IBM’s Barbenheimer: Uniting Global Planning and Budgeting  

Shannon Fitzgerald-Lussier
May 29, 2024

According to Paul Ambraz (VP of Investment and Resource Management, IBM Marketing, Communications and Citizenship at IBM), aligning your financial and campaign management processes can sometimes feel like a box office face-off between the Barbie movie and Oppenheimer: the teams’ style, structure, and terminology couldn’t be more different.  

When IBM was making some organizational changes to its marketing function, Paul saw an opportunity to close the gap. 

Paul is responsible for IBM’s marketing investment strategy—including the funding and resource alignment of demand generation and the overall go-to-market plans for hundreds of products. However, orchestrating plans across thousands of marketers and millions of dollars in budget was challenging for several reasons: 

  • The way regions, campaigns, and cross-functional teams set plans and dispersed funds was extremely complex—and incompatible with how finance structured their budgets. 
  • The tools and systems used for tracking marketing spending, campaigns, and performance were siloed across teams and functions. 
  • The inability to get a clear picture of the current state of budgets, projects, and ROI made investing in high-performing activities slow and inefficient. 

Paul shared how IBM overcame these hurdles and built a more agile marketing function during a presentation at Forrester B2B Summit. Here’s an inside look at their process for creating a connected environment between planning and budgeting. 

Marketing structure changes usher in new planning process 

In 2021, the marketing organization and budgets were broken down by products and markets. By 2024, the team was reorganized around disciplines (like product marketing, events, media, etc.), and all regional and business unit spending was centralized under one marketing budget.  

This change aligned budgets to each function and made spending more efficient for each team. But the restructure didn’t result in a completely seamless system for a few reasons: 

  1. Since the marketing strategy was built around campaigns—and not disciplines, like the budget was—reporting on ROI was still difficult. 
  2. Leaders still needed to track performance in their geographic region each quarter. 
  3. Some teams would need to buy media spots well before the audience mix or content plans had been set in the planning process—meaning strategy wasn’t as optimized as it could be for each channel. 
  4. Plans for each team were spread across disconnected PowerPoints, Excels, and Air Tables, which made viewing campaign status difficult and time-consuming. 
planning and budgeting IBM

Without being able to clearly tie each discipline’s spending to campaigns and regions clearly, it was hard to determine what was impacting pipeline and other important marketing metrics.  

To solve this issue, IBM brought in Forrester and McKinsey to create a new campaign framework that would help them tie activity to outcomes.  

First, the team mapped their strategic planning process for setting strategy, revenue targets, budgets, and campaign plans. Next, they designed their campaign structure. Each campaign is based on a business need for a specific group of buyers. Each campaign has program families, which contain tactics that are tied to quantifiable outcomes tied to each. Finally, they defined taxonomy, hierarchy, and metadata for campaigns so tracking and communication would be more straightforward.  

These changes helped the disciplines align plans around audiences, geographies, and value propositions. However, the team now needed technology that could support their new framework and reporting needs. 

A new planning platform drives marketing visibility, velocity, and agility 

With a new campaign planning framework in place, IBM needed to break down silos between spending, execution, and performance tracking tools. 

When Paul sought a system to connect these areas, he discovered Uptempo, a marketing planning software that ties plans to budgets, work management, and analytics tools. With this new system of record, the team will be able to end duplicative, manual, spreadsheet-based planning and unify around one centralized marketing calendar.  

By integrating IBM’s analytics tools with Uptempo, marketing will get real-time visibility into spend, activity, and performance. Campaign managers will be able to connect their initiatives to outcomes confidently and quickly whenever finance has questions. “Being able to tie the spend to the audiences and the performance for every activity is huge,” said Paul. “It’s something we’ve never been able to do.”  

Paul is quick to point out that the impact companies can expect to see from changes like these will vary based on their size, complexity, and business model. For IBM, this shift will bring significant benefits. These include saving an estimated 115K hours of unproductive time which equates to roughly $6M in cost savings. He expects IBM will reallocate as much as $240M in marketing dollars to higher-performing investments. And with the improved financial visibility, IBM has already realized a 0.01% budget variance for the past 6+ quarters using Uptempo—which has helped improve their relationship with finance. 

Key learnings: how to tie marketing spend to outcomes  

Here are a few tips from Paul’s talk for successfully building a centralized financial management and campaign planning system: 

1. Restructure marketing around disciplines and campaigns. 

If your budgets and teams are decentralized, overall visibility (and, subsequently, agility) isn’t possible. Review your current marketing structure to see how you can better align teams around functions and campaigns vs. regions or products alone. Then, consider restructuring your budgets around your marketing org structure, too.  

2. Streamline and centralize your planning processes and systems.  

Silos are the enemy of streamlined planning and marketing performance. Consider using a tried-and-tested framework that organizes plans into a hierarchy from a reliable source (like Forrester) to make sure the top-down planning process is strategic and efficient. Forrester has a planning framework for B2B organizations to follow that creates alignment between campaign plans and business goals. Also, adopt a centralized planning tool (like Uptempo) to move plans out of static, disparate documents into a single view for more alignment and visibility.  

3. Get marketing and finance working together in a single tool. 

While you may want a technical or ops team to manage your solution overall, make sure you get both marketing and finance team members entrenched in your planning platform. While finance will still primarily use their ERP systems, marketing budget software provides the best context around activities and outcomes—which will improve accuracy and forecasting. It will also improve collaboration through a common hierarchy and taxonomy. 

4. Save time and avoid manual entry with smart integrations. 

You don’t want to deploy something that requires entry into yet another tool (which will slow down your team). That’s why integrating your planning tool with your budget management, performance tracking, and work management software is essentially tying plans to outcomes. Smart integrations into ERP systems can give marketing and finance real-time visibility into planned, forecasted, and actual spend so that marketers know exactly what’s in their budget at any given time. Look for vendors with extensive integration and API capabilities, as well as the ability to import external data, so you can get a holistic picture of performance. 

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