What happened to good manners in business?

Darren Woolley-TrinityP3-The-Canadina-Business-Quarterly

Ignoring people, being tardy, not giving thanks, cancelling or changing meetings at the last minute, missing deadlines and simply being discourteous. These simple infractions of common courtesy happen more and more, every day in business. People are busy being busy and so something has to give, is the often-quoted justification. But there is an argument that at a time when personal and professional reputation is as fickle as the latest social media update, it could be worth investing some of that precious time in good manners, especially in business.

Let’s look at some of the more common ones. Now, while these bad behaviors are often found universally, there are definitely some markets and some organizations where they are much worse than others. It was once said to me that “cultures are defined by the poor behavior tolerated”, which means that they must also have particularly poor cultures.

Starting with a very common and annoying behavior. When you request something from another person, and they acquiesce to your request, and you do not acknowledge this with a thank you. If we were dining together and you ask me to pass the salt and I did, would you not thank me? Yet every business day people make requests of others by email and when you respond with what they need, very few people say thank you. This is particularly true in the procurement process. Procurement requests a proposal and yet I find myself having to follow up for any type of acknowledgement that they received it. How easy would it be to reply with a simple thank you to acknowledge the completion of the request?

That leads me to the new most annoying, and that is ignoring people. In fact there is even a colloquial term for this – ghosting – the practice of ceasing all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out or communicate made by said individual. This is particularly hard on salespeople, who work hard to get the proposal to their client, only to never have that client respond again? If you decided to go with another vendor than have the decency to tell them so and why? If you decided not to proceed, thank them and explain why? If you just changed your mind, again, just say than you and explain. Is it so hard?

Next is tardiness. Running late. It is simply a passive / aggressive powerplay so saying to everyone else, I am so busy and so important that you can all sit there and wait for me to get better organized. In meeting driven organizations, tardiness is possibly the main driver of loss of productivity, as people are forced to sit and wait for you to turn up. Do you really believe that you are the only one who is busy? Are you really more important than everyone else in the meeting? In organizations that tolerate this behavior, it become the norm, as people begin to run deliberately late because there is no point being on time. I can recall a Chief Marketing Officer who was always running late. The CMO thought this was a reflection of them being busy and important. The CEO just thought they were hopeless time managers.

Similar to the last, but different is the person who is constantly changing or cancelling meetings at the last minute. Clearly their diary is out of control, and it can take up to four or five reschedules to actually have the meeting, if at all. Sure, occasionally the unexpected happens. But this constant schedule shuffling simply sends a message that either our meeting is not important to you, which is fine – let’s just cancel it. Or you have absolutely no control over your time and activities, which smacks of being a pawn rather than a player. It is due to these people there is a roaring trade in personal assistants and virtual assistants whose fulltime job is simply managing an out-of-control diary. 

There is a lot of talk these days about the importance of personal integrity. There are also as many definitions of integrity as there are people talking about it. My favorite and working version is “to make complete or whole”. What does that mean? It means to be my word. For my words and actions to be complete and whole, to be integrity. So, when I make a commitment to do something and I do not do it, I have no integrity in regard to that commitment. When you agree or commit to a deadline, a meeting, an action, by a specific time and date, others will be relying on you to have integrity to deliver. If you do not, it does not work, and the consequence is they are let down and disappointed. The cure to loss of integrity is to re-establish integrity and hold yourself accountable to deliver. That is integrity.

Perhaps a I have a high personal standard. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “It is nice to be important, but it is important to be nice”. She held a senior leadership role in Guiding and was a better and more effective leader because people appreciated her integrity and acknowledgement. But if being a better and more effective leader is not motivation enough, then perhaps take this advice from an Executive Creative Director I once worked with who often told me “Be kind to everyone on your way up, because you will be seeing them on your way back down”.

Darren Woolley is the Global CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants, a micro multinational with offices in Sydney, Singapore, New York, and London, www.trinityp3.com

The case for a long, mid and short-term view in sailing and marketing

Working within an organization’s annual financial process means you are likely to be either preparing, or have just finished, your annual planning and budgeting. In fact, it can often feel that just as you complete one round of planning and budget setting, the next round has arrived before you have really got into implementing your plans.But there have been major changes over the past decade, which have had significant impacts not only on the marketing planning process, but also on the role of marketing strategy. Instead of setting a long-term marketing strategy and implementing the tactics to deliver it over the year, marketers are often finding themselves so focused on delivering the short-term tactics to deliver the immediate wins that often the longer term strategy is forgotten.

Even that most traditional and strategic of marketing categories, Consumer Package Goods, is focusing on short-term tactics to reach and convert customers to drive revenue and market share expectations. And retailer marketers, who plan out their marketing a year or more ahead to leverage seasonal retail events, are finding themselves competing with online e-commerce, which appears to be able to create sales events almost overnight. What has caused these changes in the role of the marketing strategy? What is the emerging trend we are seeing across a wide range of categories and markets where growth is a strategic focus but continues to prove a challenge? In his book “Good strategy, Bad strategy”, Richard P. Rumelt writes “Strategy is at least as much about what an organization does not do as it is about what it does.”

In developing a marketing strategy, the marketer is mapping out a plan of action to optimise successfully achieving the marketing objectives for the organization. It is aligned to delivering the business objectives (usually growth-related) and takes a medium to long-term view of achieving the same, based on the resources at hand (products/services, distribution channels, budget etc), the competitors’ positioning, activity and strategy, and of course the customer. Traditionally, the marketing strategy was developed either at the launch of a new product or service or when it was deemed the current marketing plan was not working and a new one was needed, often with the appointment of a new CMO or head of marketing. The implementation of the marketing plan, developed from the strategy, would often take a year, and therefore by the time the plan was executed it was time to review and do the same again.

The role of the marketing strategy was to set the direction for the foreseeable future (12 months to up to five years in some cases) and inform the marketing plan on an annual basis to define what marketing should do and more importantly what marketing should not do to deliver on the organizational objectives.

Fig 1: While Marketing Strategy is aligned to the strategic objective, the marketing plan is the plan of action to get there. Both are needed to assess progress in the lifts and knocks of the market.

More than at any time the marketing function, within most organizations, is under pressure to deliver or at the least contribute to measurable growth to justify the marketing budget – which has been under downward pressure for most of the 21st century. At the same time, the rise of social media, digital media channels and marketing technology, such as programmatic and real-time media bidding, provides marketers with a means not only to position brands, products and services against the competition in the mind of the customer, but also help fill the euphemistic ‘online sales funnel’ with leads to be converted by sales or even, in an e-commerce world, convert those leads to sales themselves.

Enter the concept of Agile Marketing, inspired by the process of agile software development, and adapted to the marketing discipline. Agile Marketing is about testing and learning, using the results to adapt in real time and go back to the market to optimise marketing investment and deliver measurable Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI). In this world the measures are customer acquisition, cost per lead and acquisition and revenue growth. The focus is on the short-term sales results and optimising the lead and conversion rate. But what about the longer term marketing strategy and market positioning of the brand? An online insurance company we work with embraced agile marketing as a way to maximize marketing budget and ROMI. This included in-house creative and media buying, so they could respond to the market in real time with all agile marketing processes managed totally within the organization.

Fig 2: Traditionally marketing plans laid out a planned route to market. In uncertain and changeable times a more agile approach allows marketers to deliver short-term wins while delivering on longer-term strategic objectives.

But while the marketing team was driving terrific acquisition results in the short-term, there was a realization within the marketing leadership that their agile response to the market had caused them to drift from the core marketing strategy that had built their competitive strength and differentiation. As Richard P. Rumelt had stated above, the marketing strategy defined what they would do and just as importantly what they would not do. But with a short-term focus on driving sales results they ended up doing whatever it took to continue or improve those results, without consideration of what the strategy told them not to do, and therefore were compromising the marketing strategy.

This is easy to do. After all marketers face more choices than ever. There are more channels and more options than there ever have been. Marketers are also facing greater levels of unpredictability, competition and complexity. But out of this complexity and unpredictability comes more opportunity, and therefore a greater need for the agility to take advantage of opportunity as it arises. However, there is also a need for a framework to inform the decision on which opportunities should be taken and how you should take them. This is the emerging role of the marketing strategy in an agile marketing process. I like to think of it as being like sailing. Not the cruising type sailing – a lazy afternoon in the sun, sitting on the deck, sipping champagne. But the racing type of sailing, with an ultimate goal – the finish line and a fleet of competitors in changeable conditions.

A good skipper knows the strengths of the boat and the crew and will have a strategy to play to those strengths and maximize performance in current conditions. The skipper also has tools at his or her disposal to provide updates on the current situation and changes in the surrounding environment. The skipper should know something of the competitors in the fleet – their tactics, strategies, strengths and weaknesses. As with agile marketing, the crew will hopefully have practiced and become incredibly efficient at changing tack. As they sail up to the starting line, the skipper will position the boat to get the best opportunity on the wind and the fleet. From before the start to the finish line the focus of the skipper and crew is on the ultimate goal, which is crossing the line ahead of the rest.

Fig 3: In varying and changing conditions do you stick with the plan and the fleet or strike out and search for immediate opportunities while maintaining a view of the longer-term strategic objectives?

The skipper will stay on strategy to ensure the maximum performance of the boat and the crew, but will constantly be looking for opportunities to take advantage of changing wind and weather conditions and the tactics of the competitors, only reacting when there is a clear opportunity to take an advantage or avoid a disadvantage. After all, simply following the fleet means if there is a knock from a wind change then the whole fleet gets knocked back, but the skipper who decides to stay the course when everyone else tacks is looking for the wind lift that will put him or her ahead of the fleet. What does this mean for marketers? There is a business objective, which is the finish line. Aligned to this objective is the marketing strategy, which defines the best use of the resources available to position the brand, product or service successfully to deliver that objective. There is a marketing plan derived from this strategy, which is the race plan, based on the current weather conditions, the competitive set and the resources available. But then throughout the race there is a constant need to monitor changes in the current situation that might deliver opportunities. Whether these opportunities are taken, or not, depends on the marketing strategy and plan.

This is a short, mid and long-term view of a marketing strategy. The long-term is set within the marketing strategy. And while they say you should always review that strategy, tactics never drive it. Instead, the tactics are assessed against the strategy to make sure they capitalise on the short-term objectives while building the long-term marketing strategy. The marketing plan is the medium-term review where strategy and tactics meet to achieve short, medium and long-term objectives. While the organization may be interested in this quarter’s sales results and marketing’s contribution to those results, marketing must remember it also plays an important longer-term value creation role, ultimately to win the race. The role of the marketer today is to use the marketing strategy to assess short-term tactical opportunities, but to ensure the organization stays on track to deliver the agreed medium- and longer-term objectives of the organization as well.

Darren Woolley is the Global CEO for TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants: www.trinityp3.com.

If your marketing function is not driving growth, you’re not doing it right

Darren-Woolley

One of the big issues facing marketing is the perception, commonly held in businesses, that it is nothing more than the ‘coloring in department’. It is a demeaning phrase and one I heard most recently earlier this year when I was invited to participate in a CEO Forum in the City by one of the accounting firms.

It was a breakfast meeting with a speaker presenting on how to drive business growth in low growth economies. There were about forty CEOs all enjoying pastries, fresh fruit and yogurt. Most were from medium to large private businesses predominantly with a business-to-business focus.

The presentation soon gave way to an open discussion between those present on the drivers of growth, with a heavy emphasis on the sales function as the real driver of revenue growth. Marketing did not get a mention until the speaker asked about the role of marketing and one of the CEOs delivered his knock-out put-down of marketing, which was met by the general consensus of the others in the room.

Reflecting on this, I considered how the marketing and sales function works seamlessly in our own B2B professional services business. It is a seamless and integrated approach that starts with defining the business requirements and the revenue and growth objectives and identifying the segments and services we believe will deliver this growth based on past data and informed by market changes and customer trends.

Six years ago, we implemented a major change in marketing direction, moving from a traditional out-bound marketing approach to an in-bound marketing strategy.This meant we went from a sales support model for marketing to one under which content marketing, SEO (search engine optimization) and social media drove customers to our website and content, at which point automated marketing would help identify those customers and score their sales potential with encouragement to make an enquiry and become a lead. This lead would then be handled by sales to discuss the needs of the client, propose a solution and convert the lead to a sale.

The change in strategy had a significant impact in the first year leading to a 300% increase in traffic to our website and a 30% increase in revenue in that first year. You can read about this in more detail on our site here https://www.trinityp3.com/2013/05/website-visitor-growth/ including specifics on how it was developed and implemented. Under our outbound marketing strategy, we were averaging a conversion rate of 26% – considered quite healthy. But with the in-bound marketing strategy our conversion rate is now 64% as in many ways the prospect is self-validated at the time they decide to become a lead.

For those interested, follow ups on those that do not convert indicate that it is usually because the prospect does not have the budget required or have decided to take a lower cost option or even undertake the process themselves.

At the end of last year, we had over 200,000 unique visitors to the site from around the world and the site visitors continue to grow, which is terrific for a relatively niche consulting business in marketing management consulting. You can read more about how we achieved this visitor growth here, https://www.trinityp3.com/2017/02/200000-website-visitors/.

The quality of those visitors is also high, based on the number of pages visited and time on-page, which all goes to calculate their Lead Score. We are continually testing the process of turning visitors into leads, looking for ways to optimize lead generation and conversion rates.

While some marketers will wonder where the role of brand building fits into this strategy, the fact is the content and the brand presentation is integrated into all aspects of the process to ensure every interaction builds on the brand positioning. All parts of the marketing and sales process are measured, optimized and reviewed to ensure we are achieving our short, medium and long-term growth objectives, creating interest, driving leads, converting customers and building and reinforcing reputation.

So, it made we wonder how these other CEOs manage their marketing teams? What is the role of marketing in an organization where the leader is comfortable describing it as the ‘coloring in department’? Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating in-bound marketing for any other business and not suggesting that we are in anyway the perfect example of business building. But the starting point for us was a recognition that our traditional out-bound marketing process of database cold and warm calling along with advertising and public relations and sales support materials was not delivering the leads and sales conversions we needed.

It meant we needed clearly to articulate our business objectives and then develop a marketing and sales strategy that would attract the customers we needed. It was not a sales-led strategy or a marketing-led strategy, but a customer-led strategy. The sales people and the consultants who are closest to our existing customers inform the content and content marketing strategy and marketing focuses on maximizing traffic and optimizing leads, leaving sales to convert those leads into sales and revenue. All parts of the business share results and review performance on a weekly and monthly basis. There is no point marketing increasing leads if conversions drop, so both must work together to drive revenue and profitability.

Hopefully the next time you hear a fellow CEO refer to their marketing team as the ‘coloring in department’ you’ll share with them the fact that if they have set up their marketing function simply to color in their sales support materials then they are really not doing it right and then direct them to this article or our website. Having the right marketing and sales strategy working together has clearly driven growth for our business and will absolutely deliver the same results for yours.

Darren Woolley is the CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants www.trinityp3.com a micro multinational with offices in Sydney, Singapore, New York and London.