6 Marketing Center of Excellence Best Practices


  • A Marketing Center of Excellence maximizes scarce resources with deep skills by centralizing their efforts and disseminating their insights, knowledge, best practices and reusable assets throughout the organization.
  • It accelerates time to value, reach and impact for complex technologies and programs that would otherwise be out of reach. It further standardizes best practices that enable marketing operations uniformity and the consistent delivery of customer experiences.
  • Marketing Center of Excellence Best Practices facilitate these benefits by sharing lessons that save time, reduce risk and improve results. They show what actions deliver revenue results and which do not. That helps prioritize what to do and is equally helpful in determining what not to do.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Marketing Center of Excellence Best Practices

There is no one way to create an effective Marketing Center of Excellence. But there are best practices that share valuable lessons of what works, what doesn't and how to maximize your results.

Here are six of those lessons.


Start with a Clear Definition and Context

If you can't define something you are unlikely to achieve it. But there is no consensus definition for a Marketing Center of Excellence so you will need to consider a few sources and adapt them to your needs.

Gartner defines a Center of Excellence as "concentrating existing expertise and resources in a discipline or capability to attain and sustain world-class performance and value."

Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute defines a Center of Excellence as "A premier organization providing an exceptional product or service in an assigned sphere of expertise."

Both definitions focus on specialized resources delivering expert services.

Our own definition is a bit more specific and defines a Marketing Center of Excellence as a virtual or physical team focused on specific competencies or areas of expertise to increase company revenue and marketing ROI.

The point here is to define your organization on your terms so that others don't define it for you.


Not Just for Big Companies

It's true that big companies are more likely to operate a Marketing Center of Excellence (CoE). But the benefits and payback are no less important to smaller companies.

Larger companies in regulated industries often use their CoE for regulatory compliance in addition to improved business development performance.

Our experience with clients is that when companies reach $30M in revenues or a $2.5M marketing budget they can achieve significant cost and revenue improvements with a CoE. The one difference is that smaller companies may not initially staff the CoE as an autonomous business unit.

It's also true that certain industries such as technology and professional services, and B2B companies in general, are more likely to adopt CoEs. But again, the benefits and payback are no less relevant in other sectors or for B2C companies.

The bottom line is that Marketing Centers of Excellence apply to companies of all sizes and industries.

Rather than focus on firmographics, the need for a CoE is better identified by the desire to apply specialized resources with deep skills to achieve significantly improved marketing performance that is otherwise out of reach.

Marketing Centers of Excellence are not just for big companies.

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The Operating Model Defines the Breadth and Depth of Success

An operating model defines the work structure for people. There are many CoE operating models. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. But comparing them to select the best one is not really the point.

That's because experience shows that the top performers adopt different models over an evolutionary sequence. Each new model is a progressive step that delivers increased marketing sourced revenue contribution and ROI.

Center of Excellence Operating Models

Marketers normally begin with a centralized model. It requires less budget and is simpler to stand up.

After experiencing initial success, they advance to a hybrid model. That leaves strategy, foundational services and governance with the central CoE but begins to push expert skills closer to the business functions or operating units where they can be applied. It also improves decentralized performance results.

The final move is to a federated model which continues to exercise central control but replicates many or all specialized skills within all or most business functions for the maximum impact.

Selecting the best CoE operating model is a point in time decision that shifts with maturity.


Talent Management is Critical

Recruiting, developing and retaining technical talent is no easy task, but is essential to success.

Marketing technologists are in high demand, so they are difficult to find, costly to hire and require continued investment for learning and development. Because they are often approached by headhunters and other companies that investment will be lost if they leave.

Even small increases in CoE staff turnover will result in big expenses that can devastate your ROI.

Active coaching, interesting challenges, diverse projects and frequent recognition are your top retention tools.

Retention can also be improved by seeding the team with tenured staff from other areas who demonstrate enthusiasm for the role and a propensity to learn.

Some of our clients perform periodic rotations of staff into the CoE. That broadens their skills and occasionally identifies strong candidates for permanent positions.

We have other clients that perform competitions where they assign problems and invite interested candidates to present solutions. Some of those candidates may be offered full-time roles in the CoE.

It's also helpful to maintain a skills inventory. This not only tracks existing skills which is helpful in assigning the right resource to the right task but can be used to schedule the most relevant learning and development programs. It can also be used to forecast future skills needed to pursue planned business objectives.

The best practice here is to work with your HR department to adopt the formal talent management practices that are proven to improve recruiting decisions, increase employee tenure and achieve high performance results.


The CoE Should Be the Change Champion

Charles Darwin first reported that, "It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change." Adapting to changing customer behaviors, leveraging new technologies, outpacing competitors, or shifting to a growth culture all reinforce that business change is a constant, and can thereby be planned for.

It can be followed or led. If followed, challenges from change come as a surprise. They are often initially discounted or dismissed. But change resides within your customers and staff and people don't like to be discounted or dismissed. That doesn't make the challenges go away.

The challenges grow, deteriorate the CoE mission and ultimately take time and resources away from the mission.

If led, change is proactively addressed with business agility and a change management program. Challenges still occur, but they are addressed early and remedied before they exacerbate and negatively impact the mission.

The best practice here is to lead change. That means embracing and leveraging new customer behaviors, market shifts or changes in the way work gets done.


Define Your Governance

Most CMOs understand that governance is needed to maintain the right course and demonstrate accountability. Fewer leaders understand how to structure an effective CoE governance program. It's a 4-step approach.

First, define your governance early in your planning process, or no later than the Marketing Center of Excellence implementation period. It's essential that governance be built into the CoE infrastructure.

Second, define your constituencies. That's often a 3-tier model consisting of a steering committee of cross functional stakeholders, a CoE management or leadership team, and CoE constituent representatives from the broader organization. You can then define responsibilities for each group.

Marketing Center of Excellence Governance Hierarchy

For example, the Steering Committee ensures the governance model is working and reviews the performance reporting which links investments to payback. Their primary interest is to make sure that the CoE program is evolving in parallel with the company's business strategies and in a way that continuously increases its contribution to the company's priorities.

Sometimes members of the CoE team consist of a mix of permanent and rotating members. Other times, one of these two groups may also act as a Change Control Review Committee which approves certain actions or projects adopted by the CoE.

Third, create a meeting cadence for each constituent group. You will want to meet more frequently in the beginning and can then relax the meeting rhythm as the CoE stabilizes.

Fourth, define the information reporting for each group. This will include a combination of agile artifacts, performance metrics and financial measures.

It's important that reports to the steering committee are not based on activities, such as campaign response rates, lead conversions and social media engagement. The steering committee wants direct line of sight between the CoE and financial results.