A frequent question I hear from clients is, “Should we combine our sales operations and marketing operations functions into one team?” When I get this question, I start hearing the old Sesame Street jingle “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others” playing in my head. Sales and marketing operations may look very similar at first glance, but they are very distinct functions.

One of these things is not like the otherCompanies that combine the two groups are focused on their areas of similarity, but ignore their distinct charters, stakeholders and responsibilities. Let’s take a closer look at the two functions’ similarities and differences.

What’s the same? Sales operations and marketing operations are the co-owners and mutual stakeholders of the organization’s lead management process. They have a vested interest in pipeline growth, measurement and analysis. They depend on shared data, processes, service-level agreements and technology. They are motivated to have a healthy flow of qualified leads accepted by sales and turned into closed business. This is a significant responsibility for both operations teams, and both are of vital importance for the company. In fact, one of the main rationales for combining the functions is that they aren’t always perfectly interlocked – why not combine them into one team to have greater focus and alignment?

Here’s where the differences become important:

  • Marketing operations. Marketing operations is chartered to operationalize the CMO’s strategy, and does so through four areas of responsibility: accountability (measurement and analytics for reputation, demand creation, sales enablement and market intelligence programs); infrastructure (marketing data and technology); enablement (marketing process and skills development); and planning (campaign planning and budget allocation.) In addition to supporting stakeholders across the marketing function, marketing operations works closely with product, IT, finance and HR ­– not just with sales and sales operations. 
  • Sales operations. Sales operations is chartered to develop and manage initiatives that create efficiency for each sales role in the organization, resulting in incremental revenue and sales target attainment. Sales operations focuses on demand creation, opportunity management and customer growth. In addition to lead management, sales operations manages territories and compensation, and runs the deal desk. Sales operations serves as a liaison to other functional groups on behalf of sales, notably sales enablement, finance, marketing and product.

The two functions aren’t looking quite so identical now.

What happens when they are combined? Most commonly, marketing operations is folded into the sales operations team. Traditionally, sales has more organizational power than marketing, which results in one very large sales operations team. Marketing operations now focuses exclusively on demand creation and lead management tactics. The team can lose its connection to marketing leadership and become disconnected from strategy. Often, pockets of “shadow” marketing operations functions begin to emerge to address the planning, budgeting, and process needs that the marketing operations team no longer addresses. Worse, talented marketing operations pros get frustrated with the new org structure and priorities and start leaving the company, taking valuable knowledge with them. In short, it’s not an optimal outcome.

If there is a mandate to combine the operations functions, combine both teams into a larger operational function that reports into a VP of business operations or the COO. The key to success is for the new operations team to have strong dotted line reporting into the CMO and the head of sales to ensure that both sets of stakeholder needs are met.

Marketing and sales operations are both critical functions that address the distinct needs of their stakeholders. But they aren’t identical, and shouldn’t be treated as such.