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From the Trenches

Choose Your Marketing Firm: Sheep, Wannabes, or Leaders

Mike Sweeney | February 20, 2015

[With the exception of Right Source employees, clients, and prospective employees and clients, I don’t care if anyone reads this post. It’s written with that in mind. You’ve been forewarned. Let’s begin.]

“Those guys made it from $2 million to $10 million in just a few years.”

“They are now working with Google and Microsoft.”

“Their head biz dev guy tells me that they can’t keep up with the demand. Too many leads, not enough people to handle them.”

Less than 48 hours into my week as a business owner, and these are the messages ringing in my ears, messages delivered from different corners of my little piece of the business world. If I were to go into Simon Cowell-if-I-am-being-honest mode, my responses would go something like this:

From $2 million to $10 million? Revenue is easy. Profitability is hard. Even harder? Creating a profitable AND great company. Let me know if that company is around in five years.

No way. Google and Microsoft? Two public companies focused on shareholder value… that must be so awesome. Loads of fun. Really.

Too many leads, huh? Is that why he called me looking for a job last week?

Back to me.

Yes, I run a marketing firm. Sure, those messages ringing in my ears sometimes make me want to drive us in unauthentic directions. No, I won’t run in those directions.

And yes, I believe we are in the best class of marketing firms — the leaders.

But before you start thinking this is all about me and my firm, let me offer some clarity. If you understand the difference between marketing firms, it may help you be a better marketing partner, hire a better marketing partner, or choose a better marketing firm to work for.

(And by the way, this IS sorta about me and my firm. A brother gets to rant sometimes, right?)

The Sheep

Ah, the sheep. To the untrained eye, these guys are difficult to separate from the leaders, probably because (to their credit) they have successfully marketed themselves to appear as if they do whatever they do really, really well, and have been doing it really, really well for years, maybe even decades.

For instance, I know a sheep that — historically — has been in the website design and development business. Built a successful business on just that. Then all of a sudden, words starting appearing on their website. Buzzy words, like inbound marketing. And content marketing. And marketing strategy.

And then they kept saying those words. And writing about those words. And doing speaking engagements full of those words. And hiring people with those words in their titles. And… voila! People started assuming this sheep knew something about those words.

Really though, the sheep are trend chasers. In fact, they can be very good at chasing those trends, and often appear to be on top of those trends, but sheep, by character, are not first movers.

If you’re the type of business that is ok with just doing the stuff that everyone else is doing, and maybe even doing it pretty well, a sheep can be the right partner for you. If you’re the type of person who is content with a solid career in a company that at least feels “with it,” the sheep option may work for you.

The Wannabes

I don’t feel bad for the sheep. The wannabes, on other hand, draw some sympathy from me. You see, the wannabes really want to be something different, but don’t even know how to fake it to get there.

The wannabes should be easy to spot, even for inexperienced folks. Everything they do feels just a little bit… awkward, like the wannabe cool kid in high school who was just trying too damn hard to fit in, and everyone knew it.

They do things like claiming to have the most effective homegrown content management system (CMS), but then on the very same page tout their ability to work with all the most popular CMS platforms. They’re still focusing their time telling us that mobile is really, really important to address, while the rest of us have been addressing mobile for a decade. Their content focuses on the awards their latest client website won, instead of actually educating anyone about anything.

I wouldn’t advocate a business or candidate pursing a relationship or position with a wannabe company, with one exception. A candidate who wants to climb the ladder quickly AND thinks that the wannabe company can be molded into something different or better could try to make a mark at this kind of a company, but with the knowledge that it’s a tough road and may be just a tick on your resume.

The Leaders

The leaders know who they are, aren’t afraid to say who they are not, and while they certainly can be accused of chasing the same trends as sheep, they do so in a thoughtful way, never straying from a set of core principles or values.

For instance, Right Source has a burgeoning marketing technology practice, focused on helping companies use technologies like marketing automation, CRM, and CMS platforms to enhance their overall marketing efforts. Some might call this trend chasing. First, we wouldn’t have started the practice if we thought it was a trend, because we’re building for the next ten years, not the next two. And second, when we launched it we applied the same principles that guide much of what we do: planning before execution, quality over quantity, strategy guides technology.

Here’s another thing about leaders. They rarely focus on the competition, because they believe in their direction, don’t really care about another direction, and know that an inward focus will reap more long-term benefits then an outward, competition-focused approach.

The leaders recruit and hire every position as if it’s the most important role in the company, because on a given day, it might be. And then when that person is on board, the leaders don’t just hope that someone will grow, they truly care about growth, and make adjustments in position or structure to accommodate that growth.

The leaders certainly care about money, but never at the expense of greatness. Greatness will always lead to money eventually, but money alone rarely leads to greatness.

According to some marketing dude (I told you this was about me and my firm, right?), remarkable blog posts focus on one point and one point only. So after all this dancing around with words, let me simplify.

Be a leader. Work with leaders. Get a job with leaders. It’s a damn challenging ride, but it’s so much more fun than chasing the herd.

Think you belong with the leaders and not the herd? Right Source is looking for a talented marketing manager to join our team. If you believe you can lead — not just follow — we’d like to talk to you.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.