Many CMOS have found themselves having to change how they manage their teams due to a major shift to remote working due to the pandemic (which many are predicting to continue post-pandemic). But some were already experienced with that kind of management style, including Maria Jose Parel, CMO of IVF Life, who had already been managing a marketing department split geographically between Spain, Germany, and the UK.

We spoke to Maria about the difficulties and advantages of a multinational marketing department, and how she successfully manages them all remotely.

Hi Maria, can you tell us a bit about IVF Life and your role there as a CMO?

IVF Life is a group of fertility clinics and laboratories offering assisted reproduction technology and focused on complex cases, with clinics in Spain, Germany, and the UK.

As CMO for the group, I am responsible for overseeing the development and execution of the group’s Marketing and Communication strategies and initiatives, promoting a good brand image, and ensuring brand guidelines are adhered to in all marketing activities within each clinic.

I also prepare and define the group’s marketing expense forecast, schedule expenditures, and financial objectives as well as identifying new markets and new business development.

IVF Life operates in multiple countries, was having a marketing department split between those countries, rather than being centralized in one country, a deliberate decision?

We initially started the corporate marketing department with an aim to design and implement the marketing strategy within the group. Initially, the corporate marketing department executed most of the marketing activities from Spain, which involves both local and international markets, since over 80% of our patients come from abroad.

This helped to get a whole picture of how our target audiences should be approached and differentiate strategies based on target markets/ target cultures.

However, with the incorporation of the German and UK clinics, we noticed we needed better insights into each local market, and for that key marketing stakeholders were needed to:

(1) better identify the needs and behavior of local markets,

(2) better identify competitors,

(3) better communicate our brand message, taking into account cultural and social factors, since we market a very sensitive product: reproductive health services,

(4) better understand domestic regulations of health advertising and any potential legal implications and

(5) better contact with the team at each clinic for identifying commercial needs onsite and work hand-in-hand with the local commercial teams.

What are the chief benefits of a multinational team?

Amazing cultural synergies often occur, which help localizing campaigns. Besides, multinational teams are formed by members of different nationalities, different previous work experiences, eager to communicate new approaches or tools, especially when it comes to digital marketing.

There is always an interesting exchange of information connected with the situation in each country. This has been especially helpful during COVID-19 since we could observe how the pandemic was evolving in each country and how restrictions were affecting marketing behaviors, which helped us be extremely sensitive with our communications.

What are the main challenges of managing a multinational team? How do you go about overcoming them?

Data governance, potential work duplication, and lack of 100% autonomy at work.

Building up a solid reporting system, with clearly identified KPIs and using a powerful CRM system is essential to assess the performance of our marketing teams, along with project management software to itemize and organize the tasks of each project and teams involved.

In your experience, do you find teams require different team structures depending on their location? If so, how do you manage these different structures effectively? If not, what are the benefits of keeping things consistent?

The most important thing is that everyone in the team, either corporate or local marketing teams, is fully aware of their responsibilities: that they fully understand the defined goals and timings involved.

It is also important that they work autonomously, but also collaboratively, especially when they need to scale up any issues encountered that could have a negative impact on the overall brand strategy or reputation.

Do you find you need to change your leadership style managing the different teams in different countries? If so, how did you go about learning to do this?

Organizing productive meetings is essential to coordinate teams in different countries. Preparing a meeting agenda helps set the tone and structure of the meeting. But what I would prioritize overall is the application of soft skills in any leadership style to establish meaningful interactions with your team members.

My favorite three E’s in this respect would be: Empathy, Empowerment, and Effective Communication. These are my ABC when starting a meeting: have a casual conversation to start the meeting - this helps know better your team, identify if someone is going through a tough time. Then, recognize the good work of past weeks, and then communicate further projects, goals, tasks and, of course, any problems that might have arisen since the last meeting or in the course of a specific project. Positiveness does not involve being naive or turning a blind eye to work issues.

What are the most important tools in your techstack for managing teams across different countries?

As I said, Project Management tools are essential to keep track of all projects and important communications. Furthermore, a solid reporting system is also required to assess the result developed by your actions and helps you make more confident decisions based on how the campaigns are performing.

And of course, a good video call system and internet connection helps avoid frustration during meetings 😀.

Finally, what is your main piece of advice for both CMOs looking to build a marketing team in a new country, and those who might be struggling with managing multinational teams?

  • People: it's all that matters. Be humble: listen to your team, understand their concerns, embrace their ideas.
  • Be curious: always keep learning new things. Don’t rely on the “I’m not technical” excuse and ask your team to show the technical insights of their job.
  • Finally, always move forward with your plan: put things into action. Plan and execute. Sometimes as CMOs we might feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. You might feel there’s too much going on at the same time and of different natures (each country is a whole other world) but structure your plan of action and just do it!

Thanks, Maria!