It’s a Dirty Job, But Someone’s Got To Do It – Marketing Operations!

Enabling growth by bringing people, process, data and systems together


10 years ago, Scott Brinker, the doyenne of the marketing technology industry, wrote his seminal piece on the rise of the marketing technologist. In it he argued that ‘marketing must control its technological destiny’ in the light of the huge market for marketing technology that he saw happening and predicted would continue, with an anticipated huge impact on the marketing function., the website behind, Scott, has just released its 2020 version of its marketing technology landscape, mapping 5,000 (actually 8,000!) software vendors to 49 sub-categories of 6 major marketing building blocks:

1. Advertising & Promotion

2. Content & Experience

3. Social & Relationships

4. Commerce & Sales

5. Data

6. Management

Check out the database at

This massive influx of automation in Marketing demonstrates just how different the function is from 10 years ago – and how the complexity of managing buyer behaviour across a proliferation of channels on and off-line has been seen as a huge opportunity by the tech industry.

In my experience, the attitude of marketers to all of this tech, falls broadly into two camps: the ‘shiny new toy’ camp and the ‘ostrich head in the sand’ camp. The former is loved by software vendors, who can repackage marketing strategies and sell them as easily accessible, packaged ‘solutions’ to what are complex marketing challenges. ‘Content Marketing’, ‘AdTech’ and ‘ABM’ are just a few examples of this. The latter acknowledge that technology is here to stay but want to ignore as much as possible and see it as separate from their core functional responsibilities. Technology is expected to ‘do the job’ and be as inexpensive as possible, so as not to take budget away from more familiar marketing, like events or advertising.

What is undeniable, is that the marketing function, in this digital world, can not ignore the sweeping changes that have impacted it in the last 10 years and in this blog, I want to consider the digital revolution in relation to Marketing strategy as a whole.

In B2B, Marketing Operations is typically where the rubber hits the road in the execution of digital marketing activity. So how does it ensure that marketing doesn’t veer out of control and hit the barriers (to overstretch a metaphor)?

Marketing still needs to do stuff – it’s just different stuff

In my experience, uttering the word ‘process’ in a room full of marketing people is enough to make their eyes glaze over. And yet marketing people need to do stuff – the process – it’s just that what needs to be done has become more unfamiliar to many, more complex and has far more inter-dependencies to manage. Marketing doesn’t want to feel like, or be like, IT – we want primarily to focus on creative ways to engage buyers. Yet we are also expected to be ‘agile’, run ‘MVP’ campaigns and be ‘data-driven’ or ‘performance’ marketers that deliver measurable outcomes. To do both requires a little more left brain thinking, a change of culture and a clear strategy.

Marketing operations is needed to define how we blend traditional (off-line) marketing processes with digital, ‘always on’ processes and how we use technology to capture, process

and interrogate data to make better decisions.

And, perhaps more importantly, how we do this at scale, in multiple geographies and languages via different channels without creating people and data ‘silos’.

This means defining standardised ways of doing things (the process) but making it easy for people to follow these ways of working through templates, systems and automated workflows that reinforce what works best. This optimises the use of resources, defines ownership (process definition often involves the use of RACI) and helps to determine competency requirements to run the process.

Marketing Ops is then responsible for training people on the agreed processes and systems, providing governance to ensure processes are followed; creating a culture of continuous improvement, through data insights, testing and cross-functional teams. This is a huge step away from what the marketing function has traditionally considered its domain knowledge – but the ‘digital transformation’ has touched every business and business function: marketing is no different.

Marketing Operations

A strategy for growth and marketing-generated demand must go hand-in-hand with a strategy for marketing enablement – and in this digital world, the ‘operation’ of marketing requires a multi-disciplined team approach. The structure of the organisation that runs operations depends on the size and complexity of the company it supports, but it needs to be fully integrated into the strategic planning process, or it risks becoming another silo, disconnected from the realities and KPIs of the more directly sales-centred teams.

Typical responsibilities are included in SiriusDecisions’ marketing operations model shown in the chart, but they can also include ownership of digital channels, the website and operation of MAP systems. Often companies will initially focus digital skills and systems into a ‘centre of excellence’ in which a small number of ‘power users’ take responsibility for setting up templates, automated steps and contact segments, for example, while end users own basic campaign build.

However, it is important that the capabilities of the operations team are sized to meet the growth expectations of the company. While the structure will inevitably follow the natural pendulum law of centralised vs decentralised organisation, the processes, data management and governance needs do not follow the same rules and will need to be funded and resourced as part of the planning process.

In summary

Marketing Operations is all about enablement of the marketing function to deliver against its KPIs in a digital-first world. Through an understanding of core functional processes, data collection and management needs, systems and analytics, Marketing Ops provides a new, but significant contribution to successful marketing execution. It must be carefully considered in the context of a company’s growth ambitions and be embedded into marketing strategy, to ensure investments in marketing enablement are made in a timely manner and scale in line with these ambitions.

This is blog is part of a series on the role of B2B marketing strategy in performance marketing.

The first focuses on the need for B2B marketing strategy. The second article focuses on the role of brand strategy and a company’s value proposition. The third considers how we take this offer to market through messaging and personas and in the fourth, I look at identifying our market through segmentation and content strategy. Five and six look at how marketing is aligned with the B2B Sales funnel in generating demand and seven considers our channel strategy to reach buyers. The last post considered how to generate the intended action from target buyers.