Optimizing operations can intimidate the strongest of marketing departments, but with able people, good processes, and strong technology, the beast may be conquered, one bite at a time.
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If your company lost hundreds of thousands of dollars every time a marketing campaign went awry, would you do anything about it? In 2005, Warner Bros. Entertainment (WBE) found itself faced with such a question. Its marketing team was overworked, spending too much time creating weekly reports to measure ticket sales. In fact, measuring local box-office revenue proved an impossible task, both manually and accurately.
"They really had a disjointed media-planning process," says Mark Mattingly, district manger of Indianapolis-based marketing software provider Aprimo. "They wasted a lot of time and money [asking], 'Where do we spend our dollars, both pre-- and post--film-opening?'" he says. WBE, a division of Time Warner, tackled the problem by assessing its central pain points, developing a plan of operational action, and implementing Aprimo's marketing resource management (MRM) system. The unit was able to produce clean, quick measurements of its marketing success--even if the overall process proved complicated. "It was painful," Mattingly admits, but with thousands saved, accidents prevented, and cycle times greatly shortened, the payoff was worth the pain.
Initiatives involving marketing operations can no doubt be taxing. How do you measure Bugs Bunny's fame? What will ensure Daffy Duck's success? These questions may seem absurd and impossible to answer, but replace the cartoons with campaign names, and they're the kinds of questions marketers are asked every day. The answers may be found within the thousands of steps that led to the creation of a billboard on the highway or of a spread in a magazine, complex processes that are quite difficult either to measure or to streamline for success. Any given step in these procedures might potentially fail, which could force entire campaigns to be pushed back, or make email send-outs late to run. It is vital to get a handle on the process, people, and technology that make up your marketing operations. Although getting this grip may seem painful, it can be done.
As one of most companies' top-three spending functions, the marketing department has a lot of money under its control. Additionally, the department must master an ever-expanding number of channels and new technologies, requiring an ever-growing tool kit. This creates a high demand for multitasking, and for new roles and new interactions within the department. Controlling this complex web of money, people, and tasks may be a daunting feat, but even the idea of such an effort can be immobilizing.
Michael Emerson, chief marketing officer at Aprimo, says, "We see companies come to install these systems when they've had some big crisis or blow-up, where some campaign didn't go out on schedule and cost the company a lot of money or a lot of opportunity." It's important, therefore, not to let the scope of a marketing-operations effort intimidate your company. Begin by properly assessing why campaigns are generated, who touches them, and how this process can be optimized before the inevitable crisis occurs. Simply flipping the switch on a piece of marketing-optimization software won't solve your woes, and, as with any major technology initiative, individuals can't make it happen without proper support.
"In today's world, marketing departments are so understaffed and lacking resources," laments Mayer Becker, principal consultant and practice leader of Intellilink Solutions' Marketing Technologies Practice. As a result, he says, it's crucial to have the right people and that they work as effectively as possible in clearly defined roles. Additionally, those in the marketing department must have a clear focus on facilitating and managing campaign rollouts, the handoff to sales, and other marketing functions. This can often be a challenge for traditional marketers who are more focused on the creative. "That's not what we learned in school," Becker says. "It was all about the customer: how to communicate, how to do the right creative design. No one says, 'Hey, you guys have to learn how to get a thousand projects under way at the same time.' "
To make marketing operations run smoothly and cost-effectively, a group or person must be in place to manage this process--someone who holds a central position in the organization. Carol Meyers, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at marketing software vendor Unica, says that organizations often have an operational group in place, but it's tucked under other departments, such as database or relationship management. Because the operational group touches all sides of the marketing department, it has to take center stage. Meyers suggests that the group may bring together people and functions that can provide "some more clarity around the importance of the role." Both Meyers and Becker note that if existing staffers are either not available or not able to manage such a function, it may be necessary to look for new hires with the necessary skills.
Communication is key. Efficient information-sharing cuts down response time while preventing execution mistakes caused by misunderstanding. Communication can be empowered by facets of marketing operations technology, such as chat and same-interface platforms, and helps keep brand messages consistent across different channels.
When the University of Pennsylvania Health Systems (UPHS) deployed a marketing-ops initiative powered by Atlanta-based MarketingCentral, the healthcare network found cycle time greatly decreased. Rebecca Stewart, manager of marketing and communications at UPHS, says that, post-initiative, "You weren't just living in a bubble. Everyone could see what was going on with the whole process. Projects really benefited." Technology may ease communication, but understanding the importance of information-sharing must come first. Mattingly cites open discussions between different marketing channels at WBE as a top reason why Aprimo's solution found success there.
Once you get everyone talking, goals must be set in order to keep your operations stable. "Lacking a plan is very common in an organization," Becker says. "That's where scrambling comes in to get something done." Campaigns are often delayed or damaged because of a lack of prioritization. When a crisis project pops up, such as a trade-show brochure, other initiatives can fall by the wayside, be forgotten, or get thrown off track if you don't have an established method of dealing with such setbacks. "Once a plan is in place, you can modify or move it when there are emergencies or changes in the marketplace," Becker says.
Begin the process with an open dialogue with everyone at the table. It's often helpful to identify pain points in order to know where to focus and what most needs fixing. It's important to define both short- and long-term expectations. This can be done through goals outlining what the company wishes to accomplish next month, next year, and in the next three years, and then making certain that everyone agrees on how to achieve these goals. For example, in WBE's case, the process of developing a marketing-operations plan was an "evolution," according to Mattingly. He says that the finance and marketing departments, as well as the agencies that dealt with the ad creations, were all "working on different systems and very disjointed." To get to a place where they could all work together involved carefully planned phasing stages that spanned 18 months.
Instilling a plan is important not only within a department, but between departments as well. Relationships with other departments must be carefully managed, especially when dealing with those that marketing is directly dependent on or responsible for, such as finance and sales. Finance, for example, controls funding, so a set process that defines and proves marketing's needs must be created. Software solutions can help marketers measure and track progress, thereby streamlining this process. (The call for such accountability has become louder in recent years with compliance pressures epitomized by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.)
Getting finance to invest in such solutions, however, can often require an entire plan in itself. Becker says that finance's attitude toward MRM can be superficial: "The ads are great, you guys are great, great colors, great ideas, great creative." What finance often overlooks, he says, is "that the underlying org is not there." To demonstrate its need to finance in a clear way, marketing has to speak in a language the number-crunchers understand, backed up by dollars and data.
As for marketing's relationship with sales, process is important in clearly defining the methodology for lead hand-offs. What defines a high- or low-quality lead? How are customer needs met at the point of sale? These questions are critical to marketing operations, and only the sales department can provide the answers. Leslie Ament, an independent enterprise software analyst, says that it is especially crucial for B2B companies to have a leads hand-off process to maximize return on investment. This process, she says, can be as simple as a distribution curve. Whenever leads come in, marketing could triage them into categories: hot leads (20 percent), leads to nurture (50 percent), and leads that still require qualification (30 percent). Having such standards will help prevent leads from getting lost and will make it more clear to sales reps how they should prioritize their outreach. Once a process is in place, it can be expanded. "These best practices can be operationalized to enforce consistency across your environment," Ament adds.
With good people and best practices in place, the right technology is essential to making a marketing-operations effort as efficient as possible. There are a number of choices for companies looking to implement marketing-ops software, however, and each company should consider its individual needs as well as fully research vendor offerings.
Becker says that even most marketing departments don't fully understand what marketing-operations solutions can do for their companies. In an Intellilink survey of 163 companies regarding marketing operations, the majority believed they had a system in place to support marketing ops; however, the majority also defined marketing operations only as campaign management. "I believe a lot of marketers out there do not know what they do not know," Becker says. "They don't know that there are other systems out there."
"Marketing operations" may be hard to precisely pin down (see sidebar, below: "How Do You Define Marketing Operations?"), but a comprehensive approach should involve five steps, according to Kimberly Collins, a vice president of research at Gartner: planning and budgeting (strategic planning and financial management); creative or production management (workflow associated with the production of creative work); content and asset management (the transfer of knowledge from one marketing program to the next); marketing fulfillment; and reporting analysis and optimization.
"The first step is to understand what the different competencies of MRM are, then prioritize your pain points," Collins says. Trying to implement too many functions at once can disrupt operations and prevent a company from getting the most out of the technology. Bill McInerny, CEO and cofounder of MarketingCentral, says that this is one of the top mistakes companies make when implementing marketing-operations software. "You have to eat the elephant one bite at a time," he says. "Those top one or two things are really going to deliver, especially in the short and medium term, the biggest bang for the buck." Collins says that planning and budgeting as well as reporting analysis and optimization are the functionalities most often deployed first, due to accountability pressures.
A company may invest in marketing technology either through a specialty vendor or a larger enterprise software vendor with marketing capability. Unica, Aprimo, and AssetLink represent the three biggest players by revenue in the marketing-technology space and are often recognized as top performers. (See "The 2006 Market Leaders," October 2006.) In addition to MarketingCentral, other niche marketing-technology vendors include MarketingPilot, MarketingIsland, Intivity, and Orbis. Ament notes that larger vendors are rapidly expanding their role in the space, with marketing as part of their increasingly expansive CRM offerings. "You will see [legacy] Siebel CRM systems doing everything from soup to nuts," she says, including marketing functions. Oracle (with its absorption of Siebel) and SAP continue to develop such solutions, and even firms traditionally seen as data and analytics specialists--such as SAS and Teradata--have entered the field, lending weight to the notion that marketing operations is becoming more of a science than an art.
Because the centrality of marketing operations involves every facet of the marketing department--the people, the processes, and the technology--improvements must be looked at as an evolutionary process, with slow but constant optimization. Stewart, of UPHS, says that the investment in MarketingCentral saw unarguable return, but progress was somewhat slow. "Over time, people have really relied on it," she says. Similarly, the marketing-technology rollout at WBE was also "more of an evolution," according to Mattingly, who noted the project's initial 18 months of overlapping phases. Since then, WBE has continued to broaden the platform within other groups and units inside the company. The process is ongoing.
Analysts agree that all-inclusive solutions, spread across every aspect of marketing--from concept to execution to analysis--are where the market is headed, both on the vendor and the user ends. This shift of MRM out of the marketing department and into the entire enterprise has led to the coining of a new phrase: enterprise market management (EMM). "We see a growing trend toward EMM," says Unica's Meyers. Even so, Ament warns that marketing operations is not simply a technology solution, but a state of mind. She says that the most important piece, in fact, is not the technology at all. "You need to get everybody on board with the process and see what your steps should be. It's a matter of saying, 'OK, we've got all these modules--now how can we bake best practices into them?' "
SIDEBAR: How do you define marketing operations?
- "Marketing operations can encompass planning, specifically around MRM, but also the execution process such as lead generation through sales conversion." --Leslie Ament, independent enterprise software analyst
- "The process and the work that happens between when the creative is formed and the actual production of the physical or electronic materials required to execute the marketing tactic." --Michael Emerson, chief marketing officer, Aprimo
- "We generally consider it to be the group within marketing that is responsible for identifying and managing the tech and processes that marketing needs in order to better deal with growing complexity, achieve customer centricity, and develop marketing accountability and measurement." --Carol Meyers, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Unica
- "We call it Marketing Resource Management. We define that as a set of processes or competencies that really help a marketing organization align its internal and external resources and improve operational effectiveness, but in doing so also improving the effectiveness of what marketing is able to deliver." --Kimberly Collins, vice president of research, Gartner
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