Quarter-end is a stressful time in a startup. Due to tight budgets, the people responsible for pulling together quarterly business review reports are stretched thin wearing other, equally important hats. According to CaliberMind’s latest Revenue Marketing Report, marketing ops spends up to a week each month merging disparate data together with baling wire and duct tape (AKA CSV dumps and Excel). Those are expensive reports!
Between shuffling priorities and aggressive QBR deadlines, data is often produced within 24 hours of executive review.
Believe me when I say I understand the need for QBRs. They’re a great way to uncover insights, drive accountability, and decide what needs to be elevated to the board.
But if your department only compiles data on a quarterly basis, you’re courting trouble with a capital T. Particularly in times of economic instability, teams must be expected to maximize ROI. They can only do this if they can catch a tailspin before it hurts and amplify tactics that show promise.
Does your team need to reproduce your QBR deck every week?
Does your team need constant access to real-time leading indicators?
You better believe it.
The Quarterly Landmine
When I watch an executive get surprised by their own team’s data, I feel for them—especially when it’s bad news. When I watch an executive get surprised by a different team’s data, I want to crawl under the table.
A deck walk-through prior to the executive review is an easy way to prevent the first problem. However, the adage that always plays through my mind when I see a landmine is “bad news should travel faster than good news.” This means finding ways to develop internal KPIs that flag problems throughout the quarter (more practical tips on how to do this later).
Uncovering an issue before quarter-end gives your executive time to understand why something went wrong and develop a game plan to turn things around. It also gives your team a chance to pivot tactics before sales output drops.
Ideally, department heads immediately seek out their counterpart when a cross-functional issue arrises. Whether it’s because they assume the other team is already aware of the issue or they feel ignored after escalating appropriately, QBRs are a very public way to pressure a team for a quick resolution.
As the marketing analyst, take the high ground. Form relationships with peers across departments and socialize issues early and appropriately before resorting to the nuclear option.
Why Aren’t We Embracing a Weekly Reporting Cadence?
While reading the February 2020 CMO Survey, two main findings conjured an emotional response:
As a copywriter who uses metrics for everything from tweaking email subject lines to mapping out editorial calendars, this blew my mind. Then I remembered my days as a marketing ops professional.
Despite the explosion of tools to help marketers do things faster and (in theory) better, we either can’t mine the right data or don’t know how to translate what our systems are telling us into action items. As a result, the perceived contribution of marketing analytics to company performance has remained flat over the last eight years.
In an interesting article by Allison Frieden, she pointed out that most of our marketing tools aren’t helping us focus on what we need most: to connect with prospects in a meaningful way. Each tool often adds a layer of complexity to an already convoluted data environment. We need insights into what message works when, but a tool that makes content look awesome may not mesh with your CRM. As a result, marketers are left making decisions based on gut feel or popular internal opinion over real productivity data.
The Cost of the Quarterly Cadence
Quarterly reporting is a hustle that takes place four times a year to fulfill executive demands. It’s easy to look at those bursts of marketing ops activity and write them off as an acceptable expense. People forget to also take into account:
Too many marketers are still spending their time looking backward. The high-level indicators produced for QBRs aren’t detailed enough to understand the root of a problem, and because of system complexity, it takes a lot of time to understand what went wrong.
Marketers need the ability to dig into a problem and fix it as it’s happening. To do this, analytics need to be prioritized, understood, and delivered on a regular cadence. This means choosing tools that can properly integrate or finding a platform that does the integration for you (they exist!).
Building a Sustainable Model
The quickest way to break your marketing ops professional’s heart is to let them know you’ve just purchased another tool. Without them. Again.
As a marketing operations professional, I witnessed countless application purchases made because of promises that were never delivered. Slick demos and a lack of knowledge about system requirements on the part of the buyer made for a hot mess more often than not.
Include your marketing ops professional in toolset discussions before you make a purchase. Let them hold requirements gathering sessions and figure out which features are a must-have and what people can live without. Including them on discovery calls also allows them to ask critical questions the rest of the team wouldn’t know to ask about integrations, usability, and reporting options.
Marketing management must change its mindset about tool acquisition. If you want to have the information needed to make the right decisions, you must prioritize your budget to acquire tools that can deliver a good visual and the data to prove your campaign works. This means tying early funnel and in-flight opportunity marketing activity to sales data.
Teach Your Team How To Fish
Marketing operations professionals thrive on delivering key insights and fine-tuning processes that drive real change. Unfortunately, a great deal of our time is dedicated to trying to make the tech stack work properly, cleaning up bad data, and answering one-off questions about individual campaign performance.
Now seems like the perfect time to remind you that marketing ops turnover is a big problem. Check out Sara McNamara’s great insights into why.
Empower your entire team to operate efficiently by:
Return on investment visibility should be a top priority, especially given our current circumstances. But even if you don’t have the time or budget for tool integration, there are still insights that can be gleaned from the systems already in place.
Data-Driven Decision Making Done Right
Right now we’re witnessing one of the most drastic about-faces in economic memory. I’ve watched companies slash budgets, furlough personnel, and produce copious amounts of poorly developed content to compensate for a drop in website volume and sales.
Only 35% of marketers can quantitatively prove the impact of their efforts. In an age when ROI is more critical than ever, this is unacceptable.
I’m not suggesting integrated technical stacks and on-demand reporting will be easy. It takes a lot of research to find the right technology. It requires an investment in the right talent. It takes time to switch the average marketer mindset and train people to know what to look for when in order to optimize their campaigns for revenue production.
The decline in the perception of marketing analytics' impact on sales production isn’t universal. Multi-billion dollar companies invest a higher portion of their budget on analytics and see a bigger benefit.
Start with leading indicators provided in the systems your marketers already use.
Don't take common knowledge for granted. For example, ensure your digital advertising team knows how to access insights and interpret them. Discuss how email metrics such as open rates are tied to subject line effectiveness or formatting choices and click-through rates correlate to content.
Take the time to understand your ICP and buyer demographics.
Set up a monthly brown bag to discuss a best practice and encourage people to attend webinars and user groups hosted by experts in their field.
Demanding a weekly reporting cadence will empower your team to make the right decisions about their campaigns earlier, prove marketing’s value to the company with greater clarity, and allow you to maximize your ROI.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.