Ray Miller of Social Tables – Adding New Tools to Leverage the Rest of the Stack
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John Wall: Sean welcome back. We’ve got a special guest with us today, we have Ray Miller from Social Tables who’s going to be talking to us about his social stack, his stack of tools on the sales and marketing front. But leading off, news of the week, here Sean we’ve got a couple of things, you had passed on a story about LinkedIn scraping and of course the Microsoft acquisition. What’s going on over there?
Sean Zinsmeister: LinkedIn has really ramped up a lot of its legal action against a lot of these sort of bots and scrapers for a lot of these companies that have been taking a lot of the data off of LinkedIn and sort of pouring it into the … you have like these data companies that are pretty much popping up all over the place and so are getting their access on things and I think what’s really interesting is that LinkedIn is following the way that we saw of Twitter a few years ago where they’re saying, "all right the hose getting shut off no more free lunch." And so a lot of these companies who are either demand gen or they’re just sort of using them to mine that data for a lot of the signals. I mean that’s linked into core value, right, is that the quality of that database and where it ties into the Microsoft acquisition. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see if Microsoft really puts their legal power and brains behind it as well. Time may be up for some of these companies in the next year or so it’s interesting to watch.
John: Yeah. What do you think, is it more of a security play or are they going with the more the Facebook thing where they’re going to open it up but you just have to pay for it? The free lunch is over but it’s going to become a model or is it just defense?
Sean: I know that there’s some early APIs out there with LinkedIn for a couple of companies that are going to start piping things in, so I think they’ll start looking at ways to blend those ecosystems, but part of it is going to be it’s time to pay up. I think that security is something that’s going to be on people’s minds especially if you look at where Microsoft might want to take LinkedIn in terms of using that database to integrate into Dynamics something like that, more powerful or to make Outlook more of an attractive offering as well. I think that they have to have security on their mind when they’re at the state of the enterprise. If you look at where they are, maybe a new rising counterpoint to Salesforce.com, you know that’s something when you’re a CRM company and you’re dealing with that amount of data, that amount of users, you can’t avoid having security be top of mind.
John: On the event front, you were at the Oracle Modern Marketing Mash Up (which I can’t believe I got out in just one take but I did). What was was going on with the show last night?
Sean: It was great. Oracle marketing cloud and invited me to speak on an expert panel, it was about a 150 plus marketers convened at The Glass House in San Jose, really nice venue, really well put on and I thought that one of the interesting themes was a lot of talk about personalization. This is really a hot topic for marketers today and sales, you know, how do we personalize, and as we went through the conversation, the one thing that I took away was that there’s really muddled definition about what people are after in terms of personalization. It’s yet again that thing that people are hanging onto that they know they want to do. Everybody wants to make it but there is relevance of message right? Where if you’re looking at your advertising programs you want to make sure that you’re connecting with people where you know you’re solving their market problems, helping them solve challenges versus necessarily crossing creepy line.
There was a gentleman who was a executive at this very large printing conglomerate that serves lot of enterprise and he had talked about when you’re doing direct mail pieces think of like the target. Cases that we’ve had in the past where you reset the line with the amount of data that we have and that’s not a really good experience right? You’re violating a lot of trust by putting that out there. It’s interesting to see with the amount of data and information we have on customers and businesses today what’s going to be the balancing beam right? Where it’s how far do you take personalization, where it does become creepy and are you really after relevance? So that was sort of interesting and how it played into some of the data challenges as well.
John: Yeah, I know what always comes to mind, that Target case where the parents find out about their daughter being pregnant because they got the sales flyer with all the diapers and cribs and stuff. That’s exactly what you’re talking about as far as a bad news scenario, something that’s going to cause all kinds of angst and violating the trust that’s originally there. With that let’s roll on here, we want to introduce today’s guest, Ray Miller he’s the senior marketing operations manager at Social Tables. Ray thanks for joining us today.
Ray Miller: Very excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
John: So tell us a bit about yourself. Give us your background, who are you and what do you do?
Ray: Sure. As you said I’m the senior marketing operations manager at Social Tables. I’ve been here for three years now. I actually started as a business development associate here and was the first BDA on our team. I like to think I was good at that but other people might say that’s how I ended up in operations. Really what I do every day is trying to find the latest and greatest operational tactics to bring the most value to our marketing and sales team. So that’s everything from workflow automation to reporting analytics to really projecting out and looking at our future and looking at where we’re going and where we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to get there. And that’s really me in a nutshell.
John: I think people would be interested to hear about what is your sort of ideal customers look like, what does what does that profile look like and you guys serve several different segments, how would you break that down?
Ray: Of course yes. Social Tables an event software at its core. It’s really there for helping operationalize meetings and events. So that’s everything from the way that the rooms get set up to the guest list and the check in portion of events. So we serve a really, really diverse group of customers. Some of our customers on the event venue side are people like Hyatt, Marriott etc. very large hotel chains, very large convention centers that use this for an operational portion. But we also work with many corporations and many event production companies that use us for a very different use case. So our ideal customer profile really is, if you have events whether you own the space or you’re renting space those are really the people that we’re going after as far as who gets extreme value out of Social Tables.
Sean: And while we’re on the topic of personalization and looking at that, Ray I’m interested in finding out your opinion about this and your experience and how are you thinking about this at Social Tables today, is this a hot topic for you guys?
Ray: Yeah, so for us personalization is important. Dealing with different diverse client types and having really polarizing use cases for both our products and what they’re trying to accomplish, what their goals are with software. Personalization is really important to us. We don’t look at it in terms of making it more relevant for that particular individual, but we look at it more in terms of making it relevant for that profile. So it’s much more based on the type of industry that the person is coming from. Maybe their job title in very specific circumstances, and what value we see them bringing to our company. So we’re going to spend less time, I mean we’re a small company, so we’re going to spend less time trying to personalize campaigns, emails talk tracks for people that might not be our ideal customer profile versus somebody who is our ideal customer profile. We might have four or five different iterations of the same email slightly tweaked just to test. For me I think personalization is really important to test because it’s not going to work for everybody. Like you don’t really need it in every circumstance and that’s one of the things that we’ve found through trial and error and a lot of really wasted effort on our part is like it’s not really necessary all the time.
Sean: One of the one of the big challenges too, that definitely was a topic of the conversation last night was scaling personalization. You can scale, you can have the tools in front of you to really slice this stuff up in like hyper segments, but you have to have the team and mechanisms to actually support the content, and actually execute on that personalization where, the example that brought up last night it’s like when you’re building personalized and nurtured tracks right, life cycle journeys, well somebody is going to have to support that content. And I’m just wondering, as you guys think about your personalization strategy, do you think about scale and does that kind of play into both the technology that you guys are using but also the human capital that you have supporting it as well?
Ray: For sure, the human capital side is the most important side because you’re right, content takes a curator and it’s really important that you have somebody there that can support the emails, the actual content that you’re sending because you’re not just sending them e-mails into the ether without a call to action and going to an actual content page. Someone has to create all of that, and that’s a lot of capital. For us the way that we think about scale both from a tech perspective and also from power creating content, is if it’s not going to impact more than X percent of this customer profile we’re not going to put time into it, and if it hasn’t been seen to be successful in the past for us, like apps are really successful for us in bringing in leads but also right type of profile. So we’ve scaled up a lot of the operations around our apps trying to get better nurture tracks there and trying to become more personalized and just kind of taking the lean startup approach to things like prioritizing, this is who can impact the most amount of people that we want to go after, both from a technology perspective when we’re setting it up all the flows, but also from content creation perspective as well.
John: So those apps are those actually lead gen that drives further business. Can give you an example of what’s working on that front?
Ray: That’s a great question. We have an app called Pocket Planner which is an event calculator for event planners or people that work at event properties that they can just say "I’m having an event for 200 people" and it gives you all the calculations for how many beverages you need, what type of bar setup you should have, how many tables should be in the room etc. It’s really really neat, it’s really easy to use, supposed to be very simple but it feeds into our ecosystem and we drive our MQLs through there.
One of the things that we try to think about is those campaigns cost per lead but cost per MQL. So our cost for lead on those is really low just from a sheer volume perspectiv, and when you actually look at it from cost per person that we actually want to talk to, it’s in line with the rest of our channels so it’s a good channel for us. I think with some of the things that we’re doing in the future we’ll probably spin up some more of those apps because they’re pretty easy to make and honestly they can get you a lot of leads and it’s a good channel to test and you can drive a lot of traffic just organically through your site to apps like that and get them into your ecosystem and you know maybe you’re not a fit today for what they’re doing, but if you get them attached to a really simple app that is integrated into their workflow that’s a great way to stay top of mind.
Sean: Right, so this is a good time, why don’t we actually dive into the stack all the way here. Tell us what tools you’ve got and you know that are working for you as far as your system of record and where did this data go from there, what have you got stacked up?
Ray: We use Salesforce as our CRM and we use Salesforce as our system of record. So the final version of everything is in Salesforce. We do all of our reporting out of there, not out of marketing automation but really out of Salesforce to reports and dashboards. And then we use Pardot as our marketing automation and that’s key to all those nurture campaigns and actually doing the operational piece of the workflow. Then for us we layer on other apps like for predictive lead scoring and and for profile building which is able to make our nurture campaigns better and our forecasting our MQL targets more predictable and more in line with what’s actually going to close deals.
We use some other tools like LeanData to do routing of leads that match up with current accounts so that we’re not duplicating efforts and that we’re not calling things MQLs that aren’t actually MQLs and we’re not disturbing rep workflows. For our actual business development reps we use a tool called Velocify which has been really great for us to be able to set our prioritization strategy for each BDA. Every day they come in and they see only the leads that we want them to call that day. And that’s been really great to drive home, follow up on inbound leads and help maintain conversion rates which for us were already really high. We just want to use that to help maintain conversion rates as we scale up the business.
Then we also use other data providers like zoominfo and data.com to backfill our prospecting queue and always have leads available. Those two are great to use in concert with a tool like Infer because then you can really quickly slice and dice and say "Okay this data provider’s not good, they’re not giving us A’s and B’s leads. It’s really only the C’s and D’s" so that that’s a great way to crosscut. And the way that I look at tools and things in your marketing stack is really: can things build on one another and can you use data in one tool and another tool to make it better? Kind of spoke a little bit about the nurture tracks there and that’s something that we’ve seen a lot of success with.
Sean: You’re right. With all that sort of orchestration that you’re doing with all these different systems, and I remember, I’m thinking back to the presentation that I saw with you and that you and I got a chance to do at Sirius Decisions this year. I think you had a really great way of sort of dividing up how you’re sort of organizing these systems. Tell people a little bit about how you have parts like analytics and there’s an acquisition, how do you divide up your entire stack and make sure that the technologies you’re using at each point are serving different pain points and challenges?
Ray: Yes, so it’s really interesting the way that came about. I was doing this presentation for Sirius Decisions and I realized that we had a pretty all encompassing stack in the first place. When you actually look at it from the business purposes that all of these apps serve for us, it really is broken down into six categories which for us is: nurture, assignment, lead management, analytics, just general marketing tools and then collateral building. What’s interesting is we’ve tried to find the majority of our solutions that can fit into any single one of those buckets because it’s important that they all talk together, while Salesforce might be the system of record for all of our analytics, we do use other tools like Infer and Intercom and C3 Metrics to have analytics insight info. They may not be the final say in things, but they are very important to inform other strategies across the chain.
Similarly for lead assignment and lead management we use multiple tools to orchestrate that whole process so that we’re using the full capabilities of what we buy and what we’re using every day. I think what’s important is when you’re evaluating software to not only think how is this going to fit in the rep’s workflow, how is this going to work for our team etc.. But also how are these things going to work with other tools, and is there anything in here that would make this tool that we have that we consider to use at 75% of efficiency to 85%? Then you can really start making value propositions to whoever buys software in your organization and say "This tool might be X dollars but it’s actually going to help us get better at using this other tool that’s X dollars too" and really make that that case more powerful for people.
It’s a little bit selfish because once those tools are working great together, they don’t go anywhere which is important, especially if you’re trying to build a long term strategy for marketing operations at your organization.
John: Yeah signal flow is something that you always have to look at when you’re thinking about your stack and how these things are talking to you. Do you find that when you’re evaluating different technologies to add to your stack, that you’re looking for things that tend to have more of an open architecture?
Ray: Yeah, the thing that I like about all of the tools that we have honestly is, they are as smart and as good at your job as you are. It kind of speaks to your open architecture point where you can get a new product, and if you don’t have a goal that you’re trying to solve with it, like for predictive lead scoring for instance, if you don’t have a goal that you’re looking to solve or something that you’re trying to find an answer to, it’s really not going to help you that much. At the end of the day if you have one thing that you’re trying to solve, you can use it for any number of things. The reason I say they’re as smart as you are is, if you know Salesforce or whatever CRM you’re using or whatever types of marketing tools are playing with you can really build some really awesome stuff when it’s on open architecture.
Tools that we use that tend to be more black boxy or a little bit more difficult when it comes to thinking about things. All of the tools that we have right now knowing that if I can create in Salesforce and know the field workflow and kind of like you talked about, the signal flow, I’m able to articulate that either to an account manager or CSM and they can help me through it or I can just do it myself, which is great.
John: How involved with the sales team have you been and how did that all evolve, with sales input or have you just been continually bringing them tools and giving them options or have they come to you with the types of things that they’re looking for, points to improve, how has it all evolved?
Ray: I think the best way, so our business development team is our marketing team, which is really powerful for us because we’re able to have direct access to the team that is filtering our leads that we paid money for and also prospecting our leads that we pay money for is telling us what they’re seeing on the front lines. So there’s an extremely good feedback loop there between the head of the business development team and myself. That’s been really important to get ahead of things far in advance because the last thing you want to do is get a tool when already everyone’s kind of thermometer level is red on a problem. The last thing you want is to bring a tool in when it’s too late. Obviously I say that now because I’ve made mistakes in the past with that. It’s interesting because reps had been key in helping me do my job because typically they’ll present a seemingly impossible problem like, we have a lot of personal e-mails that are not businesses, they are Ray Miller’s wedding planning company and we love those people and those are people really helped us get our start in our business. We know that our tool is easy enough that they can go through our e-commerce platform that we have.
So for us we don’t want our reps touching and having to respond to those emails and putting energy into places that they shouldn’t be putting energy into. So that seems like a pretty big problem. I mean we get a lot of leads every month and 50% of those leads are personal e-mails and they’re getting assigned to reps and they’re causing mismanagement of their round robin assignment. When you think about that problem, if you think about the tools that you have in your stack that can potentially walk through each and every single one of them because chances are every single tool that you have can solve a part of the problem or can assist in the problem. For us this is just a combination of Infer and workflow rules to be able to actually make sure that not a single personal e-mail that we don’t want to touch a rep ever gets to to their name and takes up that spot in the round robin.
So that’s just kind of one example, but from the sales team there’s a lot of times that they may not necessarily tell me I need a tool to solve this but they’ll say context clues that lead me down a path of, "Okay you don’t know that this tool can solve that but I can solve it with this tool", just things in conversation just walking up to their desk. Our offices are standard 21st century office, very open. So I have access to them whenever I want. Probably to their chagrin sometimes but they actually have been super helpful for me, maybe not knowingly, but just the way that they talk about things and the way that they struggle with things and they’re very open about that.
Sean: One thing that’s really interesting is you talk about you know the reps and their daily workflows, I always think that user adoption is probably the number one issue with a lot of things that are happening in the stack where you always have people who have built these almost zombie stacks where they buy these tools and they sit in the ether and they don’t get utilized where you know you have the strategy but the hard part is actually the execution. I think there’s a stat there that says 20% of the stack only goes unused, it’s probably more.
Do you have particular strategies for the frontline reps and marketers alike where you’re sort of introducing new technologies? Do you have a strategy or a way that you organize it to bring them on board to make sure that you’re actually going to get people to adopt these things into their workflows? How do you think about that and execute?
Ray: I think the key is making sure that you get buy in across the leadership team before you do anything, because ultimately there’s a ton of meetings that happen every day. You’re not in all the meetings, you can’t be there, you can’t always make sure that your training slide gets included, your operational slide gets included on how to use the new system. The thing that everybody loves is new things. They love new things that might potentially jack up their regular workflow. The key there is having good management and good structure above and reps and making sure that those people are brought in on the process and that they fully understand and can actually articulate not only how to do it, but why we’re doing it, because that’s the question that they’re going to get the most that I don’t really ever get is "Why? Why do you want me to use this new tool?"
So my strategy is to make sure that the people that are going to be answering the questions 9 times out of 10 are confident and even if it wasn’t their idea that they feel like it was, and really trying to get out ahead of that. Honestly, I think every single organization that has a marketing team could be better at this including ours. I think there’s always better ways, you talk those zombie stacks, those exist. I mean we’ve definitely had situations where people just like under-utilized tools. Once we explain to them why, you see their performance go up, you see them get better, you see them want to adopt more and you can see the dials moving.
We’re all technologists so if we want something we can have a report for it and you can really see the difference there and I think the main strategy there for me is just making sure the executive sponsors are bought in, because they’ll make sure other managers are. For me I have a great CMO who’s always been very, very good at sponsoring technology and making sure that managers work within their workflow and I think also just asking questions in meetings that you’re in with people like, "why do you use things this way? How do you think about using this?", and challenging them. Because just because you’re the keeper of the keys doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have opinions and inputs as well.
John: Absolutely and it’s curious that a lot of the new CMOs – you know CMOs just starting their 90 days, one of the first things that they do is the pruning. They sit there and they look at the stack and the ask, "All right, what’s actually getting views and what’s driving value here?" One of the things that I’m always curious about is, how do you measure success and value of the stack? Are you looking at just revenue or do you have your own KPIs that you’re using to monitor the health of things and then you know if there is an under-performer in your system, how do you find those red flags to identify it?
Ray: I think we take an interesting approach to that here for certain tools. There is the combination of, obviously, the hard revenue is always important, especially for tools like data purchase tools. For prospects, you want to see a return because it’s essentially just an extension of your advertising that you’re doing. I mean that’s kind of how we think about that. Other tools that are more tangential to business processes (or not necessarily tangential, but not the primary driver of business processes), we look at on an aggregate and say, "could our team even operate without this or something like this today?" Because, Sean you and I have talked about this so much, I like to change things all the time. I’m a big change person. I think that the only way you get better is by changing and if you’re not challenging yourself by changing then you’re just staying stagnant and who wants to be stagnant? You want to be growing, especially in this awesome landscape where technology can help us grow at exponential speeds.
So for us we look at like, if we did rip this out, what would take its place and how could our team operate? There are certain tools that if they’ve gotten so ingrained that that answer is, "No, our team cannot operate and no there is not a valid competitor to this". They’re pretty much cemented in there. It’s just a matter of how much money we’re going to spend with them. Like that’s really the only thing. We talk about that a lot, like moving stuff around because other products have become more valuable, other products have become less valuable and kind of looking at it that way.
But the other thing that we factor into consideration is, Social Tables is a company that’s built on core values and we really, really drive home the importance of core values. So every four weeks we have a survey that goes out to our company called TINYpulse, which is great for organizations small and large. Personally I think it’s a great product. One question a week, this question is how happy are you at work? So I take a really serious look at that when we install a new product and we’ve had products in the past that have become major parts of workflow that I know have caused a decrease in that happiness. So it’s really important for us that we are improving the lives of our reps and making them more happy because happy people are productive people. No organization that I’ve ever worked in has ever cared about employee happiness that much. When you think about making potential purchasing and renewal decisions based on someone’s unhappiness at their job I don’t think a lot of people are doing that and I think that that’s actually really important.
John: So Ray, you’ve got the stack well built out, you’ve got a bunch of ground covered. Most people listening I’m sure are not at the same level of where you’re at. The great question from that is that you’re so high up at this altitude, what’s on your horizon, where are their points that you want to do some more automation of, or some other tools that you’ve been thinking about adding to the mix?
Ray: For sure, yeah. I think one area that we need to get better at from our marketing perspective that can help our product itself is data appending things. So for us what’s really important is making sure that we have addresses and zip codes and just really standard stuff on our leads and on our accounts because we serve event properties that don’t physically leave that location. So if we can capture the Marriott downtown at this address and this city and state, that’s not going anywhere even if it changes a flag or it becomes a new hotel and they’re not our customer anymore. That’s a lead capture that’s never going anywhere, it’s kind of unlike most organizations where that kind of stuff might be important but not really important. Geography is actually super important for us, and on the horizon for me is really some iteration of territory management for the business development reps to make sure that they have a sandbox and they know what their sandbox is.
Honestly not sure if that’s going to be a geographical thing, if it’s going to be based on other factors like specific client types or anything like that but yeah that’s definitely something on my horizon, as well as better adoption of the tools that we currently have is always something that we’re trying to get better at. I mean that really from the marketing side and that’s me included. So I know that all of these tools have tons of different areas that we’re not utilizing to the best ability yet, the things that we use, we use it probably at like 90% efficiency but there’s other things that we’re trying to get more into. One example is dynamic content and our email campaigns so we’ve just revamped our whole trial drip program and did a lot of the emails using dynamic content. Just send one email but based on what they entered on the form they’re getting different content. And then a lot of our nurture campaigns, you know using the nurture campaign with crosscut segments for profiles to actually cater it a little bit more. Really on the horizon for me is just getting better in taking it to the next level with the tools that we’re currently using and finding a good data append tool.
John: I want to jump back to the sandbox, you throwing that out there. Is that the idea of like the Salesforce developer sandbox so like they have a place to play and test, or are you talking about more that they have a sense of geographic areas so they’re not seeing data that’s outside of their territory?
Ray: It would be more the second version there. I’m not sure if it’s going to be geographically based yet to be totally honest. Still trying to figure out the best way to do that is. I know that it will most likely be account based, and I mean that in terms of the record, will be the master record where we still work out of leads and everything is over on that side. I know that we’re going to start using account records as kind of like, this is who owns this account as a business development rep and if you set a demo and that person, congratulations you just helped them get closer to their goal. So yeah that’s kind of where we’re going with that.
John: Okay, you opened the ABM box, I’ve got to let Sean step in on that.
Sean: I’m obviously very into the ABM mania. It’s both comical the way that marketers always seem to attach themselves to the next hot thing where some of this stuff is very much repackaged, inbound marketing stuff from you know a few years ago. I mean, I think Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan would sit there and be like, "you know if there’s ever been somebody who’s rehashing our ideas I think it’s the account based marketing movement" But I do think that where are you looking at – this actually plays into your thinking about data append and so now you’re thinking about data quality and the data flows. Are you thinking about how to bring things full circle talking about personalization, sort of rep productivity? For those things with both the account based workflows and how you want to address data quality, are they really about "how do I save my reps time during the day? Do I make the research easier, is it about personalization?" What’s the main point that you’re after by addressing those things?
Ray: I think the main thing is giving reps clarity that they can just hit click to dial and not have to worry about, this is not my lead, potentially this is an opportunity already in progress. I think we have the groundwork laid for a lot of that. I’d say we’re like 20% of the way there. I think just either adding other solutions or figuring out other ways to use our current softwares to get to that point is really where we’re trying to go and ultimately what we want is the reps to just be able to get into their Velocify priority view and just hit ‘dial’ and not have to worry about anything else. So it’s kind of like the data cleanliness piece that you touched on but also giving them ownership over something. The way I think about ownership at companies is, ultimately a corporation is a person, so it really owns it you’re just like a temporary provider, temporary caretaker of something, giving them that leeway that they can go out on their own and they know what they’re in charge of, and they can drive results and demonstrate that to their manager.
John: Ray that sounds great. How about if people want to learn more about Social Tables or talk to you about stack related stuff what’s the best way to get in touch?
Ray: For sure yeah, pretty simple, email me any questions you have. I’m always happy to talk. I love talking with smart people and just going back and forth on different marketing ideas. You can follow me on Twitter @touchofRay. You also occasionally get some good music recommendations there. Yeah, that’s how you get in touch with me.
John: That sounds good. Sean how about anything before we wrap?
Sean: No, I think that we covered a lot of good stuff and if you want to learn more about it and get in touch with me you can always ping me at @SeanZinsmeister. If you want to learn anything about Infer, we’re over at www.infer.com.
John: That’s great. I’m John Wall You can get more podcasting goodness from me over at marketingovercoffee.com. Thanks for visiting us in the stacks and we’ll catch up with you next time.
September 28, 2016
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