Hello, and welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. I have a return guest this time: Darrell Alfonso, a global marketing operations manager at Amazon Web Services, martech instructor and speaker.
I interviewed Darrell back in 2020, about marketing automation and what makes it a must-have for modern marketers. Obviously, many things have changed in the past one and a half years. So I invited Darrell back, and we’re going to have a little chat about marketing automation and some of his changes in both professional and personal life.
In this episode:
- What are the emerging B2B marketing automation trends and technologies during the pandemic?
- What are data unification platforms?
- How can marketers use CDP (customer data platform)?
- CDP suggestions and what makes them different for B2B marketing automation.
- How to achieve the delicate balance of standardization and personalization?
- What is the role of data in hyper-personalization and how to use it?
- Two strategies to personalize for people with multiple job functions and roles?
- How to use artificial intelligence and algorithms to identify customers’ intentions?
Quotes from the episode:
“One thing that’s important to explain is that the goal is to take the data from different sources. So your CRM, customer database, marketing automation platform, and advertising tools may be used.”
“All the cool things that you want to do in marketing take a lot of work. And it takes a lot of things that aren’t that glamorous. But the result is worth it.”
Hello! Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. I have a return guest this time: Darrell Alfonso. I interviewed Darrell, I think it was, back in August of 2020, and Episode 143 was published on August 27th. And obviously, many things have changed in the past one and a half years. So I invited Darrell back, and we’re going to have a little chat about marketing automation and some of his changes in both professional and personal life. So welcome back, Darrell!
Darrell Alfonso: I am a return guest now. That’s so awesome.
Pam Didner: So, how are you? Is everything going well?
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah, everything’s going good. As you know, I moved to sunny Southern California. I get to work from home. I know I moved away from the rainy city of Seattle, but I still worked for the same company. So work for Amazon Web Services, still doing marketing operations and marketing automation. Yeah. Still loving what I do, but just a change of scenery
Pam Didner: Wonderful. I love marketing automation and MarTech, and I talk about that often. The biggest takeaway from Episode 143 was that you mentioned that understanding your business objectives and goals is supercritical. Not using a feature-driven marketing automation platform to drive what you do, but understanding what you need to accomplish and using that to drive your marketing efforts and the processes.
Are there specific marketing automation trends and technologies that pique your interest in the past one and a half years during a pandemic?
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. That’s a good question. Um, The idea of unifying data has continued to grow and just continues to get popular over time. I’m particularly thinking about how things like customer data platforms and other sorts of CDP and other data unification and synchronization tools work hand-in-hand with marketing automation to create better customer experiences. The best companies now, especially in the past year, have been thinking about bringing their data together from different sources. And when you do that, a couple of things happen. You can drive incredible customer insight because you get a better view.
You know more about that 360-degree view. Also, it enables you to almost hyper-personalize your customers, going beyond what we typically do, especially in B2B, which focuses on the demographic and firmographic high-level behavioral targeting, really down to bringing in things like intent and things like what features are the customers using? What services are they using? How long have they been a customer? How much are they spending? Where did they come from? Insight into marketing activities is fascinating. And I also think it’s the key to driving customer engagement in 2022 and beyond.
Pam Didner: So you mentioned the data unification and also CDP. Can you talk to us in terms of what CDP is? Is it a separate platform independently from the typical marketing automation tool, like Eloqua, Marketo, or HubSpot? Is it something they have to buy separately, or is this already being incorporated into, say, as a feature of the existing marketing automation tools?
Darrell Alfonso: One thing that’s important to explain is that the goal is to take the data from different sources. So your CRM, customer database, marketing automation platform, and advertising tools may be used.
Pam Didner: Or even maybe the customer data from the Accounting Department? It’s all different data points related to a specific customer
Darrell Alfonso: Right. So you’ve got these disparate systems, and you need to bring them together to make sure that they are one and accurate across the different systems; so that you can pass the data efficiently and effectively for use in other places. And then, the most common places will be your activating or targeting your marketing campaigns. Also, you’re analyzing and looking at the data to find out what customers are doing and how your campaigns are performing against them. So that’s the ultimate goal.
Now, how do you get that data together? On the one hand, you could put them into a central data warehouse. Then have engineers or technical resources sort of mold, shape and structure that data and send that data back to your other systems or put them in one central place or analysis – like a data visualization tool, for example. Still, not all of us have those technical resources at our disposal, and that’s where a customer data platform will come into play. So, it brings all of that for you. It is something separate that you’ll have to purchase. Still, the cost will be offset because you don’t have to hire these developers for high salaries and spend all of their time managing that. So I think that depending on your organization, it could be a good fit for you if you don’t have access to certain technical resources.
Pam Didner: Are there any CDP platforms you are aware of worth exploring that you would like to share with the audience? It’s not necessarily name dropping, per se. And I know you are not affiliated with any one of them. It’s just a couple of names to get everybody thinking about what are some of the companies out there.
Darrell Alfonso: There are some slight differences with features, so I think that depending on your organization, you probably have to go through a specific vendor analysis, but I will say that I’ve been super impressed by the content and the thought leadership coming from companies like Segment as well as Tealium as these great kinds of customer data platforms.
Pam Didner: Yeah. I heard of a Tealium several times. Yes.
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. You know, we are getting into heavy marketing operations part of it. Because it’s very behind the scenes. But I think we talked about this too in our earlier podcast is, you know, all the cool things that you want to do in marketing take a lot of work. And it takes a lot of things that aren’t that glamorous. Um, you know, but the result is, is worth it.
Pam Didner: So I 100% agree with you. I just liked live-streaming talking about five essential skills that modern digital marketers should possess. And one of them is to understand technology. And the ones who understand the technology also need to have the ability to be a workflow. If you understand the workflow part of it–I’m not saying you have to do the backend. I’m not saying you need to code. But suppose you understand how data flow or how, when you do campaigns, you need to use multiple different digital platforms to make things happen. In that case, you can understand that it will provide a sense of clarity.
It’s essential if you want to create that seamless digital experience. It’s nice and essential to have that backend technology to connect the dots and understand how a piece of content you created other people use and how the audience can access it.
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. I think a grasp of the fundamentals was important. One of the ways that I like it put is if you think about the backend of your website, you need to be able to look at the HTML and then just not be intimidated, or you shouldn’t freak out. Now that doesn’t mean that you need to be able to do it from scratch or that you need to be able to fix issues, but grasping the fundamentals means when you look at it, you kind of know what’s going on. You know, almost like a map. When you look at a map, you know, you kind of have a high-level understanding of, okay, here are the mountains, here’s the main city, and the main cross streets of where I’m going. However, you don’t need to be an expert on the geography or topography of the country that you’re going to. Um, and I think that that’s what we as marketers need: that grasp of tech fundamentals. And it will take us far.
Pam Didner: And, uh, just to know enough to be dangerous, trying to find that balance to know enough to be dangerous (laughs). Try to know that balance. Another question I would like to ask you, you know, for a long time, the marketing automation platform and tools tend to focus on scaling, which is more standardization. And you brought a very good point about leveraging the data unification, CDP and adding additional data or the data enrichment so you can create a sense of personalized outreach to your customers. So with that being said, that requires a lot of work for marketing operations and the campaign managers.
Do you have any suggestions or insight on balancing that sense of the delicate balance of standardization and personalization? Because we are not like there in terms of like, we can personalize every outreach to every individual.
Darrell Alfonso: I think deciding which segments are the most important and you feel they will be the most effective to personalize and prioritize when you’re thinking about your marketing. We’ll know the basics of industry and geography, and location. Still, there are also things like job role and job title–it can go as far as interests and intent, and you know, things like what brands are you fond of or preference. So I think that understanding those where you can make the most impact is the first part of it.
Pam Didner: You are saying that with all the data readily available for you, you need to identify or prioritize trends of a specific segment you want to focus on.
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah, for example, one area that’s often missed is job role and job function. Like what do, what do you do in your day today? And then what’s your role–typically a collection of job titles–and personalizing content and marketing specifically for those people to help them do their jobs better. I think that that’s, that’s often missed. Because when we, when we normally think about personalization, we think about maybe industry. Verticals and then maybe if they’re a C-suite executive or if they’re, you know, a practitioner or something like that. So I think we stop there, but there are so many others that could even be more valuable. One of the problems with marketing is when you do things like that. If every marketer slices up their audience into industries, you end up with marketing that looks the same.
I think that’s one of the challenges, especially in B2B. By helping them do their job better and focusing on job roles and job functions, you are a source of valuable information. Sort of like a partner or subject matter expert versus someone who’s just customizing your banners and your landing pages based on what industry. So like, if it’s a medical industry, you have, like, have a picture of a doctor. Do you know what I mean? We can go much farther than that, but that’s going to be individual to the company that you’re working for and trying to figure out, you know, what makes sense to customize and what doesn’t.
And then this is the part where we – marketing automation fans – come into play. It comes down to the technology that you have. Because with marketing automation, it’s much easier to personalize at scale once you’ve defined those personalization parameters. Like the easy one dynamically changing an email based on their job role or changing a landing page and personalizing a webpage based on who’s coming to visit. I think that’s where marketing automation shines. And if you have the right platform, it’s not very difficult to do.
Pam Didner: True, true, true. The only challenge I can think of that is now marketers tend to wear multiple different hats. I know that even marketing managers sometimes take on the hat of creating content. So they have a role of a content marketer. And for smaller companies, a VP of Marketing probably also do demand gen. She’s probably doing social media outreach. So they have multiple roles.
So what is your thought on that specific person having multiple job functions and roles? How do we deal with the personalization from that end or perspective?
Darrell Alfonso: I have both a high-level strategic way to address that question and then a technical way (laughs).
Pam Didner: I want to hear both. This is fantastic because I’m puzzled by that. Do you know what I’m saying? I’m 100% agree with your point of view, Darrell, that if we do a personalization, we take your vertical phone level. The next level down is by job functions or by job roles. I can see that happening. I can also see that it’s feasible. But what if, you know, a person has multiple roles? How do we deal with that issue?
Darrell Alfonso: I listen to the many guests you have on your podcast, so this isn’t going to be new. When you think about the content, the message behind your product and a clear vision of how you’re going to solve the customer’s problem, many nuances don’t become as important. You often start with a very unclear message and solution, and it doesn’t matter how much you personalize that it still doesn’t hit home. I think it’s kind of starts at the top there before it goes down. Given that you have nailed that and you are creating content your audience loves, and they’re drawn to. I think the personalization, um, really makes sense. So that’s my strategic way to answer that question.
The technical way to do it is to just bring on technical experts as freelancers or contractors. The new marketing team is a hybrid team. You’ve got the rise of fractional CMOs, agencies and people who are subject matter experts, but they don’t want the normal, you know, 9-5 job. By partnering with those specialists, you can go a long way. It allows you to focus. You need to nail down some of the more key things, and then it frees up your time for the more technical aspects of marketing; that’s how I would do it.
Pam Didner: I like that recommendation a lot; that comes back to, you know, you have a very solid messaging framework, and that you explain your product with a sense of clarity that you know that target audience can understand. So that’s a great suggestion. I like that a lot because I was thinking of that question. I was like, “Hmm, how would I answer that? (laughs)
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. You can see I’m a fan, for example, of like MailChimp. If you go to their site and look at their marketing, it’s not personalized. It’s very simple and clear what problem they solve, and they’re amazingly successful, and people love them. And I think that that’s- it’s very underrated how much you can accomplish by speaking very simply to the problem that you solve for the customer and making it clear.
Pam Didner: So there’s one more thing I want to talk about. This is probably an extension of marketing automation, which focuses on predictive analytics and intent-based marketing. And you touch a little bit in terms of leveraging additional data that you can gather. It doesn’t matter whether the internal or third-party data uses data enrichment. So you can understand your customers so much better and understand whether they are interested in buying or exploring your product.
And a lot of startups are developing tools like this. They are using artificial intelligence and algorithms to help you identify or help reveal the customer’s intention to buy, especially at the moment. Are you working on that at AWS, or any thoughts that you can share with us?
Darrell Alfonso: So, here’s how I look at it. Let’s start with predictive analytics. You’re looking at what makes a customer successful, or what makes a good buyer for your company and the characteristics and the attributes and behaviors that they do that paint the picture of this ideal buyer.
And then you take that picture and then try to match them across industries and across geographies to find more that are like them or match it at some level. And you can apply that to people within your database and people outside. That idea is fantastic.
And we do it at AWS. I think that we’re fortunate to have a high volume of customers.
So a lot of it will just be creating our data models and pattern recognitions for what products are they using? Are they likely to benefit from adjacent products or complementary products? What type of messaging makes sense? What are they doing on the platforms that give us an indicator of who they are? And that is so valuable. And then that can help number one, adjust how you speak to customers and then also the tactical of where and how; I think that’s so powerful.
When you think about startups, scale-ups, or midsize companies where you don’t have that dataset, you have to look outside of your database and your proprietary database. And that’s where things like intent data, you know, where you’re buying data in some fashion. It doesn’t have to mean contact data doesn’t mean that you’re purchasing people’s email addresses.
Pam Didner: You can look at the patterns.
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. Yeah. Patterns and audiences: You know, it could be anonymous or not. And that’s where that value comes in. So I think it depends on. The stage at which you’re in. When you are looking at intent, and when you are looking at external third parties that are sort of serving this up to you, you have to look at their core competencies. If you’re looking at a technical audience, do they excel in those areas? Do they have data on the technical audience that you want? Or are you selling to marketers was completely different. Yeah. I would say that, you know, marketers, you probably want to invest in something completely different because we’re different. We’re interested. I don’t want to say like, we’re like interesting people, but we like different things.
Pam Didner: We are very sophisticated. (both laugh) We know when people try to market to us, we’re like, “you know what? We know that trick; we’ve done that before.” I’m kidding.
Darrell Alfonso: Um, you know, based on my anecdotal experience, I think most companies are just scratching the surface of what they can do with their first-party data. There’s so much gap between what they could be doing and what they’re doing today.
Pam Didner: We are very much in the infancy of it. Yeah, we are just starting. But again, this part is interesting and dull at the same time. It’s interesting because you are doing something different, but it’s very boring because you deal with data. “What? Do I have to clean the data? That’s so much work!” I know, I know.
I have a personal question I would like to ask you. I know that most of us have done some sort of soul searching in the past two years during the pandemic. And I remember you say something about reading a book: Design Your Life. So can you tell us a little bit about that book and how did change your priorities?
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. So I remember because I was in an interesting place. I had asked you for a mentoring session, which you obliged, which is so nice of you because you’re a nice person.
Pam Didner: And I told you, “don’t worry about it. You don’t need it!”
Darrell Alfonso: And, um, I think the ultimate question many are feeling now is should I change careers? Should I change jobs? Should I make some changes because I’m going to miss out on something or if I want to accelerate my career faster?–which is, you know, it’s, it’s good. I think the drive is good. Um, it’s great to be ambitious and to have career goals.
I think the one thing that I learned–especially in this past year and from that book–is to think about what a change in your career would mean to you. What would be different, and why would it be better than what you have now? And how would your opportunities change? And I think that’s a very tough question.
Pam Didner: Very tough question to even answer.
Darrell Alfonso: So, for example, if the change that you want to make is just going to be more money and a higher title, I mean, what does that mean besides the sort of external validation and the material things.
Pam Didner: What you can buy. Yeah
Darrell Alfonso: Right. Learning a new industry or working with smart people is a more foundational, tangible change and benefit if the change represents a broader scope of responsibility. I think it is a really important one. So that’s one thing to consider about why you want to make the change.
And then another one is to look at. Honestly, it looks at your day-to-day and what makes up a great day. And that’s the essence. I think of the Design Your Life, Design Your Workbook and what changes in a workday. Because if you think about it, when you change jobs, there are not too many changes. Do you know what I mean? You’ve got your same email inbox; you still attend meetings and develop marketing campaigns. Right. And in my case, we still manage technology. Um, so that doesn’t change much. I think of it as, you know, what problems do I like to solve? And then what sort of makes up the work that I’m doing, and what opportunities do I have to make that work better?
After reading that book, I took a look at my role and started to try to make some small changes to make them better and focus on things. So, for example, one of the things that I started to do was improve how my team does internal communication out to, um, the broader marketing organization.
Pam Didner: Internal stakeholders. Yeah.
Darrell Alfonso: Yeah. Internal stakeholders. How can we make that more interesting and compelling? How can we do internal marketing campaigns to inform and almost entertain our internal stakeholders but educate them and win them to sort the initiatives we’re doing? I think that that’s been so fun for me and something that I was missing, but I was able to build within my role. And at the same time, I take some of the lesser fun aspects of my job and try to minimize them somehow
Pam Didner: Outsource it!
Darrell Alfonso: I also, I said, outsource it, outsource it, or just carve out, you know, short times of the week where you just take care of them and get them out of the way. And I found that a lot of the enjoyment that I was looking for you can create within your role. And I think that that’s a really interesting concept to ponder.
Pam Didner: Yeah, I love your suggestion. People often think that, oh, to find happiness or the next level of fulfillment, you need to make a huge change. What you are suggesting is you don’t have to. Of course, that can be one of the options. But it doesn’t have to. And I like that a lot. I’m doing a lot of that myself. “You know what? I need to do yoga from 9-11 every single day. I’m just going to make that happen.” You know, things like that.
And I also like your suggestion and, uh, it’s coming from that book is, you know, what, what do you want your day to look like? And you are right; it’s something for my audience to ponder and for myself. So thank you for that suggestion.
By the way, follow Darrell on LinkedIn. Let me tell you. I love, love, love his LinkedIn posts. And every single post is unique. It’s like telling a story or telling a joke, like “The Big List of Things Not to do in Marketing Operations.” And the way that he writes, the things like not to do. It’s always funny. Like, “do not let people have access to your MarTech”; or “be choosy about your admins.” And then the other ones that “do not QA your email campaigns always use a second set of eyes”, and I loved it. So you have spent a lot of time giving a lot of thought to structuring your post. Is that true?
Darrell Alfonso: I almost think of it like my personal variety show or a late-night show where sometimes it’s funny, sometimes personal, and sometimes educational. Um, and I think that it’s such a great creative outlet for me, for those that are, want to start to publish their content, that’s a fun way to look at it as like, this is my own, my show and I decide what the programming is. This is tonight’s episode.
Pam Didner: Yeah. So if you are interested just to find out the ins and outs of marketing automation and its harsh reality, check out Darrell’s LinkedIn posts. You’ll love it. All right. Thank you so much for coming to my show, Darrell, and returning. It’s always fun talking to you.
Darrell Alfonso: Thanks for having me, Pam.
Pam Didner: Take care. Bye.
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