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The Hidden Cost of Complexity to your Team’s Productivity

It’s rare that anyone in business, be it marketing or otherwise, ever feels they have done all that needs doing. In the market’s give and take, we always ask ourselves what else we could do to strengthen our brands. When markets turn for the worse, this drive takes on an even keener edge. With such external and internal pressures, the first reaction is to just do more. But you only get so far with pure hustle before you run out of hours in the day. Time is the limiting factor and, consequently, your most valuable resource.

So how do we ensure what little time we do have is put to best use? Some areas of waste will be obvious, e.g., your classic meeting that could be replaced by an email. But other time sinks are more insidious. 

Chief among these is complexity. As with so many systemic issues, the harmful effect accumulates slowly, then all at once. Like a favored pair of running shoes, changes are subtle, even beneficial at first. The uppers become more supple, the insoles fit your foot better, and you have that all-important patina of road grime that proves you’re a genuine road warrior. Fast forward 300, 400 miles in, and suddenly “shoddy” comes more readily to mind. All at once, things happen. Shoelaces snap. Uppers tear at the outside corners. Interior linings rip out. 

So far, no big deal. But keep going, and the unseen effects of this wear and tear will suddenly and disastrously show up: plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, or even a stress fracture. Ask any runner. The road to recovery from these conditions is long and frustrating. And they all wish they had seen the warning signs sooner.

Unfortunately, like wear and tear on a pair of shoes, complexity is a natural trend of any evolving process – unless you specifically and proactively fight back. But it’s hard to prioritize when you’re in the race for market share, neck and neck with competitors. When you need more from less, however, this neglected corner of “operational debt” is a sure-fire place to start. 

In a previous life as a management consultant, I worked with a top 5 bank in the UK to help make sense of their marketing workflows. Despite enormous investment in a leading marketing cloud suite and an army of permanent tech consultants to run it, it took ages to run a simple campaign. And the root cause was complexity.

Their customer data lived across three different orgs each with their own priorities and goals. Communication between teams required formal escalation and prioritization processes between orgs. And the big, shiny marketing cloud didn’t play naturally with their home-grown database.

To get an audience for a test campaign, a marketer would send a request through a chain of 19 people, taking on average six weeks – just to see the list. Sometimes it came back too small – as in a case where the team was considering a highly targeted motorcycle insurance product. Six weeks gone and nothing to show. 

But while this sluggish pace was caused by complexity, the true problem was a lack of awareness. Just like the miles on a worn pair of running shoes, the org had grown used to the labyrinthine and tedious processes of launching a campaign. They were desperately bolting on new data sources, vendors, and strategies to boost outcomes, all the while failing to address the accumulating inertia of complexity and its stranglehold on their teams.

If some of this feels familiar – the pressure to do more with less, an array of marketing tools and data that don’t quite seem to be living up to the hype – then it’s well worth the investment of some time to revisit your priorities and ensure your marketing stack and processes are getting you there efficiently.

Take Time to Evaluate Your Tech Stack

While complexity hidden among a MarTech stack can take many forms, I’d suggest a few signals to help you sniff out the areas needing the most attention:

  • Can you, in any one place, see the entirety of what you know about a customer?
  • How many hours does your marketing team spend in meetings with IT to ensure they have clean, usable data?
  • Does it take too many meetings or multiple manual steps to get data and content in one place?
  • Are there data inconsistencies across your marketing tools?
  • Does it just feel “too hard” to push a new campaign? 
  • Are customer acquisition costs too high or rising?
  • Do campaigns fall short of expectations and no one can agree why? How well can you even measure campaign performance?

All of these and more are signs of little eddies of complexity in your company’s marketing & data operations – areas where broken data connections, incentives, or org structures add unnecessary heartache and distraction to your business.

Once found, now what? Solutions will vary significantly based on context, but the exact approach to attacking complexity is not as important at the end of the day. What is critical is that you, as a leader, are habitually reviewing and iterating your operations and tooling from all levels. It is easy to get lost in the hustle at ground level and assume the frenetic activity must be improving outcomes. But taking the time to step back and review the whole picture, you will often see where “hard work” is running up against complexity and wasting ever more precious time.

Authored by Ben Walker

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