Talking Marketing Technology Solutions: An Interview with Microsoft’s Marketing Technologists

September 12, 2016
by Peg Miller
  • marketing technology with Microsoft

When it comes to marketing technology, analysis paralysis can take over. With all the choices in marketing technologies, it’s no wonder. Scott Brinker, editor of Chiefmartec.com, estimates there are nearly 4,000 technologies available to today’s modern marketer.

That’s why I took the time to chat with product marketers Bill Hamilton and Charles Eichenbaum from Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group. When it comes to building a killer marketing technology stack that’s centered around the customer journey, they really know their stuff.

From your vantage point as an active MarTech professional, what is the biggest challenge you’re facing today, inside of an enterprise company, to help build technology engines for the marketing teams at your company?

Bill Hamilton: I think that one of the biggest challenges is driving the adoption of technology. Neither Charles nor I started out as MarTech people. We started on the business side, but then we both felt that new pieces of technology could actually help accelerate business.

First, we asked, “What business problem are we trying to solve?” Then, we decided to layer in the technology that would help us solve that problem.

“One of the biggest challenges [for MarTech professionals] is driving the adoption of technology.”

This question and answer process was key to successfully adopting our marketing technology stack. We were able to adopt technology not only for Cloud and Enterprise, but also for other teams, creating a standard platform across all of the commercial businesses, inclusive of Office and Windows.

The key is to stay close to the business and marketing campaign owners, and understanding their goals for driving the business forward. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to drive the adoption of the marketing technology platform.

Charles Eichenbaum: I totally agree with Bill. MarTech is a relatively new category. It’s the intersection of marketing and technology. It’s dynamic, fast-paced. You need a certain skill set.

For me, finding people with that skill set is very tough. Finding people with an IT background or a marketing background is pretty easy. But, finding people who can span between the two is challenging. You need folks with that skill set in this new environment to help take MarTech and really drive it.

Shifting gears just a bit, we hear a lot of people talking about customer experience, and how marketing is becoming a crucial driver of crafting unified customer experience, from top of the funnel to post-sale. Is this an important topic at Microsoft? 

[Bill]: It’s critically important. Taking a customer’s perspective of their journey through the buying process, we’re doing everything that we can to help them be successful at every step. Whether that’s high-level education in the very early cycle or product education mid-cycle, we feel a buyer-centric content path will result in the highest number of new customers, while also making sure buyers are able to successfully use our products after they become customers.

We actually measure every step of the journey along the way—how we’re doing attracting new people to a particular phase of the journey, and then moving them to the next phase.

I think that if you’re not taking that really, really strong customer-centric approach and walking in their shoes, there’s the danger of falling into a product-centric approach or what we want to talk about as marketers, as opposed to what the customer wants to hear about.

At the end of the day, we think that the most effective way to gain new customers and help them be successful is by focusing on their journey, and what they need at every step of the way.

We’re all living in a world of technology advances, and there are more and more tools and technologies out there to help us do our jobs. Do you think the technology has simplified or complicated a marketer’s job?

[Charles]: Both.

Tech has simplified because today, marketing technologies speak with each other better than ever. Small and medium-sized companies can easily use a marketing technology stack through some of the best-in-class providers, have them talk to each other, and derive value very quickly. Even implementation is streamlined.

On the flip side, as marketing technologists, we have so many choices, and some technology categories are more mature than others. With that, prioritization becomes vital.

“As marketing technologists, we have so many choices…
…prioritization becomes vital.” —Bill Hamilton

As B2B marketers, we strive to add value for our buyers. When we help customers be successful in their lives and work, we build affinity towards our brand. Looking at the whole of marketing technology, prioritizing and picking the right stack, and placing your bets on those tools to add value for your buyers—that’s the hardest part.

We hear how buyers are coming in (to the funnel) more educated, which puts more pressure on us as marketers. How has this changed your world over the past few years?

[Bill]: This is absolutely a huge change for us. Marketing is now increasingly responsible for the revenue creation process. In the past, we relied heavily on sales or partners to move people down the buying process.

Now, more and more people get their information online, doing that early-stage research on their own. And, in some cases there’s even the ability to purchase directly on a website and never talk to a seller at all. This [buyer control] puts a greater responsibility on us as marketers to create a great experience for our customers, so we can convert as many as possible into new, and happy, customers.

With the emergence of different teams inside of marketing—demand gen, social, corporate communications —we’re hearing from customers there’s a risk of silos emerging across channels and content assets. What is your team doing to mitigate the risk? 

[Bill]: For us in Cloud and Enterprise, we have the additional complicating factor of dealing with multiple, different products in different business units.

To avoid silos and the complication of different products within marketing, we differentiate between business owners and functional experts.

We have people responsible for a particular business area end to end, and the campaigns that we want to run in that business area, including marketing tactics (advertising, social, relationship marketing, telesales, etc.). And then we have the functional experts—experts in display advertising, search engine marketing, and social. They put together a functional plan to support the established business requirements, goals, and tactics.

The other common silo is between sales and marketing. We’re working to bring those together in a much closer way. Given that marketing is now responsible for more of the early stages of the buyer’s journey, if not closing customers directly, we try to find new opportunities to hand off to sales.

This creates a much tighter need for revenue planning and lead management between marketing and sales that I think is important and happens in a much more seamless way in this new world, than it has in the past. If we do that, we think that we’ll be able to convert more customers than we would if the two organizations operated independently.

Stepping back toward the concept of the marketing-driven customer experience: How do you use marketing automation to drive customer experience throughout the customer journey?

[Charles]: Personalization, which gets back to the notion of putting your buyer at the center. Marketing automation and marketing technology has started to mature in this area around something we call “omni-channel marketing.”

No matter where the buyer is—checking email, your website, browsing LinkedIn, or searching favorite sites—you can now start to understand who they are (persona) and where they are in their buyer journey (early stage, middle stage, or late stage). You can use this knowledge to align with a variety of tactics, content, and outcomes that you want in each of those stages. All of this is instrumented through technology.

One thing to note: you have to look at customer experience holistically. There are two sides of the coin. One is the marketing technology side, and the other is the marketing strategy side. You really need to have both going, working in concert with each other to get the full power for your buyer out of it.

We talked about how you both came from a business background, and ended up in marketing technology. Do you have any advice for companies trying to figure out the balance between driving the business and evaluating marketing technology, specifically should MarTech be managed by IT departments or within business units?  

[Bill]: It requires a mix of both—you can’t put this solely in one organization or the other. 

It’s really important that you have MarTech people inside business and marketing organizations—they’re not only closest to the results the businesses are trying to drive, but they also know what technology will be most useful to achieve results. An outsourced IT team just won’t provide that same level of business context.

There is a division of responsibility around what stays in the marketing organization versus what needs to be supported by outside IT. If it requires business context, keep it inside the business groups, including the actual architecture of the tool and how the tool is used. From an implementation perspective, that’s where we get IT involved, so they can support the overall platform or do integrations with legacy systems. We’ve found this distinction provides the agility to put the right technology in a place that best serves the business.

[Charles]: I agree completely. Whether you have a giant enterprise like Microsoft with an enormous IT department and marketing department, or you’re a small business with only a couple people, you have to start with understanding the business scenarios for your customers. Then you can start figuring out the tech that aligns with those scenarios.

People have a very strong tendency to jump to technology first. But you really have to become grounded in the context of the business, and that helps you make better decisions, as well as align everybody towards a common goal.

We’ve covered a lot today! Any closing remarks or advice you’d like to share with your fellow MarTech pros? 

[Bill]: I feel very fortunate—marketing technology is probably one of the most fun areas that exists in the business world today. You get to work with amazing new technology, bringing together marketing and tech. It’s fast-paced and dynamic. I feel like some of the best and smartest people of the world are working in this category. Plus, you have the ability to impact the business in a meaningful way, and then have measurable results.

Also, it’s important to see this as a journey. You always have this North Star vision, but as you get closer, things get more sophisticated, and capabilities increase. You’ll always be chasing that vision. That’s why understanding the journey, and enjoying it, is so important. It’s really cool that you’ll never get to “the end” because that’s what makes marketing fun and interesting in the long run.

“To the folks that are early in their journey, start out small.
It’s a process of continual iteration.” — Charles Eichenbaum

[Charles]: The use of marketing technology and the advances that have happened over the course of the last couple of years have been tremendously helpful for us in better understanding our buyer, and where they are in the buyers’ journey. What we can do to help them be successful, in terms of putting different content or offers in front of them at the right time, has increased our overall intelligence and knowledge about how to help those folks be successful with our products. That’s incredibly exciting.

To the folks that are early in their journey, start out small. It’s a process of continual iteration. Aim for small, monthly goals that you’re constantly building on, as opposed to large, 18-month projects. This way people buy in along the way, and you see people getting excited about what’s happening.

That’s something that’s been really fun to see—the excitement from other marketing and business owners around the possibilities of what the advances in marketing technology can do to really grow their businesses and help their marketers be more intelligent and smarter, and help customers at the end of the day be successful. It’s been a super fun journey to be on, and to continue to be on into the future.

About Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton is a Senior Director, Product Marketing at Microsoft in the Cloud and Enterprise Group at Microsoft. He focuses on Microsoft’s Azure WebDirect business—people that come to the website and sign up for the service by putting in their credit card. Additionally, he manages the marketing tech for our other businesses within the Cloud and Enterprise Group, including the SQL Server, and System Center, and Power BI.

About Charles Eichenbaum

Charles Eichenbaum is a Director of Marketing Technologies and Operations, Product Marketing in the Cloud and Enterprise team at Microsoft. He focuses specifically on marketing technology as well as marketing operations. He helps enable buyer-centric marketing through the use of technology, and operationalizing content and campaigns.

About

Peg Miller is Co-Founder of the B2B Marketing Academy, and consults with high growth companies on their marketing, content and product strategies to achieve revenue results.