Justin Baker is the Director of Marketing at ExtraHop Networks where he oversees a close-knit team of marketing professionals and a number of marketing-related agencies and vendors. Justin is involved with strategic marketing & business planning, branding, messaging & positioning, partner & channel ecosystem development, and strategic vendor management
ExtraHop is moving from a true start-up to an early stage company with a strong base of customers. Give us some perspective on how marketing changes with this shift.
Nearly two and a half years ago I joined ExtraHop, which at the time was a small team that numbered just over a dozen employees. It was a true technology start-up with an entrepreneurial group of employees working tenaciously to bring a disruptive application performance management solution to market.
The marketing team’s charter at that time was primarily to build out our core go-to-market messages; establish brand presence; provide a small sales team with leads, collateral, and air cover; and put the company on the map in terms of analysts and thought-leadership. Fast forward just a few years and we’re now supporting over 40 inside and outside salespeople at a rapidly-growing, early stage company. The marketing team is still small and nimble, even though the bar has risen and the pace has quickened. The expanding sales organization has become a hungry beast and we need to feed them and enable them in a number of strategic and tactical ways.
My number one pain is fighting through the competitive FUD and specious claims in the nearly $4 billion network and application performance monitoring market.* This is a rapidly growing market space with a large number of competitors fighting for market share, ranging from very small start-ups to technology behemoths such as HP, IBM, Dell, and Compuware. The challenge and opportunity requires our team to be tight with our message, clearly articulating our brand story and promise, and infusing that promise in every prospect and customer touch.
Equally important, especially with a growing and progressively savvier sales team, is better management and control of full-funnel marketing. A significant amount of effort and focus is currently spent on targeted, integrated marketing—finding the ideal combination of webinars, paid and organic search, events, conferences, sponsored media, guerilla marketing, and social media, to name but a few. The ultimate goal of all of this activity is to educate and engage prospects and also to discover—discover the right audience, the right message, the right time to deliver that message, and the right story. This is the foundation to enable quality interactions and deliver highly qualified candidates to the sales team for follow-up.
It sounds easy (full sarcasm). Is there a secret to great brand building and full-funnel marketing?
A key part of fighting through an extremely noisy market is to have great communicators on the team. Everyone at ExtraHop, from the CEO to the marketing team, are all great communicators, able to tell a compelling story in a differentiated and relevant way. We’re all audience-obsessed professionals who fundamentally understand our market, the competition, and what our customers care about. And, most importantly, we know the key problems we’re solving that no one else can.
We segment our messaging by solution, role, vertical, technology, and beyond. This helps our brand stand out, increases engagement with prospects, improves development and conversion of qualified leads for sales and, ultimately, delivers customer conversations that drive the full funnel approach.
The full-funnel marketing can add complexity. How are you dealing with the systems and the talent to make this really work?
You hit on two of the more significant challenges we are facing. First, there is no end-to-end system for marketers to get a full, integrated view of marketing performance for reporting and decision-making. Instead, we must patch together information, often in spreadsheets, from a multitude of discrete systems, ranging from web analytics to marketing automation to customer relationship management and add in a significant amount of data that is not captured by any current solution. Second, you need a skilled professional—a hybrid systems administrator, data analyst, and marketing professional—to bring this data together in a relevant and useful way. Given the number of data sources and amount of integration and intelligence required, you can immediately understand the complexity, challenges, and difficulty of finding this person. These new and rare Marketing Operations professionals need to understand the business and integrated marketing while excelling at analytics, process, and systems. Talk about a tall order!
I see this market evolution as a continuum. Manufacturing was the first to automate with mainframes and ERP. Then sales was automated with Siebel and Salesforce. Now it’s marketing’s turn to automate and catch up to the rest of the organization. The role of Marketing Operations is new. There are very few people out there right now with the blended skillset I mentioned previously (systems administrator, data analyst, and marketing professional). Instead, we’re all muddling through, learning from each other, as well as through the marketing automation vendors.
There are multiple business opportunities here, from my perspective: As an agency, you can add solution competencies around marketing automation, system integration, and dashboarding. As a business school, you can add a program that focuses on these skills—developing a new breed of data-driven marketer. And as an entrepreneur, you can build a platform that integrates these data sets in a straightforward and easy to understand way. Think of it as Business Intelligence-lite. I’m sure there are many more opportunities that I haven’t thought of. The message really is that there’s a market here. Go get it!
What are the marketing skill sets you are looking for? And what advice do you have for marketers to develop the skills that are needed for today’s marketing world?
We already touched on Marketing Operations, but I want to underscore again the critical nature of this type of professional going forward. Marketing has become very analytical and data-driven over the past decade. Marketing is now in a position where they can earn a spot at the table in the boardroom with performance data, i.e. how much money went into marketing and how much revenue was delivered coming out. That’s paramount. And it changes how the rest of the organization sees the marketing organization.
Beyond that, the most important cog in this new world is content. Great content, which speaks to the right audience, at the right time, with the right tone, and delivers the right message, is gold. This is foundational to nurture campaigns. At ExtraHop, Technical and Product Marketing Managers understand fundamentally the sales cycle, pain points and buying motivations of the customer, as well as the competitive landscape. They define the process and a plan and work with the sales team to align their prospect approach. As a result, they are able to create the perfect content for each phase of the funnel.
In a digital world where IT professionals can do much of their research without engaging vendors, what roles do face-to-face and events play in your marketing mix?
Given the absurd amount of noise and FUD in our space, in-person events—both industry tradeshows and conferences, and our own events—are a significant and growing part of our marketing mix. The ability to have face-to-face conversations with people who are looking for an application performance management solution is critical. When you’re in a noisy, competitive market with many players, buyers have a tendency to get jaded based on the hype to reality ratio. Buyers have heard the buzzwords and claims for years and this decreases online response rates and engagement because it all sounds the same. We have found that when we get in front of prospects, demonstrate our solution so they see and interact with it, then they are moved to action. Conversations deepen quickly and things happen. We’ve learned that if we can have a five-minute conversation about how much visibility the ExtraHop solution can provide IT professionals with no agents, probes, or other instrumentation, they are blown away. And if people see it working in their environment, they typically go forward with a purchase. So, the trick is to use that conversation as an incredible catalyst for taking the next step towards a purchase, because they see it working in their environment. In-person events are good for our brand and accelerate our sales.
You have some observations about the future of marketing focused on “getting real.” Can you share and expand on what we should be thinking about as marketers?
Marketers have a tendency to talk about thought leadership, educational marketing, and being advisors to customers. The reality, though, is that marketing is often more focused on embellished storytelling rather than just telling the truth. Exaggerated claims, double-speak, and flat-out lies do a lot of harm. Marketing is not about buzzwords and hype, it’s about being a trusted advisor, educating, and explaining in simple terms the real value your solution delivers.
The most successful and respected marketers and companies in the world are those that help untangle crowded markets, educate people on what product to use when and where (even if that means your product isn’t chosen 100% of the time), and always focuses on delivering real value. Next-generation marketing will be about guiding customers to the best solution to build trust. This expanded focus on authentic marketing—and being who you are—is the right decision for the brand and the business. This allows your company to not waste time chasing the wrong prospects, frustrating customers, or burning precious resources. Storytelling won’t be lost; it will become the truth well told. I’d welcome you to join me in the revolution!