July 15, 2021
Managing marketing operations is no small feat. Successfully ensuring efficiency across four timezones is even harder. Most companies struggle to scale out their marketing operations, especially when they’re attempting to build a marketing system that facilitates collaboration among many different units around the globe. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of trial and error before you can find a winning system.
I’d like to tell you exactly how we now succeed in delivering world-class marketing, globally.
But first, let’s talk about the trials and tribulations we navigated before crafting a successful model…
Our original marketing operations model consisted of one person — a “Hero,” if you will. But the “Hero Model” wasn’t efficient enough in terms of manpower or scalability. There was too much information for a single person process and disseminate, and they were responsible for literally every aspect of each client relationship.
It was exhausting.
As an attempt at developing a more agile marketing model, we tried adding additional roles to the mix: one analyst per every two strategists. This gave the marketing operations analysts more resources so they could service clients more efficiently. Their job was to optimize the running of marketing campaigns and report on them.
Still, this solution was not scalable, nor was it efficient enough. Instead of one person handling all the clients, we essentially had one-and-a-half people working on multiple clients at a time. Again, people were getting burned out and tired. We even lost some staff, and the fact that we devoted 50% more resources to each account did not solve our issues.
We thought the process might better if we cut our teams up into pieces, as this would make it is easier to hire new staff for specialized roles instead of hiring for a broad range of skills.
While businesses are based on people, the people that build businesses base their work on the processes, tools, goals, and frameworks that are given to them. We now understand that every business must secure its future by being able to scale up and replace people that leave so that the day-to-day marketing and sales operations are as unaffected as possible.
When searching for ways to resolve our issues, we took inspiration from the structure of Spotify’s developer teams. Instead of cross-functional teams, each team is responsible for a different function and only consist of the staff necessary to make that function happen. This way, they are small, agile and self-governing.
Rather than being told what to do, each digital marketing team was given a goal and a range of responsibilities. They were allowed to figure out the best way to approach each challenge themselves — and this is where the magic happens.
Nobody knows how to do their job better than the people who spend every day doing it. It’s almost impossible for the ideas, processes, and innovations that occur at this level to be conceived in any other way.
Once new processes and ideas were tested and proven to work, they would then be shared with other self-managing teams, like bees carrying pollen from one flower to another. So, too, would the small, self-managed teams share best practices with each other. This is how they would scale the benefits of a single team throughout the entire organization.
We also focused on creating specialized roles for everyone one of our teams. Just like in an operating room, where every doctor present is responsible for a different aspect of the procedure, in our new marketing operations model, we made one marketing team member responsible for each aspect of the entire relationship with the client.
Four teams evolved for this “Doctor Model”:
The Growth Strategist is responsible for managing the overarching growth strategy of the client’s growth goals and the account relationship.
They translate client goals into achievable and measurable targets and act as the liaison between Ladder’s operations and the client’s internal team. They’re a unique blend of senior technical marketers, proven strategists, and project managers.
The Growth Planner is responsible for mapping out the marketing plan and determining which tactics are necessary to reach client goals.
They identify the best channels to use, which growth tactics are necessary at which funnel level, who the client’s audiences are, and which creative routes will be the best in terms of moving the needle on the client’s KPIs. For example, the client may want to increase their eCommerce revenue, generate more B2B leads, or get more registrations for their app or software.
The growth planner must justify each tactic with a hypothesis, which we then validate via the data we acquire through experimentation. Finally, after the tactic is accepted by the client, we brief our creative teams who build it out.
*Bonus Resource: How to Forecast Performance for Your Marketing Campaigns
The name says it all, really. The Builder builds all growth tactics to the highest standard of quality.
They ensure the campaign is geared towards the right goal, targeting the right audiences with the right message. The Builder is responsible for creative and content marketing materials, and everything they do is tracked through our internal marketing record/testing system. If we don’t have the right data on what is performing and what isn’t, then we can’t make informed decisions on what to turn off, what to scale, and what to build upon for future tactics.
The Growth Analyst holds all the clients’ budgets in a firm grip to ensure they are being spent in the best possible manner. In short, the operations analyst is responsible for measuring ROI.
The client’s budget cannot be overspent, nor can it be underspent. By searching for clues in the client’s data for peaks and troughs in performance, the analyst makes recommendations about which campaigns to turn off or scale down and which campaigns to scale up.
Using advanced analysis, the analyst performs frequent health checks on client marketing campaigns so the team can quickly react to changes in performance. They build out the analysis of all channels through proper data visualization and present weekly and monthly reports for the client and the team.
Each multidisciplinary marketing team has support from our in-house graphic designers, copywriters, front-end developers, analytics team, data scientists, and custom machine-learning technology. This support enables us to deliver end-to-end growth marketing services and bespoke solutions to our clients’ challenges.
We don’t just use our testing methodology with clients alone. We use it within Ladder so that we never stop learning and improving the efficiency, execution, and management of our organization.
First, we introduced the Doctor Model (v1.0) on a small scale to determine if it worked for our internal marketing strategy. At that point, we also realized that companies are often attracted to Ladder because we deliver full-funnel and multi-channel marketing strategies and execution. We couldn’t take that away from them entirely, so we came up with a cross-training solution.
Every Ladder team member was given the ability to get tasks and context from a different queue. This enabled them to keep expanding their marketing skills and gain a broader context of the entire relationship each client has with Ladder, adding their contributions to those relationships based on their unique experience.
The small-scale rollout was a success, and we were positive about the idea of testing this model in the entire agency. We divided the entire agency into teams, each of which was supposed to handle all the clients on their level.
This is where things hit some turbulence…
Team members started to become overwhelmed by the amount of work they had — even though the plan was to produce the contrary: more marketing automation and efficiency to give them more time for learning and growth.
On top of that, the teams felt like they were disconnected from their clients. Instead of taking an individual approach to each client, client attention had to contend with a constant stream of tasks. The team responsible for developing tactical plans was the only one that had knowledge of the clients’ context.
The resources and time needed to build premium campaigns became the biggest bottleneck in the agency.
After a month, we investigated the model up close and found numerous issues. The teams gave us feedback, and we quickly learned that our new model was not an optimal way of working.
Something had to be done — this model was not sustainable, and client satisfaction is our critical to our brand mission. So, again we went back to the drawing board to put together either a new operations model – an upgraded version of the Doctor Model that would improve our organizational alignment.
After conducting research into other models, holding a considerable number of team interviews, and analyzing different industries, we came up with the Doctor Model version 2.0. We presented it to the team to get their thoughts before rolling it out. We wanted to be able to adjust it accordingly to the teams’ needs.
We also considered all the client and management expectations, but this time, we took a “team-first” approach to our model. After all, if the team is not doing what they think is most effective, if they don’t believe in what they do, the rest is going to go badly, or at least average.
Becoming an average growth agency is not good enough. We aim to be the best in the world.
All the research, interviews, and brainstorming brought us to the general conclusion that each individual needed more context on the clients they each worked on. We also needed a clear division of responsibilities.
So, we decided to add another layer to the Doctor Model on top of the Growth Strategist, Growth Planner, Builder, and Growth Analyst. This layer was a division into pods… Team 1, Team 2, Team 3 and Team 4. Each team/pod was given one Planner, one Builder and one Analyst (or Optimizer), as well as a limited number of Strategists — ideally one or two.
Each team was given free rein in terms of the methods they used to achieve client goals. But every method had to drive growth using the scientific, test-driven approach to marketing that distinguishes Ladder from other agencies.
Once some best practices were born, we spread them from the bottom-up, just like the cross-pollination patterns in Spotify’s developer teams. This has become a foundation for our self-managing structure of goals, general processes, resources, and training.
And we’ve since been awarded by Clutch and Design rush for our marketing prowess and client satisfaction. 🙂
As a marketing operations manager, I strongly believe that 99% of problems can be solved through either more training, more resources, or process re-engineering.
*Bonus Resource: Operations Management: Find Points Of Leverage For Maximum Growth
We rolled this model out with the team aware of the limitations of the first version and the needs we had to satisfy in order to improve it. Instead of the management forcing their will down on the team, we finally had a team effort and a bottom-up initiative.
The overall reaction was much more positive than in the previous version, and so were the results. Both efficiency and quality have dramatically improved ever since.
We had to adjust our entire technology infrastructure, such as the project management software we use (Asana) and the lines of communication between Strategists and other teams, to work with the new model. But it was only a matter of time before we identified best practices. We eventually optimized our infrastructure to be even more efficient and friendly to the teams.
Now, they get to do cool things, gain experience, and learn a lot on the job.
The next iteration of the Doctor Model v2.0 was the introduction of team leaders, who take on the role of mid-management. This is something that’s never been introduced in Ladder history.
Their roles are to be the project managers of each operational team, the line managers of their team’s members, and the first escalation point for their teammates. They are also the link between the teams and senior management.
Once the team leaders were appointed, we started receiving feedback that project management was taking up a significant portion of their day and they weren’t always able to finish their work on time. The simplest idea to fix this was to add a 4th member to each operational team, specializing in building and marketing technology.
This is the current structure of our regular, full-time marketing operations teams. 🙂
We’re now experimenting with adding interns who could help with the simple tasks and at the same time grow into the specialist roles in current or future. We’re in the early stages of this experiment, however, it’s looking like another success as several have gone on to become specialists at Ladder (and we’re on the lookout for more interns)
One important practice that we’ve kept alive ever since we introduced the original Doctor Model is a weekly call for every member of the build/optimize and planning queue. The reasoning behind this is the same as it is for our team leader meetings: cross-pollination. We want to share best practices and help each other find more efficient ways to do our jobs.
This way, we are growing both vertically and horizontally.
Career progression is a crucial factor for any organization.
When someone joins a company, they typically ask themselves questions like, “how can I grow in this company? What is there for me to achieve? How will I be rewarded for my sales efforts and knowledge advancements?”
Our most recent initiative is developing career progression paths within each queue. The general idea is that each stage is related to achieving specific skills and proving them with output. The result is a promotion.
Like any respected organization, we reward the advancement of technical and soft skills through promotions and salary reviews. This, in turn, motivates our talent to continue learning and expanding their marketing capability.
We currently have 4 operational teams across 4 timezones (3+ countries) and are working with more than 35 clients worldwide. We’ve given a great deal of thought to which direction we want our teams to expand, and we believe the best way to scale Ladder is to do so horizontally, by building new teams instead of adding more resources to existing ones.
Each team remains a small, self-managing unit that follows our tried and tested framework. This is the most effective way of building up an agile marketing organization. New teams are most likely to succeed if they are led by someone who knows the nuts and bolts of Ladder’s technology, marketing automation tools, frameworks, and marketing processes. That said, new teams begin with smaller clients who belong to them, then they continue to grow and work their way up to larger clients.
Growing an organization is a never-ending process, which is why the work you do on your marketing operations model should also be never-ending. There is always an opportunity or improvement to be made so you can gain a competitive advantage.
Continue to talk to your teams and your clients’ marketing departments. Research not only what other agencies and sales teams are doing with their operations and marketing efforts, but also how marketing operations are handled in other industries (like we did with Spotify). From experience, I can say that the best ideas are often found in the least obvious places.
Continue to challenge your model and test its limits before rolling it out company-wide. Find out what breaks it. This will help you avoid pain in the future and having to rebuild your model after it has already broken.
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