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The Frightening Truth About Shadow Marketing
November 9, 2015
The Frightening Truth About Shadow Marketing

I received my first assault of shadow marketing a couple of years ago. I was on my way back from the office break room with a fresh cup of coffee in my hand when an excited sales rep called out from the cubicle jungle, “Jen! You got a minute? I want to show you something.”

Call it a sixth sense or intuition, but I knew something was going to be wrong. This excited rep was leaping out of his seat to show me this “awesome” new presentation he had made for a prospect. I think he used every single animation and transition that PowerPoint offered, but that was the least of my worries. The logos he used for the company were not just outdated, they were completely askew. He had pulled them from somewhere that was not our SharePoint site or Google Drive folder or even our own website (I’m guessing he Google image-searched for them). In any event, they were not our logos. This was not our standard presentation. The cadence of the content was not in alignment with our well-researched guided sales process. In short, the entire deck was an utter disaster. And, he was very, very proud of himself.

Now, you might be thinking bravo to this proactive and creative sales rep for trying his best, but when I’ve invested countless hours and thousands of dollars in beautiful presentations specifically to avoid this very situation, it was really hard to keep that freshly brewed coffee in my cup. Now I was faced with two issues:

1. I needed to give this sales rep feedback without making him feel like he did something wrong because truly it was a good thing that he was trying to do.

2. I needed to figure out why he didn’t know how or where to access the materials my team had provided. After all, there had been multiple emails and in-person meetings about these resources.

Earlier this year, Gartner Analyst Jake Sorofman wrote about the emergence of shadow marketing, comparing it to the more commonly known term “shadow IT.” Much like shadow IT, shadow marketing has developed out of a need for sales reps to follow a path of least resistance. The manner in which I was offering content to my sales reps was not an easy path. In fact, something was apparently so broken that he had taken it upon himself to create something entirely new from scratch when he could have been making calls and closing deals.

I love how Mr. Sorofman explains the shadow marketing phenomenon as “the collision of a supremely content-hungry discipline and the combinatorial cost and complexity of serving and supporting a portfolio of brands, channels and local markets.”

My takeaway? Sales reps need content to feed content-hungry prospects, and if marketers don’t find an easy way to serve that content up to their sales organizations, there are going to be a whole lot of really ugly PowerPoint presentations in the universe. OK, I’m being a little dramatic, but all joking aside, ugly PowerPoint presentations should be the least of marketers’ concerns.

In today’s buyer-driven sales environment, marketing should be leading the sales process with exceptional thought leadership, engaging resources, and content focusing on every stage of the sales funnel. Marketing teams have the ability to create demand and drive revenue, but no matter how sound your strategy, or how viable your content, if the sales organization you serve can’t access that content, you’ll only be setting yourself up to be a cost center for your company — and I don’t know a single marketer (or CEO, for that matter) who desires this outcome.

Seeing that “unauthorized” presentation was the wake-up call I needed so I could honestly assess the path my sales reps needed to take to make use of the resources our marketing team was providing. Moreover, what about the indirect sales reps that were responsible for nearly 80% of our annual new revenue? What resources were they able to access, and what kinds of shadow marketing activities would I find if I were to casually walk the halls of all of their offices around the country?

It’s not enough to create great marketing content. If no one is able to access it easily — if the path to use that content is not the one of least resistance — all of that great work could be for naught.