Two kinds of MO groups exist today – those who are innovating and growing and those who are regressing. Since I’ve written extensively about the first group, let’s focus here on the second group – the Regressors. Because of my age (ahem), I had a front-row seat to the world of legacy systems and IT giving way to a SAS world. I know first-hand all the old bad habits from the legacy IT era. What is disturbing is seeing many of these same legacy IT behaviors in today’s modern MO organizations. This article details what to look for and how to stop MO regression.
There are three major regressive characteristics that I am observing in MO groups:
- Building fiefdoms versus a democracy
- Working from tech-centric versus business-centric principles
- Measuring activity vs results (impact on business)
Building a Fiefdom Versus a Democracy
Legacy IT organizations were famous for building fiefdoms or domains in which they had almost total control. These fiefdoms were often walled off from other parts of the organization and if you wanted to do business with the fiefdom, it was their way or the highway. For any other part of the company, trying to work with IT was a nightmare. IT spoke a different language, had a different set of rules and you never really knew what they were doing.
I most often see these fiefdoms when the MO group reports to IT, not to marketing. IT groups seem to still carry some of these legacy IT behaviors. I recently observed this in a tech company. The MO group was built from the ground-up in the IT group. The MO group grew rapidly and in the IT incubator environment, became too much like legacy IT. In working with the marketing organization, they spoke a different language, had a set of rules hard for marketing to follow and went rogue more than once. As a result, marketing was very unhappy with the partnership and demanded changes.
If any of these characteristics sound like your MO group, it’s time to take a look at changing this set of behaviors. Today’s innovative MO organizations believe in “democratizing technology to drive business results.” With this as their battle cry, you will see a very different set of behaviors. For example, the innovative MO organization believes that technology is a way of life and their job is to make it like an app. You don’t think twice about downloading and using an app to improve something in your life or in your work. The same applies to how the MO group integrates technology into the day-to-day for marketing. It should not be a siloed expert domain, but a domain in which all participate for achieving an intended result. This type of MO organization collaborates with all parts of the organization and like any good service organization, works hard to institute collaborative and agile processes. They work to create a common language and they are always 100% transparent.
Working from Tech-Centric Versus a Business-Centric Principles
With the explosive growth in marketing technology, being tech-centric versus business-centric is a fine balancing act for today’s MO organization. Let’s look at past IT history for lessons learned that we might apply. One of the most dominant and damning characteristics of legacy IT organizations was their lack of business understanding. Millions of dollars have been wasted on IT projects because IT did not understand enough about the business to build, buy and/or integrate systems to respond to the needs of the business. It was this lack of business context that actually catapulted the rise in SAS systems and business-line ownership versus IT ownership.
The same thing happened with marketing technology. In the early days of this market, IT was the first place to go when marketing needed to buy, integrate and manage technology. Vendors got smart and began offering SAS solutions that could be easily managed by the line-of-business. These solutions resonated deeply with marketing because they were having to deal with IT who understood next to nothing about marketing. It made sense for marketing to manage their own MarTech stack since they were building their technical acumen as it applied to the business of marketing.
The problem for some MO organizations was as they grew their technical acumen, their business and marketing understanding did not grow as well. In some cases, it regressed. Think about it. The usual way an MO group comes into being is a marketer begins working with technology – like marketing automation. As the need for more people rises, more people are added to the MO function and these people are often pulled from marketing. Now you have a MO group that also has practical marketing experience. For the next level of growth and maturity, the talent challenge is enormous. It is very difficult to find those unicorns. So, MO leaders began hiring people with no marketing experience. This tipped the team back to being tech-centric.
Every MO organization has to maintain a strict discipline of the unicorn. This discipline involves continuous improvement in technical acumen, marketing knowledge and business context. This is perhaps the biggest challenge for the MO leader.
Measuring Activity Versus Results
Lack of financial accountability is a defining characteristic of legacy IT organizations. Measuring, monitoring and reporting activities or milestones represented how IT was managed. In addition, IT exhibited an attitude of “we’ll get there when we can.” There always seemed to be an excuse for the inconsistency and lack of transparency. This was widely accepted behavior because IT ran a fiefdom and they were the only experts.
As I have worked with many MO organizations over the last few years, I am dismayed at the lack of financial accountability. What I see is MO leadership claiming to be the support mechanism for marketing to achieve stated goals, but not having a financial goal or an ROI amongst the group. This is legacy IT thinking and if these MO leaders would step up and take a number of some kind, they would run the business differently.
I do know MO leaders who have a number and they do run MO differently. Just think about it. If MO is a support type of organization, how do you determine where to apply your time and resources? With a “make everybody happy” mentality, you are not optimizing the powerful set of resources at your disposal.
I have the battle scars from the old days of legacy IT and from the transition from legacy to SAS. Watching the power plays of legacy IT and how it acted as a detriment to the business, I am sensitive to seeing these behaviors in today’s modern MO organization. It’s hard to be a marketer today and it’s hard to be the MO organization. From multiple, often competing initiatives, to the growth in number and sophistication of technologies to changes in customer behavior and expectations, the challenges are intense. However, what makes it so exciting to be a marketer today is that we are all re-writing the role of marketing in the B2B world. MO is the engine for the change so make sure you are not repeating the bad habits of the past. Avoid a MO relapse by applying lessons learned – Your future success depends on it.