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The little engine that could – Marketing Operations 101

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: 

One of our clients was a week away from launching a major integrated Marketing campaign that included an ebook, a webinar, an email newsletter, and social posts  — the works.

Final touches were being made, when a request came in from the C-Suite: let’s experiment with paid social this time! And let’s create an additional email sequence for top prospects! And let’s have it all ready by the original launch date. Suddenly, the pressure was on.

Luckily, the remarkable Marketing team rose to the challenge, and by launch date, each and every part of the program was up and running, successfully bringing in leads and generating positive feedback.

The key to their success? One of the best Marketing Operations environments we have been a part of.

In this post, we’ll briefly define Marketing Operations (or, Ops) and highlight some of our best practices to ensure your tools and processes are serving your organizational goals, creating more pipeline, facilitating better deals, and improving productivity.

What is Marketing Operations and why should you care?

If your content, emails, events, etc. are the what of your Marketing organization, Marketing Ops is the how — the defined processes for how everything gets done. In the broadest sense, Marketing Ops is the engine that drives your Marketing machine forward. Good Ops will ensure that every facet of this machine keeps working in a predictable fashion, so that everyone on the team can remain focused on their goals. 

The Marketing Ops team/person is typically responsible for developing and maintaining the Marketing data strategy, generating analytics and insights that lead to better campaigns with better results. Ops are also in charge of the Marketing technology infrastructure, and will usually define and own campaign planning and tactical execution, process management, and more. 

How to build your Marketing Operations infrastructure

What do you actually need to get your Marketing Ops up and running? Our recommendation is to start small and only focus on the essentials:

  • Email automation: a service or tool that allows Marketing and Sales to email leads in bulk or sequentially. This is useful for sending out newsletters and personalized email messages to leads and prospects. Depending on your goals, a simple, yet highly scalable solution like Sendinblue or Mailchimp may work, but if a lot of prospecting or ABM is in the cards, a more robust Sales automation platform, like Outreach, may be a necessary addition.
  • CRM: your single source of truth about your lead database, and where all information about past and future engagement with your leads is stored. When the team is small, and so are the Marketing and Sales databases, even a well maintained spreadsheet can work, but more realistically, one of the major CRM platforms, like Salesforce and Pipedrive, will be required.

More mature startups should also consider:

  • Marketing automation: a key platform for lead scoring, nurture sequences, analytics and reporting, segmentation, and much more. These features are not an absolute must in early stages, but they are key to high-performing Marketing Ops setups for mature startups. Marketo and Hubspot are two of the leading products in this space, with the latter also capable of pulling triple duty as a CRM and email automation platform—but at a steep price.

One final note on Ops infrastructure: as we previously explained, we don’t encourage putting too much stock in the exact tools you use. Over reliance on tools and tech, especially for early-stage startups, can even end up being detrimental to your success. Just focus on the essentials above to make your Marketing success replicable… and your team’s lives easier.

Marketing Operations Best Practices Checklist

Your tech stack is in place, and your Marketing machine is taking shape. Now, it’s time to put your shiny new toys to good use by defining ongoing goal-oriented processes. Remember: it’s not WHAT is in your toolkit that will help you win, but HOW you actually use it.

Let’s review some of the best Marketing Ops practices we’ve seen over the years, focusing on data management and process definitions.

1. Keep your Sales and Marketing data in sync.
Use the tools at your disposal to ensure that your Marketing and Sales teams operate in harmony, rather than their own individual vacuums.

Make sure as much data as possible is shared and synchronized between Marketing and Sales databases, especially when they’re separate entities (i.e CRM and Marketing Automation platform). Along the way, work closely to ensure to maintain a “single source of truth” about leads and opportunities.

This coordination should run deeper than merely keeping the data in sync, and should also include:

  • Ensuring that lead and opportunity lifecycle stages are well-defined and reflected in your data.
  • Agreeing on the amount and type of information that must be included with each lead or opportunity.
  • Keeping ongoing communication channels open: Slack channels, regular email updates, shared spreadsheets, Asana boards, etc.

Coordinated data will ensure full visibility into ongoing and upcoming efforts, as well as provide the basis for comprehensive and informative reporting.

2. Maintain data hygiene.
Clean data helps produce meaningful reports, reduces the time it takes to set up new campaigns, and helps keep your budget in check, as smaller databases typically lead to lower subscription costs for CRMs and Marketing Automation platforms.

To keep your data clean, deploy the following strategies:

  • Remove bad data, including bounced email addresses, leads that moved on to other (irrelevant) positions or companies, and unsubscribers.
  • Use email validation platforms (e.g. Kickbox) prior to importing lists to weed out invalid email addresses.
  • Enrich and update your data with sales intelligence platforms like Zoominfo or SalesIntel. If possible, integrate them into your Marketing automation platform to automate data validation and enrichment.
  • Ensure that all lead and opportunity data information is correct. Try to use picklists vs. free text for data entry to keep common terminology in place.
  • Review key data on a regular basis (e.g look at all of the new opportunities from the past week/month) to identify missing or incorrect data.

3. Report on performance and generate analytics.
Clean data leads to better reporting. Better reporting leads to more opportunities to learn and improve. Leverage the data in your Marketing automation and CRM platforms to build reporting dashboards, and share these with stakeholders on a regular cadence. We also love sharing highlights from these reports with the entire company often, so everyone can be aware of the results of their hard efforts. 

4. Define repeatable processes.
As the Marketing efforts scale up, you’ll notice that most campaigns can fit into a limited number of “buckets:” newsletters, email blasts, webinars, etc. Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel each time, create templates that can be reused over and over again, with only a limited number of customizations required. 

The format of these templates and how they’re used will vary based on the platform they’re implemented in. A template can be a list of tasks and subtasks in Asana, a sample program in Marketo, etc. Regardless of their form, they should provide a decent head start when planning and executing new campaigns. 

A section of our repeatable Product Launch / Finding Announcement template Asana board

The Marketing team from the story at the top of this article was able to utilize repeatable program templates to remove execution barriers and focus solely on creative aspects, enabling them to launch everything on time.

5. Document everything.
As the processes above are put in place and shared with the organization, creating a knowledge base documenting all of them becomes critical. Keeping everything in a centralized location will ensure that new recruits know where to start, and grizzled veterans know where to look for a refresher.

How you actually document these may vary based on preference and the tools at your disposal. A simple Google Doc will usually suffice, but we also like using project management platforms (e.g Asana) to document step-by-step processes. Here’s a simple example of an email QA checklist from our own internal Asana board:

The bottom line

Marketing Operations, like everything else in Marketing, is equal parts art and science. The tools and processes you put in place will vary and evolve over time. Following some of the best practices highlighted above—plus lots of trial, error, and patience—should help you seamlessly “connect the dots”, ensuring your team’s efforts remain focused on achieving your goals.

Erez is a Director of Marketing at Blue Seedling, comic book lover, and fast food enthusiast.

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