Why Do Marketing and Operations Clash?

Back when I worked in distribution, the warehousers complained that marketing promised too much to the customer, while marketing grumbled that the warehouse always said no.

It’s the same in retail. When conducting employee surveys I often hear comments from grocery or wellness like, “Marketing is trying to run everything but we’re the ones who actually talk with the customers,” and comments from marketing like, “We’re just trying help them sell their products. Why won’t they cooperate?”

To understand this dynamic and how to resolve it, I turned to my CDS Consulting Co-op colleague Rebecca Torpie, a former marketing manager herself and now a consultant in marketing and brand strategy.

Why don’t marketing and operations get along?

Marketing tends to operate in a bubble. Partly that’s because there’s a lack of understanding of what marketing staff does. Sometimes operations people think marketing is there to create signs and implement operations’ ideas.

On the other hand, there’s this idea that marketing creates the marketing plan and everyone else is supposed to carry it out. These misunderstandings of marketing’s role can occur when management sees marketing mainly in terms of tactics.

Also, the general manager might not understand the need for marketing and operations to have a strong relationship. Instead of creating a bridge, the GM could (inadvertently) create a situation where the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.

So what can be done?

The first step is to create goals for the store. That should be done by the management team so that everyone is on the same page. Then marketing develops the strategies to meet those goals.

Also marketing needs to keep operations informed of what they’re doing and why. Once people have a basic understanding, marketing is fun. Employees enjoy being involved, being asked for ideas.

How can marketing best keep operations informed?

It requires consistent meetings—not one-offs—with marketing and the department heads and merchandisers. For example, say we have a strategy to increase active demo-ing in the deli to highlight our local sausage. The deli department head and marketing staff meet so that everyone knows what’s happening and it’s a team effort.

Even so, marketing always runs the risk of being perceived as telling other departments what to do, instead of being part of a team. Therefore make sure communication is consistent and documented so that everyone knows what’s going on.

What could marketing ask the store manager or operations manager to do?

Ask them to think out their promotional needs as far as out as possible. The more organized operations are, the easier it is for marketing to think strategically. Promotions tend to work best when operations and marketing meet and decide together which products, e.g. seasonal, local and new products, will be promoted. 

Also, accountability is a major factor in whether the marketing plan can work. It’s a huge to-do list involving lots of people that marketing does not control. If management from the GM on down doesn’t hold their direct reports accountable, the marketing department can’t be effective.

Any final words of advice for marketing managers?

I hear complaints that the marketing manager is not on the floor. Take the time to go down on the floor and connect with staff. That will make it much quicker and easier to get staff to go along with marketing’s requests. It doesn’t take a lot of time but you have to make friends. You need to be an influencer.

Carolee Colter is a member of CDS Consulting Co-op and lives in Nelson, B.C. She can be reached at caroleecolter (at) cdsconsulting (dot) coop

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