What kind of B2B marketing leader do you want to be?

19th March 2017

A large part of the responsibility of being a marketing leader is creating the right marketing culture and environment within the organisation as well as building the teams within that environment. This environment invariably has its foundation in the configuration of the marketing organisation, which gives us structure for what our marketing teams do, how they do it and how we manage and lead those teams.

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Yet for many of us in B2B, a continual restructuring of marketing has become the norm. We’ve been structured by industry, by product line, and by capability; we’ve been structured by channels, by customer segments, by funnel focus and as discrete service providers. We’ve been centralised, decentralised and, all too often, outsourced.

There is no one ‘right’ structure for a marketing function or team, and many organisations have a hybrid marketing structure; moreover, these structures are highly dependent upon the type and size of the company and the competitive environment.  Yet I’ve found that the most successful ones are aligned with how the business goes to market. This may sound obvious, yet I’m continually surprised at how often marketing is not aligned to the business, often physically situated in tactical silos and located with other marketers or operations people, instead of the salespeople or the part of the business for which they have responsibility.

In one of my previous companies, we had a significant marketing restructure every three to four years, coinciding with a complete change in our marketing leadership team. This happens regularly within an awful lot of our companies and only serves to underscore the fact that our business leaders are not happy with what marketing is delivering. These restructures are always preceded by months of speculation and rumour about what is going to happen, a subsequent flight of talent during this time of ambiguity, usually followed by cost-cutting, redundancies and a further exodus of the best marketers who are left.

None of this is a good kind of disruption; it creates on-going uncertainty and confusion, which leads to a loss of productivity, not to mention low morale and job dissatisfaction. In the process, we’ve lost more knowledge, capability and talent than we’ve gained, and instead of streamlining the marketing function or making it more effective, it’s only served to perpetuate the mediocrity which remains inherent in the majority of marketing functions. We merely replace one ineffective structure with another.

Yet the structure is rarely the issue.

Leading with clarity

Whether we are marketing leaders within large or small organizations, or we are leaders of teams or projects, one of the most important attributes of leadership is to provide clarity – clarity of vision, clarity of purpose, clarity of plan, and clarity of responsibility. The marketing teams that are most effective know where they are going, why they are going there, how they’re going to get there and who is responsible. They are focused, inspired, committed, collaborative and productive. They don’t waste time and they don’t complain or blame. They just get on with it and deliver the value we all crave.

I know a marketing director who takes her entire team on an away day every quarter, with specifically invited sales or operations people with whom they work closely. They hire a separate meeting venue outside of and completely away from the office, and no matter what is going on, they turn off their phones for the entire day. This day is in two parts. The first half of the day is spent discussing the business environment, marketing strategy and plans – what’s been working, what hasn’t and what would have worked better if something had been done differently or changed. They also talk about new ideas and new ways of doing what they do, and decide as a team where they will place their priorities. Everyone participates and there are no slide presentations. And everyone leaves this part of the away day with something they personally commit to doing that they’ve not done before. The second half of the day is spent doing something fun – for example, to name just a few of the activities, they’ve been ten-pin bowling, they’ve been ice-skating, they’ve had tea at the Savoy, they’ve done a room escape, and they’ve gone to a pub and had their own pub quiz, complete with prizes for the winning team.

These away days are all about achieving on-going clarity and have been a critical part of the team’s continuing success. It’s a chance to evaluate, review and regroup, a time to think, share, celebrate achievements and build continuing trust in each other and what they do, as individuals and as a team.

Contrast this leadership approach to one for a team of marketers in another very large B2B enterprise. They meet as an entire team once a year. Their annual away day is held within a large conference room at corporate headquarters and consists of each sub-sector or group marketing leader giving a slide presentation on what they’ve done over the past year and what their plans are for the coming year. This is followed by the marketing director giving an update on the most recent marketing leadership meeting and the company’s financials. Most of the members of this team dread these annual away days and by the end of the day there is a palpable lack of energy or interest throughout the room. Drinks and nibbles are brought in at the end of the day, but most people quickly make their excuses and leave.

Which team would you rather be a part of? Which type of leader do you want to be?


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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