Why alignment matters for Marketing Operations (and how to get there): Post 2 (of 6) in our MOPs Maturity Benchmarking Series

By Chuck Leddy

See post 1 in our MOPs Maturity Benchmarking series: The evolving, foundational role of Marketing Operations: Post 1 (of 6)

Everyone in marketing operations understands, at least conceptually, the need to align the marketing function around the strategy of the entire organization, which also means connecting what marketing does to revenues that flow throughout the company. “It all comes back to the core purpose of Marketing Operations, which is making marketing more effective and efficient,” says Sojourn Solutions managing partner Rebecca Le Grange. “That effectiveness is going to be measured as revenue generation. The engine of revenue is sales and marketing, which need to be aligned.” 

But knowing isn’t the same as doing. Moving from concept to actual practice in order to gain strategic and revenue-stream alignment is far more difficult. As our new “2019 Marketing Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report” explains, “alignment frays as it plays out in practice. In the real world, most companies are challenged to overcome traditional boundaries between divisions, tame their data and shepherd marketing into the era of customer experience led growth.” Too often, MOPs and marketing are either partially or completely disconnected from revenue-impacting functions across the business.

Alignment: Too often lacking in practice

Our MOPs Maturity report shows a clear correlation between the level of strategic/functional alignment within an organization and the organization’s overall success. This should come as no surprise, since alignment is largely about connecting the dots between what marketing does and the revenues created by those marketing activities, which flow across the business. When MOPs and marketers gain this visibility into revenues and ROI, they have the capacity to leverage data to gain insight (at both the tactical and strategic levels) into what’s working and what’s not working, and can iterate their way to success. 

Without alignment, the proverbial dots never get connected and lessons don’t get learned from data. Once marketing hands over generated leads to sales or other departments, it doesn’t know what happens next. Are those leads converted into revenues, and how much revenue? Non-aligned organizations are like a soccer (“football” in the UK) team where once a player passes the ball to another player, she can’t see what happens next. Does the player receiving the ball score a goal or lose the ball? Is the team/organization winning the game or losing? Where alignment is lacking, the answers to these crucial questions go unanswered. Without alignment, nobody sees the ball moving across the field and nobody knows how the team is performing. No coach would allow this confusion, yet it’s happening within many organizations daily. 

Alignment: Much “room for improvement”

Our new MOPs report reveals massive room for improvement regarding even basic levels of alignment between marketing and revenue-related outcomes. For instance, even among high-performing companies, only 40% of marketing leaders strongly agree that “our marketing is aligned to key business outcomes, such as total revenue contribution from marketing, market share or customer lifetime value.” Among all other companies (the mainstream), less than half that number, a woeful 16%, of marketing leaders strongly agreed that they have such alignment to revenues. So there’s clearly a big gap between the full alignment all marketing professionals aspire to and the actual levels of alignment they have.

When it comes to the all-important alignment between marketing and sales, results from our MOPs Maturity Benchmarking report are even more head-scratching. Among top-performing companies, just 39% of marketing leaders describe marketing and sales as “fully” aligned on financial objectives, organizational structure and customer success. Among mainstream companies, a mere 12% of marketing leaders describe marketing as fully aligned with sales. Even more, 20%, admit they’re not aligned with sales in any way! Houston, we have a problem (with alignment).

Alignment: Overcoming the major roadblocks

The solution to reaching greater alignment is not easily-achieved, but fairly clear: multiple silos around department structures, individual and group mindsets, silo’d data management processes, and beyond need to be broken down. Regarding departmental silos, it starts with how goals are defined for each department: these goals should be aligned with revenue outcomes as much as possible. “If the goals of key departments and teams are not similar, then they’ll naturally go off in different directions chasing them. So aligning the goals between and among key departments/teams can help align their direction too,” says Le Grange. Departments should be focusing on similar goals around revenues and overall customer centricity/experience.

Challenges also arise when departments lack structures to support cross-functional communication. It takes strategic planning and intentionality from top leadership to put these alignment-supporting communication structures in place. “Alignment just doesn’t happen organically or by accident,” says Le Grange, “but as part of a strategic planning process intentionally driven from above. Teams are not going to ‘accidentally’ start talking together or working across functions.” Putting formalized communication structures in place helps, as does collaborative, cross-functional mindsets at the individual level.  “Individuals within the organization have to be willing to work across functions, to make that phone call or walk across the hallway to talk to somebody in a different department. That alignment mindset obviously has to happen at the department leadership level and above as well,” explains Le Grange.

Even the language used is important for supporting alignment, especially around what gets measured/KPIs. Marketing professionals have not always spoken in terms that a salesperson would understand, which is around pure revenue terms and key financial metrics used across the enterprise. “A salesperson may not know, or even care about, what impressions or click-through-rates are,” explains Le Grange. “The Sales team is being tasked with closing a certain amount of business per quarter, so marketers should speak to that in order to develop alignment.” Using terminology only relevant to marketing professionals can result in marketer’s losing respect and credibility outside their functional silo, which is an alignment killer. Marketing professionals should be seeking to tailor their language and metrics to the shared needs (and understandings) of other departments they’re aligning with.

While a widely understood imperative, alignment isn’t as widespread or effective in practice as it should be, and this negatively impacts MOPs, as our report reveals. The roadblocks to effective alignment are large: the remedies include intentional communication structures, collaborative mindsets, and a shared language around revenues and customers. Alignment-driving solutions could include cross-functional cadence meetings to drive necessary conversation about shared metrics and pipeline. Marketing and sales professionals should also be encouraged to shadow each other’s roles for a time (even half a day builds empathy for what their colleagues are up against). If MOPs is to effectively connect the dots from marketing activities to revenues generated, roadblocks to alignment must be removed. What’s at stake is the credibility and quality of the entire marketing function.

To learn more, download our 2019 Marketing Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report. Also check out our related webinar, where we discussed the 7 key findings from our report with Econsultancy’s Stefan Tornquist, SVP Research and Content Strategy.

Note: The third post (of six) in our MOPs Maturity Benchmarking series will focus on what skills and capacities effective MOPs leaders and teams need to drive success, and how that needed talent can be recruited, developed, and optimally deployed.