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If you know all the marketing answers, why are you asking the question?

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10th Oct 2008
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When it comes to finding answers to marketing problems, there is rarely only one solution and so views and ideas are often sought from outside the business from specialist consultants. Nicholas Watkis shares his thoughts on the issues relating to consultancy assistance.

By Nicholas Watkis, Contract Marketing Service

Measuring marketing performance is essential if one is to analyse and define the current marketing situation and the results of marketing activities. But the measurement of marketing performance does not predict future results and neither does it indicate potential performance.

The responsibility for generating the profitable revenue for any business is that of the senior executive or CMO, in charge of all those activities which are directly or indirectly involved in anticipating and satisfying customer demand. But in assessing the performance of their marketing activities, every chief marketing officer (CMO) or marketing executive may at some time develop a tendency for 'tunnel vision', restricting their ability to identify and appreciate new threats and opportunities.

"The question is, not whether one marketing policy or action is the right one, but rather in the given circumstances, is it the best one?"

When it comes to finding answers to marketing and business problems, there is rarely only one solution. The question is not whether one marketing policy or action is the right one, but rather in the given circumstances, is it the best one? When managing marketing strategies, plans and actions, there is generally an advantage in submitting them to peers' review by a knowledgeable third party, to test the theories and principles. For many reasons, alternative views and ideas are often sought from outside the business from specialist consultants.

Outside consultants provide the advantages of coming to the problem without the baggage of 'company history' and prejudice and being independent, they provide no risk in terms of company politics. Consultants provide a dispassionate answer with a different perspective as 'the onlooker, who sees most of the game'.

It is often said of consultants that when asked the time, they borrow their client’s watch, tell the client the time and return the watch with an invoice for a fat fee. But if the consultant has told the client what the client already knew or could have found out for themselves the question is why did the client not act themselves?

The ultimate responsibility

When a professionally qualified consultant, properly briefed provides an answer to a problem, it should be based on their dispassionate analysis of facts coupled with their experience and expertise. How that answer is received by the client depends largely on why the client asked the question in the first place. Usually, the client is seeking confirmation for their own actions, or for alternative and new answers to their own.

"For the CMO with an open mind to new ideas and results, the opportunity of a meeting to explore the ideas of informed consultants can prove very beneficial."

From time to time consultants will make unsolicited approaches to businesses and CMOs. In most cases they will seek to present themselves and their business to demonstrate their capabilities and to invite enquiries. However, sometimes consultants will offer to demonstrate how they can be of potential benefit to a business, based on detailed research which may have identified some problems in which they specialize.

For the CMO with an open mind to new ideas and results, the opportunity of a meeting to explore the ideas of informed consultants can prove very beneficial. Alternatively, the CMO who rejects such opportunities may be accused of having a closed mind to anything 'not invented here' and afraid of peer group scrutiny. The attitude of 'we know all there is to know' by some chief executive officers and CMOs is not helpful to the company as it tends to fossilise productive management thinking and practice. Such attitudes can damage the image of the business in the eyes of both customers and investors, as they can rarely remain hidden for long and soon become apparent in the public domain.

Assuming they have been selected for their competency and experience, consultants can make a major contribution to the success of the marketing organisation by providing specialist expertise, independent analysis and objectivity. Consultants do not claim to provide the perfect answer to every marketing or management problem, neither do they claim to be always right, but whether or not their answers are acceptable will largely depend on how well they were briefed, and the prevailing culture of the business.

Marketing performance should be measured by results. However, whatever advice, proposals or answers are given by consultants, the ultimate responsibility for marketing performance lies with the CMO, not the consultants, who remain useful contributors to marketing success but do not share executive responsibility.

Recent articles by Nicholas Watkis

  • The marketing personality crisis: Marketing theory and business reality

  • Managing marketing during the credit squeeze

  • Benchmarking, balanced scorecards and marketing performance

  • What's the problem with marketing?

  • Twelve performance indicators that marketers should measure

  • How can marketers gain influence in the boardroom?

  • What makes effective management of marketing?

  • The defining moment for marketing

  • Managing marketing in changing environments

  • What do you get out of marketing?

  • Do marketing measurements matter?

  • What does marketing contribute to the bottom line?

  • If marketing is a generator of revenue, why is it regarded as a cost?

  • Are marketers suitable managers of marketing?

  • Is your marketing cost-effective?

  • Does your marketing plan measure up?

  • Is marketing successful? It depends what you measure...

  • Today's marketing metrics don't guarantee tomorrow's performance

  • Score cards and metrics – are they an unnecessary distraction?

  • Marketing measurements – how many metrics?

    Nicholas Watkis is the founder of Contract Marketing Service, established in 1981. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a certified management consultant of the Institute of Business Consultancy.

    © N.C. Watkis, Contract Marketing Service, specialists in measuring marketing performance and return on marketing investment.

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