How to Build a Center of Excellence for Customer Engagement — Part I

This is Part 1 of a two-part posting on how to create and organize a center of excellence for demand generation and customer engagement. Different definitions for a center of excellence, or CoE, have circulated for some time.

This is Part 1 of a two-part posting on how to create and organize a center of excellence for demand generation and customer engagement.

Different definitions for a center of excellence, or CoE, have circulated for some time:

  • In academia, where the phrase was coined, CoEs are sometimes called a “competency center” or “capability center.” A CoE brings together people from different disciplines and provides shared facilities/resources.
  • Business CoEs are sometimes defined as a team that leads others in the organization in a particular area of expertise; whether that be technology, skill or discipline — providing leadership, best practices, research, support and/or training.
  • Additionally, if leaders don’t define “excellence” with KPIs and output metrics, then it’s not a Marketing Center of Excellence, it’s just a skilled group.

Gartner defines a CoE as “a physical or virtual center of knowledge, concentrating existing expertise and resources in a discipline or capability to attain and sustain world-class performance and value.” Gartner then proceeds to state that this breaks down into four elements. Let me paraphrase those here:

  1. CoEs need to focus on a tight scope, defined around a specific capability
  2. Define the location of the CoE (physical vs. virtual)
  3. CoEs should optimize and leverage resources internal to the organization, not external vendors or agencies
  4. Have a focus on pushing beyond standard performance norms. (i.e., Drive toward excellence in the chosen capabilities.)

This is a good list, but it feels a little incomplete. We need to further differentiate a CoE from a simple organization chart department, or managed services group, or council. What are the characteristics of a Revenue Marketing CoE?

  1. The Revenue Marketing CoE is based on a set of related capabilities. What is a capability? “A capability is a unique bundling of skills, knowledge, and resources that facilitate the execution of business processes, and are what ultimately contribute to sustainable competitive advantage and superior performance.” (Day, 1994, opens as a PDF).
  2. The CoE has a clearly defined mission and charter
  3. The CoE has a defined structure and borders — i.e., what are the inputs and the outputs. And related to this, there needs to be a definition for how the broader organization interoperates with the CoE
  4. The CoE is chartered to drive for continuous improvement and curation of best practices; thereby, achieving excellence
  5. The CoE has a significant impact on the competiveness of the organization, and a strong ROI


Let’s start with the capabilities, what should be in the Customer Engagement CoE, and remember — just because you move a capability in here, doesn’t mean that it can’t also exist outside the CoE … content creation, for example. To build a CoE for customer engagement, you will benefit from the following set of capabilities, at a minimum:

  • Demand management
  • Program management
  • Campaign management (inbound and outbound)
  • Best practices management
  • Customer journey and persona management
  • Operational outcome reporting
  • Customer experience management

There are other capabilities that could optionally be added:

  • Campaign content operations
  • Marketing technology operations (i.e., the folks who build inbound and outbound campaigns)
  • Data analysis and analytics/reporting

So, at a minimum, you might have job titles like these in the COE:

  1. Demand Generation Managers; AKA, program/campaign strategists
  2. Power users for all channels (email, social, paid media, events, etc.)
  3. Customer data tzar, possibly also good for reporting analysis and segmentation
  4. Content creative and copy writing
  5. Content strategist
  6. Inbound admin/guru and MAP/CRM admin/guru, especially for config and reporting
  7. Campaign Managers; AKA, project managers for campaign design/execution
  8. Traffic managers for handling all the asset production and workflows

You may choose to implement a customer engagement CoE that extends beyond the walls of marketing and, in doing so, needs to include representatives from sales and support. When you consider that a focus on customer experience is a company-wide mandate and cannot be executed by marketing alone, then creating a customer engagement CoE that can serve the broader organization makes sense.

Hopefully, this discussion on capabilities in the CoE got you thinking, and you are asking yourself:

“Whoa, would I put content/creative types in there?”

“Would I put social, paid media folks in there?”

“ Would I put the campaign strategists/designers in there? I mean, what if I have field marketing?”

“Jeez, Kevin, keep it simple. Why not simply make a CoE out of the Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) power users, put them in HQ, call them a CoE, stick it under Marketing Ops and call it good?”

Not so fast. Is the latter really a CoE? Do they represent one or more capabilities in the way we defined capabilities above? No. Are they in one location, yes. Can they strive for excellence in building, sure. But they cannot measure their results based on the business outcomes, because so much is out of their control: the quality of the design, the offers, the data, the metrics. So, they make it on three of the four Gartner criteria, but fail on No. 1. Do they represent one or more capabilities? You could argue that this is semantics and that “MAP usage” is a capability. Not so fast (again). Remember Day’s definition of a capability?

“A unique bundling of skills, knowledge, and resources that facilitate the execution of business processes…”

Does building a campaign all by itself rise to the level of “facilitates execution of a business process”? No. Nor will it “contribute to a sustainable competitive advantage.” But it is part of the customer engagement process where we can hope to gain competitive advantage. And now we get to the crux of the discussion: We cannot determine if a CoE is right for our organization until we have agreement on what the required capabilities might be.

A COE is the right way to organize a team and, thereby, increase marketing effectiveness, when these conditions exist relative to the capabilities and people:

  • Capabilities:
    • Specific Revenue Marketing capabilities can be provided by a small or modest-sized group
    • Grouping these capabilities and the individuals together will be synergistic
    • The returned value to the organization in driving to excellence in these capabilities is high
  • People:
    • A modest-sized group of specialists, who may be skilled in completely different areas, and all share common goals or business outcomes for their skills, can be grouped together under one leader.
    • This group can be united as one and manically pursue excellence in the delivery of those business outcomes.
    • The team is empowered, embraces innovation, has a bias for action, and operates in an agile fashion

There are, of course, other criteria to consider before electing to invest more and create a CoE, instead of simply organizing as a group. They include a detailed specification of the CoE inputs and outputs, what driving for excellence actually means in practice, and having a well-defined mission and charter. All this and more will come next month in Part 2 of this blog post.