How marketers can make better decisions at "the seams"

8th Jul 2014

It’s one of the most complex issues currently facing marketers in medium to large organisations: how to incorporate the right business units into the decision-making process without politics bringing things to a standstill. Especially when cost is involved. 

With technology blurring the lines between what should be a marketing decision and what should include IT and the wider organisation, gaining clarity on who gets final say is becoming as complicated as the actual decision-making itself.     

Harvard Business Review’s senior editor, Gardiner Morse, recently published a video in collaboration with Bain’s Aditya Joshi and Eduardo Giménez to try and bring some precision to the issue. The verdict? Businesses need to organise themselves better at “the seams”, in order to become more efficient.

Morse suggests it’s at the seams, or rather, the point where marketers open decisions up to another part of the organisation, in which “communication most often breaks down and processes stall”. He uses the procedure of buying a marketing automation package as an example of the complexity now involved at this juncture:   

“Does the IT team ultimately choose the marketing automation software, or is this marketing’s call? Likewise, how do you resolve a situation where marketing and sales have different priorities about where to focus? Shared decisions across functions are some of the hardest to get right because you set up a collaboration in which each group has an interest in being in charge, but there are going to be differing opinions on how to pursue an opportunity or solve a problem, and yet it’s often unclear who gets to make the final decision.”

Morse suggests that, in order to successfully collaborate on decisions at the seams, marketers should divide the process into five separate roles and decide who in the organisation fits into each position, prior to opening the collaboration out to them. The roles are:

  1. Input
  2. Recommend
  3. Agree
  4. Decide
  5. Perform

In the marketing automation platform scenario between marketing and IT, those assigned to the ‘recommend’ role are those that, Morse states, “gather input about the pros and cons of each platform’s functionality, the vendor’s track record and so on, and make a recommendation about which platform to buy and why.” Recommenders should have both good analytical skills and an understanding of the organisational chain, as it is their job to build buy-in.

Those given the ‘input’ role are consulted by the recommenders. “Though their input isn’t binding,” Morse states, “their knowledge guides the recommendation. Only people with key information and expertise should have this input role, and recommenders need to take their input seriously; especially because the people providing input often help execute the decision at the end of the process.”

The person in the agree role is given the responsibility of double-checking the recommender’s suggestions. Recommenders should “work to accommodate the opinion of someone in the agree role before they make a recommendation to the decision-maker”, and is generally suited to people in departments like legal or compliance, that manage business risk and regulatory requirements.

The person in the ‘decide’ role is said to have what Morse calls “the D” – the authority to resolve any impasse in the decision-making process, and commit the organisation to action. Morse advises that an organisation chooses one person to sit in this role, and once a decision is made, it is their responsibility to pass this onto those chosen for  the ‘perform’ role, to execute the decision.

Once the personnel are decided, marketers should place each one into a matrix like the following example (assigning multiple marketing communication decision rights across multiple groups), with the decisions that need making listed on the left-hand side, and the functions or personnel listed along the bottom. Marketers can then plot who should be assigned the five roles at each juncture, and hopefully, as a result, have a transparent process before going into decision-making:

“Decisions at the seams are the hardest to get right,” Morse concludes. “The key to improving is putting in the extra work up-front defining the decisions, setting clear decision criteria and clarifying the roles of those involved. When you know who has “the D”, you’ll make better decisions.”

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