We marketers have an affinity for shiny toys. Yes, we do—just admit it. We love cool technologies that promise us improved leads, higher conversion rates, and better prospects.

As the CEO of a technology company, I'm also the first one to tell you that the ROI on many of those shiny new toys hasn't panned out—and won't pan out. In our pursuit of better organizational performance and higher ROI from our marketing budget, we marketers consistently overlook the one area that will give us the highest ROI boost: investment in our marketing team.

Before you dismiss this as just another article on team motivation and skill development, know that it's not. Read on to get solid tips to improve the ROI of your marketing investments.

People > Process > Data > Technology

I sound like a broken record when I say that the way to approach any marketing project is by looking at People > Process > Data > Technology, and in that order.

People come first because nothing works if you don't have the right people driving and managing the processes and technologies involved. However, we often don't heed this advice and just use the crutch, "I have a great team."

Yes, having skilled and talented people is absolutely the starting point, but what else?

There are obviously soft issues such as motivation and teamwork to consider, but what about efficiency? Yes, efficiency. How much of your brilliant team's time is spent doing productive, meaningful work? Are you paying top dollar for talent but having them work on manual tasks that add little value? One complaint we often hear from the marketing folks we work with is, "I didn't go to college for this!" Typically, "this" refers to repetitive manual tasks that need to get done, but everyone hates doing them because they're tedious and mind-numbing, and they do nothing for a person's career development or personal growth.

Here are a few common examples of the time-consuming manual tasks we see:

  • Spending two to three hours manually scrubbing and then loading a list into your sales or marketing automation platform. Load ten lists a week? Half your workweek is gone.
  • Spending two minutes to manually route a marketing-qualified lead that didn't get routed correctly or couldn't be routed. If you manually route 30 leads a day, that's another five hours gone from a 40-hour workweek.
  • Manually cleaning data to fill in the blanks. For example, say you have a ZIP code but no city and state, or you're manually correcting typos and other mistakes. That's another three minutes per record.
  • Manually enriching your data by extracting it from your CRM, uploading a CSV file to your enrichment vendor, downloading the match results, uploading it back into your CRM, and reconciling the differences one conflict at a time. That's another eight hours wasted per month.
  • Cleaning up and standardizing management reports, KPIs, and dashboards. How much work is spent making sure the reports make sense and don't show 1,000 countries in the world and 250 states in the US? Fixing those errors means another eight hours gone every month.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Those hours of performing repetitive work that requires little human intelligence add up and eventually impact the bottom line. The next thing you know, you're left with ten hours per week of productive work time. But when you add meetings to the equation, your week is gone and you've gotten nothing done—then you wonder why you can't get out of the office before 7 PM or are routinely late picking up your kids.

In the meantime, your strategic projects keep slipping, and your team is burnt out. However, if this work isn't done, then the business processes don't function right and you simply end up passing more wasted hours downstream to the sales team and field marketing teams. To make matters worse, you then have to hear about and react to all of the complaints from the other teams.

Getting More ROI From Your Marketing

If you want to get more ROI from your marketing budget, the best thing you can do is invest in technology and processes that free up your team from this repetitive work that drains your talented resources day after day, week after week.

As a first step, in your next team meeting, take 15 minutes to do a cycle time inventory. Break down how your team's time is spent in a typical week. Find out what types of tasks they spend their time on. Once you tally them up, don't be surprised if over 50% of your team's time is spent on repetitive tasks requiring no human intelligence. Imagine how much better your team could perform if you could recover a large portion of that wasted cycle and reallocate it to tasks that do require strategic thinking, planning, and creativity, such as content creation, messaging refinement, demand generation, opportunity identification, and technology evaluation.

Here are some simple things any marketing team can do to free up more than 50% of its cycles:

  • Automate the loading of lists
  • Automate the continuous cleaning of databases
  • Make data enrichment automated and real-time
  • Clean up data at the source vs. repeatedly cleaning every report
  • Make processes such as lead routing, scoring, and segmentation easier to manage and more responsive to business changes
  • Automate "troubleshooting" and exception management processes to correct for common database issues

Whether you call it data management, data automation, or data orchestration, affordable and easy-to-use self-service technologies exist today to automate all of those processes without the need to write a single line of code or get help from IT.

I simply cannot think of a more effective way to improve your marketing ROI. Can you?

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The Quickest Way to Improve Your Marketing ROI: Upgrade What Your People Do

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image of Ed King

Ed King is the founder and CEO of Openprise, a data orchestration SaaS company. He has over 20 years of experience in enterprise software.

Twitter: @ekwking

LinkedIn: Ed King