How Marketing Operations Leads the Annual Planning Process


Written by Debbie Qaqish

August 11, 2017

How Marketing Operations Leads the Annual Planning Process

On August 2, we were joined by 127 marketers eager to learn more about what’s different when marketing operations leads the annual planning process. During this interactive webinar with our partner Allocadia, we conducted four polls and gathered over 100 comments. This blog provides a synopsis of what we explored and what we learned regarding the annual planning process for marketers. Check out the recorded webinar here.

Before jumping into the details of the webinar, let me give a shout out to our webinar winner – Bridget Arnott, Director of Marketing Operations and Data Analytics at Axiometrics. We asked the webinar participants to share best practices for planning and Bridget won! Here was her entry.

Strategic planning for marketing includes content tied to campaigns to drive brand equity and lead conversion through the buyers’ decision processes. We prepare our content calendar for the year, including nurturing campaigns: renewal, welcome, client and non-client, and this is married to support promotion (lead gen) campaigns and advertising during each business cycle. From there, we pull historical data on expected response/conversion rate, multiplied by close rate and average deal size to present our financial assumptions for revenue contribution. We align with sales leadership, in this planning process, to “stack hands” on our annual revenue number. We develop sample copy, collateral and assets to support the campaigns and assumptions. Taking all of this, we present a formal overview, including financial assumptions and marketing budget, to the executive leadership team so it’s supported by all stakeholders. As part of implementation, we watch the metrics and pivot where necessary so we remain agile.

With a four-person team, and following the revenue marketing formula, we’re on track to exceed our initial revenue assumptions by 100%. It works!

Now…let’s get started with all the happenings from the webinar!

Poll #1:  Years of Experience in Planning & Budgeting

We had an interesting mix of experience levels across the webinar participants. The largest group had over eight years of experience. The second largest group had only 1-3 years of experience. The third largest group had 4-7 years of experience.  The smallest group included the newbies. Many of the experienced marketers provided great insight during the webinar and the less experienced marketers asked great questions!  

Our Proposition and the Model

Our basic proposition for the webinar revolved around why the marketing operations leader is perfectly positioned to lead the annual planning/budgeting process and of course, manage the plan through-out the year. SPB&M is an emerging discipline managed by the marketing ops leader that results in a responsive and actionable marketing plan and budget aligned to company and functional goals and KPIs. It takes the planning and budgeting process in marketing from a series of confusing, siloed and disjointed activities at a single point in time to a continuous process that is defined, managed and aligned through-out the company. We developed the Strategic Planning, Budgeting and Management (SPB&M) model to provide an actionable framework.

Two Phases in the Model:  Planning and Managing

The first thing we discussed was how this model encompasses two key processes – Planning and Managing. The important distinction here is that the model represents a continuous improvement process, not a one and done with the plan sitting in the shelf. The marketing ops leader orchestrates the Planning phase and then Manages the operationalization and optimization of the plan using data and insights gleaned from tracking KPIs.

Defining & Leading Change

While not a linear step in the model, a key element is Lead and Manage Change. This is such a critical driver of success, we have chosen to call it out separately and have it appear in every step of the model. It is represented by the horizontal bar across the bottom of the model.

Step 1:  Facilitate Alignment

Webinar Participant:  Alignment is pretty easy when you shift the conversation from leads, to the unit economics of the “revenue engine.”

When we showed the SPB&M model to the webinar participants, we asked them what stood out for them? Overwhelmingly the first response was “alignment.” During the webinar, we also asked folks to provide best practices they use in the SPB&M process. The most cited element in all the discussion was also “alignment.” Clearly, marketers are feeling the pressure of not being aligned and see the importance of tackling this head-on. This is the reason we have included it as the first step in the model.

To better understand the most common barriers to alignment, we asked the webinar participants which is the most common barrier you are experiencing to alignment? The most frequent answer was lack of collaboration followed by a lack of pre-existing processes. Lack of executive support was the third most cited response followed by sub-standard resources.

Step 2:  Mediate Pro Forma Consensus

Webinar Participant:  Accountability without alignment is corporate suicide.

Webinar Participant:  Process eats technology for breakfast!

A pro forma is a financial statement of your earnings and expenses and is the key ingredient to getting your budget approved.  When we covered this section in the webinar, we asked how many marketers currently use pro formas in their planning process. While it was a low number, the folks that responded LOVED the results of using a pro forma. Results included running marketing like a business (ROI), gaining more credibility and experiencing fewer budget cuts to marketing through the year.  

We asked the webinar attendees – what is your most common barrier to using pro formas? Lack of pre-existing process was the most frequent answer. HOWEVER, during the webinar there was great interest in learning how to use a pro forma. This was the most common question we received during the webinar.

Step 3:  Broker Shared KPIs and Publish Plan

Webinar Participant:  CFO and CIO need to be your best friends in the planning process.

Webinar Participant:  To be credible, we need to show KPIs on failure as well as success.

Clearly, talk about building pro formas and brokering KPIs leads to marketing accepting financial responsibility for how marketing is run. Once marketing pivots to financial accountability through shared and complementary KPIs both across marketing and with other functions, marketing is viewed as a partner in growth and revenue. Given this dynamic, it was interesting to see the most frequently selected barriers to brokering KPIs and publishing the plan was “investment accountability fears.” During the webinar, one of the participants asked me “what are they afraid of?” I responded – “change.” As much as we talk about financial accountability today, only a third of B2B marketing teams report any kind of financial measure.

Steps 4 & 5:  Tracking and Measuring & Responsive Adjustment & Optimization

Between Steps 3 and 4 of the model, a very important inflection point occurs. This is when you need to shift your mindset from planning to operationalizing. This is where the BIG value of marketing ops running this process begins to occur. Given the MO use of tools and data, they are able to provide relevant insights to help everyone stay on target to achieve KPIs, make timely adjustments and optimize overall spend and performance. This area of the model is the topic for our next webinar in September.

It’s planning season and this year, you have the opportunity to make a real difference. Our proposition is that the MO leader is essential in Planning and Managing this process. In companies that we have worked with, we’ve seen a big difference in terms of revenue growth, and goal and KPI achievement. It’s time to make a change.

Related Resources for Strategic Planning, Budgeting and Management (SPB&M)

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