Should Marketing Be at the Leadership Table?
As usual Jeff and Jason disagree. This time over if, and when, a marketer should be a member of a firm’s senior leadership team.
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Jason Mlicki: All right, Jeff, the central question for today is does marketing deserve a seat at the leadership table?
Jeff McKay: No.
Jason Mlicki: Yes, of course, they do.
Jeff McKay: No. I’m sorry, did I just blurt that out?
Jason Mlicki: End of episode.
Jeff McKay: End of episode. Okay. Next topic.
Jason Mlicki: So we knew going into this that we would be at odds on this question, and I think we also both agree that the true answer is probably the classic consultant’s response, it depends, but I air on the side of that more often than not, the answer is yes. And I know you air on the other side.
Jeff McKay: Yes, yes. You’re the optimist and I’m the realist.
Jason Mlicki: Pessimist. Sorry, I needed to give you the proper adjective there? So, okay, so let’s dig into this. I think, in order to do this correctly, the best place to start is really what do we mean by a leadership team? So when we talk about a leadership team, what does a leadership team do? What is their role? It’s easy to fill the boxes. It’s easy to say, well, we have a CEO, a CFO, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s all easy to do. But the real central question is, well, what are the roles of those people? What is their job inside the firm? So I’d like to start there if you’re game. And I thought you had a pretty nice summation of that. There’s seven or eight things that leadership teams do and I think that would be good for you to share, to get us started. And then we can dig into why I say yes and why you say no, which is kind of true of every topic we ever talk about. I always say yes. You always say no. No, no, no, no. It’s all I ever hear out of you.
Jeff McKay: Well, you’ve taught me how to create dramatic tension because my answer is also, “It depends.” What does a leadership team do? Well, that depends on the leadership team because I don’t, in my experience, think there’s a monolithic description or picture of a leadership team. And particularly, in professional services, I talk about this in the BS of PS and other podcasts we’ve talked about, but I think that a leadership team has one main responsibility, and that is to make strategic choices about the business in how to allocate resources to achieve the vision that’s set. I mean, that’s almost textbook, but that’s the whole point because there are opportunities that exist and decisions that have to be made and someone has to make them. Businesses aren’t democracies. So leadership teams get paid the big bucks to make decisions.
Jason Mlicki: So they get paid solely to determine what we will and will not do is really the central essence of the role of the leadership team?
Jeff McKay: Yes. And then to enable that to happen.
Jason Mlicki: So to make the choices that enable them to be successful is really the central probably bigger part of that.
Jeff McKay: Yes. So in my experience, leadership teams come together and it is an opportunity to assess inputs into those strategic decisions. So traditionally, that’s why a CFO or finance sits on there because all these decisions have financial implications. Chief counsel often sits on a leadership team because these decisions have legal risk associated with them. Sales almost always is on a leadership team because they’re designated as the go-to people for driving growth.
Jason Mlicki: I think that’s a really interesting one by the way because I think about the classic corporation, at least in my experience, you don’t see a lot of chief sales officers in that group. You’ll see EVPs, SVPs, but it’s usually, there’s not like a CSO. I don’t see that pop up a lot but that could be… I could be wrong, but that’s just, I think it’s interesting that how at the end of the day, you’re right, yes, sales drives the company’s ability to achieve most of its targets frequently, but it’s rare that it’s a C-level title.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. And sometimes, that’s a good thing I think, as we’ll get to that. So I think there is often a technology, particularly today, technology representation because technology often is the backbone for delivering products and services. You have representatives from product or services, practices, business units, whatever you want to call them, who have actual P&L responsibility, not all the time but some function related to people. HR is on there. So making decisions about how we recruit, retain and engage our people. And then, some other elements related to clients, might be client account teams, key accounts or just the client service delivery, oftentimes, in professional services if it’s a separate unit outside of the practices. And those are kind of the main areas of information input that goes into a leadership team to make decisions.
Jason Mlicki: That’s a really good list. In our pre-prep for this discussion, I actually would say you left one off in a way, which, as you said, well, you have client service for key account people, but you actually framed it as the voice of the client as we set this up, and I actually think that those are two separate things because as we’ve talked in previous podcasts, just because there are people that own key client relationships or work with clients on a daily basis doesn’t mean they really understand the voice of the client and those may actually be separate things in separate roles for separate people in firms. So I would kind of add that in as another one in your list.
Jeff McKay: Absolutely.
Jason Mlicki: They might be the same person.
Jeff McKay: Absolutely.
Jason Mlicki: They might be…
Jeff McKay: Here’s the thing about these teams. Some of those roles are very clearly delineated and that’s why they get on leadership teams. And when you ask a question, should marketing be at the table, for me, it’s relatively straightforward when they shouldn’t be there and they’ll be there when they can add something to those strategic decisions being made. They’re not going to come to the table and they’re not going to out technology, the CIO, they’re not going to out legal, chief counsel, they’re not going to out money or finance, the CFO. Chances are, they’re probably not going to drive more revenue directly than sales depending on your product or service. So if, if marketing’s going to be at the table, they need to bring something better in one or more of those remaining categories.
It has to be unique perspective and ability to affect the culture, the reputation, the brand of the firm in a real human way in the development of product and solutions. And most often, that doesn’t happen in professional services firms because marketers don’t go deep into that. The voice of the client, which is a very competitive area in professional services because the practitioners think they understand clients, but they really don’t. They have too narrow a perspective on it or maybe sales feels they have that handle or they just have to bring a general business acumen that provides strategic insights across all the others and makes the others better. Otherwise, in my mind, there’s no reason to be there to talk about websites and brand identity and events and the stuff that they normally want to talk about in these meetings because leadership teams don’t care about that.
Jason Mlicki: Well, you narrowed in on the areas where marketing has the most domain. I would agree, it’s in development of products and services certainly, in definition in shaping the culture of the firm internally and externally, voice of the client potentially. To me, there’s a couple of reasons I would argue that marketing absolutely should be at the table at most firms. I’ll just start with my definition of marketing, which narrows into one of the three areas that you defined. And so to me, the central role of marketing in general is about discovering clients’ unmet problems and opportunities, turning those into products and services and then making them salient. So to me, that’s the real job of a true marketer and that’s a skillset that firms sorely need. I mean, I would argue, most firms really don’t have that skillset. So I totally agree with you if your definition of marketing is sales support or pure promotion, websites and events, and that’s all the downstream stuff that marketing is doing tactically to drive leads or shape sales conversations and that’s probably not something that needs to be a part of the leadership team.
But I would argue that those are, really, that’s not the essence of marketing and that the essence of marketing is really that notion of figuring out what clients’ unmet needs are and what the opportunities are in the marketplace. And that’s what marketing should be doing in the firm. And if that’s the case, that absolutely should be at the leadership level because at every quarterly leadership conversation, that’s what the marketer should be bringing to the table. Say, hey, we did this research on this and here’s what we found out. Or, hey, we’re looking over here at this marketplace opportunity that’s emerging and we think we should have a practice over there. We should be doing something over there. And in my experience, when I think about the makeup of typical professional services firms’ leadership teams, there are not often people that come out of the practices that are looking out on the horizon the way a CEO in a maybe a large tech company would normally be.
So you need someone that’s looking out to the future. And to me, the marketer has the best ability to do that. And I would argue a lot of times, even the CEO of a lot of these firms isn’t always able to look out all across the horizon as well as they probably should, and the marketer has to help pull them along. A good marketer does. So in short order, I guess that would be my case for why marketing needs to be at the table. And I would argue that, that’s a critical role that firms need to have is where is the market going? What are the opportunities? What are the unmet needs? What are the opportunities for us to create new products and services that we’re not already providing to existing clients or new clients? And I just don’t know that there’s anybody better positioned than a really strong marketer to do that. So I’ll stop there.
Jeff McKay: How many strong marketers have you seen that… well, let me take a step back. I agree with you. How often do you see that in this space?
Jason Mlicki: Well, the interesting thing about that question is that it’s not a question of whether you see it, it’s a question of whether the culture will allow it to exist. So it’s not a question of are the marketers there? If the firm wants the marketers to be there, they will come. But a lot of times, the firm doesn’t, as you’ve said so many times, the culture of the firms sort of spits it out. So when that person shows up and is ready to do those things, the culture rejects it. And your comment that marketing’s not going to outgrow sales, well, I would argue that in some of the most successful firms we’ve seen, marketing destroys sales in terms of delivering growth, right? Now they’re outliers. They’re not commonplace. And the examples I’ll point to is the ones that we know from our thought leadership work, right? It’s Bob Buday’s story about CSC Index and Reengineering the Corporation, right? Those insights that ultimately were driven by the CEO of the firm, but I would argue it’s a marketing disposition.
Open up a massive market that’s so big that the firm can’t even consume it. I mean, the challenges, they’re all the same type of thing. Now you can argue, those people are marketers, and that’s fine, maybe they aren’t marketers, but they’re playing that role of marketer, right? That role of optimistic, looking out into the market, trying to understand what’s happening and where the unmet needs are, and then designing a product and service around them that creates a hundred X growth over top of what a practice leader can do going out selling existing solutions to existing clients.
So again, those are outliers. I’m not saying that, that is commonplace or that discovering those types of opportunities is easy, but I’m just saying that if you don’t have that type of person in your leadership team, you’re never going to discover those things. Right?
Jeff McKay: Absolutely. You just described the growth school of marketing thought. And it is rare, but it’s what’s needed. And that is never given to a marketer. I’ve never had a seat at the table given to me. I’ve never seen anyone at the table who’s been given that seat that they have earned it. I’ve been at a lot of leadership team meetings where maybe the marketer gets to attend but is not part of the leadership team and does not contribute at that strategic level, and that reinforces the whole stereotype of the marketers non-strategic. But I think the way you’ve summarized that is very good. If marketing wants a seat at the table, and they should deserve one for what you just said, they need to be the voice of the client. They are the best position to be the voice of the client. They need a deep understanding of the business, and I learned this the hard way and we talked about this on The 7 Mistakes podcast.
You may not want to, but you’ve got to go deep in understanding the business lines and what they do much deeper than most marketers care to because they get bored with it or it’s too complex. It’s the whole reason they didn’t go into those disciplines. But I think the other two things that they really accelerate this, Jason, is one, the marketer driving the IC agenda as you described, not reacting to it but driving it, driving it in an understanding of the market and its production and direction and reinforcement and extension of the brand and reputation and relevance of the firm. And if they’re not driving that, they’re never going to get there. That’s step number one.
And then I think step number two, if you really want to be at the leadership table, you got to have some skin in the game and you have to have a revenue target. You have to be accountable for producing strategic impact. And it may not just be revenue, it may be market share, it may be penetration, whatever it is, but you got to have some hard key performance measure that’s worthy of being on the leadership team. It can’t be marketing qualified leads or events held or proposals written or anything like that. It has to be a strategic metric.
Jason Mlicki: I agree with that. The only argument I would make is that too often, those indicators are too short-term focused. It’s a revenue target for this year. And I would argue that the things that I described marketing should be doing has to operate on a different time horizon. It has to operate on a three-year time horizon probably at minimum. So, yes, should you have a revenue target? Absolutely. Should that revenue target be 2020, being that we’re recording this in 2019? No. It should be broader than that because if you’re going to make those types of investments in research and intellectual capital building, that stuff that takes time to succeed, that story that Bob Buday tells so well about Michael Hammer and CSC Index and the explosion of that firm and explosion of the concept of Reengineering the Corporation and how it became a multibillion dollar market that they discovered, that doesn’t happen in a year, right? It percolates over time. And if you’re going to capture those types of opportunities, if you’re going to discover those opportunities and then capture them for your firm, that’s going to have a little longer time horizon to it.
It’s interesting that as you talk, I think about all the big firms that I’ve got to know through our Profiting From Thought Leadership conference and how we get the senior editorial leaders of those firms to the table to talk about what they’re doing from a thought leadership perspective. And these are people that are driving the research or driving the thought leadership agenda for massive global firms at the highest level you really probably could, but to your point, if I had to guess, I’ve never asked any of them directly, they’re probably not part of the true senior leadership team of the firm, like you said. So they’re probably giving an update to firm leadership, but they’re not at the table every quarter or however frequently those teams meet, which is really a fascinating thing. And they probably should be, unless their voice is going up through a Chief Strategy Officer, which often it is, or it’s going up through a CMO, which it often is. But it’s a really interesting point.
All right. So let’s circle back around to where we started and say, okay, we both made bold claim proclamations. I said, yes, they should be there. You said no, they should not be. Maybe to wrap the podcast and take us through to the end, and you made this point and I do agree with it, is there are situations where it makes absolute sense and situations where it does not. Do you want to just talk about those a little bit to give people a better handle on when should I have marketing in those conversations on a regular basis and when shouldn’t I?
Jeff McKay: And for the marketers listening, when do you want to be on a leadership team and when do you not? Because I’ve fallen in that trap before of ego saying, well, I want to be part of the leadership team. I want to be at the table. And then once I got there, I’m like, “oh my gosh, I so don’t want to be here. I want to be…” Yeah, it’s horrible because you want to be part of a well functioning team and that’s not one that just sits around and talks, but one that makes decisions. You want to be part of one that encourages robust dialogue, fighting, if you will, for ideas because you’re making strategic decisions and they’re worth fighting for and they need to be healthy fights that direct the firm’s future. And if there’s not healthy fighting or no fighting at all, you don’t want to be a part of that.
You have to have great relationships with the other functional leaders, the CEO in particular, but you can’t be the standalone person coming in to the leadership. And most of what goes on in leadership team happens outside the leadership team meetings. So you got to like and be able to work and be respected by and respect the others on the team. And in particular, I would say the CEO, if the CEO doesn’t share your vision for marketing, growth school strategic, value-added, you don’t want to be there no matter what other kind of relationships you have. And I think the other thing, just generally, where is the firm in its state of business? Is it dynamic or is it in a form of stasis? Maintaining the status quo is not all that fun for leadership teams, takes a lot of time, it’s much more fun to be a part of something that’s dynamic. So I think that’s critical.
And I’ll say one more. I want to have one more. You want to be on a team that has a good balance of very strong leaders. I’ve been on leadership teams where you have one or two people that just drive everything and you got some HR person in there who represents the business or the people who adds nothing or IT that just sits there or, you know, everybody’s got to be contributing at some level.
Jason Mlicki: All right. So you did a classic politician’s response. You sort of answered a different question than the one that was asked, and you described what a good leadership team looks like and when you want to be on it. The inverse of that, to wrap us up, is when should the leadership team invite a marketer in? And one thing that dawned on me as you were talking is maybe it’s in those critical inflection points in firms’ lifetimes. So the points at which, as you’ve kind of described, where it’s clear that the firm needs some reinvention to happen in the near future. When a leader gets a sense that, hmm, what we’ve been doing and the way we’ve been doing it maybe is towards the end of its lifecycle and we need to start thinking about reinventing new ways of delivery, new services, new products, maybe that’s when you want to have a marketer at the table, growth-oriented marketers that we’ve described in this podcast.
Are there other situations that you can think of where logically, clearly, a marketer should be at the table? I would argue any firm that makes its bailiwick on being on the cutting edge, so any firm that really wants to be on the front edge of the type of consulting and advisory work that they do and as soon as something becomes mainstream, they’re going to walk away from that and let it get ceded to a broader market at a lower fee. So that’s sort of the front edge of pure strategy type firms, I have to think that, that’s where they would really want someone with that type of disposition in the team.
Jeff McKay: If I were CEO or managing partner of a firm, marketing would be my first or second person on the leadership team because my vision of marketing is what you described. And if a marketer cannot deliver on that, I would get a different marketer. But my expectation for marketing would be to be a voice of the client, have a deep understanding of the business, to drive the IC agenda and to enable the others to make the best decisions, strategic decisions for their part of the business. Because marketing cuts across all of the business units. It has a collective view of the firm and to your point, Jason, it has a long-term perspective of the firm. To me, that is both an energizing and a stabilizing voice that every leadership team needs.
Jason Mlicki: That was beautiful. I’m going to end this podcast here because those are, one, great words and two, also just proof that I influenced you. I got you to change your mind. We went from no, it should never be at the leadership table to it would be the first person I would add. So listeners, mark down this episode as the one where Jason completely 180-ed Jeff’s thinking in just 30 minutes of time.
Jeff McKay: That was dramatic tension, Jason.
Jason Mlicki: All right, man, I’ll talk to you next week.
Jeff McKay: See you, buddy.