I have a long-standing client.
We get along well, I provide value, they’re typically happy with my work, and I’m glad for the relationship.
But, for the past six months or so, something’s changed. Their marketing organization is trapped in the clutches of the “marketing prevention team.”
Having corporate experience, I know this problem.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that this company has a team that sabotages good work. That’s not it at all — in a way, the real situation is worse.
“Prevention teams” are a common problem in many organizations. They’re a result of people being conscientious, thoughtful, and attuned to the needs of the business.
Here’s what happens.
1. Someone has a good idea.
2. The good idea has unforeseen consequences that block or delay business functions.
3. People are paid to keep the good idea going — and by doing so, get in the way of basic business activity.
4. Blocking or delaying business functions have other unforeseen consequences, resulting in a snarl of problems that’s hard to fix.
The people behind the good idea or responsible for executing the good idea become the “prevention team”. Through no real fault of their own, their work gets in the way of essential business functions and causes consternation, crying babies, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
When I was in sales, I’d spend weeks qualifying a customer, presenting, building quotes, getting discount approval, working through financing, and then, when I was ready to place the order, for some reason, the dreaded sales prevention team would engage, and the sale would go “bye-bye.”
In my sales role, sales prevention was a consequence of many processes. A service engagement could add months to a project. An export compliance review could snag an order for weeks. A customer could walk away over our lease agreement terms or limited warranty details.
I remember one customer saying to me, “I want to give you my money, you and I agree that there’s nothing wrong with this order, and you still can’t sell to me. That’s insane.”
I agreed. Wholeheartedly.
Often prevention comes out of risk reduction. Somebody makes a choice to protect the company, usually for good reason, but that choice drives up costs, forces unproductive behaviors, diminishes morale — and gets in the way of basic business functions like selling.
Back then, I was hired to sell. The company existed to sell products. In effect, the sales prevention team was saying, “Your reason for existence isn’t good enough, it’s more important to protect the company from risk.”
It felt disrespectful.
I wanted to retort. saying, “well, excuse me, but unless I’m mistaken, without sales, there is no company. Your risk prevention efforts will disappear in the face of corporate bankruptcy.”
So there. Not that the sales prevention team cared.
But let’s bring this back to the present. In my situation with the marketing team, finance has decided to put additional cost controls in place because someone got the idea that marketing was spending too much money, doing…what again? Marketing.
The result — it’s really hard to do marketing there. Marketing managers have to jump through flaming hoops. Directors have to explain their actions to vice-presidents. Processes have to be obeyed and forms signed in triplicate, in order to get $1500 for a data sheet. It’s almost impossible to hire a contractor to write a white paper.
This is a company with over $45 BILLION in revenues last year.
But my project is just a single case. This small finance change is snagging hundreds of projects throughout the company.
What are the consequences?
- It’s harder to hire external talent. Marketers are consciously avoiding anything that bumps into this finance problem.
- High-cost marketing managers are spending hours doing low value administrative work, trying to jump over this new finance hurdle.
- Marketing team morale is dropping and frustration increasing. Marketers can’t market and they’re not happy.
- Long standing business relationships are suffering. Their contractors and agencies aren’t happy.
- Customers aren’t getting essential product information because marketing isn’t getting done. They’re not happy.
- Salespeople don’t have the tools they need to sell so they’re unhappy.
- Revenues are likely to drop because basic information, demand generation, and customer interaction isn’t happening.
Suddenly, you have thousands of people who can’t do their jobs because Finance decided to make it a little harder to spend money.
The marketing prevention team strikes again.
Of course, there’s nothing I can do except vote with my feet by prioritizing other clients over this one. I hate to do it, but for the sake of my business, I’m forced to make a hard choice to work with clients that are easy to work with.
But thinking through this problem forced me to ask a provocative question that I’ll ask you.
What’s YOUR prevention team?
What bright idea is getting in your way? What smart notion is having unforeseen consequences for your business? What used to work but causes problems?
- I realized that staying up until midnight “winding down” was getting in my way. Since then, I’ve set a 10pm bedtime and I’m much more productive.
- I’ve also realized that frittering away my mornings on small tasks is a great way to feel productive, but not actually BE productive.
- I’ve shed an old procedure for managing email lists and suddenly, I’m reaching more prospects and connecting with potential buyers.
- I’ve also realized that picking the wrong clients is keeping my business from hitting basic growth goals.
So ask yourself — how do I escape the clutches of my personal prevention team and do more of what I’ve been hired to do?