Have you ever wondered how to turn your love of Tetris or obsession for office supplies into a paid career opportunity? Well, President of Mustang MarTech, Courtney McAra has done just that. After more than a decade building a career across several operations and marketing roles, Courtney ventured off this year to open a marketing operations consultancy and educate companies on how to drive impactful and measurable results from their marketing efforts.
This week, Courtney kindly spared time out of her hectic schedule to join us for an Authentic Career Conversation. Check out her story below.
JF: At FinkDev, we define an Authentic Career as one that taps into your strengths, values, and interests. How does Marketing Operations (MOPS) create an authentic career path for you?
Courtney McAra: Well, I was always the kid who liked organization and structure. I fought my parents to let me play Tetris with our luggage in the trunk of our car and wanted to spend hours (and hundreds of dollars) at the office supply store. In school, I loved calculus and Supply Chain Management classes (go Kaizen!). When I worked at GE Capital, all employees took an Intro to Six Sigma course, which I absolutely loved. The first book assigned during my MBA program was “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, and the concept of identifying and improving bottlenecks and workflows all felt like common sense to me. I didn't realize at the time that operations was probably a natural strength for me.
Fortunately, in my next role at my first SaaS company, I had the opportunity to learn Salesforce.com. As soon as I discovered Lead, Contact, and Campaign Objects, I realized I had found my niche. I was thrilled to build a process, track conversions, measure responses, and provide insights to the CEO that she had never had before. I became the in-house go-to-person on the platform. And, I was able to build my expertise because I had a great leader who supported me and created an environment where I felt safe to admit what I didn’t know. Most importantly, she encouraged and supported me to dig in, investigate, and learn more. Once I had answers, I loved being able to bring those answers to the rest of the team.
A few years later, in 2010, I was introduced to marketing automation, and that same pattern of being fully immersed repeated itself. I have realized that I am happiest when I can bring quantitative, measured, trackable value to a team or organization. And I love seeing the lightbulb moment on someone’s face when they learn something new.
"I'm still totally enthralled and energized when I get to dive deep into an Ops project. It really feels kismet."
But, my career path in MOPS wasn't planned at all. I don’t know if anyone in this field can say that theirs was. I am sure most of us landed in MOPS after a twisty-turvy turn of events. Yet, ten years later, I ended up in a career that I am well-suited towards and feels very authentic to who I am! I'm still totally enthralled and energized when I get to dive deep into an Ops project. It really feels kismet.
JF: Earlier this year, you decided to launch your Marketing Operations Consultancy. How did you choose to make the leap?
CM: I've always enjoyed teaching people about MOPs, solving problems, and debating solutions or methodologies with other experts in my field. Plus, after seeing two companies I worked for go public, I realized I had experienced and learned a LOT—mostly what not to do. I thought, wouldn't it be nice to share what I've learned with others who are just getting started? What would I do differently knowing what I know now?
I love it that my consulting work carries over into my interest in education and training. And, I especially love it when clients are mops nerds like me and when the student becomes the teacher!
JF: I often see clients confused about the different areas of Marketing. What makes Marketing Operations different than other areas?
CM: It’s a common question—most of my family doesn’t know what I do! I’ve even had coworkers ask me about “On Brand” fonts, colors, and logos, which are definitely not in my wheelhouse!
Marketing Operations, or what is now morphing into Revenue Operations, tracks the impact that marketing has on the business, the ROI on marketing dollars spent. In the past, when companies had to cut budgets or headcount, it was often Marketing who was the first to go, mostly because they had a hard time proving their value. But with today’s technology, marketing can (and should) be able to attribute their spend to revenue, and put up a solid fight to keep their seat at the table.
JF: You work with many companies in your consultancy. What’s one thing you wish every company knew when it comes to MOPS?
"Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPs) are not like the Staples® Easy Button™—although I sincerely wish they were!"
CM: There’s a common misconception that more technology means fewer people. Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPs) are not like the Staples® Easy Button™—although I sincerely wish they were!
Yes, these platforms do help us work at scale, but they can get complex quickly. MOPs has the ability, and responsibility, to do much more for the business than merely designing and sending emails. MOPs owns the entire Marketing Technology stack and integrates with other departments' technology, as well, primarily Engineering and Sales Operations. Plus, MOPs keeps your company compliant with the new regulations that seem to be popping up each year, such as GDPR and CCPA. So, I dream for every company to view and value its MOPs department as an integral part of the platform, processes, and company structure.
JF: Something I learned about you, recently, is that you ride horses competitively. First of all, cool! Second, I’d love to hear how that interest blends into what you do in your full-time work?
CM: Thanks! It forces me to get off the computer and go outside, which is great for my mental and physical health. Getting out of the house became even more important once I started working from home full-time—it's far too easy to get elbows deep into a project and work late into the evenings!
I love riding, so I do have to be careful with time-management, but I savor my 30-minute commute to the barn and often have my greatest MOPs epiphanies in the car or while riding.
Another aspect where my strengths and interests blend is that growing in MOPs has caused me to become even MORE organized in my personal life. I have to admit that I've now labeled and color-coded all of my riding equipment. I think anyone who is in the midst of their career and has a busy, robust, and complicated personal life can relate. Whether it is raising a family, flipping houses on the side, training for marathons, or riding horses, there can be a lot of list building, prioritizing, reevaluating, or calendar syncing that goes on after hours.
JF: As you get settled into your second year of running your company, who would you most love to connect with this upcoming year?
CM: It goes without saying, I am always game to talk about MOPS-related things. But not related to work, I would love to meet Judi Dench. One of her movies made a tremendous impact on my life, and I’d like to say thank you. 😄
Courtney McAra is a Marketing Operations enthusiast with ten years of experience helping B2B/B2C companies tame their wild databases. Seattle, San Francisco, Portland. Drinks wine, rides horses.