Why your marketer doesn’t “understand” your firm’s business.

by | Marketing Organization

I often hear partners and practice leaders complain: “Marketing doesn’t understand our business!

The first time I heard this, I thought it quite a remarkable comment. I wondered how people charged with identifying new markets, reaching new clients, launching new products and services, disseminating thought leadership and generating leads could not understand a business. I asked, “What do you mean by ‘understand our business?’” Normally, I’m told:

“They don’t understand how we make money.”

“They don’t know what it takes to get clients.”

“They don’t know how we do the work.”

“They have no idea who our best clients are.”

“They don’t understand clients’ issues.”

Perhaps you have made similar comments about your marketing function.  Any or all of these statements may be true, so I now ask, “Why do you think that it is?”  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.  The firm hired the wrong person. 

Most firms can easily accept this reason. The solution is relatively straight-forward: remove the current marketer from his role and bring in someone new.  The downside to this approach is that it doesn’t normally solve the problem because firms confuse the role and the person. To begin, the firm must be clear about objectives and understand the investment required to successfully fill the role.

Many firms look for and hire narrowly defined marketers (communicators, event planners, database administrators, digital marketers, designers, etc.) when they need to hire marketers who are business people (marketers with MBAs and sales, technology and/or operational experience).  Professionals with those credentials are not cheap, but they are often strategic, systemic thinkers and doers.  They have the curiosity, gravitas and credibility to ask the difficult questions that are required to dive into the business and make the partner team and the business stronger.

2.  The firm hasn’t taken the time to educate its marketer.

Practice leaders, partners and consultants are immersed in the business each day–working with clients, account management, continuing education, sales training, research, etc.  Leaders have to ask themselves, “What am I providing my marketing team—a team that’s getting a fraction of the training and exposure as the line staff?  Who has responsibility for working one-on-one with the marketer to explain the business?  How often is the marketer with the functional leaders in finance, IT, operations—or even sales?  When the marketer goes to an association meeting, is he responsible for staffing the trade show booth or have I seen to it that he is attending seminars so he can get smarter about the business?”

3.  The marketer is not engaged.

Either through design, bias or expectations, the marketing team is not engaged in, or by, the business. The best firms have marketing leaders sitting on the leadership team– not up through a partner “overseeing” marketing, but as a peer on the leadership team. As a leader of the firm, the marketing leader gets exposed to the financial and operational reports, sensitive client and people issues, and growth plans. More importantly, Marketing is immersed in developing strategy, setting goals, participating in account teams and helping to solve issues.

 4.  Marketing goals are not aligned with the partners’ goals. 

It seems obvious, but Marketing’s metrics and goals should be tied to firm-wide strategic goals. Strategic marketing objectives should reflect strategic impact. Most firms default to the cheapest, most visible and simple overall metrics for measuring marketing (headcount, costs, activities and collateral). Partners and their Marketing support should not be overly focused on open rates, click-throughs and webinar attendee numbers. These measures have their place, but they are incomplete and take the focus off of what is really important. They set the wrong expectations and lead to erroneous decisions.  Instead, partners should be asking for, and Marketing’s performance should be measured by, revenue- and growth-oriented metrics.

Take away

If you feel that Marketing doesn’t “understand” your business, then ask yourself why.  Do you have the wrong person or have you defined too narrow a role?  Have you invested the time and energy to help Marketing staff understand the business? Have you taken the time to teach Marketing about the business or have you expected them to pick it up through osmosis?  Have you engaged Marketing in helping to solve the firm’s problems? Have you taken Marketing out to clients or are you expecting them to get to know clients when they greet them at an event?  Does your marketing team have strategically aligned goals that have strategic impact or are you still evaluating your marketing team on how snazzy your website looks and how many brochures they develop?

If you do not have a strategic marketer on your team, you are missing a great opportunity to drive growth. Just like your line people, you marketing team is a valuable asset. But you must invest in them, help them grow and engage them in the broader business. It will pay significant dividends in the end.

Be prudent.

Jeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion.  His strategies have helped the world’s top consulting firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Follow @jeffmckay

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. 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. Learn more.

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