Cross-functional ways of working is a fundamental pillar of the Agile Marketing Manifesto, and whether we are considering real-time decision making in the world of campaign execution, or the owned-media digital product landscape I will discuss here, the ethos remains the same: bring teams and ideas from seemingly disparate disciplines together to drive customer value.
In this blog post, we will outline some of the key challenges organizations face in implementing cross-functional marketing and how a co-ownership philosophy can address these through some easy-to-implement operational tweaks.
Who Belongs In a Cross-Functional Marketing Team?
When we consider what and how a brand should be marketing in the digital sphere, we naturally think of decision makers like CMOs, Head of Digital Channels, and Customer Experience leadership. Without getting into the debate on where product management sits within the world of MarTech, few would argue that the teams delivering these strategic initiatives as tangible customer offerings including brand websites, apps, in-store digital display etc., primarily consist of Marketing and Product, Creative, Technical, and Data teams. Let’s consider how these four core groups currently work together in the absence of cross-functional collaboration and identify the common obstacles they face. We know every modern marketer wants proof that their hot new feature will drive conversion. We also know that it makes total sense for Experience Design teams to include insights on how existing users actually interacted with content into the early-stage designs of upcoming campaign assets. However, access to these insights at any stage of a digital product’s lifecycle isn’t often readily available to non-data teams – that’s if it has even been captured at all.
Similarly, having designers work closely with front-end developers during an agile sprint would certainly allow for quick resolution of the component library conundrum that blocks delivery, but that would require a culture that brings these teams together for continuous collaboration.
This is why cross-functional marketing sounds like a good idea but remains elusive for many organizations. Teams tends to be restricted to their departmental disciplines of just analyzing data or just creating assets, with few opportunities to continue delivering insights on customer value beyond this stage in the lifecycle.
This siloed, production line approach results in inefficient use of time, effort, and budget spend, delayed time to market through lost opportunities to resolve issues quickly and, worst of all, lost opportunities for customer experience enhancements that could come from any team at any time. Each of our four groups tend to face their own specific challenges and restrictions as we’ll walk through below.
Product Teams: Deciding on a Hunch?
Product owners, product managers, and product innovators - these team members are generally the starting point in the product lifecycle, shaping what new features a digital product should have and the business value it will deliver all the way to go-live and beyond. These market assessments and innovative ideas then become intimidating roadmaps of work for Creative and Technical teams to attempt to deliver, and while the analysis that defines this vision may well be sound, learnings from the current customer experience as well as third-party data tends to be under-utilized.
More often than not, data and insights are cherry-picked to support set in stone ideas, rather than using data as the starting point to inform more agile plans that iterate and are determined by what customers show you they want.
Creative Teams: Champagne Tastes Just like Prosecco
From user research to design deliverables, these internal or agency-based team members defining the actual digital user experience and interface that consumers interact with have a vested interest in understanding how their creative vision was received. However, somewhere between the conceptual phase and handing off to Development teams, their ideas often become morphed or even compromised due to the realities of technical limitations and timeframes.
One of the key pain points we have seen across a range of organizations is a loss of design input once the process is ramped up into the delivery phase. It is as though the pixel-perfect champagne dreams fizzled into Prosecco reality, and no one told them how different it would taste for the customer.
Technical Delivery Teams: But, We Just Code
Development teams are where we expect to see agile methodology come to the forefront, as business analysts, front-end and back-end developers, and architects work out the technical solutions that fulfill business ambition, delivered in component parts as sprints of work.
But whether it’s a brand-new product, enhanced functionality of an existing one, or a small bug fix, it all just boils down to a bit of code, right? Not quite. Often, the discoveries made during even the most prepared for sprint cycles tend to be the decisive ones that require fast, real-time business decisions, bringing product teams back into the fold. These also tend to be the decisions that have a direct impact on what will be released for customers and against competitors.
Data Teams: Steering or Sidelined?
When we talk about web or mobile analytics tools like Optimizely, Adobe Analytics, or Google Analytics, the capability to track and demystify how users are interacting with your digital product is invaluable. These tools have enabled marketers to try out different UX hypotheses through variate testing for more than one customer segment at a time. When these are combined with rich customer data insights, such as who your customers are, what they bought in the past, and what they are browsing for today, your organization has a rich resource on their hands.
Although the reports, dashboards, and stats might exist, ensuring that these are accessible to Marketing and Product teams and informing business decision making at the strategic as well as tactical level isn’t always happening. Many data analysts, data scientists, and BI managers are sidelined to a service team, rather than playing a key role in steering a product’s direction.
The Alternative: Pivoting to Cross-Functional Marketing
Overcoming these obstacles to achieve cross-functional ways of working across product marketing all narrows down to just one problem statement – siloed product ownership. Each team gets a ‘part’ of the product at a point in time - first Marketing and Product, then Development, and finally some Data and Insights once we go live.
But if we redefine this so that these teams are linked up in a hand-holding circle with the product orservice at its core, we can start to see that, really, everyone owns the product - they simply have prominent roles at different stages. This perspective shift offers us a very different reality, with fewer barriers between departments, more opportunities to collaborate, and a more fluid organizational culture. Let’s consider some easily implementable examples that could bring this new reality to life:
1. Introduce data-informed decision making at every stage of your product lifecycle
Allow your owned data to become one of your most important product roadmap definers. Microsoft Word’s study into “The Most Frequently Used Features in Microsoft Office” is a great example of data-informed feature prioritization. Have data a insights team members contribute to and sit in on your strategic roadmap planning sessions; let your latest A/B or multi-variate testing inform what goes into the upcoming sprint instead of what you decided months before. This will allow your structured plan to become living, agile activities that are intentionally subject to positive change. Don’t just collect the data–action it.
2. Bring your development leads in early
Instead of raining on blue sky thinking, having a technical point of view early on can provide the guidelines that make ambitions achievable. Marketers having an early understanding of what is, and more importantly, is not technically realistic mitigates the need for big rescoping decisions and timeline shifts later on, thus speeding up time to market. Yes, it means taking senior development resources away for a meeting or two, but it is worthwhile “spend” that could save time, effort, and disappointment later down the line.
3. The Three Amigos agile principle
Apply the Three Amigos Agile principle to product, design, and front-end development. In our experience, the best teams have UX resources sitting with Development teams for at least part of their working week and remain available for impromptu discussions as required.
By staying accessible and close to the action, experience design isn’t cut off prematurely. Tools such as Figma are great at facilitating this, even if your teams are not in the same room, and recent enhancements such as the built-in mic for impromptu chats all lend themselves to on-the-fly collaboration with whoever needs to be part of the conversation. Adobe's acquisition of the tool certainly shows their backing of cross-functional, collaborative ways of working as one of their next big bets.
4. Development teams beyond the Development
In the same vein, the opportunity to listen in on a customer research interview may not be for every developer, but invitations like these provide context to what needs coding and why may be more welcomed than you think. Engaging in these kind of marketing activities can create buy-in that unlocks a world of suggestions from your Development team, who now have real customer feedback as context on what has been built by their own fair hands.
In a Nutshell
Perhaps your organization feels light years away from trying any one of these proposals, or maybe yours is one of a handful that are already doing it all. Wherever you land on the agile marketing maturity spectrum, there is always more you can do to move towards cross-functional collaboration without the need for org-chart level changes.
These four suggestions are just a handful from a range of alternative ways of working that can yield real dividends, while still respecting the core disciplines of these four teams. The philosophy of ‘everyone owning the product’ allows inspiration to flow and operational efficiencies to be realized, while constantly generating more opportunities to get customer experience right.
If you’d like to talk to some of our marketing leaders on how to move to the next stage of cross-functional marketing, please reach out to us at email@example.com.