Why Startups Need Marketing Operations

by, Nicole Beckerman — Every startup has to sell its product or service to survive. Yet startups often find themselves using ad hoc tactics and experimenting on the fly with sales and marketing tools that are merely getting them through another day.

To scale successfully, a startup needs not only a marketing plan but a tactical set of marketing tools that are managed by subject matter experts: Marketing Operations.

What is Marketing Operations?

Broadly speaking, Marketing Operations manages the technologies, tools, digital assets, data, services, and resources that a company uses to perform marketing efforts. Marketing Operations as a functional area is still emerging, and as such, it is continuing to evolve and may look different from company to company.

For most organizations, Marketing Operations responsibilities include:

  • Deploying information and assets across marketing and product teams, related departments, business units, and external agencies.
  • Aligning resources to maintain consistency, manage creative review & approvals in a single source, provide compliance & audit tools, and manage asset lifecycles from ideation to preservation.
  • Optimizing efficiencies across technology investments.
  • Partnering with IT to provide security and environment oversight.

As a formal function, Marketing Operations first caught on in larger companies who needed to wrangle dozens of marketing cloud services, software solutions, and tools to work together. These typically included social media tools, marketing automation, CRM software, content management solutions, digital asset management, analytics & reporting tools etc.

As an example, Cisco’s marketing stack is a complex ecosystem of 39 different technologies. A startup may not have the needs of Cisco, but with the accessibility of technology, a startup can and should optimize to meet the basic requirements of a scalable marketing stack. Management of these systems is clearly still important, yet Marketing Operations has evolved further to become the backbone supporting all marketing efforts.

“Imagine an organization as a country, marketing operations is like the roads and bridges that connect its cities, plants, people and resources within the country, and transport all sorts of assets inside and outside the country.” –Luque Wang, Senior Marketing Manager of Global Strategy & Operations at GE Digital

Marketing Operations Evolution

In the future, Marketing Operations will be even more essential for organizations in maintaining costs and driving revenues. Similar to accounting or IT, Marketing Operations will be a foundational cornerstone of an organization whether it is a start-up or global enterprise.

Currently, the marketing technology landscape is exploding with over 6,000 solutions. With these technologies readily available, many marketers are being held more accountable for hard-to-track metrics beyond traffic or likes. This, in turn, drives the need for subject matter experts to work with IT and orchestrate the right balance of technologies. Furthermore, creatives and marketers need guidance and support to define solution requirements, vet and deploy solutions effectively.

There is an imperative to deliver on the marketing & sales plan with rapid, data-driven decisions. With the world moving faster than ever, marketing needs to be streamlined with results that drive both revenue and insights to re-pivot, fix and/or augment the product, service, or the business. This is especially true in a startup environment where small missteps are potentially ruinous.

Benefits of Marketing Operations

If you’re a fast-moving startup, why not just hire an email marketer who also dabbles in social and then turn them loose with no red tape? While you could find some success doing that (or something similar), I’d argue that spending time on Marketing Operations upfront increases a startup’s viability and lays the foundation for scaling.

Getting Marketing Operations right means you can:

  • Track customers across their entire lifecycle to understand where they are and meet them at that exact place. This might look like rapid lead routing after a demo request or serving targeted educational content in the early stages of customers using the product
  • Bring transparency and accountability to the marketing planning process. When schedules and budgets are accessible, everyone can work towards a shared goal with confidence.
  • Get campaigns to market faster (without burning out your creatives) by using automation and review processes.
  • Harmonize your content to tell a cohesive story and economically reuse existing assets, aligned with the brand vision.
  • Realize  ROI of marketing initiatives through data. With processes and technology in place, you can monitor the performance of your marketing efforts and understand how they impact the bottom line.

Simple Best Practices for Startups

At a startup, you likely won’t see a full-time Marketing Operations person managing a complex tech ecosystem, but there are still aspects of the function which can be used:

  1. Get Serious About Planning and Processes: Leadership, marketing, and any other relevant stakeholders should work together on a comprehensive marketing plan which includes objectives, customer segments, channels, campaigns, and expected results. This plan can then be broken down into detailed tasks, milestones, and deliverables that are supported by defined processes. Processes are often where people skip out and take shortcuts, so strive to create intuitive processes which help things flow easily.
  2. Monitor Financials Habitually: Getting a handle on marketing spending and budgeting early helps to understand ROI, what assumptions you need to revise, and what’s working well. Integrating detailed budgeting with the marketing planning process is a great start, but follow through with periodic updates and tracking against expectations. Even a simple system to track budgets tied to specific programs and campaigns will yield useful information.
  3. Build Tech Infrastructure Thoughtfully: With so many solutions on the market, specific recommendations are out of the scope of this article, but in general, the marketing plan should delineate your requirements for your vendors. Rather than being reactive, these decisions should be driven by high-level strategy. Price point, integrations, and workflows are all factors to consider, along with how your marketing needs will scale going forward.
  4. Understand Your Technology Investment Roadmap: Depending on your business, develop a 3-year financial model including how you will sustain and maintain the technologies in your stack. Have the intent to interoperate via automated workflows while in the near-term testing your vision by implementing, governing and auditing manual processes. Don’t forget that users will provide feedback which will shape what improvements and modifications become necessary for your organization right out of the gate. Have the staff or vendor resources and subject matter expertise to vet, prioritize and solve for these along the way.
  5. Develop Structure Around Creative Work: The creatives who power your content are a unique resource, and their time should be preserved for doing what they do best. Rather than having them entangled in endless, demoralizing feedback cycles, agree on how the feedback process will work and make sure it leaves them with breathing room to experiment, periods of uninterrupted work, and a set number of revisions where ever possible.
  6. Use Your Assets Effectively: Make sure your assets are clearly organized and stored in an effective manner. Dedicate a digital asset management system as the single source of truth for your digital assets plus a content management system that can publish out to meet your needs. Enter descriptive metadata once and let the technology pass it on versus burdening your creatives with busy work. Effectively use a style guide, processes, and procedures. In addition, develop templates whenever possible which give a cohesive experience that can be tailored to customer segments.

Factors for the Future

Starting out with a Marketing Operations mindset allows startups to learn from their customers quickly and start working on more advanced tactics like personalization. Once you have a sizable chunk of users you should, for example, be able to learn from their behavior and segment out specific profiles. Your marketing plan should specify what customer information you’re looking to capture to get to this point, and your tech stack should allow you to move into strategies like lead scoring and lifecycle tracking at the right time.

A final factor to keep in mind for a growing startup is change management and ongoing learning. As your Marketing Operations function expands and matures, your people will have to adapt as well. While the ecosystem of marketing technology will continue to become more and more sophisticated, we humans will always remain essential to the marketing process. Making sure you have informed, up-to-date people at the helm ensures that your marketing efforts are on course and reaching their maximum potential.


The Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion

by, Nicole Beckerman — From the water cooler to keynote speeches, diversity and inclusion are topics looming large in the tech industry. Today one finds that the two terms have been conflated often enough that they seem interchangeable. But they are not. Diversity and Inclusion have distinct differences which influence individual experiences as well as organizational success.

A clear understanding of diversity and inclusion helps us to communicate effectively and consistently share a common perspective.

Diversity as a Requirement

The narrative has changed from diversity being an unusual virtue to a respected standard. A “diverse” company means one staffed by people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, physical abilities, and sexual orientations. In 2018, a diverse workplace environment is widely expected.

Workplaces pride themselves and tout diversity as a moniker. The job section of major corporate websites often highlights diversity efforts to attract top candidates, while at the same time organizations make a big PR fuss about their diversity hiring goals and employee engagement activities.

These diversity efforts have yielded meaningful results. Collectively we’ve worked to reduce barriers to entry for marginalized groups and established formal legal protections. Research has also come out demonstrating that highly diverse firms are 45% more likely to have growth in market share over the previous year, and 70% more likely to capture a new market.

In a 2018 study, Atlassian commissioned, over 80% of tech professionals said diversity and inclusion are important to them. In response, Companies are creating diversity measures designed to get a wider variety of people in the door and cultivate a more diverse hiring pipeline. Examples include Microsoft tying bonuses to diversity hiring and Pandora regularly releasing their diversity metrics while forming relationships with historically diverse colleges. Clorox has even stated via its corporate blog:

“If you cannot answer the diversity question clearly and favorably when it is asked in the recruiting process, [candidates] are going to choose to work elsewhere.”

Diversity efforts and research are vital to maintain. They lead to real outcomes and helpful information, yet they are not a complete solution to the problems disadvantaged groups endure on a daily basis. That is where diversity and inclusion merge.  

Evolving to be Inclusive

Diversity at the hiring stage and supporting pipeline programs which get minorities into the ranks are critical. However, this approach is limiting when you look at the overall employee experience over the course of employment. How people from disadvantaged groups are treated day-to-day in an organization matters significantly more because it affects their ongoing engagement and performance. This is where inclusion steps in.

A Deloitte study found that 61% of employees are “covering” on some personal dimension (appearance, affiliation, advocacy, association) to assimilate in their organization.

Everyone covers. To cover is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream. In our diverse society, all of us are outside the mainstream in some way […] every reader of this book has covered, whether consciously or not, and sometimes at a significant personal cost.[3]Wikipedia

These people are denying a part of their identity to function within their workplace. This is a serious problem for companies who want to keep their turnover at a minimum, reap the benefits of a highly engaged workforce, understand a diverse customer base, and be truly innovative.

Inclusion means embracing differences so that people don’t have to downplay their individuality or work harder to receive equal recognition and rewards. It means people of all backgrounds are not just sitting at the table, but are also being listened to, taken seriously, and respected for their individual contributions.

A large part of inclusion is undoing bias. Unconscious bias keeps people on a narrow track, with leaders hiring and promoting those who are similar to them and employees unable to collaborate effectively. Minority groups might find themselves excluded from important conversations, passed over for mentoring, and left unrewarded for their hard work. When unconscious bias pervades an organization, a large percentage of employees will not perform to their full potential, while the organization will become stagnant and lag behind competitors—a potentially fatal problem.

A common mistake companies make is to look at positive diversity numbers and think everything is going well, but this assumes that inclusion naturally follows diversity. This is not necessarily the case. One can’t simply throw a bunch of minority hires at the problem and hope for the best. An organization can easily have high numbers of diverse people of different backgrounds all feeling unseen, unheard, and unwelcome due to facets of their identity.

What advantage is there in an inclusive environment?  We’re just starting to scratch the surface to understand  what potential can be unlocked, but recent research sheds some light on the benefits inclusive organizations enjoy:

  • Employees who say they can bring their whole self to work are 42% less likely to leave their job within a year,
  • 69% of women who made the decision to off-ramp would have stayed on, continuing to contribute, if they’d had flexible work options.
  • Ethnically and racially diverse companies who emphasize inclusivity are also 33% more likely to outperform their peers.

Savvy companies are coming to realize that diversity efforts without inclusion are hollow measures. Whereas diversity measures are a fight against a highly visible bias, inclusion works against a subtler, yet constant bias. Diversity alone simply can’t unlock all the potential opportunities for us to collaborate as a society, so it must be coupled with efforts to be inclusive.

Taking The First Step          

Inclusion is quite simply harder, more expensive, and more demanding than diversity. It is a mindset and culture within an organization which requires long-term, sustained effort around sensitive topics. Even a positive outcome might be abstract since diversity efforts can be considered successful with a few headcount metrics, while successful inclusion is much more about detailed experiences and subjective information.

Yet the effort is worth it when employees get to feel engaged with their job, seen as complete human beings and become invested in the organization’s success on a new level.

The first step towards fostering inclusion is to have real, honest conversations with disadvantaged group members and understand how they feel at work. Are they free to express their views and opinions? Are they compromising their authenticity at work to get ahead? If they feel stuck in their career path, why do they think that is? Do they feel obligated to spend extra time sponsoring employees of their gender/race or do they perhaps have fears about the repercussions of doing so?

Gathering this information may be uncomfortable, but it is especially necessary for dominant group members to take in the experience of the minority group members without making excuses or getting defensive. Part of inclusivity is also acknowledging that multiple legitimate experiences of the workplace exist.

We need conversations like this to move forward. For example, when men and women were asked about the cause of tech’s diversity problem in a 2016 survey, a whopping 49% of men said that not enough women and minorities were entering the industry. Conversely, women were more likely to cite lack of unconscious bias training and role models/mentors. This disparity in response leaves one to think that men in tech could learn information that might surprise them by talking to their female colleagues.

Ironically, according to the study, the men surveyed really do care about diversity and inclusion. This begs one to surmise that a large majority of the men were not truly engaged in an inclusive environment since their female counterparts exist.  The solution is not simple as engagement mechanics need not only be adopted but practiced. Without truly listening to disadvantaged or minority groups the men’s responses might stay the same.

It can be scary for the dominant group to acknowledge and delve into the reality of a marginalized group. It’s comfortable and easy to rely on existing patterns of thinking that don’t challenge us. Yet we can never collaborate with one another to our full potential if we don’t harness our differences. They are truly powerful and allow us to face any number of complicated challenges together, with creativity and innovation.

Act Now. Start the conversation, and continue the conversation. Inclusion starts with being inclusive. 

Here are some links to help (and, if you have articles or links to share please post!):

https://www.radicalcollaborationforwomen.com/ http://www.greenzoneculture.com/ 


Build a Fast Growth Culture of Upward Mobility & Inclusion

We heard from our panelists’ practical advice, examples, and their perspectives on how mentorship and inclusion start with each one of us taking action to 1) address how we speak, listen and hear and 2) how we can create our own safe spaces to push barriers, ideate, and positively engage.

Conversation Highlights

Three (3) key actions to invest in your upward mobility & inclusion

    • Build Confidence: prepare and practice often
    • Seek Allies: solicit feedback from peers, colleagues, and managers –embrace differing perspectives
    • Step Up and Give Back: exceed expectations, invest in what you do well, check in & align with management, help others navigate hurdles, don’t wait — act

Start with simple steps 

    • Grab a coffee with a subject matter expert whose expertise is of real interest to you. That person may sit next to you or work in another department.
    • Shadow for a Day. Katie shared how walking in anothers footsteps provides you not only a new perspective but can help form lasting connection(s). 
    • Bring your best self to the table. Select the ‘word’ that describes you and make it work for you. Are you outspoken, like Shiney? Because Shiney spoke up a company wide mentorship program exists at Nest today. 
    • Be self aware of how you come across. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how it’s heard.
    • Continuously Learn. Whether you read bestsellers or attend conferences or seminars or participate in certification programs your professional development needs your investment.
    • Embrace an Accountability Partner: share goals, take action, check-in, support and motivate each other.

We would love to hear what were your key takeaways from the discussion, and any feedback or suggestions>>

More on our expert panelists: Shiney Rossi, Engr Mgr, Nest Thermostat, Ghazal Asif, Vice President, WW Channels at AppDynamics, Cisco,  Katie Juran,  Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion, AdobeSuzanne Fletcher, Stanford Start-X Fund ManagerMolly Heekin, Sr. Director of  Internet of Things Product, Digital Solutions, Visa

 A big thank you to our event sponsor — Adobe.




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