How Oracle Data Cloud’s CMO organized to educate customers in a complex category
When demand outpaces understanding, your marketers must become teachers. Oracle Data Cloud CMO Cory Treffiletti shares how in an interview with columnists Nadine Dietz and Erica Seidel.
Picture it: The demand for your products is seemingly bottomless. But customers’ understanding of your entire category can lag. So what’s the best way to approach marketing?
We talked with Cory Treffiletti, VP of marketing for Oracle Data Cloud, about this challenge. His story suggests the rise of what we call The Instructional Marketing Organization.
Q: How did you land in your role, and how do you fit into Oracle?
I was CMO of BlueKai, the data management platform. We were acquired into Oracle three years ago where we formed a new division — the Oracle Data Cloud business unit. I’m now the Head of Marketing & Partner Solutions for Oracle Data Cloud, which has been built through the acquisition of four companies: BlueKai (where I came from), Datalogix, AddThis and Crosswise.
When I joined Oracle, I had a team of five people focused on marketing and inside sales. It’s been three years of dramatic growth, and now I lead a team of 50.
Q: What is your business, in a nutshell?
Have you ever walked down the street and had someone approach you and start talking to you? You know you know them, but for the life of you, you can’t remember their name or how you are familiar with them in the first place? It’s the standard conundrum — you have trouble putting a face to a name, and yet you pretend you know them, and you engage in a vague conversation with no intrinsic value. Later you remember, but you know that they knew that you couldn’t remember their name. Maybe you follow up with them, but the relationship is never quite the same.
Brands have this same problem: They struggle to put a face to a name.
We offer these brands our data as a service. So we help brands to identify, recognize and understand their audiences, no matter when and where they encounter them. In doing so, they can create a deeper, more valuable relationship with the consumer. Brands can do a better job at targeting, personalization, campaign efficiency, and measurement across a myriad of outlets.
Q: What are the customer dynamics at play for you?
We’re in a category where demand outpaces maturity.
I like to think of data as the oxygen of a business. Companies use our data to power their marketing campaigns, for the most part. They can also use the data to simply better understand their customers and connect more deeply with them. Our customers buy the data on a campaign basis which provides them with flexibility and accountability.
On our end, we’re constantly looking to build stronger relationships with our customers, because we don’t have a “one and done” sales model like SaaS or other models. As a result, we focus a lot on education and helping customers understand how to use the data. We help them understand what the data enables and how their audience works.
[pullquote]”I like to think of data as the oxygen of a business.”[/pullquote]
Q: How are you organized?
I have about 50 people in my organization, spread across seven offices around the world.
My team is structured in a two-axis model. On one side we have shared services who are experts in an area of marketing such as events or content development or advertising. Along the other axis, we have our teams of “embedded marketers” which are like the old embedded journalists from WWII. These marketers are experts in a vertical or horizontal line of business, and they develop the strategy for that vertical while tapping into shared services for execution.
It’s similar to the difference between corporate marketing and field marketing, with slightly more specialization on the field side. I find that it enables us to have a good dialogue on the right tactics while maintaining a vision against a strategy that works by line of business.
One primary goal of this model is for the embedded marketers to consistently represent to the shared services teams the questions that are being asked in their vertical, and what problems pop up in the sales process. When we do this, we can develop campaigns to answer these questions before the majority of prospects have to ask them. It enables us to be significantly faster in getting new campaigns out to market. Much of what we develop and bring to market is educational and not sales-y.
Q: Your team has grown substantially in three years. How has your organization changed in this time to become more education-focused?
First, we’ve radically expanded an inbound help desk that we call the Data Hotline which fields questions around data. Anyone can call this hotline. It’s currently used by ad agencies, channel partners, media companies, and brands. The team is staffed with younger talent who may be new to the industry, but they are trained in all aspects of the data as a service business, including all the data providers in the industry and the kinds of services offered by them all.
That team harvests inbound email inquiries — some of which are leads and some of which are not — and passes them on to the vertical teams when appropriate. They answer as many as 1,500 inbound questions per month. This service has become a great way to take the pulse of the industry and understand the questions being asked. It’s also a great sandbox for training entry-level talent. It’s become a proving ground for them, and many of them graduate in 12 to 18 months to other roles in the organization.
We’ve also recently added the Data Lab — an agency development practice focused on education and evangelization. The Data Lab is a free service, helping marketers and agencies understand how to use data through a series of interactive presentations and workshops that can result in certification from our team. These folks are all ex-agency employees who understand the inner workings of that business and the challenges those folks face in an increasingly data-driven environment.
Our teams are not salespeople, so there’s no tension to be sold anything. The idea is that as the industry gets smarter, everyone will benefit. With these educational resources, we’ve provided scale for the marketing effort while also helping to build the rest of the org with talented people!
Q: With such rapid growth, how do you know whether the org structure from yesterday still works today?
We ask specific questions every quarter. Questions like:
- Who has the best skills?
- Whose skills need to be developed so they can take over their manager’s job?
- Is what we’re doing working?
- How is revenue?
- Do we have the right metrics in place? It’s a problem if we’re focused only on iterative metrics, rather than real change.
The last item is a key one; you have to be focused on the right metrics. Many companies have lots of data about how things are performing, but there are key metrics that you need to focus on. Pipeline health is a key one, and time to sale is another.
You want to know what the long term looks like, and you want to understand the process to get them converted to a customer. Iterative metrics about each stage of the journey are good, but change in those iterative metrics can only deliver small steps in improvement. Improving pipeline health and decreasing the cycle to convert are much more impactful.
When things are working well, that is the best time to deconstruct your strategy and try new things. You end up with more opportunity to test and fail, but still hit your numbers. If you are not doing well, there is very little tolerance for additional risk. Pressure will drive you to the tried and true tactics.
[pullquote]”When things are working well, that is the best time to deconstruct your strategy and try new things.”[/pullquote]
Q: Your business is a composite of four acquisitions. What should marketing leaders going through acquisitions know?
Expect it to take at least six to 12 months for people to jell after an acquisition. At first, everyone will be excited. It’s like the newlywed phase, where you can talk openly about skills and gaps and how everyone will work together.
Then there’s a second wave, when people on both sides start to question the strategy, and some can get defensive because they question each other’s approach to growing the business. This is an opportunity — if you are objective enough — to see where you are doing a good job and where things could go better.
Also, realize that you will lay out how the groups will work together and you will implement it, but then personalities come into the mix. Two people may be fantastic, but they may not be fantastic together. This is when you need to do a chemistry check, and you may have to revisit the organizational structure.
[pullquote]”Also, realize that you will lay out how the groups will work together and you will implement it, but then personalities come into the mix.”[/pullquote]
Q: Was there a pivotal moment when you alighted on the ‘right’ org structure?
Yes. You’d think that if a company is making an acquisition, the acquired company should fit into the acquirer’s org strategy. That is not always the case.
When we acquired Datalogix, it increased our marketing team very quickly, and we did the opposite in terms of strategy — we changed. They were organized by industry verticals, and we adopted their org structure, transitioning from a product-oriented go-to-market structure.
It had a massive impact. We quickly created new materials and new messaging that encompassed both historical stories, and as a result, we saw increased performance and faster growth than either team had been doing on its own. It gave us clarity on the kind of content we should be producing. And of course, good content feeds demand gen, which in turn feeds revenue.
It reminded me that you need to check your ego. Don’t think that you as the acquirer have the right answer in every situation.
[pullquote]”You need to check your ego. Don’t think that you as the acquirer have the right answer in every situation.”[/pullquote]
Q: What results have you seen?
We’re now working with 96 of the top 100 US advertisers, and almost as high a percentage globally, helping them understand new and innovative ways to use data. We’ve grown from five to 50 people in the marketing organization over three years, and only five people have left in that time. That level of attrition is unusual for a business that has grown as substantially as ours has.
Q: How do you assess talent?
There are not a lot of people with backgrounds in ad tech as well as data. So we try to find people with half the skills that we need, and we set up to teach them the rest, if necessary.
We look for people with a bent towards analytics and alignment with sales because the ultimate accountability for marketers is truly in the sales team. Too often, marketing people are two steps away from revenue. I use some questions to suss out whether someone is a revenue-focused marketer:
- How often do you meet with the sales team?
- How often do you go out on sales calls?
- Can you lead a sales call?
I also like to let people ask questions in an interview. I want to know what questions they have and whether they listen well when I give them a response. You can gauge quite a lot about someone from how they respond to questions and the kinds of questions they ask.
- If you are in a new category where your customers need a lot of education and support, your organization needs to be built around education first and products second.
- In a rapidly growing business, take the time to ask yourself pointed questions to evaluate whether the structure you had yesterday is still what you need today.
- When things are working well, that is the best time to deconstruct your strategy and try new things.
- Expect it to take several months and waves of iteration to integrate two organizations after an acquisition, and be flexible enough to shift when personalities clash.
- Ask questions to suss out whether marketers are as aligned with sales as they say they are.