Is your marketing department organised in cross-functional teams focused on customer segments and journeys? Or do your marketers work in functional silos with all the digital marketers together, separate brand and data teams, a content marketing silo, and so on?
Two in three CMOs say they’ve already reorganised their teams to focus on the customer journey.
And if you’ve never considered implementing cross-functional teams, perhaps you should. That is a key finding of a recent Association of National Advertisers study into the structure of marketing teams, which reveals a link between networked, cross-functional team structures and revenue growth.
The findings indicate that marketing organisations with networked structures organised in cross-functional teams — as opposed to top-down command-and-control hierarchies or matrix structures with dual and/or dotted reporting lines — tend to have job titles focused on achieving growth, and also are more likely to achieve a material increase in revenue.
According to the ANA, these companies tend to have some other characteristics in common:
- A clear understanding of customers or clients
- Structures based on customer needs rather than internal functions or products
- In-house agencies used for marketing/advertising strategy and account management
- Investment in staffing and talent.
Former McDonald’s chief marketing officer Larry Light, commenting on the findings, said “too many companies are not organized for growth and need to change their approach or run the risk of sub-optimal performance”.
“The key is, if you want enterprise-wide adherence to a customer-focused objective, then you have to have integrated marketing”.
But that’s not just about ensuring your marketing messages match across channels: it’s a deeper commitment that goes to how teams are structured.
“Integrated marketing is bigger than just integrating marketing communications, which is how it’s been defined,” Light says.
What are cross-functional teams in marketing?
Traditional cross-functional teams are working groups that bring together staff from different disciplines or functions within a company — such as marketing, sales, finance, technology, product and others. It may include operatives at different levels of experience and seniority. The objective is for those team members to bring to bear their diverse skills to allow the team to collaborate quickly to achieve a common goal.
Cross-functional teams have often been created for the purpose of completing specific short-term projects, such as product launches.
But increasingly, marketing departments in customer-centric organisations are being permanently reorganised into own cross-functional teams often focused on a customer segment or persona — or even “moments” in the customer journey.
So for argument’s sake, a marketing team created to service a brand’s youth segment might have its own brand marketer, digital marketer, content writer, social marketer, designer and developer — the point being they can quickly create, test and launch marketing activities to service that customer segment without waiting for feedback from experts in other parts of the company.
The relatively small but growing number of marketing teams running agile marketing processes also leads to the development of cross-functional teams, since agile teams must be self-sufficient in order to collaborate quickly and work autonomously to complete, test and launch projects.
This requires the breaking up of functional silos within marketing so that those skills can be utilised by each marketing team.
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So what are the benefits of cross-functional teams?
1. Greater focus on the customer
Often a key reason for establishing cross-functional teams in marketing is to reorganise existing teams to focus on the customer, rather than internal constructions such as product divisions, channels to market, or marketing skill-sets.
Teams become experts in their particular customer segment, and derive deeper insights into customer journeys and motivation by focusing on the target persona in depth.
2. Faster collaboration
Cross-functional teams have traditionally been created to circumvent the inevitable delays that result when work is handed off from one team to another — say, from brand to digital — in traditional teams.
Not only does this way of organising teams create bottlenecks — in which one team that may be busier than another holds up the flow of work — it institutionalises task-switching, which interrupts workflow. “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone’s productive time,” according to the American Psychological Association.
3. More autonomy and initiative
Command-and-control marketing team structures mean teams launch, change or abandon key projects at the behest of the person at the top of that structure.
That may make sense when the CMO wants to approve big-budget projects such as your next multi-million-dollar brand campaign. It makes less sense if the same CMO wants to read every social media message before it gets posted.
More autonomous structures that devolve decision-making to lower levels tend to encourage independent thinking and initiative – qualities most managers wish more of their team members had.
4. Upskilling and multi-skilling
Cross-functional teams encourage collaboration, and promote cross-disciplinary understanding and upskilling within a multi-function team because other team members must acquire the skills that allow them to pitch in to help get the work done if one team member is overloaded or away.
Traditional structures tend to entrench functional excellence in particular teams, creating silos of expertise, rather than encouraging knowledge and skill-sharing.
5. Greater likelihood of revenue growth
Cross-functional marketing teams, it turns out, are more likely to include lead-generation roles, content writers, email marketers, data and analytics roles and other growth-focused marketing functions. And organisations with cross-functional marketing teams are more likely to achieve material revenue growth. According to the ANA’s research, this type of structure is more effective at generating growth than matrix structures involving dotted reporting lines, or top-down hierarchies.
Perhaps it’s due to a greater focus on the customer; the fact that organisations with cross functional teams tend to put more focus on driving growth; or maybe it’s due to inherent benefits in the closer collaboration between cross disciplinary team members.
Either way, the numbers don’t lie. It could be time to reorganise your marketing teams into cross functional teams and go deeper into the customer experience.
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