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Include the Critics, Naysayers and Roadblocks in the Process

By Paulo Ribeiro

Why it never works to build a marketing strategy and get other departments to buy-in later.

We often get approached by an executive or department who wants to use our strategic expertise as leverage to convince another department to change how they Go To Market. The conversation will start with a breakdown of the business opportunity which is where things should start. But eventually the real friction will become clear. There is another department or leader who has different priorities or doesn’t see things the same way. 


Sometimes we’ll hear about it during the onboarding conversations or discovery but by the time we get to stakeholder conversations it will become clear that there isn’t internal alignment. 


To be clear, a lack of alignment by itself isn’t necessarily a problem. If managed productively it can be a strength in that different leaders have access to different data and priorities which can become the roots of a powerful new strategy. We absolutely NEED those tensions to get to a new strategy. But that is a different post. 


This post is about the doomed to fail assumption that we can develop the strategy in a silo and it is going to be so damn smart that the rest of the company will get onboard. We’ll unfurl the deck and they’ll follow the Piper because of the sheer genius of the ideas. They’ll see how thorough our collective work is and that will drive alignment and the company can move forward. Cue the end credits. 


That never works.

This assumption is almost always well intentioned. It is also almost always wrong. It is wrong because it assumes that what needs to happen is to convince another leader or department. A great brand strategy works across departments which means it needs to be aware of the challenges facing each department. 


I’m not writing this post to talk about how to make the work a treaty between departments. I’m writing this to dispel the idea that the marketing team, or product team or design leadership alone can figure out a new way forward and then deliver it to the other departments needed to implement it. Great strategy isn’t a compromise. Great strategy is aware of each of the stakeholders needs and finds a solution that will benefit the whole company because it solves problems in the order that they need to be solved. Often that means that one department’s priorities will need to wait in order for a more acute problem to be solved. That is how great teams function and you don’t get this kind of buy-in without including everyone with a stake in the decision. 


A few rules we operate by: 


  1. A representative from each department that is critical to bringing a solution to life needs to be involved at each milestone.

  2. Disagreements need to be surfaced with all the relevant context. Lean into the uncomfortable because you might learn something. Don’t avoid it. 

  3. We don’t move forward until there is commitment cross-functionally. BTW, disagreement is fine. But when a decision is made to proceed there needs to be universal commitment.


Change in how a company Goes to Market requires cross-functional buy-in. Not after the ideas have been developed, but early.

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