Building The Perfect Martech Stack

Listen again to episode 8 of The CMO Show, the interview series with leading B2B marketers. We speak with James Whitemore, EVP and CMO at global, cloud-led, data centric software company NetApp about building the perfect martech stack.


Benedict Buckland Good afternoon, and welcome to the CMO Show, the programme where we ask some of the biggest questions in marketing to some of the industry's biggest names. And today I'm delighted to say we're joined by CMO of data company NetApp James Whitemore to talk about what has the potential to be quite a mind boggling topic. The perfect Martech stack. So welcome, James. 

James Whitemore Thanks, Benedict. Nice to be here. 

Benedict Buckland Lovely to have you. Now, obviously, I mean, giving you the very, very briefest of introductions there. So before we dive into hopefully demystifying martech, the floor is yours. If you want to take sort of 60 to 90 seconds or so just to give the audience a little bit of extra background about yourself, which I think will really help help set the foundations for the conversation that we're about to have. 

James Whitemore Sure. Well, it's a pleasure to be here, Benedict. I'm James Whitemore, the chief marketing officer of NetApp. I appreciate that many in the audience may not be too familiar with NetApp, but we're a Fortune 500 company. We're 30 years old at the end of this year, and the company grew up providing enterprise data management and data storage solutions to customers all around the world. Today, we have hundreds of thousands of customers crossing every geography and every industry group.

About five years ago, we began an exercise of expanding our portfolio out of traditional data centres and putting our technology in the heart of the world's biggest clouds. So today, our technology is sold as first party services by Amazon, by Microsoft and Google. And increasingly, our portfolio is more cloud orientated than traditional datacentre orientated.

Personally, I've grown up in the storage industry. I started work in the UK right out of college for a company called Storage Tech, which was based here in Boulder, Colorado, where I now live and have grown up over the last twenty five years in B2B enterprise technology sales. So that's a lot about us, and about me. 

Benedict Buckland Excellent. That's great. When you say that people may not be familiar with NetApp, but I'm sure it won't have escaped the audience attention that you are wearing that Aston Martin shirt there. And so I think quite a few people will have a little bit of some visual recognition, certainly from your association with Aston Martin and F1 is going from strength to strength at the moment.

This is a live show, so I'm directing this to everybody that's dialling in now. And please don't hesitate to put your questions in the box if you have any. We'll definitely save some time to touch on them at the end. But also, if there's anything which crops up during the process that you really want to dive into, please, please feel free to put that question in the box.

So today we are going to talk about martech, and I think for anyone that has seen that - I think it's an annual infographic on the marketing technology landscape from Martech 5000 - which get bigger and bigger and bigger every year. Martech is as diverse as it is huge, covering everything from content to CRM promotion to social to sales. So James, what I'm hoping to do just to orientate ourselves before we get into things is ask how would you define and categorise Martech in 2021? What do people need to know? And I suppose equally what people need to know within that sort of idea of Martech? 

James Whitemore Yeah. You know, it is a diverse subject, right? And there are people within the marketing organisation who know martech inside out and you provide all of the technology services across our marketing teams around the world. And then there's many people who perform different roles within marketing who are not so familiar. Step outside of the marketing group and particularly look at the sales and selling teams and functions, the concepts of martech are really not well understood.

The way I try to frame it is in the context of like it's powering our own digital transformation and we are a technology company. A lot of what we do is work with our customers in their digital transformations, helping them put data at the heart of their businesses, develop new touchpoints with our customers through new applications and services. And the way that I put it in context for our company is this is our digital transformation.

Marketing technology is at the heart of it. It gives us the ability to pull all the data that we have at our disposal to do a better job of serving our customers, capturing more prospective customers and converting into customers faster, making our sales teams more efficient, digitising the touchpoints that we have with our customers. It's about digital transformation. And if you put it in that context, I think it's a much broader conversation rather than talking about martech. 

Benedict Buckland Yeah, absolutely. I think it's interesting you talk about it being digital transformation. From your conversations that you have within the marketplace, whether that's with peers or what you've observed within the marketplace more generally. How well understood do you think it is by businesses that marketing technology is an essential part of what is that wider digital transformation, which companies are undergoing? Do they see that as an integrated activity? Or is martech still just a separate tactical operational sort of part of the mix? 

James Whitemore Yeah, I think it's I think it's really mixed in my own company and NetApp. I've been on a three year journey to re-educate the leadership around the company, the different functions around the company, about the power of marketing and the changing role of marketing. If you think about when we operate in a world of B2B technology sales, which is very different than B2C. It was very unique in its characteristics.

Typically here for the last 20 years, people have thought about classic lead flow models, waterfall models. The kind of concept that marketing generates leads, leads a path to some kind of inside selling team inside resource for qualification. When they're qualified, they're handed out to selling teams whose job is to go close those leads. Classic waterfall mentality that's what's driven enterprise B2B technology, selling models and selling teams kind of like you can absolutely see that that's changing. They see that, you know, more and more research is being done by their customers before they actually get to talk to them. They're more educated. They have more opinions on what technology is right. They're doing more research up front in the selling process. They're seeing more and more people are involved in the buying process. They're not just selling to the person who runs technology services in the data centre.

Audiences develop, our audiences have more and more people engaged. They see those types of things happen, the key to me is educating them about how technology can help them understand all that's happening. All of the signals that are happening in a buying process - what content people are consuming, how many people are engaged from a customer at any one given point in time? What's the hot spots in geographies for those customers? And rather than expecting a flow of leads to expect a flow of information which helps them understand what's happening in their customers and prospects. And that's what we've been trying to focus on. Kind of like you're educating the teams around and getting them to understand what the power of martech is. 

Benedict Buckland Yeah, I think you've you've actually painted quite an encouraging picture there in terms of how far we've come in terms of marketers and other people in the business understanding the different use cases there. I'm going to get on in a minute. I'm really interested to know what you from your perspective, what the sort of the bad, the good and the exceptional looks like. But before we do, just get that, as I say, you paint quite an encouraging picture. But from your observations, where are there still those blind spots which are actually inhibiting their successful utilisation of marketing technology within the mix? 

James Whitemore Well, I think most of it is in the actual usage of the technology, and typically it's in the relationship between marketing and sales. I see marketing groups who are very focussed on having the marketing team understand the technology and use the technology, but don't do a very good job of educating the selling teams about how they should be engaged. And you have to give the example, which is probably, you know, top of mind for me is like all the discussion around leads.

I participate in many CMO forums and industry come by groups and you talk to my peers around the industry and it's always comes back to this discussion of where's my leads? Where's my leads? What's marketing's contribution to revenue measured by the source of opportunities? That's such a passé discussion. And it happens because I really haven't invested the time in educating the selling teams of people who actually carry the quotas about how they should be rethinking working with marketing and how they should be using the martech stack and how it's part of their technology stack, how it is completely integrated into their CRM platforms, partner platforms, et cetera. So it's become I see the biggest gaps is when sales and marketing are not working hand in hand, 

Benedict Buckland and that sadly is still a perennial issue that I think that probably a lot of marketers and salespeople as well will be able to relate to. And yeah, I just wonder, have you seen that done really, really well when sales and marketing have been working together and really getting the most out of martech, which is sort of mutually beneficial for both sides? Appreciate, you may not be able to sort of name names, but I think it would be interesting for the audience to hear a story of whether it's working and working in Synchrony, 

James Whitemore Without blowing my own trumpet...

Benedict Buckland You're allowed to blow your own trumpet. 

James Whitemore I started my career in sales and kind of flip flop between sales and marketing roles for many years and have had the opportunity several times to run combined sales and marketing teams as one function. And that's when it works best. I personally call on all of that knowledge.

Typically, when I'm doing anything in marketing, I put my sales hat on. I've got like, OK, I'm a sales person sitting out there. I've got to get your quota to be made. I've got a balanced quota to perform across products. What do I need from marketing? You've got to have that approach that marketing and sales are one function. And increasingly, as customers are doing more of the buying process before they ever engage with a live person, that becomes truer and truer. So if you don't think of marketing as a part of the selling and revenue process, you will not be successful.

And you see, we acquire a lot of smaller companies and we see a lot of smaller companies that have very, very integrated selling and marketing processes rely heavily on marketing to drive revenue rather than classic enterprise sellers to drive revenue. And we try and learn from all of those companies we acquire and replicate those processes. But you're got to think of marketing as part of a revenue process, basically. 

Benedict Buckland I think that's firstly, very, very true and and very interesting as well. what I'd almost like to do now. And it's a bit of an experiment. How do you get together your marketing strategy? I'm not putting you on the spot to actually put up a full strategy, but humour me within this. And so you're talking there about the importance of being very joined up between marketing and sales. And I'm going to surmise from that that when you're sitting down thinking about what is our perfect tech stack, what's our strategy, its sales and marketing jointly going through that planning exercise? Is there anyone else within that mix that's important when it comes to that planning process? Is there a third party within an organisation that needs to be feeding into that? 

James Whitemore Well, the IT group I'd say for sure. And you know, I always go out of my way to make sure that the IT group are fully a part of my, you know, my staff groups, my function, my thinking they are an extension just like finance and HR, our business support. IT is a huge part of the support process to me and also Finance. I mean, we spend a lot of money on technology and probably 30 percent of our overall marketing budget is spent on the technology platforms which drive our business. Having the Finance teams involved up front to understand why you're spending that money on technology rather than what they would think of as demand gen programmes kind of like that directly contribute to the business is a key part of it. So that process of bringing the marketing team, the selling teams, IT and Finance together is really key to me. 

Benedict Buckland Excellent. So we've got our team and I suppose the next question is given, and I mentioned earlier the that famous infographic where it's unbelievably big that landscape and from your perspective, with that perfect optimal team you've just described there. Where should those initial sort of focuses be from an B2B organisation? What should they prioritise first in terms of setting a strategy and looking at those different options? 

James Whitemore Well, it starts with the marketing strategy, like you said. And you know, what I've learnt over the years is you've got to dumb the marketing strategy down into very understandable segments. And there's five things in the marketing strategy, and I haven't got it in front of me. So this will be a test to see if I remember them. But, you know, 

Benedict Buckland It's a live webinar so we can't edit it!

James Whitemore Somebody will be texting me. But number one is you have the ability to target the right audiences with the right product and services. So if you think about that, I'm like, Yeah, we're a big tech company. We have, you know, a complex portfolio of data centre solutions and cloud solutions. We have products which are sold directly by us and our selling teams. We have products and services which are sold by Microsoft, by Google, by IBM, by other partners. And my job number one for Marketing is to look at our total marketing audience. Which typically measures somewhere between four or five million every quarter and decide what products we are promoting at any one given time, to which audience.

The last thing you want to be doing is going out to the same customer and bombarding them with different kinds of like messages. Or, Hey, try, this, try this, try this. So the concepts of audience management are really, really key, and that has become more and more complex.

And we have an ongoing narrative around audience management and we have an investment strategy around audience management platforms that we use. And I always put that as the heart. I'm like, the worst thing I can do is confuse our customers about what we should be doing to help them solve their problems. We have to go to them with a really strong and informed point of view about how we can best help them and that audience management platform is at the heart of it. That is something which is not typically well understood by many people outside of marketing. So that's number one, target the right audiences with the right platforms. Does that make sense? 

Benedict Buckland Absolutely. And I think it's certainly music to my ears in terms of that need to put your audience number one in terms of priority. And that's really the origin of all good marketing is understanding your audience. So it absolutely makes sense to me, and I'm sure it has to the audience as well. 

James Whitemore Yeah. Then the second part of a marketing strategy is all about how you create awareness and if you know who you're targeting with what products and services. It's about creating awareness. We're a 30 year old company. We have hundreds of thousands of customers around the world. We work with a marketable audience of about four to five million. But we are constantly looking at customer acquisition. That's one of the key metrics I am measured against is the number of new customers we're bringing into the portfolio. And as our portfolio expands, we acquire different companies. That whole audience acquisition path becomes absolutely key. So you have the second set of technology looking at how we reach and engage new audiences, and that's mostly all of our media platforms that are thought of in that category.

The thing is, how do we convert that into demand? Once you've got an audience recharge, you convert into a brand. And that's where the classic tactics of conversion, you know, email plays a part, for sure. The webinar platforms, live events like all of those types of things, come into that to create demand.

The third and fourth platform is always around supporting sales, and that's all the work that we do, which is typically presented to sales within the CRM platform. But it's all about the conversion type of content to take a qualified lead and convert. It's the how tos, the sizing and performance benchmarking and that for us getting new technologies like our digital asset management platforms, which help us understand what content is being used and works, et cetera. So key.

And then the Fifth Element is about once you've landed a customer, you've got to keep that customer, so understanding what their usage patterns are. And again, you know, over the last few years, we've had to rebuild that tech stack, which was very orientated about, Hey, you going into a data centre environment? You sell systems and software that is on a three year refresh cycle. So you have a very long planning cycle for the refresh to cloud services where basically you consume what you need and there is an ongoing customer acquisition, invention type of process. So we've had to rebuild that stack. So I would break it out into those five parts of the marketing strategy and selling process, aligning the technology with that. And that helps people get the big picture of why we're doing all of this and what the different technologies do at different stages of the selling process. 

Benedict Buckland I think that's very helpful in terms of applying what is very much an established for a very good reason marketing framework and then actually applying that sort of in inverted commas, modern day technology approach to that. So that's great. I wanted to just pick up on a couple of things there.

Now, firstly, you spoke about what your measured on, which is customer acquisition as a sort of a key metric, which leads me on to what can sometimes be a little bit of a sort of a prickly sort of question, which is return on investment. And you spoke about Finance being represented within that sort of strategic decisions about what your tech stack looks for, now I think, a lot of people's experience one of their first questions is, well, what is the return on that investment?  So, I'll be really interested to hear from you about where should markets focus in terms of proving the return on investment and just the extra little bit of context. If you like that. I came across in an HBR piece of research recently that 80 percent of marketers are dissatisfied with the tools that they have to measure return on investment. So with that context and you know, that pressure to prove ROI, what are your recommendations in that area?

James Whitemore Keep it simple. Just keep it really simple and, firstly, get out of the conversation about leads, being measured around the volume of leads and conversion of leads, and because that's a dead end conversation. It's a dead end conversation because typically the conversation is we need more leads. Your budgets are flat, you need more leads, you spend less per lead. The quality of leads goes down, the conversion rates go down and the conversation comes back again. We need more leads.

Go to market is a never ending cycle, and it's not really a valid metric. So the three things that I try and focus people on is that number one, if we're going to grow our business, we need to continually reach new audiences, basically. And in our world. So, for example, we continually expand our portfolio and those portfolios play outside of traditional data centre audiences. Increasingly, financial operations, security operations, and developer communities become part of our audience. They're all involved in the buying process. They are all people that we need to be to understand why they should work with us. And so I look at my audience acquisition and audience engagement metrics are key. We have no chance of being successful if we are not reaching and engaging new audiences. So schooling people around how to think of your audiences. Audience growth. The marketability of audiences. The drop out rate of audiences. The engagement rates of audiences is really key.

And the second part is, are we creating opportunities to sell? It's not a lead conversation, but are we creating opportunities to sell? And there you've got to look across who was selling. Products are sold by our enterprise sellers as well as by our customer success teams. They are sold through the marketplaces of Amazon or Google of Microsoft, and all of those have different selling characteristics. So it's not about leads, it's about creating opportunities to sell.

And then if you have the right attribution tools, you should be able to show clearly the return on investment for a dollar spent in marketing versus a dollar of opportunity that's created. We use 6Sense. But you have to look at each selling group and look at what you're spending, what comes out and then just roll up kind of like you have all of the marketing spend with all of the revenue performance of the company and look at some very simple related metrics.

The key is to establish what is attributable to Marketing, what has a high engagement rate with Marketing? And again, over the last couple of years, we've spent a lot of time re-educating people that attribution to marketing is kind of like a multifactor, there's a recency element, there's a number of people from that account. There's a type of content that's being consumed and getting general agreement on. When should something be counted as a marketing attribute contribution to revenue is absolutely key.

Benedict Buckland Fantastic, and I think that we probably could spend the next two hours talking about the intricacies of attribution. 

James Whitemore  Keep it simple. The key thing is to show that basically every opportunity has a high level of engagement with your marketing content through websites. So OK, we can't claim all of this is marketing, so you take it from the top and filter it down rather than taking it from the bottom and building up. If that makes any sense.

Benedict Buckland That makes a lot of sense, and I'm just conscious of time and I want to give some examples and some questions. I'm going to switch to some questions in the audience and then if we have time at the end, I really am very interested in terms of that sort of heads up approach from a marketer on how to stay on top of technological trends. But before we do that, I am going to give some love to the questions coming through. And so we've got one coming in well, actually, two coming in from a lady called Jill. Looking at the questions, I think she's probably looking if you can help them, maybe with some supplier research. She's interested to know what providers that you're currently using and why. And are there any providers within the landscape or the ecosystem that you particularly rate that are doing very, very innovative things that I think might provide us with talking about the context of suppliers. 

James Whitemore Yeah. So in our tech stack, Snowflake and the data lake that we build that feeds into all of the Martech world is absolutely critical. You can't do anything without a data strategy and the ability to capture data from multiple streams, multiple places. So Snowflake is a key technology and a key partner that we work with. On top of that Lytics is the audience management platform, Visible, 6Sense is our attribution platform. We have just about every flavour of marketing automation from Marketo to HubSpot. We acquire a lot of companies. Salesforce is obviously a big part of the mix and the ability to extract data from all of those, put it into a data lake which is based on Snowflake and then pull out some key tools is critical to us. And I think in any 30 year old Big Tech company, you're going to see some very mixed environments, right? But the tools that I particularly love are basically Lytics as an audience management platform. It's kind of like, you know, just absolutely key to me. 

Benedict Buckland Fantastic. I'm pretty sure that that is a pretty good overview of providers out there and their particular roles. And I think that the key thing is understanding key use cases before you actually start to look at different providers. Now I'm going to data strategy. 

James Whitemore The data strategy is absolutely key. Get that right and then the technology can come and go as you wish. 

Benedict Buckland Wonderful. And what I'm going to do, and I'm going to be slightly biased here in terms of the question, so I'm going to morph one of the questions that has come through. But if you were to look 12, 18, maybe even 24 months ahead, what would you say would be the big bets when it comes to marketing technology? What trends and innovations are we likely to see that are going to be very, very important for B2B marketing? 

James Whitemore You know, to me, it's all about like the next wave for us is just building out the personalisation of content. By geography, by industry group, by specific accounts and specific customer type, specific donors and personalisation of content is absolutely critical and all the tools that we would deploy across our websites to be able to do that. The ways that we teach our marketing teams how to build content which is relevant for those personalised experiences is absolutely key. 

Benedict Buckland Excellent. That's been absolutely fantastic, James. I almost have to apologise that we're having to sort of cut it short. It feels so short because there's so much more that we could discuss. And I think that there's been a lot of really, really key insights, which I think we've discussed. I think it's just starting off with that importance of wearing both the sales and the marketing hat and thinking of the two together in terms of when it comes to sort of revenue generation. That ability to think in traditional sort of marketing frameworks, I think is very helpful when you're actually analysing the technology landscape and making those decisions about the different sort of providers. And also, I think when we talked about the importance of return on investment, that advice about forward looking in terms of, firstly, audience acquisition, but also how and where are we generating those opportunities to sell? I think it's really helpful for marketers in terms of winning that conversation or putting forward that argument when it comes to sort of return on investment. So as I said, I think I've thanked you about four times now, but it's been a real pleasure. James, thank you very much for taking the time. And thank you to everybody that's tuned in. This will be available for download. If anyone does want to return to what I think, but otherwise, thank you very much for joining the CMO show and goodbye. 

James Whitemore Goodbye

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