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Why Your Business Should Be 'Marketing First'

Chances are, your marketing department isn't in your company's driver's seat. Here's why it should be.
Why Your Business Should Be 'Marketing First'
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Global Marketing Director -- AI, Innovation and Ecosystems
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most organizations understand that marketing is important, but few adopt a holistic approach to recognize marketing as their top priority.

According to the 2018 B2B Marketing Mix report from Sagefrog, 67 percent of companies surveyed named lead generation as their top marketing objective. Of course leads are important, but now that customer experience is in the spotlight, too, marketing departments must do much more than just enable sales teams to do their job.

Good marketers, in fact, understand what end users want, how a company’s solutions meet those needs and how to communicate that relationship effectively. A marketing-first approach to business ensures that the products and services the company offers are relevant to the marketplace. Through components like brand-building and brand positioning (both internally and externally), the best marketing-first companies create personas that do not just supplement their business goals but drive their competitiveness and success.

Related: 7 Dreadful Marketing Mistakes to Avoid in 2018

Marketing, more than any other department, has the power to stitch together offerings from across the organization to provide a comprehensive view of problems and solutions. It’s not about one group versus another -- it’s about finding the overarching view and positioning that incorporate all perspectives. Marketing-first organizations are more able to resolve intra-business roadblocks and focus on outcomes that matter to the customer.

The goal of a marketing-first approach is not to inhibit other stakeholders by steering the conversation toward sales. Although this approach does aim to increase revenue and pipeline, the mechanism is led more by influence than sales. This gives the company a better chance to be seen, heard and accepted by end users, naturally increasing sales through stronger brand recall and visibility.

Related: Sourcing New Clients? Decide On A Marketing Strategy First

To implement a marketing-first approach, follow these three tips:

1. Employ a top-down approach -- at first.

Despite the advantages of a marketing-first mindset, only 8 percent of CEOs see marketing as a top priority this year, according to a Gartner study.

As with most initiatives, a marketing-first approach starts with buy-in from senior leadership. Leaders must make the prioritization of marketing a mindset that permeates the entire organization. This change won’t occur overnight, but when leaders are deliberate in their adoption of the philosophy, the benefits begin to reveal themselves.

At our company, we ask that every time a sales/business development team meets a customer, it contacts Marketing first. The marketing department sees the whole picture and knows how to position the messaging we want to use to describe ourselves and our services. When our leadership adopts that priority, other teams follow suit.

As companies become more sensitive to their reputations in the market, their focus must shift from internal-centric messaging, which highlights capabilities, to external outreach, which champions value. This perspective cannot arise from any other organizational function, nor can it be spread throughout the company by anyone other than the leadership team. This is a culture shift. Unless the organization begins to think differently, the changes won't last.

To ensure this top-down approach takes hold, invite Marketing to the table for discussions of strategy, metrics, market influence and client management -- and pay attention. The CMO Council and Deloitte found that even though marketers are more present in these talks, their voices still don’t carry the same weight as those of other departments.

Don't let that happen at your company. Listen to your marketers and rely on their outside-the-box approach to problem-solving, then use those views to guide strategy. In other words, don’t look at marketing as the last item on your list. Start the conversation with marketing to define where you want to see your company going; then get to the list of must-dos that make most business sense.

2. Make your marketing goals your business goals.

Launch marketing programs to influence sales, create positive customer impressions and build mindshare in the industry. Link these programs to clear outcomes like funnel generation, order-booking and, where applicable, revenue itself. When marketing carries hard targets, the game changes.

Ensure other departments take marketing seriously by tying marketing efforts to ROI. When marketers put money on the table (i.e., they demonstrate ownership), others pay more attention and become more willing to assist in marketing enablement. Taking it a step further, having both business departments and marketing jointly invest in the go-to-market effort ensures co-ownership. And the best-case scenario is, of course, when business departments fund the entire marketing effort -- and this happens only when businesses recognize marketing as their driving force!

Collaboration (not isolation) between sales and marketing increases revenue and boosts visibility, so customers have a high sense of recall about the brand. In a closely competitive market, this collaboration makes the difference between sameness and distinction. Marketing offers a broad understanding of external factors that sales teams need to be aware of, to sell in individual scenarios. Marketers know what the industry influencers and analysts are saying, and that outside perspective fuels serious market-development programs. That outside-in focus helps sales teams (and others) understand what consumers want, and align their outreach to speak to those needs.

Collaboration between these two departments is more than a trendy concept: It’s the future of successful sales cycles. In an interview with CMO.com, Marketo’s Chris Connell predicted that, “Eighty-nine percent of CMOs expect to be responsible for customer experience by 2020.” With customer experience more important than ever, companies must empower marketing departments to collaborate with other functions, to deliver the best experience possible.

3. Know your audience (even better than you did).

Mapping stakeholders ensures that every move the company makes does something to better stakeholder relationships. Companies should break down stakeholders into small groups, then seek to understand how those different groups travel the sales cycle and what kinds of emotional messaging they respond to. This is an approach the geopolitical business advisory firm WestExec Advisors took to help Silicon Valley companies develop business relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense.

After mapping all the company’s stakeholders and identifying what they want, lean on Marketing to spark more productive conversations. Focus on the priorities of each group both now and in the long term. Keep discussions relevant to the map to hold their attention at every turn.

These maps are about more than selling -- they’re about changing conversations. How can the company’s messaging create lasting partnerships with customers, rather than one-off sales? Transparency International, for example, believes stakeholder mapping can help companies maintain their all-important integrity. Its guidelines provide structure for business-central actions and outline policies for when to involve stakeholders in different areas.

Companies that wish to win the battle for the customer experience cannot afford to limit the marketing department to “observation without participation.” Marketers do more than manage events or procure branded giveaways -- they really hold the keys to a better understanding of the market and better communications with stakeholders both within and without.

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

Today, marketing-first organizations enjoy better competitive positioning and influence than their sales- or product-first peers. Plain and simple: If business leaders empower their marketing departments to take charge, they will enjoy results that cannot be achieved any other way.

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