Connected Marketing Operations: Planning to Performance

Shannon Fitzgerald-Lussier
November 9, 2022

Over the years, the amount of tools, tactics, and data marketers have the ability to leverage has skyrocketed. With this increased complexity, marketers can no longer effectively work off disparate spreadsheets, slides, and data sets. Well, they technically can, but it won’t get them very far. 

Now, more than ever, it’s necessary to connect marketing operations so there’s a clear feedback loop from planning to performance.

In our recent webinar, Proving Business Impact Through Connected Marketing Operations, we dove into this topic with Katie Linford, principal analyst, marketing operations at Forrester and Thomas Gunter, director of marketing planning and operations at Cisco. We discussed:

  • Why it’s critical to connect planning through to performance
  • The importance of the run side of marketing
  • How to quantify if you’ve implemented a successful marketing plan
  • Using ROI to measure success
  • How Cisco has leveraged Uptempo’s marketing operations suite to drive higher performance 

Ready to learn? Keep reading!

Why marketers need to connect their planning to performance

Marketing teams are under extreme pressure to demonstrate returns on their efforts and prove that marketing is an investment, not an expense. Effective planning is necessary to help marketing leaders align their resources to the areas of business that will: 

  1. Have the highest impact
  2. Help prevent/limit disruptions

Planning should be a highly collaborative effort that incorporates and takes into account the company’s growth strategies, portfolio offering roadmap, and quantifiable annual business targets.

When it comes to effectively connecting marketing planning through to performance, Katie says, “One of the key elements is having a clear understanding of the company’s goals and strategies so that there is no misinterpretation across the various marketing functions and teams.” This can lead to sprawl, disconnected silos, and a lack of cohesion in the strategic direction of marketing.

The importance of the run side of marketing

Why is it that almost all the innovation and investment seem to take place on the DO side of marketing and not on the RUN side? According to Katie, the answer is simple, “Because the DO part is more fun––it’s where the action happens and where marketing actually gets to put something in front of customers.”

That said, if you don’t take care of and invest in the way marketing is run, you will likely end up committing random acts of marketing with no real strategic direction.

Running the business of marketing and effective planning can’t be done in silos. Fragmented planning can lead to misalignment amongst teams, a mismatch in priorities, and marketing sprawl, diluting the effect that marketing can have on the business. 

Sounds like a mess, right?

Katie points out that when it comes to running the business of marketing, one of the issues that many organizations have is that they don’t have a clear idea of what a good plan looks like. When plans are too complex and contain too much information, they can be hard to read, understand, and maintain––and if they are not maintained properly, they quickly become outdated and irrelevant. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if plans are too simple, you just end up with a list of tactics.

How to tell if your marketing plan is successful

It all comes down to whether you can deliver to your buyers/audience. Katie says, “Buyer needs are constantly changing and growing. Marketing has to be able to move faster and pivot with intent, not just spin and hit it with whatever tactic is easiest or feels comfortable.”

So, how can you drive impact and ensure that planning and performance are connected? The answer is effective marketing operations.

Marketing operations is in a unique position. Due to their involvement across marketing, they understand the needs of the various stakeholders––with this visibility, they can influence alignment, help drive prioritization, and steer planning in the right direction while taking a big-picture view.

Marketing operations professionals also have expertise in both the marketing subject matter, the data, and the technology. With this, they can look at and understand the following:

  • What the marketing organization is doing, and where it is headed
  • Marketing’s potential capabilities
  • What it needs to accomplish its goals

Your marketing operations team is uniquely positioned to share the kind of performance insights that make or break your next planning session.

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Using ROI to measure success

For B2B marketers, using ROI to measure success can be difficult. Textbook marketing ROI is designed for B2C companies with quick transactional sales where you can see an immediate return on incremental marketing elements. In a B2B environment, there is a longer sales cycle and a broader range of investments with a narrow return. The ROI calculation does not recognize the interdependence of multiple tactics required for B2B marketing.

As Katie says, “There really isn’t a one-size definition for Marketing ROI that every B2B business needs.” To address this issue, she says Forrester recommends starting with the business question of what are you trying to solve, then adapt the ROI calculation in a way that fits for you. When you adjust the equation towards something meaningful to your organization, you can get a better idea of the value that marketing is providing.

How Uptempo helped reshape key internal marketing ops processes at Cisco

At Cisco, marketing operations is there to enable the business to get to work effectively and efficiently. Uptempo has allowed Cisco to lay a standardized foundation on where and how they produce a plan of record. In doing so, this has driven them to standardize:

  • The way they talk about marketing
  • The way they invest in marketing
  • The planning process itself

A Thomas says, “Through this standardization, we have become more aligned and deliberate in our planning.” This has helped Cisco draw more realistic timelines and has allowed the decisions and recommendations to be much stronger in how they are informed with the data coming from the teams.

Where has Cisco seen its most significant gains in its marketing operations?

From a marketing operations and planning standpoint, Cisco defines success as when they have enabled a data-based decision-making process for their leadership team that occurs in a timely manner, allowing them to make informed decisions fast enough to implement those decisions into plans and execute them.

Working with Uptempo, Thomas says, “the biggest piece for us has been enabling that decision-making process in a timely manner with accurate data, which has allowed us to run at an appropriate time.”

Another improvement that Cisco saw was the ability to adjust and make changes to strategy much faster. Thomas says, “we were able to make changes a lot more effectively than when we didn’t have a standardized platform.” He later adds, “It has allowed us to be a lot more deliberate and make those decisions faster in the process.” 

Critical steps Cisco took to ensure success

To ensure that the reshaping of their internal processes using Uptempo’s marketing operations software was a success, Thomas says that change management was critical.

In their change management process, they asked questions like:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What about the greater audience?
  • Do we need training materials?
  • Do we need a newsletter?
  • Do we need a chat space?

Thomas says, “The managing of change, the communication, the training, and the deliverables––not just the decisions was a huge piece for us.”

Another critical factor for Cisco was to have an alignment of their understanding of the data, the taxonomy of marketing, what they are measuring, and the level of granularity needed in the data collection for the planning process.

Thomas says, “Getting that alignment across the organization then allowed them to really refine that process.”

What surprised Cisco in this process?

In the past, Cisco had invested in several different platforms focusing on the planning piece of marketing. Looking back, their belief in what caused those projects to fail was getting too granular too quickly. 

With that in mind, they decided to take things slower with Uptempo. In year one, the data would be directional at best to learn more about themselves, then year after year, the data will get stronger and more granular.

In reference to this, Thomas says, “We’ve taken deliberate, slow steps in this process so as not to lose the momentum, not to lose the interest, and to have time to learn and adjust.”

What surprised Thomas and the marketing operations team at Cisco was that the rest of the business wanted to move faster than they had initially planned. The changes gained traction quicker than expected, and they were asking for more detail in the plan.

Did Cisco achieve its initial goal with Uptempo?

“We are miles and miles ahead of where we’ve been, not just in capability but also in consistency and standardization,” Thomas says.

One of Cisco’s initial goals, when they began using Uptempo was to improve their data and ensure that it was aligned to key dimensions of interest. In the past, they were tracking data across multiple spreadsheets, with teams across the organization interpreting the data differently. Thomas says, “without the basic structure in place, we couldn’t really model ROI effectively and couldn’t enable the leadership to make decisions.”

With the help of Uptempo’s software, Thomas says, “Today, our strongest achievement is our ability to articulate: what we are invested in, for what purpose, where, when, and for what outcome.”

In addition to achieving their initial goals, Thomas and the team at Cisco also received some unexpected benefits. One of them being a strengthened relationship with the financial controller. Instead of marketing operations having to explain to finance what marketing is doing, they are now bringing them along in the process. Now, finance is involved in the planning and doing work in Uptempo, along with marketing operations. 

Thomas says, “Our finance team is learning and understanding marketing; they are a partner with us helping to articulate the impact of when we put a dollar into marketing what we get out of it.”

Another surprise for Cisco was the quickness and ease of onboarding onto Uptempo. Thomas says, “The user experience is easy to pick up and understand, and the ramp time to get someone up and running has been a lot faster than anticipated.”

What’s next for marketing operations at Cisco?

The next step for marketing operations at Cisco is to continue to go deeper and find the right level of granularity with their data. Thomas says, “when we open up a purchase order with a media company, it may span multiple campaigns, programs, and countries.” They can plan for that, but the spending often changes, and that data needs to be brought in. Thomas says, “our next step is to bring in the financial ledger and connect it to the process in order to measure what was actually done to get to the true ROI piece.”

With that, Thomas says, “Now, instead of just return on our investment intent, we’ll be able to display a return on actual investment, and then leverage that back into the planning process to look backward at results and model forward-looking expectations based on investment levels.”

Join Uptempo’s Marketing Planning Crash Course

Interested in learning more about connecting marketing planning to performance and giving your marketing operations a boost? Sign up for Uptempo’s Marketing Planning Crash Course! 

When you sign up you’ll receive advice from top marketing leaders, analysts from Forrester, and some of the best marketing planning content that we have to offer. The best part? It will be delivered directly to your inbox over a 4-day period so that you can boost your knowledge in easily digestible lessons.

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