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The strategic leader ladder

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What's your business role? While this is always a relevant question, it is especially important nowadays, as the economy slows and senior management begins looking for what is gingerly called "operational savings."

The good news is that marketing's organizational cachet has improved, at least in the view of marketers themselves, who say their role has become more strategic following waves of reorganizations of marketing departments across corporate America during the past few years.

That was the finding of an exclusive online survey conducted in February and March by the Association of National Advertisers and BtoB. The survey, which is covered in depth beginning on page 1 of this issue, is a follow-up to an earlier ANA survey, which revealed a whopping 70% of marketing organizations have been reorganized in the past three years.

It's significant that those reorganizations appear to have worked, at least in one key area: alignment of marketing and corporate goals. Only 14% of b-to-b marketers identified strategy/innovation as their primary role prior to reorganization; 24% said strategy/innovation was their primary goal following reorganization.

The perceived value of marketing's contribution to business success may also account for why marketing budgets have held remarkably steady, even in the face of the shaky economy. In another piece of primary research earlier this year, BtoB asked marketers if their original 2008 marketing budgets had been revised. Of the 684 b-to-b marketers who responded to this e-mail survey, a majority (58.3%) said they had not revised their plans—and 12.3% said they had increased budgets.

Since publishing this survey, I've asked a number of marketers and agency executives if they are surprised by these findings. Industry veterans, no doubt remembering the bad old days when marketing was one of the very first budgets to be cut during a downturn, admit surprise. On the other hand, younger people—those who entered the profession when "accountability," "metrics," "ROI" and, above all, "Internet" became basic parts of the lexicon—show no such surprise. They know marketing contributes to business growth because they have the metrics to prove it.

Nevertheless, the ANA/BtoB survey indicates b-to-b marketers still have a way to go, and still lag behind their b-to-c counterparts when it comes to involvement in strategic decision-making.

When asked how often marketing makes strategic decisions at the organization, only 11% of b-to-b marketers said "always" and 37% said "most of the time." By comparison, 17% of b-to-c marketers said they "always" make strategic decisions, while 39% responded "most of the time." And even after reorganization, almost half (47%) of b-to-b marketers cited "marketing communications" as their primary role.

This brings us back to organizational role—and more to the point, organizational change.

When the ANA/BtoB survey asked b-to-b marketers about the factors driving these reorganizations, senior personnel change (CEO, president or CFO) was the top answer (26.3%), followed by CMO change (21.6%).

I heard this saying just this morning: "When people need to change, it's time to change the people."

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business and can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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