75: Mike Rizzo: Building resilient Marketing Ops through community

What’s up everyone, today we have the pleasure of chatting with Mike Rizzo, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who’s done as much for the marketing Ops community.

Summary: Mike’s leadership of marketingops.com demonstrates the power of community-focused initiatives in marketing operations, with his No-Bullshit Demo Program offering real solutions for Martech challenges. Through community-driven projects like MOps-Apalooza, he’s answering the demand for collaborative platforms for knowledge sharing. In acknowledging the diverse roles within marketing operations, Mike advocates for a certification program to standardize skill validation. His approach underscores the irreplaceable value of human expertise, even in the era of AI, particularly for architecting a tech stack that aligns with an organization’s strategy. However, he recognizes the potential of AI to augment community management, and underscores the importance of human connection in marketing, emphasizing the need for continuous adaptation to emerging technologies in the digital landscape.

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About Mike

  • He got his start in marketing at California-based tech startups and eventually worked in b2b SaaS where he got his hands dirty in several martech tools
  • In 2017, he founded MO Pros, a Slack channel dedicated to connecting with Marketing Operations Professionals
  • Mike also took a short turn in the agency world where he was Director of Marketing Strategy for Client Accounts at Human, Orange County’s full-service Inbound Marketing Agency 
  • He then returned in-house and boomeranged back to one of his earliest startups to lead Community and Loyalty programs
  • He’s also the co-host of Ops Cast by MO Pros, a podcast for Marketing Ops Pros by Marketing Ops Pros
  • Last year, Mike double down on the community he started and launched MarketingOps.com taking a community-led approach to building career resources that are purpose-built for MO Pros
  • Today, his community counts more than 4,000 martech professionals and is one of the few communities I frequent on a daily basis

A Community-First Approach to Marketing Ops

When asked about his decision not to draw a payroll for marketingops.com despite the substantial time and effort he devotes, Mike’s passion for the community-led endeavor shone through. Interestingly, Mike sees the venture not as an individual pursuit, but a collective effort borne from the input of all members in the marketing operations ecosystem.

This community-centered approach is vividly seen in how marketingops.com evolves. The site offers a multitude of career development opportunities in marketing operations, shaped by the needs and interests of its community. Whether one is looking for a new job or seeking knowledge through workshops, marketingops.com provides the necessary resources. Its ambassador program serves as a platform for marketing operations enthusiasts to share their expertise and amplify their talents.

In terms of financial support, Mike explained that sponsors play a vital role. Collaborating closely with the community, sponsors aid in generating relevant educational content – the type of content that meets the community’s trending interests and challenges. The emphasis here is on promoting healthy and invigorating conversations without overt marketing pitches.
Marketingops.com also runs a membership program priced at $200 a year. Mike insists on continuously adding value to the membership without increasing the price, reaffirming his commitment to encourage investments in marketing operations careers.

Addressing the question about the utilization of revenue, Mike confirmed that the funds are indeed invested back into the community. From sustaining technology stacks like HubSpot to supporting various programs and managing webinars, the revenue is channeled towards enhancing the community experience. Mike’s co-founder, Dan, also draws a modest salary for his integral role in leading day-to-day activities.

While Mike does plan to take a salary eventually, his current focus is steadfastly on investing in the organization to ensure its continued growth and relevance.

Takeaway: Mike’s selfless dedication to marketingops.com reflects his commitment to community-building in marketing operations. It is a testament to the power of collaborative efforts and the value of fostering open dialogues in shaping a dynamic and responsive ecosystem. This story is not just about managing a successful community, but also about the power of collective learning and growth in the field of marketing operations.

Making Martech Approachable With No-Bullshit Demos

When the conversation moved to the unique No-Bullshit Demo Program run by marketingops.com, Mike’s animated enthusiasm was clear. This program, which was conceived during a late-night epiphany, aimed to dismantle the barriers in the Martech world.

His idea was simple: offer demos on behalf of the community, then provide the community with access to these demonstrations. But what set his program apart was the specific intention to target questions and issues that a marketing ops or revenue ops professional would want to address as quickly as possible. It wasn’t about selling products; it was about understanding them.

In a rather candid manner, Mike mentioned how the program surfaced the key questions usually asked by professionals in marketing ops. He even recommended a podcast episode his team produced that delved into how to sell to marketing ops, featuring salespeople for a different perspective.

From implementation details and associated costs to the necessity of team involvement and security concerns, the No-Bullshit Demo Program aimed to provide comprehensive information about the Martech tools. This initiative started with Mike’s very first recording featuring the founder of the agency he worked at, Human, and it was welcomed with an enthusiastic response.

In response to whether other communities are running similar programs, Mike acknowledged that there had been some replication. However, he took this in his stride, seeing it as flattery and an indication that the idea had resonated. To him, the most important thing was that people were getting the information they needed, regardless of the platform.

Takeaway: The No-Bullshit Demo Program underpins Mike’s innovative approach to community building, focusing on addressing real issues and questions for marketing ops professionals. It’s a testament to the power of innovative thinking to remove barriers and make Martech more approachable and valuable to its users. This story exemplifies a community-centric solution in the complex world of Martech, emphasizing transparency and accessibility.

Embracing the Power of Community in Assembling a Noteworthy Conference

When asked about the driving force behind creating MOps-Apalooza, an upcoming conference that has garnered notable attention within the marketing community, Mike offered an intriguing perspective. His excitement about the event was palpable. Mike revealed that it was not a solo endeavor, rather, it was a culmination of requests and inquiries from their active community that brought about the conference’s conception.

The roots of MOps-Apalooza can be traced back to small gatherings that Mike’s team previously hosted, referred to as “summer camps”. These events, capped at 50 attendees, were intimate deep-learning experiences that allowed marketing operations professionals to connect with like-minded peers. However, the demand for a larger platform to exchange ideas and insights was growing within the community.

The idea for MOps-Apalooza was sparked through such a community dialogue, with the main push coming from professionals closely associated with Marketo. The desire was for a larger platform for marketing operations experts to speak, to share their expertise and insights. That’s when Mike and his team decided to take on the challenge and thus, MOps-Apalooza was born.

The conference boasts big-name speakers such as Scott Brinker and Juan Mendoza, who came onboard through pre-existing relationships nurtured over the years. Brinker, associated with HubSpot, was a connection made during a previous event sponsored by the same company. Mendoza, a good friend and colleague of Mike’s, also agreed to participate and share his wealth of knowledge with the community.

When it comes to joining the conference, Mike made a compelling case. Despite the scale of MOps-Apalooza being considerably larger than their previous events (attendance capped at 500), he emphasized that the objective remains the same: to provide a sense of belonging and a learning experience that feels both personalized and impactful. Attendees won’t face sales pitches on stage, but will instead learn from genuine experts in the field about everything from tactical product how-tos to career growth in marketing operations.

Takeaway: MOps-Apalooza’s formation story shows how listening to your community can lead to innovative, successful endeavors. The conference aims to provide a platform for sharing knowledge and fostering connections, with a focus on keeping the attendee experience at its core. It’s not just a conference, it’s a response to the community’s call for a larger stage to collaborate, learn, and grow.

Unraveling the Spectrum of Marketing Ops Roles

When asked about the role and scope of marketing operations (mops) in different business environments, Mike dove into the subject, acknowledging the significant disparity between small businesses and large enterprises. This divergence was notably evident in the responsibilities shouldered by the marketing ops team, with a one-person team in startups often taking on a variety of tasks. In contrast, a team of 50 or more in an enterprise company might specialize in just a few areas. The complexity and diversity of these roles led to the suggestion of a differentiated certification for startup/SMB/enterprise marketing ops roles.

Mike’s insights were deeply informed by his experience with the board certification advisory board, comprised of community members from diverse backgrounds. The board was diligently working on defining what it means to be a certified marketing operations professional. Their discussions led to the concept of different levels of certification, reflecting the varying degrees of responsibilities in different business environments. This certification would be vocational, emphasizing a broad understanding of marketing operations rather than proficiency in a specific tool or platform.

For Mike, a certified marketing ops professional needs to understand the core components of marketing operations, independent of any one technology provider. It’s not about being certified in a specific tool like Marketo, but understanding how these tools work and how they can be integrated. Recognizing the architecture of marketing operations, understanding the relationships between different tools and how they fit together in a broader marketing ecosystem, is a crucial competency for a marketing operations professional.

One of the primary goals of this certification program is to provide value not just to the professionals in the field but also to the organizations they serve. This value-driven approach aims to ensure that, while marketing ops professionals progress in their careers, they also contribute positively to their companies or clients.

Takeaway: The spectrum of roles within marketing operations is broad, varying significantly between startups and large enterprises. The potential introduction of a certification program acknowledges this diversity, aiming to provide a standardized method of validating skills while also benefiting the organizations these professionals serve. It’s about understanding the fundamental architecture of marketing ops, abstracted from specific platforms, and contributing to the broader marketing ecosystem.

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The Interplay of AI and Human Effort in Marketing Operations

When the conversation touched on the prominence of artificial intelligence (AI) in the marketing world, Mike expressed a perspective that skillfully tread the line between acknowledging AI’s potential and asserting the continued necessity of human involvement in marketing operations.

There’s no denying the increased integration of AI tools in various sectors, with marketing being no exception. Mike wasn’t shy to admit his regular use of AI, particularly GPT, in his professional repertoire. Yet, he was firm in emphasizing that AI, with all its current capabilities, cannot wholly replace the human input required in marketing operations.

In Mike’s view, marketing operations, regardless of whether they’re within an SMB startup or a large enterprise, exhibit a level of complexity and specificity that current AI technologies can’t fully capture or replicate. This complexity arises from numerous factors—the intricacies of data movement, the process of lead generation, and the subtle distinctions between MQL, SQL, and PQL, among others. All these elements coalesce into an “operational architecture” that necessitates human interpretation and intervention.

Running a Martech stack, according to Mike, parallels running a product. It requires an understanding of the product roadmap, which is instrumental in aligning strategies and enabling the personnel involved. The idea that an AI could sufficiently comprehend and manage this roadmap in its entirety seems implausible to Mike.

While AI could certainly offer valuable insights and create efficiencies, such as pinpointing productive channels for lead generation or proposing tweaks to scoring criteria, Mike contended that these tasks remain inherently bespoke. Each instance is uniquely tailored to a company’s requirements and therefore requires human judgment for optimal results. According to Mike, we are not close to a point where AI can fully automate these tasks.

Takeaway: The evolving landscape of marketing operations indeed sees an increased application of AI tools, yet human expertise remains at its core. AI, with all its capabilities, assists and augments processes, but the specificities and nuances of marketing operations will continue to necessitate human intervention in the foreseeable future.

Community Building in the Age of AI

When asked about future-proofing one’s career amid the rise of AI and its impact on marketing, Mike delved into the role of community building, a realm he thinks may be less susceptible to complete AI takeover. Community building, he points out, has its nuances. It’s all about establishing connections, recognizing patterns in dialogue, and ultimately creating a cohesive network of individuals with shared interests or goals. It’s a human-centric task that thrives on the subtleties of communication and relationship building, making it difficult to replace by AI in its entirety.

Nevertheless, Mike sees potential for AI to support community building efforts. AI could, for example, analyze the patterns of community interactions over time. It could help pinpoint those members who consistently provide valuable insights or solutions, effectively creating a taxonomy of expertise within the community. This could be useful when a community member raises a question or problem: the AI could suggest potential contributors based on their demonstrated knowledge and experience.

However, even with AI’s potential to streamline certain aspects of community management, Mike emphasizes that the human element remains irreplaceable. The genuine connections and impact he brings to the community, he explains, come from years of experience in the field, knowing the people, and having in-depth conversations.

To anyone considering a focus on community building as a countermeasure to AI’s impact on their marketing careers, Mike advises to seize opportunities that would help them ramp up their expertise in the community function. AI might augment their efforts, but the essence of community building still lies in the human touch.

Takeaway: Community building is a skill set less likely to be entirely replaced by AI due to its inherent human-centric qualities. However, AI can support and augment community management by identifying patterns and connections over time. Therefore, marketers seeking to future-proof their careers could focus on enhancing their community building skills while incorporating AI into their toolbox.

MOPs and Techstack Architects 

When asked about the applicability of marketing ops principles across various platforms and how AI could potentially factor into future roles, he offered a holistic perspective. Mike stated that marketers who can conceptualize system architecture and process would be well-equipped to understand how best to leverage technology for go-to-market strategies. As per his perspective, the unique nature of a marketing ops role allows these individuals to essentially serve as strategic allies to a CEO or CMO, helping them navigate the ever-complex landscape of their tech stack.

Interestingly, Mike pointed out that marketing ops professionals can often transition into roles usually occupied by sales ops personnel, but the reverse isn’t typically true. This observation underscores the broad and versatile skill set of a marketing ops professional. Their ability to survey the tech landscape, understand the interaction between data and systems, and architect a tech stack capable of supporting a go-to-market strategy, makes them invaluable to any organization.

A major part of this role, as Mike emphasizes, is understanding business operations alongside these technologies. By comprehending how a business functions and their chosen market strategy, a marketing operations professional can effectively match the organization’s needs with the available technology. This capability, as Mike aptly puts it, “is highly transferable and can enable an organization to grow.”

This pivotal role doesn’t belong to the CTO or the CMO. It belongs to the marketing operations professional, standing at the nexus of technology and business. In a world where AI and other technologies continue to evolve, their ability to make sense of it all and align it with the business’s core objectives sets them apart.

Takeaway: The marketing operations professional’s unique skill set and understanding of both the technological and business aspects enable them to architect a tech stack that best serves the organization’s go-to-market strategy. This crucial role is instrumental in the growth and success of any business in the current digital landscape.

The Future of Community-Led Marketing and VR Possibilities

When asked about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) taking over many current roles, Mike confidently pointed out that the community role in marketing is well-positioned to be future-proof. Mike emphasized that no matter how much AI is integrated into our systems, there will always be a need for human connection and interaction.

He further proposed the possibility of a counterculture movement, where people would gravitate towards brands that prioritize human connection over AI-driven interactions. This highlights the importance of human-centric community building in marketing, even in an increasingly digital landscape.

The topic of virtual reality (VR) and metaverse applications also piqued Mike’s interest, particularly following Apple’s recent Vision Pro announcement. Despite the initial hype and subsequent decline of the metaverse concept, he acknowledged that Apple’s persistence in pushing this technological frontier could yield unexpected results.

Mike’s perspective, however, remains ambivalent. He recognized that there will always be a group of people who prefer virtual experiences due to various reasons, ranging from disabilities to personal preferences. Still, he questioned whether these virtual experiences could fully encapsulate the essence of in-person and hybrid events.

Mike did propose an intriguing possibility – the integration of both worlds through tools such as Google Lens. He pictured a future where physical and virtual attendees could simultaneously participate in an event. Yet, he remained cautious about predicting the full impact of VR and metaverse applications in community-led marketing.

Takeaway: The importance of human connection in marketing underscores the resilience of community roles, even in the face of advancing AI technology. However, the future of VR and metaverse applications remains uncertain, emphasizing the need to continuously explore and adapt to these emerging technologies.

Achieving Happiness and Success Amidst Chaos

The final part of the conversation with Mike brought forth an essential question – how does one juggle numerous roles while maintaining happiness and success? In a day and age where many wear multiple hats, including being a founder, CEO, podcaster, community moderator, speaker, conference organizer, and a family person, striking a balance is often the key to sustained happiness and success. But how does one achieve this elusive balance?

When posed with this question, Mike reflected on his experiences candidly, admitting that every day was a work in progress. Mike emphasized the importance of balancing his passion for his work with his responsibilities as a husband and a father. The challenge of maintaining this balance was a constant presence in his life, but he found some solace in the flexibility that came with working from home.

Working from home came with its ups and downs, but for Mike, the chance to immediately be with his family whenever he could, proved to be a blessing he readily embraced. In spite of the struggles and constant juggling, he admitted that he was still figuring out the best way to manage his commitments.

Yet, through all these, Mike remained optimistic. His transparency about his struggles is a reminder that everyone is a work in progress. He shared that despite not having managed his commitments perfectly over the years, his family’s unwavering support and understanding kept him going. They knew things were only going to get better, and they looked forward to the future.

In the end, Mike’s story is a testament to the realities of navigating multiple roles and responsibilities. His journey reminds us that perfection is not the goal, but rather continuous progress towards finding the balance that works best for each individual.

Takeaway: In our pursuit of success, we often find ourselves juggling multiple roles. However, it’s important to remember that finding a balance that works for us is an ongoing journey. Having a supportive family and staying optimistic, even when things are not perfect, is the secret to maintaining happiness amidst the chaos.

Episode Recap

Mike’s leadership of marketingops.com is more than managing a community. His journey is a testament to the power of collaboration, open dialogues, and the thirst for collective growth in the realm of marketing operations. His innovative No-Bullshit Demo Program reflects a deep desire to address the real issues of marketing ops professionals, removing barriers in Martech, and making it more transparent and accessible. It’s less about selling a product and more about creating solutions for the community.

One brilliant illustration of community responsiveness is the creation of MOps-Apalooza. Far from being just another conference, it emerged from the community’s demand for a larger platform for collaboration and learning. This initiative embodies the essence of active listening, with an emphasis on the attendee experience making it a true innovation in the sector.

Exploring the roles within marketing operations, Mike recognizes their diverse spectrum, with differences spanning from startups to large enterprises. This led to the proposal of a certification program, a method of standardizing skill validation that benefits not only the professionals but also the organizations they serve. It’s less about mastering a single platform and more about comprehending the fundamental architecture of marketing ops.

At the intersection of technology and business, marketing ops professionals employ a unique skill set. They’re crucial in architecting a tech stack aligned with an organization’s go-to-market strategy. Even with the rise of AI tools in marketing ops, the human expertise and understanding are irreplaceable, especially considering the nuances and specificities that the field demands.

Moreover, community-building remains a resilient aspect of marketing, as it requires inherently human qualities that AI is unlikely to replace completely. Yet, the potential of AI to support community management by spotting patterns and connections over time signals a path to a balanced synergy of human skills and AI tools.

Lastly, the importance of human connection in marketing, even amid advancing AI technology, echoes throughout Mike’s journey. The exploration and adaptation to emerging technologies like VR and metaverse applications remain a focal point, demonstrating the need to keep pace with the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney

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