Planning is No Longer Planning–It’s Marketing Fitness and Agility

Shannon Fitzgerald-Lussier
May 22, 2020

And 9 other tips from CMOs on how to lead in a crisis

We spoke with an expert panel of marketing leaders to talk through the challenges faced by marketing organizations and how they’re leading through this crisis by adopting a ‘wartime CMO’ mentality. Our CMO Julia Stead hosted and was joined by Heidi Melin, CMO at Workfront, Anton van Deth, CMO at Apptio, and Elle Woulfe, VP Growth Marketing at InVision. They talked about critical metrics, aligning your team, and where to concentrate resources. 

Here are their top 10 tips:

Tip #1 – The Two Kings: Pipeline and Customer Health

Elle has two primary metrics that inform her plans and activities. Her first priority is generating pipeline. This is InVision’s North Star and their focus is relentless. Ensuring that the sales team has a predictable, repeatable, and steady amount of pipeline to keep the business healthy is critical. 

Equally critical for her is managing the customer lifecycle. A big chunk of revenue for all marketing organizations is renewing existing customers. In order to renew, customers need to be healthy–using the product, getting value, and adopting it in meaningful ways. Heidi agreed, explaining that she believes customers are the company’s best advocates. 

Tip #2 – Alignment Drives Impact

As a work management platform, Workfront has seen the impact of when organizations are aligned. Heidi outlines three phases for creating alignment:

  • Phase one – Focus on keeping your team productive by ensuring they have the right tools, so people can work remotely, and maintain visibility into work. 
  • Phase two – Start making adjustments and charting a new course by confirming budget and outlining plans. 
  • Phase three – Show your resilience. Be able to adjust on the fly and be more nimble in decisions and actions. 

Thinking about marketing plans once a year and then executing against it is over. We’ve all been dragged very quickly into adapting to new ways. Julia highlights the need for a more iterative marketing plan now that the new way of doing work is here. 

Tip #3 – Visibility into Spend

We can’t talk about aligning on plans, without talking about budget. The two are forever tied, and both require visibility in order to create alignment. 

Heidi and Anton describe the positive impact of robust financial management on the planning and re-planning process. Workfront uses Uptempo to understand where their dollars are, how they’re invested, and the return they’re getting. Apptio joined Uptempo as a customer more recently, and Anton is looking forward to the changes it will drive after watching it “transform marketing” at Red Hat. 

Tip #4 – Respect Time as a Resource

Anton said what everyone’s thinking when he declared his biggest struggle is time. Sitting in 15-25 back-to-back meetings each day leaves little room for creative thought or even sanity! 

Apptio’s new policy is to finish every meeting within five minutes early, so everyone has time to refresh and collect their thoughts. It’s a lifestyle change, but one that has yielded a more productive and happier team. 

Elle echoed the need to manage time efficiently. She advises being ruthless with your schedule. If there is no purpose for the activity or the meeting, then it’s not happening. Ruthless yes, but it’s also respecting your time and the time of others. 

Tip #5 – Understanding Engagement

Both Heidi and Anton named engagement as a critical metric to monitor right now. This economic crisis has impacted purchasing cycles, so Heidi recommends focusing on:

  1. Understanding target accounts and how they engage with your organization
  2. How engagement looks different pre and post COVID
  3. Identifying trends in engagement

A large part of engagement is content. Workfront has noticed off the charts engagement in webinars and online programs. For Anton, engagement is measured not only in how many people turn up, but how many people shared it, asked for the download, how far they made it, and how many asked questions. All of this points to what stage of the funnel prospects are at, and gives Apptio the information they need to help them. 

Tip #6 – Planning is No Longer Planning – It’s Marketing Fitness and Agility

Organizations made major pivots and consequently teams had to learn new skill sets. In the last six months, Anton described moving through five re-pivots and six re-plans. Which sounds familiar to a lot of us. 

Anton recommends not being precious with our plans. Putting something down isn’t abandoning it, it just means it isn’t right for today. Everyone on the panel agreed that there’s no way to know what the future holds. Heidi believes the most effective thing we can do for long term growth is scenario planning. Look at your business in a variety of ways to plan for what may happen, and be prepared with plans when you need to pivot. 

Tip #7 – The Road to Recovery Begins with Your Team

When asked what he was prioritizing right now, Anton answered “people, by a long shot.” Apptio transitioned from an expensive, event-driven methodology and is now looking at doing everything internally. What Anton needs is horsepower, and he will sacrifice program dollars to get it.

With the shift to digital programs, there has been a lot of re-training. At the beginning of each week, he checks in with his team and sees how people’s priorities have shifted. This is also something the Uptempo marketing team does every Monday. We list our top three priorities for the week and on Fridays we meet again to share our wins, and discuss pivots for the following week. 

The economy will eventually pick back up. Anton explains that when you have more funds, it’s easy to funnel that into programs and watch the impact expand. Right now is the time to turn your marketing organization into a well oiled machine. Elle seconds the need to structure your marketing organization for growth now. Set up the right people and processes, and reap the benefits. 

Tip #8 – Employee Health = Business Health

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted how we do marketing. There is a high level of productivity and performance, but with it comes concern about burning out. Elle starts all her one-on-ones by making sure her team members are doing ok. 

It’s part empathy and part productivity. Employee physical and mental health should always be an important factor and something we support–it’s the human and right thing to be concerned with. But as Elle points out, healthy employees are also how you get great results. If people are experiencing high-level burn out, you’re going to feel that effect on the business. 

Tip #9 – Simplify to Gain Clarity

The idea of simplifying has two parts: structure and messaging. Heidi reflects that in larger companies, there are complexities we simply don’t need. This applies to business processes but also systems and infrastructure. She recommends prioritizing where you need to improve or invest, and sideline the “nice to haves” from technology or infrastructure perspective. Elle is all about removing obstacles. Think about ways to remove friction and how to simplify processes so it’s easier for people to get things done. 

For Anton, simplifying has spread to messaging: marketing has never been so direct with their audience. Customers have no time for anything beyond the facts. Anton recommends that everything you put in front of your customers and prospects should be vetted to be direct, supportive, and real. We’re all doing more work with less resources, and content should speak to that. 

Tip #10 – Forget Events

Events were a massive part of everyone’s marketing calendar–and our marketing budgets–and now they’re ostensibly gone. Some organizations have been able to pivot and are preparing to host virtual events; Workfront moved their annual Leap conference to a virtual event for this summer. 

As part of that pivot, Heidi reflects that the plans that we made at the beginning of 2020 will be very different in execution. She predicts the shift to virtual will last for the rest of the year, and likely into early next year. For InVision, they had a massive events plan that has all been temporarily deprioritized. However, Elle noticed plenty of speaking and networking opportunities to pivot to for similar outcomes. 

If you want to get all of the insights this powerhouse panel of executives provided, watch the entire webinar! 

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