I took a break from the corporate side of marketing in my early 30’s. I wanted to work on a variety of brands in a variety of industries, so I moved to the agency side of marketing. At one of my first clients meetings, I was the with the agency President while we listed to the client present problems that they need help solving. After their intro discussion points, I jumped right to problem-solving. “We could do this or we can do that. Or we can try something like this.” Then I felt the agency president step on my foot under the table and give me a look with his eyes that said “stop right now, shut up, don’t dare say another word”.
After the meeting he said “Ron, never solve problems at the table.” His points were completely valid and absolutely right. In my excitement to help the client and establish myself as smart and credible, I was putting both the client and agency in a tricky situation. Consider:
- By blurting out solutions on-the-spot, I was putting tactics ahead of strategies. Strategies should drive tactics, not the other way around.
- I hadn’t thought things through. What if the client loved what I suggested, acted upon it and it was the absolutely wrong approach to take? Client doesn’t solve their problems and the agency looks bad.
- I diminished the diminishing the science and strategy of marketing. I’d presented marketing as something simple, easy-to-do. I presented marketing as a vending machine that spits out solutions with the drop of a quarter.
Since then, I have never solved problems at the table. Instead, I ask good questions, seek to understand better what the business is saying, process the information and typically say that I want to spend some time digesting the information, ask more questions in a day or two if needed and then set a time to present strategies and tactics to consider. Taking this approach has allowed me to involve more of my team in the problem-solving phase, review data, gather collective thinking and perspectives and ultimately put together a much stronger approach than I would’ve on-the-fly at that first introductory discussion.
So, advice to young marketers: Don’t solve problems at the table.