Darrell Alfonso on Marketing Ops

darrell alfonso

Recently, we had a special opportunity to sit down with Darrell Alfonso to get his take on issues central to marketing ops.

Question 1: What originally sparked your interest in marketing ops?

There were two things that really fascinated me about marketing operations. One was the “builder” mentality while integrating different systems together. You’re creating solutions, but you’re not coding. The second one is the profession. This area of marketing was so in demand. This was because even experienced marketers didn’t know how to do it, or do it well. And that’s still the case today.

What attracted me to the profession is that you can become an important part of the marketing team without too many years of experience. If you can do marketing automation and marketing operations really well, you are an important asset to the team.

Marketing ops is a black box to most of the traditional marketers. They don’t really know what’s happening inside to support the strategy. I try to communicate what’s inside that black box. Make sure people understand how can you create the best customer experience by using some technologies.

Question 2: How would you define marketing ops?

There are a couple different ways to define marketing operations. There’s the one definition I think is best: “marketing ops is the art and science of executing.” Marketing ops should inform and enable the overall vision and strategy, but they’re not the ones responsible for it.

There are four main responsibilities within marketing ops (adapted from the work of Edward Unthank):

Whether you are a small company or not, those are the four main responsibilities. They could fall with one person, but at Amazon Web Services (AWS), those pillars sit with different teams. And sometimes it sits with teams upon teams.

Question 3: What was the role of marketing ops in the last decade?

I have spent the majority of my career around B2B marketing operations, but the last 10 years were largely around the evolution of marketing automation and martech. The number of tools and platforms that a marketing team is responsible for has really expanded.

With the technology expansion, you need talent, capability, and knowledge. It is required to manage and utilize technology to realize its potential. Ten years ago, marketing ops was more like a system administrator role. Then, you saw that the system administrator started to own much more of what we now consider marketing operations.

That is also why there’s such a confusion around where marketing automation ends and where marketing operations begins. In my mind, marketing automation is a component of marketing operations. As the technology and talent continues to improve, I think that overall marketing operations people will become much more strategic versus just being administrators of the technology.

Question 4: What is the role of marketing ops in the next decade?

Poor alignment plagues so many organizations. It results in arguing and fighting fires most of the time. Marketing ops is really a great solution to the problem of alignment. When teams have shared goals and responsibilities, naturally the alignment comes in.

Marketing ops is becoming more and more accepted as a strategic function. It is going to take a bigger seat at the marketing table. There is going to be a strategic marketing ops leader that reports directly to the CMO. Marketing ops is going to be a powerful competitive differentiator.

Question 5: What are the top three marketing ops trends?

My No. 1 trend is that the marketing ops function is becoming more strategic. I think the people who are in those positions today will take on more leadership roles in five to 10 years. We will see the VP of marketing operations emerge, or similar job titles.

The second is technology—i.e., software suites and platforms. We still can’t find satisfactory platforms and technologies. I see two scenarios happening. Either the mainstream martech companies are going to really innovate and consolidate and give us all of the most critical functions we need, or we’re going to build it ourselves, taking advantage of the rise of the low-code and no-code movement.

Third, I think the way tools can connect evolves. Think about Microsoft products. These are all separate products. But what is really nice is that you can take an MS Excel spreadsheet and copy and paste that into Word, PowerPoint, or Outlook and maintain the same functionality. Imagine these types of functionality used across data systems while persistently using the same filters or formulas. I think that is what marketing ops really needs.

Question 6: What is the one thing nobody talks about in marketing ops?

One of the things that people don’t really think a lot about for marketing operations is the difference between B2C marketing operations and B2B marketing operations.

With B2C marketing operations, you definitely have more budgeting and spend management, as well as planning and workload. B2B marketing operations is definitely more about the marketing technology administrator’s role. It is about making sure that all of these different solutions work. As it is all about technology today, everything we do is digital. Everything that we do requires tech. That’s why you see the rise of the marketing ops professional. Someone has to manage the stack, especially in B2B marketing ops.

The other thing we do not talk enough about is the potential risk of technical depth or legacy. We don’t talk enough about how we, as professionals, tend to make things more complicated. It is the sheer load of just “tech on tech” and “tech on process.” The legacy makes it very hard to change what you’re doing when you change the strategy.

We make things more complex unknowingly. Sometimes we think we can add steps and hope that technology will solve all our problems. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really scale. And it is not really agile. There is elegance in building things in a simple and scalable, robust way.

A first way to tackle that is to shift your mindset. When a problem surfaces, we need to stop thinking to buy another tool or set up another process. Your approach as marketing operations should always be thinking of the long term—always building, assuming volume could be doubling or tripling.

The second way is to keep your system of record as the source of truth. This is why data warehouse and CDPs are becoming more of the system of record, instead of having data live in so many other different places.

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