How to build a marketing operations organization out of chaos
Financial accountability, digital transformation and the pivot to customer-centricity are all important CMO challenges to overcome to get your strategy back on track.
I recently met with a CMO of a fairly large organization to discuss her 2019 goals and what she considered her biggest challenges for the upcoming year. During our conversation, I asked her to describe her marketing operations organization. She paused and replied, “We don’t really have one.” Through further conversation, I learned this company’s marketing operations capability had grown organically, over time and across multiple functions. Those multiple functions included different business units, corporate marketing, corporate IT, and product development. In essence, the marketing operations capability in this company was not a capability – it was a widely distributed and uncoordinated set of skills, knowledge and technologies.
This scenario describes the majority of B2B marketing organizations. The role of B2B marketing has changed so quickly and so radically thanks to our technology enriched world, many marketing organizations are just now beginning to understand the broader ramifications. Just look at the history of marketing operations. As more technology options became available, marketers often purchased a technology to meet a specific need for a particular part of the marketing organization. The requirements for the purchase, the purchase process, the implementation, and use occurred in a silo. This approach resulted in a mishmash of technology, with no holistic view or understanding of what they had, who used it and with what result.
While these point solutions served a purpose at one time, two questions now come to mind. First, what is the tipping point where this very distributed and uncoordinated marketing operations capability is no longer good enough?
Second, how does a CMO go about knitting together all the disparate pieces to create a dedicated and results-oriented marketing operations organization?
The remainder of this article reviews the most common tipping points and offers advice on building the marketing operations function out of chaos.
3 tipping points
Let’s begin with a working definition of a “tipping point.” According to Alexa, a tipping point is the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change. The tipping points that have resulted in a focus on marketing operations include budgets and the CMO’s three big challenges – business accountability, digital transformation and customer-centricity.
While budgets are certainly not sexy, money talks. According to Gartner’s 2018 – 2019 CMO Spend Survey, martech spend continues to grow and will represent 29% of the marketing budget in 2018 and represents a larger spend than spend on personnel. Spending this kind of money tends to get the attention of senior management and when this occurs, the efficiency, effectiveness and results of the spend become a reporting item for the CMO. This is often the first tipping point that creeps up on marketing.
I frequently write about the B2B CMO’s three big challenges of adopting financial accountability, leading digital transformation and enabling the pivot to customer-centricity. Each of these challenges represents a tipping point in the business that directly affects the need for a dedicated marketing operations capability. Let’s review each tipping point while keeping in mind that technology is the foundation for the response to the change.
The first of the three big CMO challenges is financial accountability. The B2B marketing organization has a history of being viewed as the pens and mugs department. With the rise of technology and new digital customer behaviors and patterns, marketing is now well positioned to adopt Revenue Marketing™ as the foundational principle. This tipping point resulted in the adoption of financial accountability so that every dollar invested in marketing has a forecasted return.
The second CMO challenge is leading digital transformation. While this challenge begins in marketing as a result of a tipping point in use of technology, it is now evolving to the larger company digital transformation. Just like pioneering CMOs used digital to transform the role and impact of marketing, executives are looking at digital to transform time-honored business models. This tipping point represents huge opportunities for the CMO to become a broader company leader.
The final CMO challenge is leading the pivot to customer-centricity. A series of small changes over time in how customers interact with and use technology has now placed them firmly in control of their buyer journey. This tipping point has resulted in marketing taking a leadership position in helping the company move away from product-centricity and to a customer-centered view of the world.
The three CMO challenges are a direct result of tipping points in the business, in the market, in technology and the customer. When responding to any of these tipping points, a dedicated marketing operations function is essential. When responding to all three, which many CMOs are in the process of, a dedicated and strategic marketing operations function is business imperative.
Steps to building a marketing operations (MO) capability from chaos
However, the conversation begins about the need for a dedicated and strategic marketing operations capability, the main considerations include:
- Establishing goals and objectives
- Defining barriers and change strategies
- Building a multi-staged plan
The current state of dispersion of marketing operations skills across your company and your tipping points will determine how each consideration is crafted.
Establishing goals and objectives
This step sounds so obvious, yet, as words have power, so does a set of carefully articulated and agreed upon goals and objectives for your new marketing operations capability. Often marketing organizations struggle to establish goals and objectives for the new marketing operations function. This is largely due to their lack of understanding of what a marketing operations function can do. Begin with a few case studies that describe what a marketing operations team does, how it interacts with the rest of marketing and why this is a good idea for all of marketing. Once educated, build a charter or mission statement for marketing operations. This serves as the north star for everything they do. Goals represent broad, primary outcomes and objectives represent measurable steps. This set of goals and objectives needs executive buy-in.
Defining barriers and change strategies
Building a dedicated marketing operations function from chaos always involves handling barriers and implementing change management strategies. Barriers can involve stakeholders, processes, technologies and budgets. All stakeholders need to understand why a dedicated marketing operations capability is a good idea and how it will benefit them. This is especially true for executive stakeholders who need to see the vision and approve the budget. As you move around and redefine roles and responsibilities, marketing team members may also feel threated. Constant and clear communication as a change management tool is critical for all stakeholders.
Process barriers include “we’ve always done it this way” and taking control of distributed processes. Once the marketing operations function is established, one of their most significant contributions is re-engineering broken processes. Helping folks understand why the process needs to change is a crucial change management strategy.
Technology barriers can be especially challenging in building a marketing operations organization. The effectiveness of the marketing operations team is partially a function of the technology landscape of the company. Technology barriers include outdated technology, lack of integrations between key technologies and lack of access to or influence on technologies.
Building a multi-staged plan
Most organizations cannot build a strategic and dedicated marketing operations capability overnight. Most companies use a multi-staged plan that includes the following elements for each stage:
- Martech gap analysis
- Skill sources
- Roles and responsibilities
- Marketing Operations organizational structure
The multi-staged plan for building a dedicated and strategic operations function represents the vision for MO in a company and the stages for reaching that vision. The martech gap analysis identifies all the current technologies, who owns it, how it is used and with what results. This gap is created between the current and future state. Achieving the future state of martech occurs over stages.
The required skills for each stage of the plan is determined next. A similar gap analysis is performed and a talent management program is implemented. In addition to skills, roles and responsibilities will also change across the stages. Finally, the organizational structure for both marketing operations and marketing changes across the stages.
Admittedly this is an oversimplification of what it takes to build a marketing operations capability from chaos. However, I don’t have time to write the book and you don’t have time to read it. Bottom line: Building a marketing operations organization is typically inspired by one or more tipping points. Success requires change management, a pragmatic staged approach and executive support.