Marketing ops, revenue ops, product ops, customer success ops, finops. It seems that every function can be reinvented by simply appending "operations" to the name.

This is a phenomenon that seems to be related to our complete dependence on (often highly specialized) software to carry out these functions.  As the complexity and sophistication of a discipline increases, the need for a dedicated operations function follows.

People outside of marketing rarely consider the details of how marketing conducts its business. Some would even argue that not having to think about those details is a clear sign of an effective operations function.

Nonetheless, as with any operations function, marketing operations plays a vital role in efficient, scalable, and compliant marketing execution.

While exact job descriptions and responsibilities differ slightly from company to company, the most common areas of responsibility for marketing ops can be grouped as:

  • data management
  • automation
  • system maintenance and integrations
  • budgeting and reporting

Data management

Most modern marketing organizations maintain a central database of current, former, and prospective customers with any of their associated activity. This database forms the foundation of what is known as a *marketing automation platform*, the most common of which (at the time of writing) are Marketo, Eloqua, and Pardot.

As with any database, the quality of data it stores determines its usefulness.

Consider several ways marketing operations teams use data and how incorrect or missing information can have knock-on effects:

Use case Intended behavior Impact of poor data quality
Lead routing In many B2B companies, marketing operations must assign new prospective customer leads to specific members of a sales team based on things like their geographic location, the size of the company the lead works for, or whether they are an existing customer. In larger organizations, operations teams may also adjust the number of leads any one salesperson receives to "load balance" or distribute the team's workload evenly. Incorrect or missing geographical data can result in a lead being assigned to the wrong salesperson or assigned to nobody at all. Should a positive outcome be reached by a salesperson who received the lead incorrectly, ambiguity around sales compensation can also occur.
Campaign attribution A complete guide in itself, campaign attribution is how marketing teams determine whether their marketing programs effectively achieve their goals. For example, how much revenue (or potential revenue) did a marketing campaign generate for the business? Marketing attribution is inherently a retrospective process—how did actions the marketing team take in the past impact the results we see today? Failing to set up systems to track activities proactively can lead teams to have "blind spots" in their attribution, prompting teams to invest further in a less effective strategy.
Segmentation As the size of a marketing database grows, operations teams will divide its entries into smaller groups that help the rest of the team target their marketing tactics to only address the members of the database that are most likely to respond. Building these groups (or "segments") requires attributes to be available across the majority of records and to be normalized in a way that allows an operations person to identify similar values. Ask any marketer and they will be able to tell you a story of segmentation gone wrong. Whether they inadvertently emailed existing customers about a new discount or promoted an event in Europe to contacts in Asia, poor data hygiene was usually the culprit.
Lead scoring To better understand who may be a likely prospective customer, operations teams will assign scores to different activities a lead might take. Additionally, a lead can receive points for having attributes (like job title or geography) known to correspond with likely customers. Failing to score leads correctly can cause sales teams to prioritize lower-potential leads over high-potential leads, wasting valuable time and possibly frustrating the prospect.
Consent management A more specialized version of segmentation, consent management describes the ongoing tasks of ensuring a company has permission to market to the contacts in their database. Suppose permission was never granted or was later revoked (for example, because a user unsubscribed from an email). In that case, marketing operations must block the corresponding record from receiving further marketing. The potential negative impact of poor consent data management can be as minor as an upset prospect or as significant as a substantial financial fine.
It is rare that marketing teams will entirely delete a record from their marketing database when consent is revoked. However, more recent privacy legislation requires that companies provide a process for all data associated with a person to be removed entirely. If this process is followed, marketing operations must delete this data.

The ways that marketing operations teams oversee and manage data within the marketing systems can vary. However, many of the most popular marketing platforms offer automation options where third-party tools enrich missing data, and other workflows scrub and standardize inconsistent data.

Automation

Normalizing inconsistent data values or using a third-party tool to fill in missing pieces of information about a person or their company are just two examples of the types of workflows a marketing operations team might build.

Much of today's marketing tactics involve responding in near real-time to the behaviour of potential customers. Boiling this down into "if x happens, then do y" workflows allows marketing teams to scale these triggered, personalized experiences without scaling the manual effort required to execute them.

Here are a few examples of common marketing workflows that operations teams will likely automate:

Trigger Actions
A visitor to the website registers for an upcoming event by filling out a form.
  • Create a new record for this lead in the database.
  • Add the lead to a list of event registrants.
  • Send the lead an email confirming their registration.
  • Log information about when the lead first registered and how they got to the website.
A lead signs up for a free trial
  • Add to a list of trial sign-ups.
  • Increase the lead's score. Record the trial end date on the lead record.
  • Send a confirmation email.
  • Call the product API to initialize the new account.
  • Notify the relevant salesperson.
An email sent to a lead is undeliverable.
  • Flag the lead as unable to receive email.
  • Add the lead to a suppression list.

Each time a marketing team creates a new campaign, marketing operations must ensure all the various automated workflows will correctly handle and annotate the affected leads.

As the programs a marketing organization develops become more complex, the number of automation workflows grows. In some cases, marketing operations teams may have centralized automation rules that evaluate changes and then trigger smaller workflows and so on.

System maintenance and integrations

Like engineering teams, marketing teams often refer to their "tech stack" to describe the combination of technologies and tools that carry out different functions—from marketing automation to data enrichment to webinar providers, for example. Marketing ops ensures these various tools consistently work as expected, and any necessary data finds its way back to the central marketing database.

As needs evolve, marketing ops may also evaluate new software and advise the rest of the team which tool represents the best fit.

When these tools fail or get out of sync, the operations team must determine whether any data or reporting was lost or corrupted and correct the errors they uncover.

Budgeting and reporting

The vast collection of data marketing operations oversees improves the granularity with which the team can target their campaigns. It also indicates which interactions with marketing were more likely to lead to positive outcomes for the business. Were people who attended an event more likely to buy than people who downloaded an eBook? If the CEO of a customer account saw an ad, was that account less likely to churn?

Marketing operations often shoulders the responsibility of surfacing these insights to marketing and company leadership to inform better where to invest and where to reallocate budget.

Again, as companies grow, marketing operations teams may expand to include dedicated data analysts to continuously compile, analyze, and share reports on marketing activities and outcomes.