How is [insert marketing tactic] going to help generate sales?

We recently had an exchange with one of our clients that I found interesting and worthy of a blog post.

First, a little background. This client is a young yet well established business, they have very good management and excellent products. Their future is bright. We've been working with them for about a year with very good success. They hired the HRmarketer Services Group to help expand awareness of their brand and generate sales leads. Prior to this they had never really invested in marketing or PR.

The HRmarketer account executive recently reached out to the client (in this case, the CEO) wanting to schedule a particular marketing tactic. It is important to note that for this particular account we are paid a fixed retainer and it is up to the HRmarketer team to determine how the retainer is to be allocated - e.g., what tactics are to be delivered month-to-month. We are ultimately measured on how effective we are in generating sales leads so it is in our best interest to spend the money wisely.

The email reply from the CEO was brief and consisted of two questions:
How is this [insert marketing tactic] going to be used?

How is [insert marketing tactic] going to help generate sales?
My first thought was frustration -- we've been through this many times when proposing new tactics. But as I thought about his reply I quickly respected and understood his response. And I found it very interesting.

We responded outlining all the benefits and we will likely move forward with the tactic. But I continued to ponder the question "How is this proposed tactic going to help generate sales"?

Would this tactic likely have a direct and immediate impact on his company's sales?


But what CEO would find this answer acceptable?

And herein lies the challenge that anyone in marketing and PR is intimately familiar with.

Like many disciplines that involve an element of creativity, marketing is both an art and a science. Good marketer's have a thorough understanding of numbers - from financial statements to campaign metrics - and know how to apply and interpret the information derived from this data. But good marketer's do not let the numbers alone drive decisions. This is the art.

Ever play the game Jenga? What's the value of one block? Not much but take away too many blocks and the structure collapses. Take two football teams with equal talent and a similar playbook and you often see one team that scores a lot of points and one that doesn't. Why? Many times it is because one team makes better use of their plays - their "marketing" mix.

Most HR vendors have access to the same marketing tactics - how they use these tactics is often what separates good marketer's from the pack.

So back to our client's question……

Would this tactic likely have a direct and immediate impact on sales?

Marketing does not work like this - it's more of a cumulative effect. That's why we recommend companies engage in a variety of marketing and PR tactics. This is what best-in-class companies do - from investing in SEO to producing regular "content", direct marketing, advertising, exhibiting, webcasts, media relations and 'social" marketing such as podcasts and blogging (and ideally, Twitter but we'll take it one step at a time).

It works.

It builds the brand, increases a company's visibility, web site traffic and sales leads - assuming they have a quality product and a competent sales organization.

But it takes time and it is not easy.

There are no "get leads quick" schemes that stand the test of time.

You must commit to a disciplined and well diversified "mix" of marketing and PR and be relentless in delivery - yes, even in slow economic times. As Gordon Moore once said, you can't save your way out of a downturn. Or, another favorite of mine: Who has the money to invest in a downturn? Those who invested in the last one.

These concepts can be difficult to accept for companies that do not have a "marketing" culture. It's outside their comfort level and they fall into a trap of questioning and trying to measure and assign an ROI to each individual tactic and cutting or not doing those tactics that don't have an immediate and/or easily recognizable benefit.

That is what a client told me years ago. He is a very bright CEO from a highly successful HR benefits firm. Prior to founding his HR business, he was a highly respected psychologist in Manhattan and admittedly did not know (or appreciate) marketing from Adam but was getting his lunch handed to him by a competitor who did. He changed his ways and his business flourishes today. Not a single decision is made without involvement of marketing - from operations to product development. And they are relentless in their marketing. He told me we helped bring a "marketing culture" to his business.

But after several decades in marketing and having worked with some of the best minds in marketing I still have difficulty responding to a CEO's question "will this tactic have a direct and immediate impact on sales"?

After all, I am a marketer, not a sales person :-)

Related blog post: Get a little messy AND measure stuff. Contradictions are the new marketing chic.