Marketing: Service provider or strategic partner?

Marketing: Service provider or strategic partner?
The common exception

There’s something successful companies have in common. It sits at the executive level, engages strategically across the business, helps shape direction and drives bottom line performance. The CEO supports it and it forms part of the organisation’s DNA.

I’m talking about marketing as a true strategic business partner.

The common rule

However marketing is not always viewed this way. Many organisations take a service provision view of marketing’s role in business. Of course, marketing has a service role to play in terms of supporting various departments’ needs and delivering initiatives to achieve company objectives. But all too often, this manifests itself in a way that disempowers marketers.

Have a think about your marketing team and ask yourself:

  1. How is work generated (self-generating/generated by others)?
  2. Do department heads/directors/staff take a ‘request and respond’ approach to marketing?
  3. Do non-marketing staff make marketing decisions, even after consulting with the marketing team?
  4. Are non-marketers calling the shots on brand, channels, social responses, etc?
  5. Does the marketing team have a clear understanding of the businesses goals and objectives (financial and other)?
  6. Is there a marketing plan, or is marketing a reactive effort?
  7. Is there marketing representation on the company executive team or Board?

Chances are if the points above are sounding familiar, then marketing in your organisation is seen as a service, not a strategic business partner.

How to elevate the status?

Start by socialising marketing’s thinking across the business and build credibility. Give staff and executives a reason to listen and take notice. When you’re helping build the brand, you’re contributing to bottom line growth.

If your company’s marketing falls under the common rule, giving staff a broad understanding of what marketing’s function is across the organisation may start to change the master-servant relationship.

Ask to be invited to organisational planning days and Board meetings – even if only as an observer. It’s in these forums that the pearls of information necessary to start transitioning marketing from service provider to strategic partner will be uncovered. The more marketing is across the company’s plans, goals, and aspirations (current and future), the better able it will be to be proactive and strategic.

Think about how relevant business data can be gathered. Are there tools in place that make it simple to capture relevant organisational information which can be turned into strategic marketing outputs (PR schedules, WIPs, project updates, regular stakeholder meetings)? Starting with the end in sight and working backwards will help you uncover where you need to go to source business intelligence if it’s not naturally forthcoming.

The potential mountain to climb

Of course, the greatest challenge in raising the marketing bar lies in how the CEO, directors, and executives view marketing’s role in the business. Their view will determine the level of integration marketing has within the business and whether it’s a service provider or strategic partner scenario.

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines marketing as: ‘The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customer requirements profitably.’

So if you work in an organisation where marketing is ultimately responsible for growing the brand and the bottom line, you’ll most likely find a Board, CEO and executive team that understands the business imperative of a fully aligned and deeply integrated marketing function.

If not, the climb can be difficult, but not impossible, if you approach the transition strategically.

More reading:

Marketing is about to invent a new kind of expert: the Data Storyteller
4 reasons why CEOs still don’t invest in digital marketing
From digital marketing executive to CMO: 10 tips to get to the top


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