According to certain sources, the term Marketing Operations (MO) was formally coined by analyst firm IDC in early 2005. However, it wasn’t until about the end of 2011 that the term gained mainstream acceptance. Because the sets of associated systems that a marketing operations professional (MOP) are expected to use are still evolving, the MO role is still in a state of evolution right alongside it. This is why it’s difficult to truly classify what it means to be a MO professional.
The scope of marketing operations
I came into the marketing operations scene in 2012 and have been with it ever since. In my experience, MO is one of the most rewarding roles for young professionals today … but it’s not easy. Many of the systems covered under marketing ops (customer relationship management [CRM], marketing automation, Excel, analytics, business intelligence, predictive modeling, etc.) aren’t easy to master, and can be formidable to someone who’s never seen them before.
There is no school or textbook I’ve ever heard of that will show you how these systems work individually, or in parallel to each other, or as integrated systems. The larger your technology ecosystem and user teams become, the more complex the MO role becomes. The MO professional must master all the skills needed to perform as a superhuman marketing entity that can maneuver information intricately through multiple systems in order to provide coordinated insight to different teams, from marketing to sales to support. The MOP will also spend time evaluating new technologies (that spring up all the time) to see if there’s any business value in implementing them.
One bit of advice for anyone interested in the role: you must be EXTREMELY comfortable with using Microsoft Excel. Excel is the foundation of all of the systems that you will be using. It is the sun you revolve around.
What’s expected of a marketing operations professional?
The scope of the role can be quite vast. Responsibilities often include campaign analysis and reporting, organization benchmarking, competitive intelligence, predictive modeling, database administration, email marketing, marketing performance measurement, budgeting, process development, professional development, and strategic planning. The ultimate responsibility is supporting other teams or individuals.
If you’re more database inclined, you’re sure to be doing lots of process modification and sales support – especially if you’re not fortunate enough to have a corresponding team member in sales operations. That was the case at my first job. It was demanding, but I was fortunate to have gotten that experience, as it helped me clearly understand that role. My understanding of how to set up email and CRM systems for sales teams, for example, is at an expert level due to that experience.
Furthermore, you will be expected to be able to do lots of ROI reporting. An intimate understanding of how your CRM system’s campaign hierarchy works will be pivotal in organizing campaign reporting.
The number-one thing that will make someone a great MOP is the ability to zoom out and manage chaos. What I mean by that is, the value of a MOP goes through the roof when they are able to enter an organization objectively and review the lead flow from start to finish. This will typically begin with a front-of-system analysis, aka an audit of the marketing automation system (MAS). Because in most cases (but not all), the MAS will be the initial point of entry for lead data, it’s probably a good place to start. From there, you can get into the CRM system and finish off the puzzle. Expect the CRM to take a good amount of time.
Both of these systems (separately and in their conjoined capacities) will be the engine of most marketing and sales operations. After going through those two, you can begin to start chipping away at all of the peripheral systems such as your de-duping tools, data import tools, data validation tools, CRM workflows, lead scoring, lead grading, forms, email opt-out process, analytical standardization, and anything else you can think of that connects into these systems. As you can see, the role of a MOP is chock-full of systems that you will need to understand in order to succeed in the ultimate goal: getting full, accurate insights to the people that need them.
The career potential of marketing operations
Does all this sound terrifying … or intriguing? Don’t let the complexity of this role deter you from thinking about moving into a MO position. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
In my opinion, the perfect fit is someone one quarter nerd (IT inclined), one quarter marketer, one quarter analyst, and one quarter researcher (and possibly a further phantom quarter of Data Ninja).
Yes, to be successful you will endure hours of hard work and research as you master the unique challenges each organization presents. But those rewards will be bountiful. This is an extremely sought-after skill set at the moment, and will grow more important as marketing and sales increase their reliance on technology.
The value added to an organization from a MO professional who is well rounded is absolutely stunning. Believe it or not, there are a lot of companies out there, many of which are probably household names, which do not have a good marketing operations setup AT ALL (and don’t get me started about smaller companies). This is not to say that there aren’t people getting it right out there because there are, but this field is in its infancy, and not enough companies have MOPs in place yet. But they will.
If you’re interested in this profession, or you’re just getting started, I strongly recommend that you join a community of people in your local city that work in the same realm. The skills required are so broad, and the systems you’ll encounter so varied, that you will need assistance or suggestions in the course of your journey. It’s important to find people who’ve already solved some of the problems you will face … and it will be an opportunity to give back as well.
In short: If you’re interested in this role, and you have (or can develop) the right skill set, you have a major-league opportunity for a rewarding, long-term career in an emerging, important field.
If anyone has questions regarding where to find more information on marketing operations, or would simply like to chat about the topic, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the people and skill sets that create a great marketing team, download our eBook The High-Performance Marketing Department. You’ll learn:
- The modern marketing department’s essential skill sets
- Staffing for maximum impact
- Traits of high-performing marketing departments
- 6 steps to securing the budget you deserve
- New marketing budget trends and benchmarks