Five Marketing Ops Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

In his first guest article for LXA, Darrell Alfonso, Global Marketing Operations Manager at Amazon Web Services tells us about some common mistakes made by marketing ops professionals, and how to avoid them. 

1. Failing to map out key projects for the year

One mistake many marketing operations people make is to become reactive, waiting for requests from other departments, reacting to issues rather than working to a roadmap. 

They react to bugs and issues that arise. Or arbitrary requests from stakeholders, such as what the Sales Manager wants this quarter, or how the CMO wants a particular landing page to look like. 

Instead, by creating a roadmap for the year ahead, and ensuring you have leadership buy-in for it, you have a clear plan for what you’re going to deliver, and something that’s measurable, trackable, and allows you to look back and see what you’ve accomplished and delivered. 

This roadmap also helps you to protect your work, because you can measure incoming requests against this roadmap - are these requests more or less important? Do they interfere with your key projects and goals? 

2. Taking on all requests 

A core part of the role of marketing operations teams, as they own the systems and technology, is to deal with requests from other teams. "Can we fix this? Can we adjust this system? "

These requests can come in as a flood and it can overwhelm the marketing ops team with work, and distract them from longer-term projects. 

The solution to this problem is twofold. It’s about knowing when to say no, but also about categorising tasks in terms of importance and priority. 

You need to set up a form of triage system, as used in hospitals, so when the requests come into marketing ops, you can categorise issues or errors based on severity. 

    • P1- Production down. 
    • P2 - An error such as the website going down, or key landing page errors, something which affects customer-facing departments. 
    • P3 - something which doesn’t affect customers, but which affects group productivity, and prevents a certain team from getting their work done. 
    • P4 - something which impairs individual productivity. 
    • P5 - an issue which is relatively minor. 

So every issue which comes in should be directed into an intake system and be classified according to these levels. Then you prioritise them against the roadmap and based on team bandwidth.

marketing ops

3. Becoming a problem searcher

Another big mistake, and one that is perhaps more of a mentality thing, is that a lot of marketing ops people will be problem searchers rather than problem solvers. 

A key insight here is that there are always technical problems, something will always be not quite perfect with your systems, especially as you scale and can’t tackle everything. 

There are many marketing ops people (and I’ve fallen into this trap in the past) that look at each system to find what’s broken, and then fix it. 

Then your entire year can become this never-ending process of fixing bugs with no thought as to the priority of the problems, their impact, and whether anyone is even aware of them. 

One time, my coworker identified a problem, and I told him that's been a problem for two years. Even if you solve that problem, no one knows it was broken in the first place, and when you solve it no one will know the difference. That's a little bit of an extreme example, but it's really true.

I think that the way that you handle this the best is to try to build your systems and processes in a robust way that can handle many types of different situations. 

Your systems and your processes and your programs should be robust. They should be like a brick house, and able to handle the different situations that they come into.

The second thing is to anticipate the types of problems that can happen in the future and prepare against those. Now, it doesn't mean that, if a problem comes along, you don't work on it, especially if it's high severity, but it's more of a mentality shift of building for robustness and then anticipating future problems versus looking for problems on a day to day basis.

Problem detection needs to be automated - this frees up your time. Your systems will let you know, rather than you having to search them out all the time.

4. Being a servant to sales

One mistake that many marketers make is to focus their entire job on making sales happy. This is a long term problem, because sales naturally has a very short horizon that they're looking at, because they usually have quarterly or even monthly sales goals. 

Their goal for this quarter is to achieve their targets, even at the expense of future goals and future revenue. That’s the big problem. Also, sales often doesn’t have a complete picture of what’s going on in the business as a whole.

Becoming a servant to sales is a problem because it's very arbitrary. Even if you make them happy, it doesn't mean you're going to make them happy again next quarter. 

The problem is like parenting, you simply can’t make your children happy all of the time. You have to guide them and help them make the right choices - you can’t just let them eat candy and stay up all night. It’s a similar thing. 

What you need to do is to identify realistic short term and long term sales enablement solutions. How I like to do that is to identify five key things that could really help sales this year. It could be delivering a better sales deck, cutting down the amount of time it takes for them to convert a lead into an opportunity in a CRM, maybe it's automating sales intelligence. Things that will really make a difference. 

You also balance that with listening to what they want in the short term and where it makes sense, you can deliver it. If they say, hey, we have a really great idea, we're going to invite leads to this event and we could use your help with it. That sounds like a solid idea to me, and it’s pretty low effort.

So it's that balancing of short term and long term sales enablement solutions, trying to empower sales, but not being at their every beck and call. We're like parents, we're deciding what's best for them long term.

5. Forgetting the importance of internal marketing and advocacy

Sometimes marketing ops teams don’t do the best job of internal marketing and advocacy. They’re content to stay behind the scenes fixing bugs, but miss out two key things. 

The first is making the effort to let everyone know what they’re working on, and translating their work into terms people can understand. 

Helping other teams gain insight into the more technical aspects of your work by translating it into terms of sales and marketing understand is very important. 

This could be something like database health for example. Maybe people don’t understand that, by cleaning data, marketing ops is ensuring that data is accurate, up to date, and actionable. So this means sales and marketers can run better campaigns. 

So MOPs teams should say what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. If you say, we’re running data normalisation and standardisation campaigns, people start to tune out they don’t know what that means. But if you explain why you’re doing it - so they can have good data to do their job, that makes the difference. 

The second point on advocacy is about articulating the business impact of marketing operations. 

If we work on landing page optimization and creating the right user experience on landing pages, we’re not just messing with the page, we’re going to increase the conversion rates by 20% or 30%. 

If we do that, and we were converting 3,000 leads into signups, and now we're converting 6000, and closing 75 deals rather than 25, this shows the direct impact of the work we're doing. 

Marketing operations very often does not make that connection for people, but that connection is there.  There's this downstream impact of the work that we're doing and marketing operations very often does not make that connection for people. But that connection is there. 

It’s about being an advocate for yourself and your team, but it's also about being business savvy. You need to understand the business impact of your work to be able to advocate for it. 

In Summary

This business acumen is one of the threads that runs through this article. You need to understand the business sense, and you need to have it. 

So if you’re constantly looking for problems, or working on low-value projects, it’s because you aren’t displaying this business sense. In a business, there’s always a finite amount of money, people and time, and the way in which you invest those resources is a business decision.

Marketing Ops people love the tech, they love experimentation, but they can fall short when it comes to business acumen. Essentially, the majority of your time in marketing operations needs to be spent on the highest value priorities for the business. 

Darrell Alfonso is Course Trainer for our Essentials of Marketing Operations open digital learning course.