Building Marketing Operations From the Ground Up

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Building a Team

Marketing is an interesting function in a startup. Small companies desperately need to build awareness to make selling easier for the sales team. Once a product is viable and has features in demand, people must know it exists.

One person can create quite a bit of content and effectively build a brand if they’re skilled enough. But a company must establish a solid data infrastructure, which means capturing potential prospects and campaign activity so that future actions can be optimized and improved upon.

“When you’re carving out a new function within an organization, you have to understand the needs of the business. What is your budget? What do your long-term needs look like? There could be needs that don’t justify hiring an internal staff member. Sometimes outsourcing to a consulting organization or a freelancer makes more sense,” said Brooke.

But that isn’t to say you should hesitate to hire a position that will be needed soon.

“Marketing operations is experiencing a talent shortage. The demand is higher than the supply, and you’re seeing many roles that are sitting open for six to nine months.

“Marketing operations and marketing technology set the groundwork for so much across marketing, sales, the customer experience, and post-sale, but it’s also one of those things that when done incorrectly or left to the wild can be very costly down the road. Data cleanup and rearchitecting systems are expensive projects, and ineffective implementations will make your organization less efficient.”

A decision as simple as creating a lead every time a campaign interaction happens instead of using campaign members and minimizing duplicates can have far-reaching implications.

“Additional person records mean you’re spending more on your CRM because of your database size, but you’re also blowing up the cost of your marketing automation system (MAP). But when you sit back and you look at marketing’s impact on revenue, or try to understand what’s working and what’s not in our organization, which activities are helping to drive pipeline… It’s really hard to connect the dots because you’ve got duplicate records. All of your data is fragmented.”

In addition to the added cost to your CRM and MAP, you have less visibility into what’s effective and a very high likelihood that different team members are calling into the same account without realizing it. Or even unknowingly calling customers to book a demo.


Refusing to invest in the right people and technology can cause more expenses than companies save in the short term. When you’re weighing whether to hire a full-time person, establish the company’s short and longer-term goals, identify current deficiencies, and build a plan accordingly.

Marketing Ops Should Be Your First Marketing +1

A good marketing operations professional can help your organization scale gracefully. They can architect your first MAP in a way that will migrate into your next bigger, better MAP. They’ll make sure your leads aren’t getting lost, your efforts are being tracked, and that you can actually make sense of the data to improve your go-to-market strategy.

Unfortunately, executives—even marketing executives—think of marketing operations last.

“The biggest help in successfully arguing for a marketing operations professional is looking at what type of impact this person can have on the organization. For example, if we can integrate our data, we can more accurately look at what marketing spend will drive in terms of revenue or pipeline. We can do a better job forecasting pipeline production. We can look at where our marketing spend is going and see what’s working and what’s not. And we can better allocate that spend into areas that will drive revenue instead of throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks.”

As marketers, we have to try new things. Old tactics wear out prospects and stop working effectively. Experimentation will always have a place in marketing, but data should inform the next step. If you can’t report on what you’re testing, you can’t improve your tactics.

“A lot of times, investing in the right people and the right technology can come with sticker shock. Many of these tools are not cheap. But if you take a look at what you’re spending for your CRM and your MAP and then look at how big your data gap is, you can see where putting money toward fixing your data problem is necessary. You’ll get insights and forecasting information that you will need to grow and scale the business.

“Let’s estimate that your marketing ops person’s salary is one hundred thousand dollars a year. If they’re spending 30% of their time trying to make sense of the data, that’s $30,000 a year wasted. That alone would cover the cost of tools that help with data cleanup and management. Once a tool is purchased, that ops person has that much more time to allocate toward actually growing the business instead of cleaning up a mess, which could have a huge impact on the business.”

A former client of Brooke’s, Aimee Schuster, recently wrote a piece on hiring for marketing that included a timeline that illustrates when startups should hire different roles. One of the first hires she advocates for is a director of marketing automation/operations, especially if you’re looking to do an exit strategy within the next 24 months.

“One silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it instilled in a lot of organizations the importance of having data behind the scenes. Suddenly, sales reps couldn’t just show up somewhere. There weren’t trade shows or even people connected to their normal business phone number. We had to figure out how to connect with them, whether that was advertising or email or online events. So much of the orchestration for that switch in tactics was done behind the scenes by marketing operations professionals.”

You Need the Right Tech AND People

Let’s say you’re at a new startup. Your board of directors wants to see sophisticated reporting. They want to tie marketing investment into revenue output. They’re asking for the age-old dollar-in-dollar-out visualization.

Their appetite for metrics probably isn’t synchronized with their willingness to invest in the technology necessary to get the insights they’re asking for.

I’ve seen CRM tools that don’t even have campaign member capability. They don’t allow campaign assignment to opportunities and influence reporting. They’re a mess, but sometimes they’re the only thing the business can afford.

A good professional can help you get the most out of these systems possible, but they need to be versed in setting the right expectations in what can and can’t be done. Then the company needs to either decide to invest in better technology or hire talent that might squeeze a bit more out of the system with a homegrown customer data platform (which also requires a significant investment).

But even the greatest tech can’t solve a severe deficit in marketing operations talent.

“Another misalignment between expectation and reality is the thought that a new tool will fix all our problems. Tools don’t fix the problems. Change management and many other factors have to be in place before that tool can be used or adopted. I’ve seen many organizations that aren’t using UTM parameters or bringing spend on campaigns into their CRM or configuring their marketing automation system to feed into the CRM’s campaign membership tables. Some companies don’t even have activity associated with campaigns, making them essentially untrackable.”

Unfortunately, technology hasn’t evolved to the point that “plug-and-play” works. It takes humans to understand the business and which metrics people need access to scale. If you purchase a tool and expect it to bolt onto your system and spit out insights without fixing the data underneath first, you’re not grounded in reality.

“An operations professional can set up the groundwork necessary for tracking, like program membership or campaign membership. Then, they can build an attribution picture so that when you sit back, you can actually see the impact that marketing is having on revenue and how different programs can drive pipeline. But it takes time and a healthy investment.

“But when you start speaking it in a revenue-focused language, it starts to transform marketing from the people who send shiny emails and make flashy trade show booths and pretty pictures to being the people who are building pipeline and generating revenue. You can tell the story that came out of that initial investment and literally show how much pipeline it generated. It sets the groundwork for arguing for even more of an investment in marketing because you can argue from a more strategic position.”

For more on building a team in an early-stage startup and how to speak in a language executives respond to, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.