Marketing team structures that served your needs even ten years ago simply don’t work today.
Every day, we speak with marketing leaders who struggle to organize their teams to deliver work that must be faster, more digital, more global, more automated, and yet more personal.
Companies that used to rely on outbound sales are reorienting toward inbound marketing, attracting prospects through content and social media instead. And while marketers have never had more data and tools at their disposal, they’ve also never had more challenges finding the time and expertise to manage the resources it takes to deliver what customer want today.
While every marketing org chart is unique, marketing leaders share common approaches to structuring their teams for success. We asked Kirby Wadsworth, CMO of Illusive Networks and a respected 30-year marketing veteran, for his advice.
From Division to Squad
Back in the days when marketing automation required custom coding and campaigns that were elaborate projects, Kirby Wadsworth was leading a marketing team of 60 people. Agile methodologies and tech simplicity changed all that.
Reflecting on the size of the marketing team now, he laughs.
“I don’t know what we all did back then,” he says.
In his current role as CMO at Illusive, Kirby has only three full-time employees serving the entire marketing function.
Granted, Illusive hires agencies and freelancers to execute work like website design and development, copywriting, graphic design, and project management. And Illusive, an early-stage provider of cybersecurity software, is beginning to grow its marketing team.
Still, Kirby sees the two roles as a reflection on how drastically marketing efforts—and the staff needed to execute them—have changed over the past decade.
“I have an incredible stack of technology at my disposal to do virtually anything,” he says. “I’m not suggesting you want to do this by yourself, and I don’t. But we’re capable and able to do it with a very tight team because of fail-fast thinking and advances in technology.”
The 3 Pillars of Every Marketing Team
As marketing grows in complexity, so does the number of functions the team performs. As a whole, the marketing team oversees messaging, content creation and distribution, design, social media management, events, public relations, SEO, advertising, customer upsells and renewals, system operations, analytics, and more.
As a marketing leader, you could devise an infinite number of team structures. Some companies take a flat approach, with each function reporting directly to a CMO, while others centralize functions according to buyer’s journey stages, customer segments, geography, or otherwise.
With so many approaches, how can marketing leaders trust which is right?
Rather than prescribing a specific reporting structure, Kirby advocates for organizing around three central pillars. Having too much division in roles, he says, can impede teamwork and lead to conflicting goals and strategies.
Whether the staff consists of 4 people or 40, Kirby says all marketing functions fall under these three categories.
You might refer to this team as product marketing, branding, corporate marketing, or something else entirely. Regardless, Kirby says, every marketing organization needs a segment of the team focused on identifying the target customer and the messages that will resonate with them. “It’s figuring out the audience (who), and the story (why),” he says.
Those target customers? A dedicated team needs to find them and start the conversation that eventually turns a prospect into a buyer. This engagement-focused marketing function is often called marketing communications, demand generation, or lead generation, consisting of functions like content marketing, email marketing, SEO, and advertising. “It’s everything from creating content to getting it online to physical interaction, whether it’s mail or events,” Kirby says. “It’s the when and how, the execution of the message.”
Every marketing team needs an operations element to ensure the systems and processes needed to execute the message actually work. The team might include process and data experts who oversee what Kirby calls “the plumbing,” or building out the virtual sales pipelines required to intake and manage the lifecycle of leads. This team focuses on what happened, the efficiency and effectiveness of the strategy and execution.
The three-pillar structure creates a model in which marketing teams serve one another, Kirby says. For example, the engagement team might decide it needs a white paper as the core deliverable for new campaign, the product marketing team provides content and direction, and the marketing operations team sets up landing pages and outbound emails to disseminate the content and reports on results.
Marketing as Micro-Services
A defined yet agile marketing team structure ensures that the customer's needs are met as they continue to evolve. It also asks employees to perform what Kirby calls “micro-services,” a diverse yet complementary set of tasks, rather than focusing on a single area of expertise.
For example, some teams may no longer need a designated public relations staff member now that any company can publish its own content online. Instead, one employee with strong writing skills might oversee press releases and also be responsible for micro-services used by other teams like writing blog posts, engaging with industry influencers, and monitoring social media conversations.
The micro-service model also creates flexibility to outsource projects to agencies and contractors when the need arises for their time and expertise. With a combination of in-house and outsourced resources, the marketing team becomes a more cost-effective workforce that can quickly adapt to change.
“It’s about creating an amorphous team where people aren’t in boxes, but they aren’t tripping over each other, either,” Kirby says. “You’ve got the ability to quickly determine who is going to do what today or this hour or on this project.”
Leading a Modern Marketing Team
Separate any group of people into smaller groups, and friction between them is almost inevitable. The key to collaboration, Kirby says, is unifying the marketing team around marketing’s primary goal: driving profitable revenue.
In a previous organization Kirby led, a weekly report about the number of sales opportunities generated helped the team see past individual projects toward the big picture.
“You have to ensure your entire organization is service-oriented and focused on the customer— for marketing, the primary customer is the sales organization,” Kirby says. “Revenue takes priority.”
Marketing leaders can lose sight of that goal as they scramble to keep up with changing demands, software, and staffing needs. But as much as marketing has changed, Kirby argues that its purpose remains the same: starting a conversation that sales can convert to revenue.
“It’s always been about telling the right story to the right person at the right time,” he says. “In the end, marketing and sales have to work together to both earn the attention of prospects and keep it.”