Aligning marketing activity with business strategy
This post was originally written on my old blog, and has been recently updated for 2018. Whilst it may be a couple of years old; content like this is truly evergreen and the debate about marketing’s alignment in a business never goes out of fashion!
How many of us have worked in organisations where the activity of the marketing department is more tactical than strategic, and where marketing activity is not fully aligned with the corporate strategy?
If you’ve experienced this, it can be because of many reasons – and many out of one’s control. Some of the reasons I’ve encountered are:
- lack of understanding about what marketing actually is; (read about common marketing misconceptions)
- lack of marketing presence at board level, and;
- corporate strategy is not communicated properly (or sometimes, it simply doesn’t exist!)
For me, marketing should be woven into the very fabric of a business; with senior representation on the board and cross-functional involvement in product development, operations, customer service, sales, and brand development. The difficulty is; how do marketers strengthen these ties across departments to achieve wider strategic goals?
Marketers may have gotten into the bad habit of not integrating with other functions; perhaps as an attempt to distinguish our work as ‘creative’ or ‘unique’. But this approach often backfires and creates a wedge between marketing and other departments. Marketing should really be an integral part of a close cross-functional team – not a separate ‘silo’.
Business strategy should be all about shared goals and shared values. As marketers, aligning marketing and business strategy should be our number one priority. Read any text book on marketing, and it is, by definition – strategic. Marketing should therefore be integral to any strategic planning initiatives that take place, to ensure it’s working across the company to shape (and even lead) strategic direction and be in sync with other departments.
If we continue to operate separately, this will create friction and re-enforce the common misconception that marketers lack credibility when it comes to generating quantifiable business/financial growth – ever heard the term ‘fluffy’ and marketing used in the same sentence?!
So how can we ensure that marketing is aligned with the business’ objectives?
1) Flex your internal comms pecs!
To start off, you’ll need to be practising your internal communications skills, including persuasion and negotiation. Get on board with other departments and collaborate with them to develop a shared understanding of each other’s goals, targets, motivations, and passions.
If you’re a marketing manager, you’ll need to develop a high profile within the organisation. Get involved in corporate initiatives. Be seen. Be credible. Show an interest in ‘non-marketing’ activities to understand what other teams do.
Communicate regularly with the team. This can include regular e-newsletters, printed newsletters, campaign updates, breakfast briefings and Q&A sessions – all of which will help to boost the brand message and the profile of marketing in the organisation. This way, everyone will be singing from the same hymn sheet!
2) Sales and Marketing Harmony (Don’t let the tail wag the dog!)
An essential part of being more strategic is getting close to the sales team. Understand their goals and targets. What does success look like for them? How can we achieve it together?
The problem that often happens, and I have experienced this so many times, is that sales and marketing’s objectives and expectations are completely misaligned. I may be generalising a little here – but Sales teams are KPI and target driven (short-term focused), and Marketing teams are focused on long-term brand awareness. Many a time, a sales team has only engaged with me at the implementation phase (“What, we’re starting a new campaign? There’s a new product launch?!” marketing cries) – without any research, planning or strategic input from marketing. If marketing is included earlier in the strategic process, better results will be achieved.
Presentations and feedback sessions help, along with regular meetings with the sales team and other departments. Attend commercial meetings and plan marketing activity around the commercial goals of the business. Understand sales cycles and distribution channels. This way, better ROI can be achieved all round, short-term targets can be better met, and will be enhanced by marketing communications such as PR and brand awareness that raises the profile of the business in the long-term.
Finally, Use a great CRM system, such as Hubspot, which enables you to improve sales and marketing alignment, for better, more effective campaigns, lead generation, business development and customer service.
3) Get close to the Finance team
Generate a good relationship with the FD to understand financial targets, profitability, forecasts and budgets. This will enhance your understanding of the organisation’s strategic and financial goals.
4) Create better reporting
Measure and analyse marketing results and present these to the wider team. Encourage feedback and discussion. Be more transparent about objectives and KPIs to gain the support of other departments.
5) Don’t use too much jargon!
It’s vital that you learn to speak the same language as other departments. Marketers are often energetic creatures and over-enthusiastic when it comes to using marketing terminology. This can alienate colleagues and create tension…..so please marketers, do yourselves a favour – and keep it simple.