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  • Joshua Erdman

How to pick the Right Digital Marketing Coach

Putting together a world-class marketing team has to be the goal of any executive leading a business. Going to market with a goal less than that is a formula for disaster. For some, the right strategy is internal staff, others use agencies, and still, others use consultants and every possible combination of these. Common on the list of things you need are coaches and often you need many of them.

Thank You Mr. Obvious

Coaches need to be experts in their field and they need to think differently. If you are looking for a friend, buy a dog; if you want a coach, make sure they have strengths different than yours. Our tendency is to surround ourselves with people like ourselves but that is a huge mistake. Coaches have to be flexible, creative, amazingly smart and not at all like us. Never hire a coach to tell you that everything you are doing is great. It might be good for your ego but not for your team and goals.

Coaches as a Diversity Strategy

You want diversity in your circle of marketing advisers because diversity creates strength, extends depth, and brings more market empathy to the team. If your team lacks an important audience perspective, Coaches can be a way to address that shortcoming. Diversity creates conflict which can make the team stronger and smarter. Diversity challenges group thinking which leads to better decisions. Consider the necessity of diversity in your team when selecting a coach.

If the Coach Does the Work – Fire them!

A coach is not someone who does the work but someone who develops the player. This is important because we often find “coaches” that do the work which is counter-productive. Good coaches don’t do the work they advise the player.

They have to love marketing & your business

Marketing is a complicated, competitive, and dynamic and your coach has to love that. Your coach has to become an evangelist for the business. Not every business easily creates evangelists but this is a trait you have to look for. A great question to ask a potential coach is: “What did you do the last time you had a prospect you did not believe in?” The answer should always be “I declined the work”. Some coaches can fake it until they make it but that skill is rare.

They have to be naturally curious and innovative

The best coaches are curious and go on independent explorations with no specific goal other than to advance their understanding of the game. Like any form of true research it’s often difficult to connect these activities directly to results but the correlation is inescapable.

Knowledge & Communication

You engage a coach for their knowledge and ability to communicate to your player. If you are an Executive overseeing the team, you want to make sure that you are involved in the early meetings with the player and the coach. Your role is to watch the communication between them to assess if this is the right coach for your team. Communication is a native skill and it rarely changes over time so if the communication is strained at the beginning, it will unlikely improve. Many times, internal staff will feel threatened by Coaches and the Coach has to overcome this for the relationship to work. They do not have to love each other but they have to respect each other.

Ability to recognize talent

A coach must be able to recognize when talent is deployed incorrectly and call it out. When building a team, you always want to decide who will be on the bus and which seat they will be in. This is not always the easiest thing to do.

They need to have a deep industry network

The best coaches connect your players to resources and the deeper the network, the better they can do this. A good way to look into the depth of their network is through their professional social media network (i.e. LinkedIn).

Must be able to look outside your organization

Internal Staff is often myopic and get consumed by the internal organization. This is both an asset and a liability. A good coach will push the player to reach beyond the internal resources as they work toward a solution.

Never Assign a Coach to more than One Player

When you find a good coach, it is tempting to have them coach other people. Unfortunately, this is equivalent to having a person report to a committee. Just don’t do it! Let them be one person’s resource as the conduit for bringing their expertise to the organization. The exception here is if you hire a coach to help team members communicate better. In those cases, have the coach report to the manager with a direct relationship to the circle of communications.

Push People without Alienating them

Coaches have to be experts at pushing your buttons and getting you to think in ways you’re not used to. Coaches need to have the skills to challenge people without alienating them. This is a rare skill and should be utilized to its fullest when found. If the coach is too soft, the team member will not learn anything; to harsh, and the team member will disregard the coaching.

Track Record

Good coaches are compulsive about sharing their expertise and this should be apparent when you research a coach. Any coach worth engaging will publish to demonstrate expertise and the mantra is “Publish or Perish”. Length of experience can be positive or negative depending on your needs. The newer coach may be more up to date but might lack the judgment that comes experience. This is an opportunity to add diversity. If your team is heavy on experience but markets to a younger demographic, coaches can help fill the void.

The Right Way, Wrong Way, and the Google Way

Google provides advertisers with a support line at 1-866-246-6453 (1-866-2-GOOGLE) and they do a good job. Unfortunately, not all problems are solved using Google’s Best Practices, which is what you will get from the support line. They are not allowed to provide you with the practices that best benefit your account and that is how Coaches differ from support.

Structuring the Relationship

The great thing about coaches is that they adapt to their player so you should be able to put together a relationship that works for everyone. Common relationships include a recurring session that happens on a scheduled basis based on the need of the player. Sometimes if the player matures, they can evolve the relationship to an on-demand model where the player uses the coach as a technical adviser or second opinion. To be valuable to the player, they have to engage with the coach enough for the Coach to learn the business issues. A coach is not a person you call when you have a problem; that is a support line. Google does a good job of providing that and it’s free. A coach is someone who teaches you to be better than you were before.


Coaching is an effective part of marketing team strategies and it is an economical way to add expertise that most businesses cannot afford to keep on staff. Like any key member of your team, the secret is picking the person that works best with the team.

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Author: Joshua Erdman
I was born and raised on 5 acres in Clovis, CA just outside of Fresno. I love living in the country and making memories with my kids. I was blessed to have several memorable and life forming moments at key times: I enjoyed an internship in Van Nuys at Anheuser-Busch in the IT department that summer. Being the youngest guy on the plant, I was reminded daily from co-workers that although I couldn’t drink their product I was free to explore the plant; which I took advantage of while assisting the IT staff. From that job experience I found my calling in working with people and technology and found confidence with communicating with leaders. In February of 2003, I started my own business with no experience about accounting, HR, and marketing. It was such a scary time - and a thrill! Digital Foundation was a great success growing each year and remaining profitable, even in the economic crisis in 2008. In the beginning of 2014, I sold my business, looking for new business opportunities. During this time I served a 2-year term as President at Softec and am still a member of the board. Now as the CEO of a national Internet Marketing Agency, I get to spend each day working with a great team navigating the tumultuous waters of ever changing tech. We look at new ways to help our clients market themselves in this exciting world of tech, voice search, and augmented reality. I enjoy public speaking, growing people's knowledge of technology and the world where people, business, and technology intersect. My goals: Make a Difference Make Memories Lead by Example Enjoy my Passions Find Humor with the small bumps in the road