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The Marketing Operations Role: Where To, From Here?

Looking Back, Briefly:

Marketing Operations has been the fastest growing job role in tech marketing over the past few years. When IDC first started its surveys of marketing spend and staffing back in 2003, Marketing Operations wasn’t even on the job roster at most organizations. Today, the “MO” role represents about 6.5% of the total staff and it is the fourth largest job “category” for a large marketing department. So, what happened? The rise of this role was the response of the CMO to the general condemnation that marketing was not acting like a business. The Marketing area was perceived as offering up no accounting, and no accountability… but also offering no end to the pleas for more budget. And so Marketing Operations as the “staff accountant” role started to turn up at the larger and more complex marketing organizations. As the MO role really took off, the general job description would include four areas: budgeting and planning; measurement and reporting; technology deployment (marketing automation technology); and process improvement.

Looking at Today:

Of the four job areas described above, the most problematic, right now, is technology. There is a vast new set of IT tools available for marketing organizations: Marketing Resource Management; Content Management; Performance measurement; Analytics; Social Media Platforms and Monitoring; and the list goes on. The problem is that in general, marketing organizations do not have the staff skill sets to effectively evaluate, deploy and use these tools. In our 2011 Role Survey of Marketing Operations professionals, respondents said that their number one problem today is the sorry state of the “Automation Infrastructure” and that their number one goal is “Finding the People that know how to fix this”. There is an equally large and underlying issue “below” the technology level, and this is the database and data management issue. With so much marketing automation now in place, the first output that this new technology is producing is crystal-clear visibility to the fact that: “Wow, we have REALLY POOR customer records”. And so a very major issue for the Marketing Operations role is finding the database-savvy personnel who can help with this challenge.

Looking Forward:

Given how fast the MO role has grown and given the significant challenges of today, I want to offer three areas of “Essential Guidance” for CMO’s and their MO “lieutenants”. The first step is to re-visit the job description. In a series of executive interviews that I recently completed, many MO professionals complained that “Our Marketing Operations area has become the dumping-ground for all the unwanted marketing tasks that no one else wants to do!”. Now, whose fault is that?

Job number one, therefore, is for the CMO with the MO team to define and then re-articulate its role to other parts of marketing; so that it does NOT become the dumping-ground! Job number two is to then conduct an “Activity assessment” of what the MO personnel are actually doing, as held against that job description This may all sound like a junior league management exercise but my strong suspicion is that because the role has grown SO fast over the past four years that it MAY be the case that role clarity and scope are due for a closer look. This assessment should also include the organizational placement of the MO role. Why are so many of our MO staff at corporate headquarters? Why are these staff not within our product lines and in the field? These are questions worth asking. Job number three is then to ask “Where do we go from here?” regarding the role and staffing. I believe that the “future” of MO role effectiveness and impact is not in more staff as measured by headcount. In fact, the MO role as a percentage of staff is likely reaching an upper limit at this point. My hunch is that it may “cap out” at perhaps 8 to 10% of staff. However, the MO roles of tomorrow will be more strategic than they are today. The nature of the role will evolve. While today’s MO staff are largely involved with individual execution (within the job description mentioned previously), the MO role of the future will be more about educating and infusing other parts of the marketing organization with a marketing process-excellence mentality, skills, and tools. In this way, the MO staff will become a more “leveraged” function. This leverage will include improving the influence and impact of MO across the entire marketing organization, not just at the corporate marketing location(s). As you further deploy the MO role, think about not hiring more Marketing Operations staff….think about driving the existing “smarts” and influence of MO down and through your entire marketing organization.

— Rich Vancil

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