Career Paths for Pardot Marketers – No Ninjas, Unicorns, or Rockstars

By Holly Gage

Marketing automation is a relatively new industry. You won’t find lifelong marketers (retiring now) that have worked with marketing automation their whole careers. This means it may not be easy to visualise where you can take your career in marketing automation, and more specifically, expertise in a tool like Pardot.

This is what I want to reveal to you in this blog post. I aim to share real career options for Pardot marketers for 2021, and beyond – the consulting career path, independent consulting, in-house career paths, including Marketing Operations.

First, I want to share my story with you. Like many others, I ‘fell’ into marketing automation.

Picture this: 2009, I had just moved to Singapore from the UK. I was running the APAC marketing team for a leadership and sales training consultancy. Only one month later, I found myself flying to Toronto to oversee our Eloqua implementation, then on to join the rest of the team for training in Boston. I ended up becoming that Eloqua ‘power user’ at first because we were a small team; looking back, the real reason became so engaged was that my passion for marketing automation was ignited. Eventually, I moved into Pardot, which is where still I focus my attention now.

Fast forward to today, what have I learned about the marketing automation career path? Or, perhaps a more pressing question to answer: why unicorns, ninjas, and rockstars?

I want to start by saying that I don’t have anything against unicorns, ninjas, or rockstars; however, I don’t think they are helpful descriptions for a marketing automation role. Here’s why:


Scott Brinker neatly summed it up when he said unicorns are too conceptually perfect – the expectation is unrealistic! When companies are looking for marketing automation experts, they need to be realistic about the skills they need in a candidate.


While technology may be developing fast, good marketers have a thirst for learning (plus a set of skills and experiences) that makes them eligible candidates for roles, even if they will face a learning curve initially.

Technology can be learned – as it changes, you stay on top of it. I’ve worked with some excellent marketers who didn’t have all the expertise in a specific technology but they learned because they had the right experience and the right attitude.


“It’s all about them” – wait, it’s not all about them, collaboration is key to success in a digital marketing career!

Buzzwords in Action

When you put these buzzwords into action, the result is…nothing.

I saw a job description that read: “Digital Marketing Ninja – you are a digital marketing rockstar and we want to see what you can do to disrupt marketing”. I don’t know what it means either; they had rockstars and ninjas mixed in!

Let’s move on to some real career options.

How to Structure your Marketing Automation Career

A framework that’s a good place to start is Ikigai.

What’s Ikigai? It’s a Japanese concept that roughly translates as ‘reason for being’. When trying to work out your own purpose, you combine internal and external factors – which is what Ikigai advocates.

You can boil it down to four simple questions:

  • What do you enjoy?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need?
  • What will you get paid or?

As you define your path forward in marketing automation (or beyond), these are fundamental questions you should be asking.

If you focus only on the things you’re good at, or what you can get paid for, the danger is you’ll get bored…because where’s the passion?

Following my Ikigai has led me down some unconventional paths – it’s been a varied and fulfilling career.

Starter Questions

Let’s start with those two questions about you:

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?

When I think about my passions for marketing technology – both now and over the past 11 years – I know what I enjoy:

  • The problem solving: getting into the weeds of fixing something. I love being told “Pardot is broken, it’s not working” (me: no, your Pardot isn’t broken).
  • Aligning with the sales team: I also enjoy working closely with the sales team; having started in the sales team, I am passionate about sales team alignment with the marketing team.
  • New technology: I like the fast pace of change and always to be learning.

This isn’t meant to be all about me – these are just examples that may resonate with what you enjoy at work. You need to work it out for yourself.

As important, is being aware of what you don’t love. For example, you may not like doing too much of the same thing*.

*that doesn’t mean I don’t mind cleaning up lots of Pardot lists occasionally!

The chances are the longer you stay in the role, your likes and dislikes will become more apparent.

Which Marketers Does the World Want?

@ 5:18

Let’s move on to which marketers the world wants – in other words, what will the world pay you for?

These are the two ‘market-focused’ sections on the Venn diagram:

What does the world need now…and what will it need in 2030?

I hope that we won’t see as much change in future years as we experienced in 2020, the general pace of change has increased.

At least the changes we did see in 2020 have given us clues on the skills we’re going to need for 2030. Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, said we’ve seen two years of transformation in two months.

These are the three types of marketers I see the world needs in the future:

Fat T Marketers

T-Shaped marketers have a broad and deep skill set across the marketing spectrum.

Fat T marketers have several areas of deeper, more specialized expertise. Two critical areas are marketing technology and strategy. This growing need has been popularised by the Gartner blog.

Source: Gartner

Agile Marketers

You may be familiar with Agile marketing (or practices such as scrum or stand-ups). This adaptive approach to project management originates in software development and isn’t a linear plan.

McKinsey found that marketing programs are taking 6 months to go to market; that’s just too long, markets and customers change in that time! Consider the pace of change, especially when we look back at 2020. You need to be able to adapt quickly, and agile marketing enables marketers to do that.

Augmented Marketers

It’s a term that was coined by Scott Brinker and Jason Baldwin in their report “MarTech in 2030”. AI-led technologies are evolving, but the need for marketers won’t disappear. What we’ll need are marketers who can embrace AI and machine learning, and combine their human strengths with them.

Marketing is going to change over the next 10 years…

Technology will change, so it’s all about adapting and continuing to learn.

We can’t predict what things are going to look like in 2030 – let’s just think about where we need to get to. What I will say is this: we have a responsibility to oversee the models in marketing technology and the sources of data we use.

Forbes has stated that the new retirement age is: never.

Maybe that’s a little overdramatic but that statement makes me motivated to do something that I love, that I’m good at, and that the world is going to need – and what I can get paid for.

Career Paths for 2021 and Beyond

@ 8:20

Let’s look at some of those career paths you need to be able to move through this digitalised period. In the poll I took during my ParDreamin’ session, I asked: where do you work? Are you working in-house (in a marketing team or marketing operations) or working in a consultancy (either a marketing agency or a Salesforce consultancy).

Read more: Agency vs. In-House: Which Salesforce Marketing Role Fits Best?

Turns out the majority (74%) were working in-house.

  • 57% of the audience in-house in the marketing team,
  • 17% were in-house, marketing operations,
  • 10% in marketing automation consultancies,
  • ‘Other’ was made up of mostly independent consultants and others.

What I’d like to point out is there’s no reason why you need to follow a linear path – it’s not uncommon to move between in-house and consulting. As someone who has done both career paths, I strongly believe that you will learn a lot, and the blend of skills will make you better as a practitioner, or as a consultant.

Pardot Consulting Career Path

So let’s start by looking at the pros and cons of consulting.

“Consulting” could mean you work at Salesforce, or in a marketing consultancy working with clients – involved in implementations and migrations, or client support. Another type of consultancy is working as a campaigns manager at an agency, building and deploying campaigns for clients.

I made the move into consulting in 2014, after working in-house (where I’ve happily worked for a long time) because I was looking for a new challenge, to throw myself in the deep end (which I’ve done several times in my career). I lead the EMEA-wide marketing services team for a Salesforce consultancy called Bluewolf; the type of work was implementation, solution design, ongoing support, migrations.

What skills do you need to be a good consultant beyond your marketing automation expertise?

Project Management

The critical skill is project management. Whatever type of consultant you want to become, good project management skills are highly prized to consultancies where revenue relies on projects being delivered within scope and within budget.

Good project managers are highly sought after. Project management is a career path I’ve seen a number of great Marketing Automation Consultants move into. Getting certified in methodologies like Prince2 opens up other pathways into professional services, and even multiple other industries that value project management. Side note: I mentioned at the start that there are unconventional career paths.



Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Any good consultant asks questions – and listens.

This is especially important if you’re making the move from being in-house, to becoming a consultant.

It’s a big change; you need to realize, early on, that there are no stupid questions. However, you have to work out how best to ask those questions. Combine your curiosity with good communication skills and business acumen; you’ll need to challenge assumptions and ask the hard questions to find out what your customer really needs.

You’ll also need to be customer-focused; I don’t just mean your own clients, but your customer’s customers as well! You will need to help your clients to connect with their customers and make them more successful as well.


The ability to cope under pressure, and with changes. There will be tough situations that you will need to get through.

While there are others, I think these are the three skills that, if you master them, will get you in a good place to not only move into consultancy but if you’re already there, to develop into more senior consulting roles.

“Fake it until you make it”?

Another thing: some people prefer the “fake it until you make it” approach. My advice is to be honest. Sometimes you may need to have a little bit of that attitude, it actually comes down to having confidence, as in, have confidence that often you’ll be the expert in the room. Don’t undervalue that. You might feel like you’re faking it and being dishonest; be honest where you can, but also have confidence.

What about becoming an Independent Consultant?

As a consultant, you don’t have to work for someone else. I decided I wanted to work for myself as an independent consultant over three years ago – and there are a lot of others who feel the same.

“87% of Millennials say they want to work on their own”

Forbes, 2018.

People are drawn to freelance for a number of reasons; after what happened in 2020, we can add Covid to the list. I wanted the flexibility to be around for my kids, and also to take control and try something new in my career. I loved it! I jumped in with no projects, which I don’t recommend for everyone (just have enough savings to keep you going!) The most important advice is to speak to people who have done it before, even people in your own network who aren’t in the Salesforce ecosystem.

In-house Marketing Career Paths

@ 17:00

In my Pardreamin’ session, I found out that most of the audience were working at a Salesforce customer organisation. Let’s turn our focus to in-house Marketing teams and Marketing Operations.

A note about smaller organisations:

You may find that you are the ‘power user’ as well as the marketing expert that’s building the strategy and executing the campaigns. You may have support from external agencies, others across the business – or maybe it’s just you.

The career path at a smaller organisation isn’t always as well defined. There are fewer places to move into, so you may decide to change roles entirely to something that complements your background in marketing (sales, customer success).

Conventional Marketing Career Progression

The path above is a conventional career progression. At a high level, you could say that you move from being a ‘doer’, an individual contributor, to leading. There are key skills that evolve, recognisable across all of these roles – attention to detail, organisational skills, project management – and of course, reporting.

To develop into more senior roles, these are the things I would recommend you focus on:

  • Proactive mindset/taking the initiative,
  • The ability to link strategy with execution: when you start out with marketing automation, you’re working to operationalise marketing – but how is what we’re doing tied to what the marketing goals are, and the business goals of the company overall?
  • Inspiring and developing others: whether you’re managing them, or not (they may be your peers),
  • Strong analytical skills: you start as the team member running the reports and making recommendations, then being able to translate data into actionable insights and communicate those to people at all levels of the organisation.
  • Familiarity with marketing technology, beyond just Pardot: thinking about tools and platforms such as Tableau, Sales Cloud – and beyond the Salesforce platform.
  • Solid understanding of data (and how it gets used).

On that note – as a Pardot marketer in-house, you could also be part of a Center of Excellence. This function works as a ‘shared service’, an opportunity that enables you to work with teams all across your organisation.

Marketing Operations

Leading smoothly onto Marketing Operations, which also works as a ‘shared service’ across the organisation. Marketing Operations provide the governance, infrastructure and support, enabling marketing to operate efficiently, with scale, and consistency. They ‘lay the tracks’ ahead of the team, for the team to have a smoother ride day to day.

“49% of marketing teams have a dedicated Marketing Ops leader”


While Marketing Ops has been growing in popularity, it’s not surprising that these dedicated teams are found mostly in enterprise level companies. While Marketing Ops certainly exists in smaller organisations, it’s often part-owned by the marketing team.

The structure and roles within the Marketing Ops team differ from one company to the next, these are typically the roles and responsibilities:

Joining a team as a Marketing Automation specialist where there is a Marketing Ops team means there are many paths you could take – especially if you love technology and process, this would be a great opportunity for you.

I believe the demand for Marketing Ops will only continue to grow, and you can be part of shaping Marketing Ops in your organisation over time.

5 Steps You Can Take Today

  1. Talk with your network
  2. Attend events: Trailblazer Community groups are ideal. Listen to what people are talking about, the challenges they are currently up against, hear the inside scoop on what others are working on.
  3. Get active on LinkedIn: I find I get such good insights from the articles, videos, etc. that others share.
  4. Participate in the Pardot community
  5. Take online courses: Trailhead is the obvious one, but use it to branch out into other Salesforce products (eg. Tableau), and modules not just relating to technology (Project Management, public speaking, etc.). And think outside of Salesforce to bolster your skills and knowledge for taking on roles that work across multiple teams (Center of Excellence, Marketing Ops).



The Author

Holly Gage

Holly is a marketing specialist with over 20 years' experience, leading marketing teams in Europe and Asia. She now works as Senior Manager, Marketing Technology at Okta, Inc.

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