In the 4 years that I am working for Exact the size and structure of the marketing team changed quite often. Changing circumstances but also new insights and experiences made me adjust the structure each and every year. When I joined Exact the marketing team was about 20 professionals. Today the team has been doubled in it’s size and by the end of next year about 50 marketing professionals will be working in the team globally. With a team becoming bigger and bigger the ability to adopt changes quickly will further decrease. Where at the same time we try to be as flexible as possible because circumstances are changing fast. And that’s the challenge, how to become an agile team that is able regardless of its size, to adopt changing market circumstances rapidly. So where did we came from and why did we change the structure of the marketing team again for 2016?
The 80/20 rule is applied which on itself within marketing is quite a contradiction if you think about where we stand for.
Back in the summer of 2012 the board decided to create two business units focussing on specific go-to-market models. In that period Cloud Solutions was formed, an internal business unit name, focussing solely on the product Exact Online and it’s specific delivery model software-as-a-service (saas). A specific model that requires a specific approach in terms of organization, planning and execution. So in 2013 I had to make some first changes in the marketing team. Besides the fact that we were able to focus on Exact Online only we also had to transform from a Benelux oriented team to an International team. Expanding into new countries was one of the key objectives. The nature of our business model, subscription based against fairly low monthly rates for smaller businesses, makes it high volume. Thats the reason why in 2013 we implemented the Central for Local strategy with regards to the marketing organization.Although it is B2B it very much has the characteristics of a B2C market. Smaller companies in the countries we are currently operating in you are talking about an audience of hundreds of million companies as an addressable market. So doing things in a smart scaleable way is always something we have to keep in mind. That’s the reason why in 2013 we implemented the Central for Local strategy with regards to the marketing organization. Central teams creating stuff based on the needs of the countries with the ability to scale and execute in multiple countries without the necessity to have big marketing teams within the countries itself.
The 80/20 rule is applied which on itself within marketing is quite a contradiction if you think about where we stand for. Marketing is about being utmost relevant for your audience in a certain context. Applying 80/20 rules sounds like being less specific towards your audiences. If we would have had unlimited resources we probably wouldn’t be forced to apply such a method but we have to. Also, during extensive exercises with the marketing managers within the countries we found out that the business pains and needs of for instance wholesalers in Germany, Belgium or the UK are more or less the same. Especially talking about smaller companies up to 20 employees. So that on itself made it more likely for us to succeed with applying the 80/20 model. The main reason why we started to implement the Central for Local model in 2013. Having Central Marketing teams and Field Marketing teams.
The chart above shows the marketing organization as of 2013. Slight adjustments that resulted in this final picture. Basically, the Central teams together with Field Marketing managers responsible for creating Demand Generation campaigns to generate marketing qualified and sales qualified leads for the different target audiences we have. All of this is described per target audience in a so-called marketing Playbook. Field Marketing being responsible to build reach within the different target audiences and drive traffic towards the marketing Playbooks (assets). As soon as a contact starts to click on one of the assets e.g. an online display banner the Demand Generation engine starts to work and nurture. Responsibilities are as follows:
- Central Marketing Automation: technical infrastructure for websites, databases and tools required to automate demand generation process
- Central Content Creation: creating (master) assets required within the demand generation campaigns e.g. videos, animations, infographics, white papers, online display banners
- Central Program Management: once Automation and Content Creation delivered the master asset, program management is responsible for the production and deployment of it within all other countries
- Central Demand Generation: management of the online media channel for all countries (SEA and display)
With this structure, we maintain one common way of practicing marketing within all countries in all its detail. So definitions about leads but also the way we track and monitor performance in all countries are exactly the same. Very little room for different interpretations with having such governance across all the countries.
As already mentioned the marketing Playbooks form the centerpiece of our marketing strategy and tactics. Target audience specific describing all that is required to build reach and convert into MQLs and SQLs with all assets included which are required to do so. Should deliver each and every country 80% of the Demand Generation engine to drive the sales pipeline so Field Marketing can truly focus on building reach and driving traffic across multiple media channels.
Over the last couple of years, we further optimized our definition of the customer buying journey. The model above shows the latest version. On the left side, the target audiences the Field Marketing managers are aiming for within the countries through a variety of media channels. On the right hand the Demand Generation engine itself that consists of contact strategies, (retargeting) flows and content that is fueled by the traffic generated by Field Marketing managers in the countries. A high-level picture with great granularity underneath it with lots of complexity in it.
Agile marketing department
With the teams growing, as well on the Central side as in the Field, and new countries being added we found out that keeping the pace with the changing business needs and market circumstances becomes a whole new challenge. Once we started in 2014 with the creation, production, and deployment of the marketing Playbooks the teams were of such a size that quick alignment on the work floor itself were easy to do. Now with teams that are growing acting in a flexible way becomes much more difficult. We had to find ways how to become agiler as a team and align in a better way with the business needs and country KPIs.Here the risk emerges that teams start to work misaligned from each other resulting in unexpected outcomes. One of the main insights we got in 2015 once it is about team spirit and collaboration is dynamics around shared responsibilities. Once the Content Creation team was ready with an asset, e.g. a whitepaper, this was handed over to Marketing Automation who were expected to include it in automated (nurture) flows. Program Management was expected to translate and deploy in all other countries and Field Marketing was expected to drive traffic for that specific whitepaper across multiple media channels.
Some simple sentences but on itself a pretty complex playing field in terms of creation and execution. Teams were responsible for a piece of the chain in the process of creation, production, deployment and execution. One single piece of unclarity at the start could result in something completely unexpected at the end. A piece of content on itself is nothing. It should always be part of an (automated) contact strategy flow in multiple countries driven by traffic that was pulled into it. With the existing set-up, we found out that over all these countries, all these target audiences it became way to complex to oversee and control. Also in terms of resources, budgets and capacity, for the teams, it was very difficult to track and monitor resulting in a resource overload. Prioritization but also understanding the impact when shifting with these Lots of energy and activities but with a high risk of things not getting finished. We had to find ways how to become agiler as a team and align in a better way with the business needs and country KPIs.
Organizing along the customer lifecycle
Many discussions and sessions we ran with the marketing teams to get programs and projects right for 2016 but especially the question how to organize the teams was a big one. This one for myself took a long time to consider and how to solve. But the end result I think is logic and on itself a nice challenge for next year. Inevitable if we want to keep up the pace in our strive to become a global leader in our space. The main drivers for adjustment of the team structure are as follows:
- better balance short-term KPIs with mid term strategy within countries and central teams
- ability to have better insights and capabilities to re-prioritize and re-allocate budget and capacity
- embed shared responsibility and joined ownership of programs, projects and KPIs
- create multi-disciplinary teams and provide them with end-to-end responsibility along the customer lifecyle
Looking to Exact’s definition of the customer lifecycle, for marketing we identified four stages where Central marketing can create strategies and programs to support the business within the countries:
- Acquisition top-of-the-funnel (what we call Product Awareness within Exact for generating MQLs)
- Acquisition bottom-of-the-funnel (what we call Leadgen within Exact for generating SQLs)
- Activation (onboarding new customers and get them activated on the Exact Online platform)
- Endorsement (create happy customers and ambassadors that recommend us to their relations)
Operations within the countries and the KPIs that we track and monitor are also defined along these customer lifecycle phases. In order to map these KPIs and responsibilities from within the countries up to the Central team we came up with the following team structure:
In the new model, leaders will be appointed to own a specific part of the customer lifecycle coming from a marketing perspective. Basically, they have the mandate, budget and capacity, to do whatever that is required to accomplish the goals across all countries and target audiences for their specific part. In order to do so these leaders need multi-disciplinary teams with mixed competences and expertise. Goals and KPIs are simply mapped from countries to Central and the structure of the customer lifecycle itself assured that the marketing strategy remains intact. This is very much about having a good balance between Product Awareness and Leadgen activities and trying to be utmost relevant in the right context at every single touch point.
As a team, we determined the programs and projects for 2016 for each and every phase and thus leader. Also, we defined resource allocation along sales channels (direct versus indirect) and the customer lifecycle phases. So where should we spend our money and effort on. Which means we have a clear starting point in terms of budget and capacity for reach and every part in the model shown above. The manager Leadgen (bottom-of-the-funnel) knows exactly the guidance once it is about budget and capacity. The marketing MT consist of all leaders and people managers and in a weekly marketing operations meeting, we discuss how actual budget and capacity numbers are tracking against the guidance. Here we decide if we need to shift in priorities but at the same time as a team, we can agree to the impact of making such an adjustment. In this way, we can better manage expectations about the things that we will deliver.
By implementing this structure, we give marketing professionals to develop themselves in a much more broader way. If I look to the youngsters that are joining our teams most of them have multiple capabilities. Off course focus on a specific area like online marketing but at the same time, they also have capabilities in design, copywriting and social domains. Which is I think a requirement today to survive in the dynamic profession of marketing. Today you need to have an understanding from the beginning to the end e.g. developing a peace of content you already need to take into account via which media channels you start to build reach. If I look to the youngsters that are joining our teams most of them have multiple capabilities.And knowing for instance that this will be via Google display networks you also need to understand the technical capabilities of such a network with rich media banners and/or dynamic interactive banners. Taking this into account right from the start makes the content better applicable and much more effective. At the same time the practicing marketing within this structure makes it attractive for individuals having the ability to develop themselves in different areas that matter. For that reason, we created so-called ‘skillset maps’ which is a great starting point to talk about ambitions and training required to reach certain knowledge and expertise levels.
I am looking forward in the execution of this new structure and in the course of next year will be able to share some experiences with you. Very interested to hear from others which phases they are going through once building marketing organizations like us. To me, this move is in line with my belief which is that the product = marketing = the experience. Becomes more and more an agile development process in order to improve the user experience continuously.