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JT Bricker

CMOs in the Boardroom Need Tools, Like a Center of Excellence

JT Bricker / April 19, 2019 / 0 Comments

Roadblocks for CMOs in the Boardroom

A big part of a CMO’s job is to effectively communicate the key initiatives and business impact of marketing internally, to cross-functional teams and to the Board of Directors. Unfortunately, too often visionary CMOs and high-performing marketing teams are derailed in that communication when other executives (most commonly CROs, CFOs and CIOs) question the numbers being presented by CMOs in the boardroom and their alignment to business objectives.

The key factor most commonly missing? Definitions and process agreement across cross-functional teams.

Aligning on those areas is precisely what Centers of Excellence accomplish and why the best CMOs we’ve seen and worked with use them. This post explains how to get started on your marketing COEs.

What is a Center of Excellence?

Think of a Center of Excellence (COE) as a group of resources, processes and tools that are set up to drive consistency and effectiveness in the execution of a core functionality. It’s like best practices on steroids, which have then been boiled down, systematized and made repeatable. COEs also give your best practices a legacy, which helps to future-proof your company from being left high and dry when a team member leaves. Johnny left? No problem; we’ve got all his processes nailed down in the COE.

A properly constructed COE should define how your team handles a certain practice (for example account-based marketing or roadshows) and how your data gets used. It provides a central channel through which all inputs flow and results are measured, ensuring the information you ultimately get is both trustworthy and ties back to key business objectives. This allows for an increase in predictability, scalability, a unified language of success and a standardized platform for communicating that success. When CMOs in the boardroom use these tools, they ensure results are meaningful and tie to what the organization at large cares about.

How Many COEs Should You Have?

Depending on the size of your organization and complexity of your go-to-market strategy, you may need one COE or 25 of them. A company could have a data & analytics COE, a campaign execution COE and so forth. But since (the right) data & analytics empower CMOs in the boardroom to kick ass, let’s focus on that COE. And keep in mind that your goal for any COE is to bridge the chasm between your objectives and your outcomes.

How To Start a Marketing COE

As mentioned, you could start a marketing COE anywhere, but we recommend starting with your data and analytics COE. Here’s how you begin…

Create Allies

Although COE models can vary dramatically from distributed to a shared services function, I’ve never seen a world-class marketing team successfully avoid working with IT. This article details all the ways organizations structure data and business intelligence COEs. In one of its most compelling visuals, you can see (kind of through the blur) how the BI COE can exist in the following ways:

  1. As a Unit in IT
  2. Shared by Departments
  3. An Operations Function which monitors Business Divisions
  4. Distributed and Shared by Lines of Business
Organizational Models for BI and Analytics COEs

Organizational Models for BI and Analytics COEs

By working closely with other lines of business like IT, Sales and Accounting, the entire discipline of marketing, commonly seen as a creative endeavor, shifts to a perception of impacting the bottom line, where dollars and cents live.

The bottom line: By aligning your department with other departments, you create allies in the boardroom.

Where to Start Creating COE Allies

Before you put any plans together, we recommend testing the waters. Share the BI COE piece of content with your IT leader and mention you’ve wondered if creating something like this could benefit your business. Mention how your objective is to be a data-driven marketing team for the outcome of an improved customer experience.

Remember, COEs help teams cross the chasm between objective and outcome.

Also, frankly, in order to create allies, you’ll need to lean into your soft skills. I won’t belabor any recommendations as to how, as Dale Carnegie has already literally written the book on it.

Enlist 3rd Party Validation

We understand that convincing internal leaders to create a data and analytics COE can be easier said than done. In fact, it took barely any effort for me to write the above. But for you to actually do it will likely take months, if not over a year. And even then, the act of convincing your organization to invest in this project could still be a long road to a “No”. Often, when making the business case for a project of this size, it helps to have impartial third party validation. That validation typically includes analysis and stories from other organizations using the strategy already. Sometimes you can purchase this pre-baked research, a la Forrester or Gartner reports. But sometimes, it will be custom.

Think about who outside your organization you can tap. Ahem, like us.

Start at the End

Assuming you’ve successfully convinced your cross-functional peers to help you… next is really defining why you want this.

That why definition should highlight the benefits for individuals, the marketing department, but also the organization as a whole, IE your CEO. Our own CEO, Justin Gray’s post “Center of Excellence: The Tool Great Marketing Teams Wield Skillfully” highlights the benefits of COEs at an organization-level.

Keeping your end game in mind, take a deep dive into the following areas:

  • How do you want to report to the rest of the organization?
  • What value is being derived from your marketing efforts?
  • How can you use the data from your COE to improve your results, so you have better outcomes to report?
  • How can we make this process repeatable?
  • Who in your organization sits in the operators chair for this CEO?

Using the insights and data from your COE to move your results forward are an incredibly valuable part of having a COE in the first place. Once you’ve created your business case and done the work of convincing your organization it’s the right strategy, it’s time to build. Drew Smith has a post on that very topic here.




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