Warning Signs of an Undersized Marketing Department


Marketing has earned a “money-wasting” reputation over the years from many a Gatsby-like marketing leader. But sometimes the pendulum swings too far towards austerity too. There can be a high risk of missed market opportunities when the current team just can’t “balance” it all. Here are a few examples from my experiences:


Marketing as a Dirty Word

Marketing Manager, “Bob” looked almost hobbit-like as the mountains of folders, papers and marketing paraphernalia boxed him into his undersized office. This WAS the marketing department for the mid-sized engineering firm. Maybe this was acceptable, if the firm was retaining clients and gaining new business based on reputation, but the top competitor in the industry had eclipsed Bob’s firm like a Ferrari passing a fiat on an Italian motorway. Bob knew what would turn around the current sales slump, but who was going to listen to one of the few company employees without an engineering degree?


The Never-Ending Marketing Project List

In another B2B technology company a few thousand kilometers away, “Rick” can barely contain his frustrations with the company’s marketing department. Rick asked the marketing department weeks ago for the materials he needed for his presentation in Singapore to a top prospective client. Marketing is always behind on requests as VPs continually rearrange marketing’s priority list, leaving Rick and his colleagues to create their own materials, messaging and presentation. There is always a risk of getting caught going off “brand”, but Rick would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. It’s worth it if he can close the Singapore deal.


The Marketing “Ferrari” That Stalled Out

Still another company thousands of kilometers afield, a B2B enterprise software company with USD$100 million in annual revenue quietly admits that as part of rebuilding the company with new private equity, they currently have no marketing staff among their 1,500 employees worldwide. None. Existing clients remain happy paying their ongoing subscriptions. But market share is dropping as competitors smell blood in the water and investors expect to see returns soon.


How do you know if Marketing is too small?

Over the years I have seen various versions of undersized marketing teams. In some cases, company leadership ignores the marketing function altogether. These are the companies that seem genuinely perplexed when competitors eclipse their global market share. Here some signs:

1. Marketing staff become order takers for collateral and other marketing tools for sales and other departments.
This is actually a marketing leadership issue as well. A good marketing director, VP or CMO can set the department’s priorities and devise strategies for marketing assets to be easily templated and customizable in various markets. As Canadian international marketing expert Doug Taylor added this week in Twitter: [Undersized marketing teams are] “unable to respond to real requests quickly, scatter gun approach to marketing, lack of research capability”.

2. Online assets like the company website and social media accounts are underperforming and not driving or nurturing leads.
In the cases of all three example companies, their websites yielded poor SEO, few sales leads, or branded positioning as market leaders. All three had no social media or only placeholder accounts that again added no real value to the company.

3. Sales teams trying to do marketing tasks such as defining messaging and creating their own marketing collateral.
A company is strongest when their sales and marketing teams are both fully utilized. The best sales teams focus sales staff directly on sales interactions instead of creative marketing projects.

4. Inconsistent messaging and branding in various sales channels.
Nowhere is there a greater risk of losing control of your brand as in your global markets. An established global marketing team can help rein in renegade staff and partners.

5. Outsourcing long term even the most basic functions and paying contractor rates.
Plenty of marketing firms would be happy to perform even the most mundane marketing tasks for your company. Believe me. But there are two major issues with the Outsource-Your-Marketing Approach. First, your interests and your marketing firms interests may not always align. And second, it’s expensive compared with hiring marketing staff to take care of at least the basics of strategy and program management. Outsourcing limited specialty projects can actually be a great way to expand marketing’s capabilities. 

6. Lagging behind  the industry expansion rate.
I work mainly with software companies in expanding global markets. More than one company in the field has bragged about high growth rates with little marketing efforts. But on closer inspection, it was really a market growing at a fast rate. Their relative market share was less, which may matter later when the company owners want to exit.

7. Any competitive information is basically hearsay from the sales team.
Sales staff actually gain a great deal of competitive insights from their conversations with leads and clients. But relying on 2nd hand anecdotal information as the basis to make company decisions is high risk. A solid marketing team has the capabilities to collect and analyze competitive and industry data for better product development and executive decision making. Dutch Cultural Anthropologist and Business Consultant, Ursula Brinkmann agreed in Twitter this week as well: “@IntlEntreprenr Great question! Marketing team too small? Constant running after facts, fear re missed opportunity, jealousy re: competition.


A Happy Ending

Now Bob, our engineering firm marketing manager, has great news. A new CEO was hired to reverse the firm’s downward revenue spiral. Bob was quickly promoted to a Director level. He was initially given the budget to hire interns from a local college and some contractors to build a new website, develop a social media program, and write digital content. Later he added a few marketing staff who were able to take over the fully-functioning, digital lead-driving website as well as events management and other tasks. The marketing staff and budget increase was not dramatic for the overall size of the firm, but it made all the difference.  At first, the results were small, but then the marketing engine roared into its fuller potential. The last I heard, the firm was not only retaking the top market share position in the industry worldwide, but they were in a position to start acquiring smaller firms in their global markets.
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