The actual work of marketing and sales operations has been around a long time in one form or another, but in the last few years the roles (and discipline in general) have become more advanced, more formalized and more highly valued...but the job descriptions used by most companies haven't caught up. In this article, we help you evaluate whether your ops team has what it takes to grow with the business and help you move faster than your competitors.
Note that throughout this post we use the terms "marketing ops", "sales ops" and "revenue ops" interchangeably.
"Traditional" responsibilities and skills
If you peruse revenue ops job postings, there are several common elements, especially when it comes to reporting and data (i.e., "help create accurate dashboards from sales and marketing data"). Too often, though, the common elements are catch-all and don't describe the actual work or need of the business. "Manage CRM data" can mean a hundred different things depending on the context in a particular business.
Additionally, most ops job descriptions (especially in the mid-market) focus on solving for the immediate needs of the business and tend to over-emphasize one particular skillset. For example, a consumer company in growth mode may want an ops person with lots of experience in customer acquisition through paid advertising. Or a B2B sales leader may want an ops resource who can focus on pre-sales follow-up with leads.
Here are a few specific examples from actual job postings:
- Management and optimization of digital campaigns on an ongoing basis
- Develop customer relationships with outreach to new customers through cold calls, personal visits, emails and follow up
- Collect information/data on new institutional customers and propagate out to other stakeholders to ensure seamless onboarding and support of new customers
When we see ops job descriptions that are overly generic or border on actual marketing and sales roles (or both!), that's generally a sign that a business knows they have data and efficiency problems, but lack a comprehensive, long-term plan for how to turn data, technology and their ops roles into a competitive advantage.
All too often, as the organization scales, the result is unmet expectations on the ops person's performance and/or the resulting efficiency in marketing and sales processes.
Said another way, for many businesses, hiring an ops role doesn't actually help them move as fast as they want.
Ops creates ROI inside of a data-driven growth strategy
Where a data-driven growth strategy is lacking, ops roles almost always devolve into putting out fires, scrambling to configure tech for launching new initiatives and taking random orders on reporting (especially when marketing and sales are siloed).
For organizations that are going to market with a data-driven approach, though, people in operations roles thrive and can help create significant competitive advantage. When data is the connector across teams and departments, sharp revenue ops people can discover cross-business efficiencies, serve multiple teams at scale and run change management processes that actually create velocity (instead of bogging down key initiatives).
The practical implication is that even if you revamp your marketing/sales ops job description, hiring someone into a process they can't help change (or that the organization doesn't value) won't move the needle.
The new marketing and sales ops job description
So, what does the job description look like for someone who can help turn marketing and sales ops into a competitive advantage?
As we mentioned before, it is critical to think about the future needs of the organization. What will your data and marketing/sales infrastructure look like if you hit your goals over the next 2-5 years? How might size and structure change across teams? Are there key ops initiatives that would serve an acquisition or exit?
You may not have answers to all of those questions, but contemplating future needs will help you avoid the mistake of hiring for the hottest immediate fire and forgoing future competitive advantage.
Now, to the specifics.
Skills are certainly important, but skill scan be taught. The key thing to get right in hiring an ops role that will grow with the business is the *characteristics* of high-performers.
In our experience, background isn't always a predictor of success. We've seen people with backgrounds in music, retail and food service become excellent at revenue ops. One 'exception' can be candidates who start out in sales or marketing, but can't help working on the ops side—their understanding of the actual job functions can be extremely helpful, assuming they possess the other key characteristics. (As we'll point out below, though, we recommend ops people consistently 'walking a mile' in the roles they serve.)
Here are the key characteristics we look for in ops hires:
Great marketing and sales ops hires are curious in general and tend to focus much of that curiosity on tech and software. Said simply, they are both deeply interested in how things work and have a proven track record of taking action to figure them out.
Tendency towards technological 'tinkering':
As we mentioned above, great ops people tend to tinker with technology. Specifically, they tend to actively search for new tools and ways to make things in their life or work easier. The "tinkering for efficiency" mindset is the foundation for understanding efficiency as part of a more complex system.
Tendency towards systems thinking:
Tinkering isn't enough, though. Great ops people tend to think about how the specifics impact the bigger picture, which is key when building and running an efficient ops practice. This can be a bit hard to determine, but one thing we've noticed is that in interviews, great ops people ask big-thinking questions about how their role would fit into the organization at large and often ask questions about parts of the organization unrelated to their role (which circles back to curiosity).
Ability to stay organized and sweat the details:
Building and maintaining ops systems is inherently detail-oriented work. One piece of corrupt data can cause significant problems, so the ability to dig in and be granular is key. Great ops people probably err on the side of too-rigid a system because they get deep satisfaction out of clean, efficient systems, but that's a quality that can be nurtured into a tempered approach that balances granularity with business needs and velocity.
Tendency to ask "why":
Finally, great ops people want to understand the "why" behind the work they are doing and the work the organization is doing. Said another way, they instinctively know that the context for what they do is as important as the work itself, because the context should shape that work. This often shows up in the form of seeking to understand processes and roles across the organization.
Below we cover the key skillsets that we have seen drive significant competitive advantage first hand, both at top companies and in training our clients' ops teams.
We realize this list is probably unrealistic for a junior to mid-level ops person, but we made it comprehensive to paint a picture of the skills you'll need to invest in building in your ops hire over time.
Martech stack architecture
Many ops job descriptions ask for certifications in particular tools (Salesforce, Pardot, Marketo, HubSpot, etc.). In our experience, certifications are never as comprehensive as they seem and primarily teach tactics, not systems thinking. Great ops people focus less on specific tools and more on the function of that tool within a larger system. Ultimately, the valuable skillset here is to be able to evaluate the architecture of the stack relative to the needs of the organization, including cost.
Software evaluation for features, cost and integration
Demos always seem great, but for the ops person, the rubber meets the road in their actual job. That often means they know more about the underlying data and process around marketing and sales than marketing and sales leaders, which makes sense. All too often, though, ops people don't play a major role in purchasing the software they'll use everyday. Great ops people should be good at evaluating software on multiple variables and playing an active role in the procurement process.
Those in ops roles should be able to either build or support tool-agnostic data governance processes. The state of Salesforce data for most companies should be indication enough that data governance is drastically undervalued. Ultimately, the ops role plays a major part in evaluating and building the processes around the organization that ensure data stays clean, usable and up-to-date.
Extremely strong spreadsheet capabilities
Pivot tables and v-lookups should be familiar tools for an ops person. Even with the most advanced data layer and martech stack, there's always a need to solve data problems, identify issues, test potential data integrations between systems and generally 'test' data structure and reporting capabilities.
Basic to mid-level database and SQL capabilities
Spreadsheet skills are great, but both large sets of data and/or multiple sets of data can quickly make data work complicated and slow. Additionally, warehouse-based data storage and business intelligence are becoming the standard. For both reasons, we strongly believe that ops people should have the ability to load data into database tables, perform basic joins and perform basic analysis via SQL. Over and over again, we've seen basic SQL skills give ops people the ability to quickly discover both problems and insights from large data sets.
Basic API capabilities
The reality today is that APIs are a key part of any businesses' daily operations, whether they realize it or not. As functions like data enrichment and integration become increasingly necessary for businesses to compete, the ability to understand and make basic API calls allows ops people to test and evaluate a variety of more developer-focused tools and services that can make an outsized-impact on the stack, even if full implementation requires a development team.
Automation curiosity, creativity and capability
Related to technological curiosity, the ability to leverage software to automate is absolutely crucial. This is where the difference between certification in a specific tool and general automation capability becomes painfully clear. Great ops people are good at automation *in general*, they haven't just learned one tool. This can be hard to determine, but we've found creative exercises in Zapier to be a great litmus test for automation thinking.
Front-end code skills
Paid campaign launch and management capabilities
Running and optimizing campaigns shouldn't be a long-term, core skillset for ops people, but understanding the process is critical to data governance and clean reporting. Also, in periods of heavy testing and optimization for paid channels, the ability of the ops team to increase bandwidth and drive efficiency in the process, all while maintaining clean data, can be invaluable.
Strong understanding of privacy, security (and related legislation)
Last, but not least, great ops people should constantly educate themselves on the data privacy issues that directly impact their organization, including potential legislation. Note that we're not recommending expertise, especially from a legal standpoint, but privacy is already impacting organizations across the world and ops people are perfectly positioned to provide insight on potential data issues.
So what do you do next?
Compared to traditional ops roles, and likely your current marketing or sales ops person, this list can be overwhelming. Great ops practices aren’t built in a day, though, so the good news is that you can start with simple, practical next steps.
First, meet with key stakeholders who have a vested interest in ops (marketing, sales and IT). Use the list above as a starting point, but the meeting should be an opportunity to build a vision for ops as a competitive advantage.
Once you have a shared vision, evaluate your current ops resources relative to that vision.
If you already have an ops person in marketing or sales, perform an evaluation on their skills. If they are sharp, work with them to put a professional development plan together and upskill them. If you don’t think they can grow into the role, start looking for someone who can lead or replace them.
At that point, you’ll have a clear roadmap for beginning to build a competitive advantage through revenue ops.