Ecosystem marketing for better alignment with Allison Munro, Chief Marketing and Ecosystem Officer at Vena
Over the past decade, we've seen momentous shifts in B2B organisations, and particularly the marketing function, which has evolved from a sales-led, to a demand gen function. Now, we need to tackler all the silos between teams if we're to achieve optimum B2B growth.
To do this, Allison Munro has implemented an ecosystem structure at Vena, where she is Chief Marketing and Ecosystem Officer. Listen to the podcast to learn how she did this and what it entails, with tips to include in your own B2B strategy.
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Hi everyone, and thanks for tuning into another FINITE Podcast episode. Our guest today has an interesting job title, Chief Marketing and Ecosystem Officer, which reflects their perspective on the evolution of B2B marketing as a practice throughout their career. Having spent 20 years in b2b, Allison Munro has experienced a transition from focusing on lead generation to demand generation, and now notices the onset of ecosystem-based marketing, in that silos within an organisation are often the main inhibitors of growth. Listen to the episode to learn more about ecosystems, what's driving this change and what it means for B2B marketers. I hope you enjoy.
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Hello, Alison. Welcome to the FINITE Podcast.
Hi, Alex. Thank you. I'm happy to be here.
Looking forward to talking. I know we're gonna be talking a bit about your career and how you've seen things change, but also about the role that you're in now and how you view the marketing world, and particularly some of this ecosystem outlook that you have, which is, I think, exciting. I'm looking forward to digging into it. Why don't we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Sure. I'm Allison Munro, currently the chief marketing and ecosystem officer at Vena, but 15 years managing marketing teams in small startup scale up and enterprise technology companies, with a career that started in B2C and experiential marketing through my own agency, working with large CPG brands and building experiences. So collectively, 20 years of global marketing partnerships as well as scale and startup organisations.
Cool. And tell us a bit about the current role and team and how the marketing org looks in the current role that you're in.
Yeah, so it was an interesting journey. I mean, we're an 11 year old organisation. Vena is one of the leading FPNA platforms. We offer complete planning for finance teams and wider organisations to collaborate through what can be a turbulent process, which is financial planning and beyond. And when I started about three years ago, it was a marketing team that was very focused on building, supporting a sales-led organisation. And so over the last three years we've transformed from supporting sales with white papers and assets and bottom of funnel events and functions to building a demand gen team that has now transformed and expanded from sales led to demand generation and through now to what we describe as an ecosystem go to market, which brings together the power of marketing and sales along with product.
Cool. And how's the marketing team structured? Maybe we'll talk about this a bit more, I'm sure as we talk about how things have progressed, but what's the current structure look like?
And that was part of the journey we had. When I first started, we had a marketing organisation that was very horizontal with a number of folks all kind of focused on the same thing. If you think of generalist marketers working together to support sales and pipelines specifically, part of our transformation was really building a team of expertise. So, building our first brand and creative team along with content marketing as a particular function within the marketing team, product marketing, partner marketing, demand gen and integrated campaigns. And so really building those pillars of experts to really go deep in that expertise. Part of the journey then was building the intersection between those teams to work together and building out a management function that again, was built based on expertise in order to support not only, you know, building pipeline and supporting sales enablement and driving velocity and, and you know, going beyond that to actually building out a customer marketing team and a community part of our business. So we've been able to look at the whole customer lifecycle and build expertise throughout what is our customer journey versus thinking about what we need to achieve as a business is how do we organise our marketing team against our KPIs and our objectives in order to support the end to end customer lifecycle and customer journey, right from the audiences we don't yet know to those who are engaged with our business to right through to customer, then to advocate and leading back into more of a flywheel model and building a marketing team that supports that sort of go to market model.
Cool. Well, I'm sure we'll dive into that a bit more. Maybe a good starting point for this is you can tell us a bit about how things looked earlier in your career. It sounds like you were working more with consumer brands at the time, but I guess at some point you moved into the more B2B space where I guess lead gen was the focus, everything was about leads fundamentally.
I think the one thing I always say, the one thing that regardless of the last 20 years, the consistent sort of motion has been building audiences and connecting audiences with experiences or brands that meet their needs. And so very early in my career that was based in music, it was about actually bringing people together to connect around and experience new artists and music that later moved on to brands that really saw the opportunity to connect with audiences that were engaged in experiential forums. And at the time, 20 years ago, digital forums, if you imagine where my career started, it was a flat HTML website and mail merges through Excel in building a database, 5,000 to 10,000 key influencers within an 18 to 25 year old segment. That later became very appealing to brands who in at that time had no way of reaching audiences in a measurable capacity to engage them and even demonstrate early ROI through experiential and digital marketing at the time. So, fast forward 5, 10, 15 years, it's really that similar motion of how do you identify audiences and build experiences and connections that meet the needs and that can later scale. Now, obviously B2B having more complex sales cycles, being non-transactional and thinking more from a journey perspective. The core foundation was really starting with the idea of measurement and being able to quantify impact, which 20 years ago was not something that brands could do. And then being able to continue that focus, I think on demonstrating ROI, but also the things that you can't seem to measure in today's day and age and especially as technology changes, but that undercurrent the foundation of matching an audience with an offer and creating an experience to drive an outcome is consistent. I think both in B2C and b2b and especially now, I've actually hired quite a few leaders from B2C. As you think about where we are today and what it means to drive engagement and interaction and some of the motions that B2C brands have been leveraging for some time in order to create a bit of differentiation and how we market as a B2B organisation are creating those messages or those offers as connections at scale.
Do you think there was a point then that things shifted or began to shift from talking about lead gen to talking about demand gen? I mean the two are obviously heavily overlapping, I think sometimes they get used interchangeably almost, but was that a shift that you noticed at some point within the B2B world?
Think it was a shift that, at least within my career and the teams that I worked with, we were very focused on driving. I think it's still happening for some businesses. I think it's very easy to get caught up in chasing leads versus actually looking at how that impacts your pipeline and what the ROI is in revenue. It certainly is a shift that has happened I would say over the last 15 years, but I think there are a lot of marketing leaders that are still facing the conversation of I need X amount of leads. And I can even tell you when I first started in my current leadership role, my mandate initially was we need 40,000 leads, and that was the main KPI and driver. But when I was able to actually do a bit of a work back from revenue against our cost, looking at the cost of opportunities as well as cost of lead to the conversion at the top, it actually didn't make sense in terms of what we were trying to accomplish. So, we found previously it was very easy to celebrate a hundred, a hundred dollars cost per lead. Let's put that number out there as a low cost per lead. But when you actually looked at a program CAC or what the actual ROI on that was, in some cases it could, it was three or four times the cost of the dollar of generating that revenue. And so you can start to build marketing teams and organisations that are chasing what they would consider as an early indicating KPI that actually doesn't translate to revenue. And I think as we talk about it as marketers, it starts to justify your existence metrics versus actually focused on business outcomes and aligned against the higher level business goals. So yes, there was, after marketing automation, which was transformational in a lot of marketer's careers, it started to change the conversation. But then I think that's what started to drive lead gen behavior because it was the first time marketers were able to demonstrate our way and then moving away from how do we stop chasing leads and actually focus on generating pipeline, generating revenue and generating customers and customers that become advocates is a very different motion to helping the business grow versus thinking about how marketing has to drive a single KPI.
Let's talk about the ecosystem parts of things, because I know that I looked at your LinkedIn, I think you were chief marketing officer alone for a couple of years at Vena, and then things changed and maybe you can tell us about how, why the ecosystem part became not just of your job title, but the thinking behind it as well.
Yeah, I think like the transformation we saw with sales and marketing that we were just talking about how marketing would in essence be able to go out and try to surface leads that they would throw over to the fence, you know, as a single department that sales would probably look back and say, Why are you giving this? You're wasting my time. There's no productivity. You know, I think there was a transformation from lead gen to demand gen that had sales and marketing working together to go to market and drive business outcomes. I think now we're seeing that if you think of the other two potential silos operating in a business partners for example as part of the sales organisation, but partner teams can often be operating on an island chasing their own leads or mqls in order to drive business impact. And also if you think about the product organization sometimes being separate from what the marketing and sales and partner teams need in order to support their customers, but also the growth of the organisation, the transformation from just being focused on chief marketing to chief market, I would say to the next level of now thinking of go to market and what that means. And so ecosystem, one of the definitions I really like is an ecosystem is all of the people process technology and communities that support your buyer. So in our case, our buyers typically are CFOs and COOs and folks within that organization. So we can often believe we are the only ones that are trying to prioritise our message, our offer on the same channel with a distinct value proposition and differentiation. But really it's the power of not only bringing sales and marketing and product and partners together in order to create the highest value for your customer, but also thinking about, especially through partners and channels and alliances, is how can you build a better together go to market so that you really are maximising the value to your audience and your customers and also thinking about their life cycle versus a single point or a transaction that you're trying to prioritise for your audience. So it's really, I think, a transformation similar to going from lead gen to demand gen, to thinking more of a full go to market and looking at the market versus thinking about single early indicators of a win or KPIs that you're trying to drive. And so it's really about harnessing the power of your product, your marketing, your direct and indirect sales organisation in order to provide the most value to your customer at the appropriate time, and being able to continue to support them in their journey to be able to reach their objectives through their ecosystem. And I think that's the biggest transformation that we're starting to see now as a lot of marketing leaders start to think beyond sort of their product and their channel and their individual buyer.
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Do you think there are challenges with measuring some of those things? Cause I know obviously running the FINITE community, doing the podcast, but also the wider community, I think a lot about community generally. I know that a lot of marketers are trying to invest in community in some shape or form or another, but it's not always an easy conversation to have with C-suite, CFOs, whoever it might be, to say we wanna invest here, but we might not be able to show you much impact from that for six, nine months, 12 months, if ever potentially. It's hard to measure, it's hard to attribute. Are there other ecosystem initiatives which are actually just hard to measure and therefore, any thoughts or advice on how to get those kind of things off the ground in those kind of environments?
Sure. I still think there's a big challenge in measuring marketing impact, to your point, whether it's developing communities, whether it's putting investment where you don't have a lead gen motion. And for me it was really about building trust and early in the upfront and aligning on a strategy which was again, where we were going to make investment in order to support the growth of our customer as well as the business. And certainly an ecosystem, although there's a bunch of emerging technology that allows you to collaborate with your partner and go to market, like cross beam, as an example or you know, other PRM solutions that empower you to have a shared view with your partners. But I think the undercurrent of marketing not having a hundred percent attribution and probably not even wanting a hundred percent attribution is consistent both when you have a direct or indirect channel or even beyond that with your ecosystem. One of the things I think is really important, so I mentioned building trust around a strategy and aligning the goals and identifying what is short term and long term. We've been able to correlate growth within the business with investments. So although we can't say this podcast or we can't say our community forums or our template library or the things that we're creating to support our customers drove this lead, or had a 25% influence on this particular deal. When you look at it in short term and long term, you can start to see the growth of the business in line with the investments you're making. And I think as long as you're in a position where that correlation is happening and you help educate the business on what you are doing, you know, I think it becomes an easier conversation. I think it's really important to educate folks again, as you're transitioning from lead gen to demand gen, that you're not gonna have a hundred percent attribution. I mean, for us, we had, and I know this is maybe an older conversation, but we had gates at every interaction across our digital journey, and one of the first things we did was un-gate, and it's not even just about un-gate, it was really about providing content and value at every step so that our buyers could find the information they were looking for. And that's a cultural switch as well, because it goes from, well, is that ip? What if our competitors access that content or information? And so there's a lot of change in transformation you have to drive as a marketing organisation and you also have to educate that as you're making these changes, you're making sacrifices and being able to drive direct attribution. But if you start to look as revenue as your North Star, as well as net revenue and other indicators around your customer satisfaction and life cycle, you can really correlate that with the investments you're making in marketing because you're never going to have a hundred percent attribution. And I think taking more of an ecosystem go to market, it's even harder to be able to have that measurement. But there are ways to set up your early and lagging indicators to be able to monitor the success of the investments you're making at the time you're making with larger business outcomes. Moving away from siloed and departmental KPIs.
Good advice. Let's talk about those silos a bit more. I know you've got some thoughts on how silos disrupt growth. We've talked a little bit already about how you've maybe broken some of those down, but maybe you can go into a bit more detail around Vena, how you've approached that.
Yeah, and I think throughout my career I often have said that marketing, and I don't think it's my original perspective, but that marketing is the fabric of any organisation. And I think you saw that in the early transformation of marketing there. I say going from an arts and crafts department to being a partner and a BFF to sales and revenue generation, you're starting to, again, to really run an ecosystem strategy or to really think about being product led or being able to bring the value of your product together, you have to be able to be that fabric and connect your sales organisation with your product team as well as operations. And you really have an opportunity to do that if all teams are working together against a North Star, or a few of those, you're getting the best of each team and their expertise. Similarly, how we structured the marketing organisation on a more micro level, being able to have teams aligned versus competing not only has great impact in culture, but it really allows you to accelerate where you're going faster. And you know, again, brings representation and collaboration from across the business. So we have, for example, when you think of it more tactically, how do you actually do that? How do you get different departments working together? We have a pod structure that we will actually formalise across the business, which will have representation from each department against a set of goals, whether it's OKRs or MVPs or whatever management framework you use. That also helps folks understand that collaboration or cross-functional execution is not sort of the side of your desk or you know, on a part-time basis or something that you do outside of all the things that you have to do to support your function. And so at a cultural level that's really important to kind of build in whatever framework you're using to drive cross functional collaboration, you know, against particular goals. And we've, I think by using, again, just a pod structure, which is, I know internal language, but having representation from each function against particular goals will certainly drive accelerated productivity, but also growth because you do have those folks working together. I think the worst case of that is when they're actually competing against priorities and you're running in a bunch of different directions, you know, to accomplish different outcomes. You can think of it even in terms of let's say the product roadmap. I think the product team, and I'll build in some empathy for the product team, will probably have a list from marketing of what we need to do because analysts have told us to do this or our customers need it. And then sales, because these are the features and functions or capabilities the sales team needs, you know, immediately to close revenue. Then you have, you know, maybe from the SC team or other areas where, you know, there's innovation that's required. And so it can be the product team, we can also then be fighting for prioritisation versus if we are working together to think about different indicators of what's gonna drive growth in the short term of the long term, what is going to drive our customer needs and how do we prioritise innovation? If you're doing that as one team, then you can imagine how that also drives, you know, execution and collaboration and speed to market. And I think that's, you know, one example outside of perhaps mind management that we were able to lead into to help, you know, the teams work together in service of our customer as well as our growth goals versus our individual priorities in trying to achieve what we were trying to achieve.
What's your perspective on the role that technology plays in all of this and the evolution? I mean you talked earlier about that there was a time where you couldn't really measure, you couldn't attribute just mail merging from a spreadsheet and that kind of thing. And obviously MarTech is in a whole different world now. What world does technology play in in that growth and evolution, do you think?
I think it's an interesting perspective. You know, I think technology enables transformation and allows people to drive change at scale. So, going back to the mail merge, which I'm a huge fan of Excel, but being able to do that with less automation and less accuracy. Obviously marketing automation being one of the biggest transformations, transformational tools enables a change in how people work and how we measure. So certainly I think over the last or the early sort of two thousands,15 years later I think marketing automation was driving the way marketers function, the way they work with sales, newer technology, whether it's emerging as account-based marketing that focuses on your segment or other tools that allow you to collaborate with partners is really, I think, again, driving the way everybody is going to market. But I think that also creates challenges because we're all doing the same things with the same tools and running the same motion. So, technology certainly is driving the way people work and how we measure and the impact we make and the activities and tactics and deliverables that we're all executing. And I think that can get a little dangerous if you rely too heavily on technology to drive your strategy versus leveraging technology to support your strategy while still being creative and innovative on your message and your brand and again, who you work with and how you go to market, especially from a modern marketing perspective.
Yeah, I've always been a big people and process first technology lasts outlook on technology generally. I think there's a real risk, particularly for marketers, that we just choose to use tools because they're new and shiny and cool and they look impressive. And then actually we don't put enough into thinking about how people use them and the people that are using them.
The technology should come in to scale a strategy. I think it's very dangerous when you start with technology and then it also becomes about that platform. Within our current organisation, as much as I am a fan of particular pieces of technology, don't start the conversation with the name of that technology talk. Like, talk to me about what it's going to enable and the why we're using it. Because ultimately we could swap out that technology or not have that technology. We are not here. We've got 90 pieces of technology in our tech stack, not just in marketing, but in our business and I think better than anyone, there are businesses that could probably double and quadruple that number. It can be very dangerous when the conversation is a technology conversation versus this is what we're starting to do and we need to be able to do that with more automation and scale and better reporting. And so what is the tool that's gonna help us do that? And then when you think of an ecosystem perspective, how are we going to look at this particular piece of technology and build on its capabilities with other best in breed solutions that allow us to reach that outcome versus going out and buying different pieces of technology because they're gonna solve our problem because it never happens that way.
Yep. Good advice. And I think as we see that MarTech landscape, I forgot the name of it, the huge one with all the thousands of logos on it, grow each Scott Brinker's diagram. Each year I think we need to remind ourselves just how important that advice is because it is easy to fall into the technology trap. Good advice. We are at time and that time has flown by, but I'm really grateful with you sharing everything. I particularly like the whole pod structure thing. I think that's something that a lot of marketers could probably spend some time looking at. I think it's a great way of structuring teams and breaking down those silos. So yeah, thanks for sharing everything, Allison.
Awesome. Thank you Alex. Appreciate the time.
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