Transitioning to a Self-Serve Martech Marketing Operations Model

  • Nick Donaldson

    Nick Donaldson

    Director of Growth Marketing, Knak

Published Jul 9, 2024

Transitioning to a Self-Serve Martech Marketing Operations Model


Transition to a self-serve martech model for efficient, creative marketing operations. Learn how to optimize processes and enhance team productivity.

There are plenty of ways to run your marketing operations and martech teams. You can choose from organized and process-oriented approaches like centralized models or embrace the needs of your team working in the field with a decentralized model. Each model has its advantages and disadvantages.

However, one model stands out as particularly modern: the self-serve model.

For those of us in the martech industry, the promise of self-service technology always seems to be “just around the corner.” Here’s the truth: the real promise of self-service martech lies in the teams and processes, not the tech.

The benefits of a self-service model are immense: it allows marketing teams to operate more quickly, efficiently, and with greater confidence in their creativity.

This post takes a deep dive into the process of transitioning to a self-serve operating model.

Why Self-Serve?

Let's back up–self-serve technology has been a promise since the dawn of martech.

The idea behind self-serve is that anyone in the organization can and will use this technology instead of the previous manual processes. From there, end users—executives, managers, and individual contributors—can view those analytics and make decisions without needing to request data from the team.

As anyone familiar with reporting knows, the gap between promise and reality can vary—and largely because the time required to set up processes and technology is rarely matched by equivalent time spent on training and documentation. However, the trend in analytics over the past decade has strongly favored self-service, and I’d argue that vendors and data teams are quickly closing that gap.

The allure of self-serve martech lies in its ability to simplify cumbersome processes essential for maintaining quality and consistency, yet often at the expense of speed and creativity. Self-serve doesn’t eliminate the need for human intervention but rather optimizes it to occur at the most effective time.

Self-service isn't about adopting a suite of new tools; it's a philosophical shift towards embedding process and know-how directly into technology.

Before and after flowchart for self server martech using reporting as an example

Enshrining Marketing Process in Tech

The central idea of the self-service model is to enshrine human processes within technology. While many in marketing grapple with the implications of rapidly evolving AI capabilities, it’s natural to question if we should voluntarily remove humans from the marketing process, especially just to preserve jobs.

This touches on a common misconception about self-service—and often a source of disappointment for those deploying this technology—that it eliminates humans from the process. I used the phrase “right size” earlier. Human involvement in the marketing process is imperative, and self-service aims to eliminate redundancies and free up time for creative and innovative human endeavours.

Today, our marketing processes are filled with redundancies that consume valuable bandwidth. In campaign operations and creation alone, you could point to processes such as making asset requests, approving them, receiving feedback and approvals on designs, and notifying all parties about the status of assets.

Venn diagram showing overlap of human process and self-serve technology

The Case for Self-Serve Martech Models

Let's build off this example of campaign creation. We already know that the campaign creation process in most orgs is a challenge (at best) and broken (at worst). In a recent article, we outlined 4 main problems in campaign creation:

  1. Stakeholder Alignment
  2. Tools Hinder Workflow
  3. Demonstrating Results
  4. Request Backlog

How would a self-service martech model help resolve these issues?

Stakeholder Alignment

A self-service model doesn’t automatically resolve stakeholder alignment issues. No matter how cool or high-tech, even AI-enabled, a new tool won’t address problems that stem from miscommunication. Self-service begins with revisiting your current processes, which often reveals gaps. How do you currently communicate with stakeholders? How does a campaign move from the request to the approved stage?

flowchart showing steps to getting stakeholder alignment - and why it's difficult

These gaps in your process invite you to outline and embed new processes in technology. In the old way, your team may have a campaign request, send it to the Brand Team via email, wait for approval, and 'nudge' them if the approval takes a while and/or you remember to follow up.

In the new self-serve approach, you might submit a request via a form in your project management tool, which automatically populates and triages the request to the appropriate team. This team is then required to update a field in response. This response could be a picklist with options such as “Approved,” “Requires Further Review,” “Declined.” Each selection triggers further automation; for instance, “Approved” might notify the requester to begin working on the assets.

This process might not seem particularly novel or reach the ideal state of self-service. Applying the ‘crawl, walk, run’ principles, it’s crucial to perfect the initial steps before adding more complex tooling. For example, once a request is approved, it could trigger a process where the campaign brief is sent to an AI tool that generates three variations of an email, complete with subject lines and design recommendations.

Tools Hinder Workflow

Wait, aren’t marketing tools supposed to solve all our problems?

Interestingly, decentralized and self-service models have a lot in common. While many in marketing operations may recoil at taming a wild decentralized model, with its many independently operating satellites, there is meaning in this campaign chaos. Both decentralized and self-service models emphasize enabling teams to work quickly, independently, and with creative freedom.

The Achilles heel of decentralized models is the proliferation of martech tools across multiple jurisdictions—the feared ‘frankenstack.’

While self-service models emulate the best aspects of decentralization, they adopt a core tenet of centralization: maintaining a hub of approved martech tools. Marketing operations play a crucial role in setting up and maintaining self-service tools, beginning with an audit of the existing martech stack and determining best practices for their use. For example, you might discover that users are manually transferring important information from one platform to another to keep processes operational.

Demonstrating Results

Something that isn’t discussed often enough when thinking about results and data is the visibility of what marketers are working on.

Self-service aims to foster creativity and enhance our ability to execute campaigns.This newfound campaign velocity must be paired with tracking and reporting; otherwise, we risk making a lot of noise without much signal.In larger organizations, keeping track of what everyone is working on is already a daunting task. In a self-service model, demonstrating results is imperative.

The campaign creation process is an ideal starting point for tracking marketing activities. If you follow the typical campaign creation journey, at the request stage you'll already have visibility into what is being approved. This provides a great opportunity to incorporate a tracking and reporting step into your process. You could automate the generation of UTM parameters, send an API request to SFDC for campaign creation, and queue up program creation in Marketo, among other actions.

Request Backlog

As a rule, marketing operations professionals are always in high demand. They keep the campaign creation engine running by triaging requests, building workflows and programs, and executing campaigns. It’s a challenging job.

For many in marketing operations, the hardest part of the job is “chasing stakeholders” and coordinating activities such as asset approvals, revisions, and last-minute changes. The result of all this: a backlog stretching miles long.

This is problematic, as each request represents an opportunity to generate revenue, improve a process, or delight a customer. Not all requests are equally important, but without consistent attention at the request stage, great initiatives can fall through the cracks.

There are no easy answers. However, campaign creation tools such as Knak provide brand guardrails and automated collaboration and approval processes.Integrating your process with project management tools can significantly help. Training your team to submit more thorough requests can simplify reviewing the backlog. It’s an iterative process, but one that smart teams are advancing through a self-service methodology.

Tenets of Self-Service Martech

The examples above highlight various use-cases and approaches to implementing self-service martech. While it’s important to consider the technological components deeply, the success of a self-service model fundamentally hinges on the human factor.

Without buy-in and adoption from your team, any self-service model planned on a whiteboard remains purely theoretical. Transitioning to self-service is the tricky part and it’s easy to overlook. Avoid the common pitfall in martech: believing that simply purchasing software will ensure its adoption.

Here are three guiding principles to help you implement this model:

  • Continuous learning as a core competency
  • Governance through adaptability
  • Integration and central visibility
tenets of martech - learning, adaptability, and integrations

Continuous learning as a core competency

The number one mistake I see when it comes to the self-service model is that technology and processes are deployed without enough training support. While documenting everything is a core tenet of marketing ops, technical writers know one truth all too well: no one reads the docs.

It’s your team’s responsibility to go the extra mile by providing training, being available for questions, and continuously updating everyone on the processes.In instituting a self-service model, you’ve embedded human behavior into technological processes; now, it’s your job to prevent people from reverting to their old, manual habits.

The adoption and success of your model depend on adherence to the process. Self-service only works if everyone is on board; otherwise, you’re inviting a chaotic version of the decentralization model into your otherwise tidy house.

Governance through adaptability

Let’s be real: marketing operations teams thrive on rules and governance. “If only everyone followed the process, it’d work!”

Your governance approach must have room to adapt to changing circumstances. For example, generative AI tech is evolving quickly—your team might want to rapidly adopt new capabilities to gain a competitive edge. Since there may be no previous template to follow, being flexible and adapting to the environment is essential.

Some aspects, like brand guidelines, must comply, but there are areas where thinking outside the box is encouraged. A self-service model is likely to succeed if it offers a framework for experimentation rather than maintaining a static approach. Again, without the ability to adapt and be flexible, self-service can devolve into a wild west of decentralization.

Integration and central visibility

Overcoming the challenges of integrating all your martech into a central system is essential for the self-serve model to be effective. This approach borrows tenets from centralized models, and for good reason. Your martech stack should function as a central hub, with technological spokes connecting back to this center.

There are two main challenges: 1) ensuring the system functions effectively, and 2) ensuring visibility into the system’s operations.

For the first challenge, it is paramount to evaluate and audit your tech stack, identifying both integration challenges and opportunities. If tools aren’t compatible, this creates potential for data and operational silos, introducing failure points into the otherwise smooth self-serve process. Establishing a single source of truth is increasingly important for providing high-level visibility into all campaign activities. Additionally, ensuring that tools communicate with each other is crucial for enabling practitioners to make quick decisions.

For the second challenge, key strategies include providing visibility into the tech stack through robust documentation and training. Use a visual design tool such as Miro to map out your martech stack and explain its functionality to your team. Question the purpose and importance of each tool. Understand which data points are extracted from which tools, and identify their final destinations, such as a BI reporting tool.

Self-Serve Model in Action: A Case Study

To illustrate the transformative power of the self-serve martech model, we look at a compelling case study that showcases its implementation and results. At Meta, a shift towards a self-serve approach has catalyzed significant gains in efficiency and innovation. Don, a key figure in their marketing operations, shares insights into their journey and the tangible benefits they’ve experienced.

In this video, captured around the 14:40 mark, Don elaborates on how adopting a self-serve model has not only streamlined operations but also empowered their teams to leverage martech tools more creatively and effectively. This case study is a testament to the fact that companies of all shapes, sizes, and operational styles can reap substantial benefits from embracing a self-serve model.

The Future of Self-Serve Martech

The future of self-service martech is bright. This operating model is still coming into full maturity, incorporating the best elements from both centralized and decentralized models. More than in any other model, martech is a core component of self-service systems. However, its success hinges on the human element—the people who adhere to and innovate within the process, and the teams that support it with continuous training.

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  • Nick Donaldson


    Nick Donaldson

    Director of Growth Marketing, Knak

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