The evolving, foundational role of Marketing Operations: Post 1 (of 6) in our MOPs Maturity Benchmarking Series

By Chuck Leddy

Nothing is more important for marketing operations (MOPs) than effectively keeping pace with today’s landscape of continuous, even accelerating, change. The big drivers of that change include evolving customer behaviors and emerging capacities provided by marketing technology/martech. As our new “2019 Marketing Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report” explains, “[a]mong the large B2B companies in this study, two-thirds report that they are currently experiencing profound or significant changes in their markets and/or customers.” And while marketing technology offers great potential solutions, the pure number of martech solutions available today (well over 7,000) only adds to the confusion and uncertainty.

Technology alone is never the answer for future-proofing your MOPs, as our new report makes clear. Amidst this accelerating change, a crucial question looms: what is the “proper” role of marketing operations in helping marketing teams and the business navigate all this complexity around customer behavior and martech? That question is at the center of this post, the first of 6 which will explore key findings from our MOPs maturity report. 

“The basic function of Marketing Ops is to make marketing more effective, and more efficient. MOPs is tasked with driving better results with similar or lower costs,” says Rebecca Le Grange, managing partner at Sojourn Solutions. So MOPs is about how marketing resources get allocated and used: its basic role is to ensure that those resources are being deployed wisely and in alignment with the organization’s strategic goals in order to drive ROI.

MOPs: “The voice of reason”

The marketing ops team serves an important strategic role in deciding which investments are best aligned with the defined goals of the marketing team and the organization as a whole. Le Grange refers to the MOPs team as “the voice of reason within the marketing department,” the people asking important, strategic questions like “how are we aligning all of our programs and campaigns and whatever else we’re doing around our overall strategy?” If the Marketing Ops team is not asking tough questions about why a marketing team is doing what they’re doing, they’re simply not performing their proper role. 

Once strategic alignment is achieved, the marketing operations team should also ensure that the resources of time and money allocated to reaching those strategic goals are reasonable, realistic. Le Grange offers an example of MOPs in action as the voice of reason. “There was a massive trend about 8 years ago around optimization for mobile. Clients would ask us, ‘should we optimize everything for mobile, like our landing pages and our website?’ And we would always respond by saying, well, what is your strategy and what is your data telling you?” 

Le Grange explains that if your marketing efforts were seeking to reach a highly-conservative or very security-conscious B2B audience that accessed content from their secure office desktops, then mobile optimization would make very little sense. “It’s kind of the same with all these new martech trends,” says Le Grange, “you need to constantly ask yourself if the new, cool thing makes sense for your strategic needs and specifics of what your marketing department is tasked with doing. Does it make sense for you and your customers?” It’s not enough that “everybody’s doing it.”

MOPs: Driving business goals with data

Le Grange notes that there are six main pillars that Sojourn Solutions focuses on within its marketing operations assessment. Those pillars include strategy, alignment around the strategy, keeping the customer front and center, having the right technology, processes, and people in place, and bringing it all together by measuring (and iterating on) results.

Data is an important, even foundational, element of MOPs success, because it drives measurement and decision-making throughout the process and the organization. The ability to access and leverage data is strategic across the whole business, and MOPs is one part of this data management. But it also encompasses sales, customer service, marketing, IT, and other departments. “Marketing operations teams must have a cross-functional, collaborative mindset around driving strategy and alignment, including around data,” says Le Grange.

Data management can’t be done ad hoc or in a siloed manner. MOPs teams are most effective when they effectively blend people, process, and technology: you’re simply not going to drive success unless you’ve built a strong foundation of data and data management to support that cross-functional approach to engaging with the prospect and customer.

MOPs: A perennial focus on customers

“The single biggest continuity in marketing operations is a focus on the customer,” says Le Grange, “and a focus on how you message your customers, how you learn about what they want, and how you meet those wants with your marketing messaging and offerings.” That customer focus will never go away.

MOPs will always be a matter of both the left brain and the right brain: there’s both art and science involved in performing the role. “There will eternally be a place in marketing for the very creative person, for beautiful imagery and emotionally-engaging stories that connect the brand to the customer,” notes Le Grange. There will also be an ongoing need for a scientific approach, for rigorous experimentation in using data and iterating towards solutions. “A great team has all of these elements,” notes Le Grange.

What’s next for marketing ops? LeGrange believes it involves improving how marketers leverage customer analytics to support decision-making and develop marketing campaigns. “MOPs needs to be thinking about how to drive marketing not just based on hunches but by actually looking at all the relevant customer data and using it to drive decisions. How do marketers use technology to do that?” Le Grange points to the emergence of artificial intelligence within martech: “the big questions in MOPs now are around how we can incorporate AI into our conversations with prospects and customers, and really use AI to our advantage, while not getting completely consumed by it.”

At the end of the day, MOPs teams must understand, and be able to deploy, the “right” technology for their organization’s strategic needs, not just purchase “cool” tech. “How do we do that, deploy all this amazing martech but still keep a very human element to our customer interactions?” asks Le Grange. Answering foundational questions like these are exactly where MOPs needs to focus its energy.

If you haven’t downloaded our new benchmark report yet, please do so here. Also, check out our related webinar where we discuss 7 key findings of the benchmark report – download here.

Note: The second post (of six) in our MOPs Maturity Benchmarking series focuses on why the alignment of marketing, sales, and the wider organization matters so much for B2B marketing success, the roadblocks to achieving it, and how MOPs can help drive much-needed, cross-functional alignment.