How marketing ops can survive and thrive in M&A
Merging teams and systems following a merger or acquisition can be an opportunity rather than a crisis.
For many marketing ops teams, a merger or acquisition is either a current obstacle to navigate or a likely event looming on the horizon. Before a dip last year, M&A transactions were at an all-time high in the US. Here’s how marketing ops teams can rise to the occasion when faced with M&A growing pains.
It’s not just about M&A’s impact on the ops team’s own organization. In the martech space, M&A activity can also mean the consolidation of vendors and software in the marketing stack.
Marketing ops pros are left with the responsibility of managing structural changes to the workforce while also making sure that goals are met and strategies maintained.
M&A as an opportunity
Drawing on her experience in martech, and speaking on her own behalf, Helen Abramova, Marketing Tech Lead at Verizon, described the M&A process as an opportunity to better understand and align marketing ops within an organization.
“After a merger or acquisition,” Abramova said, “the marketing ops teams want to make sure that nothing is dropped, and all the critical processes go on as usual. It’s crucial to assess the most significant changes and challenges and what impact they could bring to the existing infrastructure, [for example] new customers coming in, and new systems that need to be integrated.”
Is your marketing ops team up to the challenge? What are the top priorities and most important stages of the transition?
Aligning the team structure
Don’t forget that people are still the biggest single factor in meeting the organization’s goals. Merging teams is an additional complication tacked on to the regular outcomes any marketing ops team is charged with delivering. This is where leadership skills are crucial. In organizations of any size, the transition through a merger or acquisition requires technical problem solving, as well as people skills.
“Reviewing and reshuffling the marketing ops team structure might be quite sensitive,” said Abramova. “Still, we have to conduct a kind of census of who’s doing what, what the available skills are.”
Later, when the team is evaluating systems and tracking the data flow, the individual members of the team are aligned and set up to succeed. “You need to be talking to stakeholders all the time, checking and adjusting your plans and priorities, shaping a clear vision and well-defined goals,” she added.
Inventory and assessment
“The next step,” Abramova explained, “would be a careful and thoughtful inventory of all systems, data flows, and associated processes. We have to understand all the systems and workstreams, the overall data architecture, and the formalized customer journey schema.”
Ideally, an organization is already regularly evaluating its data flow. However, a merger or acquisition is an event that sheds additional light here. This kind of thorough inventory will expose redundancies and possible overlaps. Breakdowns and other weak points in the data flow can also be uncovered.
Teams might be surprised at what they find. For instance, in a deep search like this, they might discover a new customer profile integral to their business. They might also find that some customers they assumed were new are actually just inactive customers who are recycled from another pool. All this data is essential and needs to be assessed as a single layer.
Prioritizing the stack
Taking stock of the data as a single layer also helps prioritize the systems and vendor services to be reviewed in the stack. Darrell Alfonso, Global Marketing Operations Manager at Amazon Web Services, gave us a simple and useful way to prioritize. “Anything where you’re storing information about your customer and engaging with your customer ends up in the primary bucket,” he stated. “Marketing automation and CRM fall into that category.”
He added that for some marketing teams, anything relating to the content experience could also be considered primary. Content tools and platforms are where a lot of investment goes for some teams. If they are a touch point for customer experience, they can’t be disrupted.
“Secondary and tertiary categories end up being things like productivity and efficiency tools, or personalization, where you’re taking a core functionality and making it incrementally better,” said Alfonso.
Intent data and other data management tools would still be secondary to the actual customer data that the organization has. Marketing ops can weigh the options between two different data vendors and even decide to go without one temporarily while they make the decision that’s best for them.
To make those decisions, it goes back personnel. According to Steve Petersen, Marketing Technology Manager at Western Governors University, marketing ops people do tend to become more invested in specific tools. This should be considered when adding or shifting to a new system. “For any new system,” Petersen explained, “what is technically the better choice also means that you’re going to have to get people who are invested in it.”
He added, “The technical side of merging the stack will be a challenge. But the human side of merging the stack is something that is commonly overlooked.”
Prioritizing the vendors and systems to review allows marketing ops to steer through the transition in a coordinated way. It’s a juggling act where dropping a ball could mean wasted time and lost revenue for the organization.
“The biggest challenge is dealing with technical complexities, dependencies, and conflicting timing and priorities at once,” said Helen Abramova. “This is where an organization needs a strong marketing operations leader who could find the right path, develop and communicate the vision, and get the stakeholders’ buy-in.”
With a merger or acquisition, “opportunity” doesn’t have to be a euphemism for “crisis.” It can be the catalyst for better alignment and communication within the marketing ops team.