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.
Processes are one of the three enablers that drive the core functions Marketing Operations focuses on: lead to revenue management (also includes sales and marketing alignment), data and insights, and measuring results. We asked Andy Worobel, Senior Marketing Operations Consultant at Sojourn Solutions, to describe how the optimization of operational processes “fits” into the marketing operations triangle.
“Process is certainly the least sexy of the three enablers,” says Worobel, “tech gets all the glory with its “cool” appeal and people are the heroes who tell the story of marketing’s impact. Improving operational processes so often goes unsung as a value driver, and can even be mistakenly viewed as an obstacle to value creation.”
Sadly, there is no “cool factor” in making sure things get done effectively and efficiently, but operational processes are a key part of the marketing operations triangle. Too often, marketers view process as a negative word. Yes, when you have bad operational processes, “process” is a negative word. But. Technology and people can also be negative words in exactly the same way when people and tech don’t have purpose and direction behind them.
Defining a “good Operational Process”
A good process is an enabler, just as good technology and good people are enablers. Too many marketers speak poorly about processes because they don’t understand what a good operational process actually is. Let’s address that lack of knowledge.
A good operational process has a purpose: it meets the functional need and goal defined for the process. In other words, the process does what it was intended to do, which typically might be to reduce risks or ensure a quality output. The operational process should also work efficiently with its inputs of time, steps, and other direct and indirect “costs.” For example, if a content approval process is intended to ensure quality content, but requires everyone on a 12-member team to approve every piece of content, the process may be effective in ensuring quality but is also extremely inefficient and time-consuming.
All operational processes should be visible, transparent, and fully documented – they should make sense to those impacted on the inside and the outside. The cumbersome content approval process described above, for example, would make no sense to the internal stakeholders and would drive freelance content providers away due to extensive delays in gaining approvals. “A good process also needs to have a built-in evaluation and refinement process so the process can be periodically measured,” says Worobel. Only things that are measured can be improved – no operational process should ever be considered “final."
A case in point
Worobel offers the example of a Sojourn client, a small and underfunded Marketing Operations team in the UK, that needed to create a tight operational process to manage the large volume of work coming in. The team also needed to reduce errors and deliver high quality outputs/content. They’d been taking work requests over the phone or via quick emails. The team was so busy with the day-to-day that they had little time left over to think about setting up a streamlined work management process.
“We worked closely with them to develop an end-to-end process that included an online process to submit work requests and allocate the work to the right people,” says Worobel. “We created reusable project plans to track large initiatives and established service level agreements (SLAs) so everyone knew what to expect.”
What was the result of this process transformation project? “The small Marketing Operations team saw an almost 30% YoY increase in the number of campaigns executed - with 100% accuracy - and in spite of a 50% reduction in budget,” says Worobel.
Editor’s note: We’ll devote an entire blog post later in this series to this particular “operational process success story.”
Biggest challenges to improving Operational Processes
Inertia and lack of awareness of process problems/bottlenecks may be the biggest obstacles to improving operational processes. Too many organizations never take a step back and actually look at their operational processes as a first step towards improving them. “It’s hard to know you have problems, let alone start improving them, without first understanding where you are right now,” says Worobel.
You need to schedule audits for processes, as well as have benchmarks to measure how you’re doing compared to other organizations. “Having standards and best practices around operational processes doesn’t erode marketing creativity, but instead empowers people with consistent ways of working that drive overall business value,” Worobel explains.
Process improvement is also a challenge because it requires a concurrent change management process to make it work, either within the marketing team or working across multiple business functions. For example, having standardized processes for how everyone within the organization handles customer data is a prerequisite for having quality data to fuel campaigns and other marketing tools. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”
You should have standardized operational processes for how people add and delete data, how lists are uploaded, and how data gets managed across your organization.
Related blog post: 10 steps for ensuring data quality to fuel B2B Marketing
Solving Operational Process challenges
“Improvement can only begin when you document and track your operational processes,” says Worobel, “starting with those processes that are most impactful to your goals.”
Once you have a clear snapshot of where you are today, you can then move to benchmarking your processes. With this diagnostic information in hand, you can identify the gaps you face specifically in terms of operational process management.
Once you know the scope and nature of your “process challenge,” you can sit down and brainstorm how you can improve and close the gaps. “It’s a good idea to get help from outside experts, people who have vast experience improving operational processes at multiple organizations,” says Worobel.
There’s no single, generally-accepted way to “do” process improvement, but it would typically involve:
- Documenting each operational process and mapping out the steps and resources involved;
- Evaluating the effectiveness of the process in meeting its objectives;
- Evaluating the efficiency of the process. Could it be streamlined (steps cut out) while maintaining its effectiveness?
- Gaining input and buy-in from relevant internal parties for the intended process improvement.
- Training people in the new (and fully-documented) process and following a change management process to drive its adoption.
- Evaluating the new and improved operational process periodically.
We help B2B marketers like you to drive Marketing Operations effectiveness by evaluating and improving their Operational Processes. If you’re interested in learning how we can help you, contact us today.