What are today’s high-performing marketing teams doing differently?

A copy of the 2020 Workfront Global Marketing Report sits on a wooden desk

In the classic ‘80s movie Three Amigos!, when the fictional town of Santa Poco is about to be overtaken by the infamous El Guapo, Martin Short’s character, Ned Nederlander, asks, “Now, what is it that this town really does well?”

“We can sew!” pipes up one of the townsfolk. This unexpected suggestion turns out to be the solution that saves the day.

If Ned Nederlander were to pose the same question to marketing teams today, their response would be: “We can think creatively!” How do I know this? Because our 2020 Global Marketing Report surveyed almost 900 marketers in five countries, asking them to rank the skills that are most important to their jobs. “The ability to think creatively” was the number one answer across the board.

Unfortunately, marketers devote just 19% of their time on this kind of high-value work—less than half as much as knowledge workers at large, who consistently spend about 40% of their time on the work they were primarily hired to do, according to our State of Work reports.

To build their brands and drive demand in a tumultuous business environment, marketers need much more time to exercise their most important skills. And that means doing a better job of integrating key systems and tools, according to 85% of those surveyed. But how? How are high-performing teams managing to unleash marketers’ creativity against all odds in an environment of constant disruption and change?

As my team analyzed the data, we identified five attributes that can make all the difference. In a recent webinar, I had the opportunity to discuss these attributes with Jennifer Johnson, Director of Global Marketing Programs at Informatica, a global data integration leader and Workfront customer. I’d like to focus on three of those attributes in this article, although I invite you to get the full list by watching the webinar on demand.

1. High-performing teams centralize their work.

“Being agile and being able to adapt on a dime is key, and the only way you can really be successful is if you have a central process,” Jennifer explained. She says that before the pandemic hit, Informatica had already centralized all project management activities company-wide into a single solution: Workfront. Processes were in place, workflows were automated and transparent, and work was humming along.

Informatica had been working toward an in-person summit in New York in mid-March, right in the epicenter of the U.S.’s first major COVID-19 outbreak, with 500 people expected to attend. The team had 10 days’ notice to flip the entire event to a virtual summit—which would have been an impossible feat without a centralized work management solution. Because the groundwork was already there, Jennifer says, “We were able to not only move very quickly, but also see immediate successes.” The expected 500 registrants ballooned to more than 2,000 for the online summit, an unprecedented achievement.

Centralization also makes it possible to keep work moving along when personal crises hit. After a life-threatening medical emergency struck Jennifer out of the blue, she took comfort in being able to “hand the keys to the car” to others on her team. “I was so grateful to already have these processes in place,” she says. “It was all already there. They just had to keep going down the list. Without Workfront, I wouldn’t have been able to step back and take care of myself.”

Centralized work processes instill confidence in marketing practitioners and leaders alike that the work will get done, because there are systems established to empower individuals and teams, free them from confusion and busywork, and keep transparency and trust levels high.

2.  High-performing teams collaborate in context.

Now that teams are increasingly dispersed and remote—Google just extended its work-from-home status for its nearly 200,000 employees through July 2021—collaborating in context is more important than ever, as teams aim to increase agility and accelerate speed to market.

Collaborating in context means that online conversations about in-flight work are embedded within the plans, details, and schedules that form the backbone of the work itself. It’s all collected in one place, rather than having pieces of the conversation happening in disconnected tools, like email, chat, and spreadsheets. It means using a single system of record to keep everyone on the same page, offer instant access to all work and priorities, and demonstrate progress and value in real time.

About a year ago, Informatica restructured to formally combine sales and marketing into a “one-stop shop powerhouse for customer obsession,” Jennifer says. All projects are run cross-functionally. It’s no longer about handing marketing pieces to sales when the creative folks are done. Sales is involved from the beginning, since they’re on the front lines with the customers, and their perspectives and inputs are invaluable at every stage of the creative process.

“From nurturing to communication cadence, sales and marketing have become thoroughly integrated so they can act quickly,” Jennifer says. “Internal integration, in-tune leadership, and a well-established culture were each key in helping Informatica rise to COVID-19 challenges with grace—all to continue elevating the customer experience.” This level of integration would be impossible without the in-context collaboration tools offered by an enterprise work management solution, especially for a recently consolidated department who all suddenly found themselves working from their kitchen tables.

3.  High-performing teams streamline processes.

Marketers who thrive on their ability to be creative may not relish discussions about processes and workflows. But the paradoxical benefit is that the more you automate and streamline manual, repetitive work, the more time you free up for high-value work that really moves the needle. After all, the Global Marketing Report reveals that the skills marketers rank second and third in the hierarchy are: “quickly responding to changing market forces” and “delivering quality work on time.” Both of these are aided by streamlined processes.

If the pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that you can’t streamline processes through email and Zoom alone. You can’t reduce redundancy, eliminate waste, or automate manual processes without the right technology infrastructure—which can bring work out of silos, enable cross-functional collaboration, and contextualize relevant information. The result? Increased agility and accelerated speed to market. And who couldn’t use a little more of both right now?

One of the biggest recent successes Jennifer has seen at Informatica was in dramatically simplifying the webinar process so that a requestor could submit a single request in a centralized place, which then triggered the launch of a streamlined project trajectory. Thanks to this change, the team managed to host more webinars in the first quarter of 2020 than they had pulled off in the entirety of 2019.

Meetings are another area where Informatica has seen transformational success. Our Global Marketing Report revealed that marketers spend exactly as much time sitting in meetings—19% of their day—as they do applying their most important skill, creativity. And the pandemic has meant many of us are spending even more time in meetings than ever before. But thanks to streamlined processes, Jennifer has noticed her meetings are both shorter and more efficient.

“Our meetings are focused on: what are the blockers? Are we meeting the milestones? Are we going to hit that date?” she says. “Because all the minute details about how things are going are already in the project. You want to know the status? At any time, anybody can go in and check on a particular item.”

Conquering your own personal El Guapo.

The people of Santa Poco couldn’t use their most important skill because they were so busy defending their town against El Guapo and his minions. But in the moment of crisis, they relied on their primary skills, plus plenty of grit and ingenuity, to triumph against all odds.

Marketers must find a way to do the same.

To paraphrase Steve Martin’s character, “In a way, all of us has an El Guapo to face. For some, [disconnected systems and tools] might be their El Guapo. For others, [too many Zoom calls] might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us.”

Yes, marketers today are facing a figurative El Guapo around every corner—with a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, social unrest, murder hornets, and other unprecedented challenges making it harder than ever to build brands and drive demand.

Having a chance of success in the face of these challenges, marketers must get back more of their time to put their top skills into practice: thinking and acting creatively, quickly responding to changing market forces, and delivering quality work on time. How? By centralizing all work, collaborating in context, streamlining processes, and adopting the other proven habits of high-performing marketing teams that Jennifer and I chatted about in our recent webinar if you’d like to listen to it here.