How I Plan: Linlin Li of Centrify

In this interview series, we speak with marketers from a variety of industries to bring you insights into the strategic marketing planning process. Read more posts from this series

Linlin Li

Vice President, Marketing Operations and Strategic Projects at Centrify

Linlin leads marketing operations at Centrify, a California-based next-gen identity and access management company that delivers Zero Trust Security Solution. She oversees all things related to the marketing organization’s technology, data, analytics, lead management, and planning/budgeting processes.


Thanks for speaking with us, Linlin! Tell us about the marketing planning process at Centrify.

Before the marketing planning process even begins, we have to understand the company’s corporate objectives, overall growth strategies and annual goals. To do that, our CEO and executive management team will define our “pillars” for the year — our big areas of focus, which help determine what those strategies should be.

During this process, our CEO consults with a wide variety of people in the company, not just the C-level executives, so that everyone in the broader Centrify leadership team has a chance to give input and get a sense of ownership over the direction of the company for the coming year. I think it’s a very effective approach.

After the company’s strategies have been fine-tuned, our marketers look at how they can support each one of these areas of growth. For example, they might identify a specific focus in brand-building and customer initiatives.

Once the marketers have guidance on where they need to grow, they’ll interlock with finance, sales and product management to look at the key metrics, deliverables or milestones they need to hit against specific timeline, and the budget they need to achieve those goals and potential dependencies or risk factors. There are lots of iterations on the marketing plans they build and many different models used.

What is the role of Marketing Operations in the planning process?

Marketing Ops, in close partnership with FP&A and Sales Ops, provides the data foundation to operationalize goals, and ensure an aligned cross-functional planning process. Marketing Ops also helps to connect the dots between strategy, goals and execution. For example, we provide historical metrics that our marketers need as they build their plans for the year ahead. We help them benchmark things like our deal velocity, conversion rates, deal sizes and much more.

Another way we help is making sure all the planning models of the different parts of the organization work together. While different functions may have different starting points, they need to have a shared understanding of goals and assumptions to develop them. For example, when Sales sits down to plan, they focus on capacity and pipeline. For Finance, it’s booking targets. For Marketing, it could be MQLs or MQAs or SALs. Marketing Ops needs to make sure all these diverse plans work together holistically towards the company’s goals.

Finally, when we agree on the joint KPI model, Marketing Ops is responsible for the tracking mechanism and communication results and insights as we move into the execution phase.

What are your biggest challenges in marketing planning?

I can think of a few. First, oftentimes companies don’t have a go-to-market architecture ready that clearly defines buyers and maps their offers to the buyer’s needs and the buyer’s journey.

The second challenge is a shared understanding of how we engage our prospects and customers through the various routes to market.

Obviously, other challenges include changes in resource allocation because of things you have no control over and the quality of our customers, prospects, and sales/marketing data.

Lastly, achieving a good balance in the marketing plan can be a challenge. All CMOs have a broad range of things they’re responsible for, such as customer retention, new logo acquisition, partner growth, brand, etc. With limited resources and the ever-growing demand for leads and pipeline, you have to stay focused and stay aligned on key priorities.

What’s your top recommendation for better strategic marketing planning?

The planning process brings together a variety of departments in the company, so start early and stay open-minded. Having a strong data foundation and data science team no matter where they reside will ensure better decision making and remove incorrect perceptions. Always be ready to be proven wrong and embrace everyone’s input. The last step before execution against the plan should always be to assess the plan for feasibility, gaps in assumptions, timing and resources allocation before locking down commitments.

Special thanks to Linlin Li for doing this interview!

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