The virtues of marketing (and business) systems

transition photo
(From left) Brian Gallagher, Bob Kruhm and Lindsey Wilson, as we transition our Carolinas publications. I can trace their establishment to a systems failure — but equally the publications have survived because we incorporated innovations there into our systems.

After yesterday’s post, where I lamented my complacency at Construct Canada, Chase commented that maybe I could be doing better myself, and suggested some innovations. He made clear that there wasn’t much sign of anything “missing” from our corporate presence at the show — but we might want to pay the fees to have some attractive young women hand out the publications next year, and I should work harder to co-ordinate meetings and activities before the show. Simple ideas, of course.

The question of whether we could do better at the show, or any other marketing process, is answered most effectively with another question: “What are our systems for this event/activity?”

Systematization, the setting out of rules, processes, and measurement tools, allows for business successes to be replicated and failures (hopefully) to be constrained, and their power and importance should not be underestimated.

In the ideal systematized model, it doesn’t matter who is doing what job, as long as they fill their roles, they can follow the systems guidelines and get it right.

Systems tend to break down, however, (and I’m guilty of these transgressions) because:

Exceptions are allowed, without careful documentation and (where appropriate) rational resetting

There’s a crisis, or someone is away, so we take an ad-hoc approach to solve the “unique” problem. I put unique in quotes because I think the problems are rarely that exceptional — and in an ideal business systems model, we would have a contingency plan for situations which defy the standard systems rules.

We think (wrongly) the systems approach denies creativity and innovation

Google is my favourite disproving example here. The company has a policy of allowing employees one day a week to do what they want, work-related. ?Of course, there are rules around that day, but the concept is to allow for creativity and flexibility and a break from the routine.

The systems aren’t ours: We don’t buy into them (or get them)

This is probably my biggest failing. We’ve purchased tools and paid for consulting which have clearly defined and proven processes. But we think they don’t fit our style. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this (unless you have purchased a franchise contract and are bound to observe the rules, exactly). What is missing, however, is our ability to redocument and set up our own relevant and practical systems to fill the gaps where we disagree with the purchased, third-party systems.

The company leader doesn’t observe or respect the systems in place

Here, again, I risk the need to report myself for failing to follow the rules. Hae I adhered to our own company rules and policies (and systems) or do I think I’m an exception? Sure the leader can get away with anything he or she wishes, but of course, there is no escaping that everyone else associated with the business can see the same thing.

The systems are controlled or managed by others

This is a critique of the third-party solution-in-a-box approach to marketing and other business initiatives. While of course it is rational to purchase outside systems/processes to facilitate certain functions (you are generally wiser to use a payroll service than to try to manage these accounts in-house) you need to be careful if someone says they will do everything for you, for example, in providing leads, or running your marketing processes. If you leave these crucial business processes to outside black-box organizations, you won’t really understand or be able to manage some key business functions.

Finally, in observing these points, there is little value in recrimination for past (or even current) errors, and there is equally little value in setting out unsustainable resolutions, especially as the New Year approaches. Better, however, will be to review the policies, procedures, manuals, and company systems, and determine whether they need to be changed, improved or revised. Here, I think we are closer to a healthy picture than I might believe as I write this posting (part of my daily blog writing system).

Do you have any systems (or systems failures) stories to share? ?Please post a comment or email me at

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