Marketing ops and agile budgeting

Frans Riemersma
November 10, 2022

This blog was adapted from Uptempo’s “Marketing Ops Now” podcast. Each installment discusses valuable ideas for both management and marketing executives. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

It is time to rethink B2B marketing

As CMO of a Martech firm, Scott Vaughan was active on both sides of marketing operations. On the one hand, he developed his own marketing stack for Integrate Inc. On the other hand, he collaborated with Integrates’ clients, fellow CMOs, to better understand how they could further develop their stack.

His position allowed him to see what current B2B market challenges are, how that puts extra pressure on CMO’s and how that has a rippling effect on marketing operations and Martech.

The best way to highlight those challenges, pressures, and rippling effects is to start with the most important person in our business life: the customer. The covid pandemic and lockdowns have only accelerated digital transformation. But in B2B it had a huge side effect: businesses make decisions remotely. 

As a byproduct, sales doesn’t have any longer direct access to buyers they once had. Buyers work from home digitally and help themselves through self-serving platforms. They no longer have time or appetite to spend time with individual salespeople.

The result is that the sales responsibility is transferred. This is where marketing has to play a larger role, a more proactive role in the buyer’s journey, and buying process. Marketing was already moving in that direction, but again, the pandemic has only accelerated it.

In essence, marketing is disrupting the traditional buying and selling processes. With that development in progress, marketing managers find themselves at different levels of maturity in their ability to play that larger role.

Of course, we have all been sold the dream that technology is going to solve it all. And we all know that’s not true. Strategy comes first. Technologies only enable our strategy. So we find ourselves in a really interesting situation in B2B marketing: it’s a time to rethink the whole sales and marketing process. 

Marketing operations as BFF of the CMO

For marketing operations, building good relationships and trust across the company is crucial. The single most important thing to do is to get on the same page with the executive team. Marketing has to enter and perhaps take that floor. It is the basis for building mutual interest and accountability. It is the genesis of true alignment around the customer.

It is important to tell a story about the customer in the board room. Marketing is all about the customer truth well told. It is about being able to tell a story about the customer, about what the customer is trying to solve, and how the customer tries to interact. Marketing operations should become the master of telling that story, both in providing the underlying data as well as creating it. Marketing should articulate stories based on company data. 

Marketing has to educate the c-level about real customer needs and challenges. Take the other teams step by step through e.g. the last five big wins. And explain why those new customer deals were a great fit. Build an ideal client profile and then reverse engineer the touchpoints towards that ideal customer.

Investigate what happened and do some interviews with customers. They are happy to share their view. Highlight the number of digital touchpoints, even if you have to retrieve that data manually. All too often we wait for technology to deliver the insights automatically. It doesn’t work that way. Technology is only a way to scale the processes and insights that work for us and have in place already.

Start doing your homework and get people involved. Talk to the other executives within the company, educate your own team of marketers and the sales team. Write the story of the change that’s happening in the market. In a short amount of days, you can piece together a story based on the available data. 

This is a vastly different approach from what we see in many marketing practices. Normally, there is extreme pressure on marketing to hit the pipeline targets, which translates in many organizations into generating leads. Although lead generation is incredibly important, they are just one of the components of a strategy. If lead generation is not well embedded into the strategy, many resources, budgets and talents are wasted on chasing leads. 

“Be the BFF to the CMO!”

Deb Wolf 

Marketing strategy has to be more holistic than just lead generation. And that is where marketing operations is in an incredibly good position to coach and counsel the entire company based on the shared storytelling approach. 

It’s never been a better time than now for marketing operations to step up and tell those stories based on data and run marketing more like a business.

Marketing operations brings marketing to the board room table

As we are you’re going through the storytelling process together with the executives, you’re going to learn things. This allows the company to growth-hack. It will trigger new insights. It allows for serendipity. It will create moments of insights: “Wait a minute, why are we doing all these campaigns? It didn’t impact the engagement with the targeted accounts. We did convert customers, but not in the segment we aimed for”. Marketing should make a case for a new approach in that case. 

The agile way of working is very helpful as it allows us to be more radical in our thinking, and finding new opportunities. Especially marketing operations is well equipped for this. Marketing operations is in pole position to witness anomalies and trends others didn’t observe.

That is why it’s so important for marketing operations not to be the order takers of operational tasks, like “please, build me a webform”. Marketing operations’ role is to get out in front of the business and think like a business person. There is a huge benefit of having more of a common revenue operations mentality and having biweekly meetings with the CFO and the finance team. When marketing operations play that role, they will have a seat at the CMO or even the board room table (depending on the size of the company).

Summarizing marketing operations’ role is a bit like swimming lanes and water polo at the same time. To streamline the organization swimming lanes are useful. To think like a business person you have to think in an agile way, and water polo is the way to go. Marketing operations has to become the architect and the advisor to the marketing team and company at large.

Marketing accountability & agile budgeting

As a marketer, you want to be the most accountable CMO there is. The pipeline building game is a very tempting one due to its ‘accountability, but it is also is a very dangerous one. It will put you in a corner when it comes to the marketing budget. All marketing will be asked to do is justifying the marketing spend against the number of leads generated in a certain timeframe. 

Without that shared understanding, lead generation campaigns are used in a start-stop fashion, as if generating leads is like flipping light switches. Lead generation requires a long-term approach to yield results. And when lead generation is in place, then there is also the law of diminishing returns of lead generation. These dynamics prevent lead generation from scaling, regardless of what software we use. 

The new approach of telling the customer story at the board room table and sharing accountability has an immediate operational effect. Traditionally, CFOs give straightforward instructions to marketing: “Here is a million. Spend it. You have done a good job as marketing if you did not under or overspend a dollar.” But that is a too limited and strict approach. Markets change so fast, you need agility in the budget process. 

Even if your marketing department is submitted to a strict budget process you can still reallocate the budget within the parameters that you’ve set when requesting the marketing budget at the beginning of the (fiscal) year. You can do that on a quarterly basis, for example in every quarterly business review. Adjust the budget for those programs based on what you learned in optimizations and experimentations. Reallocate budget according to what is needed in line with the end goals. Start moving dollars around more aggressively.

The new approach calls for a different, more flexible budgeting regime. Agile budgeting offers exactly that flexibility. It offers the ability to move dollars around based on what’s working and what is not.

It changes the game fundamentally from spending your time justifying what you’re doing to continuously optimizing what’s working well. The first one is a losing game, the second one is a winning game, for marketing operations, marketing, and the company altogether.

Please join us

BrandMaker’s “Marketing Ops Now” podcast series has officially started. In each podcast industry luminaries and deep thinkers share valuable marketing ops ideas for both management and marketing executives (some worth stealing). 

For every podcast in the series we’ll do a blog post to share the highlights with you. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

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