Marketing Operations and Operational Process blog series
Series introduction: Marketing Operations is a complex mixture of people, processes, and technology all working together to prove - and improve - the value of marketing to your company, your customer, and your employees. While the technology and people components of this “Marketing Operations Triangle” get a lot of attention, Operational Process deserves much more focus as a driver of value. In this blog series, we’ll be giving it the attention it so richly deserves.
We already know what high-performing organizations are doing to drive continuous improvement of their operational processes. They tend to have processes that are:
- Tied to business outcomes;
- Part of (and aligned with) their organizational culture;
- Get continuously improved over time; and
- Represent a competitive advantage over their competitors.
So what actionable steps can organizations like yours take to emulate the success of these high-performing orgs? Here are seven suggestions around operational processes that can help you improve:
1. Document your operational processes and how they impact business outcomes.
When I ask clients “how much of your process is documented,” I typically get one of two answers. First, “yes, we’ve documented our processes, but that documentation is a bit out of date.” That’s actually a good answer because it acknowledges that the company recognizes the value of documentation and shows they view processes as dynamic, constantly in need of improving.
The second answer might be, “we have a few bits of documentation here and there, and we have some super smart individuals who just make sure our processes are working.” That answer is a good start, but it doesn’t enable you to scale or even sustain your processes. What happens when your “process guru” who keeps things humming decides they want to retire or switch organizations?
What can you do about partial documentation or old documentation that needs updating?
- Get that important process knowledge documented, right now. You can’t afford to wait for that surprise resignation or early retirement before you scramble to get knowledge out of your “process guru’s” head.
- Get basic tools in place to ensure the process is being followed. This may be as simple as a checklist or sign-offs.
- Once 1 and 2 are complete, look at your key processes and see how they align to business outcomes. Make sure you’re clearly drawing that connection between processes and business outcomes.
2. Ensure that processes are owned, measurable, and aligned.
A defined person needs to be accountable for each process and needs to “own” that process. By measurable, we’re talking about going well beyond checking the “done” box. You want to apply KPIs and qualitative metrics that help ensure that you’re not only getting the job done, but that you’re doing it efficiently.
- Start with the “done” box - quantitative data matters when you’re building repeatable and defined processes.
- Add a qualitative element. For instance, is the process getting completed within a particular time frame? Or at a particular accuracy/quality level? If we’re talking about campaign execution, for example, maybe you’re measuring the duration of the entire process. Or the number of back and forths as a result of missing information in a brief. You need to begin by identifying the metric, then identify the quality marker. Now you have KPIs that get baked into goals, which is what you need.
3. Consider your organizational maturity.
As operational processes mature, organizations naturally build their own methodologies and best practices. These lead to standard tools and methods that can then be expanded upon in multiple ways:
- By adoption in other parts of the organization.
- By starting with a small focus area and then expanding (for instance, lead management might start with just terminology and scoring, then move into hand-offs, establishing SLAs, etc.).
- By increasing capabilities, such as with data processing and distribution. As the team is able to accomplish more, it can deliver more frequently.
This expansion can eventually develop into a Center of Excellence model, particularly in larger organizations whereby a SWAT team of experts can assist other departments, share best practices, and help them test or expand processes.
4. Develop a change management process.
Driving change in any area of the business is challenging, and Marketing Operations - and improving operational processes - are no exceptions.
Change management capability is a major gap within most organizations and one that’s not considered enough as we look at data, lead management, and other drivers of marketing value. Just one new and improved process could add substantial value to all your new initiatives.
Among the foundations of change management is clear and constant communication with all impacted parties.
5. Work to remove the stigma from operational processes.
Marketers think, and rightly so, that they’re creative professionals. And of course they add value by being creative. But having insufficient processes can result in less time for creativity and more resources getting lost in wasteful processes.
Marketing Operations is truly a blend of art and science, the creative and the efficient. You can’t have one without the other. There is too often a stigma around “process” that marketers think is a straight-jacket on their creativity. A good operational process that’s effective and efficient enables creativity, while a bad one bogs down creativity.
6. Leverage technology to help optimize processes.
Automating a process can often be the best and simplest solution. When you import and export data or seek to “clean” your data, automation can be a huge help, reducing or eliminating tedious manual processes.
Again, automating a process, partially or completely, can liberate marketers to spend more of their time being creative, or even strategic.
There are so many tools available for so many aspects of process optimization. These tech tools can actually bring best practices and also provide alerts to relevant people about what they need to do and when.
7. Consider bringing in outside expertise.
Outsiders to your organization can often see things you don’t see and identify unseen opportunities for improvement. So many operational problems are actually process problems in disguise. Outside experts can recommend tools and technologies (see #6 above) as well as bring you vast experience and a methodology/discipline to drive needed improvements in your operational process. Marketing Operations professionals are always so busy getting things done day-to-day – an external expert can bring a “big picture” focus on your operational processes and help you drive changes that add real value to your marketing efforts.
Do you want to drive more value for your company? Your customers? We can help you evaluate and grow your Operational Process maturity - reach out to start the conversation.