Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Process of Marketing process

When I look at marketing organizations today, I generally see them as being strongest in tactics, moderately strong in strategy, and weak as a whisper when it comes to operational excellence.

Not surprising. We're not trained--the way for instance engineers are--to be process oriented. We're end-result types--our focus, strategically and tactically, is work product.

But we're also builders and architects--builders of web sites, architects of plans, builders of brochures, of booths, of press releases.. We spend the bulk of our time creating, but the bulk of our budget building. And as builders spending money, process is critical.

Getting people to agree to the value of process isn't tough. Building project plans and spreadsheets demonstrating why they should change their behavior--why they should include process as a natural component of how they make decisions--is simple. The hard part is getting people to adopt the point of view--to actually change the way they work. It's not a process change, it's a cultural change.

Which means the real question is not "is process important" or "what's a good process." The real question is: "how do we instill an organization-wide, individual respect and enthusiasm for process?"

I once really messed this up. It was a large organization (technical publications, training, marketing communications, production management, market development and so on). A lot of interaction, and the processes were poor. Work got done on time, but at the expense of resources. So I slammed my hand down on my desk one day and said "what we need is a process, goll dang it!" I hired a project manager, personally presented seminars to the staff on how projects would be tracked, with slides showing all the powerful features of the project planning software; showed how their individual tasks would be managed, explained how much company value would be gained from it--and so on. The result? No buy in. No enthusiasm. No eagerness to work within the framework imposed. No proactive interaction with the Project Manager. A disaster. Program dead in four months and I looked uncomfortably like one of those bosses.

Some of you already see the mistakes I made. Expressed in marketing terms (this is an instance where the Crossing the Chasm model is relevant), the challenge I faced was not the quality of the product. The challenge was introducing a disruptive innovation to an unprepared marketplace. I tried to impose process, when I should have been marketing it. And I marketed generic benefits, not targeted benefits.

So today, my approach is different. Getting marketing to become process-sensitive takes time--expressed not in weeks but in months. It must be accomplished using all of the marketing strategies and tactics that you already use to develop buy in from your customers. (I should add that my view of "employee-as-marketplace" is a topic that could consume many of these emails on its own.)

You know how to do this:

1.Segment the marketplace--you're going to be approaching managers, individual contributors, external organizations and others.
2.Prove the problem--people think their processes are already just fine.
3.Target benefits--for managers it may be promotion; for contributors, more free time; for R&D, smoother communication.
4.Bring in early adopters and evangelists--let people that are respected spread the word.
5.Create incentives for adoption--establish rewards (not competitions) for strong process.
6.Provide quality customer support--help them throughout the adoption period.
7.Monitor, measure, modify--until it's stable and working properly.

The goal here is not to create a run on pocket protectors--we're not trying to create an army of project managers. The goal is to create a culture where one of the considerations when planning or executing work is "what's the most efficient way to do this?" An environment where sensitivity to the building blocks of process--time, tasks and resources--figure in to how decisions are made and how work is performed.

The corporate benefits of strong process are well known But achieving company goals is not what stimulates individuals: achieving individual goals does that. And there are many, more-targeted and more-personal benefits for you and your staff. When you market process to your staff, focus on those. Better process means less headaches, more free time, higher visibility, strong skills for promotion, easier management, reduced duplication of effort, individual and team rewards . . . you can figure out what benefits appeal to each of your segments.

Developing love-of-process is itself a process. It takes strategy, tactics, time . . . and, yes, good process. But once it's in place, it stays in place--as your staff turns over it becomes not something new, but the way things are. And it creates a marketing organization that's more reliable, more responsible and more able to produce high quality work, on time, within budget on a regular basis.