The CIM is mis-selling the concept of marketing

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Some professional paradoxes never fail to amuse me. Male hairdressers are invariably bald. Many small accounting firms are cooking their own books. Teacher’s kids are usually the worst behaved in school. And, closer to home, marketers are useless at positioning and communicating their profession to the public and other executives.

But no matter how jaded your appraisal of marketing’s general reputation, last week’s announcement from the Chartered Institute of Marketing should have taken you completely by surprise and then, as the implications sunk in, with horror.

CIM is celebrating its centenary this year and what better way to mark the occasion than to announce that marketing has reached an “evolutionary cul-de-sac” and advise that the discipline should be merged with the sales department?

No, I am not misrepresenting the institute’s argument. The CIM’s Marketing and Sales Fusion report lays out the case for repositioning marketing within the sales function. David Thorp, director of research and professional development at the CIM, says: “For too long the trend has been towards separating marketing and sales – and the marketing profession, in its desire to establish itself, undoubtedly contributed to this. We believe that, in the next decade, more and more companies will see reintegrating marketing and sales as a smart move that brings real rewards.”

No one would take issue with the argument that sales and marketing must co-ordinate their activities and work together, but the idea that the future of marketing lies inside a sales department is the last thing that will help marketers through the tricky decade ahead.

The CIM seems to believe that marketing and sales professionals do the same work. They may be united around common outcomes but the success depends on very different activities in both camps, which on occasion are set in direct opposition with each other. Not because marketing and sales are misaligned, but because they must often adopt fundamentally diverging perspectives for the good of their organisation.

The CIM lays out the case for repositioning marketing within the sales function

You need properly trained marketers to do things that sales executives find impossible to carry out. Proper targeting, for example, depends on focusing on one segment at the expense of others – something that most sales executives simply will not countenance. In the area of brand architecture, marketers have made huge strides in recent years by reducing the number of brands in a company’s portfolio to drive profitability – usually against the recommendations of the sales departments. And no matter how talented the sales teams I have worked with, I have yet to find any able to position the same brand in different ways for different target segments. These are the jobs that only marketers can do.

The danger of CIM’s recommendation is that most sales departments think they understand marketing. But they don’t, they think it means sales. And when you approach every strategic marketing challenge thinking that marketing should deliver immediate sales, you get many of the key strategic decisions wrong. You under-price the product. You target everyone. You position to everyone. And eventually sales start to decline because of the inherent and insistent focus on increasing them.

My argument isn’t that marketing is superior to sales. Most marketers couldn’t sell a bucket of water to a man whose pants are on fire, but the idea that blending the two functions into one will somehow synergise the organisation is utter nonsense.

CIM is a hugely successful and influential operation that trains and represents many of our best marketers. However, for it to suggest that marketing has nowhere left to go isn’t just incorrect, it’s professionally damning at the very time when marketers need to be able to defend their discipline.

Our own industry body – one that grew out of the need for a distinction between sales and marketing – is now suggesting we have nowhere left to go except back into sales.

And while I respect the bravery of David Thorp to release this report, I have to question whether an executive with an MSc in training and performance management is really qualified to make these enormously damaging claims about the discipline in which he now works.

If CIM is serious about this proposal, then I expect it has already drawn up plans to return its royal charter and is preparing to merge with the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management. Like any organisation headed by sales executives, the ISMM includes marketing in its title but defines its mission exclusively as “representing the interests of the sales profession and providing practical support to sales people and organisations”.

A vision, perhaps, of the kind of future marketers can hope for if we listen to our own chartered institute.

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