In many B2B organizations, there is a large disparity between what demand centers should look like and what they’ve become. As Jay Gaines explained at Summit 2014 in Orlando this morning, the key is to understand how central a demand center is to marketing.

“Whether you get it right or get it wrong,” said Jay, “a demand center will reframe marketing.”

At best, demand centers function as a guiding mechanism for demand creation. Ideally, the demand center combines the benefits of centralization and decentralization, using a pragmatic, center-of-excellence approach. When structured in the right way, the demand center enables integrated demand programs, expertise, efficiency and continuous improvement.

At worst, demand centers function as the B2B marketing version of the department of motor vehicles. Sure, you know the DMV needs to exist, but no one actually likes to go there.

In the case of a dysfunctional demand center, functions and teams may recognize its necessity, but look to it with apprehension and see it as more of a nuisance than a solid contributor to the business. A demand center is not a piecemeal grouping of miscellaneous marketing and creative roles that respond to sales support requests, nor should it be jumbled together with marketing activities that do not relate to demand creation.

Summit 2014

When considering the increased role of technology and cross-functional alignment in demand creation, Jay explained, there is a real need for what the demand center provides. However, while there has been a lot of progress over the past five years since they emerged, a lot of organizations have demand centers “in name only.”

What can be done about this problem? How can organizations better position their demand centers in the future? Some of the best practices Jay suggested included:

  • Conduct a needs assessment prior to implementation. This includes the understanding the demand creation strategy, auditing current demand creation approaches and resources, and gaining organizational buy-in.
  • Focus on five key areas of engagement for the demand center. This includes planning, guidance, managing requests, account management and service-level agreements.
  • Understand the market context. As market realities and business needs change, so will the scope and responsibilities of the demand center.

In many ways, the problems that demand centers face mirror those of other shared services, such as project management offices (PMOs), especially within large, highly matrixed organizations. Many PMOs begin on the right track, serving as a central command center where project prioritization and resource management are made to conform to reasonable, agreed-upon standards. If not properly staffed and maintained however, this function can decay and lose track of its mission, becoming little more than a clutch of administrators asking project managers to clean up their project plans.

Toward the end of his presentation, Jay polled the Summit audience with this question: “Is your organization considering implementing a demand center?” The largest number of respondents said their organizations don’t currently have a demand center, but they are planning to create one.

Jay stressed that the demand center should be kept distinct from the functional role of field or portfolio marketing. Locating the responsibilities of the demand center separately from field marketing is essential to reduce the burdensome amount of duties expected of field marketing. By bringing the right functions into alignment around the proper initiatives, a demand center will effectively drive better outcomes.