In a recent post, I took a short foray into the world of clumsy analogies by comparing the team work qualities (and necessities) of basketball and digital marketing. In an even earlier post, I made the claim that the single most important facet of content strategy is audience design. Well, now is the time to pull these two threads together all trilogy-like. After this, you can hail me as the Stieg Larsson of marketing.

Let me start by repeating one of the greatest quotes to come out of professional basketball: “[The secret of basketball is that] it’s not about basketball.” This from the mouth of one of the most controversial team leaders in basketball history, but also one whose loyalty and team skills just can’t be disputed.

It’s not about basketball.

This simple quote means that as soon as players learn to disregard individual achievements, statistic-driven egoism, and isolation in the court, they will learn to look past the concepts of the game and learn to focus on the broader context of winning as a team.

This is what successful marketing is all about, too.

Marketing concepts

The problem is simple, and in no way unique to marketing: we sell concepts, acronyms, statistical lift, productized ideas, and clinical processes. Benefits are usually introduced as wispy afterthoughts with little regard to the eccentricities of the client in question.

What’s worse is that our selling points, take SEO for example, are loaded with history. This history dictates the whats, whys, and how-tos of SEO marketing. A great many of us try to change this by choosing a different approach to SEO, but maybe the problem was never with the concept behind the acronym, but the fact that we tend to treat our products as solutions.

We proclaim to be experts, and therefore we take the floor during sales pitches. Well yes, we are professionals, we probably know the theory inside out, and we have a vast body of experience to back us up. But I tell you this: in marketing, we should acknowledge that the client’s business expertise is what everything else should revolve around.

After all, it is their domain, their kitchen, their niche we are penetrating with our fancy marketing jargon. We are bold enough to claim that we can help them achieve a number of goals, but in the end are we really sure that these goals are even relevant? As a matter of fact, do we really know who and what we’re dealing with, before we start drafting our proposals?

The plan

After this disjointed hodgepodge of an introduction, let me introduce you to my STOP-list. These are commandments which I believe help me (as a marketing professional) make better use of my client’s business knowledge. The client is, after all, at the receiving end of this professionalism.

Stop confusing products with solutions SEO is not a solution. SEM is not a solution. Graphical design is not a solution. Most probably the things you call solutions are not solutions. These are all tools which help you reach the solution. Solution has become synonymous with product (and vice versa) to the point where no one really understands the difference between the two.

Stop selling blindly Don’t start your pitch until you’ve heard everything about the client’s problem. If they’re not forthcoming or if they’re unable to articulate the problem, help them! And be altruistic about it. You don’t have to sell your help, because by finding the need together, you’ll form a bond with the client that will reflect upon the success of your possible cooperation. Remember, you must identify a need to focus the pitch. A pitch without an established need is worth nothing.

Stop dictating, start discussing I really believe in this one even though it might seem detrimental to my business (which, I guarantee you, it’s not!). I see my duty as educating the client. I teach them how to use the same tools as I do, I teach them the theory behind SEO, I help them understand how they are the biggest difference-makers when it comes to managing their organic search rankings. This makes the client happier, more satisfied, and more understanding of my efforts.

Stop the monotony Just because you’ve worked with similar clients before, don’t believe for a second that you can just carbon copy a process and be done with it. Each case requires a unique approach, as each business need is unique. Don’t jump to conclusions during sales, or while the project is on-going, or, most importantly, when presenting your findings. Be empathetic, find the relevance in your work, and be prepared to communicate it to your client in words that they undestand. The more you talk about their business and the less you talk about yours, the better.

Stop enforcing your recommendations Consulting is a touchy business. After all, you’re hired to consult the client. That is, you observe, you recommend, and you track. If your client says no to your recommendations, don’t have a fit, they probably have a good reason for it. The larger the client, the more complex their change management process. If this happens, it is your duty as a marketing professional to come up with something else.

The human factor

I guess my motivation for writing this post stems from the fact that I believe there’s a huge amount of untapped potential in digital marketing.

In the end, it’s all about the human factor. We are proud, selfish beasts, who battle for control and refuse to compromise.

And so, our greatest battle in self-development is not against the unstoppable influx of new information, nor is it against the ever changing business needs of our clients. No, the greatest battle is fought within, against our own flaws and the restrictions we impose upon ourselves.

Luckily, these flaws are usually enhanced by stagnated processes, expired concepts, and poorly designed products. This can be remedied.

Be flexible and make your processes flexible, so that they can accommodate the diverse spectrum of you clients’ business requirements. This way you will be able to take your professionalism to another level.