• The scope of marketing operations has expanded substantially
  • The function’s evolution is driven by automation technology and a decrease in headcount
  • The need for a broader set of skills has become a strategic imperative

In 2010, 3D printing made its way into the mainstream media with the promise of machines that could print simple manufactured goods. Today, the technology has evolved to the point where printers can produce extremely advanced products (e.g. medical drugs and even biological tissue). Just as the evolution of 3D printing is disrupting many industries with its advanced capabilities, new and more advanced marketing systems are disrupting the marketing function.

In 2010, marketing operations was primarily focused on managing marketing technology, providing ad hoc reporting and working on other as-needed projects. At the time, there were just over 100 marketing technology solutions available to support the function. Even then, marketing teams didn’t really understand these solutions.

Today’s landscape looks very different, with nearly 4,000 marketing technology offerings with various capabilities (e.g. advanced reporting, analytics, business modeling and improved systems integration). Choosing, implementing, integrating and utilizing a solution is a major effort. The role of marketing operations has evolved as well, with duties include planning, infrastructure and data management.

To respond to the rapid growth in technological capabilities, emerging companies are shifting resources to stand up or evolve their marketing operations functions from a narrow tactical role to a broader and more strategic one.

Changes in Marketing Budget and Headcount Allocation

In our biannual research report “Tracking the True Cost of Marketing,” SiriusDecisions tracks the changes in marketing spend and the allocation of marketing resources. The report indicates that only six years ago, marketing operations represented just 1 percent of the marketing budget for emerging companies – whereas in 2016, these companies are spending 6 percent. This finding is of particular interest because the corresponding spend on marketing personnel dropped from 50 percent in 2010 down to 40 percent in 2016. The reduction in personnel is being driven in part by the automation of key processes (e.g. Web, email), as indicated by the increase in technology spend from 1 percent to 6 percent.

Why are companies spending more on marketing operations when automation and outsourcing are reducing personnel costs? There are two reasons. First, with the addition of new and often more complex marketing systems, someone must manage these systems to ensure their value is realized. Second, with more data available to help provide a more granular view of the buyer to guide the business, the need for dedicated time and requisite skills to analyze and leverage the data has become more acute. Therefore, the scope of the marketing operations function should now include:

  • Marketing measurement and reporting. Although this has always been a key part of the marketing operations function, the need for primarily tactical measurement has shifted to more formal marketing measurement to demonstrate marketing’s role to the overall organization. To do so, marketing needs the skills to manage data and technology to set up measurement that’s in line with business objectives and build out the processes to support it.
  • Marketing planning and budgeting. In the past, marketing operations was relegated to managing the budget spend process. Today, we see a shift to direct involvement in developing the strategic marketing plan and budget, aligned to business objectives and specific marketing goals.
  • Marketing technology and process management. As indicated our research, technology spend is growing rapidly, while personnel spend is dropping. To manage the process of automation to enable scale, the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of marketing operations to do more than just manage systems. The function must help choose the right systems, manage the technology ecosystem and plan for technology growth.
  • Marketing data management. Long a responsibility of marketing operations, data management has changed in scope to include new types of data to both manage and interpret. These include reverse IP, persona attributes, more advanced data appending, and product-generated data via “call home” capabilities built into product that provide utilization, location and other pertinent data.
  • Marketing operations functional design and development. This is a growing part of the operations role brought about by the rapid increase in headcount to support the function. For emerging companies, design is primarily focused on prioritizing the focus of marketing operations and managing scope creep – keeping it in alignment with resources available to do the job, as opposed to enterprises where enough headcount exist to break each part of the role into separate functions. Instead, the primary focus is development, learning the skills to manage the increasing scope of the role, with an emphasis on managing an ever-growing technology stack (e.g. sales force automation systems, marketing automation platforms, Web content management systems, analytics, business intelligence, personalization tools, content platforms).

As the perception of marketing continues to shift from a cost center to a partner in the revenue ecosystem, a properly skilled and staffed marketing operations function can act as a key catalyst to enable this transition.