Better collaboration is the best martech investment you can make

Columnist Justin Dunham reminds us that our marketing technology solutions are only as good as the processes and culture that surround them.

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Think about the dozens of channels that you have to manage for any given marketing campaign. Web, email, in-product messaging, social, press releases, media placements, display advertising, paid search and so on. And you have to think about personas. And funnel stages. Oh, and maybe localization.

And that’s just to produce the content. Then you have to publish it, track it and analyze it. And Sales has to know how to use it. And Product needs to tell you who to target, and what you can say. And so on.

Over the past 20 years, marketing technology has advanced. We can reach more people, and we can reach more of the right people. We can understand our audiences better. We can provide incredibly valuable data to guide product development. And, using marketing technology, we can do all these things in a way that’s scalable, reliable and automatic.

But while our technology has advanced, the practice of marketing hasn’t kept up. Because digital marketing lets us talk to so many different audiences, in so many different ways, over so many different channels, we need to be much better at dealing with complexity — and we need to be more efficient with our resources.

We need to get better at sharing information, asking the right questions, looking at the right data and using the right systems.

That’s the job of Marketing Ops.

And we need to get better at working together. All of our data, analytics and systems? They’re ways of supporting collaboration.

So guess whose job it is help us all work together, better. Marketing Ops.

Why collaboration is difficult

There are so many reasons it’s hard to work together. They include:

  • different experiences. You worked at a company that generated all of its revenue through partnerships. I worked at a company that generated all of its revenue through digital. We probably won’t agree on how important our home page is, or what it should have on it.
  • different styles. I’m direct, and you’re not. So I get my way. Or at least I think I do, because you resist without speaking up.
  • different strengths and weaknesses. You’re the CMO, but I’m the data analyst. You have experience, but I understand the data and how it’s gathered.
  • different skills. I understand how to write HTML, so the fact that our blogging platform only accepts HTML is great for me. You don’t, so it’s not so great for you.

Getting everyone on the same page has always been a key role for Marketing Ops. We answer questions like:

  • What content is performing best?
  • Who are the visitors to our website?
  • Where is the most efficient place to spend money?
  • What does our database look like?

That is, we provide data that helps everyone make better decisions, and we help people use and interpret it. That’s critical for helping people with very different experiences, points of view and skills understand each other and what’s happening.

We need to be facilitators, advisors and guides for our fellow marketers. And we need to spend our time thinking about not just processes, tools and data by themselves, but also all the human factors involved in making sure what we implement is effective.

Really, it’s about facilitating cultural change on marketing teams, and only then is it about implementing new process and technology.

How collaboration technology can help

Collaboration technology has become an increasingly important component of new marketing technology products, especially as the need to coordinate content production has grown.

Older products (like the “big four” marketing automation platforms) often include rudimentary collaboration tools — for example, basic content calendars. These calendars usually require a license for each user, making them impractical for many marketing teams.

With the rise of content marketing, which demands cooperation across the entire marketing team, platforms like Percolate, Kapost, NewsCred and Curata have included somewhat better collaboration tools (though you still have to pay for licenses for your entire marketing team). These tools include not just calendars, but also content scheduling, persona management and lots and lots of analytics.

And collaboration technology like Atlassian’s Jira has begun to target non-engineering business functions. You can still definitely tell that Jira is built for engineers, but now there’s Jira Core.

And of course, there’s Slack.

But here’s the thing about tools: they only work if there’s good process and culture behind them. Tools are an accelerator, not a way of promoting collaboration by themselves. Using a piece of marketing technology when your team isn’t ready simply exacerbates the original problem you were trying to solve. You still have your original problems, and now you (and your team) have to maintain and get used to a new set of processes as well.

Slack makes it really easy (and fun!) to interrupt people while they’re doing something else. Is that good or bad? It depends on the expectations you’ve set around when it’s OK to interrupt, and when that’s useful.

So the first major challenge of collaboration technology is figuring out how to work effectively together in the first place. We need to spend more time learning how to communicate in supported, effective and coherent ways among individuals and departments. Collaboration technology is a layer on top of that.

Collaboration technology provides access to information; Marketing Ops helps create a culture that understands how how to use it.

Learning from engineering

In realizing the importance of high-quality collaboration and the technology that supports it, marketing is catching up with what other departments, particularly engineers, have known for a long time.

Engineering departments have improved their productivity tremendously over the past 20 years. A lot of that is due to technical genius. But a lot of it, too, is better collaboration. Just look at seminal books like “Peopleware,” or the entire DevOps movement. Or look at the success of GitHub… fundamentally, a collaboration tool.

Engineers have learned lots of collaboration principles that marketers are just beginning to think about. We should be paying more attention. Marketing Ops can lead the way.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Justin Dunham
Justin is an independent marketing consultant. He specializes in customer acquisition, marketing technology, and marketing analytics for enterprise software companies. He has previously led digital marketing functions at fast-growing organizations, including enterprise unicorn MongoDB and Gates Foundation grantee One Acre Fund. Justin has an MBA from the Wharton School in Entrepreneurial Marketing, and lives in sunny Portland, Oregon.

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