Imagine yourself sitting across the table from a prospective client's CEO at a coffee shop. She’s engaged, ready to listen, and apparently in a positive state of mind. This is a marketer's dream situation; you feel that any question is fair game and honest answers will be forthcoming. If you could ask her just one question to qualify her business for your services, what would it be?
Try this one on for size: As you see it, what is the current and future role of marketing in your business?
Now brace yourself: The answer to this question can give any marketer aspirations for greatness or fears of the calamity that lies ahead.
On one hand, the leader could give you a dream answer, paraphrasing Peter Drucker: "Our business has two-and only two-basic functions: marketing and innovation. The rest are costs."
Now that’s an answer that inspires confidence in the critical role marketing plays in creating and delighting customers. This CEO or CMO sees marketing no differently than innovation; she understands that a business without strong research and development (i.e., innovation) cannot deliver new and improved products and services.
But what if your prospect doesn’t initially recognize the value of marketing?
It's truly unfortunate for marketers when leadership teams do not value marketing as an essential business function. CEOs who see marketing as mainly tactical, fulfillment and/or only end result-focused demonstrate a lack of leadership and complete organizational understanding. When a CEO sees the core purpose of marketing as increasing shareholder value, supporting sales, and generating leads, this could be an indication that there's a tactical view of marketing at the highest levels of your prospect's company. As a result, the business may not be as culturally or organizationally ready for marketing as it needs to be.
As a founder and CEO of an industrial marketing agency, I have had the pleasure to work and interact with over a thousand brands. It is my job to help organizations challenge their thinking on marketing and determine if they are ready, willing, and able to affect positive organizational and cultural change that elevates marketing to an essential business function -- or as we like to say, "make marketing the strength of their business."
Here are a few tell-tale signs that you should address directly to determine if your prospective client is ready for marketing:
Brand clarity must be the "undercurrent of any downstream marketing activity." In other words, before a single line of art, prose, copy or code is ever conceived, everyone from the leaders down to the marketers should be on the same page about the company's identity. If this is not the case, your prospect's business is not ready for marketing because it cannot speak with one voice.
2) Time and Attention
Leaders -- and anyone responsible for the success of marketing -- must give you their full attention. Leaders clearly will not be thinking of marketing exclusively, but marketing should command their undivided attention for at least a few minutes a week.
Marketing efforts require contributions from finance, sales, IT, and leadership at various times and for different reasons. Agencies see this all the time: They're working with a client on developing a new marketing strategy, only to have their point person in the marketing department reassigned to more pressing matters like sales collateral fulfillment.
Leaders and marketers who only pay attention to budgeting are not engaged. Your prospect is not ready for marketing if leaders classify time for marketing as "not important" or "not urgent."
3) Access and Resources
Marketers require support from a variety of internal and external resources to succeed. These can include anything from subject matter experts to inform content, to business and data systems for automation, contact management, finance, and proving ROI.
Being held accountable to results requires access to data across the entire customer journey -- right down to accounts receivable. To this day, many organizations refuse to provide access to internal systems, data, vendors, and most importantly, the money needed to get the job done.
It has been said many times before: Where companies choose to spend their money truly reflects what they value most. Companies that do not provide access to the resources necessary for running a sustainable marketing department are not ready for marketing.
4) The Right People in the Right Seats
Many marketing practices are developed internally. As a result, organizations can find themselves without the full expertise needed to build up a robust marketing department. Often marketing leadership roles are combined with other areas of responsibility. For example, many companies have a single sales and marketing vice president. In situations where one individual is stretched between different priorities, sales support usually ends up consuming the vast majority of their time, resources, attention, and expertise.
Take a look at how your prospect's organization is structured. Are the right people in the right seats? Is the marketing coordinator in a position where they can rally access to attention and resources on a daily basis? If your prospect's organization does not have an established marketing leader, they are not ready for marketing.
While it might be exciting to get in on the ground floor of a new company that is hiring its first agency, it is important to realize where this prospect's organization currently stands. The signs discussed in this article should help give you an idea of how an organization's leadership presently prioritizes marketing and whether or not they're ready for an agency's help. As you consider a discussion with your prospective client, be prepared to communicate the potential value that marketing can bring to the company and exactly what you'll need to get there. If any of the red flags discussed here come up, it's a sign that your prospect might not be in an ideal place to hire your agency.