
8. You will be prepared to lose your job at any time.
For all the touchy-feely HR talk about engagement, corporate values, and employer brand silliness, I let my teams know that the firm will terminate them at a moment’s notice if conditions warrant (downturn, acquisition, change of leadership, etc.). But in the meantime, the firm will trade salary, benefits, learning opportunities, and a bunch of great experiences for your time and expertise. That is the deal, so let’s not pretend otherwise. As a result, I expect you to grow fast and furiously in the direction of your dreams. Like a boy scout, be prepared. I am here to help you succeed.
9. You read lots of books and papers.
Mark Twain wrote, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Low performers believe that it is the firm’s responsibility to “train” them. Training is the low watermark. High performers LEARN. They are idea sponges. Each new book and article builds a storehouse of interconnected knowledge that gives birth to new ideas and competitive advantage. It contributes to better, faster, more profitable services. It makes you more marketable. It builds your credibility. It makes you a better person. It prepares you for number 8. What was the last book you read? I’m going to ask.
10. You learn to swim in a sea of conflict AND enjoy it.
Conflict is neither hostile nor personal. It is about achieving the best decisions and results. In my mind, a lack of “conflict” is one of the main causes of underperformance. It is a mortal sin in most firms to challenge a partner as an underling. Most firms try to avoid conflict among peers, as well. Contribution is not limited to a privileged level. We accept mediocre ideas out of fear–yet we know that some of the best ideas come from the most inexperienced people looking at problems with fresh eyes. Start by pummeling my ideas. Share your thoughts and your thought process. Selflessly contribute to a bigger idea. High performers thrive in this environment. Low performers move on.
Never, ever, settle for the lowest common denominator. When I see a team member “settling” for less than s/he is capable of, I call a “Harrison Bergeron moment.” Harrison is a tragic figure in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian short story by the same name. Harrison is a gifted human being required by law to have his capabilities equalized to those of others. The story provides a simple and powerful reminder to unleash our gifts. Share your gifts and demand that your team members do their best work also. Life is not a zero-sum game.
12. You bring your authentic self to work.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be real with yourself and others. We all have peccadilloes that balance our gifts. As humans and as high performers, we can be arrogant, insecure, and petty. We can also be loving, generous, and empathetic. SHARE your strengths and OWN your shortcomings. If you are willing to own those parts of you that make you difficult—and real—people will be more willing to accept and work with them too. I will help you use your limitations to your benefit. If you are not willing to own them, see number 8.
Marketing in professional services is unique. Low expectations kill marketing potential and value, and, as a result, very few professional services marketing teams are high performing. Marketing teams that perform moderately well are often liked, but they are rarely respected.
High expectations create high performance. They demand that you bring authenticity, take risks and never stop striving to be the best. High expectations demand that you lead.
The messiness of professional services marketing can only be overcome through a strategic leadership mindset enabled by crystal clear expectations, daily feedback, and an atmosphere of trust.
Respect is an outcome of high performance and it must be earned.
Founder & CEO
Jeff’s teams and strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.
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