From Afterthought to Strategic Powerhouse: Transforming Marketing Teams for Growth

25 March 2024

Is your marketing team finding itself in the background, relegated to executing last-minute requests rather than shaping strategic growth? Your organization has a solid product offering and is tapping into the right market. Now is the time to scale, but somehow the crucial discussions around strategic growth happen without marketing. So, how do we fix this?

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Written by Nataly Huff

Is your marketing team finding itself in the background, relegated to executing last-minute requests rather than shaping strategic growth? Your organization has a solid product offering and is tapping into the right market. Now is the time to scale; but somehow the crucial discussions around strategic growth happen without marketing.

So, how do we fix this? Let’s dive into the journey of transforming marketing teams from mere executers to driving forces of unprecedented insights and step-change initiatives.

Overcoming the Afterthought Syndrome

The Plight of the Overlooked Marketing Team

The path to becoming an overlooked marketing team seems to be pretty consistent across organizations.

Step 1: The company is growing, budgets are tight, and everyone seems to be “building the plane as we’re flying.” Everyone’s handling the next thing right in front of them, and no one has had a chance to think about what is foundationally needed for scale. Thinking long-term feels like a luxury.

Step 2: The founders define your products and your ideal customer’s needs, and marketing polishes the message. So the work that marketing delivers looks to be just the execution of direction and ideas that came from the leadership team.

Step 3: Marketing seems to be supporting everyone. We’re updating pitch decks, designing new case studies, and posting on social and blogs about the latest product updates. Marketing resources are spread thin and don’t seem capable of contributing at the strategy level.

Step 4: Early success with the current setup raises the fallacy of “we’ve gotten this far without having to worry about marketing strategy.”

Just four steps and the marketing team gets relegated to being a request-taker. “Can you just quickly update the design for trade show collateral? The event is this weekend, but it shouldn’t be that hard, right?” Inevitably, no one takes the time to ask who will be at the event, what the goals are, and how attendees will receive this collateral.

Bridging the Gap From Afterthought to Growth Driver

There’s a persistent myth that marketing is just about crafting ads or collateral and posting on social media. Amidst reactive, execution tasks, marketing teams face the constant struggle of proving their strategic value. Transitioning from an afterthought to a growth driver will need a substantial shift in both perception and action.
As marketers, we know that insights into market trends and customer behaviors enable better decision-making. We can see how automation will save time and improve retention and repurchase rates. We understand that managing brand reputation will make lead generation and conversion more efficient. But to sell these ideas within an organization means going beyond traditional advertising and aligning with the company’s broader objectives.

Strategic Marketing: What It Is & What It’s Not

Strategic marketing is not just a series of tactics. It’s a proactive, comprehensive approach that defines the marketing efforts based on the company’s long-term goals. It requires a thorough understanding of your market segment to inform the effective positioning of your brand. It brings a long-term view of the customer journey to build a connection with customers that goes beyond transactions. Through research and careful planning, strategic marketing interweaves the business’s objectives and the customer’s needs.

Being proactive vs reactive means intentionally selecting to put resources into the most impactful initiatives, aligning on the objectives, and defining success metrics ahead of time. And requiring intention and data-driven reasons to veer away from the plan.

Being integrated vs isolated means communicating early and often, welcoming probing questions, and focusing on the results that are meaningful for the whole organization.
Strategic marketing isn’t just about being creative; it’s about being deliberate, data-driven, and results-oriented.

Aligning Strategic Marketing with Business Goals

Strategic marketing is the backbone of any thriving business. It is the bridge between aspirations and market realities. By deeply understanding the customer and focusing on the entire customer journey, strategic marketing will increase market share, enhance customer loyalty, and drive entry into new markets.

Herein lies the first step for the transformation: we are not here to make marketing successful. We are here to make the business successful. Our goal is to make sure that every marketing message and initiative not only communicates the brand’s narrative but also drives toward specific business KPIs (key performance indicators).

Shifting Mindsets: Adopting a CEO Mindset

Moving a marketing team from the periphery to the core of business strategy has little to do with recognition. This kind of transformation comes from within the marketing team. It begins with cultivating a deep understanding of the business model, the industry landscape, and the customer base. The entire marketing team must evolve to think like business strategists. We need to do more than just use data and analytics to inform marketing decisions and measure the impact. The focus of the entire team needs to shift from making marketing successful to making the business successful. “How will this drive the business forward?” is the new marketing mantra.

Integrating Business Objectives with Marketing Initiatives

Encourage your team to, quite literally, draw the connection from their efforts to the business goal, and define every team, variable, and risk along the way.

If the line to the business goal is not clear it could mean that the priorities need to be revisited, or it could mean that the team needs a better understanding of how the business works. Both are crucial findings that help define the next step to level up strategic marketing.

If the line is drawn and dependencies defined, we now have a list of teams and processes required to ensure the success of the initiative.

The CEO mindset demands we erase “not my problem” from our vocabulary. We don’t have the luxury of saying that marketing delivered on their part, and the other teams dropped the ball. Our initiatives aren’t successful if they aren’t impacting the business goal. Bringing other functions on board, equipping them for success, and mitigating risks are squarely within the scope for which we’re accountable.

Likely, this means taking on fewer initiatives. By taking ownership of the holistic perspective of the initiative, we can now ensure that every campaign, content piece, and marketing effort is delivering tangible business outcomes. And now, every marketing dollar spent is an investment towards the company’s growth.

Truly Understanding the Business Landscape

As marketers, we need to make a habit of being very familiar with the company’s financial goals, market positioning, and product margins. Staying on top of industry trends, regulatory changes, and technological advancements that can impact the business is a requirement for any sort of forward-thinking planning. Deep knowledge of the customer journey, from awareness to purchase and beyond, is essential to identifying opportunities and ensuring connecting tactics to business results.

This comprehensive view is a base-level requirement for crafting strategies that deliver results. In building a habit of having full context, we bring strategic thinking into our efforts.

This evolution is not easy, especially when the team has been embedded in the execution tasks for so long. Your teams might not know how to break out of the status quo. Sometimes, a transformation requires some external support with a fresh perspective. Bringing in a team coach, or a fractional leader to help facilitate the transition can make a big difference and accelerate the process.

Why Before How: Focus on Driving Results

When it comes to humans, perception is formed quickly and will influence actions immediately. This means that unless we quickly, clearly, consistently, and repeatedly communicate why something matters – most people will not care.

We cannot assume that everyone has the same context, or even has time to think about the context. We cannot assume that people understand what we’re trying to accomplish and how our initiative impacts the business. Unless we spell out how our work benefits the company, many might assume that we have not thought it through.

We need to take every opportunity to talk about the “why” in quantifiable, tangible results that matter all.

Obsessive Outcome-Oriented Approach

Part of the transition is pivoting from being activity-focused to outcome-driven. Before diving into the ‘how’ of tactics and campaigns, we must first clarify the ‘why’ – the goal outcomes and objectives. How will we know we succeeded? How will that success impact the strategic goals of the company? Every marketer should be able to easily answer these questions.

Knowing the “why” will help prioritize work, evaluate effort vs impact, and make internal communications easier. This results-obsessed approach will give credibility to both our initiatives and our accomplishments. Communicating the targets will bring people in on the process and show intentionality behind our efforts. We are no longer viewed as throwing spaghetti at the wall or “just doing some last-minute updates.” We are setting out to drive the company forward and explain how. And we are promising to hold ourselves accountable to the results we targeted.

And now that we’ve set this standard for ourselves, we have a basis to ask probing questions (with positive intent) of other teams. The goal here is not to show off or make our peers look bad. We are here to help stimulate the conversation and demonstrate strategic capability to bring value into any conversation.

Identifying Which Results Matter

We are no longer looking to make marketing succeed, we are working for the business to succeed. Now, we have to find the KPIs that align with business objectives. So that anyone from any team can understand how that KPI connects to the business results, without a need for us to explain.

The metrics that matter are those that are much closer to the actual desired outcome. Impression-share and clicks are not going to cut it. MQLs (marketing qualified leads) and costs per lead get closer. But in the end, it’s the actual conversions that matter. These KPIs will be the guiding light toward high-impact activities. When we take ownership of the full-funnel performance of our initiatives (even when they include activities not owned by marketing), we are forcing ourselves to care and get involved with all elements that impact company growth.

Results that the entire organization can get behind make it easier to talk about the targets and the outcomes. When we can start demonstrating how marketing strategies contribute to the bigger picture, it will help validate the role of marketing. It will also encourage a more result-driven culture.

This Transformation is Hard

Without Marketing at the executive table, scale is likely to become a challenge. Strategic marketing leadership ensures that the path to scale becomes clearer, the efforts more concerted, and the outcomes more impactful. Embracing marketing as a central driver of growth is not just smart – it’s essential for any company looking to thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

What’s Needed to Make It Happen

You will need marketing leaders who can step up to spearhead discussions, integrate into business strategy, build relationships, and pioneer a results-driven culture. This calls for senior marketers who are not just creative thinkers but also savvy business strategists. Someone who possesses a blend of marketing acumen and a deep understanding of business operations. The current teams are likely to have carved a deep path within the status quo, and breaking free from those legacy processes will take time, effort, and initiative.

Change like this needs a catalyst and a champion. It is a job for a seasoned professional that is hard to find and is likely expensive. For this transformation, the concept of fractional marketing leadership can be a game-changer.

By hiring a seasoned marketing executive on a part-time or contract basis, companies can access top-tier marketing expertise without the full-time financial commitment. These experienced professionals bring a wealth of experience, strategic insight, and leadership. All the skills businesses need but may not be able to afford full-time. A fractional CMO can bring credibility and external perspective to help shape and implement a marketing strategy that drives growth. They can mentor existing teams, introduce best practices, and establish a results-driven marketing culture. For companies looking to scale, a fractional marketing executive can be the best way to get the strategic direction needed to navigate the complexities of market expansion and customer acquisition.

About the Author
Nataly Huff is an experienced leader known for challenging the status quo and creating measurable, sustainable change. With more than 15 years in leadership focusing on growth and retention marketing, Nataly has a proven track record of driving growth for startups and mature global organizations alike.

The foundation of her career stems from agency-side work for clients in Health, Science, and Technology. As her career evolved, Nataly took on transformational and ground-up development of world-class teams in EdTech, Retail, and Prosumer SaaS. Today, Nataly is the Founder & CEO of Innovate Forward Marketing ( offering strategic guidance and practical marketing expertise to businesses worldwide.

About RevelOne
RevelOne is a leading go-to-market advisory and recruiting firm. We help hundreds of VC/PE-backed companies each year leverage the right resources to achieve more profitable growth. We do 250+ retained searches a year in Marketing and Sales roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. In addition to our Search Practice, our Interim Expert Network includes 200+ vetted expert contractors – executive-level leaders and head-of/director-level functional experts – available for interim or fractional engagements. For help in any of these areas, contact us.

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Spotlight Series

We regularly bring you insights and articles from leading experts within our Interim Expert Network, covering a range of topics at the intersection of marketing, growth, and talent.