Silos in businesses can be a dangerous thing, leading to misalignment of goals, wasted resources, and more. This can be especially dangerous when it comes to marketing teams and CMOs. Rather than spreading across the entire organization, marketers can find themselves in the dark about the rest of the company, making it much harder to show their own performance and justify spends.

Sound familiar? Well, help is on the horizon, according to Jeff Coyle, Chief Strategy Officer for MarketMuse. He joined us to share how AI-driven tools can be used as a way to smash silos, and allow marketing to really show its impact across an entire organization.

Prefer to listen? Check out Jeff's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast 👇

Jeff's inbound marketing credentials

Hi, Jeff! We're all hearing about how AI can benefit marketing and marketing strategies. We're particularly interested in exploring this concept of being a silo breaker.

We want to allow CMOs to be more engaged with the rest of the company using AI. Before we get into this, maybe you could talk a little about how your background has informed your view on this topic today?

I've been in content strategy, lead generation, and basically anything that would be under the umbrella of inbound marketing. I’m involved with anything that can bring traffic for your site.

With creating MarketMuse, we're focused heavily on content intelligence components. How do we use data to make decisions about what we create and what we update?

How do we make these business cases internally for the investment in content? How do we make those investment decisions easier? How do we make them more predictive? With artificial intelligence, the maturity curve is going to be based on rules.

It's about really getting into the details about what data we have and figuring out how we can use that information wisely so that we can make better decisions as an organization. The reason why I'm so passionate about this is because of the different types of products that I've either created or managed

I’m talking about websites, traffic optimization, conversion rate optimization, lead nurturing, lead qualification: all the ways that we can get to grips with content intelligence. The thing that really makes organizations into silo breakers is when they can all get aligned around KPIs.

We don't necessarily have to agree on all of them, but if we can all get aligned on the value that each of our teams brings to the organization, instead of all of us running against our own KPIs in our separate departments. When we do that, our teams grow.

I think the solutions in the market that I'm most excited about are the ones that people didn't think were possible or predictable. That's sometimes the mental break we all need, when we can all come together and advocate for a solution that everybody thought was a loser. Sometimes this can really be the move that shakes things up and keeps you agile and innovative.

What are silos, and how do they impact marketing?

AI is something that we hear about so much in marketing, especially how it's going to revolutionize things. We're really excited to explore this with you, Jeff. But before we get into AI, let's talk about silos.

Let’s talk specifically about why they're a problem in a marketing context. It's become a bit of a buzzword, “siloed.” But what do we actually mean when we're talking about silos in the marketing context?

One of the major issues is this psychological state that people can get in when they're siloed. What I mean by that is that they don't feel empowered to make business decisions outside of their own group.

They don't feel like they can have as much of an impact on the business as they could possibly want to have. They feel stunted. They also feel like they're not able to communicate that in a way that makes sense for them. Those are the feelings somebody has inside a silo.

Imagine you're on a content team and you only get to touch the blog. Unfortunately, a very common dynamic, right? But as an individual on the content team, you’re aware of the fact that the entire site works as a unit, and yet, you know that you’re only allowed to impact X part of the business.

If, however, I had the ability to be part of the larger organization and bring innovative ideas, I know that my abilities could yield massive outcomes for the business. Because of the way your business works, you might be only allowed to offer ideas for very specific parts of the business.

A symptom of a silo in that situation might be if someone from the Central Board says that they’re not happy with something that an individual on the content team has done. And the person on the content team just feels like they have to take that directive and doesn’t have any say over what they’re doing.

This is a potentially very toxic environment to be in. I’m operating on a very limited aspect of the business, and yet I can be influenced by the higher-ups on a whim. Another situation you find in silos is when people have their own very specific KPIs. They're not thinking about how, for example, to be there at the bottom of the funnel getting leads, they might actually have to show expertise at the top of the funnel.

Basically, it’s always someone else’s problem. The people on the marketing side, for example, feel very isolated from lead-gen, lead management, or lead nurturing. You may have an SDR team or, or a BDR team who has no idea what's going on in the marketing organization. They’re not even receiving feedback from other departments at all.

A lot of times what you see is information transfer is stunted for one reason or another. This is really such a terrible situation for a member of your team to be in, when they don’t feel empowered at all in their own group, and yet they can be so easily influenced from the top down.

There's a real lack of advocacy for the organization. A great signal for if you’ve been siloed or not is, how frequently do your social media posts get amplified by your internal organization? If you’re getting very little interaction from people in your organization, this is usually a sign that you’ve been siloed.

You know you’ve got a problematic employee advocacy situation, for example, when you've got 100 employees and yet you’re not getting more than 10 likes on your LinkedIn posts. Or, let’s say your CEO doesn't appreciate the traffic that goes to the support section of your website. You’ve got a problem there too.

All of these signals that indicate misalignment, this is why artificial intelligence is so interesting. Everybody can bring what they care about to the party, and we can figure out how to make composite evaluations of the business, whatever that metric is.

We don't necessarily have to get unified around one KPI, we can get unified against a composite vision for the business. That’s just one application of AI. This is just very high-level stuff, but when others see how successful this application has been, that’s when it can really take off.

The thing I really dislike about silos is that it discourages people from exploring their hunches, from being spontaneous. I want people to really start thinking critically, not just taking instructions. I want people to be creative.

When people are stuck on menial stuff, that’s when they get seriously disenfranchised.

Getting into a silo sounds like something that’s not only going to impact individuals and teams now, but also something that’s going to be a problem for the future if we allow this to continue. It's going to impact how marketers develop their skills, especially if they’re just going to try to fit what others higher up want from them, rather than what's right in terms of marketing.

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The tools for smashing organizational silos

Are there tools that are going to help us break out of these silos?

I want to bring up the issue of remote work. There are corporations that are very poorly adapted to remote work, particularly those that are already siloing people and departments.

The ones that are already very poor with communication, those are the ones where people only get more isolated in a remote model. Imagine you’re already isolated, but at least at one time you could walk over to somebody at another desk and chat with them.

Imagine how those people are going to feel now in a remote setting. It’s also just the casual small talk that can get lost on these online channels. It feels weird for me to Slack my CSO about beer or sport, for example. Sometimes people have frustrations that are just languishing and not finding an outlet at all.

A lot of the times, these frustrations are coming from the fact that people just don’t feel like they can influence the business. Some of it’s also down to poor structures, poor communications, and KPIs.

Can you give us some good examples of how to overcome these problems?

Firstly, think about the whole team, don’t just think about yourself. Examine all your subgroups, all your projects, and document all your manual processes.

Even if it's only a little manual process, or if it’s situations where C-suite aren’t being shared across the whole organization. It's not really about radical transparency, it's about proactive access to information. What does that mean? It means that I have to go look for something to find it.

It's not just part of the information that I have. Let's just say someone in product can't see the level of lead activity happening against people who are going to buy their product. How do we fix that? What manual processes would have to be in place?

Well, let’s maybe start with documenting all the places where information isn't being shared? Also, think about what business decisions are being made and how they’re being made. CMOs, think about this for a second.

How do you define your ICP? Who made that decision? Is it based on demographic criteria only? How do you know what that criteria is, right? How do you evaluate that? Would everybody agree with that? Would everybody agree that's your actual ICP?

Do your customers fit your ICP? Are they thriving? Why are they thriving?

I feel very strongly that predictive lead qualification is one of the core applications of artificial intelligence in a company. Each group in an organization has their own set of concerns, and the question is always, how can we bring all of these concerns together to complement each other? Let's take customer success as an example. We run playbooks, and onboarding. We have to look at renewal rates, churn rates, upsells, and cross-sells.

But we want to bring all of that information to the table and be able to have a conversation with the rest of the organization. We want to hear their valuable insights. We want sales to tell us about deal sizes, deal velocity, the frequency of calls, and the ones that closed that wasted our time ultimately.

This information can be valuable to everybody.

The customer success team might feel like sales are giving them bad deals with customers that are going to be a problem, for example. And this can be a real problem because it manifests in poor renewal rates and high churn rates. This friction can potentially be avoided if all teams are in alignment over what’s happening.

Here’s what artificial intelligence can do for these issues. It can allow all teams to bring all of this data together and it can see how it actually contributes to the most crucial metrics in the organization: the overall revenue, the bottom line, renewal and conversion.

We train artificial intelligence models and machine learning models to predict whether this person is exhibiting the signals of what will actually be a successful customer. And it might not be that cut and dry. But this kind of information can really bring teams together, especially when they can see the benefit that other teams are bringing.

What happens when you have this data in front of you, is that it leads to teams having more confidence in certain processes and initiatives. And there are many types of key data you can look at. You can look at intent data, and behavioral data, but a really key one that you can look at is conversion rate optimization (CRO).

Typically, the difference between a company being successful and unsuccessful is their understanding of CRO throughout the buying cycle. For example, knowing whether you’re completely sales-led or whether you’re product-led comes down to CRO, I would say. And that can be modified with AI.

The point of all this is that teams can use data and metrics from other teams to make key decisions. You might be using product or accounting data to make marketing decisions. With accounting, for example, they could potentially provide you with the profile of a person that typically buys the product but flakes on payments.

Let’s look at what we do at MarketMuse as an example. A B2B company might say that they need 30% more leads for two product lines. Maybe for one of the product lines, you need to create 180 articles and update 60. Let’s say that we’re confident in that number this year. Then for the other product line, you only need to update 30 pages and write 30 new pages, and we're confident that that's going to bring 30% increases.

Then they can go into the leadership meeting, they might tell you to focus on the one that’s going to be less costly, and yet still yield results. Imagine being able to bring that to the table at your content meeting. You’re able to make decisions with confidence because you have data to back it up.

Think about the time and money you waste when you’re going ahead with content that hasn’t yielded any results. It's pretty deflating for the morale of any team. You want people to be going ahead with something that they have confidence in. It gives teams a sense of purpose and direction.

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More creative marketing through AI

There’s this idea out there that AI is gonna weaken the creative aspect of marketing, but it's going to give us so many potential methods and approaches for targeting certain markets and demographics.

AI can tell you where those people are, it can free up your time so that you don’t have to do quite so much research. For example, it’s not going to tell you how to market, but it is going to tell you where to target your marketing. How do we deal with leadership hesitating when it comes to investing in new channels?

Too often hesitation limits us from exploring potential returns on investments in new channels. You’ll hear people say that we really need someone to invest internally in order for us to get behind something, but the thing is, someone’s got to actually take action, and if there are unhealthy silos in your organization, it’s unlikely that we’re going to be exploring anything new.

There's a major loss in not giving someone time to explore a channel, in not empowering failure. I'm guilty of this too, of turning down something new because I feel like maybe we don’t have the resources or it’s too risky.

Often we’re afraid to fail, and we really have to get over that. That’s what I mean by empowerment in failure. You've got to understand who's empowered to make those assertions in your organization.

Are they stunting innovation? Why? Why haven't you changed that process in two years? If the answer is that the company isn’t fast-moving, that just means that your company's going to lose in the long term.

There’s a great quote in hockey from Wayne Gretsky that goes, “you miss every shot you don’t take.” Do you think that translates to content creation in any way?

Yeah, it’s a great quote because all it's about that predictive element. It's about that predictive dynamic. The best players predict outcomes, and we see this a lot in content creation especially. content. I was having a webinar with a creative director, and we talked about the fact that you may have all the strategy, and you may publish content that fits, but in the end, you still have to be very critical about how exciting and engaging it is.

But it’s harder to be creative and dynamic when you’re fixated on manual work processes. This is how AI can really empower workers. People are freer to be creative, to operate on a hunch, and really take risks.

It happens all the time in content, right? You give copywriters a cluster of content to do by a certain date, but what they eventually turn in is pretty bland because they haven’t really got time to explore the creative aspect of what they do anymore. Let your writers write, let your demand gen people add a new channel and see how it works.

By getting people off the drug of manual labor, we can really take great strides. It is an addictive drug because it makes people feel like they have a job. It makes people feel like they have job security, because it's a process only they can do. But we should always be thinking about shaking things up in order to innovate.

How to introduce AI-driven tools to your techstack

Excellent. But what are the actual practicalities of bringing AI into the business? Because it's not just within the marketing department, it's a business-wide thing. That sounds pretty expensive. We're sure a CMO is going to have to try and justify those costs by making them effective as soon as possible. How do we start utilizing AI?

It really depends on how much you're going to take in-house and what the value of the metric that they're going to influence is. Storing the information isn’t much of a problem. Storage is pretty cheap these days.

But you certainly need to understand what data warehousing you currently have. Are all the business systems that you use talking to one another already? A lot of times businesses have all the information, they have all the data, but it’s just not easily accessible, or easy to round up.

But that’s a great way to sell that vision of AI to someone who really doesn’t understand it. We have all this data in disparate places, but a big part of what we want to implement is actually making all that data more accessible. What insights can actually be gleaned from this information? That's the kind of business organizational process I recommend.

Consider hiring an individual expert for a small consultancy role. Go look at case studies of how other organizations have successfully implemented AI.

Some AI software does require a lot of integration, so make sure you’re comfortable, or you have somebody who’s comfortable with setting up this kind of technology. Are you comfortable operating open-source and modifying open-source? Do you have people that are capable of that type of code development? But first things first, you need to sell your org on the tech.

A good sell is content efficiency. A crucial question, how much content do we publish? How much content do we update? How frequently are those content items successful? How much does content cost? And how much of it is successful?

Once you explain how AI can reduce labor spent on menial processes and boost productivity in terms of how much content you’re able to get out there, you’re going to be much more persuasive.

But recognize that not everybody's gonna immediately believe that AI is the solution. So, make them understand in terms of its impact on revenue. That way you can get everybody aligned. You’ve got to have your internal champions within the org. It’s going to take a lot of effort, so you’d better have people who believe in what you’re doing.

Thanks, Jeff!

Struggling with marketing silos? Found any useful tools or methods for smashing them? Join the conversation and share your questions and wisdom with the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel!