Rise of The Marketing Operations Function, Part 1

9 min read · 7 years ago


Who would have thought all this would begin with research on Unicorns?

I recently delivered a keynote at a digital asset management event, and my topic was Unicorns. Not the fluffy, glittery, pink and purple kind! No, I’m talking about the kind of Unicorn that is now the heart and soul of marketing operations – the marketing technologist. (The marketing technologist is called a Unicorn because she/he is such a rare breed. Just try finding and hiring one!)

As I conducted research on this topic, I became more and more interested in not just the role of the marketing technologist but also in the rise of marketing operations as a transformative function within marketing. I wanted to get a better understanding from practitioners what they were experiencing in their daily marketing operations world. So, to find out more, from February to April of this year, I interviewed a group of accomplished marketers who have built and currently lead an MO function. (See a list of all contributors at the end of this blog but the companies included Microsoft, Lenovo, MediaMath, TrendMicro, Covidien, Acxiom, McKesson, NCR, Elekta and LexisNexis.)

From these interviews, other research and my practical experience in working with marketing operations groups, I’ve compiled key insights into this five-part blog series. I’ll be publishing one blog per week for the next five weeks. Topics include:

Rise of the Marketing Operations Function Blog Series:

  1. What is Marketing Operations?
  2. How has Marketing Operations Changed in the Last Few Years?
  3. What is the Future for Marketing Operations?
  4. What are the Leadership Traits Required for Marketing Operations Leaders?
  5. What are the Lessons Learned to Share with Other Marketing Operations Executives?

Blog 1:5 – What is Marketing Operations (MO)?

The first blog in the series will explore the definition of marketing operations (MO). Why has MO emerged? What are the roles and responsibilities compared to other marketing functions? How is MO structured and what is its role in enabling sales and marketing alignment? I’ll wrap up with a brief discussion about what I am calling the “Marketing Land Grab”.

The MO function has exploded onto the scene because of a number of factors:

  • Fast-changing technology
  • A need for a more transparent, efficient, and accountable view of marketing
  • Big time pressure from the C-suite for marketing to contribute to the bottom line.

My first exposure to a marketing operations group was in 2008, and I thought it was so cool that marketing had a dedicated group to help manage technology and improve effectiveness. Since then, the role and function of MO have drastically changed, and this blog series will explore those changes and implications for the future.

In talking to marketing operations leaders about how they would define marketing operations, several themes emerged:

  • One Size Does Not Fit All

o The Four Types of Marketing Operations Groups

  • Enter the Left Brain
  • The Most Common Marketing Operations Functions
  • Moving from an Organic Structure to an Intentional Structure

o Drivers of Organizational Structure

  • Marketing Operations as a Hub
  • Conclusion
  • List of Blog Contributors

One Size Does Not Fit All

Based on the interviews for this blog series, the actual definition of Marketing Operations and the roles and responsibilities varied much more than I thought they would. What was clear was that this function vis a vis other parts of marketing was still being actively defined with changes almost daily. It was evident that one size did not fit all and that the variations in the definition had to do with company size and Revenue MarketingTM maturity. As the definitions varied, so did the roles and responsibilities of marketing operations.

From the interviews, four types of Marketing Operations organizations emerged that represent something close to a 4-stage maturity model or a least a “more” capabilities model meaning the MO group takes on more and more responsibility.

As you review the MO types, understand that each type builds on the previous type. The four types of MO groups are Efficient, Effective, Hub, and Accountable. I found the companies I interviewed for this series had moved through the following stages to arrive at where they are today:

  • Stage 1: An Efficient MO structure typically focuses on the use and integration of current marketing technologies along with data hygiene. This type of MO is also an execution arm for campaigns as they “own” the technology.
  • Stage 2: An Effective MO structure typically focuses on using best practices and key processes to improve overall marketing operations effectiveness. This type of MO is also focused on data, metrics and reporting.
  • Stage 3: A HUB MO structure typically acts as the nucleus for disparate groups including all the different parts of marketing, sales, the customer, information technology, and finance. This type of MO provides insights and consulting to other parts of marketing and the organization that helps to guide and improve business results.
  • Stage 4: An Accountable MO structure typically includes a much broader set of functions such as demand generation/demand center elements and has Revenue Marketing type of accountability.

In summing up the definition of Marketing Operations, here are a few quotes from MO practitioners on the way they define marketing operations

  • Danny Essner, MediaMath – “Marketing Operations is really managing the systems, data, and processes to make a scalable revenue machine as efficient as possible. Working with sales operations, and, of course, sales, together we are the revenue machine for the company.”
  • Mark Maurits, Microsoft – “MO is the function that is accountable for driving efficacy on both sides of the balance sheet – both improved marketing results and cost reductions. The MO group is like a factory manager who is responsible for having the right tools and resources in order to get the product out on time and with quality.”
  • Ashleigh Davis, TrendMicro – “The Marketing Operations function gives structure, process, accountability and a foundation for digital marketing. It provides project management, tools, practices, data strategy, finance, and budgeting.”

Enter the Left Brain

We all know how marketing is adopting a more analytical, technical and data-driven capability, and we understand the reasons for it. No matter how good the reasons are, it’s still disruptive dynamic and is creating many challenges for the Revenue Marketing organization.

“Today, left-brain activities are viewed as a ‘specialty’ in marketing. As marketing continues to transform, the traditional, creative right-brain set of activities may become the ‘specialty’.” — Michael Ballard, Lenovo

“The best definition for Marketing Operations is anything the rest of marketing does not want to do!” — Randy Taylor, LexisNexis

Marketing Operations is the nerdy, left brain processes of marketing!” — Ashleigh Davis, Trend Micro

Michael, Randy, and Ashleigh are referring to the challenge of marketing having to fully incorporate left-brain thinking and activities into a traditionally right-brained group. The task of merging two such dissimilar approaches into marketing is part of what is driving the ever-changing structures, roles and responsibilities within marketing. This dynamic is both real and persistent, and it needs to be proactively managed. As the role of MO continues to emerge we will see changes in roles, compensation plans, goals, and team structure. Deciding who does what, determining skills gaps and ensuring a plan for hiring, training or outsourcing will be a key element in adding this left-brain capability to marketing.

Michael Ballard of Lenovo summed up this change in marketing by saying:

“I think the definition of MO is completely different now. You know if you asked me that question five years ago, I would define it as the person who oversees the budget and the calendars and all the paperwork. Today it’s really an IT department. You’re managing a cloud infrastructure, and the role of the marketer in MO reflects how the role is changing. Traditionally, marketing was the right brain, creative folks like Mad Men. Today, we have to use a lot more left brain than our right brain, and we’re now trying to be more data scientists.”

Most Common Functions in MO
While there was a fairly wide-ranging set of MO functions and capabilities present across the interviewees, I also found a comment set that remained consistent with all the companies interviewed.

Technology Capability

  • Use, Optimization, Integration, Awareness, Recommendations
  • Partnership with Sales Operations
    • Data Management Capability
  • Hygiene, Use, Optimization, Insights
    • Measurement, Analytics, Reporting Capability
  • Metrics
  • Reporting
  • Analysis and Insights
  • Budgeting
    • Process Capability
  • Segmentation
  • Lead Management
  • Campaign Effectiveness
  • Best Practices
    • Execution Capability
  • Campaigns
  • Testing and QA
  • Project Management
    • Collaboration Capability

See the end of this blog for a discussion on this topic.

Here are two practitioner examples that encompass a more standard definition of Marketing Operations.

Mitch Diamond of McKesson – “There are three key components of MO at McKesson that we manage. The first is the technology infrastructure to enable marketing functions. This includes the marketing automation system, the database and the database strategy. We also manage CRM…while this is unique, it really helps us better align with sales. The second key component we manage is the analytics and metrics processes for the department, and this is really critical so we can benchmark our performance and can continuously improve. The third key component is managing and optimizing key processes such as campaign execution, lead management and budget tracking.”

Randy Taylor, LexisNexis – “The MO group at LexisNexis is responsible for all marketing technologies including implementations, administration and integration with marketing and company toolsets. We use a Project Management Office, we ensure budget compliance, we manage all marketing vendors and we are responsible for the lead management process from capture through assignment.”

Here is a practitioner example that encompasses more than the standard definition of Marketing Operations.

Chris Willis, Elekta – “The MO group at Elekta encompasses both the more traditional elements of marketing operations such as optimizing and integrating technology with the more demand generation elements of campaign effectiveness. I love getting into the weeds of our campaigns to figure out how to communicate more effectively with our clients, improve engagement and conversions. Once our marketing communications group has a better handle on the power of the technology for building campaigns, I believe that these demand generation elements will shift out of marketing operations and into the marketing communications group.”

MO Structure – From Organic to Intentional

A key theme that emerged from the interviews is how the MO function is changing from being organically occurring to being intentionally designed. Michael Ballard of Lenovo talked about moving from being organically grown to intentionally designed:

Michael Ballard, Lenovo – As our marketing team matured and became more sophisticated, we realized that we needed dedicated people in clearly defined roles. Not having a clear structure in place caused a lot of confusion. Now we have dedicated people for dedicated channels. So we have a dedicated inbound manager, dedicated outbound manager, dedicated marketing operations, and so on. We also have dedicated agencies for each of those channels. Our MO group is responsible for database management and quality, use and integration of our marketing automation system, analytics and managing all integrations and applications across marketing. Having clearly defined roles across marketing and having clarity for the MO function has allowed us to be much more effective and allows more time for more innovation in marketing… something we love to do!”

Across the companies interviewed, I observed several either organic or intentional MO designs:

  • The umbrella organization was called “Marketing Operations” and included an MO team and a Demand Generation team. The umbrella MO organization reported to one executive.
  • The umbrella organization was called the “Demand Generation Group or/Demand Center” and included a DG team and an MO team. The umbrella DG/DC organization reported to one executive.
  • The MO team and DG team were separate, was run as peer and complementary organizations and report to the same executive.
  • In whatever structure, MO worked closely with or also managed sales operations.

Even more interesting than the structure was identifying the key drivers for the current MO structures. Three primary drivers emerged: having or not having key MO skill sets in marketing, executive experience in and support of the value of MO, and marketing goals.

Collaboration & the Hub Concept

Like many aspects of modern marketing, the ability to collaborate, align and influence is key to Marketing Operations effectiveness. Every interviewee talked about collaboration, alignment and influence as key components to their success. They identified key stakeholders and worked with these key stakeholders to improve both marketing and sales effectiveness. Key stakeholders mentioned included other parts of marketing, sales, executives, finance and IT. Of particular importance was working with all the disparate parts of marketing in a flawless collaborative process and aligning with and enabling sales as partners. Danny Essner (MediaMath) called the result of this collaboration the “revenue machine.” Other practitioners referred to Marketing Operations as the hub between sales and marketing that enabled synergy and results. Nearly all the interviewees stressed the importance of sales and marketing alignment for success.

Patrick Phelan of Acxiom has a background in data, consulting and sales and used this to forge a strong working relationship with sales.“I’m so thankful that for the three years I spent working for a small management consulting firm that was focused on sales strategy and sales leadership. This experience helped me make Marketing Operations the hub between our marketing and sales organization. For me, understanding the business problems that a large sales organization is facing helps me be a better business partner. I can work with sales to understand the problems and then use the power of Marketing Operations to help shape new solutions.”


It’s clear that Marketing Operations is a dynamic, fast growing and essential part of today’s B2B marketing organization. It’s also in a state of flux as marketing attempts to keep up with both the new marketing technologies and the resulting changes. In talking to these companies about the role of Marketing Operations, everyone was excited and passionate about what they were doing and saw their key roles as being a change agent and a leader. They also thought it was a pretty cool place to be – today and in the future.

I’d like to thank all the contributors for this blog – see below. The next blog in this series is 2:5 – How Has Marketing Operations Changed In the Last Few Years?

Blog Contributors

Marketing Operations Blog Series Contributors:

  1. Ashleigh Davis, TrendMicro, Manager, Marketing Automation Operations
  2. Rachel Cruz, Medical Device Manufacturer, Senior Global Operations Manager
  3. Michael Ballard, Lenovo, Demand Generation and Operations Manager
  4. Danny Essner, Media Math, Demand Generation and Marketing Operations
  5. Mark Maurits, Microsoft, Senior Business Program Manager
  6. Patrick Phelan, Acxiom, Senior Manager Global Marketing Operations and Technology
  7. Mitch Diamond, McKesson Business Performance Services, Director of Sales and Marketing Operations
  8. Randy Taylor, LexisNexis, Senior Director Marketing Operations
  9. Margaret Hamner, Director of Demand Generation, NCR
  10. Chris Willis, Elekta, Marketing Operations Manager

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Rise of The Marketing Operations Function, Part 1

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