Who should drive the sales and marketing team training agenda. The HR manager or the Sales and Marketing manager?

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When it comes to developing the skills and practice of the sales and marketing team who should be driving the training agenda is it the sales and marketing manager or the HR manager?

In larger organisations the planning for staff training lies under the broad remit of HR who, following training needs analyses create people development programmes and decide whether these are ‘make or buy’ decisions.

Any sales and marketing executive who abdicates the training job entirely to HR is missing a trick. Local and specific needs are always spotted first by the people in the function. They can also see what training is relevant. If they don’t step up then team training and education is likely to be quite ‘vanilla’ such as general leadership, problem solving, or communications programmes. The problem with this is that sales and marketing professionals often think ‘so what’ about this type of training and the reputation of their HR colleagues goes through the floor.

The other challenge is the time commitment. Sales and Marketing people, especially Sales people are actively engaged with daily customer demands so time for development creates a conflict of priorities. At the heart of this problem lies the issue of formal vs informal learning.

Social learning platforms are the ideal solution to this dilemma. With an on-line course busy professionals can dip in and dip out to suit their availability and learn functionally relevant skills at their own pace.

What should Sales and Marketing teams be learning?

One of the biggest challenges faced by any sales and marketing professional is how to generate more sales and profit and deliver customer value. Fundamental to this is learning how to create compelling customer value propositions. This is crucial in the face to face context of B2B marketing.

You simply won’t get specialised training on the vital subject of value proposition design with general sales and marketing development courses and it is unlikely that the topic is on the radar of the HR manager (please prove me wrong!) This is why we have created a complete on-line informal learning course on the value proposition creation and customer value building. Something you can invest in yourself, bring to the attention of the HR manager or simply buy with the sales and marketing budget.

Based on our top selling b2b marketing book Value-ology: Aligning sales and marketing to shape and deliver profitable customer value propositions the course is made up of video topic presentations and individual and team exercises based on a mix of our commercial experience, our university tutoring and our commercial and academic research. The module content is designed to be practical, straightforward and accessible so the emphasis is on management learning not abstract academic studying. You can even do the course on mobile devices. A full explanation of the course can be seen via this link.

Click this image to learn more course details.

on-line marketing course

If you are looking for ways to inspire, engage and develop your b2b sales and marketing team then this course is definitely for you.

To craft a value proposition that works for your business, download our free ebook: how to rock your customer’s world

So Where Exactly Is Competitive Advantage?

Reading an article by Alexander Repiev struck a chord with me. Intringuingly titled The Augean Stables of Academic Marketing I had to confess I didn’t know what Augean meant. Googling to find a defnition I was shocked at the bluntness of its meaning.“extremely filthy from long neglect” said Princeton.

“Requiring heroic efforts of cleaning or correction” said the freedictionary.com

“resembling the Augean stables in filthiness or degradation.” said dictionary.com

Is this really state of marketing theory? The notion of Augean coming from the fifth labour of Hercules whose task was to clean up the stables of King Augeus who had been remiss in keeping on top of the job for years.

Alexander Repiev has choosen a powerful metaphor for his take on extant marketing knowledge and practice. I have a hunch he’s on to something. The marketing stable probably needs a spring clean.

No more so it seems than with the apparent uncritical reliance on classic marketing frameworks and tools. Do the analysis and out will pop the answer. Those “Quenchers of Creativity” as Alexander calls them. I agree. Yes they are helpful in mapping a version of reality, and as he goes on to say “At best those matrices, chains, “analyses,” etc., are reminders, visualizations, etc.”

They nevertheless pre-dispose the marketeer to sterile analysis. To grey descriptions of ‘facts’. They make someone highly proficient at flying a ‘desk’ and completely unskilled in the social skills of business. When has a PEST analysis inspired anyone? How can a SWOT analysis encourage the spotting of patterns that connect? (Bateson) when their purpose and method is splitting into parts. Where is the conversation about issues of categorisation, where is the talk of both/and instead of either/or? How many times do we have to hear the puzzled calls of ‘so which box does this fit in?’ or ‘this could fit in more than one box!’.

The skill of analytical thinking is celebrated in the stable of Marketing to the exclusion of everything else and large numbers of marketeers are wading around knee deep in the muck it generates. Ah I hear you say ‘where there’s muck there’s money’, so let me be clear, I’m not arguing for a cessation of analysis. I am arguing for a re-balancing, a re-thinking, a re-imagining of what matters in marketing practice. Its as if the ‘skill’ of marketing is only regarded as skilled use of analytical problems tools. Use the analytical frameworks ‘properly’ and you ‘know’ how to do marketing. Know of a range of analytical frameworks and use them ‘properly’ and your competitive advantage will spring off the page. The personal responsibility for making sense is abdicated to a matrix.

The challenge facing the Marketing stable is its stability. Its stability of subject matter (despite claims of new and different, just how ‘new’ is viral really?) Its stability of Positivistic ontological and epistemological assumptions.And lying deep within its underlying core are ideological principles of awareness and understanding of ‘other’, of sense-making (Weick) a concern with challenging paradigms a passion for innovation, skill in generative thinking, systemic thinking, leadership, entrepreneurship, social influence, and organisational learning. These notions however have all been hived off from the essence of marketing thought into separate subject specialisms all stepping out on their own Herculean labours in the search for competitive advantage. Subject Specialisms that would rather be anything than associated with an intellectually adolescent-subject like marketing that is seen to be trapped in the lower reaches of Blooms taxonomy.

It seems Competitive Advantage has left the marketing stable, and perhaps the horse that’s bolted needs to be caught and brought back. Once the stable has been cleaned of course!

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Will Technology Convergence Change The Way We Think About Marketing?

mobile-convergence-technology-I subscribe to a great blog called Serious Games and this latest post highlights the rate of technology convergence and its impact on the increased use of Social Media and the decrease of traditional Media.

I can see that if your world is marketing communciations then technology is having a big impact on the places where advertising is placed and brands are positioned.

The change of channels might have changed but has technology driven any degree of fundamental change in marketing thinking? I find it hard to see how this can be the case.

Surely the technology can only manifest what the practioner’s philosophy decrees. So a micro economic Kotlerian position will see the technology as a means to facilitate needs based exchange, standing in Nordic School position will see technology as a means to enhance relationships, look at the world through Vargo and Lusch’s Service Dominant logic and the technology is their to underpin community building and co-creation of products and services.

Didn’t all of these things exist before digital techologies? The marcomms tactician used to be skilled in media planning and production that utilised 20th century technologies, all that has changed is the hardware and software. Nothing has necessarily changed for Marketing as a philosophy or a strategic endevour. Or has it?

Convergence is certainly interesting from a consumer demand perpsective. Do people like you and I prefer Convergent or Dedicated Products Han, Weong and Seok have found that Products with a high degree of technological Convergence are preferred.

Convergence is also interesting from a managerial perspective. The people using these converged products will be using them to engage with Brands. Schau, Muñiz Jr., & Arnould have written a fascinating article in this month’s Journal of Marketing titled How Brand Community Practice Create Value.In a broad piece of qualitative research that looked at brand communities as diverse as Apple Newton, Garmin GPS, and the Xena Warrior Princess TV Show they have identified 12 value creating practices that included ‘grooming’ where communities share how to care for your product, ‘justifying’ that creates social proof about why the brand is a good buy, ‘badging’ where models and versions of products are built up like an ancestry.

The killer observations for me by the authors are their identification of 4 strategic themes that need blending for effective community value creation, and significantly digital technologies are at the heart:

Social Networking that facilitates stuff such as welcoming, and governing.

Impression Management that facilitates justifying and evagenlising.

Community Engagement that facilitates knowledge sharing.

Brand Use that facilitates tips and tricks.

I like their ideas because they view the thing systemically. Each theme is interconnected and interdependent. It is also clear that digital technology means that creating communities and keeping them alive is much easier these days than in the past. So maybe technology is changing the way we think about Marketing afterall, not necessarily introducing anything new but foregrounding something that might have been easier to ignore in the past? If you can get your hands on a copy of these articles I recommend you do so.

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Is Marketing Wicked?

wicked-evil-businessman

Depending on who you are this question will probably mean something different to you.

A person who was born in the 1990s might think I was asking if marketing was a ‘good thing’, perhaps a cutting edge career, something to really aspire to. On the other hand someone who has doubts about the value of consumersim and the ethics of materialism might think I was asking about the moral basis of marketing thought and practice. The sort of concerns that can be found on websites such as Marketing Ethics and Criticism

Both are likely to disappointed. The question is really about how marketing is understood by marketing professionals and the notion of ‘wicked’ refers to the types of wicked, complex and ambiguous phenomena first characterised by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber in their 1973 paper Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.

A crucial aspect of their idea is that ‘wickedness’ isn’t about how difficult something is per se. The opposite of wicked problems are tame problems. Tame problems are often hard to solve but they use familiar tried and tested problem solving methods to crack them. The example that is often given is the game of Chess. Chess presents ‘tame’ problems. The challenges presented might be difficult but how the pieces move, and how to solve the challenges is essentially the same time after time. This is the sort of thinking that people use when they’ve had alot of experience in a particular business sector and are often heard to claim that they know everything there is to know about the business. Wicked problems can’t be solved in the same way. They involve situations with multiple causes, they have multiple explanations provided by stakeholders with different opinions and values and according to Michael Pacanowsky in his article Team Tools for Wicked Problems they “involve us in dialogue that includes our definition of the problem, the algorithm we try to invent or employ, the information we consider relevant, the solution we find, and the outcomes we ultimately achieve. Wicked problems necessarily have an interative nature to them”

Classic Marketing Management schools us in the belief that the business environment whilst dynamic and changeable, can be tamed and controlled through the application of the principles of ‘scientific management’. The ideas of Rittel and Webber imply that the business environment isn’t ‘tame’ (routine and familiar problems and solutions). Marketing Executives are constantly faced with ‘wicked’ (supriseful, complex, unfamiliar situations requiring innovative and imaginative solutions) too. And they look like this…

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.(we can’t simply say it’s a sales problem, a pricing problem, a distribution problem etc)

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. (unlike tame problems where you clearly know when you’ve ‘cracked’ it, for e.g.we can’t say for certain that ‘we have sorted our Service Marketing strategy now’)

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse. (this implies power and politics have a role to play in decision making too)

4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.(obviously a worry for those who depend on the scientfic method of experimentation to test and control variables in order to inform their decision making)

5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly. (So if we change our sales structure we have changed our business environment and we now have to deal with a new reality)

6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.

8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.(forget looking for a root cause, its impossible to find)

9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.(what glasses are you wearing? the world through brass glasses is very different to the world through silver and gold glasses)

10. The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

With these things in mind, now think about the classic linear rational approach to Marketing Planning that is put forward in the majority of standard text books. The marketing plan is ‘sold’ as a solution for structuring complexity. A method that if correctly followed will reveal the best course of action. All you have to do is plug data into the planning algorthim and out pops the solution!

Business Schools are churning out marketing managers bred on this rational systematic problem solving methodolgy, but as Pacanowsky says “Linear problem-solving methods, with the attendant assumptions they make about problem definition, information, and solution, are often insufficient for the task” Might this be the reason that Marketing Plans are merely ‘shelf-ware’ once they have been written? They don’t actually solve the problems they were intended to solve!

To end on a contemporary note. Take a look at how marketeers are trying to understand and make sense of Social Media. There are multiple explanations, its not easy to pin down, some people are trying to ‘tame’ it by fitting into classic processes. Often people will tell you just ‘how complicated Social Media is and hard it is to explain to the CEO what it is all about’. Its difficult to test and measure. Its in a perpetual state of trial and error. No one really has the answer.

Marketing is wicked, isn’t it!

Links to articles (will need journal subscriptions):
Team Tools for Wicked Problems
Strategy As A Wicked Problem

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