Marketing’s Alignment With Creative Is as Crucial as

Its Alignment with Sales

By Alex Withers | 12.27.17

It was a new, but not an unusual, step as a CMO. I recently took responsibility for the inside sales team.


The team is talented, but lacked the process and efficiency needed to create a high-performing and predictable pipeline. So, I invested my time to understand why and to determine how to fix it. It took about six weeks to conduct an audit, design a new process, and implement that process. The team is now running at a level of performance that helps the entire business. The impact is measurable.


Given the market we serve at inMotionNow, this caused me to reflect on a similar challenge I experienced in a prior role with another team in the CMO’s purview: Creative. Leading a sizable marketing shop inside a global company, the creative team was great at producing world-class content but struggled with process and efficiency.


Like many of my marketing leader peers, I spent much of my time on go-to-market strategy and execution with my marketing managers and sales colleagues. When it came to optimizing the creative team’s world, I did what most marketing leaders do: I leaned on my creative director. After all, he understood their world and work better than I did, so he could apply the quick fixes needed to boost performance.


Did it work? Sure, we saw incremental improvement, but quickly the creative team would become overwhelmed again with the volume demanded by marketing. We never achieved the breakthrough efficiency gains or sustainable process needed for long-term success. But imagine what we could have achieved had I, as the senior leader, invested the same time and attention to solving this creative process challenge that I did in solving the inside sales challenge in my current role.


Marketing looks right to sales, but not left to creative

This may sound all too familiar to you. Most marketing leaders are conditioned to look right towards sales, but they don’t think to look left towards creative.


That CMOs are fairly indifferent to creative processes is understandable. The business has spent the better part of a decade beating up marketing leaders to be better aligned with sales, assuming that marketing and creative alignment is a given.


Sales leaders are well versed in articulating data-driven performance to the business in leadership meetings. There is no clearer scorecard than bookings against forecast. Marketing is now challenged to report in a similar data-driven fashion.


CMOs need to walk into that same meeting and declare marketing impact on revenue using the latest multi-touch attribution tools, then in their back pocket have MQL performance against goals, along with efficiency improvements from reducing cost-per-lead and improving lead conversion rates.


But what about the contribution that quality creative work had on those business results? Was it truly all about the science of marketing and genius salesmanship? Of course not. As marketers, we know that creative plays an essential role in the development of campaigns, the engagement with our assets, and the conversion rates needed to get the right people in front of our sales folks.


The glare from shiny objects is a distraction

There’s another significant reason marketing leaders don’t invest enough time in working with their creative team: We’re often distracted by all the new technologies we need to consider in the race to keep pace with change. But, marketing dollars are wasted if closer collaboration with creative takes a back seat to technology.


It’s a bit like adding a fancy satellite radio subscription to an automobile in need of new brakes and steering alignment. All the analytics, targeting, and tracking in the world doesn’t matter if the content isn’t there. It’s imperative for senior marketing leaders to become invested in the very team that develops the intellectual capital—the creative—that differentiates one company from its competitors.


How to align creative with marketing

If your first thought is to simply invite creative to meetings, stop there. All that does is reduce their time spent producing creative assets. If marketing is to improve efficiency (i.e., its ability to put more strategic and higher-quality content into market faster), then marketing leaders must build tighter and more collaborative processes with their creative partners.


As marketing leaders, we must invest the same energy and passion into fueling the go-to-market machine as we do in building that machine with sales.


Most marketing leaders don’t have a genuine sense of the process and workflow of their own creative teams. Their interaction with creatives is usually limited either to submitting a creative brief (and some sort of magic happens) or hiring a creative agency (that often just tell CMOs what they think he or she wants to hear).  


As such the creative team becomes an abstract machine that exists to generate creative assets for marketing programs. Remedying the issue without micromanaging the creative director begins with a very real and humble desire to understand the world of your creative team.  


Marketing leaders tend to be data-driven and analytical. The key here is to apply those skill sets into building the connection with the creative team. Spend time with the creative team and learning about their needs, processes, and challenges. Then perform a root cause analysis to find process gaps and opportunities for improvement.


Spending time with the creative team doesn’t just mean attending their meetings. Put in the same level of effort that you’d invest in building relationships with sales. It’s easy to converse over lunch with another salesperson or marketer because you speak the same language. If you go to lunch with your graphic designer, you might have to work a little harder. But when you invest the time to understand the creative workflow, you’ll begin to understand ways you can help improve the process.


A transformational opportunity to fuel the marketing engine

Marketing and sales play obvious roles in the go-to-market engine that tends to dominate our time as marketing leaders. Yet we need to remember that engine is fueled by creative. When creative is out of alignment, the impact is felt all the way downstream in sales.


As marketing leaders, we need to optimize this process, from one end to the other—i.e., from creative to marketing to sales—presenting a transformational opportunity to get all three working in motion.  


It’s high time we value the partnership marketing has with creative, just like we invest in our partnership with sales.

About the Author

Alex Withers is CMO of inMotionNow, a provider of workflow management solutions for marketing and creative teams. Alex is a seasoned digital technology and marketing executive with more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with brands including Pepsi, ESPN, USGA, the Financial Times, and LexisNexis.

Find Alex on LinkedIn.