It’s not every day you have the chance to meet a unicorn. But the title really fits Sara McNamara, Marketing Operations Manager at Cloudera 🦄
Know what’s even more rare? Getting to say you got that nickname from a marketing unicorn in her own right – Sarah Kennedy Ellis, the CMO of Marketo.
“Sara is a leader. And she’s curious. And she’s a badass. Thus, a unicorn. I’ve learned more in DM feeds from her than most books or consultants could sneeze at.”
– Sarah Kennedy Ellis
Sara McNamara is a legend in the ops world. Automation, marketing ops, sales ops, B2B marketing, ABM – you name it, she does it.
I think it’s safe to say Sara knows a thing (or 2,000) about marketing ops – what marketing and sales alignment should look like, how to build a martech stack in an ever-changing (and expanding) landscape, and of course, we couldn’t talk about marketing ops without nerding out about the marketing funnel for a bit.
So I hope you’re paying attention. Because Sara is about to drop some serious marketing ops wisdom.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Molly Sloan: How’d you get into marketing operations? What are your responsibilities today?
Sara McNamara: In a way, I stumbled into marketing operations. I was working in digital marketing when I heard of this new concept called “marketing automation” and saw how the tools could help me be much more efficient. When I saw the opportunity to join a consulting firm and to be taught the technical aspects, I jumped at it. I meant to hop in, learn a lot of skills and work in it for a few years, and then hop back out to digital marketing – but I fell in love with the technical side!
In terms of my responsibilities today, I work closely with the different internal orgs to keep the martech machines running, as well as to identify growth and efficiency opportunities, with the goal of driving company growth overall. This means being both the tech nerd and creative diplomat and innovator, which is a middle ground that I’ve found that I love to be in.
Molly: Marketing ops teams are constantly evolving. What does yours look like? How do you build a marketing operations team or make a case for more headcount? What teams do you work with within the company? Any tips for working cross-functionally?
Sara: Marketing ops is such a quickly growing speciality, and the fight for talent is tough! We are lucky to have folks within our team who specialize in each arena, like analytics, field marketing, and webinars. I’ve found that once executives understand that MOPs is at the heart of the business, it is easier to make the case for headcount.
Speaking of adding headcount – we’re hiring and open to remote folks in the US! If you’re a natural-born diplomat who loves geeking out over cool martech stuff, come work with me.
In terms of working cross-functionally, I always try to keep in mind that we are all one team, working together to make the business and each other successful!
Molly: What’s the biggest impact project you’ve worked on in your career? What type of impact did it have and how was it quantified?
Sara: Oh wow, that’s a tough one. I’ve worked on a bunch of migrations and major projects over the years, but I’d say that the double-migration we just performed at Cloudera feels pretty huge (Eloqua to Pardot, then Marketo to Pardot, alongside other more minor SaaS service migrations).
If we want to compete with companies like Amazon, we have to stack the technical cards and processes to our advantage by looking at our stack top to bottom and finding areas for improvement and optimization. But at the end of the day, it feels great to contribute to our customers’ goals, like saving lives through healthcare innovation. To me, as much as martech is awesome and fun to work with, improving the world is the impact that matters most.
Molly: Tell us about your funnel? How have you seen the funnel evolve over time, where do you think it’s headed? And anything else funnel-related you’d like to throw in?
Sara: You know, I was thinking about this the other day; the funnel is rapidly changing. What used to be a phone call or a drive to a store is now a form or chatbot on a website, or a social media interaction.
Prospects are able to do so much research ahead of time, and by the time they approach reps, they are pretty much ready to buy. Sales reps are being pushed to the end of the journey, and marketing touches are taking up much more of the map.
We keep a sharp eye on funnel metrics, to see what we can identify from the data to better improve prospect and customer interactions; we want to meet the prospects where they are at each point of the buyer journey. Because we serve an enterprise cloud platform, our journey tends to be longer, but it is speeding up due to technology and efficiencies!
Molly: Let’s talk about partnering with sales and sales ops. How do you get aligned? Where do you draw the line between what is marketing vs sales’ responsibility? How do you partner together and hold each other accountable?
Sara: We really view ourselves as partners in success, for both groups. I just had a leader in the ISR organization Slack me today about an issue with a web form, and I pinged our web team to make sure they were aware and could rectify the issue quickly. It wasn’t technically a MOPs ask, but that doesn’t matter – we help each other out whenever we can, which helps when one team needs to ask the other for more support on a project!
Molly: Tell us about your marketing tech stack. What does it look like today? How has it changed over time? How does chat fit in?
Sara: Our stack is rapidly evolving – because we target enterprise prospects and customers, we are focused on a heavy ABM strategy. We align our tools with that strategy by ensuring that we are enabled to make every lead feel cared for and routed to the right area, but that we also provide white glove experience for the prospects that we know we can help the most.
Tools like chatbots help us make personalization more scalable, and help us reach our goal of meeting our customer right when and where they need us, rather than making them wait on a form or a phone hotline. When I look at our stack now and our future roadmap, a lot of the focus aligns with the strategy of right person, right place, right time
Molly: What tools and technology are on your 2019 wish list? Loving anything you’ve tried recently?
AI is the buzzword around the martech town lately, but my fascination lies within the combination of AI and ML. We drink our own “kool-aid” here, and I love observing our EDH team and learning more about how we can use our data and tools available to us to be even smarter with content, timing, and more.
We met with a vendor the other day and thought about how our own genius data scientists could take existing machine learning within the product and make it even more sophisticated
Molly: OK. This may not be the hottest topic, but it’s still very important! What does reporting look like on your team/in your organization? What metrics do you focus on? Any new metrics you’re tracking?
Sara: I am forever in awe of Connie, our analytics guru, who works to pull queries to help us automation nerds identify the best path forward with data. We’re working on refreshing our database health dashboard, so I can have a one-page look at database decay, dead leads, hot leads, invalid email addresses, and more! In terms of demand gen, we place a focus on sipping our own tea again, by formulating propensity to buy and propensity to grow models. We’re also big fans of Tableau!
Molly: Any interesting or surprising trends you’re seeing in marketing ops (or maybe just marketing in general)? Any predictions?
Sara: Skilled marketing operations professionals are like unicorns – worth their weight in gold and very hard to find. Adding even more pressure to the market are those who are leaving logos to create their own consulting LLCs. As more organizations buy in to marketing automation platforms and other martech, the shortage will only become more severe, and the martech providers will realize that they have to be more flexible with giving out practice instances and offering more free training so their customers have administrators for their platforms.
ChiefMartec.com did a survey and found that fewer and fewer MOPs folks are focused on building the martech stack and maintaining data privacy properly – I predict a few companies are going to feel the pain of stack chaos and data lawsuits, and then we will see a major shift. As my manager says – we once were making the donuts, but now we are consultants who partner with different groups to talk about the best recipe, kitchen, and bakers for the donuts – we will see this shift on a larger scale.
Molly: At Drift, one of the principles we live by is to always be learning. So we want to know – who inspires you/who are your role models? What do you want to learn more about? Read any good (business) books lately?
I am totally going to give you guys the plug – I just got Conversational Marketing in the mail, and it’s at the top of my list!
From a technical perspective, Mike Creuzer has inspired me to learn more about Python! Time to put my coding hat back on
In terms of role models, that’s hard, as I am blessed to be surrounded by really amazing folks…I’m a huge fan of Jill Rowley and Sarah Kennedy Ellis, as well as Sangram Vajre. I’m also a fan of Kanye West, from the artistic perspective, and Mr. Rogers, from the human perspective.
I think what it boils down to is that I have a lot of respect for people who are transparent and generous with others. Sometimes I reach time and bandwidth limitations, but I try really hard to help everyone that I can too. Being transparent takes courage, but I think it’s important that we connect and understand that everyone goes through painful growth phases in life, but we come out stronger and better able to help others