Solving the leadership puzzle: An Interview with the Director of Marketing Operations at MuleSoft

When you’re growing your Ops team, are you hiring the curious ones? Are you thinking about operations problems like a puzzle to be solved? A game to win? This week I sat down with Troy Perry, the Director of Marketing Operations & Lifecycle Engagement at MuleSoft, and our newest Data Superhero to discuss everything from leadership, marketing operations and even puzzles.
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Nick Bonfiglio
July 29, 2021 . 5 min read
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Every good problem is like a puzzle begging to be solved. As Troy Perry puts it, “You have all the pieces—you may have to find the piece hidden underneath the couch—but they’re all there.” It’s a matter of what you do with them—can you make sense of a complex problem and create a nuanced solution? 

As the Director of Marketing Operations & Lifecycle Engagement at MuleSoft, Troy helps businesses connect data, applications, and services from any endpoint to create better customer experiences. For the last five years, Troy has been growing a team of creative, curious Ops folks who are setting the standard for excellence in creative problem-solving. 

I sat down with Troy to walk us through his Marketing Ops journey, what it’s like leading a rapidly growing team at MuleSoft, and how good Ops professionals see the opportunities in that pile of puzzle pieces. 

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Nick Bonfiglio: What has your operations career journey been like?

I was fortunate early in my career to find a marketing automation role, even though my interest lay in finance at the time. I discovered that Operations perfectly blended both the ‘architect’ side of my personality with the business problem-solving side. Afterward, I built up some experience and was headhunted for MuleSoft. 

I’ve been with MuleSoft for five years. It almost feels like working for three different companies—it was a small, privately-owned company before going public, and after tremendous growth, we were purchased by Salesforce. I’ve been grateful to gain the experience of all three of those major shifts and all the knowledge that comes with them. 

What’s something you wish you’d known when you started?

Invest yourself in problems across the business, not just your function. There’s an amazing opportunity for those in operations roles to understand the business inside and out. We have exposure to how every function is interconnected—we will notice the inconsistencies in data across the reporting stack or see how product marketing influences the customer success team’s ability to hire. 

It’s important to take that vantage point to understand the business strategy and how that translates to the processes we create. Operations folks who understand strategy, enablement, tools, and data will have a broader picture of complex issues and are more likely to resolve them creatively and efficiently.

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What’s the difference between Ops folks who keep their heads down vs. those who see the bigger picture?

Innate curiosity. I’m always trying to find and hire curious people. Successful people in the automation and operations world are never satisfied. They are always the ones asking, “Why do we do it this way? Can we do it more efficiently?”

Curious people are so important at MuleSoft—they may not be the ones who shine in front of a new campaign, or create product messaging with sales teams. But they are the ones who create impact internally—they are creating the internal processes that enable successful campaigns and supporting our sales teams to respond to rapidly changing customer needs. I’m proud to support curious Ops folks as they grow in their roles.

On your LinkedIn profile you have the quote: “A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.” How does that quote inform the way you work?

I’ve always loved puzzles—it’s a soothing exercise for me. For every single situation—in business and life—you’re presented with puzzle pieces. 

In operations, you’re always being pulled in several directions. Right now we’re creating onboarding support documentation, on top of marketing automation, analytics, and revenue visualization. It can be overwhelming if you can’t see the vision. 

When I think of our problems like a puzzle, it allows me to solve for the bigger picture and see opportunities, even in small tasks. It’s a unique mindset, so I’m always looking for people who are hungry to discover the nitty-gritty of how things work.

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What question are you asking yourself right now?

I’m evaluating our efficiency and productivity in hiring and enablement. We’re doing a lot of hiring at MuleSoft and we want every single team member to be productive. How do we create efficient ways for them to work? How do we onboard teams remotely and ensure they can work together effectively? 

Our internal systems are invaluable. How do we create simple onboarding for our automation platform, reporting stack, or data warehouse? Creating onboarding support documentation with my team means we’re fighting brain drain—the knowledge we’re building together can grow as MuleSoft scales.

In the end, my goal is to get these talented people up and running so they can execute their initiatives and use their creativity towards solving problems. I hired great people and I want to give them the tools they need to do great work.

What resources are helping you become a better leader? 

I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. It’s about creating a feeling of ownership within your team. We’re frequently brought into problem-solving tasks and this book is challenging me to think about how to take responsibility for those successes and failures—how to see problems through to the end. 

I’m also reading The Power of a Positive No, and The One Minute Manager. These books are helping me envision the future for our marketing operations team. At one point, this team was just me and now we’re headed towards 15. As our team grows, I need to grow as a leader.

What gets you excited about leading an Operations team? 

It’s fun because dealing with people can be more complex than dealing with technology (laughs). We’re used to dealing with technology and designing processes, but people-driven processes require more nuance. 

In particular, our digital-first employee enablement is a unique challenge for our marketing operations, automation teams, and data teams. We have to create new mechanisms virtually because we’re no longer in physical rooms together, talking through marketing tactics in front of a whiteboard. It’s a puzzle we’re still solving together, along with everyone else in this new, digital-first work landscape.

Do data leaders make good ‘people leaders’? 

I find data leaders to be the best leaders because they already have the experience of impact measurement and prioritization—they just require the soft skills of people management and relationship building. They have buy-in from the data-driven folks and buy-in from those in people-driven areas of the organization. 

When you combine the best characteristics of data leaders with the best of people leaders, you have managers who run highly effective, efficient, and creative teams—they go on to solve complex problems with great team culture. 

That’s the team I’m building and one I’d challenge every Ops leader to emulate. It’s a match made in Ops heaven. 


Want to keep up with Troy? Follow him on LinkedIn.

Written by Nick Bonfiglio
Nick is a CEO, founder, and author with over 25 years of experience in tech who writes about data ecosystems, SaaS, and product development. He spent nearly seven years as EVP of Product at Marketo and is now CEO and Founder of Syncari.

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