Working Paper

Top Management Views of the Marketing Function

Frederick E. Webster, Jr., 1980, 80-108

Foreword (by Professor Stephen A. Greyser, MSI Executive Director)
  • How does top management assess the performance of the marketing function and marketers today?
  • What are their major concerns about the marketing function?
  • Just how important do senior corporate executives consider marketing to be?

The views of senior managers on these and related questions are of obvious import to other top managers and to marketing managers alike. This report describes the reactions on these issues of chief executive officers or chief operating officers from 30 US. based firms. The research was conducted by Professor Frederick E. Webster, Jr. (E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean, Tuck School, Dartmouth). Webster interviewed 21 of the CEO/COO's personally, and 9 interviews were conducted by MSI Trustees in their own companies. As readers will see, the report itself is heavily laden with quotes from these executives on the issues, problems, stature, and potential of marketing in their corporations. Although many of the comments are critical, Webster notes that some of his questions encouraged such a critical view.

Overall, as Webster states in his concluding section (pp. 27 ff.), top executives believe that "marketing is the critical strategic function in their businesses. They also share a fundamental perception that their markets are becoming more competitive and the market environment more uncertain. [Yet] they are not entirely confident that today's marketing managers are ready for these future challenges."

Four major areas of particular concern about marketing were identified in Webster's interviews:

  • lack of innovativeness and entrepreneurial thinking (p. 9)
  • the diminishing productivity of marketing expenditures (p. 13)
  • poor understanding by marketing people of the financial implications of marketing actions and decisions (p. 14)
  • incomplete acceptance of the marketing concept (p. 18)

      Other major topics dicsussed by the top-management people interviewed include how they influence the performance of the marketing function (p. 23) and the role and performance of MBA's (p. 25).

      Many of the executives interviewed see marketing as a top-management responsibility. They recognize that the priorities and attitudes they themselves set affect (and may even cause) many of the shortcomings they identify. Along this line, a major implication for top executives that Webster cites is for them "to give clear signals to the marketing organization . . . [with consistent] measurement and reward systems." Webster also outlines implications for marketers and for marketing academics, and lists five areas for further inquiry.

      Webster states in his closing comments that "a principal objective of this research was to help those who identify with marketing, in both business and education, understand what chief corporate officers expect of them, now and in the future." We trust that the clarity and the detail of this MSI report will accelerate progress toward that end.

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