Dr. Debbie Qaqish, Principal & Chief Strategy Officer at The Pedowitz Group
Marketing technology has changed the role of marketing and has fully enabled marketing in brand new ways. Dr. Debbie Qaqish explains how a strategic marketing operations organization can support marketing to deliver on the promise of being a revenue driver by using technology to make a business impact.
Dr. Debbie Qaqish is a strategic Marketing Ops advocate, Revenue Marketing pioneer, strategist, speaker and writer. She is currently the Principal and Chief Strategy Officer at The Pedowitz Group. Since 2007, she’s helped organizations transform the role of marketing to be revenue drivers and leads the revenue transformation of aligning marketing, sales, and customer success teams.
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What started the evolution of the Marketing Operations role?
Let me begin with a little bit of history. I bought my first marketing automation system in 2007, when I was CMO of a fast growth technology company in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time, I bought Eloqua. It was the only game in town then. I didn't know until many years later that I was customer twelve at Eloqua. When I saw that technology, I knew it would change forever the role of marketing as it related to revenue.
Prior to that, most of my career had been in sales. So I come with a very sales savvy background. Back in those days, if you had even five different pieces of technology and marketing, you were pretty hot stuff. We know through Scott Brinker's work with Chief MarTech and the MarTech conferences that there are now eight to nine thousand different pieces of technology. It's been interesting to see the history of how technology has fully enabled marketing in brand new ways, but quite often marketing kind of misses the mark on delivering on that promise.
In the early days as we began to intake and use this technology, it was a little bit more of a pretty shiny toy syndrome. With the role of marketing operations, marketing has gone from being just that creative ‘pens and mugs’ kind of department to figuring out how to use this technology to make a business impact. When I talk about a strategic marketing operations organization, that's what I'm talking about. A strategic marketing operations organization fully allows marketing to deliver on that promise of being a revenue driver. Without that, marketing will always be a ‘pens and mugs’ department. With it, they become a revenue driver.
Whose responsibility is it to help MOPs become a strategic leader?
It’s the CMO’s responsibility. I can have one conversation with the CMO in any organization and tell you if they're successful or not. The CMO doesn’t have to be a nerd or a tech geek, but they do have to be in partnership with the head of Marketing Operations to really use that technology.
I want to share a story with you about the term “button pusher.” The whole idea behind my book, “From Backroom To Boardroom: Begin Your Journey With Strategic Marketing Operations,” came from when I was doing a MarTech conference. I was talking to a room full of Marketing Operations professionals. When I used the term “button pusher” with that group, I got a visceral response. It's like I reached into their chest and ripped out their hearts. There was this extraordinarily deep pent up desire and frustration that these people could be doing so much more to impact the business. That really was the beginning of the book.
I will say that there are still too many marketing ops organizations that are still frustrated. That is a crisis of leadership. We all know that the CMO role has fifty percent less tenure than any other executive in the organization because it's a very difficult role with so many different challenges to it. I don't think today's CMO can be successful or hold onto their jobs and progress if they don't have that head of strategic Marketing Operations as their wing person. It really is a one-two punch in the organization. I've seen CMOs be let go because they were not able to build that relationship.
What sort of behaviors are seen most often in leadership roles? Are there any gaps?
The ideal behaviors of a Marketing Ops leader are being a digital visionary, data insights obsessed, a process engineer, a change agent, skill builder, and functional facilitator. I most often see the ability to collaborate across functions. You know, marketing has a history of trying to partner with sales. Let's take that as an example. It’s now 2022 and the failures are massive. Then along comes a Marketing Operations professional who knits together sales and marketing in a way that I’ve never seen before.
I started asking Marketing Operations professionals why they could create a credible relationship with sales where marketing could not. Some of it has to do with history, legacy, but quite often it has to do with the fact that they can talk about data. Marketing Ops can talk about the data and demonstrate what the data shows.
I've also seen Marketing Operations play the role of neutral territory between Marketing and Sales. They sit in the center and communicate effectively to both marketing and sales. Helping marketing and sales communicate with each other is one of the things that I see as critical to a top performing marketing ops organization. Optimizing the use of the technology is critical, but I can't say enough about the ability of MOPs to collaborate. Because they can collaborate, they can get things done cross-functionally that need to happen. Traditionally that had been very difficult to drive.
A gap still exists in leadership leveraging the power of MOPs. Some CMOs still go to their Marketing Operations leader to pull some stuff for a report together for them because they have to present to the board. When they present, they do a terrible job because they don't understand the data they’re presenting. If you instead get a CMO in lockstep with the Marketing Operations leader, the MOPs leader can fully prepare that CMO on business oriented conversation based on data. I really just can't say enough about that relationship.
What’s the evolution into Revenue Operations and NextGen?
One thing that I' talk about in my book is the model I have for how a Marketing Operations organization matures. The last stage is what I call NextGen. NextGen is where you take marketing operations, sales operations, and customer success operations and create one organization that typically reports to the CRO or the COO. Or you take Marketing Ops, Sales Ops, and Customer Success Ops and you don’t reorganize, but create a center of excellence.
We're seeing a lot of interest in the notion of rev ops today. We just released a report where we surveyed five hundred professionals in marketing, sales ,and customer success to find out what was happening in this world of Rev Ops. The number one thing that they all say is that tighter alignment drives more revenue. At the end of the day, sales wins, marketing wins, customer success wins. Everybody wins, yet it requires a different way of thinking about the business.
If you think about it, we have spent years creating business models that are now no longer working for organizations. We live in a digital world. The customer's in control. What worked for you five years ago or ten years ago won’t work for the new world that we live in. It’s incredibly important how companies respond to their customers, how they create optimal customer experiences, because so much of the customer experience with your company is online. The companies who have figured out that formula are those who were winning in the digital economy that we have today. That makes this whole notion of rev ops very hot right now.
The number one driver to create a Rev Ops capability and/or a specific function is this need to understand the customer and to be able to respond to customer changes in almost real time. That is what's creating competitive advantages for organizations, no matter what industry you’re in. If you're not connecting with that customer, you're going to not be successful in this new world.
Some people say Rev Ops is Sales Ops, and that’s okay if they focus more on revenue. We take a broader definition of it. Our broader definition includes all the customer facing functions of the organization. How do you create that capability or that singular unit so that the company gets one view of the customer? How can you make sure everybody knows what they're supposed to do with the customer, no matter what part of the company the customer's interacting with? How can you make sure that you also have data and you can make almost immediate changes to what's happening? Because you have all this data about the customer, we take a broader definition of Rev Ops.
How can someone become a part of Operations for the NextGen?
For the last eleven years, I’ve taught an MBA class at the college of William and Mary. About five years ago, I started bringing Marketing Ops professionals with me. One of the very first people I brought in was Dan Brown, who was VP of Marketing Operations for Verint. He did a great presentation on what marketing operations is, what his organization does, the things his department affects, and the value that they bring. Afterward, one enterprising MBA student in the front row raises his hand and says, “Mr. Brown, that sounds like a fascinating career. How do we come to work for you?”
Dan looked out over the classroom and said, “I wouldn't hire any of you.” You could've heard a pin drop. His point was that a Marketing Operations professional is truly a purple unicorn. They had to understand technology, data, process, analytics, marketing, strategy, and business. It's very difficult to have all of those skills within a single organization.
In one chapter of my book, I talk about how different companies have solved that problem. Some will take people right out of college and put them on rotation. They’ll start in marketing and then do some simple stuff in Marketing Ops to get their technology chops. Some companies will take people from within their company. They may be coming from marketing for people who have that marketing acumen, or they may be taking somebody from IT and wants to get back into the business side of it. There's no easy answer.
As everybody listening to this podcast knows there is a talent war going on right now for Operations professionals. There are just not enough Marketing Operations or Rev Ops professionals out there. I know of one training program to train Marketing Ops professionals and that's run by my good friend, Toby Murdock, at Highway Education. Beyond that, it’s hard to break into. Sometimes I tell people to just go to work for the right company that will give you the opportunity to learn and grow.
Hopefully we'll have more programs in the future, both at the undergraduate level and business programs that will help you learn those skills that you need to learn. Until then, it's a challenge for the individual who wants to begin a career in Operations and it's a big challenge for companies trying to hire.
A path to get into Operations that we see most often is when a company buys Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua, whatever MarTech tool it might be. If you’re the person who winds up taking the lead on learning the technology, you’re the person that becomes the Marketing Operations professional in many organizations. You learn so much by using that technology because it crosses so many parts of the business. The quickest path to breaking into Marketing Operations is to begin by getting your hands on a piece of that technology and learning how to use it.