I’ve heard more than one marketing leader describe marketing operations (Marketing ops, MOPs) as the ‘backbone of the modern marketing team.’ Marketing ops supports and enables modern marketing workflows with the right technology, generate relevant business data, answer questions about performance cause and effect, and offer recommendations based on insights. Aside from the marketing tech and data, marketing ops is also often tasked with workflow and process optimization, driving efficiency and effectiveness for the marketing function. Dr. Debbie Qaqish, who literally wrote the book on modern marketing ops, has called it the enabler taking marketing from a cost center to a revenue center.
Marketing ops is slowly but surely being elevated from backroom operational taskforce (project management, performance tracking and vendor evaluation) to a strategic team. As such, MOPs wields significant influence over marketing efficiency and ROI, drives marketing responsiveness and agility, and is the custodian of high-value technology investments. Sixty-two percent of executives in a 2021 State of Marketing Ops Survey ranked it as the number one priority (tied with marketing strategy), with 70% claiming to have a dedicated marketing ops team.
With an ever-growing marketing technology landscape, ever-emerging use-cases for martech and data, and a shortage of skilled manpower, CMOs have to ask if they are making the best use of their marketing ops team. I checked in with practitioners and experts to distill three key areas to consider in the context of driving optimal value from MOPs in 2022.
1. Central, Local, WFA: Where Should Marketing Ops Be?
The debate about centralizing or localizing operations is not new. However, will the transition to hybrid work models impact this discussion in any way? Amanda De Paul, founder of independent marketing consultant Mythodical, advocates for a centralized marketing ops team, especially if scale, consistency and accuracy are important considerations.
Qaqish adds a layer of nuance to that approach. “Build a marketing operations ‘center of excellence’ at a central level, and keep the most critical and deepest skill sets in one place to benefit the entire organization.” She adds that core processes could include martech stack administration and optimization, data governance, performance management and process engineering frameworks, and campaign execution vectors. Apt functions at the local level might include analytics, insights, project management, campaign design and execution.
There is a growing feeling that digital customer behavior may not differ significantly by geography, so localized marketing may not necessarily enable agility or responsiveness. Yet the state of marketing ops survey found 90% of marketing teams struggle with global campaign coordination, with issues such as shifting resources to respond to market changes, delayed localization, and tedious review cycles for content creation.
As work from home goes mainstream and teams improve at virtual collaboration, especially in digital-first functions like marketing, CMOs can develop an optimal MOPs structure to best serve business needs, no matter where talent is located. As Shonal Narayan, VP of marketing at cloud infrastructure provider The Constant Company, LLC. argues, while the choice of centralized vs. decentralized comes down to considerations such as company size, global presence, budgets, customer needs and even local regulations, what matters in the end is investing in a team that has well-defined roles, structure, training and processes.
Related Article: Is It Ever Gonna Be Easy for Marketing Ops?
2. Realigning Marketing Ops’ Core Responsibilities
Do CMOs need to redefine the marketing ops mandate? To drive optimal productivity from this increasingly expensive and strategic team, they may need to draw some boundaries for what lands on the MOPs desk. This means doubling down on areas where MOPs can make the most significant impact, rather than letting it turn into a catch-all team to handle anything automation or data-related. For example, in DePaul’s experience, things get complicated when MOPs start to get pulled into sales execution conversations. “Aspects of the funnel like sales productivity or opportunity management should all be managed from a sales operations perspective,” she cautioned.
Abhi Yadav, founding CEO of Zylotech (a Terminus company) said that while the omnipresence of martech, data maturity, and focus on CX and privacy have made MOPs critical to success, it is equally important to empower the rest of marketing with training, enabling self- service for standard use-cases, and rigorous documentation. This can help drive optimal value from MOPs investments, without slowing down marketing execution.
2020 saw many marketers leveraging MOPs skills across a wider net of areas including financial planning, content creation and distribution, and brand management as a way to drive agility in unpredictable times. While some, like Yadav, question whether areas such as content, creative and campaign planning would be better handled by marketers, the fact is no area in marketing can run without processes, data and technology. If seamless CX is the goal, the question to ask is — should MOPs support all of the processes, data and tech elements that add up to seamless CX? Or should they focus on strategic areas where the revenue impact is deepest, while equipping regular marketers to handle the rest?
Related Article: CMOs: Your Marketing Ops Team Is a Secret Weapon
3. Driving Optimal Value From the Marketing Ops Team
Despite its strategic value, marketing ops doesn’t always get its due in terms of being included early and deeply into strategic marketing conversations. “The CMO must build and coach the marketing ops team to be a vocal contributor to the overall success of the marketing team,” said Narayan. DePaul echoed this, calling it a mistake for marketers to treat ops as some version of a helpdesk. “Ops people are problem solvers at heart so there’s no better place to dig into an issue or figure out a solution. But it’s important to think about the long-term, big picture of a situation rather than use MOPs as a quick-fix resource. Include MOPs in cross-functional planning, create a roadmap, and stick to it,” she added.
Aside from governing and execution, Narayan underlined the crucial bridging role MOPs often play. “Automating and governing various marketing processes (especially data flow) end-to-end, means MOPs will often act as a liaison between the GTM team and IT, compliance, governance, analytics, and other technical stakeholders.”
Qaqish has the last word. “The most common mistake I see is treating marketing ops as tactical button pushers who have nothing to add to the strategic dialog. Whenever I see a marketing ops group that sits in the IT department, I know they will not be successful.”