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Does Learned Helplessness Stalk Marketing Management?

220px-Flickr_-_The_U.S._Army_-_Comprehensive_Soldiers_Fitness_(1)croppedPsychologist Martin Seligman popularized the condition called Learned Helplessness

Seligman realized that when he placed dogs into an inescapable environment and administered electric shocks the dog eventually stopped trying to escape. If the dog was placed into an environment where it could escape and given shocks it would still not try to escape.  It learned to give-up. This has had a major impact on human psychology.

Learned helplessness stalks the lives of marketing managers (and the CFOs CEOs and presidents).  In most instances marketers have been placed into an environment where they have been taught it is futile to prove the ROI for lead generating activities.  After time passes they quit trying to prove an ROI and suffer the consequences of Learned Marketing Helplessness. 

Of course. recent advances in marketing automation and AI software have turned many heads and encouraged marketing managers at the richer and larger companies to try the newer systems (introduced almost weekly) to prove the ROI for marketing, but the numbers are still small overall.   

Even, unfortunately, when they change jobs and have full access to prove the ROI for lead generation, because of their "Learned Marketing Helplessness", they don’t try to escape the confines of their past. They are afraid that if they try to prove the value of their programs, someone will shock them.  Or worse yet ignore and disbelieve them.  

Because they will not try to prove the ROI for lead generating tactics, they spend their company’s precious assets on a crap-shoot of what works and what doesn't with nary a look to see what created sales results.  To look deeply into campaign effectiveness means accountability and not everyone wants to take that risk.  

I have attempted to learn program ROI in the past as a communications manager at a large company and frankly no one believed the results.  Unfortunately, the results also showed that 75-85% of the 40o sales reps weren't  following up the sales leads.  It didn't stop me I just left.  

Learned Marketing Helplessness Can be Broken

As a speaker at workshops and seminars, and in my articles and books, I focus on the subject of Marketing ROI.  In most instances I am looking into the faces of marketing people who are so beaten down and restricted that they listen with hope, but have no stomach for escape.

Why it's Important:

After these events, attendees will come to the podium and ask, "Is it really true, can I prove the ROI for lead generation and will people listen?" I tell them, "You must stop asking for permission to do your job."   They must use the CRM (and marketing automation) systems for the primary task for which it was invented and prove that:  "Inquiries turn into leads and leads turn into sales in a predictable manner."


First, they must believe it is possible. With belief will come a determination to never again be confined by small thinking management.

Now that we know the cause for an aversion to proving marketing’s ROI, I challenge marketing management to break the bonds of Learned Marketing Helplessness and demonstrate the ROI for a tactic or program. For instance, pick a trade show or a direct marketing campaign to measure. When you prove the ROI for the first program you will be free forever from the confines of the Learned Marketing Helpless.

Six Steps to Break the Learned Marketing Helplessness Cycle!

1. Learn how to predict the number of inquiries needed to make quota for your sales channel (a simple formula). Quota $/Average Sales Price/45%/Market Share % = Inquiries 45% equals the number of buyers in a group of inquiries.

2. Create programs to support your own marketing "quota" for inquiries and qualified leads.

3. Ensure that sales is following up and reporting on 100% of the inquiries you give them.

4. Use the CRM system for one of its primary intended purposes: Proving the ROI for marketing expenditures. Report the results: The good, bad and the ugly.

5. Adjust your investment. "Marketing managers must spend money on things that work and let their competitors spend money on everything else."

6. Repeat the cycle: Predict, create programs, follow-up 100%, use the CRM system ROI capabilities, adjust spending, and report the results.

Is it time that marketing management breaks the bonds of Learned Marketing Helplessness?


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