“Choke up on the bat…a little more. There you go.” I can still hear my dad’s voice in my head. He was the best softball coach I ever had. We spent endless hours practicing in our backyard with a bat, ball, and a makeshift home plate we drew with chalk on the concrete. I’m a really different kind of marketing consultant. I view business as a game. Whoever gets the most sales wins. In any competitive sport, each and every person on the team has a role. Here’s how I feel most marketing consultants are failing to perform — they see their roles as players who are responsible for the day to day mechanical tasks rather than coaches responsible for the overall execution of the strategy resulting in a long term win.
We’ll discuss this concept by using an analogy to a baseball team. I’m a Red Sox fan but as I live here in New York City I have to tolerate the Yankee fans so let’s leave the team name out of it and avoid an argument, shall we?
The GM/Owner/Front Office = CEO
While the GM may occasionally decide who to trade or who to acquire from the Minor Leagues, that’s as far as his day to day decision making goes. The GM is normally the power role in the organization, but recently teams have started appointing a President of Operations who works with the owners to control the team’s commercial interests such as marketing the organization through endorsements, external relationships, etc. They make longer term strategic decisions such as how to finance the enterprise, coach, and players. They create the team’s brand as well as the target audience. For example, I remember once hearing a friend of mine complaining about the Yankees. “It’s just not as fun to go to the games anymore. It’s all corporate people now. I want to be at a game with a good old fashioned ragtag group of fans like the olden days.”
In business, the GM/Owner role is normally fulfilled by the CEO of the company who appoints the marketing staff and consultants.
The Coach = Marketing Consultant
In baseball there is normally a team of coaches (field coach, first base coach, etc.). The coach’s main responsibilities are to inspire and guide the team to victory in the day to day by successfully:
- Acting as a role model. I remember in high school I had this one soccer coach with a pot belly. He hadn’t done anything athletic for at least ten years. Not surprisingly, he lacked a command over the team and did little other than lead our team cheer in the pre-game huddle. The players need to be inspired by the coach who is as much an emotional leader as a tactical one. The players need to feel that the coach can do what he is asking them to do. That way they know it can be done. He has to inspire confidence not just through words but through actions.
- Leading ethically.
- Executing strategies that win the game by making tactical decisions about who should be in the lineup and who should play what position. To do this, he must recognize each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Keeping players in check and ensure order.
- Researching the competition and design the play to win against it.
- Protecting players from injury, both physical and mental. Guarding against loss of confidence or morale, recognizing times when energy needs a boost.
The coach is ultimately responsible for the team’s performance. He controls the game the most out of anybody on the team.
The Players = The Marketing Tools
The coach’s task is to synthesize the brand that the GM and front office created, the game strategy, the resources that are given by the GM and front office (access to training facilities, the baseball players themselves, etc), and the overall atmosphere (the weather on game day). These are the players in the game. The coach uses these tools to put team in the best possible position score more points than the competition.
To apply this analogy to business, the marketing consultant should synthesize the company’s brand that the CEO created and represents, the marketing strategy (social media, digital advertising, etc), the resources given to the team by the CEO (e.g., advertising budget) and the atmosphere (the economy). These marketing tools are the players in the game, and the marketing consultant has to use these tools to get as much of the right attention for the company as possible so that the team can close the sale and win market share from the competition.
Marketing Consultants’ Role Confusion
We’ve all suffered through that painful relationship that ended in disaster because the in-laws decided to act like relationship counselors…In order to win everyone has to play his or her position. Failure to do so has drastic consequences, both in business and in life.
The coach and players depend on each other. The front office depends on the coach and players as well, but has ultimate authority to hire and fire them. The marketing consultant is hired by the CEO just as the players are, but that’s where the equality ends. Coaches and players are not on the same level. This is where the most role confusion is prone to happen.
Role confusion leads to dysfunction which leads to discord and the end result is always lost games. Examples of role confusion include:
- CEO’s who should be working on marketing the company by building relationships and soliciting referrals from active and past clients, vendors, and strategic partners but instead get involved with every single aspect of the day to day operations. The GM should stay out of the dugout, everyone should play his or her position.
- Coaches who focus on results and forget about execution. For example, I once worked as a salesperson at a company in which the sales trainers had been very successful at some point in the past but they weren’t involved directly with selling anymore. As a result, they lost touch with the winning edge so to speak and failed to produce winning sales advice. When I told them about objections I encountered, they couldn’t really understand how to overcome them in the modern day selling environment. They just couldn’t put themselves in my shoes. The department saw high turnover, couldn’t hold on to top producing salespeople, and eventually the head of the sales team got fired. A good coach is aware of his or her position as coach but can also step into player’s shoes and motivate when energy wanes.
- Players who think they are the coach. Players and coaches have different incentives. There are times when player and coach will conflict and the coach has to have authority over the player in such cases. When the coach tells the player to throw a curve ball or walk a slugger, it’s based upon years of experience that the pitcher doesn’t have. This is why the coach is the one who stands in the dugout and figures out a way to make the players win, and bears the responsibility for the win or loss, not the player. There can’t be two head coaches; if there are, it’s just nominal. One is more like an assistant coach while the other one is the head coach. Similarly, no one person can perform optimally at two disparate roles. Some players have tremendous influence over the company because of their success performing in their role, but that doesn’t mean they should call the shots for the team.
- Owners who don’t support the coach. The owner’s job is to provide the resources to the team. It’s not the coach’s or players’ jobs to do that. I have one client who consistently sends me my paycheck a month late. As a result, more of my time than appropriate is spent in follow up with their accounts payable department. This signals a lack of commitment to the president’s job of providing the resources to the coach and ultimately because less of my time can be spent on my work it impacts the players as well.
Application to Marketing Consultants
It’s not enough to be provide great marketing tools to a company. The approach has to be integrated, holistic, and full of a vision of the future. The world is full of people who call themselves “marketing gurus,” “rainmakers”, or “marketing geniuses.” My question is where were they when the world was falling down in 2007? They failed to help their clients and they went down with the ship. These “genius” tactics didn’t hold water because they were exactly that – tactics or tools – not integrated strategies that made sense given the context of the larger world and could compete within it.
Most marketing consultants function like players rather than coaches. They see their role as mechanical. Now I’m going to write this blog, create this posting, write this press release. But it’s totally responsive and not strategic. They act like the tool rather than the force driving all the tools. They relinquish control of the play, lacking any insight for the future past when is my next paycheck due. Player, not coach.
Most marketing consultants focus so much on the work product when the coaching is really what is needed. What companies need more than just a blogger, PR person, SEO consultant, or social media expert is a person who can execute these tasks while at the same time putting all the elements of the game together. Marketing consultants who do this are hard to replace. On the other hand, those who aren’t doing justice by their clients are the bloggers who blog without a sense of strategy, so aren’t PR people who lack a sense of the company’s true brand, SEO people who don’t understand what the competition is doing, and social media people who don’t see future media trends.
Examples of Marketing Like a Coach Rather than a Player
Great coaches are adept at deciding who to play up, who to push, who to tone down, who to keep in check, and who to leave alone.
- One client of mine had great ability to produce stellar written content but no SEO on any of their pieces. I didn’t just blog for them; in addition to writing their blogs, I instituted an optimization program and process to coach the team to achieve better search results.
- One of my clients faced heightening competition from a stronger brand. I didn’t just create social media content, I pointed out ways to distinguish their brand from the competition and advised the CEO on how to run digital ads on Facebook to drive home their competitive advantages.
- One of my clients has a CEO with an inspirational story but overall the company lacked a powerful brand. But I didn’t just rebrand the company. I integrated this CEO’s achievements into the branding strategy and helped put more meaning and personality behind the mission by suggesting an e-book to tell the story of how the CEO founded the company. It involved some convincing, but eventually the project went through and we are now writing an e-book which is the cornerstone of a value-driving PR campaign. On an ongoing basis, I am finding ways to amplify this hidden voice and coaching the team as I do so. We have also produced a video series positioning the CEO as a subject matter expert using low cost resources attained through a service swap with one of the company’s contacts. This video series has produced immediate results.
- For several companies, instead of just posting social media content, I engaged their sales staff on a weekly basis by creating 2 minute review videos to coach salespeople on how to use the social media content I created in their sales prospecting campaigns. I didn’t just function as a social media expert.
- For one of my clients with a great track record of long tenured employees, but no employee biographies appearing on their website, I wrote a monthly spotlight blog which featured a key employee whose achievements represented the company’s mission and values. This has activated employee participation on social media and strengthened relationships with suppliers online as well. I didn’t just blog; I played up the company’s strengths.
These actions have been game changing for my clients and have brought their businesses to new levels.
To get out of the minor league, hire the marketing consultant who “gets it” when it comes to being not just a player but a coach, being fully committed to going beyond just the mechanical marketing tools. For social media, PR, blogging, or custom pieces such as white papers or ebooks, email email@example.com and we’ll hit the home run together.