It’s no secret marketing operations (MO) represents a fast-growing and exciting part of the new marketing landscape. Inspired by massive market changes around technology and the resulting shift in power between the customer and the company, many companies are faced with two questions:
- Is it time for a dedicated MO function?
- If so, what would that look like?
This column will explore the market conditions driving these questions, present a quick readiness test and describe a basic structure for a new and dedicated MO function.
What’s driving these questions?
There are two interrelated key drivers related to MO readiness: technology and customer control.
We all know technology is a major driver for instituting an MO function within the marketing organization. First, just the sheer number of marketing technologies available is catching the attention of the CMO and senior management. They may not know what much of it does, but they do know it exists, and they begin to ask questions about the use of technology to improve marketing performance.
Another consideration is what new marketing technology enables, which is revenue accountability. This has been the Holy Grail for marketing for many years and the bane of existence for every CEO and CFO.
For so long, marketing, whether it was B2B or B2C, was the black hole that sucked up a big part of the company’s budget with no quantifiable returns in sight. Technology has changed this equation. Technology is the enabler for marketing to step up to the plate and assume revenue responsibilities.
Back in 2010, when I coined the term “Revenue Marketing,” this revenue responsibility was still very new. Today, it is a reality in many companies. For this reason, the CMO and senior management are looking to technology to help enable marketing’s revenue role.
Related to technology as a driver of this question is the shift in customer control. Just as technology has reshaped the role of marketing forever, technology has also reshaped how customers interact with B2B companies.
No longer are customers at the mercy of whatever sales tells them. Those days are long gone, and we now live in what I call “the customer engagement economy.” In this new age, customers are in firm control of their own journeys because they are technology-enabled. They are one swipe away from learning everything they need to know about you and your competition.
They no longer need to talk with sales to determine what they need or how they would use it. In a tech-driven world, they have all the data they need at their fingertips from their phone, laptop, iPad or any internet-enabled device.
This shift in customer control is scary for many companies — especially those companies deploying a product-centric set of strategies. As companies accept that the customer is now in control, they often turn to marketing and marketing technology to engage with customers. I’ve seen this as a major driver to ramp up an MO capability, especially in the last two years.
- Is there a driving company need, and can marketing connect to it?
- Is there a belief that competitive advantage can be at least partially accomplished with technology?
- Is there an appetite for quantifiable marketing results?
Is there a driving company need, and can marketing connect to it?
This question is often overlooked when marketing is trying to make the determination to invest in a dedicated MO group. Yet I’ve seen this action accelerate budget for a dedicated group and the timeline to achieve a dedicated group.
One company need I’ve seen a lot of in the last two years is how to engage with the B2B customer across the entire company life cycle. As companies pivot away from product-centric strategies and begin to embrace the realities of the new customer control, there is a need — company-wide — to create optimal and holistic customer experiences.
This responsibility often falls to marketing, and marketing can use this new responsibility that extends past marketing to fund and accelerate a dedicated MO function.
Is there a belief that competitive advantage can be at least partially accomplished with technology?
This speaks to the broader company culture. If you work in a company where most of the systems are old and technology is infrequently updated — in any part of the company — you may work in a company where this belief does not hold true.
Take a look at where, why, when and how your company has purchased and deployed technology in the last two years. If there is no track record, you may be fighting an uphill battle to deploy a dedicated MO function.
Is there an appetite for quantifiable marketing results?
The answer to this third question is also a good predictor of your readiness to create a dedicated MO function. I often call a dedicated MO function “the CMO’s mulligan” or second chance to get on the revenue train.
I’ve seen so many marketing organizations struggle to show revenue impact, and often they struggled because they continued to use right-brain thinking from their traditional marketing org. The marketing organization that includes a dedicated MO function deploys left-brained thinking to solving this quantitative problem — and with much better success.
So, if your company still views you as the “pens and mugs” department or as the sales assistants, it will be tough for you to justify a dedicated MO group.
What would MO look like?
Let’s say you pass the test with flying colors. The next step is to determine what the MO function will look like, what it will be responsible for and how fast to accelerate the build.
I’ve seen very large organizations build an MO function of over 100 people in about six months. This is an example of a company figuratively going from zero to 60 in about 4.2 seconds.
In this case, there was a driving company need (customer-centricity). They believed in being able to achieve some part of competitive advantage through technology, and there was an enormous appetite for marketing to show revenue impact in the business.
This particular MO group actually lived in IT and was responsible for systems, data and a data schema for the entire customer journey, analytics and reporting.
Most companies, especially smaller ones, will go at a slower rate. Your ability to build the business case for a dedicated MO group and tie it to the larger company need will be what determines the budget and how fast things get done.
In most cases, the first decision is to create a charter for the MO group. Ask, “Why does MO come to work every day, and how does it solve the larger company problem?” From there, you need to build the structure with roles and responsibilities.
Remember this is a potential restructuring, which makes people very nervous. Deciding who does what as you add this new function and communicating why and how is critical to your plan and to ultimate success. I’ve seen new MO groups struggle to work with the rest of marketing, especially the demand-gen team, due to roles and responsibilities crisscrossing and no clarity provided.
Talent will probably be a big problem for you as you determine your needed roles and responsibilities. Quite often, new talent needs to be brought in. If you’ve run basically as a right-brained marketing organization and now you have needs for left-brained talent, you will need to hire or transfer from other parts of the company. This can be tricky, too, as we often see higher salaries on an MO team, and this may create friction both among your team and from HR.
Some businesses are not ready for a dedicated MO function, and no amount of pushing from the marketing leadership team is going to make this a success. I’ve seen too many initiatives shut down or not even begin because the company did not pass the Readiness Test.
For many marketers with the vision and the drive to be part of a thriving MO team, my advice is to look for the right company at the right time. For the health of your career, it is critical to ascertain if your company is really ready for a dedicated MO function and if you can truly make an impact there. If so, go for it! If not, move on.