Peak Performance Marketer Series: Progress’ Carmen Gardiner on Marketing Operations

By Chuck Leddy

Our new Peak Performance Marketer Series features B2B marketing practitioners who are at the top of their game. They’re driving themselves, their teams, and their businesses beyond the status quo to leading-edge performance. They’re inspiring, motivating, and developing new ideas, transforming those ideas into better ways of working. They bring a laser-like focus to measuring the right things, and then apply measurement to drive peak performance.

Our first peak performance marketer is Carmen Gardiner, Marketing Operations Manager at Progress Software, the leading platform for developing and deploying strategic business applications. Carmen and the Progress marketing operations team have partnered up with Sojourn Managing Partner, Emily Bennett, and others on the Sojourn team for over a decade to navigate their peak performance marketing journey.  

As one of Carmen’s peers said of her: “Carmen has an uncanny way of getting things done. She is unflappable, even under the most stressful circumstances and has a strong drive to see her projects to a successful end. Her technical skills are impeccable, and she quickly learns new technology and incorporates it into her already vast knowledge-base.” We asked Carmen how she drives peak performance at Progress.

How did you begin your marketing career?

Gardiner: I was an English major in college and then got a master’s degree in education. Afterwards, I was a teacher at a community college. Back when Windows 3 came out, there was a big demand for trainers who could teach business people how to use the technology. So I began training people in technology, and discovered that I loved learning about technology. After a few years, I was  offered a job in marketing. At that time, marketing was turning from that “Mad Men” advertising perspective into more of a technology-driven space. There weren’t a lot of people in marketing then who either knew technology or felt comfortable with it. I did.

What skills does a high-performing marketing operations leader need?

Gardiner: They come out of the gate from a place of curiosity. They have a willingness to learn about new technology, and learn what that technology might enable within their organizations. They also have a deep curiosity about people, about how people work and think. They possess the ability to switch between strategic and tactical thinking. That’s such a rare combination of traits.

They’re also not afraid to fail. We have a mantra here at Progress: fail fast and fail better. A lot of people are afraid of failing, but that’s the best way to learn. The worst thing you can do is pick one road and stick to it no matter what. You need to be agile, see what needs doing, and course correct when it’s necessary. You should also not be dazzled by the latest shiny thing like AI or predictive analytics. Focus on your team, the needs of your people and organization.

How much does a marketing operations leader need to know about technology, processes, and people?

Gardiner: You need to keep pace with martech and what its possibilities are for enabling marketing operations. As for process optimization, that’s a skill you can have on your team, and you need to know how it fits into the bigger picture. Now the “people” part is where a lot of leaders fall down. The leadership role isn’t “only” motivating people on your team and getting buy-in from other people in your company. A marketing operations leader needs to be empathetic; seeing things from the perspective of the marketer, sales, and the customer.

Empathy is vital, because marketing today is so driven by data and technology that we sometimes forget to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. In marketing operations, our customer and our internal employees are marketers. We must understand what we’re all trying to achieve before we start throwing technology and processes at problems. Developing that human dialogue takes empathy, and it’s a foundation for success.

How do you gain buy-in from your team and other departments for change initiatives?

Gardiner: What’s important about our team at Progress is that a lot of our people have been here for 10 to 15 years. We’ve seen a lot. And people in the company know us well. I always want marketing operations to be seen as “trusted advisors” to the marketing department, the social media people, the event management team, and beyond. We’re the ones they’re coming to with questions.

Most people on our team have experience in demand gen, events management, BI, and more: none of us are new to marketing. We have a perspective across the company of what’s going on in all divisions, in all departments. We go to conferences, we do research, and so we know what’s out there and what’s possible. Marketing and other departments trust us as resources who help make them successful. That trust is important for collaboration.

What’s been your biggest challenge during your career, and what are you proudest of?

Gardiner: My biggest challenge has been learning that just because you have a project, and maybe you love it, you still need to keep perspective and be agile. If you go down the road, say six months and ten thousand dollars, there’s no shame in turning around or course correcting. It’s getting easier for me to understand when something is not going to work, to recognize it, and then act upon that.

What I’m proudest of is the marketing operations team that we have here at Progress. We’ve got some great campaign people, great marketing operations architects, great project managers. Every year we find another missing piece. Most recently, there has been a need to add BI people to the team as ROI and actionable reporting are in high demand.

Where do you think the marketing operations function is going next?

Gardiner: When marketing automation arrived back around 2004, everybody said it’s going to make your life easier, you’re going to be so bored because this machine is going to do everything for you. That hasn’t happened. The focus has just pivoted from sending emails to analyzing data. You have to know how to read the data, understand what it means, and then make actionable predictions and plans based on findings.

So the role is “reading” data, interpreting it. It’s why I became an English major, you read a novel and you explore what it means. You have to come up with those answers from the data. A lot of it’s based on experience. That’s where the people come in too, there’s understanding your organization, understanding your product, understanding what your goals are when you read that data. Where you want to go with that data.

What advice would you give someone breaking into marketing today?

Gardiner: Before pursuing a higher degree in marketing, get some real world experience so that you understand exactly what “marketing” is, because you might have some preconceived notions. Then find your niche. Is it events? Are you a hands-on person? Are you a data person? Be curious, and don’t be afraid of technology.

If you want to be a good marketer, sit back and listen to other people. Be open to ideas and trying new things. Have fun too, because marketing is fun. Finally, put yourself in others’ shoes; they will respect you for it and you will begin with a solid foundation for collaboration.

Thank you for sharing your expert insights with us, Carmen!

Interested in being featured in our Peak Performance Marketer series? Or know a B2B marketer we should feature? Reach out to us today. Cheers! 

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