Marketing technology can’t fix a flawed process, says VisionEdge Marketing’s President
VisionEdge Marketing's Laura Patterson will be a part of the 'How to Implement Best-in-Class Processes, the Foundation of Your Marketing Operations' panel at MarTech Boston.
Anyone who has spent time talking shop with VisionEdge Marketing’s president, Laura Patterson, will learn quickly that she is a process-oriented marketing leader.
“I started my career on the geeky side of marketing, around data and analytics — before we began talking about data and analytics the way we do today,” says Patterson.
With nearly two decades’ worth of marketing operations experience, Patterson’s first career role was with Motorola. As a customer relationship manager for the telecommunications company, she spent her days digging into the data of existing customers to identify growth opportunities around customer retention and loyalty.
It was at Motorola where Patterson began to understand how data and analytics could drive adoption and help deliver the right kinds of customers. It’s also where she began her love affair with business processes.
“Motorola is the father of Six Sigma, which is a very process-oriented approach to business,” she says. She credits being part of Motorola at the beginning of Six Sigma with playing into her passion for building effective and efficient processes that move businesses forward.
Next month, Patterson will be part of the “How to Implement Best-in-Class Processes, the Foundation of Your Marketing Operations” panel at MarTech Boston. In advance of the conference, Patterson is sharing her insights on effective processes — from the biggest mistake most businesses make when building out their processes to how they should be managed and who gets to own them.
Where do you think most organizations are lacking when it comes to process implementation?
Patterson: I think the biggest mistake most organizations make, from what we see, is they think a technology or tool is going to fix a flawed process process or lack of skill.
The tool is only going to be as good as the people who use it.
My father was quite a handyman and he loved tools, and I have this fascination with tools. I tell this story about being a young child in Ace Hardware with my father. I was walking around and got quite mesmerized with a band saw. I remember going to him and pulling on his shirt sleeve, telling him we had to go look at this really amazing tool that we had to get.
He went with me to look at it and told me, “That is a really cool tool, but here’s the thing: you have to know about tools. If you don’t know how to use a tool properly — if you don’t know how to use the easier tool first before you get the power tool — all that means is you’ll be able to do more damage faster.”
I think that what we have today are those kinds of challenges — if you don’t really know how to sand a piece of wood, then getting a power-sander probably is going to destroy it.
That story stuck with me my whole life. I think that’s the challenge we have today. A lot of organizations are chasing the shiny objects. They’re looking to fix big problems that really require a different kind of mindset, and they can’t be fixed by buying a tool.
Marketing runs on processes. If you don’t have those processes, and you don’t know how to use them, and they’re not well-oiled machines, then all you end up doing is more damage faster.
When I see the word ‘process,’ I think of rules and guidelines. How do you build and stick to a defined process while still staying agile enough to remain competitive in the whirlwind of change that makes up the martech landscape?
Patterson: What we’re talking about is meta, right? The processes of processes. We’re getting a little esoteric there, but what is a process?
I don’t know if I would call it rules. That isn’t how I would think of a process. When I think of a process, and when we help our customers with process, we’re talking about the sequence in which something has to occur — the linkage between those sequences, the stages of those sequence, in order to get what it is you want to accomplish.
Obviously, if you’re building a house, you can’t put the roof on until you have the foundation. So the sequence of how you actually have to build a house doesn’t mean that you can’t be agile. In fact, the better you are at understanding the process, the better able you are to adapt it — because now you can see what you need to modify or change.
Operationally, you might say, “You know, we could be more effective or efficient — or both — if we make this change to our process.” And you can’t do that until you know the process.
When working with clients, is most of your job setting up processes — or do you find most companies already have the right process in place?
Patterson: Yes, we help them build out processes. They typically know they have a problem, but they don’t often know they have a process problem until they go to put something in place, like a CRM [customer relationship management] system (another shiny toy we’ve been chasing for awhile).
If they don’t know their process, how do they know how to configure their CRM system? They don’t — so they end up with an implementation team that puts in a process right there and then, and they’re not really sure what it is. Or they decide to engineer a process that they haven’t actually ever used.
Then they go live, and they find out that there’s all kinds of problems because they didn’t really have a process, or they didn’t know how to modify the process, or put the things in place to make sure people would use a new process. Then, on top of that, the next thing they want to do is glom on other things to that tool — marketing automation, ABM systems, or maybe workflow systems, or marketing resource management, or digital asset management systems.
They want to glom them all on, but they have never really looked at how it’s part of the overall ecosystem.
They’re going to the hardware store, and they’re like, “Oh, that is the coolest saw, and we need to have these drill bits.” They go in picking out all the cool stuff, but don’t really know what they need in the ecosystem — because they haven’t even decided what they’re building yet. Because what you might be building might affect some of the tools you need to buy.
What is that conversation like when you have to tell marketing leaders they need to pause and look at what they’re trying to build?
Patterson: It depends on the company and where they are in their own maturity, and where they are in their capabilities. And why they were motivated in the first place — what was the motivation for buying the tool.
Those things will affect the conversation, but, in general, we try to help them by saying, “Okay, forget the technology for right now. What is it you need to do, and how do we get the work of marketing done?”
We start there — what are the priorities, and where do you have your biggest challenges around the work of marketing? Because, there’s the running of marketing, and there’s the doing of marketing.
Do you think process creation belongs to a primary owner within the marketing organization, or is it a responsibility that falls to all divisions of marketing?
Patterson: The processes of marketing must be available to anyone expected to use that process so they know what to do.
As I said, it’s an orchestrated sequence of events. If you have a process and you bring in a new person to do something, that process should be available so that they can find out how to do it — so that it’s done in the same consistent, reliable, quality way.
Let’s say it’s a trade show — there ought to be a process for what you’re doing. When someone gets hired into an organization and they’re going to be on the events team, and someone says, “You’re going to be responsible for trade show X and Y,” they don’t have to reinvent the process. They may ask, “What’s my process for doing that?,” and someone says, “Well, here’s your process map — let’s walk through the process together.”
Let’s say that person figures out some ways to be more effective or more efficient and they want to change the process — they have to be able to make a recommendation about how to modify the process.
Now, how does that modification get integrated into the process overall, and then, redistributed so everybody else responsible for events is brought up to speed on that new process? Is it the person running events that should be expected to do that? No, marketing operations should be expected to make sure that happens and that it rolls out right.
But the person using the process has the right to make recommendations, and they need to understand it and deploy it.
If you’re headed to the MarTech Boston Conference, be sure to attend Laura Patterson’s session on Tuesday, October 3. Part of the conference’s management track, the “How to Implement Best-in-Class Processes, the Foundation of Your Marketing Operations,” panel will offer insight on building and implementing performance management strategies through real-life examples and case studies.
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