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Top Marketing Execs Predict Growing Influence For Operations Roles Following Ops-Stars Event

After starting out three years ago as a small satellite event during Dreamforce, the Ops-Stars Conference has quickly grown to attract more than 1,500 attendees, 40 sessions and 26 sponsors. Hosted by LeanData, the event has become the lead forum for B2B executives who are either in an Ops role, looking to hire Ops roles, or those simply looking to optimize how the role functions within their organization.

Following this year’s event, Demand Gen Report spoke with several top executives to get their perspective on the event, as well as the expanding influence Ops roles are having in all areas of revenue generation. The executives participating in the discussion included:

Demand Gen Report: Are you seeing the role of Ops grow in importance and influence? If so, what do you see driving that? 

Sklar: Yes, Marketing and Sales Operations roles are on the rise. As processes become more automated and data source complexity increases, skills focused on project management, data management and driving effective marketing and sales insights are rising in importance.

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Isaacson: The Marketing Ops role has become one of the most important roles in my marketing team. When I have a great Ops person, it makes the entire team more effective. We have a tighter rein on our data and a better understanding of our impact. When I don’t have the right person in that role, it’s like putting swim goggles on the entire team. 

Marketing Ops has emerged as a critical marketing position for two reasons: first, the emergence of SaaS-based marketing technology that teams can purchase and easily onboard. A great Marketing Ops person drives the strategy for your tech stack. Second, B2B marketers are finally realizing that MQLs, open rates and site visitors are not success metrics for a business. As marketers try to connect activity to true business impact, Ops people play a central role in accessing, synthesizing and analyzing the data.

Conant: The role is growing because, unfortunately, the technology landscape is getting more and more confusing. There is a ton of innovation — which is wonderful — but it’s hard for companies to discern what is innovative and what is actually going to have an impact, and those are different things. Just because something is innovative and cool doesn’t mean it’s going to work within a company’s existing processes and drive real results and revenue.

So that’s this new Ops role: part of their job is to be able to piece it all together, which is highly necessary.

Keller: Ops has a specialized set of skills and sits at the critical juncture between Sales, Marketing and leadership. Ops professionals are unicorns that need to be technologically proficient, analytical and data savvy, but also great communicators since they so often serve as the bridge between Sales and Marketing. There’s an irrefutably positive correlation between Sales/Marketing alignment and revenue goal attainment — a great Ops person is critical for that alignment and, by extension, hitting revenue targets.

Coveney: With the growing number of technologies, the Ops role is becoming more and more important. Ops is like air traffic control — there is a lot going on and someone is needed to make sure things run smoothly. The organizations that recognize that shift are a step ahead.

Holmgren: We have several types of Operations people at Pitney Bowes (Sales Ops to Marketing Ops to Customer Ops); these are the “can-do” teams that the business turns to when faced with challenges. They face issues head on with facts and action plans. 

We are seeing an increase in using our own IoT data to drive customer communications. Leveraging this data leads to better customer experiences. 

Steele: The impact and significance of Operations have been increasing over the past several years. Operations teams are at the center of designing and executing go-to-marketing strategies to help their organizations accelerate revenue. We are starting to see high-growth companies embrace Operations fully and are offering them a seat at the executive table.

Regarding who is driving the influence of Operations, Sales and Marketing teams are at the center of this trend. Aligning these two teams around growth metrics and data will empower them to accelerate time to revenue for their organization.

DGR: Do you see more integration between Sales and Marketing Ops, potentially into a newly defined Revenue Ops role?

Sklar: I see the best companies tying these functions together through governance programs. Having both Marketing and Sales Ops roles will continue with specific separate functions and skills sets, but they are increasingly aligning on decisions from CRM to enablement and insights. 

Isaacson: Revenue Ops seems to be the trend du jour. Lots of presentations are given at marketing conferences expounding the virtues of Rev Ops. I think the principles behind it are sound — integrating your Ops into a single team organized around business impact. But in practice, that can be a challenge for some organizations. I think that it’s most important for the people responsible for Ops in Marketing, in Sales and in Finance, to be tightly aligned on the data and the metrics that matter to the company. Ensuring that each team is using the same data so that there is a single source of truth is essential.

Conant: As someone who was a Sales leader and in Sales Ops, and also a Marketing leader and had Marketing Ops — you really need them to speak the exact same language. Otherwise, what you get is disjointed insights that you can’t take action on. Really, Ops is not just about picking technology and put it together.

Ultimately, the real role of Ops is to be able to take data and bring it to me as a leader, and help me make much better decisions based on that data. And when Marketing Ops has one sheet of music that is giving out one line of predictions and insights that don’t jive with Sales Ops, that just creates more confusion. But if you can get them on the same page and have everyone reporting out on the same base of insights to make decisions — from CMO to demand gen to BDRs, etc. — all of a sudden you are coming to the same conclusions together.

Keller: In the past decade, technology and analytics has brought Marketing to the revenue table. As a Marketing leader, I’ve always been directly accountable for company revenue goals and I think that’s becoming more and more commonplace. Because of that trend, I think Sales and Marketing Ops have to merge into Revenue Ops. This role needs to empower both teams, bringing them the structure and process they so desperately need (and that the Ops persona also needed for reporting and optimization).

Coveney: The Revenue Ops role is an interesting concept. I don’t think we will see that in the near future, but possibly in the long term. We see many organizations invest in Sales Ops but not Marketing Ops. We see many companies try to make a Sales Ops professional wear both hats. In the end, it doesn’t work, as there are different specialties, skillsets and knowledge gaps. Ops is evolving, so we’ll see how these two roles come together in the coming years.

Holmgren: Process and automation remain a guiding force in operations. Recognizing the trends in data versus outliers is critical when trying to increase revenue at scale. Old-fashioned communication and shared metrics are the best way to ensure the teams are working together.

Steele: I do see more companies adopting the Revenue Operations model and are planning to create their own Rev Ops teams. According to a joint research survey from LeanData and Sales Hacker (now Outreach), we found that a little over 20% of respondents have a Revenue Operations team, and we do anticipate that number will only increase over the next few years.

There should be a defined Revenue Operations role/team that companies build. The team would consist of Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, and other professionals from revenue-generating organizations, to create this newly formed business unit: Revenue Operations.

DGR: What were some of the highlights of the recent Ops-Stars event for you? Do you see that event continuing to grow in future years?

Sklar: I love that there is a focus during the week of Dreamforce around the important role of Operations. This community has been underserved as a distinct career path and great to see the growth in the broader community. 

Isaacson: The Ops-Stars event had a tremendous amount of energy, and terrific content. Kudos to the LeanData team for putting it on.

Conant: Ops-Stars was a great way to bring that community together and drive towards more alignment around this merging of Sales and Marketing Ops — versus going to separate and distinct events. I believe in the future, this will be one organization that is looking over the technology and the insights for the entire revenue generating team.

Keller: There are so many people talking about data in Sales and Marketing Operations, which is nothing new. What was great about Ops-Stars is that there was finally a person responsible for that data and that they were being celebrated as heroes. Marketers have been addicted to data for so long that it’s robbed them of opportunities to conceive and execute on creative, brand-oriented activities. Marketing and Sales Ops set Marketing teams free to spend more time focusing on their audiences, which is incredibly exciting for me as a marketing leader.

Coveney: Ops professionals finally have a place to hang their hat at Dreamforce. We attended the first Ops-Stars event and it was held at a restaurant. This past event was held at the Mint with around 1,500 attendees. From the speakers to the sponsors, interest is growing dramatically.

Holmgren: Meeting people who don’t glaze over when 18-digit lead IDs are mentioned and move to the edge of their seats when a 30-box framework slide is shown makes the Ops-Stars event special.

Steele: Longer format workshops were very popular this year at Ops-Stars, and we will plan to accommodate a more significant number and more participants. Also, we are planning to include certification programs in the future.

Gender diversity is an essential issue for all of us and having a keynote panel session on the topic was a major highlight of the event.

Ops-Stars will continue to grow over the coming years. The LeanData team is about to start planning Ops-Stars 2019, and we can’t wait to share what we have in store with returning and new attendees. We expect in 2019 to have a roadshow format for Ops-Stars in cities outside of San Francisco beginning in February.