Organize An Agile Marketing Team

How do you organize an Agile marketing team? Is the organization different than that of traditional marketing organizations? I think the answer is yes, it is different, both because of the use of Agile and also because modern marketing is very different from traditional marketing and demands a different organization.  Here are my thoughts:

Infrastructure and Analytics

One of the inspirations for this post is an article about The 9 Marketing Disciplines of Great SAAS Companies. Bill Macaitis, the former CMO of Zendesk and current CMO of Slack, argues that the first  and largest marketing team in every SaaS company is the Ops and Analytics team.  I agree and not only for SAAS companies.  The mission of this team is to build the infrastructure to support marketing operations (a CRM like SalesForce and a marketing automation tool like HubSpot or Marketo) and the analytics tools to support constant experimentation.  You cannot act in an agile fashion or iterate your way to success without a great marketing ops and analytics foundation. If you\’re going to build your Agile marketing function around actionable metrics rather than vanity metrics, this team is essential. Too often, this team is non-existent or an after-thought. Start here and hire great people for this team.

Content Marketing

The content marketing team is often the core of the Agile marketing team, and the production of content adapts very well to Scrum.  Make sure that your content is tied to the buyer’s journey, supporting the buyer at every stage of their buying decision.  The job of the content marketing team is not to sell, but to help people buy.  Remember the old adage that no one likes to be sold to, but everyone likes to buy. You will also need many different skill sets on this team: writers, editors, graphic designers and even technologists if you are generating interactive content (which you absolutely should be doing).

Demand Generation

Demand generation can take many different forms, and often this function is divided into several teams.  In the article referenced above, Bill Macaitis created at least two different teams, Paid and Website/Conversion. His International team also had some demand generation duties. Other companies might have an inside sales organization, a direct marketing team or a channel marketing team.  The actual structure of this function will vary from business to business. In my opinion, the key to success in demand generation is to set the right metrics and to create a culture of experimentation and accountability.  All of this lends itself to Agile Marketing.

One note about demand generation: I believe that organizations need to look at their demand generation activities closely in terms of both breadth and depth.  By breadth, I mean are you using as many different channels of demand generation as are appropriate for your business, and trying out new channels that aren’t as saturated and crowded as those used by your competitors.  If your competitors have saturated paid search, can you do more with unique videos or unique interactive content? Maybe no one in your industry uses direct mail (yes, I mean snail mail, not email). Have you tried it?

By depth, I mean ensuring that your demand generation takes people deeper down the sales funnel. Demand generation may even be the wrong term for some of you, as marketing encompasses both demand generation and demand satisfaction. Even if that’s not the case, marketing should be taking the buyer much further in the buying cycle, into stages that traditionally were handled by sales.  For an excellent article on this, see Why Marketing is Eating Sales.

Remarkable Customer Experiences

This team is also known as product marketing, but I prefer the emphasis on remarkable customer experiences. I mean Remarkable in the Seth Godin Purple Cow sense of being both incredible and worth remarking or talking about, and experiences rather than just products.  It is strategically important that the product marketing team think beyond the product that you produce to the full customer experience.

Community Building

Some organizations call this the evangelism team, and that’s fine.  The key is to build enthusiastic supporters of your product or service who will recommend it to others (Promotors in the Net Promotor Score terminology), help newcomers with the product, and provide great feedback to you about your product and your company.

Lifecycle Marketing

Marketing doesn’t stop with the sale.  For many products or services, your business model may pay you more for increased usage. This team is tasked with increasing that usage. You may also want to up-sell or cross-sell your installed base. This team is responsible for customer retention, customer happiness and increased sales to existing customers.

What I Left Out

I’m sure that several of you noticed that I left out several traditional marketing functions like brand strategy, marketing communications, PR and social media.  That wasn’t accidental.  I think brand strategy is like culture – everyone must be on the same page, and communicate your culture and your brand strategy through everything they do.  The basics of the brand promise can and should be determined at the highest levels of the marketing organization (and perhaps even above marketing), but it should be communicated by everyone.  I don’t see the need for separate brand specialists.

I also think marketing communications and PR have or should be replaced by content marketing.  I hate traditional press releases (spam aimed at journalists) and would prefer that any kind of communication to the press be handled by marketing executive management or perhaps by a corporate PR group.

Social media is a tool. A very useful tool, but a tool that should be used by everyone: content marketers, community builders, lifestyle marketers, etc.  If you’re large enough and you want to make sure someone “owns” the corporate social media accounts, put this function in infrastructure, and give it some metrics.  Otherwise, allow each team to use social media tools as they see fit.

So that’s my view.  What do you think?  How have you organized your marketing organization for Agile?

15 thoughts on “Organizing an Agile Marketing Team”

  1. Jim,

    It seems like your plan here is specifically geared to B2B marketers with long-ish lead times and multiple stages for prospects to cycle through on their way to becoming customers. Would you say that is the case?

    I understand the goal of having people on the team cross-trained and able to function in several roles. However, this can be problematic in both social media and PR—if you’re doing it right. If all you’re doing is broadcasting content, then yes, anyone can do it (as long as they can create content and push “send”). However, to be good at it, you have to KNOW your community (fans, followers, journalists, etc.) WELL.

    If the role is constantly being handed off to different people, nobody will have a good grasp of who the super fans, super users, advocates and influencers are. Getting to know them and recognizing what they like and care about requires constant, consistent interaction by the same person(s)— PR pro, community manager, etc. Influencers and journalists will not build relationships with an entire team of people anymore than sales prospects will want to deal with a different sales person every time they talk to your company. It’s all about building relationships.

    Likewise, nobody who works in marketing executive management is ever going to spend hours and hours and hours pitching journalists. That is the hard job of PR. Creating content is easy by comparison. We’d all love it if journalists came to us simply because we’re creating stellar content, but that almost never happens. Journalists are stretched thin fielding hundreds of pitches a day and trying to meet deadlines. They don’t have to go looking for content.

    1. Carri, what a well thought out response. Thanks for taking the time.

      You’re correct that most of my experience has been in B2B marketing with longish lead times and multiple stages, so I’m sure that colors my thoughts. I am curious as to what changes you’d make for B2C marketing or shorter cycles?

      On knowing your users, and having a good grasp of who are the super fans, advocates and influencers are, I see that as the job of the Community Building team. Social media might be one way that they communicate to those super fans, but there are many other ways, including events, email, programs (like Microsoft’s MVP program) and even phone calls.

      You do make a good point about the time spent pitching journalists. That is the hardest job of PR. I guess I’ve always used an agency to do that, and thought about it outside the organization of the marketing department as such, but that’s probably my bias showing.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  2. Jim,

    I agree with much of your assessment — particularly redefinition of more traditional roles. I think there could be healthy discussion on the organization around specialties vs. a brand/product level organization that creates teams with each of the above defined roles.

    If the goal is to find the most effective agile structure, it has been my experience that organizations get caught in a trap of legacy structure that has an inability to make quick and decisive decisions.

    While in a utopian organization politics and internal power struggles wouldn’t occur, we all know they do. It has been my experience that the higher the level needed for a final decision the slower an organization can move. The structure you propose, while it has many strengths, often places the decision authority high in the marketing structure which can fight against an Agile philosophy. If you create a team based structure run by a generalist or defined leader, and populate the team with each needed skill set, you may allow for more rapid decision making and thus eliminate bottlenecks. This structure assumes a somewhat larger marketing organization, and clearly has its downfalls. However, I would argue it is a structure worth considering if striving for an Agile approach.

    1. Josh, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I do agree that pushing decision making as far down as possible in the organization can empower a team to be more agile. I tend to see that as more of a management philosophy than a result of organizational structure, however. My only goal in describing the structure as I did was to establish clear “missions” for each team. My problem with organizing by skill set (PR, Social Media, graphics design) is that it tends to put the skill set at a higher level than the mission, and you get Maslow’s “To the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” phenomena. I’d rather that people think of their mission first, then what tools or skill sets they need to accomplish the mission.

  3. Hi Jim,
    First. Thanks for sharing great articles on agile marketing. This one was really helpful to sort out the framework and prepare for agile marketing. What you left out I think is agile focus in practice to avoid vanity metrics.

    Then my questions. Small business Entrepreneurs often lack Resources (and do lots of work without funding). The team may even be just one person when planning the Product Development and marketing ideas to Pitch the idea to New team members. You have mentioned six operation areas linked to the CMO-role. Do you think one person can operate several of these six Workspaces in the beginning of an agile marketing process? Could the agile marketing team work fine With a 2-3 persons team do you think? From Your experience, are there some operations that should always have different persons (be seperated) to increase changes of success? Looking forward to Your comments.

    1. Kent, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Several people commented that my article seemed to apply to larger teams, so I’m going to write a post on structuring smaller teams. I do think it can work.

  4. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the article – this is a topic I’ve been kicking around mentally for a while myself, and it’s nice to see someone else’s take on it.

    Carri – I was having similar reactions re: the B2B focus. My two cents is that this also sounds very much like an enterprise-sized marketing team.

    Our agile marketing team is B2B, but we have less than 10 team members and don’t have the luxury to differentiate our roles the way that you describe. The reality of small to mid-sized agile teams is that while we may not be as purely cross-functional as a scrum development team, everybody needs to be able to do most marketing jobs because they’ll probably have to at some point in a sprint.

    We aim for the popular t-shaped marketer (with broad knowledge but one specialty), but in reality we have a single specialized content marketer, a couple solid social media specialists, one video marketer, etc. We have to work our sprint planning around the reality of limited time and limited cross functionality.

    This is something I’ll hope to explore in more detail myself, and I’d be interested to hear how a sprint is structured on a team made up like the one you describe. What kinds of tactical marketing stories does each of these groups tackle?

    1. Great feedback, Andrea. I think you’re spot on hiring T-shaped marketers. I also think you have to prioritize hiring from the organizational specialists that I mention. I’m thinking this might be a good idea for another post.

  5. Thanks for sharing Jim. I read it at least 3 times and the comments as well.

    I do not agree with vision for the Marketing organization. Because I respect your work so much and value both the time and thought you’ve taken, I am going to only say that what you’ve shared herein can only ever be a starting point for a Marketing organization.

    1. Joe, you’ve intrigued me. This post has generated a fair number of comments, and I’m preparing a couple of posts refining my thinking. Could you share more about why you disagree?

  6. Hi Jim,

    First of all thanks a lot for this article!

    To refine the thinking I would be curious on how you would manage and structure the work of the Infrastructure & Analytics team. I feel that they can very easily become a bottleneck in capacity, especially if they need to manage the priority of messages within the channels. This I think is a critical topic which seems to have not been covered.


    1. Akos, good question. I think the infrastructure & analytics team is what I would call an internal services team, so it’s their mission to keep other groups happy with their services. If they’re a bottleneck, then they’re not doing their job. I think of it sequentially: 1) they need to get a good CRM and marketing automation system set up, with an emphasis on clean data (almost every company has a previous version of their data, often out of date, full of duplicates, and wrong). Second, they need to get a base set of reports that the rest of the business can use to make business decisions. Actionable metrics, not vanity metrics. And lastly, they need to set up the framework for experimentation. Set up an infrastructure that allows marketers in other areas to run campaigns, do A/B testing, do multivariate testing, etc. I hope that helps.

  7. Giannina Rachetta

    What about market research? I didn’t see it described as part of any of the groups you are proposing.

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