Modern Marketing

Marketing Operations Triage: The Art of Getting Stuff Done


If you’re a marketer, two things in your life will be guaranteed: 1) people will ask you to do a lot of things, and 2) you won’t be able to do them all.  Most of us have long lists of campaigns we’d like to run and projects we’d like to complete, but if you don’t leave the office until you’ve finished everything, you’ll never leave the office at all. What separates effective marketers from ineffective marketers is the ability to prioritize your projects. So as marketers, faced with our lists of tasks each day, how do we decide what gets done first?

My own brand of “getting stuff done” has served me for years as a marketer. My philosophy is based on the principal that I want to do as little work as possible to produce the greatest level of result. It’s a project selection technique based on that age-old, and now somewhat clichéd concept of triage.

When I say “triage”, I’m talking about life or death. Which projects, based on their potential to thrive, are going to live, and which ones am I going to let die? It’s time to recognise that (particularly in small teams), even if you are the most talented and experienced operations person in the world, and even if you’re using the most sophisticated marketing automation platform, you can’t do everything.

The greatest skill I have ever learned is how to quickly gather the info I need, in order to triage potential projects, and to recommend against the ones that don’t have a high probability of success.

I base my triage criteria on three key success factors:

  1. Are there enough resources available to plan, execute, deploy, and measure the project in an effective way?
  2. Based on past results for this campaign type, can I project a likely outcome?
  3. Is there a level of enthusiasm and momentum for making the project a success – right up to and including senior management?

If you’ve set yourself up for effective triage, the data to answer these questions should be right at your fingertips. Here’s how to set the stage for fast, thorough evaluations every time.

Resource Availability – Sometimes, Timing is Everything

Don’t underestimate the pressure that resource shortages can put on the success of your project. Some projects are destined for trouble simply because of timing. Maybe your main subject matter expert is on leave this month. Perhaps you already have four big events to execute simultaneously, so as great as this event sounds, you just can’t stretch the resources.

A daily or even monthly to-do list is not going to give you that intelligence. That’s why you need a meticulously updated marketing calendar, and a visual system for evaluating resource overlap at a glance. Without it, you’re likely to overestimate the bandwidth of your team.

Look at Past Results – Don’t Set Yourself Up For Failure

Before starting a project, ask yourself: if you’ve ever done something similar, what were the previous project’s successes and failures? Don’t guess – know.

If you’re doing your marketing measurement right, you should be able to quickly pull a report that gives you the top line success metrics – including revenue outcomes – on similar campaigns over the past year, which will give you an immediate sense of whether the concept has legs. If the metrics suggest that you shouldn’t move forward, don’t.

Measure the Mood

Sometimes excitement and enthusiasm for a concept can be the single greatest factor that contributes to good outcomes. This is one of those intangibles that can’t be measured through systems or reports, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your research. Get to know your important stakeholders, ask questions in order to assess their priorities, and get a feel for the political landscape.

By all means, be the voice of reason if the first two criteria suggest that this project is risky. If you see a risk, but the excitement is high, don’t simply say “no” – instead, try to suggest an idea for mitigating that risk. You don’t want to be the one negative voice in a sea of positivity, because stakeholders will see you as a roadblock and try to work around you, inevitably to the detriment of projects and your career.

If there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the project, work with stakeholders and your team to move lower priority projects around, communicate these changes carefully, and, as Tim Gunn would say, make it work. Conversely, if you discover through this process that enthusiasm for the project is weak, delay until the timing is better, or push it towards a quick demise.

If you’re prepared to assess these three areas – resources, past metrics, and “mood” – you’ll find that triaging your tasks is exponentially easier. You might not cross everything off of your list, but you’ll be sure that the tasks you accomplish were the wisest to complete.

How do you triage projects? Have you ever been the only “nay-sayer” about a project, or its only advocate? How do you assess a project’s potential to thrive? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.