I mean, they are both opportunists. They both are compulsive problem solvers. The best of both strive for simplicity. Both are usually glued to their phone. Both are a little obsessed. And hell, both believe that they can get the job done before you.
So why aren’t marketers and entrepreneurs the best of friends?
And yes, this is a pretty broad generalization. But it stems from several different conversations that I’ve recently seen take place. First, Neil Patel did a pretty aggressive post in opposition of hiring a marketing consultant. Then, Sarah Brown posted a bang up comment in response to Neil (which she later turned into a detailed rebuttal post). After that, I mentioned the whole thing on a comment thread over on a Spin Sucks blog post, and it apparently almost made poor Gini Dietrich cry.
But it isn’t just in blog land where this conversation is coming up. There is an extremely insightful comment thread that happened over on Growthhackers about hiring an agency that points to different viewpoints about marketers and agencies (yes I am sort of grouping agencies and consultants together, but it’s their partnership with companies that I am discussing more than anything).
[Update: Here’s another article posted that supports the notion there is some friction: Local Growth-Hacking Agency Urges Startups to Forgo PR Firms & ‘JustReachOut’]
So what’s the deal? Why is there friction? Here are a few theories to ponder…
Theory One: Engineers ≠ Communicators
When I was a teenager, I actually thought I was going to be an engineer. I loved problem solving, and have all kinds of mechanics and inventors in my family. I actually got an engineering apprenticeship my senior year of high school. However, it didn’t go well. Instead of explaining what I did wrong or trying to understand my thought process, my boss would simply say “In the future, do this…” I stayed the whole summer, and worked my butt off, but I began to understand the gap in communications, which prompted me to take my skills in a different direction.
There is something about engineers that makes their communication style quite different than other people. Engineers are so heavily taught logical methods of thinking, they often apply that to how they communicate. This means that communication to an engineer is much more polarized and purpose-based. It is “In the future, do this…” as opposed to saying “Hey, I see where you were going, but have you thought about this…”
I say this because most start-ups are created by this very specimen, the engineer. And the engineer is used to structure, proof, and logic. A lot of times, even the best marketing is comprised of creative problem solving that is only loosely tied back to scientific proofs. It is a craft of relationships, which require nurturing and experimentation. The clash lies in tactics but also the practice of those tactics – even the way marketers position campaigns and strategies will often clash with the logic-based arguments that engineers are used to.
This is a pretty broad generalization, but hey, it’s just a theory.
Theory Two: Entrepreneurship = Independence
It is safe to say that most successful entrepreneurs are Type-A personalities. They are confident, assertive and extremely aggressive. This is one of the reasons why start-ups are able to accelerate so well in early stages – leadership builds off of momentum to drive more awareness and funding. In essence, an entrepreneur has already done extensive amounts of marketing before they would ever consider bringing in an expert or agency.
So when an agency or individual is brought in to advise on product marketing, there are a couple of clashes that naturally occur. For one, it is tough for the entrepreneur to swallow the success they have already had in marketing the company and let someone who isn’t nearly as emotionally committed begin to direct strategies that were usually decided solely by the entrepreneur.
Additionally, entrepreneurs sometimes seem very reticent to begin product marketing and instead are much more concerned with brand recognition. This isn’t completely a bad thing, but something that often times isn’t acknowledged. The entrepreneur may be thinking about acquisitions and purchases of the company as opposed to purchases of the product. If this isn’t established to the marketer or agency brought it, well it can lead to a lot of confusion. Sometimes the best g0-to-market plan isn’t going to succeed if it is never desired to be implemented.
Theory Three: Timing.
Timing is everything and with start-ups even moreso. And not just in the traditional “things need to come together at the right time” way. Actually, the bigger friction causer with timing is that a lot of start-ups lack a grasp of it. Timelines are always rushed or delayed or revised. The launch strategy is either premature or underestimates the time required to prep. Marketing and other efforts aren’t synchronized. All in all, it can lead to a lot of false expectations and frustration.
What makes it more difficult is that a marketing consultant is not going to have the full picture coming from the outside. So when things move fast and the marketer cannot keep up, it is assumed they just don’t get it and cannot make an impact. Obviously this is on the marketer too, but either way it can be a culprit to bad blood.
How To Make It Better
A simple, two-step equation can end up with everybody happy and making money:(Entrepreneur Effective Communication) * (Marketer Not Overpromising) = Besties.
Overzealous? Maybe a little, but the point is that for things to work, marketers and entrepreneurs need to go outside their comfort zones and understand each other’s vantage point.
If an entrepreneur can find a way to really keep a consultant in the loop and not be afraid to ask questions and be okay with their not being direct answers backed by evidence, it could really help a marketer/agency/consultant make an impact. And the marketer/agency/consultant has to trust their own honesty and bring a sense of realistic expectations to the table for things to work. With things moving fast and changing constantly, managing expectations should be a constant dialog with the client, not just a “check in on things” kind of thing.
So What Did I Miss?
Hey these are my theories… I never said they don’t have their flaws and misunderstanding. Marketers, what did I miss and entrepreneurs, what am I not getting? I’d love to hear more from both vantage points, so please leave your take in the comments below.