"How can I get my CEO into a marketing mode?" Many a company president would be surprised to learn that I've been asked this question more than any other over the years. It comes from entry-level employees to sophisticated sales executives, from engineers to frustrated marketing directors.
The question is always serious and the voice more often than not conveys signs of desperation and discouragement. "The president can't see how we're slipping," says a frustrated sales manager. "He thinks the problems are only temporary. He sees us like we were 30 years ago. But nobody knows us today. How can I get him to understand what's going on?"
Then there's the thoughtful and well-educated marketing person who reports that her job is churning out proposals. This is her boss' uninformed view of marketing.
Perhaps the most common form of idiocy is a CEO's benighted belief that the role of marketing is to make sales. Instead of looking at the sales force to see if it is following up on the leads generated by marketing and actually closing sales, marketing gets the blame. Far fetched? Check it out by asking any marketing manager.
It's not surprising that CEOs focus on sales. That's what gave them their starts and that's where they were successful, so that's what they see as the solution to the problem. "Make more calls" is their mantra and magic solution to everything.
"I just can't understand how this guy can be so blind," said a confused young marketer at a manufacturing company. "He's on top of so many things but marketing is certainly not one of them."
Those CEOs who are blind when it comes to marketing tend to view themselves as entrepreneurs and everyone knows that an entrepreneur is an expert on everything, including marketing.
Ignorance is never bliss, though, and in the case of marketing it only leads to unsatisfactory results. As the art of attracting and holding customers, marketing is too important to be thwarted and dismissed by ignorance, misunderstanding, and misinformation.
Aside from not having a clue how to move recalcitrant CEOs to see the light and embrace marketing, there are a couple of questions that may be worth discussing.
WHERE DOES GROWTH COME FROM?For many companies, it comes from acquisitions, increased prices and just plain luck. Being able to say, "We're the 3rd largest widget works in the world" floats some boats even though the achievement may be built on something other than growth in actual sales. In the insurance industry, for example, luck plays a key role.
Every insurance executive lives for what is called "a hard market" - the increase in insurance rates by insurance companies or the regulators. Higher rates mean higher commissions, which translate into higher revenues, all without raising a finger. Every industry has such gimmicks for pseudo growth.
Getting new customers can be more of an exercise in customer replacement, rather than an activity of growing the customer base.
WHY SHOULD ANYONE WANT TO DO BUSINESS WITH US?A real estate broker showing an attractive condo regaled prospective buyers during an open house with the virtues of the property. Realizing that none of the visitors expressed an interest, an observer recognized that the salesperson made little or no attempt to discover what the prospective buyers were looking for in a home. Without understanding customer dreams and expectations, how can the salesperson make a sale?
Just because we want to make a sale doesn't mean someone wants to buy. The only reason why anyone chooses to do business with a company is usually based on that company's ability to meet customer needs. It's not an accident that Apple's incredible success has come at the moment when it has been rated as the most innovative company. Apple is about marketing - understanding what the customer wants - not about technology.
ADMIT TO MARKETING IGNORANCESo, where does this leave us with attempting to help CEOs recognize the role marketing can play in growing the business? No one is expected to be an expert on everything; we all have our blind spots. And believe it or not, that goes for CEOs, particularly when it comes to marketing.
Marketing is not about personal preferences or individual likes and dislikes. But it's sometimes shocking to hear a company president display what in other circles would be called ignorance.
There's nothing wrong with asking questions and there's everything right about relying on those with specialized knowledge and experience for recommendations. One can certainly hope that the CEO finally sees the light and acknowledges that marketing isn't about the company, but about its customers. It's a difficult concept but one worth fighting for.
BECOME BRAND CONSCIOUSAs difficult as it is to grasp, marketing is about value to the customer. This is not the ever-popular and ever-irrelevant value added idea, but something far more important and rare. We call it value-inherent and it's what sets one company apart from everyone else in the same business.
STOP CHASING THE COMPETITIONWhile they appear strong, CEOs are often vulnerable, particularly when it comes to following the competition. They jump around from one sure-to-fail initiative to the next, aping competitors. The truth is that competitors are doing the same thing.
FIGURE OUT WHAT'S GOING ONFar too much money and time is wasted on fooling around with the CEO's great ideas. Chances are these almost other worldly insights are borrowed from a competitor or another company, but they instantly become the property of the CEO. The tragedy is that the entire organization must stop in its tracks and make the useless and unproductive nonsense happen.
John Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. The company's Website is www.grahamcomm.com.
Publication date: 03/27/2006