Top 5 things you can do to stop the whispers.

Any Marketer who has been on the job for more than a few months will have experienced this. Of course, most sales professionals can claim the same thing. Isn’t it interesting how you never really hear that about Development or Finance or even Human Resources? To be fair, you may hear it about specific individuals, such as the HR Manager, but rarely about an entire department. Marketing and Sales seem to really be the primary targets here. Why is that? Typically, it’s because what they do is so visible. Did Sales hit their numbers? No? Wow. They’re really sucking. Have we seen a huge increase in new leads? No? Wow. Marketing is totally lame. This is further compounded by a lack of knowledge. People do not understand what Marketing does. If they did then they’d probably be in Marketing. Hence, they do not understand that some strategies and tactics take time, and that many of these approaches start small but snowball as they get traction. However, I cannot tell you how many good Marketers I’ve seen lose their job because they weren’t given enough time for their efforts to produce sizeable results. Often Management will kill Marketing to silence the whispers instead of educating “those who whisper” about what Marketing is doing, while holding them accountable for creating a toxic company culture built on gossip and innuendo.

What do I do now?

As many of you who read my posts know, I enjoy mentoring my fellow marketers, hoping they can benefit from the lessons I learned the hard way. Recently I had one text me a good news / bad news story. It went like this:

“So good news…my initial KPI report that severely lacked numbers

[due to a lack of existing infrastructure to measure campaign results] went over well with my boss and he is happy with it and the future direction. Bad news — yesterday he told me that some people have expressed the usual complaints about marketing and its effectiveness.”

My heart sank because they only started this new job a few months ago. So, of course, my inner Dr. Phil came out and I started texting up a storm sharing some key pieces of advice on how to pre-empt the dreaded whispers.

Stop the noise before it even begins

Marketers, as a whole, are insecure. We know our tactics are often subjective. We’ve all heard comments such as “Why would you use that shade of purple? Ugh. It’s awful.” You learn quickly to discern those who know what they’re talking about and those who are color-blind. However, for the sake of your sanity, you do need to continually self-assess your progress. Be honest with yourself. I do it at least weekly if not daily. I ask myself if I appear to be making progress, from an outsider’s point of view. If the answer is “No” it could be because I’ve been slacking, or it could be because nobody will see all the behind-the-scenes work I had to do to prepare a campaign for launch. Too many times I almost threw the towel in due to a lack of appreciation. I have changed jobs because of it. But, with experience, you start to do a couple of things in anticipation of the complaints.

  1. When you start a new job, you need to immediately interview all of the stakeholders (not just your boss) to understand what they want. Get it in writing, or summarize your meeting outcomes via email, and request they confirm your understanding of what they said. Many of these tasks will become high on your list of immediate deliverables.
  2. Get in writing what your personal performance metrics are. How are you being measured? What do you need to accomplish for them to consider you successful? What are the timelines? You can typically find these metrics in your job description, or a company business plan, or by simply asking your boss. If they don’t have any defined metrics, get some. Without metrics, anything you do is subjective and open to opinion.
  3. Create a marketing plan that initially focuses on delivering the goals, objectives or metrics identified in the above two points. Everything else is noise and should be ignored until you’ve delivered those items. This is all about demonstrating results quickly and earning the trust of the key stakeholders so that you’ll have more time in the future to pursue your own strategies and objectives.
  4. Once a month for the first three months, and then quarterly thereafter, meet with the same stakeholders you initially interviewed and report on your progress. As part of that meeting, remind them of what they told you they would like to see from Marketing in terms of goals and objectives. Your report should highlight your progress towards achieving the results they wanted, as well as any challenges you may have had that prevented you from delivering. At the same time, ask for both their constructive feedback on what they’ve observed from Marketing, as well as their advice on how to deal with the challenges you’ve experienced. What you’re doing here is getting the stakeholders to buy into Marketing. Because you’re trying to deliver some of their requested objectives, they have a sense of ownership and will defend Marketing to others in the organization. Because you’re explaining to them what you’ve done, the challenges you’ve had, and then seeking their input, they recognize that your intent to succeed is genuine and the obstacles you’re facing are real. They will help you fight the internal battles that need to be fought because they understand the challenges you’re facing, instead of making assumptions that you’re not doing your job.
  5. Finally, every six months hold a roundtable discussion of your influential peers (key people in sales and development and customer service) and ask them for their thoughts on what Marketing is doing. Listen to what they say. Do not get defensive. Nod your head appreciatively. And, where appropriate, educate and explain to them why some of their ideas cannot be implemented. This group of influential people will be thrilled you’re seeking their input and they’ll give you more runway to succeed because they will feel like they are a part of your effort.

Ironically, in the case of the individual I was mentoring, they started with the good news about their new KPI (Key Performance Indicators) report being well received. Creating such a report is critical, even though many of us do not like to be measured let alone share the results with others. Nobody likes to willingly share when we are potentially under-performing. By creating a KPI report, and sharing it broadly within the organization, key stakeholders and influential employees are seeing what you are doing. They understand you’re being both transparent and vulnerable. Often, the report will start a conversation where you can further explain or educate or seek input on the programs underway and the results achieved so far. It’s all about having an ongoing dialog. If you don’t do this then you’re effectively outta sight, which makes you outta mind, and ultimately makes you a target for reduction if the company underperforms and needs to cut costs.

Finally, when the powers-that-be tell you you’re not doing your job, you remind them of what they told you when they hired you, and what they’ve said every month or quarter when you reviewed your progress with them. You then ask them if things have changed. Often, at this point, they’ll back off because they’ll remember you did consistently advise them on your progress and seek their guidance. If they don’t back off, and instead inform you that things have changed, your response should be a straightforward “How can I help now?”

Bottom Line

Success in marketing comes from having and maintaining a constant and open dialog. If you’re not prepared to take this proactive approach then you need to change careers. If you’re not prepared to hold yourself accountable to these deliverables, then you need to change careers. Take control of your career and your success. Be the leader you know you are, even if you’re scared to embrace your success or deal with the associated conflict that comes with any job. Finally — because it needs to be said — never hide behind email. Just stop it. At all times have a live conversation, either face-to-face or over the phone. Only use email to summarize your discussion and ensure mutual understanding and alignment.

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Share your wisdom.

I’ve only covered off five lessons learned here. If you could add to the discussion, what advice would you offer based on your experience? Tell us in the comments below.