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What I’ve Learned About Building Amazing Marketing Teams

By Chris Ross | January 25, 2018 | 1 Comment

Marketing Organization and OperationsMarketing Strategy and Innovation

What does it take to build an insanely powerful and effective modern marketing team? Over the last couple years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with marketing leaders about designing their teams. Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way about what works and what doesn’t:  

Marketing organizations are unique snowflakes – It would be wonderful if there were templates and instructions for building the perfect marketing org. Just align your people like this, do x, y and z and viola! you have the ideal marketing organization. Conventional structures and operational best practices do exist, but typically off the shelf solutions have limitations and require organization-specific adaptation and interpretations. The best organizations learn and understand organization design basics, but also factor and customize to the unique needs their business.

Stay in shape – Building a top-tier marketing organization is like keeping fit. A clear plan still requires dedication to the ongoing operation and optimization of the team. Knowing what to do must be combined with a commitment to continuous improvement. The best teams do the ongoing work.

It’s complicated – Not only are organizations unique, but they can also be incredibly complex. Building and operating a capable team can be harrowing given movement in the market landscape, leadership changes and staff churn, shifting responsibilities, fluid budget allocations, regional operating requirements and untold millions of other potential variables. The best marketing organizations don’t look for overly simplistic answers to complex marketing organization challenges, but instead, realize sophisticated problems often require sophisticated solutions.  

An org chart isn’t the answer – Simply put, how you operate your marketing team is exponentially more important than how it’s structured. Our annual marketing organization survey (subscription required) highlights there is no dominant organizational model; marketers are successfully using a variety of structures. Don’t toss out the org chart altogether, make sure you have a stable, sensible, logical structure but avoid obsessing about your org charts attempting to unlock some secret formula that will solve all your marketing challenges. The best organizations focus more on how the overall project portfolio is prioritized, how resources and projects are managed with less obsessing about the org chart.  

Adopt ecosystem thinking – Marketing is an essential, but not inclusive, part of the broader organizational ecosystem. The highest performing marketing organizations recognize that simply working well with other groups is not enough; marketing is inextricably intertwined with the larger organization. Digital transformation and customer experience initiatives are perfect examples of work that may require significant marketing involvement but also include a vast spectrum of other groups within the business. The most successful marketing organizations don’t think or operate in a vacuum or grudgingly “collaborate” with other business entities, they openly embrace their organizational interdependence.  

Constantly calibrate – Running a modern marketing team well is not a set it and forget it proposition. The best teams are extremely active and continuously calibrating and recalibrating all they do from allocation of resources to assessing performance of campaigns. This mode of operating emulates the behavior of successful agencies or consulting firms who must pay extremely close attention to resource utilization and performance. Even when things are working well, the best marketing leaders are looking ahead, anticipating potential issues making adjustments and teaching their teams to do the same.

Kill your darlings – Part of calibration mentioned above is the willingness to stop specific behaviors or programs. So many marketers are constantly running at redline and yet rarely take the time to put it all on the table and determine what to continue and what to stop. Aggressive pruning of programs and activities can be an easy way to free up resources and assure a team is focused on what’s most important.

Don’t be a tool – Effective marketing teams actively leverage technology wherever possible, but recognize that tech is only part of the actual solution. Underutilized marketing technology is arguably a marketing epidemic. Marketers often buy a technology or tool to solve a problem and believe once the purchase is made the problem is solved.  The source of this problem is of course not at all about technology, it’s about people. The best marketing teams spend heavily in “organic capital” (humans) to complement their technology investments.

And without question the most essential factor…tune in – The best leaders, who build the best teams, are highly tuned to their team. They take the time to know each of their key team members, what they are good at, what their challenges are, where they want to go in their careers and what motivates them. They aren’t folksy for the sake of being folksy; they are genuinely motivated to help the members of their team succeed as individuals as well as collectively as a team. When teams see this, they work harder; they collaborate more, they are more honest in their feedback and commentary. Trust, respect and communication, the foundations of all healthy relationships, have the potential to take root.

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1 Comment

  • Great post Chris. Maybe the increasingly overused term “agile” sums it up. As you rightly state, marketing teams, structures and approaches are extremely fluid, whether us control freaks like it or not. From continuous improvement and breaking the mold of traditional org structures to dealing with constantly shifting priorities and complex, chaotic environments, we need to come to terms with the fact that we may never settle on the perfect team/structure for any extended period of time. That can be unsettling, and as marketers we will likely never overcome that nagging discomfort. Nor should we.