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By Andrew Freeman


25 Years and Counting of Marketing Operations

1987 was certainly an eventful year. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers sold for a record-breaking $39.7 million. Astronomers in California were the first to witness the birth of a galaxy.  IBM launched the Personal System/2, driving a fundamental shift in personal computing. And Tony Sprague, CRMT Digital CTO, and I met for the first time. History indeed! 

Working at two different computer manufacturers, we got chatting at the then-largest UK computing trade show and compared notes on our latest technologies. (Tony was showing off the latest ‘Intel PC’ CPU and I was demoing a fridge-sized ‘micro’ computer with a door that magically opened when you pressed a button.  Heady stuff.) 

In 1991, Tony – with his encyclopaedic knowledge of networking – joined the company I was working for, and we rose through the ranks to senior positions. It was in 1999 that we both witnessed the growing trend for Customer Relationship Management and the promise that it would be the only software needed to get a complete 360-degree view of your customers across the enterprise. 

The birth of CRMT Digital  

We took to brainstorming in pubs about capitalizing on this trend and took the plunge that same year to leave gainful employment to set up CRM Technologies. We gave ourselves a year before the money ran out but had an early break with one client and then signed up as partners for several of the popular CRM systems of the time.  

This allowed us to network with peers in the same space which provided us with an invaluable opportunity to cement our place in the CRM industry. Through connections in marketing agencies we had worked with in the past, we quickly found that while marketing was trying to get smarter in its use of technology, it was getting left out of the CRM wave. This was our golden opportunity to pivot our plan and focus on what we now know as Marketing Operations. 

We also started to build our fantastic team, some of whom have stayed with us over the 25 years of growth. Alan Chatfield, Judy Watson and Alison Saunders, along with our friend Adrian Mills who has gone on to do great work elsewhere, were integral to the budding company’s growth in the early years. We were also lucky enough to work with Gary Rogers who developed much of our analytics capability, and to count Marketo, Jeff Breyare at McAfee and Kristen Petersen at F5 as valued clients.  

Our focus on providing services and technology to support the marketing department was born and is where we remain to this day. Of course, much has changed in the martech and MOps space in that time – but our commitment to unlocking marketing value for our clients remains as strong as ever. 

The evolution of MOps  

Over the past 25 years, we’ve been lucky enough to work at the forefront of many of the evolving trends in the martech space, grow a team of experts who are also consummate professionals, and work alongside the marketing technology organisations that have paved the way for the industry we know today. Just some of our evolutionary highlights include: 

  • Database Marketing – in our early years and with our growing database expertise, we supported a large number of technology organisations in a short space of time, including hosting and running the marketing databases of companies such as Borland, Gartner, McAfee and Sun Microsystems.  
  • Email Marketing – as email marketing became more popular, we added this to our repertoire with an additional set of services around email and landing page building. At this stage we had built quite an extensive data centre with redundancy and fast connections to the internet.   
  • Cloud Computing – around 2006, we saw a move towards cloud computing. We knew that this would eventually replace the way we delivered our services to our clients, so we took the key decision to embrace this new wave. Becoming partners for both Salesforce (CRM) and Eloqua (Marketing Automation), we decided to use these cloud platforms as the basis for our services. With Eloqua, we benefitted from early exposure to a platform that was to become an industry leader. 
  • Bespoke Marketing Technology Development – Tony’s extensive development background has given us a unique development capability that other agencies simply don’t possess. This not only allows us to provide deep integrations between platforms for our clients but also a bespoke development function that allows us to fill gaps with our own technology, including Demand.Center and Normalator.
  • Marketing Operations – As marketing-focused technology grew beyond Marketing Automation platforms, we quickly recognised the need to grow our expertise in the technologies and platforms that would benefit our customers. 2018 saw our rebrand as a Marketing Operations Consultancy, underlining our breadth and depth of platform and technology capabilities – and later led to us becoming the CRMT Digital of today.

Some MOps challenges will always remain  

25 years is a long time in technology. But there are some challenges that – even though they may change shape – will be ever-present for MOps professionals. 

I talk specifically of data. Back in 1999, the key challenge for marketers revolved around data.  Specifically, how to keep it clean, how to keep it accurate, how to group it effectively for targeting, how to analyse it to provide future insight…the list goes on. 

As all in our industry are all too aware, these challenges persist today, despite the ever-increasing sophistication and development of the technologies and platforms that support even our most complex data problems. 

The fundamental reason is no longer capability but volume. As data volumes rise exponentially, it remains the biggest test for all of us in the MOps space – and one that we’ll continue to tackle head on for the next 25 years and beyond! 

Where next for MOps and CRMT Digital? 

Shiny new platforms, ground-breaking techniques and boundary-pushing strategies are launched into the marketing operations space every year.  A vital part of our role is to shortcut the understanding and potential application of these for our clients, highlighting potential ROI – and risks – based on their individual roadmaps.     

There has been a trend in the past for organisations to jump into these with both feet only to become victims of a lack of understanding, often leading to low adoption levels. Our experience and longevity in this industry affords us the luxury of being able to guide our clients with evidence-based insight, rather than joining bandwagons that may or may not deliver on their promises. 

AI is a case in point. The current new trend, talked about at every turn, certainly has the scope to be a game changer for marketing operations, the broader marketing industry, and the enterprise world at large.   

However, while impressive early-stage generative AI platforms are starting to proliferate it is up to Marketing Operations to really position, control and ultimately define an ROI. We certainly think we as an industry are up the task – and as a team, CRMT Digital is poised and ready for the next wave of MOps evolution.