Process — A “Four Letter” Word to Many. When is it Needed for the B2B Marketing Function and How Much is Too Much?
In organizations made up of doers and fast-moving sales teams, executives are often pained by the concept of “process” for fear it will slow them down. Savvy business people understand the need to step out of the weeds once in a while but the word “process” often seems scary, as it may imply something “daunting and rigorous that achieves little benefit”.
In the context of the Marketing function, there can be a tendency for extremes. Either no process at all or too much, for example…
No process scenarios:
- Salesperson: “We need a video, how long will it take to produce it?”
- Marketer: “That depends. What’s the video for, what is the message, why a video vs. another tactic? Tell me more about what you want to achieve.”
- Salesperson: “I don’t know, we simply decided we need a video because everyone is doing them and videos are cool. Can’t you just go with the flow and get started on it instead of asking all these questions?”
- Executive: “We need the marketing team to generate leads — here are some ideas the sales team has come up with, please work with them to execute.”
- Marketer: “Uh, do I get a say in what those tactics might be and/or whether they’re the best ones? Do they have a strategy I can work from? Can we at least have a conversation…and maybe develop a plan together?”
Over-the-top process scenario:
- Marketer: “In order to develop a marketing plan I need you to complete these 5 documents, attend these 10 meetings, review and comment on these other 5 documents, and wait for everything to align perfectly before execution can happen”.
- Sales team and/or executive: ”Wow, painful. And this is going to help me how? You’re not helping; please get out of the way so we can get something done.”
So where’s the balance?
As it relates to general marketing and messaging strategy, the opportunity is getting to a smart approach and rationale based on meaningful insights, not to get caught up in process for process sake. Finding the balance between entrepreneurial spirit, collaboration and strategic approach — and building on it rather than following a long drawn-out process that delays action — seems the key in fast-moving organizations. Although it still requires conversation and some time commitment to “think” and talk about the “why”.
How can we reduce detailed and expensive processes?
Here are some examples for simplifying key marketing processes (particularly in fast-paced organizations with few resources and tight budgets):
1. Process to develop brand positioning and messaging:
- Many organizations invest large amounts in research, brainstorming discussions, team off-sites and sophisticated frameworks to get to their true differentiation and brand positioning. However, some companies may not have the time or inclination for a long and expensive approach. The good news — if a decision is made to at least attack positioning in a strategic way, that is a critical step. Some type of process is needed to get to the story, but it can be simplified. The most significant step is this thought: “Yes we need to move quickly, but at a minimum we are committed to smart and thoughtful conversations, and a philosophy to put the clients’ needs and mindset at the center of those conversations.”
- Forgetting “process”, a company should commit to if nothing else, a few meaningful client insights — whether from industry research, the sales team, client and prospect interviews, online surveys or client intel captured from the onboarding process (e.g. “why did you choose us, why are we different?”). A few insights from which to frame an internal conversation helps the starting place.
- It may help to use a facilitator for internal conversations from which conclusions are made, to ensure the team “comes at it” from the client/prospect perspective. The facilitator can also play devil’s advocate to ensure conclusions are thoughtful and smart.
2. Process to develop content:
- “We have our positioning and story; now what content do we want to produce?” Again, there are sophisticated methods for mapping out a strategic and detailed content strategy. When speed is of the essence and resources/budget are scarce, the process can be as simple as a few thoughtful conversations about the insights one does have. The key is to have an end goal and an effective facilitator that ensures the conversation: 1) centers on at least a few strategic concepts, and 2) results in action everyone feels good about. One can build from there.
3. Process to develop campaigns:
- Campaigns often require integration of multiple tactics in a certain timeframe, oversight of many moving parts, and possibly data integration and automation (e.g. for lead gen and nurturing); therefore process can in fact become critical. That doesn’t mean it needs to be daunting or that each piece must work in full force immediately. A reasonable approach is that someone be accountable for connecting the dots, staying on top of detail, and facilitating conversations to ensure everyone understands what’s going on and where there is opportunity for improvement. In this case it is essential to trust the person responsible and follow whatever process they think necessary, and to listen and be available when/if they raise issues or recommend improvements.
A note on Creative Briefs:
- Marketing teams or agencies often need a Marketing Requirements Document (MRD) or Creative Brief before moving forward on a campaign or tactic. This “process” overwhelms many, as it is extremely time-consuming to document the details often required. But again, there is a balance that can be struck. A Brief is often helpful as the documented “Marketing Bible” from which all participants and stakeholders march, and it creates a paper trail that may come in handy (e.g. if someone leaves or as a training tool for new hires/vendors).
- The pain comes when a busy exec or team leader is required to draft an in-depth document, as it’s extremely time-consuming and can feel like a waste of their time. Ensuring someone documents strategic inputs and intel on behalf of the entire team real-time can reduce the workload. The MRD or Brief can easily be derived by recording and scribing meetings, compiling nuggets from strategic documentation, and talking to stakeholders face-to-face about their opinion. If one feels a written Brief is a critical process, ease the pain by minimizing the time commitment of key stakeholders when drafting it.
The point is: The word “process” does not have to mean long drawn-out tasks that delay action. A process can be a conversation, and an agreement to take action from smart decisions or ideas that come out of it. Do not let the word scare you, and if someone in your organization requires process for process sake, push back — don’t be afraid of dialogue about process (or the lack thereof) — force balance on what’s required to get the best result (i.e. forget about that “four letter” word; just use common sense).