Whether it’s the acceleration of digital transformation or agile team structures, or a combination of both, one thing is clear: COVID-19 has changed the way marketers budget, plan and drive organizational growth. Gone are the days of resisting constant change or staying siloed — at least, for companies who want to take advantage of this pandemic.
“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” points out Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
As we enter 2021, it’s safe to assume just about every marketing leader is experiencing a planning season unlike any before, which begs the question: How can marketers build lean, effective teams that keep pace in this unpredictable climate?
To get some insiders’ perspectives, we spoke with three marketing tech executives about strategies they’ve implemented this year to streamline operations — all while continuing to drive growth within their organizations.
Below, Gigster CMO Jen Dimas, Allocadia CMO Julia Stead, and Winning by Design partner Sheri Johnston weigh in on what’s helped them build their own high-performance marketing teams in the face of a global pandemic.
1. Put the right people in the right roles
“I’ve had to restructure my team twice since the pandemic hit, and every few months [I] take a lay of the land,” says Allocadia CMO Julia Stead. “It’s [about] looking at what we’re trying to accomplish over the next 12 months and continuing to question myself and my leaders, asking: ‘Does your team have the skills it needs to focus in these areas and if not, how do we plan ahead to cross-train, retrain and reposition roles a little bit so everyone knows clearly what their mandate is?’”
2. Keep an open mind about outsourcing
“I really, passionately believed before this year that to do account-based marketing and sales particularly well, that you needed that team in-house — and I’ve just been proven wrong,” admits Gigster CMO Jen Dimas. “I’ve tested out things that I 100% believed needed to be in-house this year, and [the] outsourced models worked really well.”
3. Commit to shorter planning cycles instead of traditional yearly plans
“I’m not doing much planning on an annual basis right now and none of the marketers I’ve spoken to are,” emphasizes Allocadia CMO Julia Stead. Instead of committing 100% of the budget to specific initiatives at the beginning of the year, Stead recommends leaving some budget flexibility for new initiatives and taking it one quarter at a time. “In my marketing world — and with my PR execs — we’re looking…pretty much three months out.”
4. Hire strong senior leaders first
“I started creating my team from scratch at Gigster,” says Gigster CMO Jen Dimas. “I started with the idea that I would [put] really strong leaders in the functional areas, and then that we would partner out for a lot of our work so I wouldn’t overbuild my people investment. That turned out to be so lucky for me this year.” Keeping the team light, Dimas points out, allows her to dial talent up and down as needed in her program dollars through hiring independent contractors.
5. Create air-tight executive alignment
Today’s marketers face high stakes, and it’s critical to ensure the marketing department is precisely aligned with the rest of the company. “You’ve got to make sure you’re not functioning in a marketing silo, but that your marketing dollars are supporting what the company’s objectives are,” says Allocadia CMO Julia Stead. For instance, she suggests marketing leaders clarify whether the company is focusing on retention, growth, or a mix of both. “Get alignment with your CEO and with the key stakeholders…those kinds of conversations are really important to be up-front and transparent about, so that you’re planning your marketing dollars behind where the business wants them to be.”
6. Fill skills gaps with independent contractors
“When you’re in a startup role, hiring or bringing consultants to help fill the gaps of your weaknesses is a huge part of my strategy,” says Winning by Design partner Sheri Johnston. Johnston recommends bringing in consultants where you may not have resources for a full-time headcount for a certain function, or to fill roles that have an immediate need for a subject matter expert (versus trying to train someone internally who doesn’t already have that skillset, or hiring a whole new headcount to fill the gap).
7. Tap into your network to find the best contractors
Quickly finding good, skilled contractors has historically been a major pain point. However, in the wake of COVID-19, the freelance market has exploded with a fresh crop of skilled experts. “A lot of people are very happy not working within the four walls of a company. They have developed some very deep and specific expertise and they can keep themselves busy,” points out Gigster CMO Jen Dimas. “It’s a matter of being able to identify where those folks are.” Dimas recommends reaching out to trusted friends, quality connections, or reputable hiring platforms to find high-quality contractors who will stick around.
8. Be careful about reactive decision-making
Winning by Design partner Sheri Johnston warns that though a crisis like COVID has rattled the cages of many companies, letting too many people go too soon can have negative consequences. “What we’re seeing is that a lot of people over-arched in terms of letting go of too many resources and now they’re at a place where they need to ramp up their go-to-market and don’t have as much infrastructure in place,” Johnston says. “It’s an interesting game of making sure that we are planning towards growth but not overarching right now given that things are changing more than ever in the history of my leadership planning.”
9. Eliminate back-office time-sucks
Time-consuming administrative tasks like dealing with invoices has long been an issue for marketers in startups, but can be rampant in enterprise organizations as well. To combat this issue, Allocadia CMO Julia Stead recommends talking to the team directly to suss out the core problems. “I’ve spent a lot more time talking one to one with all the different folks on my team to really understand what’s bogging them down,” Stead says. If multiple people are getting trapped by the same time suck, Stead says this is a signal for teams to question why they’re doing these things and if they could stop doing them without the business imploding. If stopping would have a negative impact, Stead recommends asking: “Is there an opportunity to get a tool to solve for it?
While the future is still uncertain, marketing leaders must not only be proactive, but humble — and willing to test new processes and strategies quickly and often. The results may just surprise them.
Enjoy the above tips? Hear the rest of the conversation and get even more great insights from our full panel discussion with Jen Dimas, Julia Stead, and Sheri Johnston here.