In the world of marketing operations (MO), words like "enterprise" and "scale" are common, but we rarely hear the phrase "small business" enter the conversation. Ironically, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) need MO the most if they are to grow into the company they want to be.
Startups and growing businesses that fail to address MO head on in the beginning pay the price later—literally and figuratively.
We often advise SMBs about steps they can take today to future-proof their growth and get on the path to success tomorrow.
Here are four essentials we recommend.
1. Assign an owner to make marketing operations a priority
Put someone in charge of MO in the beginning; otherwise, you're not going to get very far.
When a business first gets started, it's natural—and practical—to focus on getting that first customer and establishing a beachhead. But then, many companies tend to overly focus on speed and "doing" in the name of agility (and at the expense of strategy).
Failure to lay a strategic foundation for growth can cripple a company as it attempts to scale. Agility isn't just about speed in decision-making and action; it's about operating with a fully-baked plan, contingencies included.
Smart companies see the benefit of establishing a MO function to operationalize marketing strategy, drive alignment, and ensure accountability immediately after that initial customer landgrab and stake in a market.
2. The business case: articulate the 'Why' of marketing operations to secure support
Creating a business case to build out the MO function is essential; but, if you don't know what your goals are, it's pointless. We recommend focusing on MO that aligns directly to your marketing and enterprise strategic objectives. That means addressing the gaps in your organization to ensure scalability, accountability, measurability, and the development of new capabilities as you grow.
Think about big questions such as these: Are we going to expand globally? What changes do we need to make in the business to more effectively roll out our next product or service? How do we bridge the talent gap to get from our current to our desired future state? The answers will help you build a business case.
The more organizational complexity, moving parts, and resources you have, the bigger the commitment in MO required to achieve long-term enterprise goals. That's because committing to MO helps you get more with less (or your current level of) investment.
You'll also need a strong business leader and a decent-sized budget, which, sadly, often gets allocated to technology first... which leads to the next topic.
3. Don't let shiny tech objects overshadow strategy
"You don't know what you don't know." "Don't put the cart before the horse." We've all hear those clichés. But where MO and technology are concerned, you'd best not dismiss them.
Companies big and small are easy prey to marketing technology seduction. It's easy to get enamored by martech. Slick demos. Smooth salespeople tossing around client case studies with compelling stats. "Look at these great results that XYZ company achieved! Your company can achieve this type of ROI too!"
Fact is, every company is different, and—especially in the case of technology—what works for one company can flop in another.
Before falling for shiny tech objects, make sure you intimately understand your target audience, the problem they are trying to solve, their buying journey and the type of information they need to make an investment decision. How does the technology support you in this cause?
Conversely, look inside your organization before you buy:
- Are all of the necessary internal processes in place to optimize the technology?
- Are roles and responsibilities clearly established?
- What will the workflow look like (interdependencies, hand-offs, milestones, deliverables)?
- Have you secured agreement on what you expect to get out of the technology (tracking against plan, achievement of specific results, reporting criteria)?
- Are the right partnerships in place with IT, sales and other functions that will be implementers, users or benefactors of the technology?
Those questions must be considered in that order; you need the answer to one before you move to the next. When you've answered them all, you can move forward with your martech investment.
Finally, be thoughtful in your technology decision-making. You are the fiscal steward of the company's resources. Is that point solution really necessary, or is it best to wait until you marketing technology-stack road map is in place to inform your investment? A poor decision reflects poorly on your CMO in the C-Suite.
Remember, your marketing automation is just one component of your MO program. Technology should help you run your business more efficiently and effectively, but don't run your business around it...
In other words, "Look before you leap!"
4. Get the right MO leader with the right skillset at the right time
You don't need a VP of marketing operations when you've got only 10 people in the marketing organization and you just need someone to run your legacy marketing automation system. A big title with a narrow role and limited scope diminishes the value of both the MO leader and the function.
When you're serious and truly ready, hire an MO leader who can think big-picture, create cross-functional alliances, and pragmatically manage to results. Your MO leader shouldn't be your resident Marketo or Eloqua expert, nor should you hire a leader based on previous experience with such platforms. That's just plain backwards.
Hire an MO leader who can support your CMO operationally to develop organizational capability, build a marketing center of excellence, and enable achievement of strategic objectives.
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Plan around these four areas, and you'll create a strong MO base, set up your organization for scale and growth, and maximize your opportunity for success. And, most important, learn from the experience of others that have walked this path before you: "Strategy first, then execution."