Breaking Down Walls Between R&D and Marketing

Nutrition Industry Executive

In some situations, R&D hands over a finished product to the marketing department with the edict to go out and sell it. Other times, marketing comes to R&D with heavily detailed product development requests.

I’ve been on both sides of these situations. Whether it is a technology-driven culture, or a marketing-driven culture, not only do they create divisiveness between individuals and departments, they ultimately cost corporations millions of dollars in failed sales, product re-dos, and lost market leadership opportunities. Instead of creating teams, such situations create walls between departments. What steps can companies take toward reconciling differing points of view? It starts with seeing the world through each other’s lenses.

Marketing’s Viewpoint: Marketing’s job is to maximize sales and profit while creating loyal consumers and satisfying owners, shareholders, and investors at the same time. We balance short term profits against long term growth, communicating these expectations down the line to division directors, product managers and food technologists alike.

When pushed hard enough, marketers will suggest launching a “new and improved version.” However, often, first impressions are lasting among retailers and consumers. The key in successfully creating newer versions is to move slowly into distribution, learning from customers and retailers at each step, and making adjustments before expanding.

R&D’s Viewpoint: Scientists and engineers are, by nature, conservative in the risks they are willing to take. They are hired to develop new technologies, ingredients, delivery forms, packaging, or processes that provide a company with not only a new product (or a platform for a line), but ones that create happy customers and are difficult for the competition to copy, thus increasing corporate value through intellectual property. Scientists seek to minimize the risk of market failure. This means that we want to test things before introducing it into the market.

There are three key ways to reconcile the inherent differences for ultimate success:

Building relationships: Research and Development and Marketing need to be collaborating from the top all the way down the chain. Marketing has insight into consumer trends, competitive activity, and market needs, while R&D has insight into the latest technologies. Either one, acting completely independently, will spend vast sums of time and dollars creating worthless products.

Portfolio management: Portfolio management is critical in balancing short-term profit initiatives with longer-term growth initiatives. It is allocating human resources so that the existing product portfolio can be promoted and improved, and new products envisioned and developed. The result is that marketing is satisfied because it has sufficient resources to promote existing products to meet short-term sales goals, and R&D is satisfied because there are sufficient resources to ensure that products are not rushed to market without pre-market testing.

Creation of innovation teams: Developing new products, processes and business models, investigating opportunities, understanding the target consumer, creating concepts, developing and testing prototypes—all must be built into the culture of the company and supported at all levels. When teams are built with members across the organization, walls begin to naturally fall between departments, and scientists, engineers, and marketers can focus on finding and fleshing out new opportunities when it’s not at the expense of supporting current customer demands. Marketing and R&D, along with sales, operations and finance, begin to think and behave like a team with common goals.

When companies create organizational structures, relationships, and expectations that support interdepartmental teams, with common goals, shared values, vision, and mutual respect from the ground-up, the natural walls begin to crumble, while the likelihood of product launch success builds.

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Breaking Down Walls Between R&D and Marketing