The Next CMO Podcast: The Future of Marketing Operations with Darrell Alfonso, Author of “The Martech Handbook”



In this episode, we speak to Darrell Alfonso, the author of “The Martech Handbook” and deep expert in marketing operations.



In this episode, we speak to Darrell Alfonso, the author of “The Martech Handbook” and deep expert in marketing operations. Darrell is an award-winning Martech marketer who creates content on all things Martech and Marketing Operations. Along with being a successful author and speaker, Darrell has been recognized as the Top Martech Marketer to Follow 2020, the Fearless Marketer of the Year 2018, and a Marketo Champion – twice.

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Darrell Alfonso
Peter Mahoney

Full Transcript




Peter: Hey Darrell, I’m so excited to have you on the next CMO podcast to talk about your background and specifically your new book launch for the MarTech Handbook that I’m really excited to get my hands on. So why don’t we start with a little bit of your background teller, audience, a little bit about the perspective that you bring to our.

Darrell: Yeah. Thank you. And thank you for having me. I’m actually a longtime listener, first time caller, if you remember that. Yeah. Yeah. So fan of the podcast and it’s an honor to be to be on here. So yeah, my name’s Darryl Alfonso. I have spent the last a little over 15 years. Leading marketing technology and marketing teams for businesses of all sizes startups, mid-size companies, and now at a enterprise, mega enterprise like Amazon Web Services.

I really think that with marketing technology today and marketing operations, which is [00:01:00] the function that manages marketing technology. Businesses can really employ those two things to be a big differentiator and win in this new sort of digital landscape. So often marketing technology and marketing operations tend to be relegated to behind the scenes.

The people that keep the lights on, the people that are knee deep in data and it’s the product marketers, it’s the brand. That’s all that’s in front. I think that is rapidly changing. Especially now post pandemic where we have people that are working remotely where we have an increasingly an audience and consumer base that increasing increasingly wants instant gratification, and it’s the companies that can conf, that can fulfill that are really gonna win.

So, in that vein, I wrote a book on this topic that I am so passionate about, and it’s called The MarTech Handbook, and was published just this past

Peter: Well. I’m really excited to [00:02:00] learn a little bit more about the book. I did want to ask a couple of things about your perspective of marketing ops and marketing technology in general too, though, Darrell, because you’ve done, even though you compared to me, especially a very young man, you’ve got a lot of experience in, in this domain that is a relatively young domain.

So I think you’ve been there really from the early days. And one thing I was gonna ask you is, You make the distinction between marketing technology and marketing operations. I’d love you to describe the difference inside a company between marketing technology and marketing operations.

Darrell: Right, right. And this is a really good question because there’s a lot of confusion between these two topics and also marketing automation. So, so, marketers often, and especially non marketers use these terms al almost synonymously, which is MarTech. Marketing operations and marketing [00:03:00] automation. And that’s because historically marketing operations only job was to really manage the tech, make sure that emails are going out the door, make sure that the website is up and running.

Various tasks like and responsibilities like that. So, so it would make sense. There’s a lot of confusion today and increasingly, marketing operations has become a much more strategic function, involved in planning and strategy, involved in process design. Technology management is a piece of it as well as business intelligence.

A. And business alignment which I’m happy to kind of go into each of those but that’s marketing operations charter. We’re really I like to define marketing operations as the art and science of executing great marketing or bringing a CMO strategy to life. And MarTech is the technology we use to do that.

So, so it’s actually a smaller, a subset. Of marketing operations responsibilities, and then [00:04:00] just to put a T on it. Marketing automation is a subset of MarTech. MarTech, there’s many different categories. You have crm, you have marketing automation, you have social, you have mobile you have project management.

Marketing automation is a single part of that function. So, so you start broad with marketing operations. You have a smaller concentric circle called MarTech, and then you have a very small even smaller circle in the middle called marketing automation. So I

Peter: It’s super helpful because you’re right, people use the terms interchangeably and I think it gets a little bit confusing for a lot of folks. And making that distinction I think is really helpful for people to understand. What I’ve noticed it is that when you look at marketing operations leaders, and I’m gonna make a huge generalization here because of course. It’s a very broad field, but they often come in sort of different flavors, is the way I think about it. And and I’d love your perspective on sort of the major types of marketing operations [00:05:00] leaders that there are out there and think of it from sort of their primary focus.

So what have you seen in general as sort of the major types of marketing operations leaders that come into.

Darrell: Yeah. And that’s a really good question. So I see three of them, and by the way, this is very much still an emerging field, an emerging profession, and it’s changing every day. Right now you’d be hard pressed to find. A VP of Marketing operations title that reports directly to the cmo.

Right now there’s the more common title is director or head of marketing Operations, but I will say there are a few really good. Vice Presidents of marketing operations. I know some of them really well. I consider them close friends. So it’s a changing dynamic. I would say that there’s three, one is you’ve got the technology expert.

Two [00:06:00] is the process designer someone that, that really. Designs and architects, the way that marketing work is done in an organization. And then lastly, which I am trying to evangelize as a concept, is the marketing operations leader as the coo, chief operating Officer of the marketing organization.

And in that scenario, we’ll call the c. The chief executive officer of the marketing organization where they’re thinking about vision, they’re thinking about culture for the marketing team. Obviously these are larger marketing teams. They’re thinking about the future. They’re thinking about innovation.

That and they’re a very, sometimes very visible leader within, almost the public facing face of the marketing organization. The COO makes sure that. Marketing organization runs like a business, keeping an eye on p and l [00:07:00] very close to the, staying close to the planning and the budget, which is relevant since we’re on the next CMO Plannuh podcast.

So yeah, I would say those three, the technology expert, the process designer, and then the coo, which I’m hoping we, we start to

Peter: I love the way you think Darrell, because you’re clearly an organized thinker cuz you like to think in threes I’ve found right? You’re you broke your marketing op mark, the marketing operation and technology and automation, and now you’ve talked about the head of marketing operations in these three categories.

And I think it’s a it’s a clear view that you’re an organized system thinker because I think people tend to break things into three if they have that kind of a mind, and I completely agree. With your assessment of the future of the marketing operations leader as being the COO of the marketing organization, and in fact, I had an amazing head of marketing operations when I was the CMO of a software company called Nuance, which is now part of Microsoft.

And. [00:08:00] We had the scale, we were about a $2 billion company to, to really have a leader of that caliber. And Meg I dunno if you’re listening Meg, but Hi Meg. Meg mean is awesome. And she really played the role of not only that that technology strategist, but the in the process person, but also someone who really drove the overall planning process and made sure that we had a well tuned, well running kind of, organization which is great.

And I think that is what a lot of marketing ops leaders aspire to. And certainly when you’re a cmo. Allows you to really scale significantly when you have that kind of a leader, which is great. So tell me, I, I’ve got a million questions about marketing operations in general. I wanna get into your book too in, in just a second and tell me a little bit about if you are a cmo. When should you first think about getting a dedicated marketing [00:09:00] operations professional in the organization? Cause you’ve done this from very small scale all the way up to, very large scale at, Amazon Web services, obviously. So when do you think they should first think about hiring their first full-time marketing operations professional?

Darrell: Great question. Great question. So, so, and this is gonna depend, but I’m gonna, I’m gonna answer in a way that I think is helpful when a company is scaling up. And is in startup mode. It’s really going to be you’re going to be playing, having a lot of hybrid roles. Right.

You’re gonna, you’re gonna have a lot of player coaches that are both doing the strategy and the execution of the marketing and operations. I really define, again, as the execution of the strategy. So, so, Marketers, regardless of their size, will always have an operational component because that’s the work that is actually [00:10:00] being done.

And my favorite thing to do actually, and especially coming from I used to work for a 30 person startup earlier on in my career. I’m actually an advocate of hiring people that can do both. And oftentimes, I lovingly refer to them as full stack marketers, which comes from the term full stack developers.

Developers that both can, are proficient in the front end customer facing systems, but also the backend infrastructure. I think that there are full stack marketers that not only can Krapf amazing digital experiences across email, website, social, but they can also. Architect, a marketing automation platform, build workflows, manage the data, and create reporting and analytics.

That can be, that’s essential for the business. So early on, I think that you want to, just because of budgetary reasons feasibility, you wanna bring in that hybrid talent. One thing [00:11:00] that I would recommend, As an organization is growing and getting into that scale up mode is there are some signals of when you need to invest heavily into marketing ops and that could very well be bringing in a marketing operations leader.

And one of those signals is chaos. And by chaos I mean you start to get a sense of we’re not exactly sure what each of the different groups are working on. We’re not exactly sure. If we have a cohesive way that we’re doing work that are all tying back up to the strategy and we’re not exactly sure if we can trust the data that we have that we’re showing to our leadership, that for me is a really big signal that it’s time to slow down and install someone that has the experience and the desire to make sure that there’s operational excellence within the marketing organiz.

Peter: So it’s fascinating, Darrell, because I was [00:12:00] thinking recently about this concept around the idea of, like you said, you know that point where, there’s chaos, that it often is a building thing. Over time, obviously things get more and more complex over time and more. More out of control or less in control.

Pick your flavor. So one question is, have you ever been at the point where you basically declared bankruptcy in an operational environment, whether it’s a tech stack and you just said, it’s just broken, it’s not gonna work. Let’s start over. And if so, what are the considerations for saying, Hey, we just need a do.

Darrell: Yeah, so to be honest, . And I’ve also worked with a number of friends that have gone through this sort of clean slate type approach to MarTech. Typically that involves the migration or [00:13:00] starting fresh on a new marketing automation platform, since that tends to be pretty central to the tech stack, even though there are some other big pieces.

And then CRM as well. The truth is that because of the contractual obligations and the amount of investment needed to do a do-over, it’s actually. That decision usually, and this is just a broad general statement, usually does not fall on the MarTech team and the marketing operations team. And what I’ve seen firsthand is it’s actual, what actually happens are large organizational changes that drive it.

And this could be the departure and then install. Hiring of a new marketing leader, new cmo. It’s very often done after an acquisition or merger or a sell off of one of the business units. That’s when it really happens since there’s almost a catalyst [00:14:00] and a desire to rework it at that point, the MarTech team looks at the existing stack and.

There’s no way we’re gonna be able to move forward with our new setup without starting from scratch. It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be too much to do. So, so those things, in my opinion and from my experience, they go hand in hand. The big organizational changes affect the tech stack and that’s just kind of the nature of

Peter: I think you’re exactly right, Darrell, and you gave me PTSD because I think I’ve experienced every single one of those cataclysmic events that you went through in my career and it often does create the need to, well, maybe not a. A complete do-over. You’re not gonna throw everything out obviously, but enough of a transformation of this stack and in the overall operational environment to to, to accommodate that change.

It has to be something, you’re right, that comes from a strategic place. And speaking of a strategic place, how’s this for transition? [00:15:00] What I’d love. Love to talk to you about. Now, Darrell is your book. And and as you alluded to before with my, my, my podcast and my company I went and I wrote a book back a couple of years ago called an X cmo, which inspired the podcast and a bunch of other things.

And I did it because I saw a problem, I saw a gap and I think from our discussions that we’ve had in the past, it sounds like. Experience the same thing. You saw this gap that you decided to fill with the MarTech handbook, so I’d love to hear the origin story. What motivated you to write this particular book, and then give us a little bit of background about what it’s meant to accomplish.

Darrell: Yep. Happy to do that. And again, happy. Thank you for letting me be on the podcast. And by the way I have your book and have read it through a couple of times. It’s really changed my thinking when it comes to, what real strategic planning for marketing looks like. So. So the MarTech Handbook is, was really written [00:16:00] to help the businesses and help the marketers that are just overwhelmed with the plethora of tools that we have today.

So there’s eight to 10,000 different applications that are four marketers. That they can pick and choose from. And so often they don’t know where to start. And this book, the MarTech Handbook, is really meant to be a sort of field guide that a marketer can keep next to their desk as they’re going through and handling and tackling some of these challenges.

One of the biggest things that I hope this book communicates over is the importance of having a MarTech strategy. So many marketers, and this has been me in the past, included either. Inherit a set of tools or they’re, they’ve been instructed by a partner or a vendor, that these are the tools that they need.

So many marketers take the golf club approach to MarTech stack. Which is [00:17:00] essentially, hey, we need all these different types of golf clubs, right? We need the, we need a driver, a putter, a sandwich, seven iron. We’re gonna use them sometime. We might as well buy them now so that we can use them in the future.

And it’s that sort of scattered ad hoc type of thinking that I think plagues us and leads to so many different types of problems. And one of the central themes of the book is that an effective MarTech strategy is one that delivers value to both your customers and through the business by use of MarTech.

So it’s a very outcome driven approach. It’s a very start on paper. Figure out what you want and then figure out the technology that will support the activities that you’re gonna be doing to get there. That’s one of the key central themes of the book, and I hope that readers will, that’ll come across to my readers.

Peter: Yeah, I think there, there’s so much information that that people. Need at the right level. And it’s, it, again, [00:18:00] it was one of the motivations for me to try to write down this stuff in a book. And I think you have the same philosophy. There’s a lot of stuff out there. The trick in my mind is giving people a coherent.

View that includes all the right stuff without too much of the stuff so that they can actually understand it. And I like the idea of a field guide which is great. So, tell me with the crazy dynamic change of. The marketing technology landscape, how do you keep it up to date?

Because things change so fast. Do you have sort of a digital companion to it, or have you thought about what your approach is to keeping the content fresh over time? Darrell.

Darrell: Yeah, this one was definitely a tough one for me. And one of the things that I, set out to do at from the beginning was I do set up a number of different categories. So I do sort of, label and tag, if you will. The big core categories [00:19:00] of MarTech in order for marketers to orient themselves and kind of understand the functions and the capabilities that they need to include.

But when it came to the actual tool recommendations, I actually provide samples. So for example, these are five sample CRMs that you could look at. These are five sample marketing automation platforms you could look at. So it’s not meant to be, and I don’t envy Scott Brinker and his technology landscape, because that is something that.

Gets out of date every year. So, so I definitely came to the table with that approach of just providing higher level sort of categories. One other thing that I try to do too, and I try to do this for marketing in general, is really have a principle centered approach to building your MarTech stack.

Things that won’t change, even though the environment is changing pretty much every.

Peter: Yeah. a, It’s a really good approach, Darrell and I think that thinking in broad [00:20:00] themes and categories is really useful because that’s the other thing that just makes it understandable for people too. I find it. That when Scott had to go from charts to databases over time with the with the MarTech landscape because it just got to be too much.

There’s so much in there, it becomes a little lost. So one of the things that would be useful to understand from your perspective, Darryl, is what are some of the common pitfalls or challenges that people encounter when it comes to their marketing technology approach?

Darrell: Yes. I’m so glad you asked this because this is one of my favorite topics and I think it’s actually really helpful because, Similar to this book one of my favorite books is called Good Strategy, bad Strategy In order to help what good looks like, to define what good looks like.

It helps to define what bad looks like, and it’s, and it makes it very real. The first one I already hinted at was the golf club’s approach. Right. You’re building a you’re [00:21:00] picking and choosing a set of tools because you think that you’ll need them, or people say that you might need them without thinking about their actual applicability and relevance to your audience and to your business.

My, my next favorite one, and you’re probably super familiar with this, Peter, is called shiny object syndrome, and this is . Yeah, this is the desire to buy the latest and greatest technologies just because it’s new. So very similar to how you would pick up the latest iPhone. Not really sure what the features are or the benefits are.

It’s just new. So that’s why we want it. So that’s another one of my favorites. Here’s one that a lot of people that, that. Unsaid or unspoken too much, and I call this pitfall platform envy. And platform envy happens when you, the marketer become jealous of either a competitor’s technology stack.

You look on Google and you see this [00:22:00] enormous, complex of set of MarTech tools. And then or maybe you talk to a. And they say, we’re using this, we’re using this and we’re using this. And then all of a sudden you feel that whatever you’re doing is inadequate. So you feel the need to buy tools to almost keep up with the Joneses, keep up with your neighbor in terms of having the tool stack.

And that is, I think, one of the biggest killers because it is completely. Divorced from what Mar MarTech should really do, which is drive business value for you and provide a better experience for your customers. So Platform Envy is another one of those really big pitfalls.

Peter: There you go. That’s another three. By the way, Darrell you’re good with this, but by the way I think I’ve fallen prey to all three of those things to uh, It sounds like all of us probably had have over the years. But yeah, it is really interesting to see how we all have had these common challenges.[00:23:00]

So if you look at this from the other perspective, right? That’s the what are the awful things that get us trapped? That we get trapped in? What are the, from a positive perspective, what are the one or two, or maybe in your case three, cuz you always think in threes. What are the handful of things that every marketing.

Executive should definitely be doing when it comes to their marketing operation and their marketing technology approach.

Darrell: Yeah, so there’s, and you know what? There’s a reason why I think in threes, I think. for some reason. And I there’s studies. I’ll see if I can find some. And so you can share it in the show notes, but there are studies that show that the human mind actually grasped thing in threes concepts in threes a lot better.

And I’ve always tended to use that in my marketing and in my business writing. And I found, Very impactful. It’s, for some reason it’s more impactful than four and more impactful than two. So, so [00:24:00] that’s the reason behind that. And it’s definitely intentional. So I would say a couple things.

One is taking inventory, right? And to take inventory. It’s not really just listing out the tools that you have, it’s listing out the core jobs that you want your marketing team to be. You, for example, it could be engaging your customers, managing customer relationships reporting on campaigns and managing your workflow efficiently, right?

So those are core things that, that marketing needs to be, needs to do, any marketing team needs to do. Those will naturally map, you’ll find. Core MarTech platforms. Relationship management is crm. Engaging customers tends to be either some sort of marketing automation platform or email service provider or some sort of advertisement tool and workflow management is project management really like a, like an asana, Trello, work front, JIRA, et cetera.

So, [00:25:00] so by performing that inventory and mapping your tools to the core functions that you want to accomplish, As a team what you’ll do is you’ll find, number one, you’ll find gaps. You’ll find things where, hey, we’re not adequate at sufficiently meeting the bar when it comes to this jobs to be done. And then you’ll also find redundancies and redundancies are where there’s a big overlap between two.

So that’s the first one. The second one is this idea that data should move smooth. Throughout the entire MarTech journey or through the entire customer journey. I love this one so much because I have this concept that marketing is really just the transfer of data or the execution of marketing is just the transfer of data from one place to another.

And in, in real life it, it looks something like a marketer will write down a message in a campaign brief. In a workflow management tool that’ll be transferred to the marketing automation [00:26:00] platform that will be, that will transfer to the customer’s inbox, and then the customer will interact with that CAM campaign and that signal and that data comes all the way back through all of those platforms and into some sort of reporting tool.

That journey needs to be solid and as real time as possible, and when. don’t have that. When you are when you are importing and exporting in between each one, it’s a terrible, cumbersome waste of time. And it causes not only a slow, not great customer experience, but it also causes burnout within your team.

The final three, cuz it has to be three. The final one is really to invest in. How I think that, marketing teams may send their team members to conferences, which is great. Attend webinars, which is great, but I’m really an advocate of formal training.

And that training can be vendor led when it comes to platforms. There are [00:27:00] courses available now, both free and paid. And shameless plug there’s my. That outlines all of this. So I really think marketing leaders need to recognize that there’s a skills gap and a knowledge gap when it comes to MarTech, and we need to fill that right away.

Peter: Yeah you’re absolutely right about the skill gap. And I think. It’s no not meant to cast dispersion on on anyone in the profession. It just changes so fast. And it’s really difficult to maintain your understanding. And you look at fields like healthcare and there’s the concept of sort of built in.

Continuing education that is, is built into the healthcare model because it’s important to stay up to date. And I think that approach should be taken in a lot of other domains, including marketing overall and specifically in marketing operations. When there’s a technology component to it. Staying relevant is super important and I do like your idea of taking inventory and I’m a big fan.

[00:28:00] Of organizing and systematizing the way that you look at things and assess things. And cuz otherwise you can wait five years in between points when you’re actually looking at something and realize people, the things really go adrift from there. The. So I have a ton more questions, and we have not enough time, so we’ll have to have you on again, Darrell, because this is you’re just a real wealth of information in this area.

And and I’ll ask you our final question in a minute that I warned you, we would ask you. But before then, I just love you to. Tell people sort of how they can get their, how they can get their hands on the MARTA handbook. And we’ll make sure we include a link as well in the show notes, but tell us a little bit more about the book and how to get it.


Darrell: Y. Absolutely. And thank you for giving me that opportunity. Definitely we’re, wherever books are sold. My, my book is published by Cogan page, so you can actually easily get it from the major retailers. Amazon, of course, [00:29:00] my personal favorite at your doorstep in two days. But also there is a digital version.

And finger meaning you can get it on a Kindle or e-reader and fingers crossed, in the next year, hopefully we can produce one for audio as well. But for now anywhere books are sold you should be able

Peter: Excellent. I’ll make sure we include a. To to Amazon so that your your your parents can get some credit for this too while you’re at it, which is always good. So Great. Well, with that in mind we always ask this question, Darrell, what advice would you give to current or aspiring CMOs.

Darrell: Yeah. You know what, and I’d be happy to, I’d love to hear your take on this Peter, but I really think that the marketing operations professionals are. Well poised, well positioned to be the CMOs of the future, and here’s why. I think that they have great exposure to multiple [00:30:00] areas of the business.

You can’t really execute marketing without. Good marketing without working closely with sales, without working closely with product, customer success. Finance, the practice of executing really great marketing. You’re gonna be exposed to all different areas of the business, which I think is really important for a marketing leader.

And then secondly, , great marketing operations and as we’ve, as we talked about before, really thinks about running marketing like a business. And this is one of the reasons, well, again, why I lo why I love your book. It really is a proponent or evangelizes the idea of creating these financial goals and targets and so many people forget, I think, or marketers have a tendency to forget.

That marketing is not just an art for the sake of it, right? It’s not creative just for the sake of it. We are running businesses and we are trying to drive business results and influence customers. And at the end of the day, it’s the [00:31:00] numbers that matter, and it’s the numbers that, that we report up into leadership and to shareholders, et cetera.

So, so for those two reasons, I think there’s one more, but it’s escaping me, right? I really think that to position yourself like that invest in operational excellence whether that means understanding how to design better processes, understanding the technology behind what makes great marketing and really understanding the data that helps you both understand your customers and also helps you make better decisions to improve your marketing results.

That would be my.

Peter: Well, great. Well, thank you for sharing your your wisdom, Darrell for sharing the time with me and the discussion about your book, about your views of marketing operations which I think are really excellent. Really encourage everyone to get their hands on the book. Again, the link will be in the show notes.

And thanks so much for participating. Thanks for listening to the next CMO podcast. If you have ideas about future guests or shows or topics we should be doing, [00:32:00] drop us a note at Make sure you follow us on all those social media things and and subscribe and like our podcast.

So thanks so much, Darrell. Great to have you in the show. And thank you all for listening. Have a great.

Darrell: Thanks for having me, Peter.