Marketing Technology Trends and the Customer Experience: An Interview with Mike Ballard

12 minute read

Upland Admin

If someone tells you to love something more than bacon, you take them seriously. Very seriously.

That’s what I learned from Mike Ballard–when he talks about marketing technology, you know he’s on a mission. As the Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Lenovo, Mike is enamored with using marketing technology to create not only a powerhouse marketing team, but also a best-in-class customer experience.

Here’s what he had to say about marketing technology trends, optimizing customer experience, and why you should love data more than bacon.

Let’s start off with you telling us about your background with marketing technology and the focus of your role at Lenovo.

My piece with marketing technology started years ago, during the infant stages of marketing automation. I started downloading a bunch of cool, educational material from Marketo, probably every resource they had out on the web. Within two days, I got a call from a sales rep who could see the content I was viewing on the web.

I thought that information capture was so cool. I’m a gadget guy, so marketing technology bleeds right into that—I was instantly hooked on marketing automation.

At Lenovo, I’m responsible for all things digital marketing for the North American market, specifically focusing on the B2B space. My role encompasses inbound and outbound marketing, web, content creation and direction, and the operational piece of marketing automation technology.

So, we evaluate what’s out there, we pilot and test what we want, and then we implement as necessary.

Such an interesting path. I’m curious, based on your experiences what do you see as the biggest challenge for a person working in marketing tech at an enterprise organization?

The biggest challenge is the number of choices you have out there. Just check out the infographic from Scott Brinker at ChiefMartec with the logos of all the different marketing technology companies out there. It’s gone from 947 companies in 2014 to 1,876 companies in 2015. And I’d predict that the one that will be released soon is even larger. It’s crazy growth.

And it’s not only the sheer number of companies but also the investment going in. When you look at venture capitalists, and where they place their money and get great return–marketing technology.

For us as marketers, there’s a love hate relationship with this tech growth. I love the opportunity to have so many ways to attack my work, accomplish tasks, make processes simpler, be more effective… The list goes on and on.

But, at the same time, that’s a lot of technologies to consider, evaluate, and manage.

And, when marketers become more efficient and have “more time on our hands,” we simply fill that time with more things to do. We become overwhelmed pretty quickly.

That’s an observation we’re hearing from many other marketers as well. To take that thought a little further: Do you think technology has complicated or simplified a marketer’s life? Why?

I’m going to go with all of the above. There is complexity in simplicity.

Yes, there’s a lot of processes that have been made much simpler, but again, all these different technologies require managing, training, and budget.

We make execution simpler, but management a lot more complex.

We make execution simpler but management a lot more complex.

To broaden the conversation to customer experience, we hear a lot about changing buyer behavior and the importance of customer experience through the entire funnel. Do you think customer experience is an important topic for marketers today?

I do think customer experience is important. We get paychecks because of customers.

If their experience isn’t the best, then we’re failing. We’re missing the big picture.

If their experience isn’t the best, then we’re failing. We’re missing the big picture.

We can’t let it become about us the marketer, or us the company, and what message we want to convey.

We live in a world where we’re increasingly distracted. In the Lenovo space, for example, there’s an immense number of laptop manufacturers that take up both physical real estate and digital real estate. And that’s just a small piece of someone’s world. Look at consumer advertising from food, technology, social media… You as a marketer have to cut through the clutter. 

People are very good nowadays at determining whether an experience is good for them. And if it’s not, they’ll jump right away.

The buying culture has almost become selfish in that way. If I’m not going to understand what I’m seeing in five seconds or less, then I’m going to go somewhere else.

There have been some fantastic companies that have created amazing experiences from start to end, setting the bar pretty high. Therefore, if you’re not at that bar, you’re below it, and you’ve just lost someone.

You’re really setting the table for the power shift moving to the buyer’s hands, similar to the SiriusDecisions stat that 67% of the buying decision is being made digitally. Let’s talk about that shift in power. How has the impact of new technologies and advent of new digital channels changed the buying process?

We can’t alter the buying process. The buying process is different from customer to customer—sometimes it’s one employee signing the paper versus a team of twenty who work across the globe.

What we can do is be relevant.

The customer may not care about you until they really want to care about you. So we have to look for signals that tell us, “Hey, I care about you now, let’s talk.” Then in return, we have to be relevant in the message we give them.

We do that in two key ways:

First, we entertain and educate prospects to keep them engaged, just like with my Marketo experience: give me free education and, in return, I’ll give you contact info.

Second, we wait to engage someone with meaty content (product-specific content) until the customer expressly tells us they want to chat product or they indicate it based on obvious online actions.

I love hearing about digital body language and it sounds like you really listen to your customer. Can you share some examples of how you bring marketing automation together to manage your customer experience? 

We make our marketing automation system, Eloqua, the center of our marketing process, using it for email, display ads, and social. We’re also using intent data to provide relevant content to specific people in an automated way.

Here’s how we integrated the process across our entire sales funnel: 

When we don’t know who they are, at the top of the funnel, we try to get their attention with fun, tongue-in-cheek content that is sharable. We may mention Lenovo but we don’t do heavy product pushes.

Once we get them in our universe, eventually we’ll be able to offer them content they think is worthwhile enough to identify themselves.

We do it lightly. We give them opportunities to say they’re ready to talk to sales, with contact forms or intent data, but we don’t force it.

At that point, in the middle of the funnel, we can add additional elements, like targeted email and 1:1 display ads, which we coordinate with email campaigns so they get the same message across the board.

We do it lightly. We give them opportunities to say they’re ready to talk to sales, with contact forms or intent data, but we don’t force it.

We also lead score, and use multiple metrics in a scores:

  • Demographic (your role in a company)
  • Digital behavior score (how you engage with our content—email display ads social)
  • Predictive scores on intent to buy (where do you fall on this intent to buy based on data)
  • Product-interest scores (servers buyers are different than laptop buyers)

For the next stage of the funnel, we have an outbound call team that qualifies every marketing-led lead over the phone. If there is an opportunity there, we flip it over to sales.

Once the prospect reaches the bottom of the funnel, we become air support for sales. We know a lot of information at this point, so we can provide enablement tools to our sales reps. Likewise, we can customize messages to coordinate with the product that is of interest, which helps with upselling and cross-selling, until we finally win or lose the opportunity.

It’s setting up a model where we’re not pushing. We’re listening.

Love that you’re putting a human touch to an automated process. Moving forward, what major tech opportunity do you see in the marketing industry?

One of the things I’ve been researching is what I call content sequencing or real-time decision making.

We have access to so much data: we have first and third party data, and we can create models around it. So, we can take it and group a bunch of people together based on a relevant topic, and then execute campaigns in batch form. But by the time we make the send, we may be two weeks past the point where someone’s interest peaked.

Where I see the big opportunity is to take that data and tell automation to send a piece of content at this time, making a more real-time, data-driven process for sending nurture campaigns. This would get ahead of competitors, coming across as relevant and timely.

That sounds like what we’re working towards here at Kapost! You’ve been a customer of Kapost for several years. In your words, what does the Kapost platform do for you and your team?

Kapost is the center of our content universe.

The Kapost platform encompasses everything that we do—95% of the content we create is digital. All of our content is housed physically in Kapost along with everything about the asset: who made it, what audience it hits, how it’s segmented, etc.

Kapost is the center of our content universe.

Then I can use the asset information to create analytical information and apply it, from how and when we use a particular asset to which agency’s content converts at the highest rate.

We also use the platform for automating and managing the content creation process. At Lenovo, we’re agency-heavy for the creation and execution of our content, and we’re creating multiple pieces of content at any given time.

With Kapost, we can create workflows to coordinate multiple people. Then, we can analyze the workflows to find and eliminate bottleneckes, increasing our efficiency.

For example, about six months ago, we noticed lags in the time it took to create specific pieces of content. Using Kapost, we could see the timeline for creation, and then make a data-driven decision about how to streamline the process. Looking back now, I can see how we became more efficient.

I’m curious if you have any additional advice for people in marketing technology, our MarTech pros, on how to interact and create interactions between IT and an internal marketing team?

It’s a really complex environment out there. There are so many choices–and everyone does it slightly differently, which can trip you up.

My advice is to start simple, set goals, and stay aware.

Write down the goals you want to accomplish with marketing tech over the next 12 months. When you create a roadmap, you empower your team to say both yes and no to things that come down the pipeline.

A specific example: it was pretty easy for our web group to yes to anything that came up, which often left us in a bind, unable to manage projects.

So we blew up [the process] and started from the ground level. We created a 12-month roadmap, adding a singular new technology on a quarterly basis. Instead of doing too many things at once and failing, we had a clear path for alignment and visibility across the team.

More importantly, this also gave us the power to say no to jumping right away, allowing projects that weren’t on the roadmap to be put on hold.

It’s important also to keep your ear to ground. The tech is changing so rapidly—it’s fun, but it’s fast.

Make relationships with vendors and people in the Martech world–go to the Martech website and just dive in!

Could you leave us with one last piece of closing advice?

You have to love data more than you love bacon. And I really love bacon.

Marketers, by trade, act with our gut. We’re creative people, and we think we know everything, when in actuality we don’t.

I know this first-hand. I’m a right-brained, creative guy. I never thought, sitting in a college stats class, that I’d be using statistical significance in a presentation a few years down the road.

But if you want to be a marketer today, you have to know your data. You have to make decisions on our data.

Here’s how we became more data-driven as a team: we have access to so much data, marketing and beyond. What we did, we banned the phrase I think, and changed it with “the data tells me.”

Becoming more data-driven doesn’t just sound cool. We’ve drastically improved our KPIs—with more leads, net new names, and a growing database—because we’re making decisions based on black-and-white data.

And those kinds of results make me love data just a little more than bacon.

Reliable products. Real results.

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