Susan rubbed her forehead trying to push back the headache that was forming. She was the Chief Marketing Officer for a Boston-based globally-expanding software company. Susan had always been praised for her ability to hire and manage outside marketing specialists and deliver excellent marketing metrics. But now she needed resources like German social media experts and Thai copywriters. The marketing ROI, lead generation numbers and other metrics she had worked to hard to build domestically had all turned sour in the global mix. Susan worried that she might lose her job if she didn’t turn things around quickly in the new global expansion. How could she turn things around?
First, take a deep breath and assess the situation
It’s easy to get caught up in the tactical marketing execution and miss the bigger picture. With this in mind, it’s time to take an assessment of the resources and skills currently available from existing staff and current contractors and match them up against the expectations of your operation.
Global markets can confound even seasoned marketing leaders. We all know our home market best. But once we move into another country, the legal, linguistic and cultural rules shift. The Canadian market may have responded well to your company’s inbound marketing campaigns, but the Colombian market may need more direct contacts. And giving what seem like clear communications make take on a completely different outcome in India compared with Denmark.
Susan from Boston assesses that she has too many disparate resources that she directly manages. She needs to navigate many unfamiliar business cultures. And she’s not sure what marketing messaging and channels work in which markets. Her CEO is expecting her to deliver the same 5-fold ROI on marketing expenditures that she delivered in the U.S. market and his patience is wearing thin. Susan needs to do something different.
Planning for international success
I always recommend starting with a Gap Analysis. Assess where your marketing organization is at today and where it needs to be both today (short-term) and at some point out in the future (long-term). What capabilities would you need for both short-term and long-term success? Assess marketing functional capabilities, but also cross-cultural communication skills.
Internal and external resource balancing act
Today’s marketing leaders have extensive outsourcing options. In fact, more than one company has outsourced their entire department to a marketing agency. That’s extreme, but in certain situations, it could make sense. Here are guidelines for the majority:
Leadership and oversight should stay in house.
Marketing is normally part of the company’s value chain should be managed by the CMO/VP and their staff. This allows for internal brand management and control. Most importantly, the marketing department remains responsible for all marketing results.
Specialty projects and functions requiring rare skills should be outsourced.
I don’t speak Thai or understand the nuances of Thai culture. To create an effective marketing campaign in Thailand, I would need to engage a local marketing agency. This is not only true for culture and language-specific projects, but other skills that are well outside of your marketing department’s current core competencies. They could be technical, creative, analytical or any area where there is currently more need than internal staff skills.
And then there’s the gray area in between
There are always functions that could be either hired or trained into the marketing department staff OR outsourced to an outside firm. Generally, most marketing leaders I know estimate the value of the output compared with the cost. Is it more expensive to outsource or spend internal staff hours on the website rebuild? Additionally, how easy are each resource to manage? Which is most reliable? Do we have enough marketing budget to pay for a new employee or pay an outside resource?
Susan from Boston’s Dilemma
When we met Susan the software company CMO, she was challenged with her company’s global expansion. This isn’t unusual. Susan needs to start by realigning expectations of new market learning curves internally with her CEO and other stakeholders. Susan and her staff will need time to figure out the most effective marketing messages and channel mix. This needs to be communicated to realign expectations. I’d also recommend reporting metrics by country to show that the domestic numbers are still strong as well as any improvements by country over time.
If the expansion involves several simultaneous market entries (which seems to be the case), then Susan may need to reorganize oversight responsibilities. The 2 most common structures are to organize by functional marketing areas (design, content, social media, events, etc.) or by country/region.
Susan’s marketing department may be too small for this aggressive of a global expansion. She may need more project management and functional skills to lead efforts in different parts of the world simultaneously. This will help the company continue global growth and success.
I hope this article helps you as your company continues to growth and balance resources. With so many choices, it leaves many CMOs to wonder how to best manage and execute their global marketing budget. Overseas markets require creative solutions, and no matter what some marketing agency tries to tell you there is no one size fits all solution. Above all else, do what is right for your situation.
Becky Park, The International Entrepreneur