Smarketing is not so Smart

Steering for organic growth

What is Smarketing?

“Smarketing” is when marketing is only executed with a short-term, sales mentality. It’s the unholy melding of sales and marketing. Why is this bad? With Smarketing, the longer-term, less urgent, strategic marketing activities are pushed aside. It’s what remains when strategic marketing is absent.

Strategy begins with segmentation. Click here to read “The Magic of Market Segmentation.”

Strategic Marketing vs. Tactical Marketing

If smarketing is to be left behind, then what do we make of our strategic and tactical activities? Strategic marketing sets the course and tactical marketing steers the ship. Strategic marketing checks the maps, checks the weather. It routinely asks the question, “Where are we? Where should we be going? What’s the best path?” Strategic marketing is a slow process. Methodical. Analytical.

Smarketing is not so smart
Strategic marketing is like setting the compass. Tactical marketing is negotiating the waves. “Smarketing” is like trying to steer with the compass or determine the heading by steering.

Tactical marketing/sales is a faster process. Responsive. Active. It’s the steering, the hoisting of the sails (the sales?), and raising/lowering the anchors. As the wind changes, as the tides change, as the unanticipated reefs approach, tactical marketing operates the ship. When both strategic and tactical marketing are working well, the ship moves steadily to the destination, reaping the rewards that successful companies do. However, when either isn’t performing well, there will be problems.

With strong Strategic Marketing and weak Tactical Marketing, the ship drifts aimlessly. The strategic marketers congratulate themselves on their brilliant plans, and yet, the view out their window never changes. With weak Strategic Marketing and strong Tactical Marketing, the plans don’t exist – or are so poor that they might as well not exist. The ship’s crew is quite happy as they hoist the sails and grip the steering wheel – steering towards shiny, pretty water. And in all likelihood, are traveling in circles. There’s no compass, no map, no navigational guides of any sort. But lots of activity. Lots of urgent tasks. This is Smarketing.

Learn more about AIM’s training programs for New Product Blueprinting

Four Problems with Smarketing

The Smarketing-led organization will fail to execute four tasks well:

  • Discover unmet market needs
  • Target attractive market segments
  • Develop new products and services
  • Execute positioning and branding

The Smarketing-led firm will fail to discover unmet market needs through Voice of the Customer activities (such as New Product Blueprinting). These activities will never seem as important as current sales activities, as the latest trade show, or as the latest urgent customer complaint.

The Smarketing-led firm will not be able to target attractive market segments. How could they – as they are unable to segment customers by unmet needs (since they don’t know what those unmet needs are). Instead, the Smarketing-led firm will be left to segment by other means, such as by vertical markets like “mining” or “pharmaceutical” – which are too broad to be meaningful.

No smarketing please - frustrated man looks at chalkboard of drawings
Smarketing gets us nowhere. Without the long term vision that strategic marketing provides, B2B organic growth stalls

The Smarketing-led firm will fail to develop successful new products and services. By using a sales mentality rather than a strategic mentality, it creates new products by adding features as customer requests come in. This creates frustration within the engineering and development as priorities are yanked to and fro – just as the passengers on a ship become seasick as the crew steers left, then sharply back to the right. And even worse, a new product will likely be an odd assortment of features, a total combination that nobody wants. A lack of strategic marketing ultimately, unsurprisingly, results in poor product success.

Learn the Importance of Getting the People in Place. Click here to read “It’s time to Build the B2B Product Manager Organization.” 

Finally, the Smarketing-led firm will fail to position its products, and in turn, to develop brands well. Positioning must be based in reality. If, for example, the desired position is the “safest product,” then in real life, the product should have features that make it safer than the competition. Promotional and sales activities should rally around this point – with safety demonstrations, studies, etc. The message will in turn resonate with customers as the positioning becomes real. But without a longer-term view, our position is defined by our competition! Not good.

If we have a Smarketing problem, what do we do about it?

First, we must get people in the correct roles. The person who thrives on the urgency of the latest customer issue– is unlikely to be the same person who can position your product and brand, who can be committed to understanding the needs of a market segment (not just a customer), who has the steadiness to search for the signal within the noise. Most salespeople entered sales because they like sales. If we wave a wand and pronounce “You are now in marketing!”, we shouldn’t expect their basic tendencies to change.

As we leave smarketing behind, we must consider the actors involved. Speaking of roles, if a first is committed to a strategic marketing mindset, there must be a commitment to the product manager role. The product manager is the marketing person who represents customer needs throughout new product development and after launch. One of the biggest signs of trouble is when new inexperienced hires become product managers. This should be a position that requires experience and knowledge. However, a practical challenge often arises as good product managers may get promoted out of the position too quickly. However, the company will be better served to keep these superstars producing as product managers for a bit longer. One solution for this is to create some higher salaried positions within the same discipline, such as the “senior product manager”.

Strategic marketing values VoC as an investment
Voice of the Customer (VoC) is an investment in future B2B organic growth. What is marketing? The illusion of progress.

Next, we need to ensure that marketing leaders and practitioners have the knowledge base they’ll need. An MBA helps, as does New Product Blueprinting training. But in addition, they should be readers, and intimately familiar with the great marketing books. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Blue Ocean Strategy. The Innovator’s Solution. Business Model Generation. And of course, New Product Blueprinting!

Smarketing no more, it’s time for real Strategic Marketing

Smarketing isn’t the answer. But let’s be honest: it’s rare that a business has weak tactical marketing capabilities. After all, the big business was once a small business. That small business grew by responding to customers, selling products, nurturing relationships and fixing problems. However, to quote Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Let’s keep sales separate from strategic marketing. Plot the course, and let’s sail together to a more profitable future!


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