A 6 pack of tips when replacing creaky MRM software

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Introduction

MRM software (Marketing Resource Management) is a marketing operation and process efficiency category that appeared about 20 years ago and shot up the software hype curve only to fall fast and deep into a pit of misery for many that tried to realize its promise. 

Intending to cover a large mix of marketing management areas, its creators figured a single software category would be the best way forward.  But 20 years have proven them wrong.  They envisioned MRM as a comprehensive marketing program and materials development factory, streamlining processes and bringing efficiency and transparency to marketing planning and operations.  To do this, they surmised, MRM software would integrate marketing planning and development functions from top to bottom in areas such as:

  1. Strategic Planning and Performance Management
  2. Financial, Budget, and Spend Management
  3. Human Resource Management
  4. Actions, Offers, and Treatment Management
  5. Content and Digital Asset Management
  6. Project, Workflow, and Task Management

Simply put, they bit off way more than operational marketers could or should chew.  That was problem #1.

The second problem – not clear from the start, but that would unfold as companies tried to implement MRM – was the inflexible technology constrained marketers, and they felt intrinsically cornered.  Remember, agile and cloud weren’t mature 20 years ago.  Marketers became disillusioned because MRM software lacked the flexibility they needed to react to changing market conditions.  Although they sought automation and repeatability, they also needed software that was malleable and wouldn’t leave them handcuffed.  But that software didn’t exist.  As such, they found themselves faced with insurmountable challenges. The MRM software of the time was either too rigid or had to be customized to the hilt.

Predictably, spackling over these fatal underlying flaws, MRM vendors continued to contend the investments would pay off, and companies kept trying to implement.  But in the end, the vendors couldn’t supply the flexibility, customizability, and upgradability required for multichannel marketing programs.   As a result, businesses invested millions but failed to secure user buy-in.  The MRM movement fell apart, with many of the providers scattering and pivoting their business models, leaving marketers holding the bag.



What should you do if you are one those bag holders?  What lessons can you learn from the first era of MRM so that this time you implement a system that people like, is well integrated, and yields better outcomes?

The simple answer is to reduce the scope, picking the right areas to concentrate on for value. 

MRM Software

Figure 1: New Operational MRM

But that’s not the only factor.  It’s also crucial to address seven critical success factors.  Specifically, each area must be:

  • Business controlled – marketers choose it and want to use it
  • Agile – supports collaboration; rapid and flexible response to change
  • Conducive to automation and reuse
  • Easy to integrate with other tools and enterprise systems
  • Measurable and reportable at the tactical level
  • Transparent and auditable
  • Available in the cloud

Of all these, the first point is vital.  Recently I talked with Cherie Foo (a content strategist at UpLead) who made this observation about the importance of MRM being business controlled:

“Consider the formula that General Electric created to utilize in their Change Acceleration Process (CAP):   Effectiveness = Quality x Acceptance.   

How do you get your team’s buy-in?  It’s as simple as asking them what they’d like to see in a new MRM system, and involving them in the decision-making process.”

That’s a valuable rule of thumb for any technology project.  It’s important to get user buy-in early and often because functioning software alone doesn’t guarantee success.  It takes committed people, clearly defined use cases, a well-scoped project, and the right technology to achieve great results. 

Before we cover the tips, look at Figure 1 as a guiding scope for any new MRM project.  Three of the six original areas are in the scope and three are not.  In the 6 tips, I’ll cover why I believe this is the right range of motion for MRM going forward.

Tip #1: Sounds like crazy talk but … leave strategic planning and performance management OUT OF SCOPE

Any organization needs strategy experts that formulate plans aligned with strategic goals.  Strategic plans serve as the business compass, motivating resources toward a common destination.  But, here is tip #1:

Keep strategic planning and performance management out of your marketing operations scope. Strategy and high-level performance management are macro-level functions and marketing operations is programmatic and tactical.

Some MRM vendors combine strategic planning facilities with operational capabilities – but the two don’t mix.  And if you try to mix them and the strategic planning portion of your MRM project fails, the rest of the project fails with it.

Here are some factors that make these two very different:

==

Strategic Planning Marketing Operations
Involves senior executives Mainly involves middle managers and analysts
Does not benefit from being overly structured Benefits from structuring
Proposed changes are large, systemic and involve structural adjustments, new investment, and new resources Proposed changes handled within the existing framework and by existing resources
Planning activities are periodic  (quarterly and/or annually) Activities are continuous and conducive to agile (weekly or bi-weekly sprints)
Approval process complex Approval process straightforward
Difficult to find patterns that repeat and can be made systematic Easier to find repeatable patterns
Involves macro-level data Involves program-level data
Value comes from providing decision support for strategic choices Value comes from efficiency and automation

==

Instead of intermingling these, get the output of the strategic plan (which will come 1 to 4 times per year) and use it to guide the lower-level marketing programs and projects.  Often, existing projects are considered business as usual and continue with minor course corrections.

Tip #2: Integrate with spend management systems; don’t build your own

MRM software vendors of old spent years trying to get top-down and bottom-up budgeting allocations to work across business lines, spend categories, budget cycles, different budgeting methodologies, and reconciliation processes.  They also toyed with functions such as invoices and purchase orders.  It wasn’t worth it.  Tip #2:

Let finance and accounting do budgeting and spend management.  That’s what they do.  Confirm any MRM tool you pick integrates with expense management, budgeting, and ERP systems as needed but don’t build your own marketing budgeting system.



Simply work with your spend management and budgeting platform to carry out that work. If you work for a small or medium-sized business, there are companies that major in this, such as Coupa and Sage Intacct. For those in an enterprise-sized firm, you have these systems in other departments, so figure out how and when to integrate with them.  

If you’re still obliged to test out an MRM vendor, look for one that majors on only this.  There are a few out there, like Allocadia, that focus on high-level marketing planning, budgeting, and performance management.  Although their tooling may help, it might also be overkill if you’re in a smaller firm.  It’s natural for vendors such as this to overextend into other MRM areas and it’s highly unlikely they will be good at everything.   For that reason, I suggest keeping this area out of the scope.

Tip #3: Avoid human resource management features

Because MRM involves people, time, tasks, skills, and so forth, MRM software vendors naturally gravitate toward building in some human resource and talent management features.  For example, it’s common to see time tracking, skills inventories, and even resource utilization capabilities.  But here is tip #3, and it’s short and sweet:

Integrate with these tools for data sharing and reporting, but don’t tackle these requirements inside your MRM system.

So when it comes to tracking, monitoring, and optimizing human labor let other systems, such as Workday or SAP SuccessFactors handle this.  By now you must be wondering what is in scope.  That’s next. 

Tip #4: Use an agile approach and groom a backlog of actions

Great marketers know that a steady stream of compelling marketing actions (offers coupled with creative content) is their lifeblood.  Historically, their launch vehicle for these has been marketing campaigns.  But campaigns are episodic, intended to aim offers at segments for a limited period and then end.  An always-on marketing system, in contrast, is in perpetual motion constantly drawing on approved candidate offers for personalized serving.  And astute marketing technologists can help their marketing counterparts by selecting the right Martech Platforms that support an agile and always-on approach to how these promotions circulate. 

A contemporary approval and intake system (an “Action Management System”) prioritizes and orchestrates offer development.  It facilitates offer and treatment collaboration, approvals, and scheduling.  Its calendar view isn’t campaigns, but instead offers in development, ones in market, and those retired.  Keep in mind offers are not content.  Offers are the complete promotional package available to eligible customers, organized into categories both directly related to your products and services, and to customer interests.  Content, on the other hand, is the artwork, photography, copy, images, and so forth that creatively enhance various aspects of your offers.  Here’s tip #4:

Use a backlog grooming process (with a tool built for this purpose) to prioritize marketing actions (offers) and their associated creative assets (content), link them together (using an action management system) and feed them directly into an always-on, real-time, next-best-action marketing system.

This is not just theory.  The agile method is already in use by leading brands, such as GM, to groom marketing backlogs.  In a recent conference breakout titled “Hop on the Execution Highway,”[i] Sallie Atsalis, Marketing Operations Manager at GM OnStar, posed these questions and supplied answers:

“How can your marketing team take the on-ramp, merge into traffic, and then move over to the fast lane of the execution highway?  How can you rally your entire team to lean in for a more integrated marketing execution process?  We took a cue from IT and transformed our extended team into an agile, sprint-based driving machine.”

And if you use a next-best-action approach instead of a segment-based campaign management approach, you can devote more time to important work, such as which offers to make and how to make them persuasive.  You will save a tremendous amount of time by cutting out superfluous tasks such as segment planning, list reviews and approvals, and managing campaign calendars.  You will also improve your response and conversion rates on marketing communications by between 3x and 12x and reduce annoying irrelevant communications by as much as 90%. 

Figure 2 depicts the full agile process at work using the new MRM framework.

Agile Marketing

Figure 2: Agile process at work

Tip #5: Treat content & digital assets as reusable building blocks

In Figure 2, we saw how marketers can use a new approach to offer development by using an agile action management system.  We also covered the importance of the action management system being integrated with the content management system so actions are linked with creative assets that get moved into a production CMS (Content Management System).  Once this occurs, they become like inventory on a shelf, to be automatically picked up and dynamically assembled into personalized treatments at runtime.  Here’s tip #5:

Ensure your content management platform has the necessary APIs so that marketers using the action management system shown in Figure 1 can search and link their offers to content.  Structure your content as well-tagged fragments so they can be easily located for initial use and for reuse.

When you configure offers with content parameters, this arrangement allows you to automatically construct thousands of personalized offer variations on-the-fly at runtime.

Tip #6: Select a tool with project, workflow, and task management at its core

In the 1.0 MRM software era, marketers learned a huge and painful lesson when MRM software couldn’t handle complex rules and process management.   This time, it’s essential to find a system with workflow, process flows, activities, tasks, triggers, and case management as the kernel. This will be your MRM foundation upon which everything else flows into, though, and out of.  So here is the final tip:

Find an MRM vendor with a rules and workflow engine at its core.  This means it specializes in complex process flows, workflow rules, task management, and is extensible as a dynamic case-based system.



By doing this, you are unlikely to get stuck or cornered as you extend your system, integrate it with other tools, and customize how it operates.

Conclusion

It’s time to replace aging MRM software. Like a house built 30 years ago, its technology is old, its functioning outdated, and its framework not conducive to change. Stop living in that old MRM house. If you stay there you’ll pay more in maintenance costs, continue to deal with functional inefficiencies, and be stuck with an inflexible and ancient structure.

Adopt a new mindset to MRM that leaves spend management to finance and accounting, strategic planning to the strategic planning experts, and puts agility into the core engine of marketing operations.  Ultimately, you will find this helps break creativity log jams, freeing your marketing teams to unleash their greatest promotional ideas. 

The result: a win for your teams as they quickly pump ideas into an always-on marketing execution platform, and a win for your customers as they receive a fresh supply of dynamically assembled, hyper-personalized offers.


[i] Merkle, https://www.merkleinc.com/summit/agenda, June 2019

2 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with just about everything here with the exception of handling Marketing budget management outside an MRM solution. Perhaps I’ve had bad experiences but I’ve never worked anywhere that provided decent (or in fact, any) budget management for marketers and so a system in their own control for doing so is crucial. The idea of working with Finance’s ERP or other financial management systems is terrifying; in most cases they are arcane, ugly and hard to understand. I completely concur with avoiding the reinvention of any wheels (POs and invoicing in particular), so integration with the appropriate systems to handle these aspects would be ideal, but actual budget and spend management is definitely something that Marketing needs at its fingertips.

  2. Simon, first, thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate the feedback! You raise a valid counterpoint, and I thought about this a lot as I was writing this section because I lived through some of these challenges in my marketing operations consulting days also. This is the reason I put that extra statement in about “if you’re still obliged to test it out…” because I recognize the need for marketing to have a good handle on their budget and spend management, and not to be hamstrung. But if doing this, it’s critical to find a vendor that really specializes in that, and then test it out. Also, my experience is that tackling this area is fraught with so many top-down/bottom-up issues and reconciliations and such that the larger value would come in handling this in another system that should be coerced to be modernized and work for marketing. But I can understand in some situations that may not be practical.

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