It wasn't always obvious that marketing operations would become such a central part of B2B marketing. When businesses first started adopting the practice, a lot of people thought it was little more than a passing fad.

But now it's clear as day: Marketing operations is no longer just the remit of a handful of enthusiastic geeks. It's the core engine making the entire marketing organization smarter, faster, and more cohesive.

It's evolved...

  • From experimentation with new apps, to managing an entire tech stack
  • From gaining agreement on data, to establishing a centralized approach to reporting and analytics
  • From serving one or two teams only, to uniting every department around a common understanding of the business's pipeline

In other words, marketing operations is all grown up

It's a recognized and respected discipline. And with its rapid maturation comes more responsibility. It's no longer just about a small team experimenting in its own little corner: The decisions made in Marketing Ops have an impact on sales teams, field marketers, customer service providers—people all the way up to the C-suite.

The discipline is aiming for bigger goals, and hitting them. And, as a result, it's getting bigger budgets.

This has to be good news—and not just for those in Marketing Operations, either. If you've got a successful marketing operations team, it means you've got an efficient approach to turning all your data into marketing insight—insight that can help your business implement effective strategies based on multi-source, rock-solid data.

These three steps will help you make better, data-centric decisions

Three big lessons will help you get to the stage where your marketing ops team can really impress:

  1. Get the basics right. You can waste a lot of time looking for silver bullets, but there's no substitute for getting the little things right. Make sure everyone in Marketing Operations is maintaining the right campaign tags and metadata (and if they aren't, show them how much harder it becomes to attribute a campaign's success back to them... that'll change their mind). When businesses let their campaign tagging hygiene slip, it always affects the reliability of their analytics.
  2. Manage your data centrally. You want your colleagues to consult their dashboards knowing they won't read conflicting numbers from other systems. For that to be the case, you're going to need every source of data to be up-to-date and accurate. That takes vigilant governance, collaboration, and the ability to manage your data centrally (so you aren't doing the same work in multiple systems).
  3. Give your experts free rein if you want to innovate. In the past, businesses didn't give their smartest analysts access to the marketing database. It just wasn't feasible. In some cases that was simply because they couldn't trust the data in there, but in others it was because they just weren't set up to let analysts experiment. Either way, it's always been to the detriment of the business. To get around the problem, it helps to create a marketing data lake. It gives your analysts the ability to come up with new analytics projects without bothering IT every time they need something new.

It's worthwhile investing time into each of those three. They might seem difficult, but when businesses get them right, they give marketing operations teams all the time and freedom they need to make a real difference.

The future of Marketing Operations looks brighter than ever

Marketing operations might be a new concept to you (in which case, I'd recommend reading "What is marketing operations?"). But the folks who've been doing this for a while are incredibly excited about how far this discipline can go. For three big reasons:

1. Marketing Operations isn't just a reporting team anymore—it's a tech strategy team

When the discipline first came about, most teams were just trying to get better data so they could create better reports. And that was hard. They were still figuring out what to report on and what their data needed to look like, and they were trying to find a way to give their stakeholders a reliable view of how campaigns were performing.

Now that teams are starting to build their own marketing data lakes and align their processes with the rest of their organization, things are changing. Marketing Ops isn't just reporting anymore, it's much bigger—it's shaping a martech strategy that can define the business' account-based marketing strategy. Rather than providing information, Marketing Operations is defining businesses' sales and marketing decisions and playing a much more heavyweight role in B2B organizations' strategy as a result.

2. There's way more great data to work with

There's a compounding effect that comes with data-driven marketing—the more data you collect, the more patterns you detect. It's an underrated phenomenon; but, simply put, the longer you do this work, the more value you deliver.

At a certain stage in their maturity, Marketing Operations will have tracked so many user journeys and campaigns that it can predict with incredible certainty what's likely to happen next:

  • For one thing, that's because marketing operations teams can support any predictive modeling they do with the kind of quality and quantity of historical data they need to get those predictions right.
  • For another, the teams just get better at inferring patterns and spotting mistakes. When you're chasing people to get their campaign codes right in the early days, they won't know why you're doing it; but, over time, as the results roll in, they'll realize that all these details add up to a lot of invaluable insight.

3. Everyone is united around a shared view of pipeline

One of the biggest obstacles to aligning Marketing with the rest of the organization is lack of agreement on your most fundamental goals. If your salespeople have different criteria for what constitutes a sound lead, you'll never get them on your side.

But, if you're all working based on a common view of pipeline, all the politics suddenly become a lot less important. Manage your data in a way that's inextricably linked to revenue, and everyone in sales, field marketing, and customer service will get that you're really on the same team.

An example: most organizations have at least an annual read-out to share how many leads they've got for the year, where the leads came from, and who's going to pursue them. In companies without a mature marketing operations, sales and marketing care deeply about where the leads came from: They want credit for the leads they've brought in. In companies with a mature marketing ops team, no one cares. All they want is to build pipeline and convert, convert, convert.

When everyone has a reliable view of the same data, all the politics become less relevant.

That's the kind of alignment a mature marketing operations is all about.

* * *

Marketing operations has come a long way. So much so, that marketers are coming up with all sorts of new names for it, like performance marketing, revenue marketing, and even marketing data management.

Whatever you want to call it, the operation that manages a business's data and marketing technology has never been more important to B2B marketing.

It's also increasingly effective. Give your marketing geeks a strong foundation of data management best-practices, and they can unite your business teams behind a shared growth strategy.

Give them the freedom to innovate and experiment, and the sky's the limit.

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Dan Purvis is director at digital marketing agency Comms Axis. Ranked by Brand Republic as one of the Top 50 UK Marketing and Social Media Influencers, Dan helps bring content, marketing, and sales together to deliver tangible business value.

LinkedIn: Dan Purvis

Twitter: @DanPurvis