Anne Holland

SherpaBlog: Top Marketing Challenge for 2008 – Office Politics

I used to call it the “X Factor.” No matter how intelligent, talented and hardworking you are, you’ll only get so far in your career without the X Factor.

As a young marketer, I thought of it as brownnosing. You know, the guy who gets the promotion because the boss loves him, even though other people may have worked harder and better. Now, I know it was office politics. He was better at building alliances, negotiating power and presenting himself in a golden light.

Marketers as a race are not particularly adept at office politics. We’re not good at selling ourselves.

Consider how normal it is for companies to have a CFO but not a CMO on the top management team. Consider how few Fortune 500s have a marketing guru on their board of directors. Consider how hard you have to fight for your budget, for your strategy, for new hires, even often for technical support.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time this past month reading transcript after transcript from past MarketingSherpa Summits, trying to determine what the most useful lessons were. Frankly, although we concentrated a great deal of attention on campaign tactical nuts and bolts, what made our Case Study presenters so successful was that extra X Factor.

They had mastered office politics.

“How did you get the CEO to agree to that?” an audience member invariably would ask. “I marketed it internally” would be the answer. “You need to market yourself inside your organization.”

Personally, I used to find office politics nearly incomprehensible. But, now, I realize it’s just another form of marketing.

-> Step #1. Market research

Target the most influential and powerful people in your organization who could help the cause of marketing if they were so moved. (Note: Influencers are not always the same as the official power structure on paper.)

Treat them like any other marketplace — research their pain points, fears, goals and aspirations. And, of course, their taxonomy, precise wording choices can be such powerful marketing tools. Lastly, discover how they like to obtain information: Informal conversations? Formal presentations? Detailed reports? One-page memos with a chart in the middle as eye candy? Which media do they most pay attention to and trust: The Wall Street Journal? The blogosphere? Best-selling business books? Talk radio?

Study to know your CFO or CIO or head of sales so well that you could write up a formal persona profile on him or her. (In fact, why not do it? It would be a good exercise.)

-> Step #2. Create a marketing plan

As with any other campaign, set a measurable goal of some sort. It might range from getting more feedback from the sales force to signing off on the new hire you’re seeking.
And, then, start educating, nurturing and cultivating your marketplace.

You might start an internal email newsletter — marketing factoid of the week, including quotes from media your prospect trusts. Or by adding a mini-marketing report card to the homepage of the company intranet. Or by changing the way you report on your success.

The latter is often the most powerful. Instead of reporting on marketing-centric measurements, tie your data to your target market’s pain points and goals. Rather than talking about click rates, or prospect list size, or even campaign ROI, you might discuss shorter sales cycles or higher purchase per order.

Consider – which would your CEO be most impressed by? The overall open rate of your email newsletter or the percent of top accounts who routinely read articles in it?

-> Step #3. Give your potential allies power

The biggest step in seeking power is to allow others around you to feel powerful and appreciated themselves. Professionals are more stressed out by a lack of control in their working conditions than they are by hard work itself.

You can gain power by giving power to others — by asking for other department’s input and decisions at fairly early stages in the marketing process. Key — only allow brainstorming if you have data in your pocket to fight off a potentially disastrous decision. Best idea: Ask others for what they think problems are … and then return with two or three equally good strategies for them to vote on as solutions.

So, you’re not saying: “What should we do with our marketing budget this year?” Instead you’re saying: “What’s the biggest problem we need to solve with marketing this year?” And then a few weeks later, you’re saying: “I’ve researched your problem and here are the two best possible solutions. Which do you prefer?”

As one top marketing consultant told me privately last month: “Management often doesn’t know good marketing from bad. They’re convinced 50% of their budget is wasted, and they’re not sure who to trust to fix it. Probably not marketing.”

For 2008, your toughest marketing challenge may be internal politics. Now is the time to acknowledge this reality and focus your skills to win.

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