Good Time for Marketing (Re)Alignment

What’s Marketing Alignment?  Search Google for this phrase and you will find a lot of discussion on aligning Marketing with Sales, the old B2B chestnut.  I’m not going in that direction.

I’m talking about making sure all the Operational interfaces to the customer have Marketing input, that the messaging and interactions with customers reflect the Marketing Strategy.

Marketing Alignment is making sure Marketing as a discipline is always facilitating Demand Fulfillment across the entire enterprise.  If Management is looking for a “big idea” during these times of change, a new way to approach the business as opposed to simply cutting budgets, Marketing Alignment just might be the ticket.

This Marketing Alignment issue can be a particularly important for growth companies.  When you started out, it was all about the customer – when there was less than 10 of them.  Now that you have 1,000 or 100,000 customers, you have probably created processes, procedures, and goals that unintentionally create barriers to closing new customers and fostering repeat business.

Here’s the basic argument for the Marketing Alignment idea:

Marketing is primarily responsible for generating Demand, and Demand is typically measured by final Sales.  But what if there exist corporate impediments that keep Demand from turning into Sales?  This means Marketing is not being judged fairly on the job they are doing with Demand; there is Friction working against them.

I’m sure many Marketing folks are aware of the various glitches that occur in Sales, Service, or Operations that cause Demand not to materialize into final Sales.  But you’re not responsible for what happens in those areas, so you can’t do anything about this, right?

Here’s the Marketing Alignment deal with the CFO and COO:

Marketing will accept more Accountability for final Sales if it is given the Authority to influence final Sales through any Operational area.  Meaning, the manager of any process or contact that could be considered a Customer Touchpoint in Operations has to at least listen to the input of Marketing on how it could be improved, including a plan for measuring the impact of the improvement as part of the deal.

In other words, Marketing Alignment formally gives a role to Marketing in the Operations side of the business.  It’s about Optimizing the business to increase the Productivity of Marketing efforts.  And with all the talk about Customer Centricity and related ideas floating around out there, there certainly is a backdrop that makes sense for an initiative like this.  It’s a big idea.  Could be your big idea.

Why would Management want to do this Marketing Alignment thing? 

Simple.  Higher Sales throughput without raising Marketing Spend.

I survived in the Senior Marketing role during the turnover of 4 CEO’s at HSN largely because I used Marketing as a platform to help other silos accomplish their goals.  By doing this, I was able to:

1.  Create a continuous improvement process across the entire company that drove increased profitability for Marketing programs as well as the company overall

2.  Insulated Marketing from being singled out for budget and personnel cuts when times got tough.  This kind of Marketing work and end product is embedded in the core processes of the company.  As the Customer Experts (not just the Advertising pukes), we were in fact internal consultants to IT, Customer Service, and Operations, helping them optimize their Customer Touchpoints.

Ultimately, we did this not because we were benevolent, mind you.

We did it because we knew that some portion of the success of any Marketing program relied on the execution by these Operational players.  From initial response rate to net profitability of a program, these operational folks controlled the Customer Experience, and this Experience was crucial to maximizing Marketing success.

The best time to reach out and grab the Marketing Alignment ring is when companies are thinking about capital and expense re-allocation.  These relationships you form with other areas of the company during economic transitions can pave the way for increased stability and success in the future.

So, how do you go about pursuing this kind of effort?

It starts with Finance.  You have to establish a basis for these cross-functional initiatives, and that basis is increased Financial performance.  As part of this effort, you accept additional Accountability  as long as you also get increased Authority over anything that looks or smells like Marketing, no matter where it is.  Call center scripts.  VRU’s. Web site copy.  Packaging.  Anything that touches a customer.

This is a key deal component.  No Authority, no deal.

You’re thinking, I don’t have the skills to do this, what do I know about Operations?  Listen, can you differentiate between badly written copy and great copy?  That’s the only skill you need to optimize about 50% of the customer interface problems you will run into.  Do you understand the customer and have empathy for her?  That’s the only skill you need to solve the other 50% of the problems.  Seriously.

I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying you have the skills to do it.

Because many of these Demand Fulfillment issues are essentially about copy and presentation, about understanding the customer and then turning an interface or process created by an Operations person into something more customer friendly.  Just like Optimizing a web site.

Next, you need the right people.  Who are they?  Let’s say there’s a 10% across the board staffing reduction on the table.  Programs are being killed and people with them.  There are always very bright people who are on the table with these budget initiatives.

Reach out to Sales, IT, Customer Service, Operations and find out who the brightest stars are that might be let go in those areas.  How would they like to bring their functional knowledge and skills to Marketing, to become part of the Marketing Alignment team?

Then get busy cleaning your own stall first.  Here’s an action plan.

Need cases for Management?  Large company: The Check Shredding Example, Listen UpNice to New Customers (surprise ending).  Small company: New Customer Kits and Managing Customer Experience.

All of these cases include the financial impact to the company.  Yes, the financial impact of these kinds of efforts can be measured.  Analysts, perhaps you should talk to the Marketing folks about this idea?

If you’re a web analyst, you already know how to do this: Goal, Action, Metric, Test, Repeat.  Playing the same game with much bigger toys!


2 thoughts on “Good Time for Marketing (Re)Alignment

  1. Jim,
    It’s a great vision, but I’m not sure it will happen overly soon… that’s reinventing the corporate world as we know it. A great direction, but can be a little challenging to implement.

    For a first step that has maximal effect, aligning marketing with the number of leads sales receives (from any source) is a good plan. Keeping them focused on prospective customers while providing them with credit for any part of the experience that drives inbound interest from prospects and customers begins to shift their overall focus to the customer and prospect experience. This, as you’ve written, should be the key goal of marketing.

  2. Steven –

    I don’t think you have to reinvent the corporate world, but you do need a sponsor to get these projects going. Typically, wherever the power sits for Operations (IT, Steering Committee, etc.)

    Start with simple goal – reduce inbound calls / e-mails by 100,000 which will save $6 x 100,000 = $600,000 (or whatever it is for your company)

    Ask if anybody on Ops Steering Committe is interested in saving $600K.

    Hopefully, the answer is yes.

    Get permission to steal 2 hours of time from Director-level functional representative to Business SWAT team once a week.

    Start with list of most popular reasons people call / e-mail and ask, is there anything we can do to reduce or eliminate this reason for calling?

    Very simple to understand and it works. Project builds credibility for supporting ongoing Business SWAT team.

    Now, if you can’t find a sponsor interested in reducing costs while improving customer experience, yeah, it will be a problem…

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