Marketing Needs Internal Engagement, Too

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Martyn Etherington, Mitel (Photo by: Shane Kisliack)
Martyn Etherington, Mitel (Photo by: Shane Kisliack)

As CMO, I've been heavily consumed by a number of enterprise-wide initiatives that go beyond the marketing function. These endeavors include running the company's strategic planning process for our new fiscal year; working with our CEO to operationalize that strategic plan while introducing a more rigorous monthly operations cadence; and spearheading a deep-dive audit of our go-to-market (GTM) strategy and sales channel.

Each one of these projects is essential for the company. However, each project required an incredible investment of my time. As we all know, time is our most valuable asset. It's also an asset that tends to get away from you if you're not careful. Time flies, the old saying goes.

Time's speed and value help explain why Mitel's marketing function devoted several days to conducting a comprehensive review of our strategy, structure, processes, and accomplishments over the past six months. It also explains why I've devoted more quality time to reengaging with my team.

From late November through early March I was deeply involved with my marketing team. But I also realized that there were times when I was not as engaged with my team at a deep enough level. I absolutely need to sustain this deep level of engagement with my team if we're to truly transform the marketing function to become a growth function within Mitel. Thankfully, some people on my team gave me valuable counsel that I was fully involved with them but not 100% engaged with all of the company-wide marketing projects I was involved with. Those team members' insights validated my own concern, and, in response, I quickly and actively reengaged.

The pull of strategic initiatives

As I've asserted, the strategic initiatives outside the marketing function that I've been working on are absolutely necessary. I believe it's important for CMOs to lead strategic initiatives outside of the marketing function.

As most of us have heard for years, senior marketing executives covet a seat at the strategic decision-making table. In practice, however, many senior marketing leaders play more of a subservient role—rather than a leadership role—to the business.

I've been fortunate to avoid this “relevance trap” in my career. One stop that was particularly helpful in this regard includes the five years I worked with Danaher, which ranks among the best run and most strategically and operationally rigorous companies in the world. During my time with Danaher, I led the strategic planning process for three years at one of its operating companies, Tektronix. That experience made it natural for me to lead, coordinate, and work with our senior leadership team to take Mitel through the strategic planning process.

This work also required me to work closely with our CEO, CFO, and leadership team; in hindsight, this work helped accelerate our coming together as a coherent team to put the plan in place. During a rapid strategic planning cycle (roughly nine weeks), we produced a realistic business plan, a simple but compelling strategic plan, and a work plan that included a granular set of operational key performance indicators (KPIs), action plans, and a review process.

The other strategic initiative that affected the depth of my engagement with my marketing team concerned a sales audit. Top-line growth is perhaps the most difficult metric a leadership team manages thanks to intense competition (including new entrants), low-single digit growth levels in most markets, and the constant need to increase sales productivity while controlling costs.

Although Mitel is experiencing growth, our company completely overhauled its GTM strategy roughly two years ago. So, it was a natural time to take stock of our current GTM strategy and sales channel. We also wanted to validate or disprove a series of hypotheses we had developed in response to our recent GTM changes. For example, we wanted to determine if we were maintaining the right geographic coverage and if we were still focusing our resources on the greatest growth opportunities.

In December we decided that our GTM review would benefit from a dose of objective, third-party expertise. So, we embarked on a search for an expert sales consultancy to help us conduct a deep-dive audit of our GTM strategy and sales channel. In just three weeks, we issued a request for proposal (RFP), established the scope of the work to be performed, and interviewed potential companies to help us with this project.

That process culminated with the selection of Sales Benchmark Index. Today we're three months into the project and have gained tremendous insight to several areas of potential improvement, including our selling process and channel coverage. We're now in the process of developing action plans to implement these recommendations.

If you're wondering why the CMO was initially leading this project, it was because we were in the middle of sales leadership transition. Additionally, however, the findings and action plans, as well as the goals, are shared between sales and marketing. Marketing will have actions, metrics, and accountability for the implementation of the recommendations generated by the audit.

A reengagement plan

Strategy, structure, processes, and people were the framework we used to assess our situation six months ago. So six months on and following a company-wide project, now was the optimal time to review our initial plans, progress, and direction, but most important, results.

Besides this review, I'm taking other, less formal steps to resolidify the connection with my team. These steps represent several of the same activities I engaged in when I joined the company just over six months ago: simply, increasing my interaction with my team, our channel, and our customers. For example, I recently jumped back into the field to attend a trade show; the experience gave me quality time with analysts, our customers, our sales channel, and key members of my team.

The formal functional review took place over three days. It involved my direct reports and select members of their team. Our goal was to make sure that the “skip level” has a chance to participate in these meetings. We scrutinized our strategy, structure, process, and accomplishments to make sure that:

  • We are aligned as a team.
  • We can clearly articulate our strategy.
  • We have the action plans, resources, and metrics in place necessary to execute our strategy while driving growth.

For the most part, our review indicated that we're aligned and progressing on our intended path. Our strategic focus remained the same as we moved into our new fiscal year on May 1.

Our structure also remains similar, although it will adjust somewhat in response to the findings of the go-to-market/sales channel audit and the action plan we're developing based on those findings. Our marketing processes are in place and will get stronger.

Our team's major focus in the immediate future will center on moving beyond monitoring our KPIs to managing them more tightly, with a relentless focus on continuous improvement. During the next few months and throughout the coming new fiscal year, we'll use some lean-management tools and training to help us make a stepwise improvement within our core KPIs. For example, we'll use a lean tool to assess the root cause when we miss one of our KPIs. The tool will help ensure that we're focused on root cause, as opposed to a symptom, so we can develop and implement countermeasures that get us back to our planned metric.

Upgrading our talent management approach

Talent management represents another critical area we're currently targeting for improvement. One of our marketing function's most important focus areas in the coming year will be team and individual development.

To that end, we plan to implement a “Topgrading” approach as laid out in books and manuals, such as Brad Smart and Geoff Smart's Topgrading: How to Hire, Coach and Keep A Players. This approach is designed to pack your ranks with “A” players while clearing out the “C” players.

We'll perform a complete assessment of ourselves against talent and skills metrics we develop. It's important to note that these talent metrics will reflect our company's and our function's skills that are needed as Mitel continues its transition to a software as a service (SaaS) company.

After getting that “current state” view of our skills and capabilities, we'll identify and implement development plans to improve and augment our competencies where possible. We'll also reshape our recruiting processes so we attract the best new talent possible.

“Time flies” already seems like an outdated saying in terms of its relevance to our current work. “You're judged by the company you keep” has quickly become a more relevant maxim for describing the progress we intend to notch, especially on the talent management front, in the coming months.

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