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Misguided professionalism

Most of us hold professionalism in high esteem. We consider ourselves professionals of one sort or another. We try to “act professional.” But more and more, I am running into professionalism run amok. When professionalism starts to mean that you are the expert and you don’t make any mistakes, I think it’s misguided.


If it’s considered unprofessional to admit mistakes, then you’re endangering your relationships on the cross of professionalism. Instead, your relationship with your customers are enhanced by admitting your mistakes, apologizing for them, and understanding how to do better in the future.
Unfortunately, I often see professionalism distorted to mean that “we don’t admit mistakes.”
When a customer calls to complain about mistreatment and the customer service person explains their policy, without trying to heal the wound, that may be professional but it’s not relational. It’s not real.
When a teacher or a doctor makes a mistake, if they equate professionalism with defensiveness, they are showing more concern about being sued than being human. My opinion is that people are more likely to sue those they are angry with and have no relationship with. Granted, your child’s education or health is an emotional issue and none of us wants any mistakes made. But when they inevitably are made, what is the appropriate response? If it were your child, what would you want to hear?
Marketing is not as serious, so it should be even easier for marketers to admit mistakes. But do we?
Today, in your job, try to develop a thicker skin. Try to listen—really listen—it’s the only way to improve. The old ways were to make decisions and try to convince everyone that they were right. The new way is to listen and adapt based on what your customers think. That’s what “do it wrong quickly” is all about—you need to listen to know how wrong you are. And your professionalism should give you the self-confidence to experiment rather than the self-righteousness of defensiveness.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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