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Operations: Rubber meet Road

Published on April 11, 2019

Operations- Rubber meet Road

Marketing leaders are faced with a dynamic, constantly changing landscape. Much of the change over the past decade has been driven by the rise of MarTech. 5000 technologies created to make marketing turnkey, 5000 silver bullets, easy buttons all presented to the marketing leader to make marketing “easy.” It’s created a new marketing norm, one that comes with a new set of challenges.

I am super fortunate in that every week for the past 5 years I’ve spoken with anywhere from 3-6 marketing leaders. This has provided me with a front row seat to a unique set of challenges in front of a leader who knows their tenure is by far the shortest of their peers in the C-Suite. The average tenure of a CMO is 4 years, compared to their next closest peer, the CEO, who is double that at 8.

Most recently the trend has been these 3 big things…

1.    Talent

2.    Go to Market Strategy not aligned with marketing tactics (there is a lot to unpack in this one)

3.    Operations

The whole profession of marketing operations was literally created by the meteoric rise of MarTech. It’s created a home for the technologist, the technical marketer, the excel wizard. Ops, where the rubber meets the preverbal road! Sounds awesome, right? Then why is it such a tremendous challenge for marketing leaders?

Three reasons. The first is talent, I’ve already gone down that rabbit hole in the first article of this series. The second is alignment of organizational objectives to marketing tactics, again, been down that path is the second article of this series. The third and focus of this article is lack of planning. What I mean by planning is all the stuff in marketing we talk about but never actually do. Ops in the connective tissue between our strategy and the tactics in market. The planning pillar doesn’t mean just tech and data (while it’s a big piece) it encompasses the big three, people, process and technology. Let’s take a look at the core elements of good planning.

The first is focused on translating your GTM strategy to the buyer experience. That encompasses things like the buyer journey or lifecycle planning, sales process, messaging and positioning, campaign planning, etc. All too often these steps get missed which causes misalignment between your objectives and the buyer experience. You might be thinking, these aren’t ops functions!?! Ops has to put these things into practice, if they aren’t in place there is a problem, if they are in place, but are not being translated to the operational infrastructure of the organization, there is a problem.

This leads us to data & technology, the core function of ops. I can’t tell you how many marketing leaders I hear use the term “franken stack.” This isn’t good, but it’s a symptom of two major ops issues. The first I just outlined, the alignment of go to market planning and tech stack. The second is the lack of a holistic technology strategy. #2 has a major dependency on #1. The GTM strategy and plan need to be first translated into data architecture, which is then translated into core systems which will operationalize the architecture. I’ll illustrate with a very practical example, buyer personas. Almost every company I speak with has some form of buyer personas. That’s great, how are they used? Long pause… and silence. That’s the fundamental problem, personas rarely become operational. Translating those personas into your data model is the first step in making them actually usable. Once personas are represented as data points they can be easily translated into CRM and marketing automation systems which allow them to be operationalized into ad targeting, nurture, sales calls, etc.

Once the data architecture and model are built then it needs to be translated and implemented into core systems. For most organizations the foundation is CRM and Marketing Automation as mentioned above, but there are certainly use cases for additional layers like data warehouse, DMP or data lake to be a part of that core system architecture. For the sake of simplicity let’s focus on CRM and MA as the core pillars of the Ops stack. Everything else will likely hang off those core systems.

The biggest failure of CRM and MA is not the system, it’s that when an organization decides to make those big investments, they don’t go all the way. They assume the software is going to solve the problem, so they settle for an implementation that is nothing more than a technical configuration, a series of on-boarding calls and a pat on the butt. The translation of GTM strategy and planning is NEVER accounted for, so in the case of something like Marketing Automation, you end up with a really expensive email blast tool. Lifecycle, sales process, campaigns, all those core focus areas in the planning pillar are things that marketing automation was built to operationalize, but it does not happen. Instead more tools keep getting added on to scratch an itch and so begins the franken stack!

Finally, let talk about people. Most executives ask me where technology falls down in Marketing. My first response is always lack of investment in people. Typically, a surprising response from a consulting company, but it’s the truth. People are the foundation that holds up the house. GTM, data, tech none of it means anything if there are not people in place to take the reins, implement and continually reinforce what’s built. People have to be activated, educated and empowered in order for this delicate ecosystem to thrive. Like everything else, it all starts with the GTM strategy, people at every level should know it, understand it and how their role specifically impacts the objectives and KPIs outlined in that strategy.

Operations has become a core function of marketing. It’s the conduit between your strategy and tactics. The challenge is ops has become synonymous with technology. Tech is a huge piece of the puzzle, but tech alone is not going to drive a successful ops function. Ops is the ultimate people, process and technology function which needs to be informed by the go to market strategy of the organization, be the tangible representation of the plan and finally execute and measure the tactics of your marketing organization.

Talk to me about your ops experience, what’s worked, what hasn’t?