I recently read Robert Greene’s book Mastery. It got me thinking about how building materials marketers can view their jobs with a fresh perspective.
Unfortunately, most companies simply don’t understand and value marketing. They don’t know how to measure the returns on marketing the way they can with sales. Because of that, they don’t see it as a powerful investment, they see it as a necessary expense that they wish they could get rid of.
Companies that view marketing this way often have a head of sales that acts like the boss of the marketing department. They’re in the habit of giving the marketing department tasks to complete instead of problems to solve.
They’ll assign tasks such as:
- Our competitor has a new website, so we need a new website.
- You need to get the trade show booth produced for this show.
- We have a new product. I need a brochure and an update to the website.
- We’re having a sales meeting. I need your help making it a great event and we will use the same format we use every year.
You rarely see them bringing problems to the marketing department such as:
- How can we get and keep more architectural specs?
- We have a new lower-priced competitor. How should we deal with this?
- Our products are being sold online by some of our customers. How can we grow our online sales?
- We want to get more builders to use our product. How do you think we should accomplish this?
The head of sales will even develop the marketing plan (list of tactics or elements) themselves based on what they have done in the past or what a competitor is doing.
This turns the marketing people into doers instead of encouraging them to be thinkers and problem-solvers. In other words, it prevents them from developing mastery.
Doers can be replaced fairly easily, but it’s very difficult to replace a master. Doers earn less than masters do – a lot less. They also deliver far less value.
How to Become a Master in Building Materials Marketing
- Do you want a job or a career? If you’re happy just having a job, keep doing what you’re doing because you don’t need to be a master to achieve that.
- It’s not up to your boss to respect marketing. It’s up to you to earn their respect.
- Be ready to deal with rejection and failure. When your ideas are rejected, it’s either because they were wrong or you weren’t able to sell them to your boss.
- Be curious. Be open to seeing why your idea may not be as great as you think it is. If you’re still convinced it’s the right idea, think of how you could have presented and sold it more effectively.
- Never stop learning and challenging your beliefs. What worked perfectly a year ago may not work as well now or with a different problem or a new audience. Marketing people will frequently find a way that works and then apply it to every situation. A trade show giveaway may be a big success the first time but give you diminishing returns each time you use it again.
- Know your customer’s business as well or better than the sales team knows it. I’ve known marketing people who have been told never to talk to a customer. The smart ones still find a way to develop relationships with customers on their own. If architects are an important audience for you, find some local architects and ask them if they will help you better understand their needs. The majority of them will be happy to help you (even if they’re not one of your company’s current customers).
How I Learned to Master Building Materials Marketing
I hate to call myself a master because it sounds like an accomplishment, like I’m done learning. I don’t think I’ll ever be done. My therapist tells me that the day I stop learning is the day I will die.
Even when I look at a marketing problem and can see the solution to it, I challenge myself and try to develop an even better one. I don’t always succeed, but I always try.
I started my career working for an agency that focused on building materials companies. I was an account person on their largest client.
One of the marketing people I dealt with was a nice enough person but he gave me tasks like the ones you might be getting from the sales leaders at your company. “We have a new product, here is all the background. We need you to create a brochure that should be eight pages.”
I would ask him a series of questions: Who are you selling this to? What are they using today? What makes your product better? How would you define success?
As I left his office, I knew I had a better way to introduce his new product than a brochure. I went back to the agency and shared my thinking with the creative team. I gave it to them as a problem to solve: who are we talking to, what should we say, and how should we reach them?
I never gave them a creative idea. It’s their job to come up with great images, copy and media recommendations – not mine.
I met with the client again to present him with our amazing ideas. I was convinced he would see why they were better than the brochure he requested.
He didn’t. As I presented the solutions to him, he stopped me and asked where the brochure was.
At first, I was frustrated with him. Wasn’t he smart enough to see why our solution was so much better?
But then I started asking myself how I could have done a better job of presenting our ideas.
What was I missing? The client is smart and has a lot of experience. Once I put myself in his shoes, I quickly saw the problem.
My client was used to working with his internal client (sales leader or product manager) and agreeing on a solution such as a brochure. He would then give the task to an internal marketing person or an outside resource. He wasn’t used to having people rethink the solution. He was used to getting back what he asked for. He also was used to going back to his internal client with what they had agreed to.
I realized I was fighting an uphill battle, so I changed my strategy. I brought him the copy and layout for the brochure he asked for. That way, he would feel more comfortable, knowing he was prepared to meet with his internal client.
That’s when I said, “I’m glad you like the brochure. We did some more thinking on this and I think we’ve come up with an idea that would be more effective. Let me show you what it would look like and how it would work.”
Because my client had the brochure he needed, he could relax and consider our recommendations objectively. In that frame of mind, he could see how a fresh idea could make him look like a hero to his internal client.
He presented our ideas to his internal client the same way I presented it to him. He started off by giving them the brochure they asked for and then added “After doing more thinking about this project, we’ve come up with an alternative that I’d like to share with you.”
Even if his internal client disagreed and only wanted the brochure, they would now see him as someone who thinks and can bring them new ideas.
After six months, my client changed the way he worked with his clients. Instead of asking them what they wanted, he asked them a series of questions I helped him develop that would lay out the solution and goals.
That’s when he started giving me problems to solve instead of tasks. It was a process I had to earn by demonstrating that the solutions we developed were well received internally and were more successful.
Another thing I learned was that the people at my client’s company were very busy so they would make a quick decision on marketing matters. They were also measured by their ability to get things done, not by the results or success of their plans.
That helped me reframe the way I approached them and their problems.
I’m not sharing this so you can copy the way I did things. I’m sharing it because I think it’s a lesson you can apply more widely. Sometimes, the best thing to do is not to double down on your current way of doing things but to take a step back from your situation and try a fresh approach.
Other Rules of Mastery
- Don’t seek credit or position yourself as the hero. Make your boss or your internal client the hero. People will recognize your talents soon enough.
- Realize how far you can push your company (culturally or financially). Prove yourself with ideas that are easy to accept. When those ideas produce better results, then you can lead your company into new areas or get them to increase your budget.
- Choose outside resources that you trust and work well with. A marketing person should not be the idea person or creative director. Give your outside resources problems rather than tasks. Recognize and thank them when they do a good job. Become their favorite client and you’ll get their best effort.
- Look beyond companies that are trying to sell you marketing solutions, such as a new website or paid media advertising. There is no salesperson trying to sell you many of the best marketing solutions available today, like making better use of social media. Be curious and look for opportunities that you have to find and act on yourself.
- Build your marketing budget based on the goals of the company. Too many companies base that budget on the one from the previous year. That’s based on the assumption that you’ll just keep doing the same things instead of trying something new.
Additional Insights from a Marketing Master
To make this article even more helpful, I’ve asked for some input from Joey Peters, who I consider a Master of Building Materials Marketing.
Joey started his career working for an ad agency that specializes in building materials. After that, he moved on to marketing positions at Old Castle and Mohawk. Following Joey’s career, I have always been impressed with the way he solves marketing problems.
Here’s Joey’s Advice
For me, keeping perspective is essential. Marketing as a whole has long been the catch-all for sales and product management when they’re either a) missing forecasts, b) behind on a launch, or c) getting pressure from the leadership team to move the needle. Perspective comes into play here because sales people have egos – good and bad. I love the bravado and confidence sales can display but cringe at the promises to get the result – which oftentimes fall on marketing to deliver. I echo Mark’s sentiments that marketing gets caught too often as the order taker and the scapegoat, unfortunately. It can be a cultural issue, which is hard to chip away, but marketing has to get out of reactive mode and into proactive mode. You must be the sherpa and anticipate issues ahead that allow you to deliver a solution versus being the last to know.
It’s hard to do – the tasks don’t stop coming as you enter this mindset. But think of it this way – who is talking with the media reps visiting your clients and competitors? Who has the access to analytics and behaviors customers display through your website, social media and email? It’s marketing. You have data and facts – and, ask anyone who has worked with me and they’ll tell you one of my favorite lines: Data don’t lie.
Marketers need to take this data and begin viewing requested tasks through this lens. Sales love to operate on opinion or hunches – but they ultimately want the sale. The customer is the key to the sale and you, as the marketer, know what’s making them tick. Leverage this information and come to sales as a partner- push back on why a brochure doesn’t make sense, why going to a tradeshow is a waste of money or another PPT is not the best course. Sales has their opinion but you know X people in X part of the country are downloading more technical docs from the site so we should increase SEO and get them there. An answer like that is a helluva lot more convincing than saying “why” with no reasoning. A salesperson’s livelihood is making sales – help them do it better and more frequently… culture can and will shift quickly!
I am a huge believer in sales enablement as well. Make things easy to find and track who is using what and report frequently to sales what you’re seeing in the field. I can speak with experience that those walls will come down and you’ll be viewed as a knight at the round table versus those pouring the wine. It isn’t overnight but keep chopping the wood and you’ll slowly accumulate some small wins that turn into victories for your team.
Take a Fresh Approach
Many building materials marketing people are very frustrated that they aren’t as valued or appreciated as they should be. I hope this article helps reduce that frustration by showing you how you can change your company’s opinion of marketing.
If you’re new to building materials marketing, I hope this will help you rise above being an “order taker” who will never be respected for your wisdom.
If you follow my approach and still don’t see any change after 18 months, you’re probably at the wrong company. Start looking for a new job with an employer who will value you as a Master of Building Materials Marketing.
And if you have any other suggestions for improving your marketing skills or gaining more respect for marketing, I’d love to hear them.
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