Agile Marketing Teams Should be Organized Around the Customer

As digital marketing channels have proliferated over the years, marketers have become ever more specialized. We’ve been encouraged to pick our lane and stay there, because no two functions are the same.

Email isn’t like social, which isn’t like content or automation.

The skills you need to optimize for organic search aren’t the same ones you need to create high performing videos.

My digital advertising chops don’t automatically mean I can design a landing page.

The list goes on and on.

This trend is cool in a lot of ways, because it’s welcomed people with a wide variety of capabilities into the marketing profession. It’s made us more self sufficient and allowed us to become true experts in our functions.

Unfortunately it’s also created internal silos, disjointed customer experiences, and stunted marketing careers.

In place of all that, I propose that we center our marketing departments around the people we’re supposed to be working for: the customers.

It’s the Agile thing to do, and it’s going to solve a lot of our problems in the process.

Functional Silo Fails

In a channel-centric world there’s little incentive to collaborate. This means there’s also little opportunity to make sure we’re sharing resources or reusing content.

In the most extreme cases teams will end up doing essentially the same work because they had no idea that another group had already done it.

B2B organizations, for instance, lose $958 million dollars every year creating content that goes to waste according to Gleanster and Kapost.

We can also make that classic (but entirely avoidable) blunder where multiple groups bombard customers with messages because they didn’t coordinate with one another.

Or, also common and avoidable, different functional groups promote contradictory offers on their respective channels, confusing the heck out of customers.

Think like a customer for a minute: you don’t care if you’re opening an email, seeing a social media update, or reading content on the website. All you care about is whether the information is valuable and the experience is enjoyable.

That’s the goal we as marketers should be organized around.

Crossfunctional Teams FTW

So what’s the alternative to our good old functional groups? Crossfunctional teams.

Put simply, a crossfunctional team contains a wide variety of skills. Ideally the team has all the capabilities it needs to complete its work, so there’s no need to depend on other groups.

Marketing teams may not fully live up to that ideal, but we can create teams that are focused on delivering value to a particular kind of customer. Doing so not only speeds up our delivery by removing the need for handoffs between teams, it also:

  • Allows teams to say no to work that isn’t adding value for their customer.
  • Expand their skill sets and grow professionally
  • Get empathy for how hard their colleagues work
  • Deliver real marketing ROI, not just check off channel-centric boxes

Let’s talk about each of those one by one.

Customer-Focused Agile Marketing Teams Can Say No

I’ve written about this before, but data shows us that marketers as a group are not empowered to turn down work requests, even if they don’t align to goals and priorities.

Marketing goals alone may not be strong enough to repel non-value adding demands, but when we do things in the name of the customer it should (hopefully) carry more weight.

So let’s say I’m a content creator on the top of funnel team. We generate demand, build an addressable audience, and generally get people interested in our products who didn’t know about them before.

Now when people swoop in and ask for my help on different kinds of content, I have a simple filter I can apply to that request: does it serve my audience?

If it does, maybe my team will put it in the backlog to be prioritized against other work (more on how that works is here). If not, now I have a simple, straightforward, respectful way to decline the request.

“I Had No Idea People Did So Much”

When marketers sit on functional teams, we often adopt an “us versus them” attitude. You hear things like:

“Content is always on top of things; design is slowing us down.”

“Our emails never go out on time because the martech team is always backed up.”

But when people join crossfunctional Agile marketing teams one of the first discoveries they make is that their colleagues work their butts off.

They see the daily evidence of hard work and strong skills, and they gain empathy for colleagues who were once seen as the slacker bottlenecks.

team bottleneck

We can then go from us versus them to a real focus on team success.

Crossfunctional Agile Marketing Teams Grow Their Skills

Having discovered that their coworkers are hard workers just trying to stay on top of multiple demands and not deliberately lazy, the path is cleared for marketers to start sitting with those coworkers and learning about what they do.

Sometimes this happens during a formal “pairing” session, a term borrowed from Extreme Programming in which two people share a keyboard and do work together.

Other times it happens accidentally, as members of a crossfunctional team gain insight into how other functions work and get interested in learning about them.

In both cases the upskilling benefits the team, because it removes dependency on one person to perform a particular function.

It also helps the marketers’ own career development, because marketing leadership needs a holistic view of the marketing function, not just expertise in one of its components.

Ways to Organize Around the Customer

“Organize around the customer” can sound nice in theory, but what does it really look like? We’ve seen Agile marketing teams achieve this goal in a few different ways:

  1. Stages of the customer journey: This could be based on a typical buying cycle (awareness, consideration, purchase, retention), a marketing funnel (top, middle, bottom), or your own individually tailored journey stages. Depending on the size of your department and the number of stages you’re working with, you might end up with multiple teams serving one stage, or one team serving multiple stages.
  2. Personas: If you’re marketing to several distinct groups of people with their own buying habits, marketing channel preferences, etc. then it might make sense to have Agile marketing teams focus on personas. This lets teams become experts in their chosen group and deliver extraordinarily tailored experiences for them.
  3. Brands or business units: This one works best if the brands/business units have distinct audiences, different buying cycles, or are otherwise distinct in how their marketing would look. This one is last on the list because it’s easy for these kinds of teams to fall back into self-serving approaches that are about the brand and not the customer, but I have seen this kind of configuration work when it’s approached carefully.

agile marketing funnel teams

Above is one illustration of how four teams serving different parts of the marketing funnel might join together to collaborate.

It Matters What Agile Marketing Teams Measure

As you start to reorganize teams, people, and maybe even reporting structures, it’s important to also consider how you’re measuring results.

If teams are trying to focus on delivering value to customers but marketing leaders still have to report on channel performance, you’re setting yourself up for conflicting priorities.

This kind of disconnect leads to channel leads and/or marketing leadership swooping in and demanding that a team focus on an underperforming channel even if it’s not part of the team’s core goal. Then we end up sending emails just for the sake of increasing an open rate, not in the name of better customer experience.

Keep in mind that this may be a longer game, and there may be time when you’ve rearranged teams but haven’t yet gotten buy in for changing the measurement approach.

During that in-between time focus on productivity improvements, team morale, customer satisfaction, and any other metrics you can get your hands on that prove that agility is working. This proof will make the eventual switch over to team- or customer-focused reporting easier to achieve.

Are People Really Doing This?

The short answer is yes. We’ve helped many of our clients create teams focused on customer journeys and stages of the funnel, and they’ve found it to be a powerful evolution of their marketing work.

That’s not to say this is the new normal just yet.

The most recent CMO survey reports that only 28% of marketing teams are organized around the customer, a number that’s stayed flat since the question was introduced in 2013. Most of us are still making it all about us.

all about me

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