The Elements of Marketing Operational Excellence, Part I: A Strategy-Based and Goal-Driven Planning Approach

In a recent blog post, we discussed the impact of ineffective marketing leadership execution. But if the impact of ineffective marketing leadership execution is so high, why don’t more people try to solve the problem? In most cases, the issue is not a lack of effort, but the lack of all of the core elements required for operational excellence.

When these elements are combined, a marketing organization can get much closer to its true potential. A single missing component can throw everything in the entire system off. The marketing leader in an organization needs to operate like the conductor of an orchestra, the NASA mission commander, or even a classroom teacher in charge of wrangling a bunch of adolescents.

These organizations and systems all require the following:

  • A strategy-based and goal-driven planning approach
  • A complete system view
  • A process for measurement, refinement and optimization
  • The discipline to connect all activities to outcomes
  • A culture of excellence

In this post, we explore the first of these five elements in detail.

A Strategy-Based and Goal-Driven Planning Approach

For most of us, defining and aligning the extended team on your goals is one of the first steps in the marketing planning process. There are some instances where there are prerequisites to this step. For example, if you are starting a business or going through a significant change, you would start by understanding and documenting the market, customers, messages, etc.

Defining a core set of goals, metrics, targets, and milestones

In order to describe your plan at the right level of detail, we recommend that you define four to six objectives for the marketing organization. You need enough goals to comprehensively define what success means, and enough detail in each of the goals so there is absolutely no doubt about the achievement.

A properly-defined goal includes the following structural elements:

A descriptive title. The title of the goal should provide a clear definition of success itself, for instance: “Create $10 million of marketing generated pipeline in 2020,” or “Enter the French market and close at least one customer by the end of Q2.”

Metrics. The metrics are the tools that you will use to measure success.  For example: marketing-generated pipeline, sales qualified leads (SQLs), new logo acquisition, and annual recurring revenue (ARR).

Targets. Metrics alone don’t tell you much. You also need to define what measurement you will achieve.  For example, if the metric is a marketing-generated pipeline, the target could be $25 million.

Milestones. In some cases, you need to define milestones to make sure that you are on track to achieve your targets. Using the example above of $25 million in pipeline, you could define quarterly objectives of $4 million, $8 million, $15 million, and $25 million to reflect the growth and seasonality that you would expect along the way.

Getting aligned with your strategy

The term “strategy” is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in business. That’s a bad combination.

In its simplest form, a strategy is an approach that you choose to attempt to achieve your objectives. For example, if your goal is to climb a mountain, you can choose a meandering trail that is longer, but has a shallower incline, or you can choose to scramble up the steep, sheer face. Both paths will lead to the same goal, but they might involve different tactics and equipment. The sheer face could require ropes and other safety equipment, while the meandering trail might require food, more water, and even sleeping gear if it takes you longer than a single day to achieve your objective. To plan your hike, you need to choose your strategy in advance. And if you are hiking with a group, all of the members need to be aligned on your strategy.

A marketing strategy follows the same rules. If your primary objective is adding $25 million of new pipeline, there are many strategies you can choose to achieve the goal. And while you can define strategies at all levels (for example a campaign strategy, or even a strategy for a landing page), you need to align your team with your overall marketing strategy.

Successful marketing organizations have a well-aligned top-level marketing strategy. HubSpot, the CRM software company, is a great example of a company that was built on a strategy that they coined as “inbound marketing”—or what would be generically called thought leadership and content marketing. Professional services like law or accounting firms often use a combination of branding and client hospitality. By inviting their clients to sponsored events, activities, and conferences, they can create opportunities for their partners to have one-on-one conversations with prospective clients.

If you sell a low-cost consumer product, you might be successful by using the HubSpot strategy, but the relatively low-value customer relationships would not justify the client hospitality approach used by a large public accounting firm.

Choosing your strategy and aligning your team on it is incredibly important. To go back to the mountain climbing example, if you chose to take the long meandering trail without aligning with everyone, you may have team members who don’t have enough water or a sleeping bag.

Defining the constraints for your plan

Because we all operate in the real world, we have to plan for existing conditions. For example, you probably have profitability goals for your business that will define your budget envelope. You may have existing commitments as you enter the new year including retainers, contracted events, software contracts, and lease agreements.

Along with these commitments, you need to understand your organizational capabilities. If you want to move from a digital demand model to a thought leadership model, you may need to hire new people or plan for some additional contract resources.

Build thematic campaigns aligned with the metrics in the goals

Armed with a set of goals, aligned on a strategy, and with your constraints in the plan, the next step is to build a set of thematic campaigns that are designed to achieve your objectives.

The term “campaign” is also overused in marketing these days, which can make it difficult to build campaigns at the right level. One good test is to see if you can align the metrics for your campaign with the metrics for your goals. If your goal in question is to grow pipeline, the metric is pipeline created. If your “campaign” is designed to generate leads, clicks, views, or registrations, then it probably isn’t a campaign. In this case, it is a tactic that could be part of a broader campaign. If you bundle together the lead generation tactics with a nurturing effort, the combined effort can be measured in pipeline contribution.

If your campaigns are aligned with your goal metrics, you can easily build a capacity plan to achieve your objectives. Each campaign should also have a campaign manager who is accountable for delivering on the results.

A campaign plan designed to achieve your pipeline objectives might look like this:

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 9.40.46 AM

In the case above, the campaign plan is built to deliver 112% of the target for pipeline throughout the year. Each campaign has a budget and should also have a campaign manager who is accountable for delivering on both the budget target and the results.

Each campaign may contain many underlying tactics that are required to achieve the results. The campaign manager is responsible for making sure that the tactics are delivering the interim results required for their target overall, but they are ultimately responsible for delivering against a common set of objectives that can be normalized across the plan.

Stay tuned for more detail on the next element of marketing operational excellence: a complete system view.

For more on Planful, learn more about our marketing planning software.


Peter Mahoney
Peter Mahoney is the former CEO of Plannuh, a marketing performance management software.  Peter has degrees in Physics and Computer Science and studied Latin for 7 years, and then showed up in the wrong room one day and ended up in marketing.  In his 30+ year career, Peter has built products and led marketing for startups and for multi-billion dollar public companies.  You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.