By Gary Katz and Glen Petersen

Connecting the Dots between Marketing Automation and Marketing Operations to Deliver ROI

Most CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) are under considerable pressure to systematize demand generation, justify spending, and provide leadership in innovation in a rapidly changing and complex world.  CEOs and CFOs are constantly asking, “Where’s the ROI?” These pressures increase tensions among functional peers that cascade to subordinates who must do more with less staff.  Either a lack of perceived action or a lack of perceived results are likely to shorten a CMO’s tenure.

One option to alleviate this pressure can come in the form of Marketing Automation, which promises faster execution, the ability to track and measure ROI, better decision making, and improved insight/governance. The risk is that marketing automation investments do not always achieve their full potential to solve performance problems. Many companies are finding that the missing component is the organizational processes and management support that come through a Marketing Operations role.

The bottom line is that marketers need to know what options exist and what strategy can make marketing automation successful.

CMOs are challenged to deliver marketing ROI with less budget and less staff. It seems to boil down to either keeping up the pressure on the current team or seeking a technology remedy in the form of marketing automation. Both options represent risks.  Working harder is noble but it’s foolish to think that doing the same old thing will yield different outcomes.  The marketing automation promise is tempting but what if the investment in the name of improvement only accentuates fundamental flaws in the marketing organization? Many companies have made the investment with marginal results.

Understanding the Risks

Consider the types of conditions that place the marketing automation (MA) investment at risk:

  • A senior executive has not articulated a strategy to apply MA and outlined the consequences to the company of failure to successfully deploy and adopt it.
  • Marketing hasn’t established defined processes, business rules and common terminology
  • Poor data quality (e.g. duplicate records, missing detail, wrong codes, etc.) translates to dashboards and reports that have minimal credibility, which begs the question – why generate them in the first place?
  • Many disparate systems already exist that will need to be integrated with the new MA
  • Marketing lacks the necessary skills to leverage the system, in particular analytics skills
  • Marketing hasn’t developed its own analytics competency, causing it to depend on outside suppliers to develop decision-making models that don’t reflect integrated marketing realities
  • Users lack technical skills and treat existing applications as credenza ware that collects dust

At first, the above conditions may appear to represent an impossible gap to close. However, the CMO needs to consider the situation from a different perspective. For example, how much of the current overload is due to ill-defined processes and suboptimal resource utilization? Can vendors be managed more effectively? How much of the CMO’s time is spent being a referee? Having everyone’s hair on fire may convey a sense of urgency but there is a cost associated with a lack of discipline and objective measures of performance. Many benefits can be derived in organizing for MA before it is deployed. The Catch 22 is that the CMO does not have the bandwidth to manage such a transformation.

Defining the Marketing Operations Function

The solution to this conundrum is to create a dedicated Marketing Operations (MO) function, starting by hiring or promoting a qualified person to serve as Marketing Chief of Staff (COS). As marketing complexity increases, the organization must scale the MO function with the resources (budget, headcount, enabling technology) to be successful. This role frees the CMO to manage the C-suite relationships; meanwhile, the COS focuses on establishing infrastructure and an ecosystem conducive to marketing ROI success, while ensuring that marketing investments are allocated to initiatives that best support the enterprise strategy.

The good news is that, after an initial investment, creating a Marketing Operations function can ultimately help Marketing evolve from a cost to a value center.

  • Consolidation of administrative and support roles within MO leads to well-defined process, business rules, and clarity that eliminates unproductive meetings and delays that lead to late nights and burnout
  • Effective management of vendors ensures accountability and reduces costs, thereby making MO a self-funding initiative
  • Centers of competency are created to avoid redundancies, minimize waste and accelerate shared learning
  • Data quality and data integration issues are addressed, presenting a single interface to peer groups while advocating the corporate value of fixing these pervasive issues
  • MO driving marketing automation means better-informed vendor selection and proper funding to address training and support of technology applications (a common contributor to failed installations)
  • Over time, MO manages the governance aspects of marketing including key interfaces with sales, finance, IT, customer experience, quality, purchasing and finance, thereby reducing the workload of the CMO while maximizing the collaboration of these key functions

3 Steps to Connect the Dots for Success

Implementing Marketing Operations in conjunction with Marketing Automation is a potential double win – delivering results and eliminating risk – but the CMO has to connect the dots.

As with any structural change, the CMO must:

  1. Establish a clear rationale for the direction and implementation
  2. Lead the change and support individuals charged with making it happen
  3. Establish the criteria for success that ensures marketing automation delivers the benefits with the proper support from a Marketing Operations team

It’s all about connecting the dots. The CMO will need to give MO sufficient attention in the short run but the benefits of a Marketing Operations function that enables scalability and sustainable strategic impact far outweighs this near term investment.

Gary M. Katz is founder and chief strategy officer of Marketing Operations Partners, a firm that helps enterprises overcome dysfunction, execute strategy, build shared vision and accountability, and strengthen strategic impact in all areas of marketing. He also is chairman of the Marketing Operations Future Forum, a virtual consulting resource to resolve perpetual agility, alignment and accountability issues in Marketing organizations. To find out more, please contact Gary at

Glen S. Petersen is an internationally recognized speaker, writer, practitioner, and thought leader in CRM and e-Business. He is author of seven books addressing the organizational implications of CRM, including The Profit Maximization Paradox: Cracking the Marketing/Sales Alignment Code.