“The Data is the Foundation.” – Interview with Greg Lord
Greg Lord is the VP of Marketing at Elastic Path (previously Moltin, acquired by Elastic Path), a headless e-commerce provider. Elastic Path has also spearheaded the Composable Commerce movement. Greg has built his career path starting as a system administrator, through IT Project Management, Product Marketing to a VP of Marketing.
What do you do right now? What are your day-to-day tasks?
I started my career in Information Technology. After studying computer science at university, I thought I wanted to work in Information Technology, maybe become a Chief Information Officer one day. What I found out was that I loved the technology, I loved the work I was doing but I felt somewhat disconnected from the customers at the companies that I've worked for. I wanted to get closer to the revenue, closer to the front lines of business, customer-facing positions. So I got a Master's degree in Business. It was a bit of a career pivot from being a practitioner of enterprise technology systems to a seller and marketer of those systems.
That shift was better aligned with my personal aspirations and the things that I really enjoy. Through that journey, I have now taken on the role of Head of Marketing at Elastic Path, which is an e-commerce software provider. My responsibilities span the full end-to-end lifecycle of marketing.
Can you tell about the campaigns that you're running? What was the most successful campaign so far?
In terms of the most successful campaigns, the magic with running marketing campaigns is when you can anchor on a compelling event of some kind. It is really about understanding the pain points of your target customers. You need to either create a compelling event or capitalize on an existing compelling event.
For us, there was a compelling event a few months ago when one of our competitors publicly announced that they were going to be ending support for the existing version of their product and doing a forced migration to the new version. It was a huge inflection point for the people running that version. They started thinking: “If I'm going to be forced to move to this new version, I could go anywhere, choose another vendor.” We targeted these customers through a marketing campaign. Our campaign was focused at the pain points the customers had with that vendor and aligned with that compelling event in the market. That was a very successful campaign for us.
What was the most challenging campaign that you have ever run?
The most challenging campaigns rely on participation from third parties — partners, like another technology company, or customers or influencers. Anytime you're trying to design a campaign that is dependent on those third parties, there's another factor that can sometimes be out of control. Getting people to respond and commit and send you their content is difficult. People have good intentions, but they may be busy. When the campaign relies on internal stakeholders only, there is a bit more control – you can really hold people accountable for deadlines and keep things on track to get the campaign out and achieve the results you want to achieve.
Campaigns displaying third party participants are a double-edged sword. They are logistically challenging to organize, but they are often the most compelling campaigns.You bring a really compelling speaker from a customer company or an industry expert from an analyst firm, or a consultant. When you have that impartial, external thought leadership and expertise that you can promote as part of the campaign, that's often very enticing for people. They come and participate and engage with that type of content.
We try to find a balance of having maybe one or two really big campaigns per quarter when we invite external thought leaders, and we'll do a couple of smaller things, which are fully under our control – smaller campaigns, to help fill the gaps if the bigger thing goes wrong.
What technology are you using to launch campaigns, especially those that are very time-sensitive, like you have mentioned at the beginning? Those based on compelling events on the market?
The reality is, any successful campaign comes down to the hard work of a great team. A lot of the success for us came from just having team members that were willing to roll up their sleeves and go the extra mile to pull together content, source contact lists, configure the campaign in our automation systems, just do all of that hard work to get the campaign out. That is the key thing in my opinion.
From a MarTech stack perspective, we run Marketo. That's the automation system that we use to bring the campaigns out into the market. Right now, in North America, we're still working from home due to COVID, so we're fully dependent on digital channels. Social media like LinkedIn and Twitter are huge channels for us because of our B2B audience. The truth is, there is no secret sauce from a technology standpoint for our campaigns’ success.
The last thing I would highlight is the importance of data, specifically customer data and tech stack data. As I mentioned, in one of the campaigns that we were running we were looking at our existing competitors. This is something that requires data, to know who those companies are.. Using tools like BuiltWith or ZoomInfo or similar can really help you to get up-to-date. You can get the account contact and tech stack data from there.
The data is the foundation of any successful campaign. We try to prioritize this area.
Data's a challenge for every company in terms of quality and upkeep, but that's certainly an area where we've made some investments to make sure that we have access to those data systems and that they're integrated with our marketing automation and CRM tools. When we're executing and following up on our campaigns, we're leveraging that data platform to make sure that we're targeting the right accounts with the right message in a manner that's going to resonate in the way that we want to.
How to orchestrate various MarTech tools to create a successful marketing campaign? What would be your advice on that, based on your experience with Elastic Path or your customers' use cases?
Our target customer at Elastic Path is Branded Manufacturers. It could be a clothing brand, a brand that is selling windows and doors, a brand that is selling heavy equipment and machinery, cars or coffee machines. Manufacturers, who have their own product and they're trying to bring that product to a B2C or B2B audience. Today, for those Brands, whether they are direct-to-consumer or selling through channels such as distributors, resellers, wholesalers, etc, digital is a critical channel for reaching their end-customers. Brands need to differentiate how they're delivering those digital experiences. It has never been more critical.
Composable Commerce* is a truly new approach to how those brands think about designing and delivering modern digital experiences, where they are able to “compose” unique digital commerce experiences according to the specific needs of their particular business. So they can bring their brands to life and engage with their target customers in a very unique, brand-centric way. We, at Elastic Path, are focused enabling that for the branded manufacturers we serve, because that's the unique challenge that they're trying to solve in the market.
What are the main benefits of Composable Commerce?
The two primary benefits of Composable Commerce are control and speed. So on the first piece around control, it's when you think about a traditional commerce platform you're buying a monolithic solution. You're going to get all the capabilities that you would typically use from one single vendor.
The reality is no software vendor can be the best at every single thing they do. It's just impossible. When you're buying a monolithic software solution, you are inherently compromising. Composable Commerce allows you to compose together the capabilities you need from different solution vendors, each specializing in their field. The end solution meets the exact requirements of how you want to run your business. You can compose the capabilities you want together instead of having to use, and being limited to, the rigid out-of the-box capabilities of one single commerce platform vendor.
Composable Commerce gives you full control over the digital commerce experience you deliver to your customers, in all of the user flows and user interactions with your brand.
The second critical benefit of Composable Commerce is speed. The real value of a Composable Commerce approach comes from the ability to launch quickly, and even more importantly, with the ongoing iterations over time. With traditional commerce software solutions, you can’t just "set it and forget about it". The market's always changing. You're launching new products, you're adapting to competitors. You're responding to market dynamics like when COVID pandemic comes and, holy cow, you need to adjust the whole business model in terms of doing curbside pickup or whatever it is.
With a traditional approach, your time-to-change is very painful.
Such things in out-of-the-box structure are time-consuming if you want to tweak or customize something. With a Composable Commerce approach, you have much more control to be able to rapidly tweak and optimize what you’re doing. Our customers say: "I know what I want right now, you know, today, but the thing that scares me is I don't know what I'm going to need in six months." That's why they work with Elastic Path and use a Composable Commerce approach, because they get exactly what they want today and they know they'll have complete control to adapt to what they're going to need in six months or 12 months or beyond.
Imagine a person who is working at a company that is using a monolithic software solution. How could they get up to speed with these topics? Because the market and requirements are changing very fast, what becomes a problem is acquiring the knowledge that is necessary to make the right decisions about the software you use.
Sometimes you see these diagrams that show the landscape of all the marketing technology vendors out there, and over the last 10 years it's flooded. There's like a kajillion vendors out there, every little tool you can imagine for every little thing (laughs). For marketers, it's impossible to fully understand and appreciate the full landscape of MarTech tools that are available. I don't even try to.
I know that might sound crazy. I am really focused on, and I challenge my team to focus on, how and why our customers buy. Take all the tools and the systems and put them aside for a minute. To me, it always starts with how your customers buy. So go out and talk to 20 or 30 customers and literally ask them, how did this whole buying process work? Where did the project initiate? Was it a board meeting? Was it an executive assigned to go scope out the project and do some research for vendors. How did they do it? Did they talk to an analyst? Did they talk to someone in their network? Did they Google? Did they go to one of these peer review sites? Then, did they want to do a demo? Did they want to talk to sales? Literally, map out that full buying process that the person went through and try to understand why they chose you. Why did they buy Elastic Path?
Once you understand those two things, how and why your customers bought your product, you can identify the patterns and design your ideal buyer's journey. Once you've defined that ideal buyer's journey, then you can think on how to accelerate this? How can we make this buying process more frictionless? That's where the application of marketing technology comes in.
For example, we might notice that if we use a live chat here at this stage of the process that would help us to engage more effectively. Maybe people we interview say that they want to see analyst reports so we'd use a built-in widget on the website that shows quotes from analysts reports. To me, if you start with the MarTech tools, then you're letting the tool dictate how you engage with customers versus understanding how your customers want to be engaged.
Instead of working based on the tool, work out what the tool should be in the first place. Once you identify the areas where you want to apply marketing technology, it's super tricky to find the right tool. You will need Google for sure. I know a few vendors that have good resources like HubSpot and Drift blog. Another good source is just talking with other peers in the marketing space and understanding what tools they are using to solve similar problems. You could approach them like "Hey, I'm working on trying to solve XYZ. What tools are you using that would be relevant for that?" It really helps to make sure that I'm applying the right MarTech tools at the right customer journey step to deliver the buyer's journey in the best way possible.
So, you should start with what you need in that customer journey to deliver the best customer experience possible and then look for the right tooling. Do you think marketing automation specialists or CRM specialists need IT knowledge to do that?
My view is that as a baseline, there's a certain amount of what I would call "digital savviness" that every marketer today needs, regardless of the industry you're marketing to.
Later, it depends. So you could be marketing clothing or really super technical engineering products. For both of those, you need to have to be very digitally savvy because today, a lot of the marketing channels are digital. Understanding the underlying mechanics of SEO and paid advertising, understanding how to use a CMS are some of these basic things, the baseline understanding that people need to have. I don't think that requires a degree in computer science. What it does require is just someone who's kind of intellectually curious.
To me personally, where the IT background and the computer science background is most helpful is to have empathy with my target customer, because one of the key stakeholders that we sell to at Elastic Path is a developer and an IT audience, you know, like CIO or CTO. So for me, it's more on the product marketing side. That background helps me to empathize and to make sure that our messaging and our positioning really resonates in the same language that our buyer would use.
To summarize, if someone was aspiring for a career in marketing, selling to a very technical audience, then yes, I think a background in some form of IT education could be helpful, but if there's someone who's an aspiring marketer to sell a consumer product like clothing or cars, then that technical knowledge might not be as relevant for them.
A good marketer or CRM manager is someone who really can come in and understand how to get into the head of the buyer, understand their fears, their aspirations, how they go about buying. That's what can really bring out some of the best marketing.
Would you say that a degree can give you more knowledge or can you learn more by yourself: online, from books, other resources? If you had to recruit and choose between two people, one that has a degree, gained 10 years ago and the other person who was constantly trying to learn the same topic on various online classes but does not have a degree, is there a preference for one or the other?
I think we're in an exciting inflection point in the world of education. Now, specifically In North America, these big, expensive universities used to be important but that model's changing. I think there's a recognition that there are different learning opportunities available to up-and-coming professionals.
For me, the biggest thing that I always look for is someone that has the aptitude and the desire to win, because you can't teach that.
They have to be intellectually curious and willing to learn. They should desire to get better every day, to win. I'll always bias towards that type of profile in hiring, because I can teach someone how to do product marketing or SEO or to run a campaign on Marketo, those are learnable skills. As you mentioned, there's lots of online training and community groups where you can join and ask questions. But the aptitude and desire, you can't teach that. I think that there are a lot of really high quality online certification options and both on tools and processes, like for example inbound marketing certificate from HubSpot. Often those skills are much more relevant than a marketing degree from 10 years ago, where they have learnt just generic marketing principles. I don't think there's any clear cut answer on this other than that you've gotta be committed to what it takes to achieve your goals. I think that the wealth of information available for people to acquire the skills for the specific job is limitless.
What is the last thing that you've learned yourself? Have you done any online certifications or any online training, anything that you really liked and you think that the knowledge that it brought was really useful?
There's a few things that I would highlight.
One of the things that I try to do with my team at Elastic Path is to have a theme for a quarter (or longer) in terms of a focus area. A couple of quarters ago, we did the quarter of copywriting and it was a big team challenge. We didn't take training or certification per se, but as a team, we have listened to podcasts, read articles. We would share the resources we found and then we would share our takeaways. Then we would do an "innovation jam session" where we would get together and apply the learnings. We would take something we're actually working on like a piece of content, a campaign, whatever it is and the person who was working on that would share it and walk us through it. We would all take the knowledge that we've acquired, in this case about copywriting, and really help to tear the content piece apart. “What if you restructured this? What if you made the headline half as long?”
These jam sessions are a "safe space" for us to be able to apply those learnings. I find that kind of practical approach to learning much more effective versus just taking a training, doing a very theoretical homework, that is not related to your job and getting a certificate. The way we learn is more "snackable", a 30 minute podcast here, a 10 minute article there.
Our current focus topic as a team is market insights. We use a call recording tool for all our sales calls and we can listen to what our customers actually say. Within the marketing team, once a week, everybody's listening to one customer call recording and sharing those #marketinsights. What that allows us to do is focus on the how and why our customers buy and truly get more in tune with that, to sharpen our marketing strategy. That is our current primary area of focus. We'll let that topic run for as long as we need.
I try to make the focus topic aligned to the needs of the business, a kind of a whole team-wide exercise, where we're learning together, sharing those learnings, applying those learnings to the things we're actually doing in our day-to-day job. One benefit of this approach is that if you went off on your own and tried to research a topic, you'd find a bunch of stuff, but inevitably if someone else in our team went off and started looking for things on the same topic, they would find something else, something you didn’t. So they might, you know, share it in a Slack channel and say: "Hey, listen to this awesome podcast that I found." And you're like: "Oh my God, I was looking for stuff, but I didn't see this one. I never would have found it." When you have a team of five, 10, 15, 20 people that are all going through this exercise, you're going to be exposed to snackable learning that you might have otherwise not found. That's the thing I think is successful with this approach, that everybody's kind of sourcing the learnings together.
The second benefit is applying the knowledge to stuff we're actually working on. That's where I would block time. I'd say: "Hey, we're going to block two hours on Thursday. Everybody's going to bring something they're actually working on right now. Share your screen, give us a quick overview of what it is. Then we'll all help you really break it down and tear it apart." After we did it at Elastic Path, everybody walked out of the meeting saying "Hey, that was awesome!" Even if we were focused on this other person's thing, everybody was listening to the conversation like "Oh my gosh, that's right. Those are great insights that I can take and apply to something else I'm working on." I think finding these kinds of themes, doing it for three or four months and then moving on to a new topic is just a really helpful way to approach it.
The last benefit of this approach is – it is free. There's so much information out there, free podcasts and blogs and other things. The only cost is the employees' time.
Is there any ultimate piece of advice that you would give to aspiring CRM Managers to kickstart their career?
I think I have a few. The first thing that I would recommend is as folks are evaluating job opportunities, they should bias towards the manager and the team, instead of the company name or the compensation. I would encourage folks to bias towards the manager and their team, because that's where you're going to get the most acceleration in your career. If you work for a great manager, he or she is going to invest in you and challenge you, coach and mentor you and support your development. A great team of peers is going to challenge you, share information with you. Even if it's not at an interesting company or you might be making less money than you think you could, in the long-term, that's going to pay off and help you become a better marketer. That's the first thing that I would encourage folks to think about.
The other piece is, I believe that everyone is responsible for their own career. Learning tools and systems and things like that. If you want to become an expert in that area, you've got to roll up the sleeves and learn it. There's so much information available and learning opportunities out there. It's a choice that people make: I can do the minimum to be successful in a job or I can invest myself in becoming an expert in my domain area. That choice, that approach you choose, is going to be a thing that's going to set you up for a career.
I've always found the best people are committed. They learn on their own. They watch an online class on a weekend, on a rainy Sunday. They come in and they're sharing those ideas. They approach you like: "Based on that thing I read or that thing I listened to here's three new things I think we could be doing differently."
Educating yourself. Understanding how the knowledge you have can be applied to the business goals. Understanding how and why customers buy, knowing the front lines of the business. That's the stuff that's going to really help set you apart from the competition and help kind of accelerate and grow your career.
As a marketing automation person or marketing ops person or a CRM person, you can't just be the behind the scenes systems person. You've really got to understand what's happening on the front lines. So talk to the sales team. Talk to customers directly to understand how and why they buy. Then you can apply those marketing or software-related learnings in a way that is really laser focused on making the whole buyer's journey a better experience for our target customers.
That to me, is the magic of how folks can be successful in their careers.
That’s excellent advice. That’s all from me. Thank you for your time.
Thanks for having me!