Managing Marketers: Tips From the Top of the Organization

Zach Brooke
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

What?​ Marketing departments are often the most vaguely defined and put-upon departments. What's a manager to do?

So what? The fuzziness around mission can create problems when setting team goals or collaborating with other departments.

Now what? Look at every aspect of the marketing team to gauge its overall health. Require creatives to have objectives behind every campaign that ladder to bigger business goals.​

Nov. 1, 2017

Between setting staff size, balancing dueling skill sets and interdepartmental rivalries, marketing managers have their work cut out for them. 

Here’s how Sharat Sharan,​ co-founder, president and CEO of global webinar solutions provider ON24, does it.

Q: What advice do you have for determining the size of a marketing department?

A: All organizational functions should be shaped by the goals of the business, and a marketing team is no different. Start with your objectives, then determine the talent level, experience and headcount it will take to achieve them. If rapid growth is the top priority, it’s important to have a strong, strategic leader of demand generation with a healthy team behind him or her to execute campaigns, pump out content, analyze all the results and double-down on the tactics that are driving pipeline. A business that’s in a slower growth stage or more mature phase can slow down their demand generation efforts and place more emphasis on brand building, creative campaigns and sustaining their reputation.

The traditional view of marketing as a cost center is outdated. Marketing is part of a company’s holistic revenue strategy, so the level of their revenue responsibilities should determine the development of the organization.

Q: How big is your marketing department, both in terms of numbers and relative to the rest of the company? How did you arrive at that size?

A: Over the past 15 years our marketing team has been dynamic, consisting of a couple people at the beginning to more than 20 at one point. The department has evolved as our company has evolved. We’ve added new roles and capabilities to support different business models, leverage emerging marketing technologies and accelerate our pipeline growth.

The agility of a marketing organization is more important than its size. A winning team has a balance of strategic experience and startup scrappiness—a strong set of leaders who instill a data-driven methodology to guide the department and a junior layer responsible for day-to-day execution. For that reason, we’ve invested in adding SaaS marketing veterans who drive our overall strategy and ensure that macro-level decisions are maximizing our results. Then, we’ve brought on a diverse set of marketers who bring an equal balance of creativity, operations and technical sophistication to keep us moving forward.

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Q: How do you know if you have too few or too many marketers?

A: It’s less about the quantity of people and more about the quality of results. Look at every aspect of the marketing organization to gauge its overall health. If you are seeing an incremental increase in pipeline, is the cost per lead increasing? Or, are you growing like crazy, but also experiencing more churn? Use business indicators to assess the overall performance and pinpoint the weak spots. Then, determine how to improve it—whether it’s headcount, investing in a different marketing technology or changing strategic course.

Q: How would you recommend companies organize their marketing departments, both in terms of how a team is structured and where the department fits in with the rest of the company?

A: There’s always debate over the sales-marketing relationship, and whether marketing should report to sales. In the era of the self-educated buyer, the marketing organization needs to partner with sales rather than be its subordinate. Marketing is the only team engaging with prospects and customers across the entire buying cycle, from awareness to loyalty, and brings that customer-centric view to the C-suite.

Q: Not everyone can be generalists and have firm foundations in multiple disciplines. But there is a need between colleagues to be able to speak the same language, especially for those who serve in the same department. With that in mind, how can you ensure creative-minded marketers are also data-literate?

A: Silicon Valley’s culture is built on asking questions, and that entrepreneurial mentality is an important mindset for today’s marketers. Just like running a startup, a brilliant idea only goes so far. You must prove it’s a sustainable business. That’s the approach we try to foster—having the freedom to think up unique campaigns, but also having the data to back up the business reason for it.  

Luckily, marketing technology has reached a level of maturity where being data-driven isn’t rocket science. We’re at a point where data analytics are baked into every aspect of digital marketing and it’s integrated across the marketing organization. That’s the way we’ve designed our marketing platform—making it easy for data-driven marketers to translate customer engagement into actionable insights. 

It’s less about mastering data science and more about knowing what to measure and pulling the right reports to provide real insight to your customers and the business. To get there, require creatives to have objectives behind every campaign that ladder to bigger business goals. Understanding strategic business objectives is key. Then, you need data to show your progress against them.

Q: Where should data-literate marketers defer to the creatives, or what do they need to understand the creatives’ thought process to ensure no one is alienated and both are producing the best possible work product?

A: Being data-driven isn’t just about numbers and demographics, it’s about understanding customer behavior and psychology. Being able to delve into the minds of customers and prospects provides a huge source of inspiration for creatives. 

If you’re getting the right kind of data, it’s fuel for the creative fire. Neither side is superior; it should be a cooperative process.

Q: There’s tension between some marketing and sales teams. What does marketing need to know about sales teams to help them meet their objectives?

A: Here’s a common scenario: A salesperson receives several bad leads from the marketing team, doubts the validity of all marketing-generated leads and gets frustrated by not having support. Tension between sales and marketing arises when there’s a lack of trust. To form a true partnership, it’s critical for marketers to realize that it’s the quality of leads that matter, not the quantity. 

Q: What should managers take into account for specific employees when setting goals for them?

A: Think about the overall business goals, then your team’s goals and then how an employee can uniquely contribute. It’s a waterfall effect that starts at the top, and then is personalized at the individual level. Knowing how your goals impact the entire company instills a higher level of responsibility, accountability and pride in your work.

Q: How much goal-setting should be left to employees?

A: Goal-setting should be done in collaboration between a manager and the employee. It’s the manager’s job to ensure an employee’s KPIs align with the business objectives, but then employees should have the independence to develop their own goals within that framework. This approach creates a sense of ownership and sparks a sense of entrepreneurship inside them.  

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Author Bio:
Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @Zach_Brooke.
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