For most of us in marketing operations, one of the primary tools that we play with all day, every day, is marketing automation.
Similar to the Jetson's foodarackacycle, marketing automation sounds like push button technology: use it to fill your funnel with automated campaigns and smart reports that generate themselves. Marketing automation is marketing magic.
But the reality is not entirely like the vision.
Systems offer incredible value, however, they don't run themselves. They require configuration, troubleshooting, daily administration, and adjustments as business requirements change.
When problems pop up, business leaders can be inclined to throw more tech into the mix. Any new technology needs to, itself, be managed so it doesn’t cause downstream complications. As a result, the effort we put into alleviating issues can end up adding to the pile with one more thing for marketing operations to manage.
All of this might just be able to work if we had the headcount, but MOPS headcount can be hard to get. So we end up with a ton of tech, few people to really activate and make it useful, all fighting to keep it hanging together.
The good news is that for many MOPS tasks, there are strategies to improve workflows and increase efficiency.
So how do we get there?
1. Make sure your tech stack gives you control over how data flows between systems.
To automate workflows you need a high degree of control over system connectors—native integrations won’t cut it. You want the ability to be prescriptive in how data sources are stitched together.
At MERGE, we like Workato for this purpose. Workato has the power, flexibility, and ease of use to create pretty much any workflow you can imagine solving many of the manual headaches facing MOPS teams today.
2. Set yourself up for success with great MOPS execution.
Recasting the MOPS paradigm means evaluating current processes and making changes. Lasting organizational change is difficult to effect, which is why we’ve created a framework you can take and apply. We’re calling it MERGE’s CRISP Framework for Process Automation.
With the framework and free process automation worksheet to support you, you can define and evaluate the work your teams are doing, synthesize them into initiatives, prioritize which improvements you are going to work on, and then implement them in a way that's going to offer ongoing business value.
Here are the 5 steps you need to take as a marketing leader to open the door for automation everywhere:
The CRISP Framework for Process Automation
Communication is the first and most vital step to get people on board with change. It lasts the duration of the 5-step CRISP Framework.
Communication is the differentiator between well-run projects that have adoption and projects that are released but struggle to gain traction internally.
Any work that requires a process change will involve a change cycle for the affected team members.
Have you ever sent an email announcing a new process only to get zero replies to that email and zero adoption? If so, you will know it takes a concerted effort to create organizational change.
You need to plan for three phases of communication:
Prepare your teams for change before it happens by having informal and open dialogue with team members covering pain points within your processes. This is the time to hear individual concerns, discuss roles during and after the initiative, and to get buy-in.
Establish functional communication paths to team members who are actually executing the work and the early adopters and leaders from around the organization who are key stakeholders. Use daily communication and summaries to provide shared and rapid visibility into blockers.
This is where the adoption and change actually happens. Deliver group training and 1-1 working sessions to encourage new process integration into existing workstreams.
Access the process automation worksheet to see a detailed breakout of each type of communication to include.
The goal of the review step in the CRISP Framework is to identify the most significant ways that your team is interacting with systems.
Don’t worry about creating an exhaustive document that accounts for every minute of everyone’s day. Instead, focus on activities like updating systems, troubleshooting systems, and what tools you are logging into.
This is also an opportunity to think about the art of the possible and to identify wishlist items. When did you last say, “If we only had X, then we could do Y”?
Structure your review as an interview with each person. For larger teams, you may want to pick a representative. You might encourage open dialogue by saying, “Talk to me about how you're spending your time, what are the big things that you're working on, what are your pain points.”
Give your team an opportunity to talk openly, and document the activities they cite.
Access the process automation worksheet for sample system interface interviews.
After the initial interviews and documentation, schedule a workshop with your core project team. It’s common for there to be multiple team member activities associated with one process, so as you review activities, start to label them by process as well.
Identify if processes are rules-based or a defined process.
A rules-based process contains decision points which can all be encapsulated in a set of prescriptive statements.
Example: “Leads with a state of California and Industry of Software will be assigned round-robin between sales reps A, B, and C.”
Highly rules-based processes are good candidates for autonomous automation.
A defined process is one that follows a consistent series of steps each time, but always requires human evaluation and judgement.
Example: “A new program build in Marketo must first be approved by the original requester and then the Marketing Operations Manager before being activated.”
Highly-defined processes, even if not rules-based, are good candidates for supportive automation.
As part of your review, identify the processes you want to keep, optimize, or stop.
Stop processes that are currently unnecessary.
Keep processes that make sense in their current format or are not good candidates for optimization.
Optimize processes that are good candidates for autonomous or supportive automation.
At the end of this step, you will have an understanding of which processes you want to optimize. With processes synthesized into a set of initiatives, you are now ready to move on.
With your list of initiatives in hand, you now need to prioritize with a low fidelity estimation of effort and impact. Look for proxies of effort and impact that make sense to your organization.
For example, use the number of stakeholders that are tied into a process to estimate the level of effort. The more stakeholders, the more complexity, even if the automation is simple.
To estimate business impact you can use both direct and indirect measures. A direct measure is revenue impact–are you going to be generating more leads and opportunities with this process? An example of an indirect metric is getting time back for your employees.
It’s possible to sink all of your project hours just in estimating how much work your project will take, so keep it simple.
In the process automation worksheet, you can plot effort and impact in a dynamic chart. Download here.
Once you know effort and impact, you still need to prioritize and select. Consider your team's expertise with your tech stack, the timing of your team's availability, and the amount of executive buy-in that you have for your automation initiative. These are all ancillary factors that determine how you prioritize your ranked projects.
If your organization is hesitant to overhaul complex, multi-team processes, then start with low effort-high impact projects like automating list uploads.
If your team is on board for a big hairy audacious goal of a project, prioritize a high impact-high effort process. These can have monumental business impact because they're often too complex and laden with technical debt for anyone to want to take on. But with the right delivery framework, you can knock it out of the park.
With your prioritized initiative in hand, you’re now ready to make a concrete list of project participants and start on solution design. Draft your written materials first because documenting stakeholders, business requirements, and your technical approach up front acts as a forcing function to produce alignment across teams. Even a straightforward initiative can have stakeholders who can stop progress in its tracks if their business requirements aren’t solved for.
It also can’t be overstated how easy it is for business terms to mean different things to different people (think, “definition of a lead”)! Producing technical documentation first, instead of as an afterthought, is a lifesaver in enterprise project execution.
Your documentation should be comprehensive, down to the smart list filter, so that all relevant stakeholders can review unambiguously what will be built and provide approval–in writing.
So you've done your design and now last, of course, you get to start building!
The build is now relatively fast because you’ve provided your teams with a blueprint. You’ve disentangled figuring out the solution from configuring in production, so your teams are able to create in your systems quickly.
After you build, you want to perform quality assurance/control (QA). Like documentation, QA is something that is often skipped even though it is a critical step in creating flawless marketing automation.
At minimum, you want to create a grid of unit tests. Define all the positive outcomes that you're looking for with steps to validate and expected results. Also consider negative scenarios to make sure that key actions that shouldn’t happen with your automation changes are, in fact, not happening.
When your automation goes live, engage in monitoring on an ongoing basis. Workato’s built-in error handling, for example, makes sure that your recipes aren't failing silently.
It takes strategic leadership to identify when processes are languishing, but it can be very difficult, especially within large teams, to pinpoint where the breakdown is happening. The CRISP Framework is a repeatable way to audit, identify, prioritize, and build processes within your organization that don’t just check the box, but move the needle.