Marketing Business Acceleration Series: ROI… but First, Taxonomies

Shannon Fitzgerald-Lussier
January 18, 2024
Helena Lewis NI marketing business acceleration

The marketing operations function should be a key player in helping CMOs make data-driven, strategic marketing decisions. Marketing operations can help CMOs run marketing like a business by using marketing business acceleration to optimize their planning, performance, and productivity.   

In our Marketing Business Acceleration Series, forward-thinking marketing professionals share how they’re elevating marketing operations in their organizations and proving business impact.   

In this interview, we spoke with Helena Lewis, Director Marketing Operations and Technology at NI (National Instruments)—producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrument software—about her thoughts on strategic marketing operations.  

What is your biggest priority this year? 

One of our MOps team’s goals is to provide the data and insights they need to run marketing strategically. We’re also being asked to do more with less. We need to have a clearer view of marketing ROI, so we know where to double down to drive impact.To get to ROI we need to be able to connect marketing dollars and activations to outcomes, something that is heavily dependent on an aligned taxonomy and using the systems the way they are designed.

That’s why a top priority this year is to “modernize the core,” which meant moving away from customizations across technologies and taxonomies, to adopting standard configurations and terminology. As we were looking to simplify how we track revenue and efficiency metrics it became very difficult due to these customizations and the disconnected taxonomy across tools. For example, we had not implemented the campaign and lead objects the way they were designed which led to more and more dependencies on IT and consultants to connect the pieces for us to gain the ROI insights needed.

Now, after moving toward configuring instead of customizing, marketing has reduced our dependency on IT and consultants and can troubleshoot within the marketing operations team. When things are called what they’re supposed to be called, the dashboards and reports can be used out of the box and the end-to-end process runs much more smoothly. This ensures we can get qualified leads into sales hands much faster, but we also understand which dollars are driving outcomes.

People think taxonomy is trivial, but it’s not. Once you start working across tools to track ROI, you need systems like SFDC and Uptempo talking to each other smoothly and the taxonomy is the common language. Uptempo is by far the best and most flexible tool we have when it comes to managing taxonomy and having flexibility over our campaign hierarchy as our strategy and insight needs evolve.

How have you changed your marketing investments from last year?

Before COVID, we did a lot of in-person events, like trade shows, on-site visits, and conferences. Then, everything went virtual for several years. Now, in-person events are ramping back up again—but a lot has changed since 2019.

In-person events are a big investment of money and resources—but they can also lead to big returns. We’re focused on reevaluating the ROI of the events we did last year. For example, our on-site visits with direct accounts are more manual to promote and manage—but they’re extremely valuable. We’re figuring out how to meet the demand for events by gaining efficiency from the technology we’re using and the insights we can gather with regards to outcomes or dollars. We want out event strategy to be effective and scalable, from virtual webinars all the way up to big shows and annual conferences.

How do you ensure that MOps priorities are aligned to corporate goals and are making an impact on the business? 

Our goals and priorities cascade down from our corporate objectives so that we’re aligned with the priorities of the business—from focusing on customer success to driving return on spend, pipeline, and revenue. These company goals then cascade down to every individual, from corporate to global sales and marketing and then from marketing down to functions. Everything we do in marketing operations is aligned to a corporate goal. Modernize the core is a great example of this—it drove tool and technology priorities, data priorities, and measurement and reporting priorities.

We also have an integral role in annual campaign planning because marketing operations run the planning process. We have a dedicated person on our team who is responsible for working with individual business units to facilitate the planning process to ensure our campaign strategy cascades up to overall business objectives. The process also includes defining targets and allocating budget.

How can marketing operations become more strategic? 

Operations people need to be more plugged into business throughout the year, not just doing budgeting and planning in an ad hoc manner. Demand, PR, and other marketing teams work on messaging, activation, and campaigns throughout the year, and many times the operational aspects are an afterthought. For example, defining measurable outcomes is critical upfront when kicking off a campaign, same thing applies to ensuring there is a follow up strategy in place after a large trade show where we have multiple partners participating with us. These are both areas MOps plays a critical role enabling, and if brought in early, we can be a part of the overall strategy and execution to advise on how to do things in a more seamless, efficient manner. And of course get to measurable outcomes.

The key is showing the benefit of bringing in marketing operations early and keeping us plugged into the ongoing campaign strategy during the year. Marketing ops people benefit from being marketers and part of the team, in addition to operations people. We are in the business which helps us add more value to the business.

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