The evolution of Demand Centers – The 5 S’s of success

January 21 2019 By Andrew Freeman

Scaling marketing globally used to be easy. When a company grew beyond their native homeland to set-up regional offices an element of the original marketing organisation was duplicated in the region, to form a field marketing team. Some functions such as brand identity and corporate communications were maintained centrally but most were decentralised.

The field teams would align with their regional counterparts in the sales team and focus on understanding the customer base and nuances of their local market. The level of autonomy of these field teams over their colleagues in the central team varied by organisation  greatly influenced by both corporate structure and culture.

As regions became successful more of the central structure was replicated under the control of regional VP’s of marketing. Central and field teams aligned at quarterly business reviews and as long as the regions were performing everyone was happy  right?

Done and dusted? The rise of Martech

Well not quite. As both science and technology started to infiltrate the marketing function the line between centralised and field functions became fuzzy.

In the early days of marketing automation, vendors would happily push the concept of training all central and field teams in the use of their platforms.

Out of control

As the sophistication in the use of the platforms grew beyond email ‘batch and blast’ to incorporate concepts such as ‘always on’ campaigns, lead scoring, dynamic landing pages, and true engagement marketing, the decentralised model started to break. Organisations found some regions had the knowledge (and desire) to make the best use of the platforms and some didn’t  and even those that did needed some central coordination to avoid chaos. 

Adoption levels, campaign quality, and data governance were therefore hugely inconsistent.

This led to duplicated effort across regions, much maverick activity and certainly no consistent way for the central teams to measure performance across the regions. Not quite chaos but certainly not the efficient, measured and aligned approach that organisations strove for.

Enter demand centers (stage left)

It became clear, especially as the martech stack grew, that this decentralised approach had its shortcomings. 

As a direct result, organisations started to deploy a central specialist team as a centre of excellence (a ‘demand center’) that would act as an internal agency servicing the field. No longer did the field need to be martech experts or hands-on in the technology, their needs in that respect were served by the central demand center team.   

The demand center became a hub of shared marketing services, infrastructure, and processes including a project management office (to coordinate all the activity from the field) and a strategic function that, through shared insight, focused on maximising results and moving the organisation forward in their use of martech.

Sorted!

Balancing act – central vs field

Well, kind of. Moving from a decentralised to a centralised approach can also have its shortcomings.  

The demand center team typically provides a standardised menu of services to the field in a bid for consistency and to minimise turnaround times. Using templates for campaigns, for example, makes the demand centre team efficient, but at the expense of the field marketers experimenting and innovating in their local regions.  

This cookie cutter approach to marketing can become robotic, removing the local relevance and ultimately the customer-centric ambition of the organisation. In this environment maverick regions often ignore the demand centre and do their own thing with local agencies.

So, a balance needs to be found that brings the benefits of centralised control and execution with the local market knowledge and customer-facing expertise of regional and field marketing.

The Five S’s

By helping customers build and optimise their demand centres over many years I’ve seen both successes and failures. Every organisation is different, and a one-size-fits-all model, unfortunately, doesn’t exist.  

However, here are my top 5 tips that I’d give anyone attempting to build or optimise a demand center that will maximise your chances of success and help you find the optimal model for your organisation.

  1. Structure: If you’re a large organisation, consider a regional model where a central demand center team is augmented by regional demand center teams. If you’re a smaller business, consider a virtual demand center team where team members sit both centrally and in the regions under a single manager. Mid-size businesses should consider a central demand center initially but don’t rule out the regional or virtual models if they seem a better fit.
  2. Systems: Make sure your central demand center team have the technology to systemise the process from campaign request through to execution efficiently and to a high quality, so that repeatable tasks are completed quickly, and custom tasks are handled effectively. The field should have visibility of progress at all stages.
  3. Services: Act as an internal agency. Publish a menu of services, expected turnaround times, costs (where applicable) and work to an agreed SLA. Give the field the opportunity to use templates but also the ability to brief in customised campaigns. Hold regular field enablement sessions that train the field in the art of the possible and to showcase regional success stories.
  4. Stakeholders: Make sure there is buy-in from the field and demonstrate real savings and gains of the demand center approach to the leadership team. Involving some of the more influential field marketers during the demand centre build process can work wonders.
  5. Strategy: It’s easy for a demand center to get bogged down in tactical build and execution. However, true value comes when the demand centre can work at a strategic level to drive the incremental performance of marketing over time. Agree clear business objectives, set baselines and measures so you can demonstrate progress  and use EVERY opportunity to do so!

Want to find out more straight from the horse’s mouth? Then join me at Get Stacked on 21 March 2019. My session ‘Demand centers – Building and optimising a scalable marketing engine’ will be appearing in the mid-maturity stream at 3.20pm.

** Originally published on B2B Marketing blog 11th January 2019

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