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  • Debbie Schwake

Second in Command: Understanding the Chief Operating Officer

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

Perspectives in Persona Development: Chief Operating Officer

In marketing, personas are the key element to understanding your buyer’s motivations, whether alone or as part of the buying committee. Let’s take a look at the primary accountabilities of the Chief Operating Officer (COO.)

As second in command at the firm, the chief operating officer’s job is akin to the Vice President’s in relation to the Commander in Chief. A COO keeps an organization running when it comes to day-to-day administrative and functional operations; they must be both accountable and reliable to keep the business flowing.

A COO should:

Oversee day-to-day operations.

A COO should support the daily activities of their employees and work closely with department heads. While a CEO is more focused on the big picture, a COO takes a microscope to the inner workings of a company. When smaller pieces are well-oiled, it makes for a higher-functioning whole. A COO understands that each and every employee plays an important role in supporting an organization’s growth.

Commonly understood from a manufacturing facility, for example, the COO keeps the floor running, so to speak. If production stops in manufacturing, the impact to revenue generation is immediate and everyone under the COO’s guidance must act immediately to restore operations.

Ensure the safety of team members.

Safety is an integral part of the COO’s daily activities. A business can’t function without every part fulfilling its role, and in order to play a role as best as possible, employees must be kept safe. This means both physically (ensuring that your company’s building has adequate security and up-to-date machinery), and digitally (ensuring that your company’s technology is well-equipped against hackers and other potential dangers) safe.

Further, the COO is accountable to regulatory agencies that oversee each industry. Ensuring the facility meets all federal, state, and local safety guidelines sits squarely in the COO’s view.

Direct all operational functions of the business.

Overseeing operational functions includes holding down the fort when it comes to finance, office management, human resources, technology, and performance management, among many other departments. Depending on what type of business you are running, such categories are apt to change, but typically a COO will oversee and direct most (if not all) operational and administrative functions of a company.

Something to keep in perspective, however, when considering the individual that occupies the COO seat. That is, operations almost always consists of a good majority of the total employees of the company. As such, the COO must be an empowering leader with a strong management team. There are simply too many responsibilities to manage alone.

Manage costs and mitigate operational risks.

Being a good steward of resources is part of a COO’s job when it comes to making sure a company is growing. By managing costs and mitigating risks, a COO studies how saving in certain areas plays into revenue growth in others. With a strong analytical mind, this also means introducing initiatives to address losses so the company can learn how to avoid such pitfalls in the future.

A COO, instead of looking at the larger picture of the organization, must know how to keep their focus centered on what’s happening inside - with every little piece. This allows them to help the company strive for alignment and improve everything that they come across.

The COO's persona

So if we wrap this into a persona definition for marketing, consider the depth and breadth of the COO’s responsibilities. Note that any new offer the COO considers must directly support efficiency or effectiveness of day-to-day operations, support or promote safety initiatives, and create unity among the many members of the operations teams or the technology that runs the organization.

The COO will be interested in the technical details, cost analysis, and outcome measures of the product or service offer presented. And the value proposition must overcome a strong opposition to spending money frivolously. The COO simply does not have the budget for this.

And finally, don't spare details. This role requires the daily management of a multitude of critical operations and can manage details like no other.

Two famous chief operating officers: Tim Cook, Apple, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook


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