“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!

 

 

 

What’s Wrong With Your PR?

Do you know the answer to this before you start researching a new PR firm to hire? Have you taken a good look at your current program and working relationship and truly understand what needs to improve? Do you have a plan for integrating PR with other marketing elements?

In meetings with prospects I’ve found that many don’t. They don’t know what’s wrong with their PR, only that they “need something more.” They don’t have a plan for integrating PR with other forms of marketing – in fact, many times they’ve never even thought about the connection. But all marketing should be integrated and PR should support and work to promote every other element in your marketing arsenal.

If you head into a working relationship without a firm idea of what you want improved, it’s difficult to expect your PR firm to deliver results that will meet your – or the Board’s – expectations. Many times the C-suite has a very narrow view of what PR means to them – usually top of mind is media relations, although these days word-of-mouth is also becoming a unit of measurement for them, thanks to social media.

Every agency has been in a new business meeting where the prospect has brought out a list of what the last agency didn’t do. They don’t necessarily correlate this to what they thought the agency should have done – and I’ve found that rarely, if ever, do they have a clear and definitive overview on where the agency fell short in regards to specific metrics or promised goals.

Before you change agencies or look for a new firm for the first time, ask yourself:

- How do I define PR?

- What specifically has been missing that’s driving us to hire a PR firm?

- How do I expect PR to integrate into my overall marketing plan? What about sales? Customer service? Other areas of our business?

- What specific programs do I want in my PR campaign?

- How will I measure the success of those programs; of the campaign overall?

- How much do I expect the PR firm to manage and do my resources align with this expectation – honestly?

- What benchmark metrics do I have to give the PR firm to begin – so they can plan and measure accordingly?

- What characteristics do I want in my PR team? What do I like about the people I work with now?

- What attributes do I want in a PR firm? Big name? All senior team? Boutique or conglomerate? What’s my experience been in the past with each and what were the pros and cons?

- What have my trusted colleagues experienced – good and bad – in working with a PR firm and how can I avoid those same mistakes?

- What role do I want to play in managing the PR firm? Side-by-side colleague and teammate? Hands off manager?

- What matters most to me? What matters most to my boss(es)? Are we on the same page with how we’ll define success in working with a PR firm?

Many times this last point is one of the biggest snags in a successful agency/client relationship. Too many times the day-to-day executive tasked with managing the PR firm does not clearly understand how the CMO, VP of Marketing or other C-level executives will define success. And when they’re not on the same page, it’s pretty impossible for the PR firm to be successful. And that brings me to one final point – who’s in charge of your PR internally? Do you respect them? Do you trust them? Did you hire the right person for the job? Start there – because if you haven’t, you’re not only wasting money on their salary, but you’ll be throwing dollars out the window for a PR firm to fail, too.

So, what’s wrong with your PR? And how do you plan to fix it – or how have you in the past? Please share your experiences in the comments so our readers can benefit from your wisdom.