Quick — answer the following questions:
- Do your marketing projects follow a consistent workflow process?
- Can you pull up the current status of all of your projects, at any time?
- Are your final project costs close to your original estimates, how do you know?
- Do you know where to find the most recent versions of your online marketing materials?
Most businesses, large or small, can’t say yes to at least three of these four. And those who can often stumble over these next two:
- How much time and effort does your staff spend getting materials reviewed & approved by the appropriate persons at the appropriate time?
- How do you allocate and coordinate resources so that your department is neither overloaded nor underutilized?
These are common problems, with deep implications for cost and quality control. Consider this real-world example.
A nationally renowned health care system used a simple Excel spreadsheet to track its many marketing initiatives. Writers, designers and project managers found it all but impossible to stay on the same page. Message and image consistency were basically unachievable, let alone maintainable, since there was no central resource for standardized examples or work-in-process. There wasn’t even a scheduling tool. Materials took too long to produce, and marketing was perpetually understaffed because there wasn’t enough data to connect resources with demand. Management suspected that there could be a better way, but had no idea of what it might be.
This very typical (and again real) situation is driven by a common misconception or myth – that the marketing process is too unpredictable and so reliant on creative, non-linear personalities to benefit from process automation. In truth, a marketing resource management system provides much-needed structure for marketing departments. And, today’s affordable alternatives to the long, resource intensive and expensive software implementations of the past give smart businesses significant advantages – including an excellent (and fast) return on their investment.
What is MRM? Think of what customer relationship management applications did for sales and sales management. MRM provides similar functionality for marketing and marketing management; the difference is rather than focused around sales opportunities, an MRM system is centered on projects. A centralized system connects internal and external creative resources such as writers and designers with subject matter experts and project managers. Projects can be electronically requested, approved, scheduled, completed and evaluated from within a single, easily managed Web interface. Annual, quarterly, and monthly budgets can be allocated, tracked, and even re-allocated with a few clicks of the mouse. Completed deliverables can be stored and organized online in a secure download center, with different users and given appropriate levels of access. Even the entire year’s worth of tradeshows, seminars, the schedule of earnings announcements, the media calendar, etc., can be managed, shared and accessible from a single place.
Since the MRM system also tracks who has done (or is planning to do) what and when, it becomes much easier to gauge and manage the capacity demands placed on the marketing department due to requests from across the organization as well as allocate the appropriate resources. It also becomes much easier to demonstrate the need for appropriate staff and budgets, since there is historical data to document and support each request.
The “nationally renowned health care system” referenced at the beginning of this article now uses their MRM system to achieve:
- Smooth, integrated communications from management and project managers to subject experts and internal and external creative staff (the left hand knows what the right hand is doing… or not doing).
- Centralized storage and distribution for internal marketing resources, works-in-process and completed work.
- Efficient scheduling and project management, including online comments and mark-up for project review and an easily accessible audit trail of related information.
An effective MRM system has something for every level of the organization – and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Consider another real-world example:
A fast-growing investment fund needed to expand its marketing efforts. However, manual processes made it difficult for the marketing team to meet the demands being asked of it. Staff often duplicated efforts – or let critical tasks slip. Project management and coordination was nonexistent. Everyone was overworked, but management couldn’t track progress or measure ROI. The company attempted to fix the problem with an expensive in-house MRM system, only to find that the system’s rigid architecture and complexity made it too difficult to use.
Once the company re-evaluated its options, it was surprised to discover that an outsourced MRM solution worked better and cost significantly less than the “big, complex system” they’d tried to implement. And, the results have been dramatic. Senior executives receive rapid feedback on cash flow and budgeting, as well as peace of mind that work is getting done. Real-time access to essential workflow details helps managers balance tasks assigned to internal staffers and freelancers, track expenses and proactively intervene on projects that slip behind schedule. And everyone associated with any given project knows exactly what they must accomplish, and by when.
Overall, an outsourced MRM delivers an ideal mix of practicality, affordability and performance. It relieves marketing and IT departments from the headaches and expense of building an in-house solution. At the same time, outsourced systems are easily customized for the needs of each client. Customers pay for only the infrastructure they need, and the vendor ensures availability, security and reliability. Individual staffers find that the system is easy to use, since it automates the repetitive, non-creative parts of their jobs without forcing them to dramatically change how they do their work.
Workflow automation has benefited almost every other part of the business world. Now, thanks to outsourced MRM, marketing departments can also achieve significant improvements in efficiency and quality, without disrupting normal operations or breaking the bank.