Q&A with Anthony Botibol, VP of Marketing at BlueVenn

30-second summary:

  • Technology vendors use the hype around CDPs as a way to get onto RFPs and tenders, which can often lead to inertia in the marketer’s decision-making process, where they get to a shortlist of two or three technologies that all fix very different issues.
  • A good marketer will look at the customer through the entire customer journey – from the awareness stage, right through to the retention stage, and beyond. If you are able to have a relationship with a customer that has left you, then that says a lot about your business and your values.
  • There are always new opportunities for organizations to get ahead of the competition, and a platform to be agile with those changes is essential. Closed ecosystems do not enable agility, and this is why a CDP, by ingesting all data from all systems and providing that data back to any system that needs it, is a winner.
  • By investing in a CDP a brand can demonstrate that they are undertaking a best practice approach to how they handle their customers’ data, and therefore is something that businesses should be proud to advertise when they make such an investment.
  • We are going to see ‘true machine learning’ start to come into CDPs and other technologies this year. Right now whenever someone talks about machine learning, it is generally just a basic model that provides very little value.

BlueVenn is a prominent vendor in the global Customer Data Platform (CDP) technology category, with 400+ mid-market and enterprise customers across the world in retail, travel/leisure and finance sectors.

It combines its customer data unification tools with built-in customer analytics, multi-touch attribution and cross-channel marketing automation, resulting in an end-to-end marketing hub that its customers use to transform the accuracy and personalization of their marketing campaigns.

We had an opportunity to sit with their VP of Marketing, Anthony Botibol, who spoke about how BlueVenn stands out in an increasingly overcrowded market, the key to customer success and retention, and the role CDPs can play in winning back the customer’s trust.

Q) Can you give us a brief insight into your professional journey so far, along with a brief introduction on BlueVenn?

I have been working for BlueVenn for nearly seven years now. They were my first foray into the marketing technology space. Before that I was working my way up the marketing ladder earning my stripes in various tech companies. I was always obsessed with marketing automation and getting the best out of data and technology. This meant that I was one of the first marketers in the UK to get access to Google Analytics, and could be considered an early adopter of Salesforce CRM, when MS Access was still the common option for small businesses.

When I joined them, BlueVenn was a disruptive marketing automation platform like no other, which was a key reason for joining the business, and enabled us to be highly successful enjoying unrivaled growth in the UK market. Back then we were labelled as a multi-channel campaign management solution, but the key differentiator was that no other rival technology could compete with our robust backend tools for unifying and managing customer data from many data sources. When the CDP market began to take shape, this was immediately the right category for us, and helped to promote self-serve data management, by marketers, in a way that the market had not previously understood.

The boom in CDP interest kicked-off at the same time that we expanded our business attentions to North America, where we eventually settled our US headquarters in Raleigh, NC. Initially, we were taken aback by the volume of CDP technologies available in the US market and found ourselves in buying shortlists with other vendors that we had never heard of before. Fairly quickly, we began to understand that in the CDP space there are as many differences across the vendors as there are similarities.

Our C-level team at BlueVenn are highly experienced and well-known in the martech community going back 30-40 years across some of the most well-known technologies. They were ahead of their time when they developed our technology, and have been brave to take the right approach to the success of the product. We’ve seen a lot of competing technologies waste large waves of investment on short term tactics to aggressively win new customers, but not devote enough time and resource to retain them.

BlueVenn is now 90-95% inbound in terms of all the genuine interest we generate following longer term investments in SEO and content marketing that were put in place at the beginning. I’ve been lucky at BlueVenn to get the support of the Board to put in place a five year plan to build a robust and scalable marketing function that relies on strong inbound SEO and content marketing strategies, rather than expensive and resource-sapping short term tactics.

We place an emphasis on educating our prospects and customers to help make the most informed purchase decisions. CDPs have as many differences as they do similarities, and the last thing we want to do is oversell or under-deliver, and I think this comes through in our customer relationships, and the content we put out.

Q) What has been your biggest challenge at BlueVenn and how did you tackle it?

My biggest challenge has been to come up with ways to differentiate with many hundreds of CDP, or CDP-like, technologies. Technology vendors use the hype around CDPs as a way to get onto RFPs and tenders, which can often lead to inertia in the marketer’s decision-making process, where they get to a shortlist of two or three technologies that all fix very different issues.

And with the CDP hype, comes large investments in CDP technologies. At my last count some 30 CDP vendors had more than $1 Billion in VC funding or investment ploughed into them. We would turn up to Trade Shows and see new competitors landing their yachts into the port to host after-show parties rather than take a booth, eye-watering investments in PPC for a short-term SEM fix and an aggressive focus on winning as many new logo clients as possible by any means necessary. In one example we heard of a competitor offering to pay off an existing contract to win the business.

We have taken a different approach, which is to be profitable, focus on customer success and retention and invest in sustainable ways to generate new business, like investing in SEO, etc. These methods don’t give a quick win, and that can be tough at the start, but we’re now in an enviable position with 95% of all our clients coming to us through inbound channels, and we can build on this foundation by trying new channels, events and tactics knowing that we are in a good place. We have done things the long and sustainable way and we reap the rewards from that now with the ability to now scale to new countries and new markets.

Q) There has been a lot of chat around the over-saturation of vendors in the martech space, how do you plan to stand out from the crowd?

The CDP market has changed a lot during my seven years at BlueVenn. There are now hundreds of vendors claiming to be experts in data platforms and offering services, which they are not really equipped for. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors out there.

We for our part try to be completely honest and transparent about our capabilities and offerings. I believe we are the only vendor that offers an end-to-end, live demonstration of our platform every fortnight. We believe by being brave and putting our software out there helps us to be visible through the smoke, and put the technology at the front of our business.

We were also one of the original vendors that were part of the CDP Institute when it started up. I remember there was an article that referred to us as ‘the original gangsters of the CDP world’, and initially I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to be called that, but it has grown on me!

I think our customer retention and success also plays a big part in setting us aside in the market. It helps that we have relationships with clients that predates most other CDP vendors!

Q) So based on that, what tips do you have for marketers to cultivate and manage that customer success and retention?

A good marketer will look at the customer through the entire customer journey – from the awareness stage, right through to the retention stage, and beyond. If you are able to have a relationship with a customer that has left you, then that says a lot about your business and your values. It’s imperative that marketing is involved in the entire lifecycle, rather than just acquisition of new business, and a marketers KPIs should reflect that. Stopping at the point where someone signs a contract for the first time is criminal, because then you can’t keep any continuity.

So if you are moving into a role which is about looking at the company culture, and if the culture isn’t right, then you have to be bold enough to say: ‘No, stop measuring me on just winning new business. Target me on how I can affect retention as well.’

Customer success can be a one-to-one function, but once you scale to a certain size of business with hundreds of customers, it has to be one-to-many, and the best team equipped to facilitate that great customer success experience at scale is the marketing team.

Q) A lot of the vendors I have spoken to think the market is moving towards an ‘open marketing ecosystem’, what are your thoughts on that, is it the way forward?

100%. I think that the different types of data that we can now collect, and could start to utilize in the near future, all create opportunity and dictate that we must move towards open ecosystems that enable data to be used meaningfully.

The brands we talk to at BlueVenn come to us because they do not want to be tied to any one technology, and are planning for the future. They want to use the email marketing platform that they already have because it’s effective, has a lot of knowledge within it, and no need to retrain their teams.

Our Automotive clients need to ensure that they’re ready to utilize real-time telematics effectively when it becomes more available, the retailers are constantly adding new data sources from new campaigns, and new technologies such as smart devices and wearables. Again, these will collect data and they need to have the infrastructure, technology and skills in place now.

There are always new opportunities for organizations to get ahead of the competition, and a platform to be agile with those changes is essential. Closed ecosystems do not enable agility, and this is why a CDP, by ingesting all data from all systems and providing that data back to any system that needs it, is a winner.

The cost of a full ‘rip out and replace’ approach to technology is now frowned upon too as organizations wake up to the fact technology investments often under-deliver. Some of the enterprise marketing clouds have been talking about open data ecosystems, which of course is dictated by customer demand.

That tells us that organizations want to use preferred technologies that work for them in a Best of Breed approach to technology, and need data to flow between them in a way that does not hinder their potential.

Q) Obviously customer trust is a major issue right now. How can this be fixed and where to CDPs fit into that?

Yes trust is a big issue when it comes to personal data and how it is being used by brands for marketing and advertising. By investing in a CDP a brand can demonstrate that they are undertaking a best practice approach to how they handle their customers’ data, and therefore is something that businesses should be proud to advertise when they make such an investment. When data is spread across lots of databases it can be hard to ensure compliance within legal constraints dictated by GDPR, CCPA and other similar worldwide data regulations.

Having every byte of data you hold in one place – every click, open, purchase, like, visit, complaint, preference, opt in, opt out etc – means that you can provide that data back to the customer on request, it means you have full traceability and a single place to ensure that you create relevant and personalized customer experiences.

You need to give your customers more control over how you communicate with them, the frequency, the content, the channels, and if you do that then it creates a bond of trust and an experience that benefits both the consumer and the brand.

Q) What are your predictions for the martech space in 2020?

We are going to see ‘true machine learning’ start to come into CDPs and other technologies this year. Right now whenever someone talks about machine learning, it is generally just a basic model that provides very little value.

I see AI, machine learning and predictive analytics all used interchangeably by tech vendors which have just run a find and replace on the word ‘modeling’ because they are more fashionable.

A lot like CDPs were the hype of the past 3 or 4 years, or “Big Data” back in 2014-2015, I think machine learning is having its moment right now. Coming out of the hype, we will start to see some real machine learning capabilities start to appear as platforms actually deliver what they’ve been promising for the past few years.

Q) Looking ahead, what are your plans for BlueVenn going forward?

Because we’ve created such a sustainable and 95% inbound business with inquiries coming in from all continents, it has been opening our market to new countries, new rival technologies and varying levels of maturity. A lot of last year therefore was about building our partner channel to work strategically with a network of partners that enables BlueVenn to expand into these new markets.

We’ve created partnerships across the US, as well as France, Germany, Japan and beyond. Our plan is to continue expanding our global partner channel in 2020, and surpass our impressive ARR growth from last year.

Q) Can you give us your favorite example of how BlueVenn has helped a client?

I won’t name any names. But one example is for one of the largest online retailers in the world. They were great at acquiring customers and their advertising and branding was also on point. However their customer retention was just 4%.

After teaming with us — we did a case study for them after a year — that rate went from 4 to 32%. As you can imagine the CMO was very pleased. He said it was the biggest ROI and best investment he had made in his 36-year career.

So, that is a staggering statistic we cite a lot – but also a very common improvement for fast-growing retail brands that invest in a unified customer database and multi-channel marketing automation, the right way!

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