Why Marketing executives need to speak Marketing Operations (MOPs)

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Senior Marketing executives need to better understand the language, goals, strategies (and yes – even technical processes) being advocated by their Marketing Operations team if they want to retain their talent and truly harness the power of data and automation to achieve their strategic objectives.

I often hear the phrase that marketing operations needs to “earn a seat at the revenue table”. This implies, of course, that Marketing Operations (MOPs) experts and technologists must learn to speak the language of executives and management before they’ll be given respect and credence in the organisation.

While that’s absolutely something that MOPs must work hard on – the C-Suite has a format in which it communicates and the business by necessity speaks in hard numbers – I often wonder how realistic an expectation this is.

Business leaders are vital because they understand how to take the pulse of the business (or at least their responsibility areas), and make big decisions based on that by using the available information. MOPs practitioners are rarely hired for that. They’re hired because they understand complex processes, are detail oriented, can troubleshoot any platform issue or find someone who can, and are dogged in their pursuit of excellence in operations.

Summarising the business benefits and ROI of half a year’s technical ops work into a short deck for the non-technical to understand and take action from it is a damned difficult task. Not everyone in MOPs has this skill, or the time to develop it. Most of the time they are busy road-mapping new business requirements and getting on with it.

Does that make them bad at their job, and any less worth being listened to? No, it really doesn’t.

Let’s look beyond marketing for an example. Good IT C-Suite leaders have figured out the balance. CIOs and CTOs are mostly highly-skilled technical people who were blessed with (or worked very hard on!) strong business skills. They spend their working lives translating highly technical information they get from their teams into business-level information that their senior colleagues (including the C-Suite and the Board) can absorb and action. It doesn’t mean they don’t understand and care about the detail. They do! They also know how much info they need to share and in what format to get the budgets and results they need to keep their teams doing their work. Measuring attribution is just one example of this.

Now let’s look at marketing. Marketing C-Suite leaders from non-technical pathways often don’t have the technical insight, or even professional interest they need to grasp and interpret the rich, technical information being handed to them by MOPs. Since this info sounds a lot like IT, that’s reasonable.

In many circumstances, due to this lack of understanding or interest, Marketing leaders are pushing – either deliberately or inadvertently – the responsibility to get this info to the business down the chain to MOPs leaders and even practitioners. MOPs often don’t have the business or communication skills required to succeed in this, or the authority to be heard even if they do. So MOPs feel frustrated that their viewpoint isn’t being understood and respected by their own leadership.

This gap between MOPs practitioners and marketing leadership isn’t getting better over time, it’s getting worse. Marketing Automation, sales technology and innovation is gathering pace faster than the C-Suite knows what to do with. If leaders don’t make the time to appreciate the details coming at them from MOPs, they won’t fully grasp the potential that MOPs is bringing to the business, and how they can fully harness those benefits in their marketing strategies.

Instead, many marketing leaders simply demand more. MOPs sees these demands as yet more impossible things in impossible timeframes where everything is “urgent”, and the two collide in helpless frustration. Leadership believes MOPs aren’t moving fast enough to support the business, and MOPs believe marketing leadership don’t understand just how difficult that “simple thing” they asked for actually is, and how many other vital roadmap items must be displaced to achieve it.

There is no doubt that Marketing has evolved into a highly-technical realm in the past 10-15 years. The good news is that there are quite a few MOPs leaders who are now making the transition into the executive realm to assist with this gap in understanding.

 There’s absolutely no reason why MOPs leaders can’t be promoted into the next generation of CMOs and Marketing VPs. In fact, if Marketing wants to truly evolve into a data-led function, we need this to occur. 

If we don’t fix the communication divide, the alternative is that these forward-thinking technical marketers will depart for greener pastures, many into specialised data, CX and automation agencies where their skills are in great demand and they get to work strategically with forward-thinking companies. This empties the promotion talent pool and creates fewer ops-experienced Marketing Directors and VPs who understand tech and data. Thus the cycle is perpetuated, and leaves organisations who need to move forward floundering for the talent to achieve their goals.

The message to Marketing leadership is clear. You want to move into the future quickly and retain your best MOPs staff? You need to meet your technical marketers halfway. If MOPs professionals are being asked to better speak the language of the C-Suite (and they’re trying!), then you, as marketing executives, must also challenge yourselves to stay across the nuances of your tech stack. Listen more carefully to the people who run the stack, even if that’s not exactly in your wheelhouse. Help the wider business to understand it. Like any skill, it’s one that can be learned.

We won’t always succeed, but let’s meet in the middle and aim for mutual understanding. That’s where real success lies.