What do you do again?” Time and again, marketing operations leaders are faced with this question by those outside looking in, so much so, that at this point it’s practically a running joke. Yet, despite the relatively young field of MOPS and the difficulty to define it to the broader world, it’s gained an impressive momentum that seems to only exponentially grow year-to-year. In fact, it’s actually become one of the fastest-growing careers in marketing.

So, how and when did marketing operations as a field even come to be?

Justin Norris, Director of Solutions Architecture at Perkuto, four-time Marketo Champion, and Bizible All-Star has racked up his fair share of accolades within the marketing operations space, and has been a witness to the evolution that defines the industry of MOPS. From the early days of email marketing to forecasting what the future holds, his perspective on marketing operations is a fresh one, given his depth of expertise and timeline of his career. I sat down with Justin to learn more from his vantage point on the emergence of this industry.

This is what he had to say.

A MOPS Leader’s Origin Story

Every marketing operations leader has an origin story, some with humble beginnings seemingly far away from MOPS. Justin’s happened to begin in English literature. At various points in his life, he says that he wanted to be a writer, or even an English academic, though his experience in academia ultimately taught him that that path wasn’t the right fit for the long haul.

Justin began his first job in 2008, marking the beginning of his marketing career. Though, the landscape looked much different than it does now.

“I focused a lot on email marketing, specifically. I think at that time [during my first job] email marketing was an entryway into what we might call marketing operations, which really was not very prominent or well-known as a function at that time. There were very few people calling it that.”

Despite the lack of the operations title, Justin was pulled towards the process-side of marketing from the start. And then, toward the end of 2011, Marketo came into his professional path and everything changed.

Now in a new marketing role at a fast-paced start-up, the first thing that they did was bring in marketing automation. Justin was tasked with going through a selection process of platforms.

He chose Marketo.

As time went on in that role, he realized that he kept gravitating toward working with systems.

“I really enjoyed working with Marketo and Salesforce and though there were 100 other things I could be doing, I found that I kept gravitating toward that. As that company grew and more marketing resources joined the team, I less and less focused on pure marketing or the creative side of it, and really started focusing on the operational side.”

And thus, his marketing operations journey was set in motion.

Marketing operations leaders Michelle Miles and Justin Norris, Marketo Summit 2018

Michelle Miles and Justin Norris, Marketo Summit 2018

A New Field: Marketing Operations

As Justin was discovering the power of marketing operations through his use of Marketo, the field itself was gaining ground rapidly. “In the early days of Marketo,” Justin notes, “many users were still identifying more as email marketing or demand generation professionals as opposed to operations folks.” However, the explosion of MarTech, in general, and the need for increased maturity and sophistication in implementing and running these systems, made space for a new kind of marketing professional—  one that brings technical, strategy, process, and marketing expertise together.

“It gives people a home,” he says of the niche of marketing operations. “It creates a place where skills can shine, where you can be appreciated for the value that you bring. Traditional developers don’t usually know or want to understand or touch these systems and often don’t have the marketing knowledge to do it. And, traditional marketers aren’t always technical or systems-driven enough, so it’s a nice intersection where you can do something really special.”

The emergence of this new professional class has been driven in large part around the value and power demonstrated by marketing automation. In other words: numbers speak.

“As marketing has become more quantifiable, a byproduct of it becoming digital in some cases, it has become more of a hard discipline with more measurable impact, and marketing operations has very naturally come about as a result,” he said. “The old cliche joke is that marketing used to be the arts and crafts department…and now, marketing wants a seat at the revenue table.”

Forecasting the Future in Marketing Operations

While anyone in the MOPS space knows about the massive technology influx, Justin actually feels that these days of tech overwhelm may begin to fizzle out sooner rather than later, which would signal a disruption for vendors.

“I feel like the hype phase for a lot of these tools…we’re reaching the end of that. And the days [where] people [are] having 3, 4, 5 tools on their budget that aren’t necessarily integrated or implemented well, kind of buying tech like kids in a candy store, that’s going to be seen as increasingly unacceptable by the business.”

Essentially, rather than run crazy with new tech and jump at the shiny new “solution,” MOPS leaders are going to be held to stricter accountability when it comes to bringing in and integrating new technologies.

“Marketing teams will be held accountable for what they are procuring —  what they are paying for, what value is it delivering, and how it is being integrated,” he noted. “Marketing operations teams that are less mature are going to need to grow up a little bit in terms of how they’re approaching things and also work more holistically on the process around their tools and the change management around the technology they bring into the organization.”

The Dawn of a New Niche?

Lastly, a big potential disruptor that Justin notes is the increasing interconnectedness between sales operations, marketing operations, and in some cases customer success operations— a combined operational perspective often called revenue operations. He feels this collaboration between operational functions will start to become an increasing priority, as organizations seek to break down silos, reduce friction and development time for systems changes, and increase alignment among revenue-facing teams.

“At the end of the day, marketing, sales, and customer success operations are all seeking to create enduring customer relationships, often sharing the same systems” Justin says, “and so it makes no sense for these teams to develop priorities in a vacuum. I’ve seen important marketing projects stall because the CRM team couldn’t get on board to do something simple like create a few fields. This is incredibly dysfunctional and ultimately destructive for the organization.”

If these operational teams are able to find ways to deepen their collaborative efforts, they could all help each other take significant steps forward in their respective spaces. This could take the form of an inter-departmental working group or even a unification of operational functions.

“I think to move faster, be more efficient, and have a deeper impact in terms of transformation for organizations, marketing can’t do it alone. It doesn’t have the scope or power —  it needs to work with sales, it needs to work with IT…Whatever you call it, however it’s structured, there needs to be deep cooperation and partnership.”