7DeadlySinsBusy corporate marketing groups can be so focused on tactics and fire-fighting that they jeopardize their marketing investment.

Overreacting to events, tackling symptoms rather than underlying fundamental problems and jumping to please the boss can prove fatal. Crippled marketing efforts can leave promising companies in the dust, or at least handicapped at the starting gate.

Admired companies are leveraging Marketing Operations to improve performance and measure ROI as they refine their marketing organizations using an operational focus. Marketing Operations is an emerging discipline that increases efficiency and drives consistent results in complex marketing organizations. It builds a foundation for excellence by reinforcing marketing strategy with processes, technology, guidance (including rules of engagement, knowledge management, marketing intelligence and best practices) and metrics.

While Marketing Operations is uniquely suited to tackle marketing’s most challenging problems in Fortune 500 companies, you don’t have to be a Cisco or Adobe to benefit. The following describes the seven deadliest marketing sins that plague companies of all sizes and how Marketing Operations addresses them.

Sin #1: Ill-defined Metrics
Today’s corporate marketing departments must justify their existence. The need to measure results is inevitable. However, the instincts and skills that make a corporate marketing professional great — a bias toward action, verbal and written acuity and a talent for relationship-building — often don’t translate into an ability or willingness to scientifically and objectively evaluate success.

Broken systems and the unwillingness of the organization to pay for marketing measurement also conspire against the effort to define meaningful success metrics.

Solution: Marketing Operations ensures that the correct processes are in place to establish meaningful metrics at the front end of the marketing process, enabling success measurement processes at key intervals and as each program concludes.

Sin #2: Slammed Resources
The prevailing attitude of “doing more with less” can leave key people discouraged, overwhelmed, near burnout — eventually, leading them to circulate their resumes. For organizations, the consequences re costly mistakes, high turnover and collapsed programs when key people leave, and missed opportunities to leverage important but otherwise ownerless programs.

Solution: Marketing Operations addresses resource limitations by ensuring workload is effectively allocated, roles are clearly defined, interdependencies are understood, team members are satisfied with their jobs, and valued-added programs and associated resources can be justified to executive management.

Sin #3: Sketchy Institutional Memory
Successful marketing programs depend on accurate information, a historical view into past successes and failures, and the ability to recognize patterns that link seemingly unrelated data points.

Unfortunately, in many marketing organizations, this crucial knowledge is scattered all over the company. It’s in the heads of individual workers, on shelves, on hard drives and in long-forgotten filing systems. Often, when people leave, a big piece of organizational knowledge goes with them. Information loss is a huge productivity killer for marketing teams, and trying to regain this lost insight wastes previous marketing investments.

Solution: Marketing Operations facilitates knowledge sharing, creates an enduring repository of information and encourages decision-making based on fact, rather than on hunches or gut feelings.

Sin #4: Constipated Creativity
The best creative solutions come from the collaboration of many brains. A consequence of the age of the “individual-contributor/director” has led to constrained creativity. When the entire creative burden falls mostly on one corporate marketer, thinking out of the box can be severely impacted. Creative synergy results from many minds thinking as one.

Solution: Marketing Operations enables the creative process to benefit from the synergy of team.

Sin #5: Dysfunctional Team & Supplier Relationships
Team collaboration is a real challenge in stagnant, mature — and even dynamic — organizations typically modeled on competition, power and control structures. Over-reliance on legacy systems and tools also perpetuates this problem. At a Marketing Operations symposium I attended, one MO leader at a large financial institution proudly shared how his department was using Excel spreadsheets to capture knowledge that required more than 100 columns in width. Many companies are stretching the capabilities of everyday resources like Excel well beyond their intended capabilities. This misuse of technology only perpetuates the siloed nature of organizations and the rampant over-dependency on individuals who closely protect their specialized knowledge as a source of power, potentially leaving the company in the lurch when they are unavailable or decide to leave the organization. Real collaboration and traceable decision-making processes are fantasies in such companies.

Problematic supplier relationships are also an indicator of trouble. Most successful companies can point to numerous strong, long-term marketing supplier relationships they consider to be integral to their success. Likewise, a pattern of failed supplier relationships is often an indicator of marketing department failure, rather than poor vendor performance. Unfortunately, companies that have had consistently bad relationships with outside vendors and suppliers often react by bringing everything in-house. While this strategy may provide the illusion of control, it allows marketing managers to deflect the blame for failures, rather than teaching them how to manage their outsourcing program by taking responsibility for the results. In addition, this “Band-Aid” strategy won’t scale with the organization as it grows.

Solution: Marketing Operations helps set realistic expectations and mutual accountability between suppliers and the organization, increasing the effectiveness of outsource partners by empowering them to act as an extension of the internal team.

Sin #6: Poor Fiscal & Tactical Decision-Making
Budgets are never set in stone. Often, it’s a “use it or lose it” situation. For some managers, it’s “misuse it and lose it anyway.” Unfortunately, many corporate marketing departments end up leaving program budget on the table or allocating it to the wrong initiatives. This “catch-22 marketing budget dilemma” occurs because:

  • It’s very time-consuming to manage the budget effectively, especially in companies with broken financial systems.
  • Each marketing-spend decision creates more work for the one-person or small-team marketing department in terms of project management, measurement, supplier management, etc.
  • Doubt persists about the ability to successfully justify the expenditure to management.
  • Focus is instinctively on high-visibility marketing activities and C-level executive requests over good fiscal management.
  • Most marketing types are inclined toward creativity rather than finance.

Poor budgeting processes and kludged financial/marketing systems also contribute to perpetuating this sin.

Solution: Marketing Operations facilitates implementation of the system support infrastructure and financial management discipline needed to protect valuable marketing budgets.

Sin #7: Inadequate Marketing Portfolio
Many companies align their fate with the success of too few marketing programs, whether it’s lead generation, public relations, trade shows or advertising. Over-reliance on any particular program can derail a company, especially if a key program unexpectedly loses momentum. In the meantime, programs that could have had strong leverage never get a chance to prove their mettle and are forever relegated to the “B” list.

Classic examples include customer references, lead nurturing and leveraging investments in analyst research and consulting subscriptions. In addition, poor intelligence about program ROI creates a challenge in sustaining the right marketing mix.

Solution: Marketing Operations puts the means in place to launch potentially high-value marketing programs that would otherwise never get out of the starting gate, and understand the contribution of each marketing program in the context of the overall marketing portfolio.

The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, Marketing Operations is your company’s best bet to:

  • Ensure that success can be measured and replicated
  • Leverage systems and processes to enable consistently excellent performance
  • Run its marketing department more like a business.

Implementing a Marketing Operations program takes buy-in from key executives and the commitment of the entire marketing team. However, considering the positive results and high return on investment experienced by Fortune 500 companies and those that wish to emulate them, it is well worth the effort.

Download this article in its published format from Perform magazine.

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