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Building a SaaS utility is brutal. Your product is never In my 20+ years as a marketing consultant, I repeatedly see the same issues in brands of all sizes, across all industries. I have great empathy for the marketing teams that are under immense pressure to perform but are not given the right tools. I find antiquated silos between departments (Sales, Marketing, Ops, IT), a lack of scalable processes and incomplete structures that are falling apart. I witness the trade marketing team reach in desperation for any platform that answers today’s problem without addressing the whole picture. Sound familiar?

Here are four of the most common reasons trade marketing departments end up failing and how you can fix these issues.

Let’s be realistic for a bit about workflow, platforms, and adoption rates…

Historically, many critical trade marketing functions get divided amongst the trade team members to individually manage as the “expert.” That “expert” crafts a process and usually picks some tool (platform) to do the job. The department is then handcuffed to its single expert – relying on that person to always get the job done. This arrangement leads to some obvious issues.

Have you ever asked one of your team members for help finding information, only to receive an uninformed or ‘hot potato’ answer (or perhaps, a complete lack of answers).

How many times have you asked for something and received this kind of reply:

“Oh, I have no clue where that file is. Think it’s in the Dropbox somewhere, but Mike is the expert on that, and he is on paternity leave for a month.”

Disconnected process and single-solution platforms create an unstable environment. In addition to data shareability issues, using siloed platforms means you risk critical information losses, low adoption, staff changes, equipment fails, or accidental data deletion. You need a streamlined structure that consolidates data and teams, allowing for cross-functional collaboration. Single-solution platforms (e.g., Excel, Dropbox, Slack, Asana, SharePoint and the like) temporarily solve problems, however, as they proliferate in the department, they generate a series of downstream issues that can be even larger and harder to fix than the original issues.

I’m also willing to bet that your current single-solution platforms don’t work seamlessly together and do not speak with your sales ERP. This is a common breaking point for trade marketing teams, creating failures that the entire brand will see and feel. Your platform should be thoroughly integrated with your vendors and dealers databases, and weave internal departments together, with your brand at the core of the business.

Get over it! Literally and figuratively.


The process and platforms in place are most likely things you inherited. They may just be dated and ineffective; more likely, they are broken. It’s time to establish a smooth and sleek structure, with a streamlined process that consolidates your team’s energy towards a shared goal. You need to get all your people (trade marketing team, vendors, sales reps) working in tandem in a single platform, in which every act of participation by any user adds real value. This creates a healthy and complete ecosystem that is “single expert” proof, transparent, and attuned to the market.

As your brand launches product after product, this naturally becomes the priority for your trade marketing department, often leaving the marketing process and operational automation development in second place. With competing priorities, most trade marketing departments simply lack the capacity to move beyond tactics to strategy, execution and finally to measurement. The trade marketing team is saddled with the most labour intensive, logistically heavy, ultra-diverse task lists in marketing, with the least amount of time to execute their task. But without them, all the previous work done by the teams prior is null and void.

Love or hate him, Jordan Peterson makes a valid point when he says, “organisation is the pre-condition to freedom”. This can be applied to all business operations, meaning that if you want your department to do its job effectively, you need discipline and order to do so. Why? When the team isn’t weighed down with administrative nonsense and wild goose chases, they have the time and freedom to excel at what they’re best at.

Here’s an example of the complexity of a seemingly simple task. It seems easy to order a single fixture for a dealer, right? But it’s not so simple. Here are some questions to consider.

With so many questions to address, even a single fixture going to a single dealer can create hours of manual work. Now let’s do that with 1,000 dealers – on schedule and on budget. This is one of many “simple” tasks managed day to day by trade marketing professionals. Oh, they also have to be experts on POP, custom art, events, education, social media and all the rest of the jobs that can be dumped on the trade marketing team in the last 5 yards.

The trade marketing department needs defined processes for everything to make jobs like ordering a fixture take seconds, not hours. I am going to guess that you do not have the money or space to just keep stacking humans against the workload. You need to be able to move the work without bottlenecks. Educate your colleagues on the complexity of operating in-market and how busy your team actually is. Adopt an automated, centralized system that allows for scalability and sustainability, produces smooth pipelines that lead to brand growth, and collects operational feedback and market data every step of the way.

It’s time to break down the ridiculous silos that have been standing in your way and to re-align the work that needs to get done. Your sales team is out in the field chasing sales. Do they resist when asked to help with simple marketing tasks for the dealers they service? Why do you think this is? Do they not clearly understand that trade marketing = sales tools and without them they are dead in the water?

Or, could it be that they are frustrated because your team loses data, looks unorganized, and is late on projects? Perhaps all the above are true. I like to believe they are simply wary of needless work and change, and the barrier we are all facing is one of historically bad process, not poor behaviour or bad intentions. We all know the siloed department structure can create animosity between sales and marketing.

Advanced tools are needed to keep modern brick-and-mortar sales on pace with the ever-changing digital sales landscape. When B&M lags behind digital, it can quickly make retailers look out of date. This confuses the consumer and drives them towards an online purchase. Your reps need to be able to move lightning-fast to keep their B&M dealers on point and provide the retailer with tools that pull the consumer back into the store.

Your teams need to work together as one and commit to a defined structure for managing sales tools and the associated data. This is the only way to scale the system so the trade marketing team can deliver on time, every time. Defined structure and processes helps all functional groups avoid “garbage in, garbage out” failures – you don’t want to lash yourself with your own whip.

Marketing teams looking for a software tool often have the brand jamming standard CRM and ERP software down their throats. Why? Because the brand has already paid for it, and in a document that they looked at two years ago, they saw the word “marketing.” Unfortunately, while these programs provide some benefits, even combined, they cannot offer what growing brands need for trade marketing. Not even close.

CRM systems specialize in organizing marketing generation leads, and do not have the specific trade marketing operations tools your team needs, like Fixture / Display Order & Management, Marketplace Custom Art Order & Management, Promo Order & Management, Content Delivery, and Budget Management. CRMs are obviously not designed to take the day-to-day work off your trade marketing team.

ERP systems are built for sales and production operations and include sales operations, production management, shipping and logistical tools, all tied into accounting. They also do not provide the tools your trade marketing team needs.

Now, of course, the large ERP and CRM players can build custom systems for you. This is how they make money. And it is a HUGE amount of money. I have often come across custom modules that get abandoned because they no longer work with the current brand structure and are just too expensive and time consuming to fix. So, 9 out of 10 times, we see the trade marketing work fall back into spreadsheets.

In this day and age, it is near impossible to achieve a lasting, resounding impact in market without a carefully crafted structure designed to get you there. It needs to include all the elements specific to trade marketing, and be visible to the rest of your organization, in ways that will help your whole team succeed.

This integrated, well-designed platform should provide connected workflows and data. It needs to be flexible enough to bend to your process but also bring solutions with the fewest possible bottlenecks. It should involve all the departments that need to participate and have skin in the game, including your vendors. It should be agile and mobile. Your trade marketing structure should streamline all pipelines, deliver your sales tools to market with laser precision, and it should play nicely with your ERP and CRM.

You’re right – there will be pain points initially. Your team may not be comfortable during the switch, it will cost both time and money to change some of your process, and horror of horrors; you will have to speak to the IT department. BUT… Soon, your team will be way faster and much happier when provided with the optics and tools they actually need. You’ll finally get the clean data you need to tell you what’s going on in your department, and you’ll be able to save money to invest into future activations, which will INCREASE SALES.

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