21 June 2023

The right way (and the wrong way) to structure your marketing team

Peter Ivanoff
Written by Peter Ivanoff

Peter is a part-time marketing director with The Marketing Centre. He is a qualified Chartered Marketer and registered practitioner with MASA, IMM and EMC. He has extensive experience in both B2B and B2C markets, including agency, design, luxury goods & services, property and professional manufacturing services arenas. International experience – working with clients across a variety of languages and cultures.

Staffing is one of the most common marketing challenges we hear from SME business leaders. 

If you don’t have the right people in the right roles, no amount of strategic vision or tactical wizardry will help you. But how do you put the ‘right people in the right roles’ on a SME marketing budget? 

In this post, we’re going to explore why SMEs often struggle with staffing - and the right way to structure your marketing team.

The wrong way to structure your marketing team

There are three staffing scenarios we see all the time. They can happen on their own, but often they happen in parallel.

Hiring without a plan

You should create your marketing plan before you start trying to hire people. Only then will you know what kind of candidates to look for.

It’s easy to imagine that if you find the right person, what you ought to do will become clear. Or that they might be able to help you work it out. 

Don’t be fooled! Plan first, hire second. You’re very unlikely to find the right candidate if you haven’t first worked out what you need them to do. 

The MD becomes the marketing lead

Good marketing starts at the top. If you don’t have the right person leading your marketing, you’re unlikely to drive a positive return on investment. 

A lot of SME business leaders start off doing their own marketing. Either because they feel they’re the best person for the job, or because there was no one available to delegate it to. Unfortunately, leaders tend to be busy people with lots going on. As a result, marketing gets deprioritised or executed halfheartedly. 

Another common scenario is marketing falling under the remit of other department heads, often sales or operations. This usually leads to the same outcome for the same reasons. Marketing grinds to a halt because their primary responsibilities take priority.

Junior marketing managers trying to do everything

When SME business leaders hire their first marketer, they often hope they’ll be able to hand marketing to them in its entirety. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Marketing is a broad discipline covering countless specialisms, from copywriting to data analysis to design. A junior marketer in their mid-twenties won’t be able to do it all. In fact, an experienced marketer couldn’t do it all. Copywriting, data analysis and graphic design are each separate jobs in their own right.

Most junior marketers need strategic support to know what to do and specialist support to help them do it. Without these things, marketing devolves into ‘random acts of marketing’ with little strategy. Or grinds to a halt entirely because the marketer simply isn’t able to do what the business leader expects.

Why does this happen?

Ultimately, both of these scenarios stem from the same core issue: a misunderstanding of the value of marketing and what it can do for your business.

Most business leaders understand the value of sales and know what being good at sales looks like. Consequently, they’re happy to invest. But when it comes to marketing, things are less clear-cut. What distinguishes good marketing from bad? What’s a fair price? How do we measure ROI?

This lack of clarity makes it impossible for business leaders without a marketing background to define the right marketing strategy. As a result, they don’t know what they ought to do, so they make decisions based on price as opposed to the value delivered to the business. 

The right way to staff your marketing team

Most successful marketing teams follow a similar structure:

  • A marketing leader who translates the business strategy into a marketing plan and ensures the plan delivers the required outcomes for the business
  • A marketing manager responsible for managing the day-to-day execution of the plan 
  • Freelancers or agencies doing the specialist work the manager can’t do themselves

This model ensures you have a proper strategic plan, a well-managed operation and the specialist skills you need to execute to a high standard.

Why you need a marketing leader

At the very highest level, the marketing leader will be responsible for:

  • Translating the business strategy into a marketing plan
  • Building the right in-house team and suppliers to execute
  • Finding the right combination of marketing tools and getting them working
  • Setting goals and holding the team (as well as agencies and freelancers) accountable for their delivery
  • Regularly reviewing activity to make sure everything is on track and aligned with the strategy

Do you feel confident that you know how to do all these things - and give them the time they need? Or that one of your marketing team will? 

These are big decisions and responsibilities. Get any one of these wrong and the growth of the business will suffer. Getting them right will require experience, expertise as well as good old-fashioned management and leadership skills. 

In short, these aren’t things you can stick on the end of an already full to-do list. Someone needs to be responsible and that person needs to have the experience, expertise and time to do them well. Otherwise, you’re very unlikely to drive a positive return on your marketing investment

Note: if you’re nodding along but don’t think you can afford a marketing leader of your own, you might be surprised… Learn more about our Part-Time Marketing Leaders.

How to think about marketing ‘managers’ and ‘specialists’

A good model for marketing roles is to group them into ‘managers’ and ‘specialists’.

Managers tend to work in-house and are usually responsible for the execution of the marketing plan. Their responsibility is operational. They will deliver the plan on time, on budget and to a high standard.

Specialists tend to work in agencies or freelance. They support marketing managers by doing the specialist work that the managers can’t do themselves. They are responsible for individual deliverables, such as writing copy, SEO and graphic design.

Business leaders often struggle because they hire managers and then expect them to do specialist tasks. Or hire specialists and expect them to manage projects.

As we said at the start, you need the right people in the right roles. So be crystal clear when hiring staff or appointing partners whether you’re looking for an all-rounder to manage delivery or a specialist to deliver the work themselves. 

Once again, this comes back to understanding what marketing can do for your business and being able to distinguish between good marketing and bad. 

Build the marketing team your business needs

Staffing is a genuinely ‘make or break’ decision. Get the right people in the right roles and your likelihood of success increases tenfold. Fail to do this and it will always be an uphill struggle. 

Our Part-Time Marketing Leaders have helped more than 1,400 SMEs to build marketing teams that are able to make the right plan and execute it. Feel free to get in touch using the button below if you’d like to learn more. 

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