Why MOPs is The Fast Track to CMO
I’m not revealing any secrets when I say that, to be successful in marketing operations (MOPs), you need a broad set of hard, soft, and strategic skills. From having a strong understanding of technology to being able to wrangle various project contributors and stakeholders into alignment, MOPs, in many ways, is the hub and spokes to the modern marketing wheel.
It just so happens that those skills align very closely with the skills needed to be CMO.
Whether you’re early in your career as a MOPs professional and you’re thinking about what your career path could look like, or you’ve been around long enough to know all the ins and outs of the role and are thinking about moving up the ladder, we’re going to look at why developing and leveraging your skills can put you in the unique position of boosting your career and title into the stratosphere.
But — and it’s a big but — while these skills are all transferable (and increasingly necessary) to become marketing’s top dog, simply having them does not automatically make you a shoe-in for the title. So we’re also going to touch on the number one skill (and it’s a biggie) that lives outside of MOPs, that you’ll need to be well-versed in, too.
Let’s dive into those closely aligning skills first, though.
The MOPs Skills You Need to Be CMO
Deep Understanding of Technology
Modern marketing relies heavily on technology, from marketing automation platforms (MAPs) to customer relationship management (CRM) systems. As a MOPs professional, you’re likely intimately familiar with these tools and systems, if not directly responsible for implementing, managing, and optimizing them. Knowing your way around these tools and platforms is invaluable for a CMO, as they must leverage these tools to drive marketing strategies, manage customer data, and execute multi-channel campaigns effectively. A CMO may not directly interact with them on a daily basis, but understanding their functions and capabilities provides them with strategic insight that’s hard to gain elsewhere.
Strong Analytical Skills
It’s hard to understate the importance of having a strong analytical mindset in MOPs. It’s also hard to understate the importance of having a strong analytical mindset as CMO. The ability to look at data and extract insights is incredibly valuable to any marketing team — especially when there’s significant experience behind it. As CMO, you can leverage the years of data-driven decision making you’ve done in MOPs into being able to confidently sail the ship in the right direction with minimal headwinds.
When it comes to streamlining processes and workflows, few do it better than marketing operations. You identify bottlenecks, eliminate redundancies, and create efficient systems that save time and resources. This skill translates seamlessly into a CMO role, where optimizing marketing processes can lead to cost savings and improved campaign outcomes. CMOs need to have a keen eye for process improvement to ensure that marketing efforts are efficient and effective.
Marketing ops often works closely with various departments, including sales, IT, and finance, to align marketing strategies with broader business goals. This cross-functional collaboration equips you with the interpersonal and communication skills required for a CMO role. CMOs must build strong relationships with other C-suite executives, drive alignment across departments, and champion marketing initiatives within the organization. MOPs professionals are well-prepared for these aspects of the role.
Effective budget management is a critical aspect of both marketing ops and CMO roles. Marketing ops professionals are accustomed to creating and managing budgets for marketing campaigns, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently. A CMO must oversee the overall marketing budget, make strategic investment decisions, and demonstrate a strong return on investment. So your experience in budgeting and financial acumen is a significant asset when transitioning into a CMO role.
Adaptability and Learning
The marketing landscape is always evolving with new technologies, channels, and consumer behaviors emerging regularly. Marketing ops professionals are accustomed to staying up-to-date with industry trends and learning new tools and methodologies. This adaptability and commitment to lifelong learning are crucial for CMOs, who must navigate the ever-changing marketing landscape and ensure that their strategies remain relevant and effective.
CMOs are responsible for setting the overall marketing strategy and vision for an organization. Marketing ops professionals, having gained a holistic view of how marketing works, are well-prepared to think strategically. So, you can leverage your operational insights to develop and execute strategic marketing plans that align with business objectives. This ability to think strategically is a key differentiator for MOPs professionals transitioning into a CMO role.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are at the heart of measuring marketing success. MOPs professionals are experienced in defining, tracking, and analyzing KPIs to gauge the performance of marketing campaigns. In a CMO role, you would bring a wealth of knowledge in setting meaningful KPIs, monitoring progress, and adjusting strategies based on performance data.
Strong Leadership Skills
Successful CMOs need to be effective leaders who can inspire and guide their teams. Marketing ops professionals often manage or align teams responsible for executing marketing strategies. While leadership is often a skillset that many have to learn, it’s something that is more or less baked into most marketing operations roles. This experience in leadership, combined with comprehensive understanding of marketing operations, equips you with the skills necessary to lead marketing departments.
This is a combination of skills that are 100% unique to marketing operations professionals. Analytical prowess, technological expertise, process optimization skills, and ability to collaborate across functions make marketing ops professionals likely candidates in leading marketing departments. And as the marketing landscape continues to evolve, the transition from marketing ops to CMO becomes a natural progression.
The One Skill MOPs Need To Work On: Creativity
Despite this long list of specialized skills that are shared by both MOPs and CMOs, there is one area of marketing expertise that MOPs doesn’t always get much exposure to: the creative side.
Whereas MOPs works in the data-driven side of marketing, creativity can be considered the touchy-feely aspect of it. The CMO exists at the intersection of these two facets of marketing. They understand the work that goes into being creative. They know how to evaluate creativity. They understand the inherent value in a brand. But most importantly, they understand how it all translates into business results. So, as a MOPs professional, getting exposure to the creative side of the business can be a huge advantage if your chosen career path includes a CMO title.
We’re not saying that you need to teach yourself design theory or know Photoshop and Figma inside out. You don’t need to be able to write hundreds of clever headline variations for a single ad. These are hard-won skills that take years and countless projects to master (Although, with how often MOPs takes on the role of brand police, it’s not unheard of).
But you will need to understand the creative process, what makes creative work “good”, and how creativity aligns with business objectives.
How do you do that? Learning and doing.
There are countless amazing books written on these topics, but here are a few to start with:
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
- A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb
- Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
- Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! by Luke Sullivan
Getting Your Hands Dirty
Beyond reading, there is no better way to understand the world of creativity than to participate in it.
(Kindly) ask your creative team if you can sit in on brainstorming sessions. You’ll be able to see how they turn a brief into something that looks like an idea. Then you’ll see those ideas multiply. You’ll understand how these folks bridge the gap between a product or a value proposition into something that connects to their audience.
Watch them pitch those ideas to their creative director or CMO. You’ll see how leadership evaluates the creative. They’ll likely be looking for the idea that most closely aligns with the strategy, evokes an emotional response in the customer, and drives business results. Sometimes the choice is obvious. Other times, not so much. And it can all be somewhat subjective.
Having exposure to this side of the business will provide you with many of the insights that are absolutely essential to moving up and into a CMO position.
It’s ironic that the common usage of the term and title “marketing operations” is still relatively young, but is now one of the most critical roles within any marketing organization. It’s a testament to how fast technology moves, customer behavior changes, and organizations respond. So, it makes perfect sense that driven marketing operations professionals make good CMOs.
However, as important as those things are, they only account for part of the marketing machine. Understanding the creative side of the business as much as possible — like what goes into a killer headline or how certain page elements can impact a conversion, for example — can absolutely weaponize your skillset and provide you with the strong holistic perspective that makes a good CMO a great one.
Chief Marketing Officer, Knak
Mychelle is a geophysical engineer turned career marketer who has led marketing teams at Cognos, IBM, Klipfolio and Solace. She has been very active in the startup community as a board member at Invest Ottawa, Unito, Trustiics and Touch Bistro and is on the Ottawa Hospital Foundation Board. In her spare time she spends her time outdoors biking, kayaking and skiing.