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As a marketer, your mission is to tell stories about your brand. And to make sure those stories have a happy ending. After all, you’re Chief Cheerleader for your brand, and your job is to spur your potential customers to root for it, as well.

Unfortunately, in marketing, as in life, not every story ends the way we’d like.

This is the tale of a brand whose marketing began with the best of intentions and tactics. But whose discord and dysfunction resulted in an ending that was more tragic than fairytale.

I’m telling this story—with the names and pertinent details changed to protect the guilty—because we can all learn as much, perhaps more, from mistakes and missteps than we can when everything sails along according to a well-laid plan.

A Cautionary Tale

I happened upon this tale as I was soliciting people to participate in my blog series on real marketers.

Cassandra (not her real name) had just been laid off from a marketing job at a mid-sized software company after a new marketing executive was brought in to do a marketing reboot.

By this point, the company had undergone several years of chaos and upheaval. Three years ago, the company had completed a merger that looked good on paper but whose execution had been painful and had resulted in numerous layoffs. Before long, the CEO of the company stepped down.

In cases like this, it can be difficult to discern which is the chicken and which is the egg. It may have been that dysfunctional marketing caused the company’s travails. Or it may have been the other way around. Most likely, each one contributed to the other.

Fire-Drill Marketing

By the time we spoke, Cassandra had had plenty of time to mull over what had happened and was anxious to share her thoughts.

“The biggest challenge we faced was the conflict between sales and marketing,” Cassandra explained. “We kept being asked to meet short-term demands from sales for us to fill the pipeline immediately with whatever leads we could find. We never had time to address our long-term needs as marketers to provide education—so we could mentor customers in our space or build trust—so we could ultimately develop customer advocates.”

Among the long-term projects that the group never seemed to get around to completing was the creation of buyer personas. Another deficit was content strategy. They’d created quite a bit of content, but they didn’t know if they were doing the right content. To make matters worse, there was no expiration date for content; it floated around for years. While work had begun work in addressing these issues, it had progressed only in fits and starts.

Rather than completing long-term efforts that would allow the company to pinpoint the right prospects and nurture them through a sales cycle that averaged nine months, the company regularly sent large, “spray-and-pray” email campaigns to thousands of people.

Of course, plenty of companies have success with email campaigns. But they need to be targeted. That’s where the company fell down. The company hadn’t taken the time to break down the list into relevant subsections and create targeted messaging for each audience. As Cassandra pointed out, “It takes time to analyze the database, understand the prospects’ roles, and learn how to tweak the message to address what was most important to each one. And we never took the time to perform these tasks.”

Predictable Results

The results were predictable. “When they’d get 16 attendees to a webinar, people would deem the campaign a success,” said Cassandra. “But no one ever addressed the elephant in the room that this was 16 people out of 5,000 invited to the event.”

Like many more successful companies, the company also spent considerable time and effort creating integrated lead-nurturing campaigns. The team might build a webinar, a case study, and an article, and use the company’s marketing automation tool to send out email touches with links to these assets every week or so for lead nurturing.

Said Cassandra, “We put the cart before the horse. We hadn’t looked at where the person was in the buyer’s journey. Instead, because we were so rushed, we had a daisy chain of content that we hoped made sense to the buyer without our having done the analysis.”

For most marketers, the final step in the demand-generation process is coming up with a sales-ready lead. Here once again, the company’s efforts fell short. This time it was because sales and marketing failed to come to a consensus about what marketing success really meant.

“We hadn’t had discussions of what was a sales-qualified lead versus a marketing-qualified lead,” said Cassandra. “Without that understanding of when we’ve generated a lead, marketing would think something was a great lead and sales wouldn’t agree.”

Lessons Learned

During her experience, Cassandra gave a lot of thought to what her department could have done better. She came to three conclusions:

First, marketing can learn a tremendous amount from defining personas and the buyer’s journey. Those are really the foundation of getting marketing right. Moreover, it’s not something you do once and forget about for the rest of the year. You need to look at them at least twice a year and test your assumptions.

Second, it’s critical to get sales in the same room and talk about how to achieve the goals of the company. Sales has their numbers. Marketing needs to discuss these quotas, what a qualified lead looks like, and if the lead isn’t qualified, what should happen. “A lot of the information you need for this discussion,” Cassandra noted, “comes from analyzing the buyer’s journey.”

And finally, marketers must use modern technology to measure results. “What’s exciting is the immediate feedback you can get,” said Cassandra. “Before you’d send out a direct mail and wait and hope. Checkbox marketing doesn’t work anymore. Now you can see how an email is performing in real time. That means you can test headlines and calls to action. There’s so much more opportunity to learn what’s working. If you’re given the time and inclination, you can constantly learn and improve.”