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What Makes a Great Marketing Team? 7 Cultural Characteristics

Introduction: What Makes a Good Marketing Team?

Successful, high-performing marketing teams require a broad set of characteristics that make the function unlike any other organization. These teams require a unique blend of skill sets that span multiple dimensions. Here are a few characteristics of a great marketing organization or team:

Characteristics of High Performing Marketing Teams

Here are a few characteristics of great marketing teams (or departments):

  • Long-term strategic thinking
  • Superior execution skills 
  • Creativity
  • Detail-oriented quantitative skills
  • Financial acumen
  • Technical sophistication
  • The ability to make and justify changes in direction
  • Staying true to the overarching strategy and objectives
  • Great project management
  • An appreciation for other functions: sales (especially sales), finance, IT, product, at least, and maybe others like hardcore research, depending on its industry focus
  • More so than most functions, marketers must be able to source and negotiate deals with high-quality consultants and contractors and then partner with those same outsourced service providers to deliver brilliant marketing results

I’m sure you could extend this list based on your experiences. The point is it’s a lot, and the required skills are diverse. If you work in a big company, you might have many individuals who neatly address those needs. If you work in a smaller company, you may need to hire people who can wear multiple hats. 

Building a Winning Culture for Your Marketing Team

The culture of your marketing team depends on a few things: the marketing leaders, the broader company culture, the team members, and the external market environment. While you might argue that the characteristics we outline below would apply to a successful team in any function, many of which are transferable, we believe this is the combination most relevant to the marketing function.

We introduce the key elements and characteristics of a high-performing marketing team culture and offer a self-assessment at the end of the blog.

  1. Goal Winning Planning
  2. Transparency
  3. Data-Driven Approach
  4. Role Clarity
  5. Mutual Support and Accountability
  6. Clear Set of Rules and Tools
  7. High Focus on Internal Stakeholders and Partners

1. Goal-driven planning

You may have noticed this is something we believe in at Planful – if you don’t set marketing goals, then any outcome is justifiable. If you only measure what’s easy to measure, you prioritize the wrong marketing metrics.

One of the elements of what makes a good marketing team is identifying their top-line objectives and the measures that objectively prove whether those goals have been attained or not. Importantly, those marketing teams embrace the data if they don’t achieve their goals – but more on that below.

2. Transparency

Culturally, transparency is a characteristic of great marketing teams that is as important as anything.

What does transparency mean, though? It means sharing data with everyone, with no sugarcoating. Share the goals. Share the strategy. Share the tactics. Share the progress. Share the results, the lessons learned, and the next steps. Encourage sharing as you build your marketing team. This helps members of the team become successful marketers.

A Lack of Transparency Brings Blame Culture

Blame culture (“Who screwed this up?”, “Who did this?”, “Who’s responsible for this over-run?”) drives opacity – it’s the opposite of a transparent culture. In a blame culture, avoiding taking the heat for issues becomes more important than raising and resolving issues before they become problems.

A lack of transparency also invites office politics, where perception matters more than facts. As the cliche goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and transparent marketing team cultures are more harmonious and effective.

Transparency Means Making The Hard Decisions

Transparent marketing teams make hard decisions and explain why they need to be made. Transparent marketing teams invite debate, embrace the intellect of the entire team, and explain when, how, and why they’ve made the decisions.

Marketing teams with a transparent culture are fantastic, but they can be difficult to sustain unless the whole team embraces the concept and commits to it.

Everyone has to be comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes – for instance:

  • when they need help
  • when their results suck
  • when they don’t know what to do.

If they’re working well, they engender fantastic teamwork, superior alignment, and incredible trust.

3. A data-driven approach to decision making 

There are few disciplines as data-poor as marketing. There’s an ocean of certain types of data, typically digital traffic data, but ask the next marketer, marketing director, VP of Marketing, or CMO how their marketing investments stack up against industry peers, and you will not likely get a satisfying answer.

  • Is our marketing budget right-sized for our kind of company and strategy?
  • Are we investing in the right goals?
  • Are we investing enough?
  • Are we setting the right goals?
  • Are we setting challenging but realistic targets?

Using Data to Benchmark Against Competitors

Almost no one knows the answers to these questions because, until Planful’s marketing performance management software, no one has made the data available in the same platform that houses budgets and plans.

Once you can benchmark yourself against companies like you, you are in a position to make better decisions more quickly and with greater confidence. Once you know whether your marketing plan, budget, strategy, tactics, and results are normal or outliers, you can make adjustments confidently.

If you don’t have access to benchmarking data – or choose not to avail yourself of it in Planful’s marketing performance dashboard – then you are operating in a vacuum. In that scenario, you should seek opportunities to peer-review your plan, strategy, and outcomes.

Seek out industry peers whose opinions you respect and get their feedback. Of course, you should offer to reciprocate for your peers – besides being the right thing to do, this will expose you to more data from people you respect and help you make better decisions in the future.

Use Data for Marketing Plan ROI

Finally, you should ensure that you can capture numbers from your plan and budget in a way that enables quantitative analysis.

  • Are you accurately capturing 100% of the expenses that go into key campaigns?
  • Are you accurately aligning that spending data against your campaign metrics so you can understand your complete campaign ROI?

If not, seek technology platforms to help you organize, and measure marketing performance, tracking data to provide these insights.

4. Role clarity

Another characteristic of great marketing teams is role clarity. Understanding roles within a marketing team (or department) goes far beyond job titles and responsibilities. This seems obvious, but it is an insidious cultural issue for marketing teams. When a team starts, everyone has a clear role definition and set of responsibilities – at least, they should.

Avoid Marketing Role Scope Creep

As marketing team structures evolve, the company grows, and the world changes, roles change in unspoken ways. There is scope creep. Specific talents emerge that encourage the company to concentrate certain tasks on individuals. Team members’ ambitions drive them to seek broader or different roles. 

Before you know it, people are not working on the things they were hired to do, or they’re not working on what the company needs them to do. It may seem important it may be important, but if there is no role clarity, the team cannot be successful. 

Role Clarity Involves The Entire Marketing Team

From the manager to the individual contributor, it is everybody’s responsibility to maximize role clarity. If you know your role, priorities, and success metrics, the likelihood of success is much higher. If you know the same information as your team members, and they know yours, you are much more likely to be operating in a high-performing marketing team.

5. Mutual support and accountability

High-performing marketing teams offer mutual support and accountability when working together. Marketing teams that support each other consistently achieve better outcomes and are happier. Mutual support entails mutual accountability.

Teams perform better when they feel that any individual’s win is everyone’s win and that any individual’s struggle is everyone’s struggle. This behavior flourishes in marketing teams with transparency and alignment, high role clarity, and high trust.

Mutual support and accountability are also great traits to look for in young marketers.

6. Clear set of rules and tools

There’s no question that successful marketing teams need clear sets of rules and tools. Marketing needs to operate at higher and higher velocity. Many marketing channels and vehicles are optimized for speed – like social media and digital marketing. Some…just aren’t, like trade shows. However, as competition between companies ramps up and margins for differentiation become tighter, technology can become a competitive advantage.

Utilizing Marketing Technology Stacks

Marketing organizations must identify, implement and fully utilize their technology stacks to support their efforts. Since companies have their own policies, rules, and idiosyncrasies, the technology stack must support the operating norms of the company, including planning, reporting, accounting, and security best practices.

7. High focus on internal stakeholders and partners

If all of the cultural tenets above are going great in your marketing team, you may still be missing one of the most important cultural characteristics of a successful organization: engagement with the key stakeholders outside the marketing organization. At a minimum, this will include:

  • sales
  • finance
  • IT
  • product

Depending on your role, your partner in the other functions will vary. For example, The CMO must be tightly engaged with the CEO, CSO, and CFO. A marketing manager or contributor may need to be engaged with supporting an individual salesperson, an FP&A (financial planning and accounting) counterpart in finance, or an IT manager responsible for integrating new technology into the corporate infrastructure.

Wrapping Up: Cultural Characteristics for Great Marketing Teams

Successful, high-performing marketing teams embrace relationships outside the marketing and ensure they stay healthy, communicative, and mutually accountable. If the marketing organization isolates itself culturally, it is far less likely to succeed. Even if it is successful, it is less likely to have its results understood and acknowledged.


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