Successful marketing teams require a broad set of characteristics that make the function unlike any other in an organization. These teams require a unique blend of skill sets that span multiple dimensions, including:
- Long-term strategic thinking coupled with superior execution skills for the here-and-now
- Creativity coupled with detail-oriented quantitative skills - sometimes referred to as left- and right-brained thinking
- Financial acumen
- Technical sophistication
- The ability to make and justify changes in direction while staying true to the overarching strategy and objectives
- Great project management
- An appreciation for other functions: sales (especially sales), finance, IT, product, at least, and maybe others like hardcore research, depending on its industry focus
- More so than most functions, marketers must be able to source and negotiate deals with high quality consultants and contractors, and then partner with those same outsourced service providers to deliver brilliant marketing results
I’m sure you could extend this list based on your experiences. The point is, it’s a lot, and the required skills are diverse. If you work in a big company, you might have many individuals who neatly address those needs. If you work in a smaller company, you may need to hire people who can wear multiple hats.
The culture of your marketing team depends on a few things: the marketing leaders, the broader company culture, the team-members, and the external market environment. While you might argue that the characteristics we outline below would apply to a successful team in any function, and it’s true that many of them are transferable, we believe this is the combination most relevant to the marketing function. We introduce the key elements of a successful culture, and offer a self-assessment at the end of the blog.
1. Goal driven planning
You may have noticed this is something we believe in at Plannuh ;) If you don’t set goals, then any outcome is justifiable. If you only measure what’s easy to measure you prioritize the wrong things. Successful teams identify their topline objectives and identify the measures that objectively prove whether those goals have been attained or not. Importantly, those teams embrace the data if they don’t achieve their goals - but more on that below.
Culturally, transparency is as important as anything. Blame culture (“Who screwed this up?”, “Who did this?”, “Who’s responsible for this over-run?”) drives opacity - it’s the opposite of a transparent culture. In a blame culture, avoiding taking the heat for issues becomes more important than raising and resolving issues before they become problems. A lack of transparency invites office politics, where perception matters more than facts. As the cliche goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and transparent team cultures are more harmonious and effective.
What does transparency mean though? It means sharing data with everyone, with no sugar coating. Share the goals. Share the strategy. Share the tactics. Share the progress. Share the results, the lessons learned and the next steps.
Transparent teams make hard decisions as needed and explain why they needed to be made. Transparent teams invite debate, embrace the intellect of the entire team, and explain when, how and why they’ve made the decisions they’ve made. Transparent cultures are fantastic, but they can be difficult to sustain unless the whole team embraces the concept and commits to it. Everyone has to be comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes: when they need help, when their results suck, when they don’t know what to do. If they’re working well, they engender fantastic teamwork, superior alignment, and incredible trust.
3. A data-driven approach to decision making
There are few disciplines as data-poor as marketing. There’s an ocean of certain types of data, typically digital traffic data, but ask the next marketer, marketing director, VP of Marketing or CMO how their marketing investments stack up against industry peers and you will not likely get a satisfying answer. Is our marketing budget right-sized for our kind of company and strategy? Are we investing in the right goals? Are we investing enough? Are we setting the right goals? Are we setting challenging but realistic targets? Almost no-one knows the answers to these questions because until Plannuh, no-one has made the data available in the same platform that houses your budgets and plans. Once you can benchmark yourself against companies like you, you are in a position to make better decisions, more quickly, with greater confidence. Once you know whether your marketing plan, budget, strategy, tactics and results are normal or outliers, you are in a better position to make adjustments with confidence.
If you don’t have access to benchmarking data - or choose not to avail yourself of it in Plannuh - then you are operating in something of a vacuum. In that scenario, you should seek out opportunities to get peer-review of your plan, strategy, and outcomes. Seek out industry peers whose opinion you respect and get their feedback. Of course you should offer to reciprocate for your peers - besides being the right thing to do this will expose you to more data from people you respect, and help you make better decisions in the future.
Finally, you should ensure that you are able to capture numbers from your plan and budget in a way that enables quantitative analysis. Are you accurately capturing 100% of the expenses that go into key campaigns? Are you accurately aligning that spending data against your campaign metrics so you can understand your complete campaign ROI? If not, seek technology platforms that can help you organize and track your data to provide these insights.
4. Role clarity
This seems obvious, but it is an insidious cultural issue. When a team starts out, everyone has a clear role definition and set of responsibilities - at least, they should. As the team evolves, the company grows, and the world changes, roles change in unspoken ways. There is scope creep. Specific talents emerge that encourage the company to concentrate certain tasks on individuals. Team members’ ambitions drive them to seek broader, or different, roles. Before you know it, people are not working on the things they were hired to do, or they’re not working on the things the company really needs them to do. It may seem important, it may be important, but if there is not role clarity, the team cannot be successful.
From the manager to the individual contributor, it is everybody’s responsibility to maximize role clarity. If you know your role, your priorities, your success metrics, your likelihood of success is much higher. If you know the same information for your team-members, and they know yours, then you are much more likely to be operating in a high-performing team.
5. Mutual support and accountability
Teams that support each other consistently achieve better outcomes, and are happier. Mutual support entails mutual accountability. When teams feel as if any individual’s win is everyone’s win, and any individual’s struggle is everyone’s struggle, they perform better. This behavior flourishes in teams that have transparency and alignment, high role clarity, and high trust.
6. Clear set of rules and tools
Marketing needs to operate at higher and higher velocity. Many marketing channels and vehicles are optimized for speed - like social media and digital marketing. Some...just aren’t, like trade shows. However, as competition between companies ramps up and margins for differentiation become tighter, technology can become a competitive advantage.
Marketing organizations need to identify, implement and fully utilize their technology stacks to support their efforts. Since companies have their own policies, rules and idiosyncrasies, it’s critical that the technology stack supports the operating norms of the company, including planning, reporting, accounting, and security best practices.
7. High focus on internal stakeholders and partners
If all of the cultural tenets above are going great in your team, you may still be missing one of the most important cultural markers of a successful marketing organization: engagement with the key stakeholders outside the marketing organization, At a minimum, this will include: sales, finance, IT, and product.
Depending on your role, your partner in the other functions will vary. For example, The CMO must be tightly engaged with the CEO, CSO and CFO. A marketing manager, or individual contributor may need to be engaged with supporting an individual sales person, an FP&A (financial planning and accounting) counterpart in finance, or an IT manager who is responsible for integrating a new technology into the corporate infrastructure.
Successful marketing teams embrace relationships outside of marketing and ensure they stay healthy, communicative and mutually accountable. If the marketing organization isolates itself culturally, then it is far less likely to be successful. Even if it is successful, it is less likely to have its results understood and acknowledged.
Dan Faulkner is the CTO of Plannuh. Dan has degrees in speech and language processing and marketing. He got his marketing degree after running research for text-to-speech synthesis research at SpeechWorks (now Nuance) and must have been looking for something easy to do. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.