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What was once considered the catch-all for nondescript administrative work has quietly taken a seat at the table for many progressive professional service firms.

“Operations” has largely gone undefined and often ignored, but in today’s marketplace any strategy that creates a qualified competitive advantage is worth considering. More and more modern firms are embracing operational effectiveness as a means of fortifying their organizations from the top down.

For many firms, this kind of work was seen as the responsibility of all marketing/business development team members. Or, it was the responsibility of no one. The only common denominator was the lack of a dedicated professional to create or maintain any efficiencies within a department’s processes or deliverables. Now, the umbrella of operations can include project protocols, employee training, tracking results, cost-benefit analysis, enhanced communication channels, CRM management, budgeting, and beyond.

Every business has unique areas of opportunity, so deliverables can take shape in various ways. But with goals in mind, firms are seeing real value in ways that include:

  • developing a framework of measurement
  • building credibility for your department
  • increasing speed to market
  • influencing change via discipline and measurement
  • adapting systems and design the right training
  • creating a consistent user experience
  • leveraging existing technology

No matter how robust or compact a marketing/BD department may be, there will always be room for improvement. When areas of opportunity abound, look to the very people who make up these departments to help narrow the scope of possibilities. Consider orchestrating diverse focus groups to identify what processes aren’t working and to encourage a culture of constructive criticism. During those discussions, pay attention to the pain points and the themes surrounding gaps in service. That information can and should provide the roadmap for what comes next. That feedback will inform your unique goals, identify what can be standardized, and when simple deliverables are being performed by people at higher pay grades.

Even with a plan in place, change is hard and few worthwhile initiatives come without some growing pains. It’s common to encounter sluggish politics, reluctance to do things differently, and pride of ownership for functions that are being moved within the department/sent offshore. Remember that even successful implementations encounter hurdles, but with preparation, transparency and communication, your department can navigate the changes ahead.

Of course, when resources such as time and money are utilized, firm leaders need and want to see a tangible return on their investment. Ironically, marketers have a habit of forgetting to market themselves, but your department’s endeavors won’t always be obvious or explicit to those outside of your immediate circle. Creating and circulating a monthly or quarterly scorecard of your wins and metrics will help to articulate the value of the firm’s investment.

Ultimately, the focus on Operations is two-fold. Not only do you create an environment that allows employees to work at their best and highest use, but these systems take you one step closer to eliminating all opinion-based discussions about whether marketing is worth the investment.

Jennifer Johnson is the CEO of Calibrate.  This article originally appeared in the Legal Marketing Organization’s Strategies+ blog.

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