Marketing operations as the agent of change

  •   September 20, 2019

One of my key takeaways from attending Martech West was that change management is no longer a dirty word. In addition, I see marketing operations in the unique position to lead explosive change that affects the fundamental role of marketing and the perception of marketing’s value to the firm. Key to this type of change is for marketing operations leadership to step up as the agent of change.

There are many characteristics of a change agent.  I’d like to highlight three that best describe successful marketing operations leadership. They include:

  • Communicating compelling reasons for change
  • Diversified knowledge
  • Ownership and accountability

Communicating compelling reasons for change

Change-oriented marketing ops leaders are excellent communicators. The mere presence of a marketing operations team represents a change in how marketing functions. Leveraging this as a platform, effective change agents hone compelling reasons for change within marketing and with outside key stakeholders. The reasons for change are tailored to each audience and succinctly present why and how the change benefits each stakeholder.

For the marketing ops change agent, their compelling reasons for change are especially powerful as they are backed up and further influenced by data and on-going data analysis. This is a big change from the more traditional marketing decision-making processes based largely on gut instinct. It is very difficult to argue with data-informed changes.

An example of using data to inform and communicate change recently occurred with one of my customers. Before the arrival of a marketing ops leader, sales and marketing had constructed a lead scoring model based on gut feeling and intuition. You’ve seen this before. Sales and marketing get together and guess how many points to assign to certain kinds of digital behavior.

With the arrival of a new ops leader, one of her first goals was to make data-driven decisions, including lead scoring. After deep data analysis, she re-worked lead scoring and presented the new model at the next sales meeting. Disagreement quickly broke out but she was able to win them over once she showed data supporting the new model.

Diversified knowledge

Successful change agents bring and are continually exploring knowledge, best practices and new ideas from other areas. This certainly describes an effective marketing ops change agent who needs to have expertise in technology, data, marketing, operations, business, consulting, process mapping and the list goes on. This requirement of diversified knowledge is why we frequently refer to unicorns in describing what we need in marketing.

However, for the change-oriented marketing ops leader, having diversified knowledge is not enough. They must know how to weave together their diversified experience to create an outcome that is greater than the sum of the parts. After working with, talking to and interviewing hundreds of marketing ops leaders, it is their consulting skill that is essential to effectively using their diversified knowledge to effect change.

A few years ago I was working with an organization with a fairly new marketing ops function and leader. This marketing ops leader had a diverse background, including a stint in consulting. While having experience in tech, marketing and operations was important, he claimed his expertise in consulting affected the most change.

Why? Let’s look at the key characteristics of an effective consultant and see how that maps to being a change agent. First, this ops leader asked lots of questions and then shut up and listened to what people had to say. This behavior achieved two important elements of change. First, asking questions helped him gather critical information that informed what needed to change. Second, listening and interacting with all key stakeholders helped build relationships and advocacy for change.

Another key characteristic of an effective consultant is using diversified knowledge to create innovative solutions. One marketing ops manager I worked with used her diversified knowledge to create best practice services function for program and campaign managers and field managers. First, she baked into email and campaign templates best practices. As a marketer completed the template, they were driven to incorporate best practices. In addition, her team consulted with marketing peers on campaign performance improvement. In both cases, the diversified knowledge of marketing ops was a key input to changing campaign processes.

Ownership and accountability

A huge element of change management success is taking ownership and being accountable for change in the most transparent way possible. In other words, change agents are highly visible in what they are doing, how they are doing it and the results they are achieving. Being in this position can be scary and lonesome and may invite extra scrutiny and conflict. In situations with conflict, the ops leader must be able to demonstrate what they are doing is in the best interest of the business.

Change-oriented marketing ops leaders will look at all the changes that need to be made and then prioritize which changes will have the biggest impact on the business (this behavior represents change as well). Quite often, that change will be in the lead management process. Lead management is where the rubber meets the road for marketing. After all, the increasing martech investments are geared to create more qualified leads, that convert at a higher rate and that visibly demonstrate marketing’s contribution in financial terms. Taking visible ownership of this process and assuming accountability for an improved outcome is the hallmark of a change agent.

I was recently working with a global marketing team limping along in their MQL production and revenue results. They had a turn-over in marketing ops leadership and the new leader had both a tech and sales background. The first area she wanted to address was the very sticky issue of MQLs. Sales and marketing members were at odds with one another and her first approach to re-engineering the current lead management process soundly rebuffed. This marketing ops leader engaged sales leadership in a dialog around what she would do differently and how it would help sales. She also agreed to take ownership and accountability on her proposed process including having part of her variable compensation tied to the success of the new process. It was this attitude and action to accountability that won over the VP of sales so that the new process could be implemented.

Conclusion

Today’s marketing ops leadership has a choice. They can be reactive leaders that respond to business requests or they can be change agents that lead with new ideas, new innovations and new business models. We live in a digital world and digital transformation is all around us. This is why today’s marketing ops leaders have such an opportunity to lead and inform change, not just in marketing, but also in other parts of the organization.


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