An all too common issue we hear from business leaders sounds something like this, “I just don’t know if my marketing is working.” This can mean anything from having limited confidence that advertising is set up correctly to incomplete visibility into the scope of marketing activities, how those activities are performing, and if the spend is even worth it.
This is where marketing operations audits come in. At their core, marketing operations audits uncover critical elements in your marketing infrastructure that are impeding conversions, optimization opportunities, and overall performance visibility. While they can be fairly simple or extremely robust, marketing ops audits center around one clear goal: finding the holes in your marketing foundations that are keeping you back from success and making smarter business decisions.
What Is Marketing Operations
Marketing operations is the practice of overseeing all components of a business’s lead generation, customer database, marketing automation, and metrics tracking capabilities. As both a strategic and tactical function, marketing operations involves not just ensuring that leads and customers are flowing into the business but that the right types of individuals are coming in and that the processes in place allow for complete performance visibility.
With strong marketing operations in place, you’ll enjoy a robust and qualified set of leads and customers as well as the systems in to optimize activities, effectively report on marketing performance, and determine the business impacts of marketing spend.
What A Marketing Operations Audit Reveals
As you’ll see further below, a marketing operations audit pokes and prods at different components of your marketing systems, tools, and databases to see how well (or not well) they are set up. While the audit itself is highly tactical, the end results will let you answer five strategic, business-oriented questions:
Do I have the right tools and processes in place to improve lead and customer conversions?
Am I collecting actionable data about my prospects and leads?
Do I have a process to effectively and regularly report out on marketing performance?
Does my sales team have the information they need to effectively work-down leads?
Is my marketing team following consistent, agreed-upon processes?
Said another way, a marketing operations audit is the first step to knowing if you have a well-oiled marketing machine primed to generate leads.
One key thing to keep in mind: Marketing operations audits do not fix underlying issues! Rather, they are key for identifying if issues are present in the first place and knowing that additional work is needed to create smoother back-end operations.
What Marketing Operations Audits Should Include
Audits can span the gamut from fairly straightforward to extremely complex, all based on the maturity of a business’s marketing infrastructure and what the business hopes to achieve in the short- and mid-term. Regardless, you’ll generally see audits hit on a few key areas.
Life Stage & Lead Score Conventions
While many think of marketing operations audits as purely digital, they should include a review of life stage and lead scoring conventions. Life stages refer to the necessary steps a lead must pass through to become a customer. Because leads at different maturity stages need different pieces of information to drive them closer to a conversion, knowing their life stage (and having black and white definitions that define each life stage) are critical for knowing how best to nurture each individual.
In the same vein is lead score, a numeric representation of how likely a prospect is to convert. Knowing what defines a good lead helps teams proactively reach out to opportunities that haven’t yet requested information, but likely will. Relatedly, they’ll help your team identify prospects that are less qualified and may warrant less attention. An audit will look at your lead score process to check if it’s present and, if so, to see if it aligns with data about how leads are actually converting.
While both of these are a bit more common in B2B settings, you’ll certainly see some elements of this in longer sales-cycle B2C businesses too.
Marketing Attribution Conventions
A classic problem companies come across is not knowing if their marketing activities and spend are working. This is especially problematic in long lead-cycle businesses since many 3rd party ad platforms will stop tracking conversions after 30 days.
To get around this, you can use something called UTM codes which are pieces of information embedded in links to your site. They can help you track people that clicked from ads, emails, social media, and any other activities you may have running. However, being able to “read” these codes and actually track who came from which marketing activities requires crystal clear code naming conventions. Clean codes let you aggregate and report on specific activities as well as look at each activity’s outcome relative to total spend. An audit will review your naming conventions to ensure they are consistent and meaningful.
Tracking Tags & Pixels Installation
Used interchangeably, tags or pixels are short pieces of code that perform specific tasks on a website. In the context of marketing and marketing analytics, tags track everything from website visits to activities individuals perform on your website all the way to measuring conversions. They are critical for using key analytics platforms like Google Analytics and are essential for tracking if digital ads from Google, Bing, Facebook or other platforms are performing well.
Any audit should include a review of the 3rd party platforms being used, the pixels they require, and if those pixels are installed correctly. Faulty installation could mean that you are failing to capture important information…or that you are accidentally recording the same event multiple times.
Ad Platform Settings & Architecture
It can be beneficial to include an audit of any ad platforms the business is currently using like Google, Facebook, and Bing. This is especially the case because many businesses usually slowly dip their toe into the digital advertising waters, meaning basic settings are rarely correctly structured from day one and ad campaigns are haphazardly set up.
An audit of any ad platform will include a review of the campaign architecture to make sure it’s logically set up and capable of being optimized. It also includes a review of back-end settings such as audience, geography, and device targeting to make sure they align with the business’s core customer targets. Further, the audit will also ensure that the right conversion tracking is in place.
Contact Database Structure
A contact database not only captures vital information about leads, prospects, and customers but, in the case of marketing automation, it’s also the hub that allows for automated, targeted activities to reach the right individuals. As a result, contact databases should be reviewed for a variety of different elements.
At the simplest level the audit will ensure that relevant contact and business information is being captured (e.g. email address, industry type, etc.). It’ll then look to see if marketing attribution fields are present and, if so, if they are recording the right information. From there, database fields must be reviewed to see if they are set up to capture additional user activity such as total website visits and visits to critical pages like your pricing page as well as engagement with content like white papers and downloads. Lastly, the audit will look for fields capturing lead maturity information like lead score and life stage and check that they are set up correctly.
Email Automation Set Up
Staying top of mind and relevant with leads and prospects is critical for moving them down the funnel. This means giving them valuable information at the right time. Of course, you’ll want to automate your activities so you never miss a valuable reach-out opportunity. That’s why marketing operations audits should also include a thorough review of email automation, usually called workflows or journeys.
By reviewing which workflows, if any, are set up, how they are triggered, and the activities they do or don’t optimize for will help you identify better, more efficient ways to nurture and convert your prospects. Relatedly, audits should look for opportunities to A/B test activities like email content, subject lines, and send times to find additional ways to optimize your activities.
Marketing & Sales Software Integrations
If an organization is using separate marketing automation and sales platforms (e.g. Hubspot for marketing and Salesforce for sales), an audit should also explore if the systems are correctly integrated so that vital information reaches your sales team. This can include everything from lead score and pages visited to industry information and content accessed. Essentially, any information that can help your team sell better should be pass through to your sales CRM. A marketing ops audit identifies if this is happening.
Landing Page Set Up & Structure
To optimize digital advertising performance, many organizations will use landing pages to better align a prospect’s first experience with a business to the ad they clicked on. When this is in place, an audit should be performed first to review the actual content on the landing pages and ensure that it includes best practices like clear value propositions, client logos, and testimonials. An audit will also look to see if landing pages are properly recording marketing attribution information and if information is porting over correctly into your contact database.
What To Do After A Marketing Operations Audit
Because a marketing operations audit is structured to uncover possible problems with your marketing back-end, it usually yields several next-steps upon completion.
Triage The Red Flags Just about any audit will uncover some sort of issue. While some issues are relatively mild (e.g. finding that no A/B workflow testing is in place), other issues could mean you’re running with major blind spots (e.g. uncovering zero or faulty marketing attribution tracking). Your audit should highlight the must-fix issues, giving you a punch list of what you need to hop on immediately and what can wait till later.
Develop Marketing Operations Conventions It’s not uncommon that problems uncovered during audits are the result of “multiple cooks in the kitchen.” With a variety of people tackling marketing activities in their own ways, marketing infrastructures can get very messy and sometimes break. As a result, it’s often helpful to develop a Marketing Ops Cheat Sheet, a go-to document that outlines precisely how to spin up new website and landing pages, the organizationally-agreed-upon tracking and naming conventions, and even testing protocols. Documents like this mean that as your team grows and new people come on board, you’ll have a “bible” that anyone can turn to to know how to get things done correctly.
Assess Resource Needs Completing an audit is a great time to step back and see if you have the right resources in place to get the job done. Sometimes this can mean reviewing your existing software and tools to see if their capabilities align with your needs. Other times it can help you identify skill sets that would be helpful to have in-house but that are currently missing.
What’s most important to keep in mind is that a marketing operations audit is just the first step to building a healthy marketing machine. It will identify key opportunity areas for your business, but you still need to allocate the time and resources to execute on its findings.