How to build the world's most functional marketing team in 4 easy steps
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Less talking, more listening. Fewer hashtags, more heart.
I thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime when a Fortune 500 company hired me to design a segmentation strategy for a new product line.
It was a legendary company — almost a hundred years old — and one of the most admired companies in its industry.
But something was fishy, almost from the very beginning. When I asked who I would be working with, I was given an organization chart that looked something like this:
Functional organization = dysfunctional marketing
Their marketing was split across at least five different silos, each reporting to a different VP.
The analytics people crunched sales numbers all day. Market research people tried to figure out what competitors were up to. A community relations rep managed social media accounts while a government relations guy schmoozed with politicians over oysters. Meanwhile, the salespeople were left to their own devices.
They didn’t talk to each other. They just did their own thing. It was as if a former CEO had decided that marketing was some kind of voodoo and had gone out of his way to slice it up so that the company would never, ever engage in it.
I rolled up my sleeves, but it wasn’t long before each silo’s little witch doctors crawled out of the woodwork.
“You can’t do that,” the analytics silo said, when we proposed a new tiered pricing structure.
Ditto, the market research people said, when we proposed a new promotional strategy.
“That doesn’t fit with our public relations plan,” the communications team said, when we outlined our market positioning strategy.
When we asked why not, each silo just shrugged its shoulders and said that’s just the way it is. Each felt that it had the full support of its own VP, who had the ear of the CEO, so there was no discussion, let alone compromise.
When we asked what rules or standards they were going by, they always said the same thing: it’s on a case-by-case basis. In other words, gut feeling. They were all flying by the seat of their pants.
After a few weeks, I filed my report, collected my fee and gave up. Not a bit of the strategy my team put together survived the crossfire.
I wish I could have told my client, and I wish they could have heard: you have the most functional marketing organization on the planet — silos galore, with hierarchies stacked on top of hierarchies.
But, strange as it may sound, your functional organization is actually dysfunctional.
Silos are for commodities, not people.
Without shared vision and cooperation, you just have turf battles and bruised egos.
But they were hardly alone. Around the same time, one of their competitors had its own internal politics on display in the most cringe-worthy way.
They launched a “User Experience” (UX) working group whose social media exchange with the parent company went something like this:
@CompanyUX: Hey, @Company, show us some love!
@Company: You are not an approved social media account, @CompanyUX. Please review Company social media policy and refrain from posting.
I imagine that their customers, their employees, their competitors, and pretty much anyone who saw that thought the same thing. Get your act together!
Fortunately, there’s an easy way out of the muddle.
You can have the world’s best marketing organization, with consistent strategy and messaging. You just have to do four things first.
1. Kick the lawyers out of the room.
Lawyers can be lovely people. They can design clever ways of protecting a business from its own worst instincts.
But the problem with lawyers is that they’re paid to say no. You can’t put naysayers in the same room as creative people and expect the creatives to stay creative. After being told “no” just once or twice, they will clam up and watch the clock.
My client put a lawyer in charge of all the relations teams — PR, government relations, investor relations — because they were deathly afraid of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.
But besides slowing everything to a crawl, the price they paid for all that super-sanitized messaging was a lack of authenticity. Their customers and their employees could sniff it out.
They were all hashtags, no heart.
2. Put sales back in the room.
Salespeople hate to be in the office when they could be out winning business. Too bad. Bring them in for a couple hours every couple weeks, then listen to them.
Marketing people want to talk about mythical personas. But salespeople want to talk about real people — customers and prospects. They want to tell stories about how they won and why they lost.
Their anecdotes need to drive the analytics.
3. Create a charter.
Your marketing team needs a charter that spells out exactly who will do what and what standards they will use. Majority rules, along with a brand style manual that goes beyond fonts and colors to talk about tone, tenor and voice.
You craft a charter using an “original position” analysis.
Drawing from the work of philosopher John Rawls, a team makes its rules behind a hypothetical “veil of ignorance” — not knowing what responsibilities, resources or tastes they will have once the veil is lifted and a real project starts.
That way, because they have cut self-interest out of the equation from the get-go, the team’s output will be harmonized even when consensus is elusive.
Facilitation is the most underrated skill in the business world today. It’s not taught in most B-schools probably because it doesn’t directly produce revenue.
Facilitation was pioneered in natural resource and community development settings as a way to build consensus for difficult projects that require shared sacrifices.
It’s more about guiding than controlling, and far more about listening than being heard.
Not everyone can be a good facilitator. It takes talent and practice. An agile scrum master can sometimes be a good facilitator, provided they can step outside the power structures of sprints and silos. You can’t hold a baton and a whip at the same time.
Other times, somebody completely outside the marketing organization can be the best choice.
A good facilitator does three things.
First, they elicit. They guide and pace discussion. They drill down and ask follow-up questions. They harvest insights.
Second, they defuse. They read the room. They control conflict. They confront aggression and they end the discussion when necessary.
Third, they distill. They document findings, and they identify avenues for further exploration.
They are referees, not dictators.
Putting it all together, you get facilitated marketing: streamlined collaboration among research, design, sales and communications.
Just a marketing team that works, and one that works together.