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Author's profile photo Timo ELLIOTT

Hey, SCN: What’s Wrong With Marketing? — No, Really…

Hello SAP Community!

I’m in marketing. But, I hope, the good kind.

What does that mean? Well, I posted a quick thought to LinkedIn yesterday:

“Yes, marketing departments should look after after lead generation and advertising. But a real marketing department is also responsible for (1) optimizing the end-to-end customer journey and (2) creating a thriving, interactive customer community — because, ultimately, this is what your brand will depend upon.”

SAP community-builder extraordinaire Mark Richardson chimed in with a reflection:

“How “trusted” are customer community events going to be by the user-base if they are directly-driven by/within the Corporate Marketing Dept..? Maintaining the “wall” between Marketing events and User-Group events is important to ensure your Technical and Product Teams get “real-world” feedback – and not only the stuff that has been “filtered and vetted” by Marketing.”

This, to me, is the heart of the problem. If having marketing involved in an event would actually make it worse, then for me, that’s the definition of bad marketing!

Having marketing be responsible for optimizing the customer experience is not the same thing as trying to “control” it. Ideally it’s about working with customers to co-create new ways of creating value in the future — i.e. creating new bridges, not maintaining walls!

So, discussion time:

(1) I believe that the easiest part of the problem is audience mismatch — techies shouldn’t have to “suffer” business content they aren’t interested in, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, today, the underlying technical platforms make it harder than it should be to only get to exposed to the “right” kind of marketing.

(2) I agree that marketing sometimes has a hard time being “real”. As Mark puts it in the LinkedIn thread:

“There’s (*probably) never going to be a SAPPHIRE keynote session on “Lessons learned from a Failed SAP implementation”.

I’m personally a huge believer in warts-and-all customer stories, because they’re more credible and more interesting, and so more effective marketing. We all know that enterprise software is complex and complicated, and that things go wrong sometimes. Helping customers through those problems by explaining how to avoid the same problems is just good business.

There are some things that make it harder to talk about failure than to talk about success, obviously. When things go wrong, relationships can deteriorate, making it less likely to be allowed to use the stories. Many organizations don’t see a big upside in publicly talking about their failures. Competitors tend to jump on the stories, telling only the worst parts. And, much as I would wish otherwise, telling the whole truth isn’t necessarily as effective as exaggerations, at least in the short term (e.g. think of your least favorite politician).

I think the solution is more community — marketing should be about facilitating conversations between prospects and customers. If they say bad things about our products, we should be working on fixing the products, not the conversations!

(3) Marketing prefers to talk about happy things, rather than acknowledging when things aren’t going right. For example, I think ‘s recent, heart-felt post on the current blogging experience on SCN is wonderful, and echoes a lot of my own feelings. But it’s probably not going to get forwarded around as much as it should be.

I’m a huge believer in the SCN community, and I don’t really know what the answer to the problem is, but I know it surely involves more of this kind of feedback, earlier!

(4) It can be hard to evaluate the real quality of what marketing produces. There are lots of KPIs available, but most of them are flawed in one way or another. For example, there have sometimes been disastrous attempts to reward people for the volume of stuff they create, rather than any notion of quality — and the effects have been felt on SCN in the past.

Marketers do unfortunately tend to get rewarded for producing things that are “slick” (ooh! nice video!) rather than “interesting” — because “slick” is easier to see. And some marketers don’t necessarily know what is “interesting” because they not close enough to customer problems, and get limited feedback on what they produce (the result is the “marketing fluff” that everybody hates).

Again, I think the solution to this is more community, not less — getting feedback on whether what is produced is actually useful or not (from the right people — see technical/business point above)


Bottom line: I see marketing + community as the path towards a better customer experience, but I know not everybody sees it that way. What important problems did I miss?

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      Author's profile photo Jamie Langskov
      Jamie Langskov

      Great post, Timo.  I'm notoriously 'too honest' for the comfort of many traditional marketers -- which is why I've focused my career on customer relations and communication, rather than sales-focused marketing.  I'd rather acknowledge and fix problems to build relationships than continue to insist that everything is sunshine and rainbows.

      You're absolutely right in that the role of marketing in this digital age is to facilitate conversations, care for customers from prospect to renewal, and to build advocates through honest relationship building -- not traditional rah rah sales tactics.  Marketing and sales should be taking a consultative and relationship-building role in every organization today.  The only question on every marketer's mind should be "How can I help make your life and your work easier?"



      Author's profile photo Colleen Hebbert
      Colleen Hebbert

      Warts and all stories are great lessons. I'll listen more to a sales person willing to tell me why I don't need something. Next time they recommend a product I'm more inclined to treat them as a trusted advisor


      Although tech don't want to hear business they must. We are enablers and won't be able to justify shiny new toys without business value add being demonstrated.


      Perhaps ultimately we need more the promotionist aspect of marketing and not the hard sales push

      Author's profile photo Jeremy Good
      Jeremy Good


      I am not a huge Apple proponent (more in the PC vs. Mac camp, since I am an iPhone user), but I had a recent experience at the Apple store when a sales person in the shopping mall showroom actually proceeded to educate my daughter (who ultimately was looking to purchase a MacBook) as to why she really didn't need the latest and greatest slider bar gadget thing on the keyboard.  This is a prime example of what you described Colleen, and although my PC bias is as strong as before, I appreciated the genuine approach to sales, and I also found myself more inclined to trust the sales person.

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      Hm, obviously I suck at marketing. 🙂 Oh well...


      The thing is - there are bad marketers and good marketers. Just like there are good programmers and bad programmers. And it's quite scary but the same is true about the doctors.


      But, unlike medicine or software development, I guess the concentration of the bad marketers is so high that it has already given bad rep to the word "marketing" itself. As you pointed out, maybe the problem is not the people themselves but it's just bad behavior gets rewarded because of poorly designed KPIs. Or maybe it's "I'm just drawn this way", who knows. Either way the perception that "marketers = professional liars" has already been formed (and, sadly, is supported by a lot of real life experience).


      I'm quite surprised though that of all people the marketing departments have not figured out their way out of this, which would be - ding-ding-ding - rebranding! Drop the soiled "marketer" and call yourself "Customer Experience Improver" or "Fuzzy Bunny Community Helper" and you might be able to gain some trust back.


      But, jokes aside, I agree with you that a really good, decent salesperson / marketer is not the one who just wants to get your money today no matter what. It's someone who wants you to be happy with your decision so that you come back to them and bring your friends too. Sadly, in real life the good guys don't always get rewarded as they should. At least on the material level.


      Same goes for the programmers. Plenty of examples on SCN. "Dear gurus, I have a requirement..." Not even thinking if it's a good idea or the best possible solution. Does not care to check. Gets paid at the end of the day nevertheless.


      How many "dear gurus" are there in marketing? "Hi, First Name, I wonder if we could schedule a 15-minute call [speed dating FTW!] with your team to see how our mega-super-duper solution can help [company name] to [do whatever you guys do, I really have no idea, this is just a canned template my manager told me to use]. Our mega solution is already used by Fortune 500 companies [they were Fortune 50 before that, hahaha!]. By the way, I've also subscribed you to our newsletter. Because everyone needs more spam, am I right? Sincerely, John Doe, Regional Sales Manager, day phone, evening phone, cell phone, fax, telex, PO box, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!".  Hope this answers the question in the title. 🙂

      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed

      Hi Timo –

      well thought post. As a journalist I am bombarded by marketers of all persuasions. As a business owner I have to figure out how to get the word out about what we do without turning people off with marketing overkill. So I’ve seen both sides of this and taste that daily.

      I agree that community shouldn’t be off limits to marketers – if the marketer is doing their job right, e.g. making a difference and solving problems.

      But to your point: “I think the solution is more community — marketing should be about facilitating conversations between prospects and customers. If they say bad things about our products, we should be working on fixing the products, not the conversations!”

      100 percent true. However, I find that most marketers don’t get that. It may be because they are saddened when their sentiment analysis tools go negative.

      Marketers as a whole are way too obsessed with all their fancy measuring tools, analytics, and KPIs. The attempt to measure everything constantly really detracts from the customer-oriented mindset you are advocating, which is about sharing know-how and getting into the fray, not worrying about whether the activity in question can be tracked with a custom URL identifier. Measurement isn’t a bad thing but I think it’s a dangerous and even toxic mindset to bring into communities. Depends on what we measure also – mostly we measure the wrong things.

      The best marketers I know come from journalism backgrounds for the most part, I think that’s because producing content and finding truthful stories – and yes, listening – is ingrained into that trade.

      We may need to have a hard look at the schooling and training marketers are given, as I believe a lot of that clashses against your excellent advice.