Don’t Fix Your Marketing Process


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Summary: In a constantly changing world, flexibility is more important than optimization. Marketers need people, processes and technology that allow them to react quickly to new opportunities.

The always-insightful Adam Needles is running a series of blog posts this week that summarize the “real state” of B2B demand generation. So far, his main points have been that the role of B2B marketing has expanded to cover the entire buying cycle from initial lead generation through closed deals and that new technology must be accompanied by changes in people, process and content to have an impact. Tomorrow’s post will apparently discuss the need to tie marketing efforts to revenue.

This is good stuff and well articulated, but industry gurus have been making similar points for a long time. The real question is what to do about it. HOW can marketers adjust their staffing and processes, given the practical constraints of time and budget? And can systems provide specific capabilities that will make the adjustment easier?

The conventional wisdom is that marketers need to become more efficient, more attuned to individual buyers’ movement through the purchase cycle, and better coordinated with sales departments. But although these are certainly valid goals, I think they understate the problem.

Specifically, they make an implicit assumption that marketers are facing a stable situation. This is what allows them to design a new set of processes and techniques optimized for that situation.
I’d argue that the situation is highly unstable. Marketers face continued rapid change in the methods and media they have available. In this situation, any optimized process will rapidly become obsolete. So, the key requirement is flexibility itself. The most successful organizations will be those whose people, processes and technology can most effectively exploit new opportunities as they appear.

(The classic example of the conflict between stability and flexibility is the competition between Ford and General Motors in the 1920’s. Henry Ford relentlessly, even obsessively, optimized his company to make Model T’s more efficiently. But even though Ford kept driving down his costs, he ultimately lost to a General Motors that was able to change its products more quickly. Just thought I’d throw that in there.)

What does an organization optimized for flexibility look like? I think it keeps its processes simple, so they can be easily adjusted. This may mean they’re broken down into many small, connected processes that can be changed individually without affecting the other processes around them. (“Modular” and “loosely coupled” are better terms for this but sound too geeky.)

It certainly means that results are measured closely and frequently, so successes and failures are identified quickly and exploited or discarded as appropriate. It also means the organization makes experimentation easy, in terms of funding, staff time and tolerance for mistakes. It probably suggests that staff members should be more generalists than specialists, which implies greater willingness to pay for training and perhaps wider use of outside resources to provide particular skills on demand.

From a technology standpoint, flexibility implies ease of integration with new data sources, marketing methods and external systems. That’s very different from one vendor trying to include as many functions as possible. (On the other hand, multi-function suites always do seem to win in the market, precisely because they require less integration. Perhaps this will change if integration itself becomes easy enough.)

Flexibility also implies greater ease of use, particularly in terms of setting up and modifying marketing programs and processes. The need for many small, loosely connected processes has some specific implications for interface design. The need for measurement also implies better reporting technologies – a topic that several marketing automation vendors have recently begun to address.

Circling back for a moment to staff skills, all this integration, process coupling and analysis seems to mean that those “generalists” are going to be more technically adept than today’s marketers, even if they are not as specialized in terms of the particular media. I’d like to believe that really great technology and interfaces can reduce the level of technical skill required, but suspect that won’t happen any time soon.

I’ll admit these are somewhat half-baked notions, since they were largely triggered by Adam’s posts this week. On the other hand, I’ve been thinking for quite some time that we need to move beyond just telling marketers to nail down their processes. Perhaps a recognition that we must manage in a period of continuous change is a good next step.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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