In the military, when you are attacking a fortified and defended position, the responsibilities of the support by fire (SBF) position are some of the most important tasks of the entire mission.  The SBF position is responsible for ensuring that the right conditions exist before the guys who will actually be assaulting the position become exposed to danger and get within the range of the enemy’s weapons. In some instances these conditions might be simply ensuring that there is enough machine gun fire focused on an area to keep the enemy from being able to fire on the assault force until it is too late.  It might mean that certain portions of the enemy’s defenses are destroyed before the assault force even begins their attack.  Regardless of what the exact requirements are, the people who man the SBF position are trusted to understand the goals and expectations of the assault force (the main element which is being supported) and are then trusted to accomplish their mission in the best possible way.  In the business world, this same relationship often exists between a company’s marketers and its sales force.

In the business world, the “assault force” is often times the company’s sales force since it certainly isn’t illogical for a company to believe that one way to succeed and grow is to simply get more customers.  In this case, the sales teams are the people who have to “close with the enemy.”  They are the ones who are walking into meetings with potential clients.  They are the ones who need to “fight” their way to a deal through a presentation and negotiations. But their ability to succeed depends a great deal on the shaping efforts of those who are tasked to support them.  In this situation, it is the marketers who shape the outcome of a sales presentation by interacting with potential clients before the sales force ever shows up. In online marketing that might mean that the client has read blog posts on a company’s website, downloaded a report that they published, or learned about them over the course of a few months through an email list. Because marketing can be thought of as the shaping efforts taken to ensure that clients reach the specific condition of being ready to buy, all of the different marketing tactics available, if done right, systematically eliminate the reasons why a prospect might not buy, making it easier for the sales professional to close the deal.

Another reason why a support-by-fire position is similar to marketing in the business world is the flexibility that they have in how they go about accomplishing their mission.  In a military context, the support-by-fire position studies the enemy’s defenses to figure out the right combination of weapons, ammunition, rate of fire, and the time needed to accomplish their mission.   In the business world, marketers spend a great deal of time researching their potential clients so that they can find the right way to package, price, place and promote their products so that they can make the sale in the most effective or least expensive way possible. Whether promotions are done through blog posts, white papers, speaking events, pay-per-click (PPC) ads on Google, television ads, or radio ads, is irrelevant as long as it solves the problem that your company faces in getting in front of the right person or the right decision maker.  If marketing is done right, it is like assaulting a fortification that the SBF position has worked over so well that there is only one guy left to stop your platoon from coming through the front door.  The sale was won before the presentation even began.

The reason I tie together the roles of the support by fire position in a military assault and the ways that a company markets to their customers is because the professionals who make up these fields often have the same mindset.  They like understanding what needs to be done (the end-state), being trusted to learn the conditions of the environment, and then left alone to accomplish their mission in the way that makes the most amount of sense.  Even though the sales force might get the credit for the deal, business (and war) are team sports and the work of the marketing team ensured that the sales rep didn’t just walk into the teeth of the enemy’s defenses. There are some people who like being the ones to close the deal, and there are others, like the marketers, who like knowing that a battle can be won before it is even fought.

Dividing Line

The article is part of a series focused on helping veterans find the civilian job that would be the most interesting to them.  It is rare to find a civilian job that is nearly identical to positions in the military, but that doesn’t mean veterans aren’t prepared or don’t have the experience needed to succeed in business.  For vets, finding the right civilian job starts by knowing what field you want to be in. By taking the parts of military life that you found to be the most fascinating and finding a similar role in the business world, veterans can get the clarity they need to put together a plan of attack to land that job.

If you are interested in the problems that a support by fire position solves in the military, then marketing might be a field for you to take a look at.  Learning the language of the marketing field can help you to better communicate precisely how the your military experience has prepared you to succeed in this field.  Here are some resources that I recommend:

  • Gary Vaynerchuk – the CEO of Vaynermedia, an angel investor and an authority on how to brand yourself and your company through digital media.  As an added bonus, he curses like a Marine in all of his talks, so you’ll feel right at home watching one of his videos. Here is a link to his blog:
  • Hubspot – While their product is an inbound marketing platform, their “Marketing Library” has a wealth of downloads for you to read through that canhelp you  better understand the countless aspects of what it means to market and be a marketer.  Their library can be found at:
  • Moz – Their blog has a ton of information to sort through, and while much of it focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), one of the technical aspects of online marketing, their blog a ton of great marketing information and case studies. Here is the link: