“Effective Executives” Series with Bill Piwonka, Janrain’s VP of Marketing

This week’s “Effective Executives” interview is with Janrain‘s VP of Marketing, Bill Piwonka. Bill’s background is firmly rooted in B2B marketing operations. Over the past 20 years he has led marketing teams and initiatives spanning strategy, product marketing, product management, demand generation, marketing communications and business development. Prior to joining Janrain, Bill was the vice president of marketing at EthicsPoint. He has also held marketing management positions at Centennial Software, Serena Software, MeasureCast, WebTrends, Intel and Oracle. Bill earned a Master of Business Administration from The Wharton School at the The University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts in quantitative economics from Stanford University.

We caught up with Bill and asked him about his leadership style, how marketing has adapted to the changing economy and what is next for Janrain for the remainder of 2012.

Can you tell us a little bit about Janrain and your role?

Janrain is a leader in providing User Management solutions for the Social Web.  You’ve probably encountered our technology many times without even realizing it.  You have, if you’ve ever been offered the opportunity to login or register on a website using an existing identity from a social network such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, etc. – rather than fill out an onerous registration form.  Not only does offering social login help business by increasing registration conversion rates, decreasing cart abandonment on eCommerce sites, improving data quality of the user database and reducing support costs from not having to respond to lost username/password requests, it also can significantly improve efficacy of marketing programs.  That’s because when a user logs in using a social identity, the business has the opportunity to ask for access to a rich set of profile characteristics, such as interests (e.g. music, sports, movies…), location, friends, birthdays and more.  This data can then be used to more finely segment customers and deliver richer online experiences and targeted promotions and offers.

At Janrain, I am responsible for overseeing our marketing efforts, including driving demand for our solutions, preparing our sales team for success and launching new products, services and solutions.

What kind of data do you use to make marketing decisions? Analytics apps, etc.?

We are very much a data-driven organization, even though we are still relatively small.  As an organization, we use Salesforce.com for CRM, Act-On Software for Marketing Automation, and Google Analytics for web traffic.  From these solutions, I monitor which campaigns are driving the highest quality leads, the health of our sales pipeline, our sales cycle length, average sales price, win/loss percentage, cost per lead, sales funnel conversion rates and a host of other metrics.  I encourage my team to take risks and try new things, but I want to know if those efforts succeed or fail, and have a common barometer for making those assessments.

Favorite CMO-type media outlets you follow?

I actually don’t follow CMO-specific sites as much as I do Analysts (Altimeter Group, Forrester, Gartner, etc.), industry specific news (GigaOm, News.com) and general business sites and email groups (All Things D/WSJ, McKinsey, Wharton, Harvard Business Review, Marketwatch.com, etc.).  I also try to follow interesting, insightful people on Twitter, where I get access to articles and research that they find compelling.

What do you see as your chief role? What’s your leadership style?

I see my role as setting direction and strategy and providing the tools and environment necessary for my team to succeed.  I tend to be very collaborative, seeking input from both my team and peers within the company to help guide my thinking.  I also am not a micro-manager.  I want to hire the best and the brightest people I can find – even if they don’t have direct role-specific experience – and give them the freedom to deliver outstanding results.  We set quarterly objectives that are tied to our overarching corporate goals, and identify how we will measure whether those objectives are met.  Then I’m available to review progress, suggest approaches, edit written content, and roll up my sleeves to help when needed.  But I want my team to feel empowered to do what it takes to be successful – not be afraid to take risks or make mistakes, and know that they are developing skills and experience that will help them progress in their own careers.

How has marketing changed with the economy’s twists and turns?

I don’t know that it really has.  Of course I’m held to my budget and am always looking for ways to drive costs down while improving results, but that’s always been the case.  And while technology has changed the way we can interact with our prospects and consumers, the fundamentals still hold.  You need to have a product or solution that solves a specific pain point, communicate that message simply and elegantly and be the type of organization with which customers want to do business.

How much do you weigh social media in marketing goals?

Social media provides a great way to interact with customers, communicate your company’s personality, culture and values and developer higher brand advocacy and loyalty (when done right).  All of those things are important to me; thus social media is an important part of our overall strategy.

If you had to make a pie chart of your marketing goals, how would you divide?

Ideally, it would be split into three equal wedges – Drive Demand, Enable Sales and Launch Products.

What is next for Janrain for the remainder of 2012?

The biggest challenge we have moving forward is managing our growth.  We just about tripled in size in 2011, and are on a path for similar results in 2012.  That has meant additional headcount, the implementation of appropriately scaled processes and a never ending list of deliverables to support this growth.  It’s a really challenging environment, but one that is super fun – I can’t wait to see where we take it!

 

 

 

The Secret to Selling

I never thought of myself as a sales person but as a business owner, you are always selling. You sell your ideas, your products, your people. your culture, your leadership. I often get asked about the new business process and what our secret to success is. Of course there are a variety of elements that go into winning a prospect – relationships and chemistry have a great deal to do with it – but the one thing I’ve found that always works is simple – ask questions.

So many people go into a new business pitch thinking they’re supposed to have all the answers (and you should know your stuff, of course) and that asking questions is a bad thing. I find that asking questions accomplishes two things:

- It shows you are interested in the person/company you’re talking to

- It makes the prospect feel important and gets them talking

And when people talk about themselves or their company, and they feel they are being heard (hint: ask more questions based on what they say), they are likely to feel a stronger connection to you. They are likely to think you are brilliant. And they often walk away from the meeting feeling really, really good.

So go ahead, next time you’re trying to win a new client or prospect, ask questions. Let me know how it works out.

It’s All About the Details

Details have been on my mind lately – you know, the nuances in life that make life, well – interesting. I thought this topic would be a personal blog post, because the details that have stood out to me recently have been pretty personal. One of our three dogs passed away recently – a sad first for our family – and while the event itself was huge, it’s the little things that stand out the most in regards to his absence. The way my youngest son still pushes his plate back from the edge of the table because the dog used to steal his food, the empty chair in our bedroom where we’d find him every morning, the fact that I can put bird seed in my bird feeders again and not have to worry that the dog will eat it. These and many other little details are what remind me every day of the bigger loss.

So how does this post end up here, on our agency’s blog? Because it has occurred to me that it’s the details that matter in business, too. The big events are certainly the most memorable – winning new clients, watching the first sale come through, unveiling your new brand or opening a new store. But it’s the little details in between all these larger situations that really matter – and the little details that help you not only to keep your business up and running, but to beat the competition.

Are you thinking about the little details? Once you win a customer or a client, are you welcoming them and thanking them for their business? Does your website make an interaction with your company pleasant and easy, or are you making prospects work too hard to become a customer? Can they easily find what they are looking for? Do you have a waiting room that’s comfortable or stark? Do you think about simple yet “nice touches” that would make a prospect want to do business with you over a similar competitor?

Once you win a customer or a client, are you communicating with them regularly – but not more than they want? Do you know how your customers prefer to be contacted and how often? Have you asked? When you’re following up with a prospect, do you make them feel personally wanted as a customer? Just this week, a company followed up with me based on an interaction at a trade show (good) but I was turned off by the method (bad) of follow up and it made me not want to do business with them. I understand that companies need to maximize time – that sales leads have to be captured and plopped into databases (we’ve worked with enough sales and marketing software clients – Landslide, Salesnet, RightNow, Genius, etc. – to understand how it works and why). And maybe I’m naive, or expecting too much – but as technology gets better, it seems to me it could also help companies to at least appear to be more personable in sales. When I receive a sales email that’s claiming to understand my business, and want my business, but is clearly a generated “next step” email from a sales automation software solution, I feel insulted – not really wanted as a customer. When they use my login name as the lead – which appears as “christine” because I rarely capitalize when I’m signing up for something online – it’s obvious. It’s a little, tiny detail, right? But to me – it’s a detail that turned me off from doing business with this company. A little detail that turned into a lost sale.

On the flip side, we’ve got a client who – even as they’ve grown from startup to public company – calls each prospect when they trial a product. I remember the first time I tried Constant Contact – the call startled me – it literally happened within minutes of me entering my information online. I didn’t need help but you know what? Knowing that if I did – especially in this day and age of electronic communication – I could get a human on the phone, was a nice touch. It stood out – the call was brief, to the point and not intrusive. I was impressed – and that was before they were a client.

An experience that falls somewhere in between these two is a recent interaction with our bank. They recently upgraded some services for us and assigned a personal Account Manager (great!). He emailed and called me to introduce himself, which was good, but the little details that were missing, some that I felt could have made me a happier customer (and not feeling like a call was wasting my time), were some suggestions or thoughtful interaction. The introduction, in my opinion, could have included something more along the lines of, “We noticed you often do this, and we think this change will make your life easier – do you want to learn more?” It didn’t need to be anything complicated, but just something that showed a personal touch about my business and my banking habits that demonstrate you care about me specifically as a customer.

In PR, one of the biggest complaints reporters have always had is that they receive off-topic, automated emails from PR executives. PR teams do this – using software to automate email blasts – because time is money in our business, literally. Not only can you move faster and thus work on more clients and charge more hours, but the more pitches you get out, the longer a “We Pitched” list you can give to a client, right? Well, I guess that may be true – but the little details, taking the time to pitch a reporter with a custom email or call, mentioning personal details that remind them you know them or you at least know their work and read what they write – are more likely to yield big results. Would a client rather have a long list of “We pitched 100 reporters” – but no coverage results – or a shorter list of “We pitched 10 key publications and here’s the result – 10 quality feature articles”? I’m guessing the latter.

So take time to think about the details today. Whether it’s how you sell, how you service or how you build your business – branding, HR, promotion, etc. – caring about the little details can make a big difference.

How do you incorporate the little details in your daily business?

No “I” in TEAM – why we’re all now in sales, PR and customer service

There’s an age-old argument that has traditionally taken place among the walls of corporate America regarding the relationship between marketing, PR, sales and customer service: who is responsible for (and receives credit for) leads? What is the process for turning leads into customers and who “closes”? Once that happens, who is responsible for keeping customers happy and informed? The traditional answers might look something like this:

a) PR – awareness that supports sales’ efforts; sales – responsible for actual leads

b) Sales

c) Customer service

Truth be told, now more than ever, each of these constituents must work together – in essence, sharing all of these responsibilities – to ensure a wholly positive prospect or customer experience. With the rise of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook for direct engagement and interaction, the lines are a bit more blurred – we are all selling or promoting to prospects and caring for our customers.

Take, for example, two recent examples from my own life:

1) I recently had to have GE come out to fix my refrigerator (again…but that’s a different blog post). The repairman came, said he fixed the part, took his check and went along his merry way. The next morning, I woke up to a freezer that still wasn’t fixed and a refrigerator that was 60 degrees! Now I had two problems instead of one and I was not happy. I called customer service. The woman on the other end knew I was upset. She said the repair (read: sales) schedule couldn’t fit me in for another week. I didn’t take kindly to that answer and as such, she quickly found an opening for me on the next day. This woman recognized a customer service issue that could have turned into both a negative sales experience (if I had patience and a lot of ice, I could have called an independent repair shop) and negative buzz (PR). She salvaged a customer and a negative Tweet or two… Now, I expect the repairman to come back and treat me as nicely as she did – and to apologize for the inconvenience. I’ll let you know how that goes. But if he doesn’t, which experience will I remember the most?

2) I went to St. Louis last week and Tweeted that I was searching for a good hotel. A PR rep from the Hyatt Regency St. Louis contacted me on Twitter and presented a really great offer. Although I received other recommendations from my online communities, I was impressed with the effort that this woman put into treating me as a customer who mattered. As a PR rep, she could have very easily just answered my question with “Try the Hyatt” and a link – but instead she took on the role of sales, securing a discount code and taking the time to interact back and forth with me to “close the deal.” She not only promoted her company and made a sale, but she set the precedent for my expectations around their customer service. I am happy to say that the remainder of the experience upheld the standards of expectations that she set in her interactions with me. As a result, I Tweeted about my gratitude and here I am writing a blog post recommending that you try the Hyatt if you ever visit St. Louis.

The definitive lines of responsibility are, of course, still important as business executives specialize in one area or another – sales, customer service, product development, PR, etc. However, at the pace of business today – and the public engagement that customers now expect – those lines need to be a bit more flexible within organizations. Different departments need to support each other more than ever – and communicate better than ever.

Be sure that you prepare your company with consistent and persistent messaging, clear guidelines for communication and definitive processes for working across departments. Lead with the attitude that every employee has the same goal – to make your company great and your customers happy – and be sure to rethink policies that might otherwise detract from that initiative.

As transparency continues to be expected and business is conducted in a more public forum than ever before, every employee is essentially selling, promoting and representing their respective companies in every move they make. Be sure you prepare your staff to represent your brand in the right light.

Shut Up and Listen

I have had a lot of conversations about PR over the years with prospects, clients and partners. Some of my favorite stories are when they share their other PR experiences. In fact, inquiring about experiences with other agencies – both good and bad – is one of the first questions we ask any prospect. We can learn so much by the answer to just that one question.

More often than not, it seems that PR executives make the mistake of talking too much and listening too little. I noticed this from the very beginning of my career. I would slump in embarrassment during client meetings when two account executives would not only talk over each other – as though the one who talked the most demanded the most importance – but they would consistently interrupt the client as well. It’s something I have never forgotten.

One of the most effective ways to connect with any audience is to show them that you care. One of the easiest ways to show someone that you care is to listen. One of the best ways to listen is to actively participate in the conversation – by both asking questions and repeating what you’ve heard. It’s also a fantastic way to learn new things.

I see the same mistake happening in a lot of the social media marketing taking place across social networks. It’s bad enough that so many companies are using Twitter and Facebook as a glorified news stream rather than a give and take community, but the so-called social media experts and “social marketing gurus” are making matters worse by constantly streaming their own thoughts but rarely replying, conversing or engaging their followers – often because they consider themselves newbie-Internet celebrities and can’t be bothered. To make matters worse, these type of marketers and PR hounds are using the latest “auto follower” services – a pyramid-like scheme that can increase your followers “by up to 300 per day!” Again, this has nothing to do with engaging or listening and it certainly doesn’t mean that these “gurus” know how to get other people – the RIGHT people – to listen to you or your brand value proposition.

not-listening

I also see so many PR professionals who don’t want to ask questions in meetings because they feel – especially in a pitch – that they are supposed to have all the answers already. (Or, sometimes, their egos rival everyone’s in the room.) This is a classic problem with marketers and PR executives – they think asking questions shows weakness. I highly disagree – I think it shows interest, intelligence and strategic thinking.

If you’re not asking questions, you are subtly saying that you don’t care. How else will you learn about what your customers want? How do you ensure that you are headed in the right direction with your products or services? How will you uncover additional nuggets of information that might not seem obvious in a one-sided conversation?

The  next time you find yourself in a conversation or – better yet – a sales pitch – think about what questions you can ask about the person or company to whom you are speaking. Ask them questions about themselves or what they offer and get them talking about what they’re passionate about. Really listen to the answers. Repeat them and ask more. I guarantee that the other party will walk away thinking you were an extremely interesting person and brilliant conversationalist.