Episode 24: 2022 SaaS Marketing Predictions with David Greenberg, CMO, Act-On Software

On today's show, I'm talking with David Greenberg, Chief Marketing Officer for Act-On. He's a member of the Forbes Communication Council and has over 20 years of marketing experience to share with us. As CMO for one of the top marketing automation software companies in the world, David has to stay ahead of regulations, technologies, and customer expectations every single day. On this episode of the Marketing Hero Podcast, hosted by me, Maia Wells, we get into some detailed predictions for SaaS marketing in 2022. And tell you just what you need to know now in order to keep on growing. David Greenberg, welcome to the show.

 

David Greenberg:
Thank you very much, Maia. I'm glad to be here.

Maia Wells:
Let's start off with a question we like to ask all of our guests, what's your favorite part of your career and how did you figure that out?

David Greenberg:
That's a great question. I think my favorite part of my career was when I was with a particular company and I had a lot of just career growth during that company, very opportunistic. I began and had a lot of experience getting hands on across many different disciplines inside of marketing. As we know, marketing is not a one track thing. There's marketing communications. There's demand generation, product marketing, brand building. And I had the opportunity to start there very early and build a lot of those key functions and be hands on with a lot of those functions all the way into growing and bringing the company going public. That was a rare opportunity. I sort of laugh on the side that a luck is being at the right place at the right times is a big part of that, but it was an amazing opportunity in my career and an area where I really learned a lot about the different functions and how those roles cross pollinate as well.

Maia Wells:
And so in your current role as CMO, is that something that you'd like to do because it brings together all of those different disciplines of marketing?

David Greenberg:
Well, absolutely. And I think a lot of my role becomes connecting the dots between the teams and making sure that they're acting in an integrated fashion and just fundamentally knowing what are the main motions across each of those functions has, I think, really helped me in my career to connect those dots and help the teams connect the dots as well.

Maia Wells:
I didn't plan to ask this question, but I've got to ask it because recently my friend and I were having a debate and his stance was all marketing should be product marketing in the SaaS world, that every function of any marketing person should be intertwined with product marketing. How do you feel about that? Is that something that you have heard? What are your thoughts about that question?

David Greenberg:
Well, no, that's actually something I haven't heard, but there's parts of it. I agree with and parts I don't. I do think the tolerance for traditional marketing has decreased in both SaaS and broader, I would say, and across all industries. I think the shift of buyers not necessarily looking at the company first for their information is totally relevant. And thus people tend to engage, especially in SaaS, when they're really interested in the product. And that's probably where the product marketing connection comes in there. That being said, this might have to do with how you define product marketing to some degree, because I think people still want to buy from a company they believe in that has a mission that they believe in or is aligned with their POV. I still think they're looking for companies that are trying to find fundamental breakthroughs and do something different.

And I guess for me, that is above product marketing, but when it comes down to the actual execution around when they finally want to engage with you, and there's amazing and a large amount of statistics out there about where on the yard line they start to engage and 10 years ago, they'd engage with you in the 20 yard line, now they're engaging with you at the 80 yard line and they're already further down their cycle and in their consideration set. From that perspective, I think there's a lot of alignment around all marketing should be product marketing, because at that point they're all really around considering what's the right solution for them. And does it have the benefits and sometimes the features they're looking for? I think it's a mixed bag, Maia.

Maia Wells:
Makes sense. I had to get your thoughts on that though, because you were mentioning the different areas of product marketing and demand gen and all of those different places that people work in marketing. Now, I want to get your predictions for next year because we're coming towards the end of the year. Everybody is coming out with their 2022 predictions, but I think you are especially well positioned to talk about this. You're working in SaaS marketing. Every single day you have a huge responsibility to serve your customers and get more of them. And so I think that it's really important for us to take a step back and look at some of the trends in marketing, specifically in software in general, and start to think about how we as marketers in any department in marketing can react to that.

And the first thing I want to talk to you about today, David, is data privacy. Anybody who works in marketing in any capacity has certainly heard about recent shifts in privacy protections for consumers. Two of the most important developments have been Apple's mail privacy protection, and Chrome's ban on third party cookies. I'd like to talk with you about your predictions around privacy. How are you adapting? How can other marketers adapt to increased options for data privacy for consumers?

David Greenberg:
Great question. And a very complex question I would say too. First, looking at this maybe more broadly than just one year snapshots. Absolutely think data privacy will continue to be stricter. You'll see more adoption around third party cookies going away. Access of marketers to all of the traditional data they've had in the past as the digital explosion happened is going to change. I can see a world where every brand has to fundamentally get opt-in to consumers at the end of the day, and you don't have the right or the ability to get in front of them until you get that. I think ultimately that's where everything is going down the road because we're very digital buyers want to protect their information. And we've all seen the things that go bad when that happens. That has major implications, frankly, outside of marketing, but obviously huge impact on marketing.

Then diving into the trends you were talking about and how we're dealing with that. Marketer's access to all of that third party data to deliver third party advertising or third site cookies is going to go away. And it becomes really important that marketers begin to take advantage of first party cookies, where they can really start tracking and making meaning of the people who are opting in to engage with them and with an eye on not using all the data and showing them using all the data, but more around to make sure that you're giving them a great experience and you're leveraging it, so it's meaningful for them. The tolerance of fluffy marketing, non meaningful marketing, weak engagement I think is really coming to an end more than anything and has been for a while.

In terms of the strategy, I think marketing teams are going to have to start following is they're going to have to start figuring out and taking much more advantage of this first party cookie tracking and using that behavior after that engagement in a big way. That's one thing that's definitely coming down and I expect will get stricter over time. I will say even at Act-On here, we're already exploring how we provide markers with tools to show when things are getting blocked in browsers. And we're already trying to share how marketers can take more advantage of their first party data that they're getting already. And then on the other thing you mentioned around Apple's not recent announcement, I guess, was six, seven months ago, that's a big change.

And I think the thing that's really important about that and somewhat ties into the theme I was just talking is that open rates are going to go away. I don't know how important open rates really are and how valuable it really is to the business. Beyond just an indication, if you hit something, a nail on the head or not, I think it does have some value, don't get me wrong. But the shift towards engagement metrics has already been happening. You see it in a lot of platforms. You see it in a lot of email marketing tools. They're looking for engagement metrics and the people who are engaging and clicking through, which will still be there, I think it's already shifted there. But I think the value of opens will go away and more completely than it maybe has already.

Maia Wells:
Just for the audience that may not know a lot about these two privacy developments, the NPP means that the way that the emails load into somebody's phone, you can't tell if they actually open the email or not. Open rates therefore are not as valuable for marketers like us anymore. That's on the NPP side. And then with third party cookies going away, that means tracking somebody around the internet with your ad to make them buy those shoes that they looked at one time on your website, that's not going to happen anymore. That might be great for those of us who don't want to keep seeing those, the backpack we looked at two years ago.

That's more in the eight eCommerce space, but B2B businesses use that all the time as well. I remember looking at a bunch of stuff on Salesforce a couple of years ago, and it was relentless, the ads that followed me around the internet. Just finding ways to be agile with those changes, I think is what I'm hearing you say and thinking about other things that you can track and other ways you can customize content, for example, for people that you are engaging with and using what you do know about them to serve them better and communicate with them better.

David Greenberg:
Yeah. Yeah. That's spot on, Maia. And particularly for people right now who are very reliant on open rates and that's the main metric, I would say that audience should start thinking about what they're future metrics start looking like as this comes to life more and more.

Maia Wells:
Definitely. Let's move on to another topic because I know you have predictions around this one, David. I want to talk a little bit more about the idea of multichannel campaigns specifically around SMS. I know that SMS is starting to become this hot focus in SaaS marketing, at least, which is a little counterintuitive. I want to talk about that and talk about how customer experience expectations are really driving changes in how we engage across different channels. Do you have any predictions out there on multichannel marketing and specifically email and SMS and how those things can work together?

David Greenberg:
Yes. First the trend towards multichannel or omnichannel, whatever your word of choice is, I think has been going on for five, six, seven years in a pretty hardcore way. This is a continuum, not a start for sure, but let's start with the second part you talked about, Maia. What's driving it? Really it's about the buyers. The buyers are in front of their computer or they're on their phone and they all have individual and preferred ways they like to be engaged with. And depending on what the relationship is, I think there's a courtesy expectation of what engagement looks like. If you're brand new and I visit your site and downloaded an ebook and I get a text from you, very off putting. Okay. Yeah. Goes back to the original topic around permission orientation to begin with.

Just overall, there's an ongoing continued trend for brands and SaaS brands, in particular, to make sure that they have a strategy in place that lets them speak to their prospects through their preferred channel and make sure that you're talking them through their preferred channel at the right time, not just going gangbusters on SMS right out of the gate. That's one very important piece of it. The other area I would throw out is the customer experience and how if you go in Google, the top three priorities of a CMO for the last five years, customer experience is usually in the top three, if not the top two. And if you unpack that, there's a lot there, but bringing it down to the conversation and the question you asked, I think there's an expectation by customers that when I have bought from you and you are going to hook in with the preferred ways that I receive information.

And so a lot of doors open around using SMS once you get a relationship built, but I think you have to have that relationship built so that the end user agrees that Hey, on their personal device, I'm agreeing that you can send me information and you'll be competing with my kids and my family who are also SMSing at the same time. You have to be really careful. I see examples out in the market all the time where they're treating SMS like email, blasting. It's a highly regulated industry. You need to make sure you get opt-ins. But when you get that opt-in, it's incredibly valued because you have a customer who said, I'm agreeing for you to be intimately talking to me and sending to me information in real time. And we all know how close we keep these phones and how much time we spend.

And I always hate seeing the report on how many hours I've spent on my phone. I think for the listeners here, it's very important not to use SMS as email and batch and blasting type format. That's not what it's meant for. The important guidance I guess I would give to listeners is oriented more towards educational type programs or thought leadership type programs, rather than generic offers that feel very off putting and discoloring to the users and really focusing on making sure that at the consumer or the buyers are purposely giving opt-in for that program. And then if you've done that you have, I wish I had an industry metric to share, but it's significantly by multiples more engaged group than you will have on the email side, especially up funnel.

Maia Wells:
David, in preparing for this interview, one thing that I did see on Act-On's website was an article about how you use SMS for webinars, which seems to be a good application on that marketing side. Can you tell me more about that and whether you've had success with that?

David Greenberg:
Yes, absolutely. And I think it's a good follow on to what I was just describing. At Act-On, sharing with marketers the best ways to use a marketing automation platform is a big part of what we do in marketing. And let me talk about how we use SMS. We don't use SMS until somebody's registered and when somebody's registered, we give them an option if they want to attend, because we're trying to drive attendance rate by doing this. We give them an option to say, Hey, please alert me via SMS, 30 minutes before the session, and people are doing that because they know they're by their phone and their preferred way to be reminded, frankly, is have this phone tell me that it's on so I can jump on. We've seen a significant bump of attendees.

I believe it's 20%, but I will have to fact check that a little bit, but it's in that range in terms of attendance rate, by those who opt into SMS and naturally they're going to be more inclined on the topic, more interested because they're opting in to say, let me know that they're there, but we've really seen an uptick in attendance rate by using SMS as part of our courtesy reminder strategy. And I use that word courtesy on purpose, because it's not forced. At Act-On, we have about 40% of our registrants opt-in to receiving an SMS, to remind them to attend the conference. And we've seen a significantly measurable increase in our attendance rate for that segment. So it's very effective. And as I was talking about before, it's opted in, so only those who have that preferred method and channel are opting into it.

And because of that, they're a typically a more engaged audience and our numbers show that. And I think generally beyond webinars, events are a great example. I know in the time of COVID, there's not a lot of live events happening, but I think most SaaS come companies have user conference or user groups or different track learning sessions. It's a great application in an event format to remind the audience who in a real life situation, we'd be walking around in a hallway somewhere, about when a session is starting and where it is or how they can get materials. But again, it's all hinged on the end user opting in and saying, I prefer to receive, or I want to receive information this way.

Maia Wells:
I do think it's that theme of, again, providing value to the end customer, the way that they'd like to receive it. I think that's a theme in everything we've been talking about so far. Just to pivot a bit towards the marketer and our experience working day to day in 2022. We are in the middle of what some are calling the great resignation. And that means staff counts are fluctuating like crazy, especially at SaaS companies all over the world. People are getting hired and quitting and just moving jobs and switching things. But the constant, the thing remaining in place amidst all that change, is normally the technology, the tools that marketers use to do our jobs on a daily basis, the marketing tech stack. And those are likely to stay in place as people shift and take different positions. Do you have any predictions for how marketing teams are thinking about the tools that they'll use in 2022?

David Greenberg:
Yeah, I do. I think you bring up a really good point that with the fluctuation that comes with the great resignation, you also need to have stability in the team. And I think the MarTech stack tier point, not only is it stable, but it also provides stable marketing execution, which is really important. I'll tell you, and this is somewhat aligned with the conversation around cookies, the third party cookies going away. And I mentioned this around first party cookies, but using behavioral data to improve your marketing is an ongoing trend that will continue. Obviously that's important to Act-On and in marketing automation in general, where there's a platform tracking behavioral data, but if you go and look at surveys out there, most marketers feel it's massively underused.

I think one of the predictions is you'll really see more efficiency and more energy behind using that rich behavioral data to drive more personalized experiences. That's already starting, so it's not brand new and just starting in 2021. But I think with the acceleration of the digital explosion and also the shifts that are being forced COVID and causing some of those workforce changes, I think you'll see people using technology much more and much more effectively to help drive engagement with prospective clients and customer base too, not just perspective clients.

Maia Wells:
Absolutely. As we approach the end of our time together here today, David, what do you want marketers walking away with as they're making their plans for Q1? I know a lot of us are sitting here behind our computers all day long going, oh my gosh, what am I going to do for Q1? I got to figure it out today. Keeping these predictions in mind, what would be your best advice for those of us in the trenches, working on SaaS marketing every day?

David Greenberg:
That's a great question. And there's a lot of directions I can take that, but let me just start with some very basics. The reality is it feels like we're coming out of this pandemic, but it's uncertain still. I don't think we're in a place right now where marketers can say, Hey, the world's going to come back to what it was in the beginning of 2019 or in 2018. And thus I think the transformation into digital for companies that were beginning on it earlier, or were halfway through a couple years ago, is still the most important aspect of it. And inside of all of that comes around being effective on digital.

And taking it back to those trends we were talking about, marketers are going to have to figure out how they have shift very traditional metrics around open rates and emails. And they're going to have to figure out how they continue to build the funnel for their business without the use of third party data and third party advertising, which in my opinion, has been dying a slower death anyway, but now it's really time to get off of it and be thinking about it. It's going to get more pervasive. And so by the end of this year, I think marketers should expect significant more change to have come.People need to be prepared for that absolutely.

The other part is paying a lot of attention to your MarTech stack and making sure in this period, not only of fluctuation, but also where there's uncertainty and the spending's been cut and teams are being asked to do more with less, it's about getting much more horsepower out of your marketing technology stack. That's why I brought up that idea of behavioral data really being at the center of the strategy because you own that. It's on your site. And if you subscribe to the fact that they've already done a lot of research before they actually show up on your site anyway, then that becomes even twice as important in some ways. Maybe in summary, I would just say marketers should be really focused on those two areas right now.

Maia Wells:
Well, thank you, David Greenberg. We appreciate you coming on to the Marketing Hero Podcast and giving your predictions for 2022. We will see you on LinkedIn, I suppose, as we go through the end of this year and good luck and Happy New Year.

David Greenberg:
Thank you. And thanks for having me. It's been a pleasure.

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