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Why Some Marketers Run From Data & What’s Next?

Posted March 15, 2023
Image with Alan Morte's headshot entitled Why Some Marketers Run From Data & What’s Next?

Alan Morte, President at Three Ventures Technology, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Alan shares his insights on why some are advocating for a return to gut-driven decision-making, why smaller organizations don’t need CDPs, the options available for those lacking analytical skills internally, and the one analytical-related skill he recommends all marketers master. 

Alan is the President and Principal Consultant of Three Ventures Technology, a consulting firm for analytics, technical marketing, cloud, and software development. Three Ventures partners with many in-house brands and even acts as an extension of their internal teams. Alan and his team implement platforms such as Customer Data Platforms (CDPs).

We see some squeaky wheels out there advocating for going back to gut-driven decision-making over data. I have theories about why this is happening, but I’d love to hear your perspective.

So I have seen some squeaky wheels out there who are advocating for a complete abandonment of data-driven decision-making and to move to the gut because it’s good enough. At the start of this chat, Alan gave his opinion about why this is happening.

“I think it is a natural human take on what happens when you don’t understand something or what happens when a topic or activity becomes very overwhelming. I say there are three stages of development with technology. There is the all-in and the all-out. Then there is sort of that balanced middle state. If you look back to the context between 2012 – 2016, it was all about data, big data as all these buds buzzwords coming out of Silicon Valley. In addition to that,  I would largely say from 2018 – 2019, it was more focused on what data you actually need. 

“And since then, we went all in and now we have such large volumes of data and every platform has data. Every platform has integrations. Every platform says they have reporting and analytics.  I think that mindset is shifting to ‘I need to just go back to my gut with what I was doing and don’t need to be overwhelmed by this’. 

“So it’s that natural progression in human nature to just get rid of the problem instead of realizing we created the problem at first by just going all-in into something and not having a plan. We have become so inundated with everything that simply removing it seems like a solution, but it’s not. 

“Maybe if you are doing everything and you’re a one-person business, you know all the nuances and the details. There’s no way you don’t know everything about how your company operates if you are a team of one. But if you’ve got 20, 30, 40, 50, or hundreds or thousands of people, you need information radiators. Therefore, getting rid of data altogether doesn’t make any sense. I would say that’s where I’d split the conversation here.”

Alan’s outlook resonates with what I have been seeing. I grew up in tech. This is where I have lived and I’ve seen that over the years. Many technology startups are founded by very smart tech-savvy people who think they know exactly what is and isn’t possible. And as marketing has moved to digital, the perception was everything is trackable. I think we both know that that’s not the truth. Many people were getting really frustrated that perfection is not attainable, and more spot on, we are overcorrecting. As Alan implied one size doesn’t fit all.

Let us say we are a new organization with minimal infrastructure. Does that mean we can’t use data? What would you recommend for a crawl-walk-run approach?

Alan went on to clarify why if you are a smaller organization, you don’t really need a  CDP.

“No. You don’t really need a lot of data. You just need some basic stuff. Even then, if all the information is sort of tribal information, you’re doing all activities, it’s like you don’t really need data. Where you need it is when you want to start to think about scale. And not having to do everything, right? So ideally it’s a disciplined approach from the start and realizing that the more you grow, the more you need. The smaller you are, the less you will probably need.  I’d say that’s a good sort of continuum here. I mean unless you are in the business of selling data, obviously you’re going to want to collect a bunch of data and ensure its quality. 

“However, there are always some stipulations and some education edge cases. But it’s just my thoughts on the matter. If I was seeing somebody out there in the ecosphere saying that, I’d be looking at that with a very, very skeptical lens. It would be like, okay I hear you, but maybe you’re a one-man salesperson or one-man sales team. One person running a company and if that’s a streak, some good luck, right? With maybe selling content or courses, you don’t need a ton of insight.”

We need to leverage the data we do have in a way that makes sense. So for a very, very early-stage organization that may just be making sure your contact us form is flowing somewhere and being able to report on how that’s converting into an opportunity. Alan explained his own version of the crawl-walk-run approach.

“So crawl-walk-run is a very interesting topic. We approach sales that way. I think it’s incredibly important also when you talk about the context of purchasing a platform. For us at Three Ventures, what we look at crawl-walk-run is in the domain of a platform or the people at an organization or their processes. We have to look at what we call the Three Ps. Those are the Three Ps. When those are working in harmony, what does getting started or crawling look like?

“For some organizations that means just having standardized lingo, having a general consensus that these five things are what matter most to the company and we should be paying attention to them. That could be crawling in the context of a platform like implementing a CDP. It could be picking off a very specific use case, right? And just focusing your implementation on that and having a sort of proof of concept. Maybe you can negotiate with a sales team like a pilot period where you’re paying them, maybe not the full price, but to test the platform out in a very limited context. 

“That’s crawling and that’s how we look at things. That also ties back to the conversation we had earlier, right? That we started the podcast with, which is just being disciplined with your approach and not trying to bite more than you can chew. 

“Now the walking, this is when I equate this to sort of like coming of age. Sort of like finding yourself and your identity as you get older and picking your shoulders up and your head up. You think, okay, great. But in relation to your people and your processes and your platforms. So you’re starting to gain a bit more confidence with the harmony between those three. You feel like your people have an understanding, they are trained up and your processes have been edited or updated a time or two. And your platforms don’t just have some basic functionality. They are starting to address some more intermediate concerns. Maybe in the context of CDP worlds, you’re making product recommendations in e-commerce and in the B2B land. Maybe you are making recommendations on products or services depending on what industry you are in. 

“I think that is a very good place. I think that’s the target that most organizations need to get to is walking, especially in terms of B2B. It moves a  bit slower. It’s not B2C which usually is on the leading edge of everything because they have a higher total volume of customers vs. on the B2B side, they have a lower total volume of customers. And the sales cycles tend to be shorter and smaller buyer committees. Those customers can make the analysis easier too. And all their activities are usually happening in some type of measurable context unless you’re talking about retail. But even then, two degrees measurable, the running model looks like, what does all-in look like?

“I am going to probably be looking at a best practice from a consumer brand or conglomerate who is doing that across multiple brands. They are tracking across all of their customers and clientele on a single platform. They have got all their products and services. They have different mediums and different digital experiences and all of those are integrated. Now, that’s generally what you would see more push in the industry, which has more digital transformation and everything else. It’s very, very, very hard to get there. I think the reason why it’s hard to get there is that we can look at society and say, generally there’s a lacking sense of discipline and structure across the board.

“And when you look at the context of running with what we are discussing, with CDPs, it requires a lot of discipline and structure. So if those parallels aren’t being practiced on a day-to-day basis and widely across everybody who is involved in the team. That shift in mindset and those capabilities and the way to think about what process is largely going to be inhibited by that. Therefore, that’s why I say the ideal state of my mind is really walking and I think it’s a good target for most businesses to get to. Walking produces some pretty outstanding results too.

What are the options out there for people who don’t have the skills internally to turn insights into action?

In many research or surveys that are done out there, marketers frequently and pretty consistently complain that they don’t have the skillsets internally in their departments to really leverage data to its fullest. Alan provided various options for people who really want to move from crawling to walking.

“I think…it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t recall the word. It’s a saying that essentially goes, what happens to your people if you train them and they leave? Then somebody asks, well, what happens if we don’t train our people and they stay? I think it’s a catch-22 with that in the context of your existing team. I look at it as is your existing team worth keeping. If they aren’t worth keeping, go find someone who is wickedly sharp and can help you build a team. That is the person you need to find first and then help them assess the technical skills that you need, but be that business stakeholder and process owner and provide that guidance to them.

“If you’re getting rid of your whole team, I don’t recommend that. I recommend looking at your teams very critically, not necessarily saying that you want to remove any seats or get rid of anybody. But if you use the analogy of a spaceship, each seat in that spaceship is doing a very important job. So it’s more about reorganizing the seats that people sit in. 

“Which ones have good interpersonal skills? Which ones are disciplined in their documentation? Which ones are more technical than others? Put them in positions that they need to be successful.  

“The more technical person, you probably want them to be an individual contributor. The person who is more disciplined, more detail-oriented, you probably want them more in a project manager role or someone who is helping out with the interpretation. If you have somebody who has got really good interpersonal skills, put them as a sort of buffer in front of the aggressive executive or leadership team, who is pushing things from the top down and who can calm and ease those emotions and leadership meetings. So that is why I think putting people in the right seats and reassessing that is important as a leader.

“Then as you figure out the seats that you need and figure out the people that need to fill them, that’s when you can go and put together training and growth plans.”

If you could recommend marketers prioritize building one analytics-related skill over their career, what would it be?

Alan gave his insights on the one analytics-related skill marketers ought to prioritize.

“I think database design. The reason why I say database design is because fundamentally everything we do with a platform or technology is largely powered by some form of a database. Therefore, when you understand the context of how data is structured in a database and even how unstructured databases are structured since there’s structure behind an unstructured database. It is just not relational. That is what noSQL is to that traditional SQL relationship definition that is the foundation of any platform that you’re going to be working with.

“So why do I answer your question with you should learn databases as a technical skill as a marketer and how does that going to help me in my job? Okay, this is how it all stitches back. When you start working in a platform or a CDP, you start to look at what’s in there and what the input fields are and what the data is and how is this structured. How is this establishing a relation to what else could potentially be in the platform? And you start there as a basic fundamental principle, but then as you start to integrate some of your business data into the platform or you start to ingest more, you start to think, okay, what is its relationship to what else I have in the platform already? And if I wanted to take it and put it in another platform or be able to ingest another platform, is it a structure that would allow me to do that?

“I think it is the most important skill I can recommend for marketers. I think SQL and database design structure is incredibly easy to pick up in my mind. It is way easier to pick up than programming, say like JavaScript.”

For more expert interviews and advice, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.