As CEO overseeing all functions of my companies and as an advisor, coach and consultant to CEOs and business owners, this is the focus and approach I saw have the most significant impact on growth and value creation.
A majority of CEOs are unsatisfied with the performance of their marketing department. This is a safe statement to make based on my observations and the findings of any number of surveys that look at marketing performance and CEO priorities. Assuming you’re one of those CEOs, what if you could just push the Reset button and start over to build the perfect marketing function at your company? (Or, for some of you, what would it take to build your first, cutting-edge marketing function from scratch)? What would that effort involve? How long would it take to build?
First, let’s draw some parameters for our hypothetical Marketing Reset initiative. I’ll limit my discussion to a marketing function within a B2B company with revenue of $10MM to $200MM, mostly from sales in North America. Covering this topic properly could easily become a book-length endeavor (hmm, note to self) so for the sake of this post it will be limited to an expanded outline.
Marketing Has a Seat at the Strategy Table
Someone from Marketing must have the chops to sit at the strategy table together with Sales, Operations, Finance, and Engineering. This means your head of marketing, either the Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Marketing, is strong on research and strategy development. Equally important, the head of marketing must represent the customer (existing and prospective) at the strategy table. Too many companies turn inward and become overly product-centric when a strong Marketing leader isn’t present.
Smaller companies may not be able to justify a CMO’s salary, nor need the services of a CMO-caliber person for 12-months a year. These companies are better served by bringing in an interim CMO for a few months each year to handle the heavy strategy lifting and to oversee plan development, after which a director-level marketer, strong on execution, can take the reins.
The Marketing function must have a respected, customer-centric, strategic thinker to contribute to company and product strategy.
Marketing Makes Plans with Sales; Sales Makes Plans with Marketing
Your cutting-edge Marketing function will not operate in a silo. Research has shown conclusively that companies in which marketing and sales are aligned outpace their competitors who are not aligned.
The heads of Marketing and the heads of Sales will meet regularly — formerly and informally. Their cubes and offices will be close together, as well. However, alignment won’t happen just because Sales and Marketing share the same floor and coffee maker. They must share goals, a vocabulary, and a plan.
This alignment is best facilitated when both departments talk with customers to identify the stages of the buyer’s journey. These stages then become the stages for the revenue funnel. The stages are implemented in the CRM system and become a common vocabulary for the company.
With the buyer’s journey identified, Sales and Marketing can begin planning together for how leads will be developed, nurtured, closed and recycled. Put another way, what’s the plan for how the two departments will collaborate over time to bring names into the funnel and progress the buyers through the buyer’s journey in an efficient and timely manner? The strategies, tactics and budgets necessary to generate the required funnel velocity become the unified and aligned revenue generation plan.
The annual plan for Sales and Marketing should take no more than four weeks to produce and approve. Quarterly refreshes of the plan should take no more than two weeks.
Demand Generation is Aligned to the Buyer’s Journey
When the buyer’s journey is understood and modeled in the funnel everything that Sales and Marketing does is seen in a different light. How many names need to be brought into the top of the funnel each month, for example? What outbound and inbound marketing tactics will be relied on to find those names? Will Sales need to generate names, too, through networking, etc.?
How many names need to be converted to a marketing qualified lead each month, and what is the definition of a marketing qualified lead?
With the target buyer clearly defined, with personas written and understood the right tactics and content are easier to create; the right media channels selected; and budget is better assigned.
The discussion about how much weight to put on social media, traditional media, or Web media becomes more of a strategic business discussion rather than an open debate about the latest fad or tactic du jour.
When the Sales and Marketing plan is completed, it will be crystal clear what marketing skills will be necessary in the organization. Will event marketing be more crucial to demand generation than social media? If so, the Marketing team must be strong in selecting and producing the right sponsored events and trade shows. Knowing how to track and measure social media will be of lesser importance.
A key decision is whether or not tele-qualifying (as different from tele-sales) is a necessary tactic in the funnel plan, and if that role should report to Marketing. I believe it should. Tele-qualifying is often the best and sometimes only way to ensure that a lead is a marketing qualified lead ready to be released to Sales.
Stay flexible and stay current, that’s a good rule of thumb for staffing a Marketing department in a B2B company today. The crystal ball could be cloudy in your industry, but it’s a safe bet that the skills you have to have two years from now in the department will be different from what you need this year.
With the funnel plan in mind, what are the core competencies you want to have on the Marketing bus? What are best provided by contractors, interims, or 3rd-party services firms? Using full-time, part-time and vendors how can you be assured of putting an A-team on the field every month?
Have a small core of full-time staff augmented with part-time or 3rd-party specialists. That’s the best formula for versatility.
The marketing skills required for a B2B company today are vastly different from the past. Here is a partial list of titles that didn’t exist before 2000:
- Content Editor
- Content Manager
- Infographic Specialist
- Adwords Manager
- SEO Manager
- Social media manager
- Marketing Operations
- Web analyst
- Blog editor
To help drive a high-growth B2B company, Marketing departments must be strong in these general skill-sets:
- Content creation
- Data analysis
- Campaign/program planning
- Web marketing, especially search marketing
- Email marketing
- Channel communications (if your product is sold through a distribution channel)
The head of marketing is wise to budget at least 5 days of training for each of the people in the department each year. Marketers have to stay current and sharp.
Marketing Operations is on Top of the Data
There’s a lot of buzz about “Big Data”. Well, one of the biggest generators and consumers of data is Marketing. This is why a Marketing department must have people who respect data and use it to drive decisions. A key role in a Marketing department with a program budget exceeding $1M is Marketing Operations. This role is part data analyst, part dashboard wizard, and part technologist.
Marketing Operations measures programs, controls budgets, analyzes data to help the team fine-tune their programs, and generates the reports that everyone up and down the chain of command requires.
In larger departments, the marketing operations people are typically responsible for managing the marketing automation system, as well.
In high-growth B2B companies the people in Marketing are compensated differently than their counterparts in lower-growth companies. They aren’t necessarily paid more, but research studies have shown that a portion of their compensation is based on the win rate of closed deal, just like their compatriots in Sales.
Partnership with Product Development
Up to now I’ve focused on the strategic and demand-generation aspects of the Marketing function. Marketing has a hugely important role in product development, too. In lean organizations there may not be available dedicated Product Marketing Managers to work side by side the Product Managers. This puts the burden of market research and go-to-market planning on the shoulders of the Product Manager.
The Marketing department, wearing its Strategy hat, has to help Product Development stay focused on the customer, not the product. Marketing should play a major role in defining the customer problem to be solved. I want to be clear here. Defining a problem to be solved and the target market is a primary role of marketing, but this doesn’t mean that this particular function has to reside within the Marketing department. If Product Management has the skills, processes and bandwidth to objectively uncover the problem to solve that’s okay. Technically it is a marketing function wherever it resides in the company. If the Product Managers are engineers and can’t see past the features of the product, the head of Marketing has to find a way to infuse the customer focus into the innovation and development process.
The Channel has a Champion in Marketing
If the company’s products and services are sold through a distribution channel or heavily influenced by a referral channel, the Marketing department must have people who know how to develop marketing programs that benefit the channel partners, and know how to convince those partners to use the programs provided.
Conversely, the channel marketing specialists have to be able to listen carefully to the needs of the channel and represent the wishes of the channel within the department, especially during planning and budgeting periods.
Technology Drives Efficiency, Customer Intimacy, Measurement, and Quality Leads
Surveys are reporting that the CMO is rapidly becoming a larger customer of technology than the CIO. Lots of data is one reason. The need to manage multiple campaigns featuring customized content with a small staff is another.
If the funnel plan indicates that inbound marketing (social media and blogging) is a major focus for the company than Marketing must invest in the technology necessary to generate results from those tactics. An inbound marketing platform, such as HubSpot, might be justified. A tool set for monitoring the company’s social media presence could also be a prudent.
If the funnel plan shows that outbound marketing (email, Web, pay-per-click, Webinars) will be a large factor, than a marketing automation platform such as Marketo should be implemented.
A Journey of a Thousand Steps
Our Marketing Reset initiative won’t happen overnight. In a well-financed start-up the team and infrastructure can be put into place speedily, but will still take time to get into gear for generating results. In most other B2B companies the pace will need to be more measured because the expenses of staff, programs and technology usually needs to be covered by cash flow unless the board decides otherwise.
Below is an example timeline. Company culture, the quality of the company’s database, and circumstances can shorten or lengthen the process.
The head of marketing, the architect of this initiative, will be careful to communicate with the management team what to expect in terms of results and by what date. Rolling out the capabilities in a measured way will also help Marketing generate some short term results without losing focus on the ultimate goal, which is building a world-class marketing function.