How is the rise of the sales and marketing ops (SMO) function impacting revenue?

We’ve recently seen an explosion of activity in marketing operations as a function and/or as a distinct capability. The charter of an effective marketing operations group is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing in achieving business goals. The rise of marketing operations has enabled data-driven decision-making across marketing and is now central in more mature marketing organizations focused on a revenue result. The question is… what is the next level of maturity for marketing operations? The answer is the combining of marketing and sales operations to create SMarketing operations or SMO.

As part of my work to engage with marketing pioneers, I recently interviewed five enterprising marketers who all lead a SMO practice (see below). My goal was to understand how the practice began, how it’s structured, and the value it brings to their company.

Four out of five began with a vision

Strategy includes the driving force to create the vision and then the strategy itself. In four of the five companies, the creation of a SMO capability was driven by a visionary fed up with the hassle of traditional sales and marketing siloes. At Phunware, it was the case of a VP of sales and a VP of marketing who had worked together in a prior company and knew the power of revenue marketing. At McKesson, it was a VP of marketing who understood the power of optimizing CRM & MAP. At CAKE, it was a VP of sales who had a marketing background and knew the possibilities. At CloudLock, it was a VP of marketing who had the holistic vision for growth. 

Three examples of a SMO charter

A typical marketing operations charter includes driving effectiveness and efficiency in order to achieve marketing goals. When sales and marketing operations combine, the charter becomes much more powerful. Here are a few example charters from the folks I interviewed:

“Defining, building and supporting the framework that allows the sales team to do their job more effectively.” - Alex Simoes, director, sales and marketing operations, CAKE, a Sysco company

“To attract more new customers and retain the ones we have by making sure we have the tools, optimized processes and data.” - Richard Craemer, sales and marketing operations director, e-Builder

“To visualize the entire customer lifecycle through systems and ensure every department can see and adequately respond to every part of the customer journey through data and insights.” - Inese Pumpure, sales and marketing operations manager, CloudLock, now part of Cisco

The biggest difference between a marketing operations charter and a SMO charter is the breadth of impact. Marketing ops is largely concerned with marketing while SMO involves sales, marketing, sales development reps, customer success team, product development, and any part of the organization needing customer data to make decisions. The SMO team is much more involved with providing data and insights about every aspect of the customer journey to a wider audience. Also, a SMO team does everything through the lens of sales, so creating a framework that enables sales and overall revenue production is paramount. 

Three benefits of SMO

The chief benefit of SMO is the line of sight to the end-to-end customer journey and the nimble changes that can be made based on this line of sight. I first heard this phrase – line of sight – when I interviewed Brian Vass of Paycor earlier this year. Every SMO leader I have spoken with mentioned this incredible benefit as well. Imagine sensing and responding to changes in the customer in almost real time across every part of the organization. Imagine your customer having a consistent and thoughtful experience of your company, no matter where they are on their journey. This is true competitive advantage.

The next most important benefit of SMO is the resulting alignment and synergy created across sales and marketing. Words like team, together, and unified roll off the tongues of SMO leaders.  What is difficult and almost impossible for many companies is taken for granted and a common occurrence in organizations with a SMO practice. The level of communication and trust across teams grows exponentially.

The third benefit of SMO is a collective set of credible KPIs. Most organizations experience overlapping and conflicting KPIs as the goals of each department can be wildly different. With a SMO practice, one set of KPIs is developed based on the customer life cycle. Data about the customer journey is supplied from SMO to every part of the organization and there is a holistic consideration of KPIs to the benefit of the entire company.

Five pieces of advice for getting started

Of the five interviews, time spent running a SMO practice ranged from almost two years to over six years – pretty incredible given the newness of this function. Here are five nuggets of advice when considering a combined SMO function:

“Act like a consultant. As you bring the data forward and help different groups make better decisions around aspects of the customer journey, you'll need to act like a consultant by asking great questions and sharing both the good and the bad.” - Morgan Collins, sales and marketing operations manager, Phunware

“Treat sales like a customer – be nimble and responsive in terms of data, systems and training.” - Mitch Diamond, director of sales and marketing operations, McKesson (now Change Healthcare)

“Set realistic expectations with sales and be transparent. Sales has a short time horizon so quick wins and constant communication are key.” - Alex Simoes

“You need to assemble a well-balanced team – one that can be both tech and business savvy.” - Richard Craemer

“Align all key groups around a common set of metrics.”-  Inese Pumpure

The rise of the SMO capability is an exciting next chapter in the maturing of the marketing organization into a revenue center and into a customer engagement machine. How we interact with the world has forever changed and so far, the SMO function is proving to be an optimal response that creates measurable competitive advantage and profitability.