Marketing is the most challenging capability for organisations to build from the ground up. It’s where art meets science, it’s the soft stuff, it’s halfway between sales and product, it’s where people who don’t know how to make money or stuff go to work.
Done well, a marketing capability (team) supports every aspect of an organisation speaking to their customers. They’re involved in every decision that impacts any point on the customer journey, and they hold the ultimate responsibility for achieving the results that the organisation desires, while satisfying the customer’s demands.
All too often, however, the marketing team become the colouring in department - a neutered, low impact team without enough scope to make any major impact on the organisational bottom line. The rest of the organisation believes that without marketing, the organisation would be just fine - everything would just look a little less good.
This couldn’t be further from the truth with a high performing marketing team. But all too often, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, leading to many businesses prioritising investment in other areas over the traditional marketing function.
To do this well, we need to consider a few areas:
- Marketing’s scope
- Measuring performance
- Managing risk
In this post, I’ll take a look at how to address each of these areas, and then look at the challenges for organisations and their partners in building this capability.
The first step to building a high performing marketing team is to rethink your traditional view of the scope of “marketing”.
All too often, marketing is the term used by organisations to describe “promotion” or “advertising”. In the future, I’ll explore the definition of marketing in modern organisations in a bit more depth. For now, let’s assume we’re all thinking about marketing too narrowly.
In my world, marketing basically means “engagement with the customer”. It goes back to the four “P’s” of academic marketing - price, product, promotion, and place. Instead of thinking of marketing’s scope as a narrow slice of the promotion segment, we need to view it as leadership of each of these areas of an organisation.
We often think of marketing supporting the organisation - but maybe we should think about the organisation supporting marketing.
A less abstract way to think about this is to look at the customer journey from the moment someone first considers the problem you solve to the moment that person’s relationship with your organisation ends.
In this case, marketing is responsible for optimising that entire journey for both the customer and the organisation’s benefit. Of course that means making stuff as nice and enjoyable for the customer as possible, but it also means placing the expectation of “making money” (or achieving strategic goals/growth) on your marketing function.
They should be empowered to do anything that helps the organisation in this regard, and they should be focused on doing it in a way that promotes the highest priority jobs (i.e. the most effective and lowest risk work) first.
Before you start building your marketing team, think carefully - are you setting them up to fail by narrowing their scope to impact your business, or are you giving them the best chance to succeed by giving them the mandate they need?
The most common issue I see organisations face with their marketing teams is an inability to measure tangible performance. Sure, the output looks great, but what did it actually achieve?
This is the most important thing an organisation looking to build marketing capability can do - set up frameworks that enable accurate and timely measurement of performance.
By giving your team access to this measurement, you create total transparency - they know exactly where they stand in relation to the expectations you’ve set (important when you’ve broadened the scope), and they know exactly what areas they need to address to performance.
Everyone’s looking at the same data, so there’s no room for debate. It just enables everyone to get on with the job and contribute to the business’ goals.
Last, but definitely not least, is the challenge of managing risk when organisations start to develop marketing capability.
Marketing (and marketers) are bloody expensive, and often have quite long payback periods. Marketing programmes can take months or years to produce results - contrast this with a sales resource who’ll be out selling (or not) pretty much day one on the job.
Often, your marketers will want to work with third party partners (like us) who come with another layer of cost. There’ll be media buy, production costs, expenses, and projects that the marketing team want to run - it all adds up.
This risk is hard to manage - for many, it feels like a plunge you just have to take, and try and adapt to as you go.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though - if your team are focused on taking the most effective actions (high value/low risk or cost) first, they can quickly score the wins they need to get the new marketing team operating in a way that contributes to the organisation’s bottom line.
It’s essential you focus on this though - or you’ll end up with doorstop strategy (thick strategic plans that are only good for keeping doors open) and a whole pile of great ideas that are left untested and getting mouldy on the “things we could have done shelf”.
The challenge for organisations
So, we’ve established that most organisations operate their marketing capability with a limited scope (and funding to match), they don’t understand marketing performance, and struggle with the risk of the high internal cost of delivering a marketing capability.
Often, organisations have been burned in the past - they’ve made plans that haven’t worked, appointed agencies that haven’t delivered, or hired teams that didn’t gel.
Due to these factors, the biggest challenge organisations face is building an “as required” capability that flexes to the needs of the organisation (and flexes to budget constraints too).
Marketing’s fundamental goal is to support business growth, so we should reframe our thinking about building marketing capability around this.
Average campaigns are better than no campaigns (at worst, you’re learning - at best, you’re delivering demand and learning). This is an essential lesson for organisations grappling with the “marketing capability” challenge - figure out the quickest, lowest risk way you can get campaigns in market, and then do it.
See if you can run this work with existing internal capability - not new hires or an agency. It’s about finding out what works, and then figuring out a plan to scale it.
Take telemarketing for example. This is often a dirty word, but it’s a proven demand generation strategy for most organisations in most markets. In the long run, it’s an expensive and inefficient way to do things, but in the short run, it’s a quick delivery/quick response, limited cost way of testing.
Let’s say you get your telemarketing agency to make 1,000 calls, with a hit-rate of 1 in 100, and the product you sell converts 25% of prospects who pay $10,000 a time.
The first round of calling produces 10 leads, and around $25,000 of sales. This is brilliant, as now we have a starting point for optimisation. Let’s say we set a goal for round two of optimising our hit rate by 10% - to 1 in 90 calls. This produces 11 leads, and around $27,750 in sales. Next, we might aim to optimise our conversion rate to 30% - now we’re at $33,333 of sales at the end of round three.
Instead of trying to plan a campaign based on generating $85,000 of sales, we’ve chosen to conduct a series of test and learn exercises (that are all achievable without any long term commitment to particular marketing capability) to deliver us that result.
Organisations need to adapt their thinking - from “let’s make a big plan and slowly work through it” to “let’s test, learn and achieve tangible results while we figure out what the battle tested path forward is”.
It’s a small mental adjustment for management that makes a big difference.
The challenge for agencies
If our clients move to a test and learn, rapid prototyping style of building marketing capability, how does that impact agency?
Most agencies are set up to deliver projects with defined scopes and relatively fixed deliverables. They like comfort and security, and to deliver projects in timeframes that are achievable.
Often this results in more and more being added in to scopes as a risk management tactic for dealing with client scope creep. Things end up heavily front loaded in planning and strategy, which often leaves little room to adapt on the fly (without renegotiating commercial agreements).
This might suit organisations who know what they want, have an existing marketing strategy and capability, and just want someone to get on with it - but for an organisation that’s taking its first steps into building capability, it can be dangerous.
As my favourite mid 19th century Prussian, Helmuth von Moltke the elder, said: “no plan survives contact with the enemy” (I wrote all about it here).
This doesn’t mean you don’t plan - it just means you need to be more adaptable to change once you start executing.
Agencies need to start to think about how they meet this need and how they structure their businesses and offerings to suit.
How we’ve responded
As an agency working with organisations facing the exact challenges outlined in this post, we pretty quickly realised we needed to adapt.
Instead of talking about the work we could do for people (oh, we can build you a great website and give you content marketing!), we needed to talk about three things: tangible results, flexibility and business partnership.
Being committed to delivering tangible results brings together two key aspects - minimising risk and measuring performance. If your marketing business partner has a commitment to delivering measured success before anything else, it generally means both client and agency are pretty aligned on what needs to happen. We do this by delivering live reporting and sales automation built around HubSpot, and choosing what we think will be the most impactful and simple to deliver initial actions.
Flexibility is also important - this enables us to adapt on the fly, rather than stick doggedly to an agreed scope that’s just not working. That’s why we’ve moved away from scopes and built a delivery framework out of agile software development - our agile marketing framework enables us to put flexible resource where it’s needed the most and focus on adding value, without changing the underlying commercial agreements.
Finally - business partnership. This is one of the most important pieces. It’s a small mindset shift, but a meaningful one - it changes the relationship from one of service delivery to one of joint commitment to success, for both parties. It means we can be open, transparent and honest with our clients, and collaboratively work together to solve problems - rather than sitting the other side of the table, trying to justify why things aren’t as expected.
We call this agile marketing. It’s pretty simple - it just means marketing that is quick and nimble, and can be adapted to change.
The most important step on the journey to building marketing capability is to build a picture of your whole marketing journey, so you can understand the results you’re achieving. The second most important step is to download our guide to building this for less than $100 per month - click the image below to get it now.