The sign on the back of the truck asks, “How's my driving?” A card in the hotel room invites guests to comment on their stay. The wireless phone guy keeps inquiring, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?”

What if you posted a sign in your organization that read, “How's my marketing?” Would you like what you heard? And would you know what to do with the information you got back?

People have expectations for what marketing should be doing and how it figures into the company's success. But these don't always jive with how marketing views itself and its role.

Such disconnects can spell trouble, often raising doubts about how well marketing is tuned into the realities of the organization around it. “My play was a complete success,” quipped playwright Ashleigh Brilliant. “The audience was a failure.”

Whether rational and well-founded or not, “expectation gaps” between marketing and other groups can limit the former's effectiveness and the quality of its relationships with the latter.

So understanding and managing expectations, while time consuming and often fraught with dangers, should be an important priority for marketing that will help it to head off serious troubles before they start.

Attitudes and expectations are not always easy to uncover and sometimes even harder to manage. They can be deep-seated and tied tightly to organizational charters and traditions, and firmly rooted in past experiences and precedents, individual personalities, business expediencies, corporate politics or combinations of these things. As examples:

  • In some companies sales expects marketing to qualify all leads before turning them over. However, if marketing assumes that sales will do its own lead qualification it's not hard to see how relations between the two groups can quickly start to deteriorate. Sales isn't getting what it needs and marketing doesn't understand why it's getting the brush off. What's worse, neither necessarily understands what's causing the problem, much less what to do about it.
  • Product development and not marketing often decides for the company what products get built and what markets they get sold into. Why does this happen? Typically it's because marketing is seen as a purely tactical function without the charter or skills to specify target markets and the appropriate products for addressing them. Whatever the cause, when marketing and product development are out of sync on who owns product strategy, the results are typically poorly targeted products, ineffective marketing programs, unhappy customers and lots of finger pointing.

So what approaches can be taken to capture key marketing expectations without raising red flags or getting mired in unproductive gripe sessions? Here are some guidelines:

Investigate: “How Do I Look to You?””

The best way to find out what people expect from you is simply to ask them. Although this might sound perfectly obvious few organizations actually get around to doing such internal assessments, whether for reasons of time, competing priorities, ignorance of benefits and risks, discomfort, or something else. Often people simply assume that others know what they do and act accordingly. As we've seen, this can lead to problems.

Try creating a simple survey that includes as complete a list as possible of major marketing tasks and responsibilities. Then give it to appropriate representatives from each functional group in the organization. Include both strategic and tactical items. For example:

  • Gather customer requirements
  • Define and characterize market segments and opportunities
  • Create product pricing plan
  • Develop marketing plan
  • Design and produce product collateral (brochures, white papers, data sheets, etc.)
  • Maintain Web site content
  • And so on…

Using a 1-10 scale, ask survey respondents to rate each item on two factors: Importance (i.e. how much do you rely on marketing to produce this) and Satisfaction (i.e. how happy are you with what marketing is delivering in this area). Leave room for comments on each.

Then perform a simple gap analysis on each item to see where you are and are not living up to people's expectations. You'll also uncover holes (what you're not doing that people think you should be) and overlaps (what you're doing that other groups think they should be doing).

Consolidate the survey results and spend some time digesting trends and patterns. Create a working summary of what you've found out--the good, the bad and the ugly.

Validate: “Am I Understanding You Right?””

Next, feed back what you've learned to each participant, clarifying ambiguities, filling in missing information, and generally validating your understanding of what they told you.

Listen rather than argue at this stage. Make sure you really understand what they're saying and what they expect from you, whether you agree or disagree. Education and negotiations will come later.

Such a process will not only get you right to the heart of expectations and potential issues, but will also open productive channels of communications with other groups and demonstrate that you value their perspectives. These can go a long way in helping to build strong ties of cooperation and trust between marketing and the rest of the organization.

Calibrate: “How Do Our Priorities Match Up?””

Once you've validated the survey information, use the gap analysis to list what others judge to be marketing's top priorities. Match these to the priorities and objectives you've set for marketing to get an understanding of where the major disconnects lie, how strong they are and what's causing them.

Among other things, this will quickly point up why marketing programs, resources and budget allocations may not be getting the warm welcome you had expected.

Once again, you should circle back to each group to make sure you've correctly captured and ordered their respective priorities. Doing this helps further clarify their different perspectives and, once surfaced, can often lead people to spontaneously abandon obviously unrealistic expectations they hold of marketing.

Educate: “The Way It's Supposed to Be.”

Of course, what others expect from marketing should guide but not determine marketing's function in the company. Marketing should always be the one driving that train.

But because everyone tends to view it differently and not always correctly, marketing must be responsible for educating the organization about its structure, its proper role, and the value it delivers. Workshops, presentations, informal roundtable sessions, one-on-one discussions, written materials like articles and white papers, and so on, all help in this education process. They can also assist in resetting expectations and opening new opportunities for cooperation among groups.

Negotiate: “Getting to ‘Yes!'”

Once marketing understands how it's viewed by others, and once it has successfully presented its own vision of its proper role, the biggest challenge lies in negotiating the differences. There are no easy paths here, but at least the groundwork has been laid and the major issues and expectations have been put on the table. Productive negotiations can proceed from here.

Summary

Knowledge, starting with self-knowledge, is certainly power. Knowing how others view marketing's function, while important information, is only a piece of the picture.

For its part, marketing must demonstrate qualities of leadership, trustworthiness, credibility, and strength of vision to be a successful player on the corporate stage. Turning knowledge into hard results is where the real power lies.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Basil Harris, Jr. is the founder and president of MarketStreams (www.marketstreams.com), a strategic and product marketing consulting firm based in New Hampshire. He can be reached at bharrisjr@marketstreams.com