Curious Case of Experts vs. Managers

How do you react to this quote? This is Mark Shaeffer about social media experts, in this post. I quoted him in my post here yesterday:

How many have ever had a real sales job or have been actually accountable for delivering new value in a marketplace by creating, testing and distributing a product on a meaningful scale?   Very few.  Yet these are our marketing “gurus?”

Now wait a minute.

Who says marketing experts have to have sales experience? Why do they need to have been accountable for a new product?

I want my experts smart, experienced, and knowledgeable. I want them to listen. I want them open to new ideas. I want them to give good advice.

But I don’t care if they’ve had sales responsibility; or if they’ve launched a new product. Why should I?

Do I care if my doctor has built a house? Do I care if my accountant can sing? Why do I want experts to be managers?

What about you? Do you think a business expert has to have line management experience? Can a single-person expert really be an expert if he or she hasn’t run a company?

Do you think the best programmer makes the best manager?

“Line vs. staff” was a big deal to multinational executives and managers I consulted for in the 1970s and 1980s. As a consultant and newsletter generator, I was staff. Line managers had responsibility for sales numbers or profitability. And they were proud of it. It was important to their career.

Does that still matter? Or is it confusing makers and managers? And don’t the experts have to close some sales now and then to survive in business?

Not that the idea threatens me at all – I’m safe on this respect, since I’ve built a company, based on my own software, so whatever expertise I claim will pass that “sales or new product” test.

It’s just that experts and managers are like apples and oranges. Different skills. I want managers to be managers, and experts to be experts.


Late addition: I had the above post ready to go when I was dealing with comments from yesterday and picked up Chris Brogan’s defense, here. He picked up on the same underlying assumption:

Have I held a sales job in a big company? Hell no. I’m not a salesman. Instead, I’m someone who equips salespeople with new tools to drive to value. I’m a hell of an opener, and decent with the first 2/3 of the cycle, but if my kids had to eat on my ability to close complex sales? Hell no.

Interesting perspective. Can you trust me? Beats me. I’ll let my work stand for itself. : )

No argument from me there.

(Photo credit: karbunar/Shutterstock)


  • A Drop of Credibility in an Ocean of Experts says:

    […] who complained about social media experts without sales or new product launch experience, and then this one suggesting that expertise comes from more than specific middle management experience. I think these […]

  • Kathy Henderson-Sturtz says:

    Reminds me of that old adage:

    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

    Personally, I have experience in all fields in which I consult and freelance, including sales. Even though I was considered a top advertising sales executive, I lack the passion and drive to really push the sales numbers. So, IMO, I’d probably make for a lousy sales manager. However, I think having first hand experience in sales adds to my credibility as an “expert.”

    Unfortunately, I’ve read a lot of advice by self-proclaimed experts in many fields. I felt some had advice were worth heeding. But others just plain missed the mark when it came to being realistic and practical. Some had experience, some didn’t.

    For the most part, I stand by one of my own adages:

    “You don’t need to know how to bake a cake to tell whether it tastes good or not.”

    Thanks for the food for thought you brought to the table.

  • Susan Kuhn Frost says:

    Every consultant (expert) needs to know the edges of what their clients know so they can focus their advice on what will work in that context.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    I don’t mean to flay a dead horse if everyone else has moved on, but Seth Godin’s post today fits nicely with this discussion: He said what I was thinking better than I did. Maybe that’s why he’s paid to write. 🙂

  • Strategic Growth Advisors says:

    Thanks for yet another insightful post, Tim.

    In my own point of view, there are some people who are naturals at a given thing, such as marketing and giving feasible business ideas. I think that if you’re cut out to become a marketer, then by all means go ahead.

    Keep those articles coming!

  • Mark W Schaefer says:

    Tim, thanks for challenging and expanding the argument.

    Here is my take on “credentials” — One of the greatest hitting coaches in baseball history was a guy named Charley Lau. Over an 11-year major league career the guy hit a total of 16 homeruns and had a career average of .255 (he wasn’t very good).

    In other words, you don’t need to have the greatest credentials to be an excellent teacher. However, if you want to be respected as an “expert,” it does help if you at least had experience playing the game!

    I’m not an expert in anything, but I’ve been around long enough to know hooey when I see it. When I see a comment like this: “If a company expects to make money from social media they will fail” or, “Social media should be at the center of every marketing strategy” it makes me want to hurl.

    All I’m saying is that anybody with even a few years experience in a reasonably responsible job would know better. Can we learn something from them? Sure. If they’ve been around the social media patch awhile, it’s not rocket science. But applying these tricky new tools to corporate strategy takes more than an entertaining blogger with a few cool catch phrases.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Mark, thanks for appearing (again) in this discussion. Was it Mark Twain who said: “Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform?” And I notice you’re focusing now, not on sales or new product management (which I think gets into the problem of manager skills vs directly relevant skills), but on directly relevant experience; which I like better. I’m glad to see you here. Tim

  • Charles Robinson says:

    Tim, I’m really confused. I don’t understand what doctors or accountants have to do with singing or carpentry, and I can’t even fabricate an analogy that makes sense. I’m not sure what a business expert or single-person expert is, either. I’m also a little confused that Mark talked about marketing experts specifically, but you seem to have broadened his meaning to encompass all experts and attacked that premise.

    I will that that in general I agree with Mark’s assessment. Lots of people claim to be experts in areas where that expertise is unmeasurable, so their claims can be unchallenged. I don’t think that every expert has to have management experience, but there are some where the two go hand in hand.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Charles, sorry to confuse you with that (obviously failed) analogy. What I was trying to get at was the idea that somebody could be an expert in many different areas of business, such as marketing, without having succeeded in a sales role or in managing a new product release. In my mind I think management skills and experience are not necessarily applicable across all areas of business. In fact, I’ve known some excellent managers of functional areas like, say, programming and product development, who weren’t excellent at programming or product development. And I’ve known some true experts in some functional areas, like marketing or programming, who were not good managers. I appreciate the addition, and as always, if the reader doesn’t understand, it’s the writer’s fault.

  • Dan Levine says:

    It was an incredibly interesting discussion in Mark Schaeffer’s blog a few days ago — one that has spawned multiple blog posts such as this. My issue is not so much around management experience; it’s more around real-world experience in the field in which one is passing themselves off as an “expert”. I care about experience and I think it matters. A lot. No, you don’t have to have run a company to be considered an expert or a leader in your field. Of course not. But if you’re consulting and calling yourself an expert, my hope is that you have experience in the field in which you’re sharing your “expertise”. If your thing is branding and you’re passing yourself off as a branding expert then you should have experience branding products or services. If you’re a PR consultant, you should have experience in PR and have experienced the ups & downs of what it takes to be successful at it. If you’re calling yourself an “expert” or a “guru” my hope is that you’ve walked the walk and you’re not just talking the talk. And there are many many many consultants who have never walked the walk. How can you be an expert and know the ins and outs and ups and downs if you’ve never done it before? Anyone can read a book or an article and pass off other people’s ideas. But have you lived it? Personally, I will only hire a consultant that I know has walked in my shoes (or very similar shoes) and had success doing it. And I hope that’s why a school might hire me as a consultant to help them increase enrollment — b/c I’ve lived it and have been successful at it.

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