Whether it’s marketing, product, sales, customer success, content, ops, or other, the way you structure your team matters. But, deciding on the best way to structure for success is no easy task, so in this article, I’ll be chatting you through my thought process, why I landed on the structure I did, the pros and cons, and key considerations for if/when you go through a re-structure yourself.
First, let’s start with a quick bit of context…
The Alliance is an umbrella organization and is currently home to 15 professional communities on everything from product marketing to sales enablement, AI to finance, and more. All of our communities are at different stages of maturity, but they either have or will have four core revenue streams:
- Events: both in-person and virtual.
- Education: courses (OnDemand, live and online, hybrid, and live + in-person).
- Education: membership plans (subscription).
- Community: the communities themselves, content, and partnerships.
Historically, The Alliance had been very events-focused - and rightly so, that was where the vast majority of the revenue came from. However, Product Marketing Alliance’s launch of Product Marketing Certified: Core back in April 2020 kick-started the company’s real entry into the education market and between prosumer, team, and enterprise sales of both our education products (courses and membership), this is now a big revenue stream for us.
When & why I re-structured The Alliance’s marketing team
I was offered my current CMO role back in November 2021, and I officially moved into it on Jan 1st 2022. Naturally, one of the first areas I looked into upon accepting the role was how the team was currently structured, how this aligned with the business’s current and future needs, what the advantages were, and how the current structure could potentially hinder the business’ growth goals.
What the structure was
At the time, the marketing team was structured by community (we had nine communities back then).
NB: some of the very new communities with no/few products didn’t have a dedicated marketer.
This meant that for our most mature community (Product Marketing Alliance), we had one marketer marketing virtual events, in-person events, courses, membership plans, partner products, content, and the community itself - the only difference for some of our newer communities was the absence of courses.
Problems with the previous marketing team structure
There were a few issues we were faced with at the time, here’s a quick breakdown of each:
Because the company was previously dominated by events, this is where 95% of the team’s energy went - it was also where their experience and comfort zone lay.
This often meant that our education products were de-prioritized and not given the marketing TLC they needed to grow - they actually didn’t even have KPIs attached to them at the time.
Inevitably, this resulted in events thriving, but education products and the community/content pieces falling off the radar.
The problem? This didn’t align with the company’s short-, medium-, and long-term plans to grow in the education sector.
It also didn’t do our content justice – each and every one of our communities is very content-heavy and we go in with a content-first mindset (a copywriter will also be our first full-time hire when introducing a new community), and this great, free, value-adding, top-of-funnel content wasn’t getting the exposure it needed (this piece is still a work in progress, pending a future hire 😉).
People were spread too thin
Building, delivering, and measuring year-round marketing strategies for four revenue streams alone is a tough task, and this is essentially what we were asking people to do.
The team was spread too thin and weren’t able to really excel and show their best self in any one area because they were spread across multiple more on the side. As well as impacting the business’ vision and its ability to deliver it, naturally, this can take a toll on people’s well-being and work satisfaction.
Events are very different from courses. Courses are very different from membership plans. Membership plans are very different from events. Partner products are very different from courses… you get the gist.
Each of our revenue streams is distinct and requires deep product knowledge to truly understand the item itself, as well as an insanely strong understanding of how, where, and when to market that product. Our course marketing strategy obviously looks very different from our events marketing strategy and spreading the team across so many different products really inhibited them from being able to embody the depth of knowledge required across the board.
My team structuring options
- Keep the structure the same
- Structure by marketing specialism
- Structure by revenue stream
For the reasons already covered, option one was a no-go from the get-go.
Option two I did give some thought, the main issue I had at the time though was we didn’t have specialists in any of the core marketing disciplines - which, as you can imagine, threw a spanner in the works early doors.
I liked the idea of this structure and it has some obvious benefits, on reflection though, even if we did have the skillset in-house, it just wasn’t the right fit for our model.
Because even if the team specialized in social, partner, email, etc. marketing roles, they’d still be spread across a multitude of products, and as I mentioned earlier, marketing events versus marketing courses is a whole different kettle of fish - and it was important to me that everyone in the team had a thorough understanding of our products on an individual level, and the best channels and strategies that go along with it.
Another key consideration when pondering over structuring the team by specialism is variety. We get a lot of really positive feedback internally in that the team really enjoy all the different elements of marketing they’re involved in. On any one day, they can be across social, email, partner marketing, and optimizing landing pages, and shoehorning the team into one specialism would have impacted this.
My long-term vision for the team is to create a department of T-shaped marketers. Everyone has their product area. Everyone has their marketing specialism. But everyone still has the flexibility to flex their marketing skills across the whole mix.
As you’ve probably gathered, I went for option three: structuring the team by revenue stream. This is what it looks like now:
So we have 3x revenue stream-specific teams (events, education, community) and then we have our paid, social, and design & UX teams which we currently view as ‘agency-like’, in that they’re mostly spread across products and communities as and where the need is.
For our mature communities and revenue streams (Product Marketing Alliance’s courses and Sales Enablement Collective’s events, for example) where the volume of products and weight of targets results in a full-time workload, we already have marketers specializing in product plus community. Whereas for some of our growing communities where we don’t quite have the product spread to fill a full-time role, we have one marketer spread across multiple communities.
Ultimately, long-term, as The Alliance and all the communities within it continue to grow, I envision each channel-specific department having its own specialist in it too - i.e. the social media team will have one person focused on events, one focused on courses, etc. (this is how the paid team is already structured).
If all goes well, this will hopefully extend to the events, education, and community teams too, in that everyone will continue to specialize in their products but specialize in community as well.
The benefits of structuring by revenue stream
- Everyone now has a deep understanding of the products they market, and crucially, the customer journeys pre- and post-purchase. As a result, we’re now in a much better position to optimize every stage of the funnel and ensure we’re maximizing conversion rates and customer lifetime value.
- It enables us to streamline what we do. For example, because we have one marketer marketing membership plans, they’re very well poised to (cliché alert!) work smarter, not harder, and rinse and repeat the campaigns and creatives that are working particularly well across communities - this knowledge-sharing can and should obviously still be done if it were shared ownership, but as we all know, great intel can be easily lost when you’re in the thick of it. In short, this enables us to increase our output and the rate at which we identify and adapt to what is and isn’t working.
- Because the team is living and breathing either events, courses, memberships, or community day in, day out, it enhances their focus and ensures small - but important - detail doesn’t go to waste. As an example, for our summits, we used to regularly cite one of the benefits as accessing ‘up-to-date insights’. However, after doing some research calls, we realized a lot of attendees were actually saying a big benefit was ‘up-to-the-minute insights’. This is a seemingly small change, but it means we’re speaking the language of our customers, and actually, up-to-the-minute is much stronger than up-to-date, right? This level of detail can understandably get lost if you’re continually switching between products and target markets.
- As I mentioned a little earlier, each of our products has very different marketing strategies and not all rely on the same marketing channels and tactics. By structuring by revenue stream - and therefore the product, we’re now in a much better position to tailor L&D plans based on the specific needs of the role, versus marketing in general.
- Ultimately, owning a product area provides more focus and gives a greater sense of ownership, and both of these in tandem provide immeasurable benefits to the success of the company and the self-fulfillment and satisfaction of everyone in the team.
- And finally, it allows for better alignment with other departments. Marketers marketing our courses need to work closely with our course creators. Marketers marketing events need to work closely with conference organizers. Membership marketers need to work closely with product managers, and community marketers with the content and sales teams. Those relationships are really key, but as you can imagine, if every marketer in the team was having to uphold them all, they’d probably struggle to give each the TLC it needs.
The challenges of structuring by revenue stream
One of the biggest challenges we faced with the re-structure was collaboration. We went from one big team to essentially five small teams, and as a result, unintentionally, each became somewhat siloed and impacted how knowledge was shared - which absolutely isn’t what we wanted, knowledge is power, after all!
The plus side to this is (although it’s still a work in progress) it’s a relatively quick fix. With some reinforcement that we’re all still one team and that learnings can always be transferable, monthly virtual masterminds, and bi-annual in-person workshops, we’re already seeing this improve.
Another ‘challenge’ (in adverted commas because it’s not really caused any difficulties as such) is that some of the team are now spread across multiple communities.
For example, we have some of our course and event marketers simultaneously working across 4-5 different communities, and some of these are very different - i.e. one of them is for people in the AI industry, and the other for folks in customer success.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily present challenges per se, but I dropped it in this section to highlight the fact that it does require the team to flip between very different personas throughout the day to ensure our copy and campaigns are relevant for each community’s audience.
Key learnings from the restructure
This was my first time restructuring a team - period, so the whole experience was a learning curve.
On the whole, I’d say it went pretty well, but here are a few learnings/considerations I took from it:
- I shared the departmental change to the leadership team and in the weekly company-wide meeting, but on reflection, given how big of a change it was, I didn’t communicate it out anywhere near enough. This resulted in a bit of confusion initially in that other people and teams continued to go to the marketer who used to market their products, versus the newly appointed marketer, which nicely ties into my next point…
- Have a hard cut-off point. The bullet above resulted in many of the team not being able to focus 100% of their time on their new role and product because they were still getting sucked into odd jobs from their former role - some of which I wasn’t even aware of until a few months later! If I were to do it over again, both within the marketing team and the company as a whole, I’d make sure I communicate a super firm cut-off date and ensure clear lines of communication so that those who were still getting asked to do bits that were no longer part of their role (but perhaps didn’t have the confidence to say no) could quickly escalate it and nip any confusion in the bud.
- More time. Unfortunately, this is one I couldn’t really change even if I could reverse the clocks due to the fact I had less than six weeks (excluding the Christmas break) between being offered the role and rolling the restructure out - and suffice to say, there were a lot of plates being spun at that time. Regardless, one of the biggest challenges in the early days of the restructure was that much of the product knowledge and strategy-building work was being done after the restructure so there were a good couple of weeks where everything felt very much in the air - fortunately it all worked out, but it could definitely have been smoother with more time and more of the legwork built and signed-off beforehand.
So, that’s my marketing team restructure in a nutshell. If you have any questions, thoughts, or would like to spitball your own marketing structure, I’d love to chat - just reach out on LinkedIn.
If you need advice on structuring your marketing team or have some insights of your own to share, there's no better place to do so than the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.