I had a business owner visit me last week, wanting to know what I think of how he currently markets his company. He only had one hour to spare and I made the mistake of agreeing to the meeting.

To be sure, he did nothing wrong. The fault was mine.

You see, there is no way that any marketer can tell you what you should do, or what is good or bad about your marketing, in an hour. The reason is that marketing, unlike most other fields, is not about the knowledge the marketer has in his head, but about the customer and what’s going on in their head. The customer is the expert – not the marketer.

Great marketers know this and avoid giving opinions until they have consulted the customer. Terrible marketers don’t know this, or ignore it, and tend to have strong opinions about everything from logo colours to website lay-outs.

Obviously this can make for quite a disappointing meeting if you end up finding a great marketer. It may mean that you travelled all the way to come and get the marketing gospel just to be told: “I don’t know, have you asked the customer?” Quite an anti-climax.

So why does marketing even exist as a separate function? If all it is, is to listen to the customer, then why not do away with marketing and just go straight to the customer?

The reason is that companies, like people, are chronically self-centered. It is nearly impossible for the company to consistently put its own production line, product features, income statement and general view of the market aside and view it from the outside in – how the customer sees it. This is why marketing exists. A good marketer acts like a traitor in the business, not choosing your side, but that of the customer. It can, and should, be an uncomfortable relationship.

I learned a lesson last Friday. I can’t add value in an hour – at least not the value most business owners want. What do I think of your website? I don’t know, but why not get 10 of your customers to take a look and give you a view? That’s what I said, and it didn’t go down well.