How to build a successful marketing team today

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Over the past few years we’ve seen a massive proliferation in the number of C-level roles. 10 years ago, I’m willing to bet that most companies didn’t have a chief digital officer, the chief communications officer, or a chief customer experience officer. But today, these roles form a core part of the senior leadership team in most businesses.

And more interesting to me personally is that most of these new C-suite jobs are marketing-related. Their growth, I believe, is a direct response to rapidly evolving customer needs. Consumers increasingly expect brands to know them inside out. In order to do this, the most successful marketing teams are shifting the way they operate from product-centric to focusing on what really matters to customers.

To understand more about these effective teams, we recently conducted a survey of 3,500 marketing leaders globally. The research found that high-performing teams have a couple of key attributes in common: a focus on connecting customer experiences and an ability to push the boundaries of personalisation with artificial intelligence (AI). What underpins these characteristics is flexibility and a willingness to embrace organisational change.

Connecting Customer Experiences

It’s no longer enough for customer experiences to be simple and fast. Today’s customers expect to switch between any channel – online, mobile app, social, in-person and so on – and maintain a consistent, welcoming brand experience. It’s probably not surprising then that the highest-performing marketing teams are more than 12 times more likely than underperforming teams to coordinate their marketing efforts across channels.

And that’s not all – customers are also demanding increased personalisation of their experience. According to the Connected Customer Report, over half (52%) of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalise communications. Creating a personal experience relies on knowing your customer, and that comes down to the single view marketers gain when they offer a consistent experience across channels.

The marketing team at Room & Board, for example, went from a family-owned furniture business to a brand of choice due to their emphasis on personalised, high-quality customer service. The company originally had no online store, with the website acting more like a digital magazine. When it implemented a wishlist servicewhere customers could create lists of items they want to buy and email it to headquarters to be processed as an order – the first month broke nearly $700,000 in sales. And when that feature was promoted, sales jumped another 50%.

Unsurprisingly, this focus on listening to your customers and presenting a joined up approach is a common thread among the top performing marketers – it’s giving customers more of what they want (a consistent, personal experience) and therefore is something we can all do more of.

Pushing the boundaries with AI

Customer expectations don’t sit still. This means that successful marketing teams are usually the ones who are innovating and continually offering their customers something new, an experience even more tailored to meet these ever-rising expectations.

Using customer data, marketers can effectively personalise every single customer interaction. AI enables you to take this to a new level. It can find correlations your teams might have missed and then use this insight to predict customer preferences and create a personalised experience for them. What’s more, it can do this at scale and at speed.

This matters because it’s what customers want. Recent research from Salesforce’s AI Revolution report reveals that 75% of business buyers expect that by 2020, companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they contact them.

In a direct response to consumers' demands, high-performing marketing teams are three times more likely to use AI in their marketing strategy. Additionally, in the UK, the 61% of marketers who are currently using AI say it is essential in helping their company create one-to-one marketing across every touchpoint.

Kone, the Finnish manufacturer of lifts, escalators, and automated doors, and one of the escalator suppliers to Transport for London, is an example of a high performing company that uses predictive intelligence to keep its customers happy. Kone keeps 1.1m units around the world in operation every day with field service engineers making around 70,000 maintenance visits a day. It plans to bring AI to its services which will help predict and suggest resolutions to potential problems – which will help its customers improve their businesses.

We’re still in the infancy of AI, but breakthroughs in the technology have created smarter interactions that consumers have grown accustomed to. For marketers to continue to derive real benefit from AI, they need to treat it as a “muscle” that learns and grows from data and on this basis evolve how they use AI, in order to gain insights that help them pull away from the competition.

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.”

Those words from Tony Robbins may sound a bit cliched, but they ring true for top marketing teams. Providing a connected experience, embracing AI – in fact every aspect of delivering an outstanding customer experience also depends on a myriad of internal processes, structures and systems.

It’s striking therefore, that the highest performing marketing teams are looking inwards as part of their journey to meet customer expectations. Our research shows that high performing marketing teams are 2.5 times more likely than underperforming teams to align their marketing roles to a customer journey strategy vs traditional roles. Additionally, 61% of marketers say they’ve become more focused on their progress from a traditional marketing structure to roles aligned with a customer journey strategy in the past year.

It’s clear that building a successful marketing team in this age of the customer depends not just on adopting new technologies to better understand and deliver more targeted campaigns, but also on an ability to mould your internal structures and processes to best meet their evolving needs. Who knows, 10 years from now, we could be seeing brand new roles that are tailor-made for marketers.

Guillaume Roques is chief marketing officer EMEA at Salesforce

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