#business development, in praise of legal and procurement, 9 ways to get to yes

I have written about, advised and trained marketing agency personnel (account management and the business leaders), extensively, in how they approach and manage agency interaction with client procurement.

One article, for the IPM magazine Promotional Marketing, counselled agencies to pro-actively engage with the procurement professionals within their client organisations both at the earliest stage in the business relationship – and also on an on-going basis. Procurement professionals adds considerable value within client organisations and it is incumbent on the marketing services agencies to continually realise and work with this function.

Pauline Ores has published an article on eConsultancy that backs up this thinking and I quote it below in full:

I think we can all agree digital marketing doesn’t fit neatly into a single slot. Hence, success requires digital marketers to be expert at yet another skill: the ability to drive organizational change. Loosely translated, this means, “Those idiots and their rules are driving me so crazy I could throttle them.” Completely understandable, digital marketing is hard enough as is.

While many books and conferences address marketing, few address how digital marketers are supposed to get through the day without either committing a felony or indulging in hari kiri. Not that I sailed through corporate life like the Dalai Lama. Far from it. I made plenty of mistakes, burnt a lot of bridges, and was furious a good part of the time, particularly at first. But over time I honed my ‘transformational’ skills.

For someone who spent most (okay, nearly all) of her time implementing new things, I always enjoyed working with legal and procurement, the two groups many marketers tell me they avoid by any and all measures. Not me. One, their rules have some rhyme and reason to them, and are usually well documented.  Two, by and large their objections boil down to ‘the firm would be at risk if’ statements. 

Makes perfect sense, I fully agree that type of risk doesn’t add value. Three, if you express your interest in their mission and articulate the business value of your slightly-out-of-bounds idea, I found for the most part they were willing to work with you on it. For what it’s worth, here’s how I managed to get along with our brethren in legal and procurement.

I’m not officially qualified, but given procurement jokingly nicknamed me Ms. Loophole, I can say with certainty I was proficient.

If you only take away one thought, let it be this: put in as much effort as you can before you approach these groups. Having helped others after they tried and failed, it’s much easier to do right than remedy.

How to get started:

  • Do your homework. Pretend you’re traveling to a foreign land. Unless you’re a lawyer or purchasing professional, you are. Understand their department’s organizational structure and read their guidelines. Regular marketers may not have to, but you do. Have colleagues recommend whom they enjoyed or had a hard time working with in these departments. The more you know, the better the outcome.
  • Expand your range. This is not an area where demanding behaviour or arguing louder gets results. In fact, it’s the worst thing you can do. Other marketing functions may cower at the mere mention of your name, but these groups deservedly wield real power. Alternately, don’t whine about your projects or your goals. They’re not therapists. They’re focused on their mission, not yours.
  • The thesaurus is your friend. You want to know the process well enough to understand the implications of scope of work terms such as ‘campaign,’ ‘design,’ etc. One word can make a world of difference if you don’t want to end up in a certain bin. Note I said thesaurus, not dictionary. Don’t lie, just expand your vocabulary.
  • Be a boy scout. To a greater or lesser degree we’re demanding nuisances who generate unnecessary risk and expense. Don’t earn a reputation as a scofflaw who requires a shorter leash. Don’t make a habit of cleaving large projects in two to route around clip levels. Don’t hire one firm, via other agencies, to do work that belongs in another procurement category. And never, ever, assume legal won’t find out or think what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

As you move forward:

  • Start with value. You’re on common ground. They’re there to protect the firm; you’re there to make sure it thrives. It only works if you both do your jobs. Outline what you’re trying to accomplish for the business, not the activity. Not, “But I absolutely need to let 300 perfect strangers tweet on our behalf,” but rather, “Here’s why it’s imperative our business has a meaningful presence in this space. My thought as to how we might achieve that is…”
  • Avoid tunnel vision. Don’t walk away with a “no” unless it comes with a “why.” Ask them to outline their concerns for the firm; don’t focus the conversation on the rules. Often, there are other issues you’re completely unaware of, particularly at large firms. Did you know government contracts can require a certain percentage of your firm’s procurement contracts go to minority business owners? You’d be amazed to learn what these teams have to juggle.
  • Ask them to help. I saw a great tweet from a social media colleague. Something along the lines of, “Why is it when you ask legal to weed a garden, their only thought is napalm?” Invite them to work with you. Being on the front lines all day is no picnic. I’m sure they’d welcome an opportunity to be creative and develop new solutions and policies.
  • Get even more creative. If at first you don’t succeed, let them know you understand, but that you’re going to go back and work on a solution that meets your criteria as well as theirs. If you’re as good as you think you are, you can do this.
  • Never stop educating. The more they understand, the better. Believe it or not they, too (perhaps more than you) live in an ever-changing environment. New regulations, financial constraints, etc. Provide some guidance as to how digital marketing will impact their work, and what’s coming, i.e. I may be the first, but there are at least a hundred similar requests behind me. Ideally, you become their digital resource.

Even with a “yes” in hand, the end-to-end process was always more akin to an Indiana Jones sequel than a business process. Inevitably, unexpected challenges that threatened to derail the project pop up, so it does take constant vigilance and supervision, but I’m here to tell you it can be done.

Over time you’ll develop relationships with these teams; they’ll begin to see you as a partner and may even grant you a bit more leeway. Last, let us praise legal and procurement. Be ever so thankful you’ve them to help to keep you from getting yourself fired, or worse. It’s not as if the digital marketing landscape is that well-mapped.

Ask them to share their field’s horror stories: vendors who disappeared mid-project, lawsuits that have gone on for decades, etc.

The more you hear, the more grateful you’ll be.


Navigating the emerging landscape

#typed notes explores the emerging landscape from an insiders perspective, commenting on futurology, social media, brand planning and anthropology. And inspiration
Rod Geoghegan plans and delivers growth in the marketing, advertising, digital, tech start-up and corporate space, through business planning, marketing and business development

He is Founding Partner at Metropolis Partners

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