Two basic cycles that enable every Marketing Manager to scale


Learn how to manage your marketing strategy by the minute. Apply two simple marketing management cycles. Transform your team from being task-driven to value-driven.

‘Trust is good. Control is better’

Do you know that feeling of wanting to know what your marketing team is working on?

Almost all marketing leaders I talk to share a similar desire. They tell me: “Like any CMO, I want to just click a button and have an overview of what everybody in my team is working on, exactly. I also want them track their hours.”

My standard answer is: “No, you don’t want that! Not really. What you’re talking about is Micro Management. As a manager you don’t have time for that. Besides, it won’t help you achieve what you’re really after: making sure people are working on the right things, whether their tasks are in line with the strategy”.

Customer needs are changing constantly. And competitors are continuously finding new ways to satisfy those needs. That means your marketing team needs to be flexible and agile too. But in doing so, it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture. Are we still on track? Are we still creating value? Are we still delivering on the strategy?

When you feel like you’re losing control, a common psychological reaction is to start focusing on details. Because details are the last thing you can still control. With so many things going on at any given time, keeping a clear overview is nearly impossible for many. You can’t see the trees for the forest anymore.

The lesson learned is: The more you focus on details, the more you lose sight of the bigger picture. And that feeling then triggers you to focus on details even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

Here’s how to turn that vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle. Well, two cycles in fact.

Manage your Marketing Strategy by the Minute

What if you could manage your strategy by the minute, without having to micro-manage? What if you only had to focus on the high level reports about campaigns and budgets?

To remain in control at all time, you have to be able trust that your team members are working on things that create value, ensuring that all marketing activities are in line with the strategy. Which, in turn, ensures your team is the most productive, while staying within marketing budget.

With a small team you can manage things on a spreadsheet. But soon enough, as a successful manager, you will have to scale your campaign and budget capabilities, sometimes even spanning several time-zones. The secret to managing a global team is properly leveraging the marketing resources (budget, campaigns, agencies, team, etc).

Breaking down the marketing management process

Two marketing management cycles take place. One is short, the other one is long.

At the end of every Fiscal Year (FY) marketing departments plan ahead for the next year. Based on their campaign planning, they raise the marketing budget for the coming year. Granted, they usually just take the campaign planning of last year and adapt it for next year.

But there is a catch. The days where a marketing plan lasted an entire year are long gone. Today more so than ever, the moment you start executing the marketing plan, it is probably outdated already. The moment the plan is approved and you start executing, reality got in the way.

And this will not be different for the remainder of the year. In the process of executing the marketing plan, you are constantly being sidetracked by ad hoc events which come with fast changing markets. As a result, it is likely that your strategy will come off the rails as the year progresses. It is no surprise that over time 40% of all marketing activities won’t align with the strategic marketing goals anymore.

To prevent this prom happening, budget and campaign planning require constant adjustment, and they are mutually highly dependant. This is in contrast to the outcomes of many conversations about marketing management. Those often end up a in favouring either the top-down approach or the bottom-up approach.

The good news is: you do not have to choose between the two. You need a combination of both to be able to ‘walk’.

So how can you stay on track? In your head, or on a white board, keep two cycles in mind. One cycle is top down, well known to most managers. The other cycle is the unfamiliar one, or dare we say: the scary one?

Cycle #1 – The Top-Down Cycle

This cycle is driven by the CMO and directors, and populated by teams. It takes place when planning the next FY, as well as throughout the year. This is where the budgets are being requested once and assigned throughout the year.

Topd down Cycle Management

Fiscal Year Planning

This is where marketing strategy and objective formulation takes place. Most CMOs take the overall results of last years strategy into account as well as the changed market conditions and competition. For most companies, the top down approach takes place just before the end of the Fiscal Year.

Monthly Planning

Based on the agreed tactics, requests for marketing activities & campaigns are being submitted by the teams and validated by the management. Portions of the overall budget are being allocated. Once granted, the teams assign resources, time and agencies.

The most important phase for the Top-Down approach is the monthly and quarterly adjustments to the tactics and goals.

Cycle #2 – The Bottom-Up Cycle

This cycle is driven by the teams and approved by the CMO and directors.

After you have set out the strategic imperatives and targets in the first cycle, it is the teams’ turn. Let your team ask for campaign budgets throughout the year. Let them convince you for every initiative, specifying how much budget they need to deliver a specific part of the marketing goals.

This is granting the budget in an agile way. Agile budget planning should be about the goals you want to achieve and the value they generate. Learn all about agile marketing budgets in this article.

Bottom Up Cycle Team Driven Campaign PlanningFiscal Year Planning

The team proposes the tactics for the year to come. They forecast the time, budget and resources to deliver the marketing programs. This establishes a crystal clear yearly hand-shake between the management and teams.

Monthly Planning

As scary as it may sound, your team members know better than you what tactics, campaigns and activities work best! Empower them by asking them how to reach the company goals you define in the marketing plan and strategy, and ask them to update you every month.

Combining the two cycles is the framework to steer your marketing strategy by the minute. Now we’ll need to put some nuts and bolts in place: marketing technology.


The marketing technology divide

While in the marketing reality combining the two cycles works well as a framework, it does not help that few software tools are supporting this process in an integrated way.

In order to be able to allocate campaign budgets on the fly, in line with the strategy, you need suitable marketing technology. Looking at the Martech Supergraphic we see there is a marketing operations divide.

The tools to manage budgets and marketing planning, performance and activities reside in many different areas of the Martech arena.

The marketing technology divide

Apart from fragmented software, there is a different more invisible challenge with the marketing software. Dealing with different markets European software tends to be quite different from US software.

The first group of asset- and campaign management tools is predominantly European, struggling with multi-lingual, multi-currency and multi-metric challenges. No wonder with so many cultures in one small place.

The second group of planning & budget management software s predominantly headquartered in the USA, making sure budgets & campaign sign offs and marketing plannings can be distributed easily across the globe and allow for auditing (SOX legislation).

Both tools have their strengths and weaknesses. The first leads to a region driven, bottom up approach. The second leads to a HQ driven, top down approach. So the challenge is to bring both together.

Frans Riemersma By Frans Riemersma

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