The Myth of Marketing Best Practices

January 23, 2014 | Justin Gray | 2 Comments |

In 2003, I was broke. I’d often wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a state of panic, caused by living paycheck to paycheck. I had creditors calling, was constantly worried about money, and it seemed that each week I would dig my financial hole a little bit deeper. It was a really rough time for me, in no small part due to the fact that I really hadn’t done much wrong. In fact, I had exactly followed the path that was touted as best practice; go to college, get an internship, find out what you want to BE, get a job in that field and work your way up. I had done just that, and yet somehow I was working my way down pretty swiftly. 

There were some interesting events that took place during this time that perhaps skewed the frequently sold tale of professional advancement. September 11, 2001 happened and just before it, the tech bubble had burst. At this time, I was just winding down a very well paid internship that had set my expectations for employment pretty high. I was set to transition from that soft billowy cloud of safety in just over two months when the planes struck and 1 WTC, our New York headquarters, collapsed. Devastating. And three days later, my position crumbled as well.

Luckily, or so I thought at the time, I was already into a second round interview with a company, and expected an offer. But lo and behold, the offer never came. That company, like many others at that time, rescinded its expansion plans and canceled the job requisition. In fact, that company went out of business about 18 months later. Just when I thought things couldn’t get much worse, they got far worse – I got a job.

Overworked and Worn Down

I managed to land a job in marketing for a firm that didn’t believe in marketing – and they paid marketers through that lens. My salary was sub 25k/year and I was handling the workload of what would normally be distributed among three or more employees. At one point I was even networking computers simply because they found out I could. I had no distinct path to better my financial position other than to develop my skills further and get out of the dreaded “first job out of college” stigma in an economy unwilling to take a gamble on anyone. To say I was paying my dues is an enormous understatement.

It was at this point that I had a revelation (to be clear, the revelation wasn’t mine – people wiser than me had been telling me this for some time). I started transferring 100 bucks per week into a separate account immediately on the day my paycheck would hit. I didn’t even trust myself to see the money. My immediate pay cut was in effect. I was already making terrible pay, so it didn’t really matter in terms of the ability to spend – but it did make a huge impact on what I saved. It forced me to cut pretty much every luxury, or wanted item out of my spending – it was painful. Six months later I finally left that terrible job. If someone doesn’t share the dream you have – get the hell out of there. I started earning more and, as a result, saving more. Two years later I had myself out of debt – a debt that at its height had totaled more than $40,000. To this day, I still consider it one of my greatest accomplishments.

As I think back now about that early time in my career I can’t help but see the glaring behavior that led to that predicament. I was constantly asking others for advice but only following the parts that didn’t require pain or change. I didn’t want best practices; I wanted to confirm that I was already doing the right things. In my mind, I had a job in the field I wanted to be in, and I was paying dues. I rationalized that the money I was spending was going to things that were furthering my career; after all, I needed to participate in those happy hours with the team to show I was engaged, I needed the right clothes so I could look the part, I couldn’t ask for the raise I wanted because it would be interpreted as selfish and I couldn’t save because I was in debt! It was all BS and frankly, if I was still doing these things, I would probably be dead.  Seriously.

The Time to Embrace Change is Now

All I had to do was open up my mind and embrace the full spectrum of the need. Oh yeah, and stop resisting change. Sound familiar? It should, because chances are you’re repeating the same mistakes. Executives love to exhibit this exact behavior when it comes to areas they don’t necessarily believe in. Marketing is perhaps the best example. Who hasn’t uttered the desire for “best practices?” Best practices have become a phrase of alert at LeadMD because it’s often code for, “I want you to validate what we are already doing.”

Marketing Automation tends to be the poster child for best practices. Marketing Automation is not a best practice; it is a tool, which at this point is simply required to facilitate the type of communication and measurement needed to effectively educate buyers.  If you are still wondering if it will work for you and are skeptical, you may also pay dues to the Flat Earth Society each month. The conversation is over, the battle is done – you have to engage buyers with great conversations and if you believe you can do it human to human, your growth goals are too small. The skeptics lost. Automation is here to stay.

So why do so many fail to automate their buyer education (read: marketing)? It’s simple. Because they are only willing to hear what is easy, they turn a deaf ear to change. I had a conversation with an executive who stated in no uncertain terms that, “people buy based on relationships, not based on marketing automation.” I would agree with both parts of that statement. First, the argument that no one will ever buy because of “marketing automation.” I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, other than to acknowledge that the exec really had no idea how to differentiate a software from the use of that software. I’ve said it literally thousands of times; software facilitates what you bring to it and nothing more. I absolutely agree with the other half of the statement, in relation to buyers who purchase due to relationships.

Many buyers don’t need to speak to anyone to form that relationship, however, others want to form a personal relationship after they have learned about the solution you offer, and others still just want to know who the person they are talking to is and what they offer. Automation software facilitates all forms of relationship building, but never without great marketing. Great marketing is painful, hard and will not be easy to achieve – which is why the old plea for best practices sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me.

The hardest change aligns with the hardest times. Whether it’s my 23-year-old self wondering how I’m going to pay my cell phone bill, or an executive trying to grow her business, the process is the same. You have to come to the realization that what you are doing isn’t working and that the solution to that problem may look nothing like you had imagined it would. Open yourself up to best practices, rather than asking for them and taking what you see as easy. “Easy” is what people sell themselves because they can’t reconcile the fact that what they are doing is wrong, and best practices that are easy are nothing more than a myth.



  1. David Geer on January 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    You are very direct and powerful in your communications. Congratulations on nailing this point.

    • Justin Gray Justin Gray on January 31, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks David, appreciate the feedback!

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