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Marketing Operations: The Guide for 2021

July 9, 2021

For years now, I’ve been seeing Marketing Operations (the people who run Marketing Technology) as an up-and-coming vocation. When I say vocation, I mean the step further than “profession” and two steps further than “role.” A vocation, to me, connotes a job that has a skill set that takes years to develop, with a specialized path, something that is more of an investment of time and passion by its practitioners than other roles.

What is Marketing Operations?

Marketing Operations is the category of roles and people who make marketing happen, widespread in B2B marketing. This usually leans heavily upon digital marketing but includes the online facilitation of non-digital marketing as well (think trade shows, roadshows, and direct mail).

Marketing Operations grew significantly with the rise of Marketing Automation Platforms such as Marketo, Pardot, Eloqua, HubSpot, etc. With new Marketing Automation (and its umbrella category “Marketing Technology”), there began a new list of responsibilities that needed to be accomplished within Marketing departments. These new responsibilities were much more technical in nature, requiring systems knowledge (such as integrations with other technologies), front-end development at times (landing pages and emails), and analytics knowledge (such as adding to clean data structures so that Marketing efforts could be tracked to the creation of revenue via Sales).

The definition of a Marketing Operations role is context-dependent, similar to Marketing. For example:

  • Marketing Operations as a dimension of Marketing daily work: Defined as the “hands-on-keyboard” creation of digital marketing campaigns, the configuration of Marketing Technologies (at the moment, this is primarily Marketing Automation Platforms), and the “hands-on-keyboard” pulling reports and dashboards based on Marketing Technologies. E.g., “This role is 70% Marketing Manager responsibilities and 30% Marketing Operations responsibilities.”
  • Marketing Operations as a job grouping or team: Defined as the person(s) or team who is responsible for the configuration management of Marketing Technologies, sometimes as a team of MOPs specialists and sometimes as a team of MOPs sub-specialists. E.g., “Our Marketing Operations team is responsible for campaign creation, tool selection and administration, and reporting/dashboard maintenance.”

Where did Marketing Operations come to life?

As I worked in agency life, I saw that the tools and technical configuration were growing bigger and bigger as a percentage of hours required per week by the Marketing teams. As I try to think through things at scale (what will this look like as it continues to grow three years from now?), I noticed that the nascent responsibilities of Marketing Operations were a small percentage for most Marketing teams and companies starting off, but that companies would hit an inevitable critical mass where the amount of time necessary for “Marketing Operations” would reach around 40 hours per week. At that point, economies of scale would mean that specialization into a dedicated “Marketing Operations” role would be the best use of a company’s resources. With Marketing Automation growing in popularity, the specialization of “Marketing Operations” would be an inevitability.

I started a company (Etumos, this company) in 2014 to address that then-niche need for specialized work in Marketing Operations. I’m a technical person, a systems thinker, and I have a nearly-compulsive desire for digital order and cleanliness in data. I set up the company to focus on Marketing Operations, always looking at what Marketing Operations would become three years ahead. What would happen when people take Marketing Operations deadly-serious? What would people invent by knowing all of the technical possibilities, predicting them, and making them happen? That’s where I put my mental energy.

This is where we’ve come from.

The specialization of Marketing Operations

As above, Marketing Operations is the subset of time, energy, and skills focused on configuring Marketing Technologies. When companies hit a threshold tipping point of a certain amount of Marketing Operations work in their Marketing team, they can either continue with a generalist approach to marketing operations (e.g., 5 Marketing Managers each creating their own campaigns end-to-end) or move to specialized Marketing Operations roles/teams within the organization to scale better and faster (e.g., 3 Marketing Managers orchestrating campaign/strategy/copy for the campaigns with 1 Marketing Operations person creating the technical configuration of the campaigns).

There are certainly trade-offs about when orgs would want to specialize Marketing Operations or keep a generalist approach to Marketing Operations. Marketing Operations persons tend to be systems-thinkers, more technical, less creative-minded. Marketing Managers tend to be creative types, primarily empathetic to prospect journeys, and people-persons. It’s hard to sustain a large team of Marketing Managers who need to frequently do Marketing Operations without errors, just as it’s hard to take Marketing Operations persons and make them primarily in charge of the campaign design at scale.

The larger the Marketing organization and volume of campaigns being created, the more “economies of scale” benefit for having specialized Marketing Operations team members.

The sub-specializations of Marketing Operations

As Marketing Operations teams scale, there are additional specialties that appear within the specialization. These are considered “sub-specializations” and generally align to the “Four Pillars of Marketing Operations” shown below.

The first sub-specialization that appears is commonly the split of “Campaign Operations” from “Platform Operations” and “Development MOPs.” This is because the number of campaigns in Marketing scales at a greater pace than the distinct needs for intense platform architecture, tool integrations, and larger infrastructure projects.

Where will Marketing Operations go from here?

While they don’t fit into the four individual Pillars of Marketing Operations, there are additional layers that jump out of Marketing Operations when scale (and seniority) apply to Marketing Operations. These are something akin to the “slices” of Marketing Operations that include:

  • Strategy
  • Team Management
  • Project Management

Marketing Operations Strategists are Director-level persons grown from within the Marketing Operations profession. These are the persons who know all about the pillars, generally have personal experience across the pillars, and can work side-by-side with peers from Marketing, Sales, Product, and IT to orchestrate Martech roadmaps end-to-end. They can be “lead from the front” leaders, servant leaders, roll-up-their-sleeves leaders. They know internal organizational politics and how to get things done on-scope and on-deadline. They’re usually people managers, but sometimes they’re more Leaders than Team Managers. These persons aren’t just driving Marketing Operations as a cost-center, but transforming Marketing Operations into a value-creating team by enabling new Marketing strategies, adopting high-yield/low-cost channels and tactics ahead of the competition, and creating a tuned profit machine for the company.

Team management is fostering junior MOPs persons through business processes to get things done with minimal errors and at low overhead.

Project management is a piece of any team at scale when the need for day-to-day calendar tracking becomes a role on its own.  This commonly appears when there are large-scale projects in Marketing Operations that bring in external vendors, or when campaigns are growing in volume faster enough that internal communication and ticket-tracking can cause errors at scale.

And then what?

MOPsCON is where we address industry changes and advancements, and this year I’ll be giving an updated MOPsCON2021 keynote to address the newest State of Marketing Operations. Tickets are available now at MOPsCON.com, and you can expect to hear from the best and brightest in the industry, the leaders of the future. Hope to see you there!

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