Interview with Dell Software Product Leader, Greg Davoll

Greg DavollWhen it comes to software product marketing, not many understand the discipline better than Greg Davoll. A man who wears two hats in his role as the Senior Director of Marketing and a Product GM within a relatively new and high-profile division of Dell called Dell Software.

Since January of this year, Greg and his team have worked hard to pivot their traditional approach to product marketing to take on an inbound marketing strategy that blends agile marketing with the HubSpot methodology. The results are something potentially ground-breaking for marketing teams that operate at scale.

Our Principal, Chris Strom, recently got the chance to sit down with Greg and talk about product marketing, his experience, changes and long-term trends in the digital marketing landscape, and the sector he spends his working life in: on-premise and cloud-based software.

(This interview was edited for length and application)

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you ended up coming to Dell?

I’ve been in the software industry for about twenty-six years now, and by software industry, I mean I’ve worked for companies that develop, market, and sell commercial software products.

I started in software product development at IBM as a developer on the database product, DB2. Over time, I moved into product management and eventually took on product marketing, getting more involved in the marketing side of things and less involved in the product side of things. Then about 10 years ago, I took another leap into a VP of Marketing role. So it was product marketing, field marketing, analyst relations and public relations, lead generation, website branding, all the different elements and dimensions of marketing.

I’ve worked for big companies like IBM, as well as multiple startups and some in between. About 5 years ago, I was hired by Quest Software to launch a new solution area called Data Protection, which is a fancy term for backup and recovery. So I was hired to essentially bring that to life - which we did in 2011. Two years into that project, Dell acquired us and we began setting up Dell Software, now one of Dell’s four major business units.

My current role is a combination of things I have done in the past. One, I lead the marketing efforts for our portfolio, which is about 15 products inside of Dell Software. Two, I have a product P&L role (profit and loss accountability) across 9 of these products within our group. So I carry two hats, sometimes I am the P&L guy for the 9 products, and other days I am thinking and working with the team on go-to-market, new programs, and sales enablement..

Sounds like you’ve got your hands full! How is it that you found yourself in two roles, both in Marketing and as a GM?

Ha, I get bored easily! I love having the diversity of products combined with the diverse markets that we’re serving. The inherent complexity keeps me challenged. I get to touch a broad set of products and a broad set of marketing activities. I also get a lot of one-on-one interaction with our customers regarding product roadmaps, which is the fun part of it.

Are a lot of the other product areas around B2B infrastructure solutions?

So our group constitutes a pretty wide range. Our 15 products cover everything from Windows management, ERP change management, email archiving, network monitoring, to even widgets used by application developers for java apps to build in-house and custom applications. So we have a collection of pretty diverse products that aren’t necessarily thematic.

So, this next question might be a little tricky to answer if you have a non-thematic portfolio, but who would you describe is your target audience? What does their buyer’s journey look like?

Well it really varies by product line, we have many different types of personas. In most cases, our personas are in IT.The other constituent that our personas live in more and more are in the application area and business units. So we are typically selling to two different persona types at a macro level; IT persona and/or the Application line of business persona. So we start with persona, identifying the persona, and then everything then kind of builds off of that from a program perspective.

For example, we built a brand new inbound program for one of our products called Stat that plays in the Oracle Change Management space. We built this brand new program around a persona called “Harold the Application Manager” - we have a two-page document that describes what he does at work, how is he motivated, what do his peers think of him, etc. This is at the core of the inbound program and it greatly affects the content that we develop. It also affects how we train sales, because we want sales to understand how to talk to Harold and be able to resonate with what Harold cares about and this pressure to deliver.

How did you go about researching and building out this persona?

That’s a good question! So, we have sold to “Harolds” before and we are still selling to them now. These are people that we have worked with over the years, and so it is really a combination of: (i) talking to some of the “Harolds” we have as customers today, (ii) talking to sales to make sure it fits with their description and knowledge of Harold, and (iii) getting input from our product marketing and product management teams, which generally, that’s what they do for a living, they figure out how to find Harold and talk to Harold.

Do you ever find research done by third party market research firms useful at all?

I’m biased here, if you don’t have what we have, the customer base and a lot of experienced people, then that can be an alternative. I have rarely seen commissioned research produce results that were actually surprising to any degree. But, if you don’t have the customer base and you don’t have the experience, you are probably going to need to start by going out and pulling some secondary research, or you might consider sponsoring some primary research. If you have a product on the market, then you already have something to start with, even if it has a small customer base.

So, in your opinion, whenever possible, use your own customers and sales and marketing teams, for all of the research?

There’s definitely benefit in making sure you’re not too inside-out oriented, but I think by talking to customers, you’ll learn a lot. Talk to your Partners too, because they are also out there talking to prospects everyday and they are a great and often underutilized resource for this type of information. The only case where that doesn’t exist is when you’re a brand new product in a brand new space and you’re trying to find that “product-market” fit. I guess that is the message here - if you have a product on the market already, leverage your customers, leverage your partners, leverage your sales team. It takes time, but you have all of that information available. 

If you have a new product, a lot of your initial research is more or less guesswork. You probably need to revisit it and redo the personas from scratch maybe a year into it or so, would you agree?

Yes, I think when you are trying to find your product market fit with a new offering, it’s an iterative process. It’s nearly impossible to get right the first time but if you iterate, you’ll hone in on what matters most.

Let’s move on and talk about what the (Dell) marketing model was like before February of this year and then why you decided to move to a more inbound model.

That’s really a great question Chris, and it really is at the essence of all of this. To give you a little bit of background and so you can understand the magnitude, we have nearly two hundred people in marketing, worldwide. So when I say Dell Software Marketing, I’m talking about a worldwide team that contributes to all facets of marketing: search engine, lead gen, channel, web, field marketing, channel marketing, so all flavors of marketing.

So, the problem we had, is that we were all doing things a bit different across the different product lines and portfolios. Most teams had a framework for planning and managing marketing campaigns, a kind of go-to market plan if you will. Then from that GTM plan, we double clicked down into the tactics and defined our target metrics. There were a lot of disconnect points and gaps that would emerge so what we had was teams that were doing things differently, and not necessarily repeatable. We knew it was inefficient, and we knew the results we were getting could be better.

So, what we did is we essentially reorganized the worldwide team into an agile marketing formation that was better aligned with product families and then we trained all of our marketing people using the HubSpot methodology, the inbound methodology, which is highly persona-focused. We started this in February of this year and as of now, we have a worldwide team, across all product lines that are organized into an agile formation, operating on 30-day sprint cycles. We also have a common language and process for our programs, which is the HubSpot inbound methodology. We’re still early in the new agile formation, but it’s already providing benefits.

For the certification, was it the actual inbound certification run by HubSpot themselves, or another certification course?

Let’s see, my certificate that I have here says ‘Dell Agile Marketing Certified from HubSpot.’ I think it would fall in the custom training bucket, but it was heavily influenced by the process and methodology that the HubSpot product platform is built upon. It was very much their process and methodology that we adopted, we just don’t use their technology platform to implement and execute.

But you are still following that fundamental inbound process of attracting, converting, and delighting?

So, we learned two big things in this training. One, the importance of the Persona. Two, the content and its classification in the “Buyer’s Journey”. Not all content is equal, and content should not only be aimed at the persona, but also fit within the context of the buyer’s journey. So, to simplify it down into three areas, content at the awareness stage, content at the consideration stage, and content at the decision stage. Starting at the top, which is awareness, the middle of the funnel, which is consideration, and then down into decision, which is, “I’m convinced I have a problem, I need to solve it, and now I’m looking at the best ways to solve my problem”. We did a full content inventory, we classified our content against those three stages of the buyer’s journey, and we took that into account when we proposed and designed a new program.

Would you be able to go through a specific example of a strategy roll-out for a particular product: planning the content, content type, workflow, distribution, etc?

Sure, our newest “inbound program” was conceived in the training course this past Spring. Our team wanted to build out and execute our class project: Project PitFall. it took two sprint cycles to develop the content and we launched it in July.

As background, Project PitFall is anchored by a central piece of content, an eBook. This eBook is classified as an awareness piece. There is a landing page that houses the eBook, when you fill out the form there is a thank you page with a secondary call to action. We promoted this via multiple email programs as well as a 3rd-party promo that reached about 18,000 Oracle professionals. The secondary asset is the top 19 checklist which lives on the thank you page, and then we have done 2 blog posts, along with paid social to amplify and promote. This was all around ‘Chapter One’. we are now working on Chapter Two which will include the same tactics. If you’re interested, you can find the eBook Chapters out on our website:

From an organizational perspective, there were over 12 people (part-time) involved in this project. There were about 9 work items for Chapter One and I think there will be about 15 work items for Chapter Two. So a decent amount of work, spread across many people.

What is the criteria you are using to segment your contacts into the different awareness considerations? Obviously anyone who downloads the eBook is an awareness lead, but then are you saying that if they download the checklist that indicates that they’re in the consideration stage?

That is the intent. It starts with the awareness piece, the eBook, then it goes into the consideration piece, and then what we need to do is introduce decision pieces into the mix to really help move the prospects through this buyer’s journey. In September, we plan to run a customer webinar (customer case study) as a way to bridge from consideration into decision (product) in a more natural way and to reinforce the content we’ve already published.

So you are doing a lot of organic promotion through your own email and the blog, are you doing any paid media sponsorship?

Outside of IOUG, we haven’t done any “paid advertising” tied to this program. In the case of Project Pitfall, we were a little more limited by the nature of the Herold persona and where Harold chooses to go online. But with some of our other products we are going to have quite a few opportunities to do more paid media promotions. 

Speaking of budget, how does that affect your program designs and execution plans?

Good question. It can be a challenge and it forces us to prioritize - we can’t do everything we dream up. We are pretty good at funding the “important” stuff though - if it is something you really believe in, and feel it will make a difference, you can probably cut something that isn’t making a huge difference.

The other thing is that I think all marketers doing b2b marketing are probably challenged with, is just trying to keep up. I don’t know if you follow any of the MarTech (marketing technology) stuff, but the number of platforms and marketing technologies is just crazy. You look at the Landscape slide that Scott Brinker just published and it will blow your mind! This is what the world of marketing has become and this is why it is important for marketers today to be a little more tech savvy, or at least know what is out there and what works. It’s hard to keep up, right?

My best example is two years ago when ExactTarget acquired Pardot and then a couple months later Salesforce acquired ExactTarget, before ExactTarget had even finished merging Pardot into their own company.

That’s exactly right, and I think that is one of the big challenges for marketing people going forward is: how do you build a team that can develop and execute effective programs, faster? Another area that needs more focus is Content Marketing. In most software companies, product marketing develops the content that powers these programs - but product marketing folks have a lot of responsibilities, including release management and sales enablement. So, it’s always challenging creating new content - especially video content.

What I am trying to say is I think content marketing is opportunity for most of us - we’re great at old school product marketing but we need to improve our content marketing engine & results.

I’d imagine just making the case internally to get the buy-in from the leadership to get the staffing for the content side is probably a big challenge for a lot of the enterprise tech marketers.

If the budget request is couched in the context of a new marketing program that will produce $x as a return-on-investment, then it has a better chance of getting funded. Any content ask needs to be presented in the full context of the program that you’re trying to build.

Well, that about wraps up our time for today. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Greg. I look forward to speaking with you next month to further discuss Agile Marketing and how HubSpot influenced your Inbound methodology.

Thank you, Chris, for your time today! I think there is a lot here that can be leveraged across software companies of all sizes. I’m looking forward to our next discussion. Thanks for having me on as a guest “speaker” and let me know what your audience thinks of this?

Stay tuned for our follow-up interview next month where we talk about how Greg’s agile approach blends with the HubSpot methodology to successfully run 30-days sprints for new programs, and look at specific case studies of recent campaigns that Greg and his team have implemented.