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Consider for a moment that the average organization uses over 90 cloud services. As the MarTech landscape has exploded over the past decade, marketing operations has become the backbone that keeps all of these tools working together to reach the organization's goals - encompassing everything from planning and processes to technology and resource allocation.

However, marketing operations has traditionally been an IT-centric role, with only a couple of tech-focused people in the marketing department working to pull the data or evaluate the effectiveness of all campaigns. What a difference a few years makes: These days, heads of marketing are making marketing operations capabilities a top priority with their teams. As marketing tools and tactics have become vast and almost overwhelming, organizations must cut through the clutter, says Patrick Tripp, vice president of product strategy at customer data and engagement platform RedPoint Global. "They have to focus on value-add solutions that provide tangible results while also offering flexibility to progress marketing efforts over time," he says.

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The New Marketing Must-Have: Operations Skills

As marketing operations evolves, a new set of skills is becoming a must-have within marketing, adds Randy Wootton, CEO of enterprise content marketing platform Percolate. "The most successful marketing ops professionals are in some ways like business architects," he says. "They have to develop and evolve their understanding of the marketing landscape, while also bringing a deep tech expertise to the procurement and implementation processes.

According to Siddarth Taparia, senior vice president and head of strategic ecosystem marketing at enterprise software leader SAP, successful marketing operations requires three main skills. First, the ability to use and understand data is critical. "Marketers need to be able to use new technologies like AI, machine learning and voice search to get and apply the data needed to make their campaigns a success," he explains.

Next, marketing operations teams need an experiential and test-driven mindset. Finally — and critically — they need to be able to build bridges between marketing and business operations. "Being able to draw these links shows how we move the needle for the company," he says.

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An Opportunity to Drive the Future of Marketing

Companies today have no choice but to evolve their marketing operations, adds Taparia, as they respond to increasing consumer expectations. But that comes with a culture shift: "The fundamental type of marketing that needs to happen is different," he says. "A big piece is a change to a performance-driven, data-based culture that uses technology to remain competitive." As a result, marketing operations will become more relevant in the next couple of years "and offers an opportunity to drive the future of marketing."

Those that don't evolve their marketing operations will not be able to deliver on the promise of personalization - that is, delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. Instead, they will have a higher risk of brand confusion, decreased engagement and a less agile marketing department, says Wootton. "That's a very dangerous place to be," he says, adding that Percolate's research found that appointing someone to head up marketing operations can result in a 15-25% improvement of marketing effectiveness.

A key area of evolving marketing operations for success is moving away from the batch, campaign-oriented processes of a decade ago, and embracing the always-on, always-changing consumer through a real-time customer engagement strategy. To accomplish that, marketing operations will be taking more advantage of advanced analytics and machine learning to automatically choose the right content, offer, treatment, and even path-to-purchase as part of the customer engagement strategy, says Tripp. "This allows marketers to focus more on creativity, content, strategy, and oversight, letting the technology do the tactical and practical heavy lifting of who gets what, when, where and how."

Marketing Operations: Agents of Change

To get buy-in for evolving marketing operations, organizations must educate C-suite executives and show the value and long-term impact, says Taparia, especially when there aren't immediate ROIs. Marketing ops professionals must also be agents of change if they want to truly drive the future of marketing.

"They must stay relevant by being at the forefront of technology in the right ways," he explains. "This means not just using technology for technology's sake, but to bring about the right changes at the right times."