Don't micromanage marketing and sales

Flickr user photoloni
(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Years ago, we used to worry that the relentless pressure of Wall Street's quarterly earnings cycle would cause executives to make bad short-term decisions when they should be focusing on maximizing long-term shareholder value.

We were right to be concerned. Things are far worse today.

Not that it's anybody's fault, mind you. It's the result of a number of factors, some of which are clearly interrelated:

- Accelerating pace of technology and innovation

- Ever shrinking product lifecycles

- Brutally competitive global markets

- 24x7 news cycle and shrinking shelf-life of media content

- Real-time feedback from customers via social media

- Insatiable demand for the latest and greatest product or sound bite

When I used to run marketing and sales organizations, "what have you done for me lately" was a common mindset among my CEOs and fellow executives. Whereas "lately" used to be measured in days or weeks, your boss can now reach you around the clock with panicky messages like "customers are trashing us on Facebook," and "did you see what Walt Mossberg just tweeted?"

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When business leaders and corporate executives overreact to short-term pressures, it directly impacts marketing and sales performance, and not in a good way. It's disruptive and saps organizational productivity. Here are five ways that type of shortsighted mentality can wreak havoc on a company's business:

Did you book anything today? Once upon a time, I was a salesman in the high-tech industry. That's right -- I carried a bag. Some days, I'd come home and my wife would ask, "Did you book anything today?" Problem is, she wasn't the only one. I also got that from my boss. And no words are more demotivating and demoralizing when you've spent months cold-calling and trying to build up your region from zero.

Micromanaging profit margins. When times are hard, as they are now, executives often attempt to maximize profit margins on every sale. In a competitive market, especially in the case of commodity products, that sort of thinking will result in lost business, declining revenue, and reduced economies of scale. Ultimately, that kills the very thing they sought to maximize: profits. Ironic, isn't it?

Forget Wall Street. Apple (AAPL) had a rare quarterly earnings and revenue miss the other day. Net income was $8.8 billion on sales of $35 billion. Although both were up more than 20 percent year-over-year, everyone is wondering if Apple has lost its magic and if the sky is falling. Aside from the obvious relationship between sales forecasts and street guidance, for example, Wall Street and share price should never influence how you run your business.

"Aim-fire-ready" strategic planning. All too often, senior executives restructure and reorganize a department -- or even an entire company -- without any strategy behind it or without communicating what marketing and sales people need to know: How does this affect us, our products, our customers, and our marketing and sales strategy going forward? We've seen this happen repeatedly at Yahoo (YHOO), for instance, most recently under former CEO Scott Thompson.

"Strategy du tweet." Social media provides a useful feedback loop into a number of marketing and sales functions. That said, those functions should be organized so some people -- in customer service and PR, for example -- can respond to real-time issues and reviews while everyone else is more or less insulated from them. If not, you can end up with endless fire drills, strategy du jour, or even strategy du tweet, all of which sap organizational performance and effectiveness.

I can go on about communication overload, meeting mania, and other factors that harm marketing and sales bandwidth and effectiveness, but I think you get the point. In any company big or small, short-term thinking can lead to serious long-term problems, especially when executive management plagues marketing and sales with reactive and disruptive behavior.

Image courtesy of Flickr user photoloni