Why Marketing Ops demands a “learning mindset” and how to develop one

October 21, 2022 Chuck Leddy

Marketing operations is a complex interaction of people, processes, and technology that seeks to prove and improve the value marketing brings to any organization. The multidisciplinary nature of the function means that marketing ops professionals must have a unique skill set that includes a clear understanding of how the overall business works, where technology deployments can drive efficiency, how to advance organizational alignment on big strategic initiatives, data analysis and communication chops, and much more.

Above all, marketing ops professionals need to be learners who can adapt with the business climate, as well as the ever-accelerating pace of technological change. To be effective, marketing ops professionals need to take a scientific and data-informed approach to their work.

What’s a scientific approach to Marketing Ops?

The function of marketing ops is relatively new and so is the role. There are no clear lines of functional demarcation nor clear “rules of the road” to guide action. To make matters tougher, change is happening faster today than ever, especially around technology and customer expectations. In short, the marketing ops function is hard.

Nobody has “relevant experience” or a collection of best practices that hold true for all contexts, largely because the future remains murky and full of contradictions that will require marketing ops professionals to remain agile and ready to pivot on a dime.

The bottom line here is that data, not hunches or “what worked before,” should be the guiding force behind how marketing ops does what it does. The ability to manage and learn from data, to move from data points to analysis to action/decision, is what effectiveness looks like for marketing ops. Doing that well takes a scientific approach, an iterative mindset that enables people to learn from data as they move forward, analyze what they’re learning, and put ongoing lessons learned into action. Nothing in marketing ops is “set-and-forget” or “done forever.” The learning and iteration never stop.

What’s an iterative mindset? Lessons from “The Lean Startup”

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries, is a book that’s been spectacularly influential over the last decade, changing the way organizations of all sizes, as well as business professionals, think about how they deploy data to inform their decision-making. Don’t let the book’s title fool you – It’s not just a book for startups, but is actually a manual about how professionals, including marketing ops people, can learn from data and build successful experiments (which is what marketing ops is about, after all). 

Ries explains that learning is an iterative cycle or continuous feedback loop fueled by data. Learning itself is the product you are developing over time. The ultimate goal is not a revenue target or a fully-developed product/project, but creating a “learning mindset” within your organization to drive efficiency. Ries calls for:

  • rapid experimentation of hypotheses (the concept you’re testing), rather than beginning with a full-blown project plan;
  • effective methods to shorten cycles of learning by leveraging the right data and measurement approaches, 
  • measuring actual progress with clearly pre-defined KPIs, and 
  • continuing the cycle of learning.

Reis offers several practices that will enable marketing ops leaders to gain greater agility and the ability to implement lessons quickly. Let’s dive a bit deeper into those.

Build, measure, learn

The “build, measure, learn” loop enables what Ries calls “validated learning.” 

Measurement matters. An iterative approach to the marketing ops function requires getting relevant feedback on what you’re doing. Doing that well requires a deep commitment to measurement. You can’t improve what you cannot measure, so start any experiment by asking what success looks like and how you will measure it. By listening to incoming data and focusing on measurement, you can minimize the risks of building something irrelevant and save yourself (and your organization) valuable time and other resources (money). The idea here is to “fail small,” then continually integrate lessons learned so you iterate towards success.

Build, measure, learn is a repeatable optimization loop and a way of life that can be divided into three stages, according to Reis:

1. Build the minimum viable version of the product or concept. You’re not looking to build the whole thing, just enough of it to start measuring whether it’ll work (or not). The minimal viable version, which some might call a pilot, is where “fail small” comes from, but you don’t actually fail when you learn something, says Reis. Learning lessons (what Reis calls “validated learning”), at a reduced cost, that you can apply later on in the process is the outcome you’re seeking from the MVV (minimally viable version).

2. Test the MVV and report back to the team about what you’ve learned. Again, you need to have already considered how you’ll measure the outcomes you seek to drive. 

3. Collect relevant data, analyze it, and transform it into insights you can use for the next round of iteration to your MVV.

4. Based on lessons learned, change what you’re doing in order to lean into what’s working and away from what’s not. When you follow this iterative approach, you can ensure that you’re only scaling up the MVV based on what’s working. 

Needless to say, human emotions can be involved all along the way. It’s important that you adopt a “learning mindset,” which requires humility. You’ll need to emotionally detach yourself during the process and base decisions on the data and not your hopes, assumptions, or need “to be right.”

The takeaway

Reis’s concept of “build, measure, learn” works for marketing ops because you’re always aiming at a fast-moving target. In a business landscape of newness and uncertainty, exactly the kind of landscape marketing operations people confront every day, having a data-informed and scientific outlook is the only way to find the right answers. Reis “lean startup methodology” is also a mindset marketers need to succeed. Of course, today’s right answer may not work next week. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For help in improving your approach to marketing operations, contact us today.

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