Building a PROPER marketing operations team: Why some companies fail and others nail it

“There’s no “’I’ in team!” How many times have you heard this line of bullshit? In marketing operations, this is usually said by people who tell you about all the autonomy and entrepreneurial freedom you’ll have in a position. 

It is as if they don’t even see that these are conflicting ideas because they are too busy putting as many buzzwords as possible into a job description. 

I have stated this several times before – it astounds me how often people that are unqualified to do so, create job descriptions and interview/hire candidates for a given position. These are the same folks who repeat platitudes while ignoring quotes, such as when Aristotle wrote – “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” 

They ignore the lesson of Aristotle by randomly pulling out functions of different ‘parts’ of a team and applying them to others. They do this for two reasons – they either can’t afford to hire the entire team they know is necessary and have an “I’ll take what I can get” mindset or (and this is more often the case), they are clueless and just believe, “well, if someone can write SQL, that’s good enough for now.”1

Ultimately, to be truly whole, each part needs to be utilized, optimally, which means truly qualified personnel are explicitly assigned.

Job Postings Need Disruption 

I continuously find job postings where the requirements demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of what a specific function does or an utter disregard for the fact that one person can (and should) only do so much. 

There are two factors at play here – availability and specialization. A person who ‘knows how to write SQL’ hardly specializes in it. And SQL is one of those functions that should only be facilitated by an experienced, well-vetted, developer. 

Hiring someone with a general knowledge of such functions creates inefficiencies while increasing the likelihood that errors will be made. And as anyone who has had to repair a database before will tell you, fixing databases is not fun. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize plenty of marketing technologists know SQL but that’s not my point. Just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean they should

Further, when you focus on what a person can do, you distract from one of the most crucial considerations – whether or not this function exists at the center of the passion for the work that they do.

I love cooking. It is such a release for me – an opportunity to express my creative side without a computer in front of me. But baking? Eh. The irony of my preference for cooking over baking is how much I believe in putting science before art in everything I do professionally. 

Baking is a form of chemistry and cooking is most definitely an art. But one thing that I know for certain is that I am a much better cook than I am a baker. I don’t enjoy dealing with exact measurements and springform pans. 

As someone who attempts to avoid being full of shit on a regular basis, I recognize that if you don’t cook or bake, you might think “an oven is an oven” – that is, until you need to book your wedding or an important catered lunch for your boss. 

Suddenly, this distinction matters and as if you are some connoisseur, you demand a ‘tasting menu’ so you can provide your important feedback on whether 200 people with varying palettes and dietary needs will like the chicken marsala and dry-ass steak you intend to serve. 

The reality is, you aren’t truly qualified to choose a caterer and in the world of marketing, most people hiring for a position don’t realize what they really need: a team.

Are Recruiters Even Qualified to Recruit? 

There is something so transactional about speaking with recruiters. It always seems to feel that they have one hand on another phone, ready to make their next call while I’m in the middle of speaking with them. 

They never appear to be paying attention but rather seem to be checking off boxes as if they are building their perfect salad, ingredient by ingredient – “do you have five years of experience, have you worked in finance, do you want Thousand Island, have you used Marketo?” 

Remember Handsome Dan?

It is almost as if they don’t process your answers, they just write them down – like they don’t even care about their clients receiving viable candidates, only making their commission by filling a position with their perfect candidate.

Someone called me about a marketing technologist opportunity and proceeded to ask me how much experience I have with writing SQL. I replied, “I’m not a developer or data scientist, I’m a marketing technologist.” 

This recruiter, who herself has no business recruiting for a position for which she lacks any fundamental understanding, stated “that’s what my client wants.”

I couldn’t help it…I had to reply to her, despite the fact I fully understand she doesn’t care: 

“SQL is something a data scientist or developer would use, not a marketing technologist. A marketing technologist would dictate the business logic. Too many companies are trying to redefine what a marketing technologist does, adding on functions to fill in other gaps in proficiency at a company. For a marketing technologist to succeed, she/he needs to be able to be surrounded by specific resources. Your client is looking for either someone that doesn’t exist or someone that is willing to lie in order to get a job. You wouldn’t ask your dentist to work on your feet and they shouldn’t be changing the definition of a role just because it saves them money over hiring a data scientist.”

I’ll be as clear as possible on this. You either do or do not want a proper marketing operations team.

A doctor can’t perform surgery without an anesthesiologist, nurses, and others around her. 

There has never been an example where a doctor was tasked with both performing surgery and functioning as a nurse at the same time. 

And if there was, there is no doubt that it reduced the doctor’s ability to focus on the most important functions of her work. It is either the whole team or no team.

And by the way, I can bake you a cake (likely a cookie-cake because they are the best!).

1Sidebar – I cannot stand when people tell me “this is good enough, for now.” Mediocrity is not something that should be accepted but is, unfortunately, the norm for too many companies. It becomes accepted within a company’s culture and the ‘odd man out’ winds up being the person who is focusing on quality in lieu of unwarranted urgency.