5 critical leadership skills every marketing ops pro needs

Marketing operations can be chaotic, and mastering leadership skills in such a dynamic environment can be an uphill battle. While the web is overflowing with leadership listicles, these suggestions must be taken further to determine what skills are needed and why.

It’s time to move beyond advice like “become a better communicator” and use language that makes this actionable for everyone. Below are five key skills to help you tackle the challenges of a rapidly evolving industry.

1. Become a strategist, not a firefighter

Developing effective marketing leadership skills begins with learning to think and plan strategically. Part of this requires stepping past the reactionary day-to-day and taking proactive action for the sake of the business. 

This is a challenge in many environments if the marketing function has been understaffed or underresourced, leaving the team to merely react to the items. However, at some point, this shifts. It’s critical to see the potential for fires before they even start. 

Marketing leaders must hone their ability to address complex problems and make informed decisions. That also means considering factors beyond simple financial implications, including:

  • Implementing new technology.
  • Mitigating risks of business processes across the organization.
  • Simply communicating about the MQL to SQL process between teams. 

Becoming a strategist means having the ability to do the following:

Analyzing business fundamentals

Call it “first principles” or whatever you want, but examine the core drivers of your business and be willing to challenge the status quo based on what you find. Rather than jumping on each new martech tool, consider the cascading effects of each new technology across your business.

Keep a close eye on emerging trends and anticipate their impact on your team’s work over the next 12 to 24 months. Proactively communicate this anticipated impact to your team. When your team is prepared and empowered, you can spend less time putting out fires.

Shift focus to long-term planning

Develop the capacity to pull yourself out of the weeds and move towards more of a planner/advisor role. For instance, these days, you might be asking, “How will our organization use AI? What are the implications? Drawbacks? Ethical concerns?” 

Dig deeper: Rethinking the marketing planning process for an agile world

2. Interpret and showcase data correctly

For better or worse, leaders can create a powerful effect on behavior by carefully choosing what to measure and what metrics they expect employees to use. To excel in marketing ops, you must possess a strong understanding of marketing analytics, be excellent at discerning valuable insights and communicate those findings in an impactful and concise manner.

Organizations differ in how they define data-driven, though Forrester sums it up nicely: “A data-driven organization identifies the insights it needs data to inform. It effectively manages that data and empowers its team to use it.” 

While data should help drive decisions, you must balance that with speed. In our organization, we often say, “Companies grow at the rate of decision-making.” You can accelerate your organization’s growth by optimizing the speed at which you gain insights from your data and empowering your team to leverage those insights.

But it’s hard to create any growth if you don’t know which metrics matter

Great leaders recognize the fluff of vanity metrics, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore them. Instead, understand the relationships between lead and lag measures and make sure your team understands.

People in your organization will have different opinions on which metrics matter and how to interpret them

Empathy and understanding are key. Strike a balance if you need to because different stakeholders will care about different KPIs. Some may give extra attention to lead measures, but these measures can still illustrate progress, even when bottom-line results are not yet apparent. It’s all about learning to tell a compelling story with the data in situations like these. 

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3. Practice empathetic change management

Change management becomes important when implementing new processes, tools or technologies — which, in the case of marketing, can be frequent.

Whether you’re adopting ChatGPT for SEO or trying to get the sales team to use HubSpot sequences, your goal is to ensure a smooth transition, minimizing disruption to your team. To achieve this, consider a few tips:

Education and buy-in

Practice empathy for those asked to make shifts and make sure they feel heard in their concerns. By securing their support (rather than just asserting your correctness), you can minimize foot-dragging and/or burnout.

Tailor your message

Just as in marketing a product or service, tailor your message to each specific group within your organization according to what’s important to them. Remember that people learn differently.

For example, create visual roadmaps illustrating anticipated workflow improvements and time savings when introducing a new project management tool.

Small wins

Focus on finding small wins that support the vision, whether they serve as a step in the right direction or simply as a morale boost to sustain motivation.

For instance, when transitioning to a new marketing automation platform, celebrate the first successful email campaign sent using the new tool, showcasing its benefits and boosting team morale.

4. Communicate and collaborate as a team

People tend to either retroactively realize they needed better communication or they’re the type to have meetings for the sake of meetings. But just like group projects in high school, you don’t want to be caught doing all the work or carrying the load alone. 

Effective cross-functional collaboration is key to aligning marketing efforts with other business functions, but better collaboration doesn’t mean more meetings (which could have been emails). It’s about asking the right questions and fostering free-flowing communication.

Create standardized processes across teams

For every decision, ask yourself: do we know the criteria we’re using to make those decisions? Start by identifying inconsistencies across functions. Pay attention to differences in response to the same questions. 

For example, receiving the same request from different departments in different ways may indicate a need to streamline communication and establish clearer guidelines.

Or you might find different teams have different webinar processes. This could mean that teams have different reasons for ignoring a standardized approach, have distinct processes or are unaware of shared resources like a documentation library. 

Identifying and addressing these discrepancies will lead to more effective cross-functional collaboration and a stronger, more cohesive company.

Don’t jump straight into the deep end with communication

It’s great to keep everyone on the same page and establish clear communication channels within/across teams. Sharing insights and best practices between departments can be hugely helpful too.

But avoid overdoing it in communication. Going from zero to 100 to compensate for communication lapses can be overwhelming, causing your team to tune things out and creating white noise. Leaders need to gauge effectiveness and pivot as necessary. 

5. Be flexible yet structured where it matters

Just as a goldfish grows to fit the size of its bowl, our tasks expand to fill the time we allow them to. Agile project management can help you efficiently allocate resources and adapt to changing priorities, ensuring you deliver timely results.

Clear communication

As with improving cross-functional collaboration, you must establish a decision-making framework to prioritize tasks effectively. Work on communicating goals clearly. 

Dig deeper: How to use decision intelligence to tackle complex business challenges

Efficient resource allocation

Adopt an agile mindset when handling technology transitions. Be prepared to back up your current tools, move to new ones and notify your company about changes in tool usage. Balance time and resources to manage these transitions smoothly since sunsetting old tools bring its own workload.

Adapt to changing priorities 

Ask better questions to understand priority and impact. Develop a plan that is flexible enough to avoid falling apart at the first sign of change. 

Deliver results on time (and don’t hide it)

People may forget when you deliver on time, but they will remember when you’re late. Don’t forget to remind and celebrate your team’s successes externally.

Staying agile is key

By implementing agile project management, you’ll be better equipped to handle the dynamic nature of marketing operations, ensuring that you can adapt and deliver results efficiently.

Excelling as a marketing ops leader requires a unique blend of skills. By nurturing these skills, you’ll be better positioned to tackle the challenges of a rapidly evolving industry. It may seem like tired advice, but remember that continuous learning and adaptability are crucial to staying ahead in marketing, so embrace the challenge.

Dig deeper: Agile marketing: What it is and why marketers should care

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


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