I was speaking with a friend the other day about a CEO she knows and she said, "He doesn't believe that marketing is a science or a methodology. He thinks it's just a 'gut-feeling' thing."
That statement reminded me of a couple things that Adele Revella told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts.
First, she pointed out that, "Marketing is the only group in the company that does not possess what the company perceives to be a unique skill set that makes them uniquely qualified to do the work they are performing."
She then added, "People all throughout the company second guess marketing and wonder what marketing is really doing. Because it seems like writing some copy, writing sentences, you know, building all of this material is something that anyone could do. And this is really distressing!"
No Unique Skill Set?
Everyone accepts that the folks in IT have a unique skill set, and no one assumes that just anyone could troubleshoot network performance issues or swap out servers.
Likewise, everyone accepts that the folks in finance and accounting have a unique skill set, and no one assumes that just anyone in the company could input new benefits into the payroll system or prepare the books for an audit.
What makes marketing different from these other functions?
Well, first of all, it may only be different in the B2B context.
In the B2C world, the marketing function can have revenue responsibility on the product side and can be highly technical on the research and analytics side. There is an assumption that folks in these roles will have an MBA and have, to a greater or lesser degree, undergone some kind of formal training enabling them to develop, price, and launch products.
In the B2B context, on the other hand, marketing often find itself relegated to a sales support role. Responsible for producing sales collateral and tchotchkes ("Back in my day, marketing was the t-shirt department," Adele told me), marketing can be seen as a "nice to have" but not a "need to have," a function that is subordinated to the money-getters in sales and, frequently, just as easily outsourced (with at least one marketer on staff to serve as project manager and check-writer).
So, how can marketing go from t-shirt designer to uniquely qualified and valuable business leader?
Who Represents the Customer?
In Adele's view, this is where buyer personas come in. If marketing is the function responsible for building and maintaining meaningful buyer personas, that changes the game. Why? Because, thanks to the research that goes into the creation of personas, marketers move from being "the people that are worried about the color of the fonts" to "a constant source of current insight about what the buyers are saying."
"When most strategic decisions are made in companies," Adele elaborates, "the people sitting around the table are focused on the impact that that's going to have on their department, on their area of responsibility."
However, she emphasizes, "The buyer is the one who's really going to decide, who's going to vote with their pocketbook about whether that strategy is going to help the company to be more successful, but they are not represented at the meeting."
When marketing focuses on listening to customers and brings what they've heard to the table saying, "We've been talking to the buyers, this is what really matters to them, and so here's the buyer's perspective on that strategy," they become that representative.
This Customer vs. THE Customer
Sales owns specific customer relationships, which is right and proper. Sales can and should represent those customers' needs and priorities within the organization.
Marketing needs to own the customer, developing and sharing insight on what customers in general, and especially the specific customers that the company is not yet doing business with, want and care about.
Sales needs to focus on building specific relationships with specific buyers.
Marketing, on the other hand, is uniquely situated to focus on understanding the buyer and using that understanding to guide company initiatives from product development to go-to-market strategy to, if you need them, the color of the t-shirts.
What do you think?
My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.
If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.