Podcast  /  Work Minus Either/Or With Scott Brinker

Work Minus Either/Or With Scott Brinker

Should you automate or humanize? Should you centralize or decentralize? Scott Brinker from HubSpot says why not both? This is the path to embrace technology in the 21st century.

Welcome back to WorkMinus. Today, we’re talking to Scott Brinker who’s the VP of Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot and he’s the Editor at chiefmartec.com. This episode is called Work Minus Either/Or. Hi Scott, how are you?

Hi! Good to be with you, Neil.

Yeah. It’s great to have you. We are going to be talking through a presentation you gave called The New Rules of Marketing Technology and Operations which I’m going to provide a link to in the show notes. But, we’re talking about these opposing tensions specifically within marketing of centralization and decentralization, and also humanizing and automating. So, why don’t you give us an overview of how you came to these topics and what’s your stance on them?

Yeah. It’s fascinating. You know, the roles of marketing technology and operation leaders, it’s really expanding to Europe in the past several years. Just because there’s so much technology that marketing departments are now using it has really run the entire lifecycle of customer relationship management. But, it is interesting is I’ve talked to a lot of people who run these marketing operation teams. It’s like they struggle with these opposing demands.

So, yeah, you mentioned that in the open there, right? Like, one is, okay well, let’s centralize everything we can, right? We want to standardize on a set of tools. We want to centralize our data so that there’s like common systems of record, the holy grail of the 360 view of the customer. Okay, so that makes sense. But then on the other side of decentralization is marketing operations has a role to empower other teams, other people, certainly on the edge of the marketing organization but also into the sales organization, sales enablement capabilities, into customer success and customer service teams. And so, how do you start to think about empowering more people on the edge? How do you think about decentralizing? Because there’s a bit of what at first sounds like a weird tension between centralizing and decentralizing. Like, how can you do both simultaneously? But, that’s exactly what this mission is.

So, when you’re talking about centralizing, let’s talk about how many apps most marketing departments are running right now. What do you guess?

Ooh. I don’t have to guess, actually. There’s some data on this. Large enterprises have upwards of a hundred different apps that they run in the marketing department. But, even small companies — the folks over at Blissfully who I think of as Tripit for SaaS for SaaS, they help small businesses manage all their different SaaS subscriptions. They just came out with a report a couple weeks ago. And, yeah, even for small businesses, you can have — well, across the entire small business, you need to have like a hundred different SaaS apps. So, there’s a lot.

Yeah. And so there’s this constant feel of, we need to reduce, we need to consolidate, bring everything together. But there’s always this separate voice that says: No. We got to have something else that enables people at the edge to do what they need to and define the tools they need to. Is that kind of the core of the tension here?

That is exactly the tension here. And what gets exciting is to think about, okay, well, is there a way to spread this needle? Is there a pathway that you can bring centralization as far as like common platforms and common principles about how you organize this stuff? But, that part of what you’re trying to bring with these platforms at the center of your organization are the ability for people decentralized on the edge to be able to do more specialized work.

So, what was your kind of lightning bolt moment when you realize this is not an either/or decision? We can do both. There’s just a time to do one and a time to do the other.

Yeah. I think it’s actually how you think about centralizing almost with a platform mentality. And there’s so much great literature out there these days about the platform not just from a technical perspective but from like a business model perspective, a great book called Platform Revolution that’s worth reading for pretty much anyone in business today. But, if you bring this platform mentality it’s like, okay, we’re going to standardize on certain platforms to provide that cohesion at the center of the organization but the whole point of the platform is it enables creators on the edge of the organization to do all sorts of highly specialized tasks or create things on their own on top of that platform. Then you get the best of both.

Yeah. Can you give an example of what you mean by the difference between a platform and a simple application?

Yeah. Well, so for instance, there’s this whole revolution that’s been happening around low code and no code, even tools like — some of your listeners might be familiar with things like Zapier that helps people move data from one cloud service to another cloud service. The great thing about these tools is they’re actually pretty easy. You don’t have to be a technologist. You don’t have to be an IT professional. And if your company has adopted these kinds of citizen technology tools, whether it’s for innovating cloud services or building little apps or creating business process, workflows. When you get these tools that enable non-technical business users to be able self-service themselves and say, oh yeah, I need to structure this thing, I need this little app or I need this little workflow, and they can just build it on their own, that is so incredibly liberating. And that is that sort of decentralization that you get on top of those centralized platforms that are made like it.

Let’s shift to the second big tension that you talk about of humanizing versus automating. Obviously, especially in marketing, we were at a stage where we were trying to figure out how to incorporate even more technology in, which is often how do we automate things, how do we make it even more streamlined. Yet, marketing is supposed to be very high touched too and have this human element to it. So, talk about that tension.

Yeah. It’s like, okay, go do both of these things. Make marketing more efficient, more automated, but at the same time, yeah, you said it very eloquently. It’s like marketing is the touch point to the actual humans that want to engage with our business and engage with our brand. And so some of that is like making sure that at the right moment, we can connect humans in our organization with our actual customers and part of that becomes like, all right, when you’re designing these automated workflows and you’re designing these automated nurturing programs or you’re designing your automated chat box and things like these that you find the right point or an escape hatch that if the customer or prospect isn’t being well served by that automation, it just sort of able to make it very easy for them to jump out of that and connect with a live human being. So, that’s certainly one aspect of just making sure that, yeah, we’re still having this human element within the context of a broader automation movement.

Is it strange for you as someone who’s been in this industry for a long time that a modern marketing team will have maybe, I don’t know, 75% of people there never ever will talk to a customer live, if not more than that? Most of them are doing deep data analysis, a lot of technology that’s there. Is that a strange thing for you to see coming from seeing different eras going through or what’s your opinion on that?

Yeah. It is the same thing and I think we should push against that. And I don’t mean that everyone in marketing should be spending all of their days on focusing on one-to-one customer interactions. But, I think it is true that marketing’s job increasingly is finding how to get a leverage through technology to impact lots of people with the work they do. But, I think the key is to make sure that that work we’re doing is really informed by empathy with who our customers are. They’re not just a persona on the wall. They’re not just some sort of analytical analysis that says, oh, we have a cluster in this data segment over here. I think for everyone in marketing, it just is a part of what they do month by month. Get some actual real customers. And it’s great if it’s over the phone. It’s even better if you have a chance to go and visit them and see them in their natural habitat, that sort of anthropological element of marketing. I think it’s just so important to inform them how we think about engaging customers, using more of the automation and technology when we’re back at our desk.

And, actually, when you’re talking about automating, that can make time, make room for other parts to be able to go and visit customers and to bring about. What are the core aspects of marketing that you feel like should definitely be handled by systems, by automation machines?

So, I think it’s one of the things I put in that article that you’re linking to is when we think about automation, we think about efficiency. You can almost have this like 2×2 grid of saying, okay, well, is it efficient for the company? Yes or no. And is it efficient for the customer? Yes or no. And you could argue — ideal is right the upper right corner of that of, oh yeah, it’s efficient for both us and the customer. And I think that’s really — that’s the ideal. It’s like, okay, for customers, in a lot of scenarios, they not only don’t mind being able to self-service their needs. In many cases, they actually prefer it. If they can go to your website and it’s really easy for them to figure out, oh, here’s the answer I need, here’s the thing I need to purchase, or here’s the support issue I need a resolution to. If they can just get that right away on their own, wow, that’s delightful.

And so I think finding those kinds of automations really are the golden ring that we’re going for. I think what I caution against is when we’re doing automations that are really about improving the efficiency inside our own company. Like saying, okay, well listen, we don’t want to have the human beings. It’s really expensive to have human beings take all these support phone calls directly. So, we’re going to have this chatbot and chatbot is going to try and look through the knowledgebase and automate as many of these responses as possible. Hey, that’s great theory. But, if the way that chatbot is working and the thing that it’s serving up from the knowledgebase actually aren’t making things faster, better, easier for the customers. That’s actually making it harder for them to like, okay, I’ve tried to work with this chatbot for 30 minutes. It’s not helping me. Now, I have to try and track down a human being. And because they’ve got the chatbots, they put less human beings available, so it’s an even longer wait to get to that human being. Those are the sorts of things we’re like, okay, you’ve made this more efficient for the company in some way but for the customer experience, it kind of blows.

And this is one that you call “dangerously efficient”, right?

Yes. Dangerously efficient. And, you know, a lot of this comes down to, again, the metrics we use to measure the success of automation. If it’s simply about cost savings or time savings, independent of things like customer NPS or customer experience, yeah, that’s where you can just get yourself into that dangerous territory.

So, talking to somebody who’s maybe leading a marketing function right now, where do you think is the most likely area they’re going to trip up in these decisions of trying to manage these two tensions?

Yeah. I think it really comes down to what is the process you are trying to optimize. Like for instance, lead scoring. It is, again, one of these things that we’ve moved largely to algorithms that — certainly in B2B markets, when a lead is generated through some sort of marketing channel, we now are generally turning over to machine learning models that end up saying, okay, well, hmmm based on what we know, what segments does this customer belongs to, okay, are they ready to be handed over as a qualified lead to sales.

And there’s definitely a beauty to that efficiency, right? We’re able to now, in theory, be able to actually respond to those prospects much faster, get them to the right salesperson if it’s that time, get them the right content from a personalization perspective. But, what’s the checks and balances there? How do you know it’s actually working? How do you actually know that, hey, actually we are segmenting these people properly? We’re getting them the right content not only by what the machine algorithm thinks but by what the actual prospect thinks. I think here to just have some regular auditing to be like, okay, well I don’t want to have to manually follow up with every single prospect. That’s not efficient. But, if I’ve got this automated system, at least once a month that actually I am manually intercepting two or three of them just to say, hey listen, I’m personally sending you this email. It’s just some sort of content that you’d be interested in, are there any questions you have, how can I help. Just to be able get that response that says, okay, actually yeah. Where the machine is aligning here, it doesn’t seem to match the customer need and making things more efficient for them, not just the efficiency machine for us.

And this goes back to another point you made in your article where you talked about this rule of hiking and you apply it to our situation. When you say, when the map and the customer disagree, trust the customer. Can you unpack that statement again?

Sure. Yeah. That’s sort of clever. I think it’s from like the Boy Scouts or something. This thing of like, hey listen, when the map and the train disagree, trust the train. So, if the map says, keep walking forward, but with your own eyes you actually see a big crack has opened up in the earth and if I keep walking forward, it’s not going to end well. It’s obvious but, the lesson from there is really actually an important one in other context, to realize that, okay, for marketing, we think of the map as the marketing automation platform. It’s collected all this data on a prospect or customer and, by default, the automated way of handling just say, oh, well, this data is true and it’s the only data that’s really relevant. And the problem is, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but almost certainly not all the data that would be relevant to that customer. It’s only some subset of data that we’ve collected. And so, again, this comes back to having that human empathy and that human awareness and even doing just some stuff to make sure that when we actually end up having a customer service call or a sales call or some sort of email interaction one-on-one with a customer, that we’re really listening to what they’re saying and how we can serve them best rather than just trusting that the data we have in our CRM system or our marketing automation system is the ground troops, the customer is the ground troop.

So, at the center of these spectrums on your graph in your article, you say that we always need to be ready for change. There’s always going to be something else that’s going to come up that’s going to be new that we need to adapt to. So, what are some of those changes you see coming in the next five years especially for marketing?

Whoa! Yeah. You know one of the fun things about this industry is it’s becoming — it has changed so rapidly. It’s accelerating so fast that I actually find it hard to even like imagine what’s going to be possible five years from now. I think, even just looking out over the next year or two. I mean, for instance, we’ll just pick one thing that’s really exploded in the past year. These voice assistants. I mean, Amazon Alexa started out as a bit of a novelty. But now, I forget what the latest number is but for something like maybe a hundred thousand skills for Alexa that have been created by all these different independent developers and brands. And now that you’ve got Google really in the space, obviously, Apple with Siri. It’s like all of a sudden, these voice assistants are becoming a real channel to our prospects and customers. Two years ago, marketers weren’t even thinking about as the channel! Now, that it’s appeared, it’s like, okay, well, how should we engage with prospects and customers for our kind of a business? What makes sense doesn’t make sense. Is it a sale thing? Is it a support thing? So, I think you walk across that. You walk across what continues to happen here with the consumer world and the internet of things. The revolution of augmented reality and virtual reality it keeps nudging forward more and more. It’s just like all these incredible innovations and the job of marketers is to really keep their rear to the ground of which subset of these changes are really relevant to our audience.

Do you feel like the lessons in marketing are just as applicable to every other department or there’s some unique things about marketing that forced them to be on the front of these changes?

Well, I think they’re probably are relevant to more departments than perhaps the department sometimes fully appreciate. I guess the reason I think it’s definitely relevant to marketing is the scope of marketing has really changed significantly here. Particularly over the past five years or so, there’s been this recognition that, okay, marketing isn’t just about classic marketing, touch points. Really, this is almost sort of marketing communications role. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Marketing communications is still a big part of what marketing does. But it’s in many organizations, marketing really has become the champion of the customer experience in a much more end to end customer life cycle way. And so, yeah, that scope explosion of marketing’s responsibilities like our customers having a great experience from their very first touch point with us all the way through the decision funnel, the purchase funnel, the what happens afterwards because, at the end of the day, either happy or unhappy customers that come out on the other end. They become either our greatest marketing asset or our greatest marketing liability. And, so yeah, marketers really have to have their ear to the ground for that entire customer life cycle.

Well Scott, tell us a little bit about Chief MarTech. If we go there, what do we find on your website?

So, I’ve been writing that blog for about 10 years now. It really started with my — a labor of love, a fascination with the intersection between the discipline and the profession of marketing and the disciplines and professions around things like IT and software development. 10, 20 years ago, right, certainly these things — when I was growing up, the high school guidance counselor, if there was a spectrum of career choices, the IT and software development, it was on the opposite end of the spectrum, the marketing department. And in the past ten years, in particular, these two stints have just converged because all those technology has really become the conduit by which we engage with customers. And so, yeah, my blog chiefmartec.com is mostly about the intermingling between these two different professions and these two different disciplines.

Well Scott, we really appreciate you being on the show. It’s great to learn about you. Anything else you want to leave us with?

There have never been a better or more exciting time to be in the world of marketing.

It’s great. Well, Scott, I appreciate it. Thanks so much for being on the show. It’s been great to talk to you. Hope to connect with you again soon.

That’s great. Thanks for having me.

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