Background on Search Engine People
Zak: Could you start by giving some background about Search Engine People?
Nick: Search Engine People is an agency that specializes in full-funnel strategy and execution to help our clients determine which marketing strategies and actions have the highest probability of succeeding, and what is the best-fit criteria for future marketing campaigns. We specialize in SEO/SEM; social media, email, and content marketing; display advertising, conversion rate optimization; creative development; as well as analytics and reporting.
Zak: How did you get involved with Search Engine People?
Nick: I’m a data nerd. I love working with data, and logical patterns just makes sense to me. A long time ago I was in the Canadian Navy, where they really train you to perform mental math, calculate angles based on how far a ship is away from other objects and so forth. With this knack for juggling numbers, I eventually started working with Marketo and World Vision Canada.
The joy of solving other people’s data problems then led me to a role in digital marketing at Vena Solutions, an enterprise budgeting, planning, and revenue forecasting solution that helps teams make data-driven decisions and then eventually to lead the full-funnel initiatives here at Search Engine People.
Zak: How does your experience at Vena Solutions relate to your role at Search Engine People?
Nick: Well, Vena Solutions automates core financial processes to free teams from the grind of verifying data and having to chase down numbers to build reports. So rather than take teams away from the tools they love and already know, like Excel, Vena lets folks keep using the technology they use everyday, while shortening their budget cycle, enriching transactional insights, and ensuring more accurate forecasting models. That way, they render finance teams as the analytical experts, and Vena as a unique player in the CPM space.
At Vena, I lead marketing operations, automation, sales ops, and the technology roadmap for all inbound and outbound efforts. This involves developing multi-channel programs that integrate content, email nurturing, paid, social, events, ABM, which activities help craft a multi-dimensional scoring strategy which personalizes and optimizes relationships across all touchpoints.
Zak: What are your day to day responsibilities at Search Engine People?
Nick: As with Vena, at Search Engine People everything I do serves fundamentally to fortify the effectiveness of multi-touch marketing channels. But as the title Senior Revenue Engineer implies, I also develop revenue plans that drives net sales for existing customers and new product initiatives. Once this revenue strategy is in motion, I’ll analyze a diverse set of KPI dashboards, lead competitive pricing reports, and revenue reports to measure the plan’s success over a certain timeframe.
Ultimately, the goal is to tweak the revenue strategy to the point where, in due time, I can determine if Search Engine People or our clients need to make any corrections and to craft predictive insights that inform my recommendations for how exactly we should improve marketing campaigns for particular channels, regions, clients, and so on.
Zak: Would you say that counts as "full stack" operations?
Nick: Definitely. Full stack operations requires that you first understand the nuances of the entire application stack — from marketing and sales to finance and support — so you can ensure that the entire backbone and digital ecosystem of the organization are aligned with the company vision. It’s fun but rewarding as a result of the types of problems you have to solve.
The Power of Full Stack Operations
Zak: What types of challenges does full-stack operations entail?
Nick: Full-stack operations is both building a robust MarTech and sales tech stack, then making sure it’s optimized for what your business’s vision needs. In other words, to gather good leads, marketing needs the right processes and programs that fit where the business is and wants to go. Anybody can buy Salesforce, Marketo, or any other ancillary products out of the box — exploiting them profitably is another story.
The other thing I love about full-stack operations is teaching others what you’ve found to be incredibly valuable. Why use Marketo tags? How should you use particular functions? What about attribution? How can we achieve near real-time data for our company scores? Teaching people what I’ve learned gets me up in the morning and lets me sleep well at night.
Zak: What about analytics? How essential is business intelligence to full stack operations?
Nick: Incredibly important. I believe you need to know how data flows at all times. Control mechanisms. Global lead lifecycles. So yes, analytics is crucial to the success of any organization. If I don’t understand how data is flowing and why, I can’t make good decisions. The company can’t tell whether it’s headed where it wants to go.
Zak: You alluded to Marketo and Salesforce as the foundation for your operations. One trend now is that these systems are now collecting more data than ever. What are the pros and cons to collecting such volume and variety of data at such high velocity?
Nick: Great question. Having a lot of data sources can quickly become a net negative. At the very least a pain to maintain. With so many good tools, all in their own separate databases, we can’t glean great insights. How do I know if one cohort of people did something? I can’t if the data isn’t connected.
So when I approach full-stack operations, I’m trying to build a connected digital ecosystem that lets us make informed decisions. Working with siloed data is really no different than working with siloed teams: you’re bound to make decisions in isolation. So just as you want your teams to meet regularly, for their whole to be greater than the sum of their parts, so too should multiple applications across multiple functions and departments be brought together.
Zak: How does Fusion help you achieve this level of unity?
Nick: I see Fusion as a completely new way of doing business. It gives me the ability to have the data mapped in a way that I want so I can get answers I want — without having to go through my IT department or spending thousands or millions of dollars. In that way, I see Fusion as the very precipice of a new market which gathers all the point solutions so vital for a business to survive and flourish, then giving unifying data to build something new and exciting. Fusion is the future. It’s where we all need to go. And I think your solution is going to crush some of the bigger guys. [Laughs.]
Data Prep in Full-Stack Operations
Zak: Was there any aha moment when you realized Fusion would fundamentally change how you work with data day-to-day?
Nick: Definitely. I work with data on a regular basis, so I when I realized how Fusion got rid of the ETL, eliminated all the data prep and running up against API limits, I thought, “Oh man, this is going to save me hundreds of hours on any given project because the data is already there for me.” And if I want to see it in a different way, all I have to do is write a few join statements and I’m done. I have pre-joined, pre-mapped data models, which from a business analyst standpoint, even a data engineer’s, are a huge time-saver in any analytics project. I don’t have to worry whether my joins between databases are correct. I know they’re correct. It’s been created for me. I trust it.
Zak: Could you talk about some of the analytics tools you’re using at Search Engine People?
Nick: Of course. I use own Vena’s own solution, as an ex-Vennanite, but I also use Tableau, Power BI, Python, and Klipfolio for dashboards. On any given day I might be pulling Marketo data, then blending our campaign data with contacts data from another data sources. Then, once I’ve brought the data together, I’ll run regressions or analyze that data in an analytics tool like Tableau or Python.
Zak: What are some of the challenges in that data prep process?
Nick: One of the most common challenges with a SaaS application like Marketo — which I love — is having pulling data from the API. Every time I set up a new connection it takes forever to download and runs through all my API calls. It’s dangerously easy to max out on our Marketo and SFDC API calls. But doing a bulk extract isn’t great either. That’s why the idea of an automated data pipeline and data warehouse which sits behind your SaaS application is so brilliant. Joining data every time, running up against API limits every month — it’s just untenable in the long term. And the data prep is more than simply grabbing the data. It’s waiting for the data, which can sometimes take hours.
Zak: What are your thoughts on reporting natively within the cloud applications themselves?
Nick: Well, SaaS applications help people collect, and to a certain extent, manage data. But at the end of the day they’re not reporting tools that you can get super hands-on with. Analytics is a job they weren’t designed to do, even with connectors. So you need these two worlds — cloud applications and analytics tools — to work in harmony. That’s what Fusion does: it bridges the gap between SaaS systems.
Multi-touch attribution is a good example. To understand the journey that leads and opportunities take, I need to know everything from their entry points to the time and place they convert. To glean multi-touch insights, I’ve had to ‘fire’ virtual page visits based on the URL query parameters into Marketo using what closely resemble macros and URL postbacks. I also utilize Smart Campaigns in Marketo to create the multi-touch data - ready to be analyzed. I’ll often verify that data by using Google Analytics as a secondary confirmation source and creating user join mechanisms by pushing the Marketo user ID into Google Analytics and pushing the Google user ID into Marketo.
But getting the multi-touch data into and out of Marketo is very difficult. Only once I had all the necessary tables joined could I finally conduct a multi-touch point analysis on par with what you might see with a tool like Bizible. And bulk extracts from the API aren’t scalable either, so if I make a mistake when pulling data I may have to wait until tomorrow to try again. So in the context of combining data together for multi-touch attribution, Fusion is a fantastic shortcut.
Trends in Analytics and Business Intelligence
Zak: What are some of the trends you’re keeping an eye on in the marketing and data space?
Nick: Machine learning and A.I. are forgone conclusions. Toronto and Montreal host the second highest concentration of machine learning professionals outside of Silicon Valley. And in a few short years, machine learning and A.I. will be just as common as Excel. But while we need these algorithms to solve all types of problems, we need enough memory on our machines to run those algorithms. And when the size of your dataset exceeds that of the RAM available on your local machine, certain scripts or programs which cull data in batch jobs can easily fail, causing users to begin the extract process all over again.
The proliferation of machine learning is proof, then, that nobody wants to do data preparation, that everybody wants the glory of getting an answer — without colossal loads of grunt work.
And again, I believe that working with Bedrock will make me better at what I do. Everyone wants a shortcut, to do things cheaper, better, more quickly. And I see Bedrock as that highway, that road to removing tedium, the solution and structure which get me to glory faster. ♦