One of the most instructive ways to assess the state of Marketing Operations is to view the maturity of MO as a discipline compared to other professional practices. A mature marketing operations profession promotes high standards of professional practice and supports the rapid dissemination of new knowledge.
In 1997, The Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute (SEI) assessed the maturity of the Software Engineering profession and developed a framework of mature professions composed of two levels, professional and infrastructure.
- Professional level: Characterized by three components: (1) practitioners, (2) knowledge and (3) professional practice.
- Infrastructure level: Characterized by eight components: (1) initial professional education, (2) accreditation, (3) skills development, (4) professional development, (5) certification, (6) licensing, (7) code of ethics and (8) professional society.
How does this compare to what we have and what we need in the Marketing Operations profession to be considered a mature discipline?
MO meets the professional level definition of maturity. We have a large and fast-growing number of practitioners. Individuals have both specialized and general knowledge. Organizations and clients are paying us to put our expertise to work on a variety of challenges.
Whether the above translates to a formal body of knowledge that we can all agree upon is another matter entirely; one that we can review as we dive into the infrastructure level.
Two decades ago, SEI found that the maturity of the infrastructure level in the Software Engineering profession was severely lacking. I think it’s fair to state we are experiencing similar challenges in MO.
The SEI framework provides a useful guide to assess our professional infrastructure level maturity, progress and gaps.
Initial Professional Education
Let’s take a look at formalized MO education. Not long ago, IDC cited MO as the fastest-growing sub-discipline in Marketing. How does that align with university course offerings? Well, I just completed the same Web search I did in 2009 when I began teaching my Marketing Operations course at UCSC Silicon Valley Extension. At the time, I was excited to discover that mine was the first Marketing Operations class offered at a university-level. Guess what?
Nothing has changed! I scoured the Internet and curriculum on websites of the most reputed marketing schools (Northwestern, Wharton, Stanford, Fuqua, Harvard, Haas, etc.). Nothing focused on MO! Oh sure, there were plenty of offerings related to Marketing Strategy, Marketing Analytics, Digital Marketing, Demand Gen/Creation, even Marketing Metrics, all the sexy topics of the day.
But MO . . . no!
Extend the search beyond the education giants — same sorry result.
In fact, the only other MO course I’ve ever seen offered besides mine was from MO-CCA* founder Larissa DeCarlo, and came and went with of the Marketing Automation Institute, which was formed in 2011 and was abandoned within two years. (NOTE: I had thought Sirius Decisions offered a Marketing Operations course but a search of its website indicates its courses are focused on Digital Marketing, Field Marketing, Product Marketing, Product Management, Data Management, Marketing Measurement and Customer Engagement. Interestingly, none have Marketing Operations in the title.)
In other words, initial professional education in MO is almost always informal — learned on the job, by osmosis, by migrating skills from another profession to MO. The stark reality is there are very few formal educational resources to learn MO from the fundamentals on up. And my experience is that few professionals are leveraging the scare resources that do exist. Learning in MO is primarily self-taught and peer-reinforced. Some might say the blind is leading the blind. A less pejorative view: weighing heavily on the side of practical over aspirational; tactically focused on getting the job at hand done; working around fundamental flaws with resourcefulness; addressing the symptoms but not the root cause.
I started my career in the public relations profession in the early 1980s. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in PR from San Jose State, obtained professional experience and a few years later was accredited in Public Relations (APR) by the Public Relations Society of America. It was an arduous testing process requiring both book knowledge and peer review. We are a long way from being able to provide anything close to accreditation for MO professionals. More on what it takes to bridge this gap momentarily.
Without an agreed curriculum on what MO is and an accreditation process to assess professional mastery, budding MO professionals have largely been left on their own to develop skills in MO. Thus, most of their energy goes into whatever it takes (or appears to take) to get the job done:
- Researching, evaluating deploying and mastering MarTech tools.
- Hunting down spreadsheet-powered templates to architect a new process, develop a financial model or manage an MO project.
- Applying frameworks (Waterfall, Agile Marketing) to orchestrate go-to-market or project management initiatives.
- Developing specialist expertise needed to perform critical supporting tasks (data cleansing, reporting).
Does something here look suspiciously backwards to you?
The sub-functions or tasks of MO are getting all the attention, especially in B2B (Sirius Decisions’ course offerings are instructive). Marketing Operations foundational and strategic thinking skill development, which provides the glue for mastering the sub-functions/tasks in a holistic way — is under-emphasized or missing entirely. The children are more mature than the parent!
I think it’s fair to say we are about a decade into this MO professional evolution. The Marketing Operations label was used as early as the 1990s but the reality of the role back then would suggest it would have better been called tactical marketing (SKUs, BOMs, pricing, budgeting and such were the primary responsibilities).
We are still very tactical (or at least operational) in how we are developing the MO professional. We have specialists who are extremely good at doing one or two things extremely well but don’t have the right mindset or breadth of capability to do the whole job. We have MO leaders from a variety of disciplines who are very smart and talented but lean heavily on whatever background/frame of reference (IT, finance, sales, project management, marcom, etc.).
As mentioned previously, we are severely lacking in professional education, accreditation and skills development. Thus, the sources for professional development are very limited.
What do we have? MarTech, Sirius Decisions Summit, a few analyst and vendor events. None truly focused on the holistic practice of MO.
Missing in action or tried and abandoned: Henry Stewart’s Marketing Operations Management Symposium, Ad:tech’s Mark-Ops Forum, The Marketing Operations Executive Summit, the Marketing Automation Institute, The Marketing Operations & Tech Summit, to name a few.
So how are pros getting trained on MO? Well, just like a dozen years ago, MarTech companies are providing most of it. They need to be masters of MO to drink their “own champagne” so this makes sense. However, those technologists who have been around awhile are the first to admit that their ability to train customers beyond the capabilities and requirements of their tech is limited — and compounded by both escalating technology feature complexity and growing marketing function scope. Not surprisingly, this ever-growing gap is jeopardizing their customer success delivery.
Another concerning issue: cost-cutting organizations are cutting professional reimbursement. While this hasn’t stopped some individuals who are willing to pay for their career improvement opportunities out of their own pockets, it certainly has had widespread professional development implications for the MO field.
Not surprisingly, MO certification does not yet exist, except for mastery of tools (Eloqua, Marketo). Our organizations invest in systems and systems training, but allocate very little towards how to get the very most out of technology. There is no standardized and comprehensive approach in MO to certify professional mastery.
Some professions (medical, law, finance) require licensing because of the professional standards (and associated liability) involved. Licensing has not become a requirement — or even a serious conversation — to qualify one as a Marketing professional. At least for now, licensing for Marketing Operations professionals is a non-topic (with the possible exception of that required in certain industries.) This could change if CMOs (and their lieutenants) come under greater heat from shareholder groups for fiscal decisions.
As the only well-established professional organization in the field, MO-CCA has been with us since 2005 and has sponsored some very helpful workshops and webcasts on relevant MO topics and especially great networking mixers. These have primarily benefited practitioners in Silicon Valley and the Boston/New York area. For several years, MO-CCA sponsored an Executive Summit, which brought executives and consultants together to think and learn at a higher level. The last one I am aware of occurred in April 2015.
MO-CCA, at times, has had higher aspirations to advance the field but its scope has been constrained, either by choice or bandwidth of the key people behind it. At one time, I was able to attend a MO-CCA event in Silicon Valley every quarter. The number of events has dropped to a couple of times a year, while activity on the East Coast has picked up and actually surpassed the SV hub.
Realistically, I don’t think we can count on MO-CCA to fully fill the professional society gap. It serves a practical purpose but let’s face it: it is what it is.
We have a big challenge. Our professional credibility is tied to continuous learning and the ability to support CMOs (or whichever C-level executive is overseeing Marketing Operations) to achieve their dynamically-expanding agendas. The greater the responsibility the CMO takes on, the greater the onus on us to master our profession in ways we cannot even imagine. We need the profession of Marketing Operations to help us navigate our practical day-to-day realities, aspirational objectives and long-term careers. No one is going to do this for us. We need to align efforts to tackle this opportunity together.
*MO-CCA is Marketing Operations Cross-Company Alliance
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