How B2B marketers can be data literate with Chris Lindsay, VP, EMEA Marketing at Tableau

“As human beings, we have evolved with storytelling being the core of our being. We understand, we remember stories much more than we do any facts and figures. It’s just a fact… so you have to be creative enough to create the story, to sell the vision, to sell the idea whatever that is, but then you also need the data behind it to actually back you up.”

On this FINITE Podcast episode, hear from Chris Lindsay, VP, EMEA Marketing at Tableau, who has a highly informed understanding of the balance between analytics and creativity from his background in B2B tech at BT. 

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Listen to the full episode here:


Full Transcript

Alex (00:07):

Hello everyone and welcome back to another FINITE Podcast episode. Today we’re talking about a key scale of rising importance in marketing, and that is data specifically data literacy as marketers. We need to be able to understand, analyse and use data to inform our strategies, understand our audiences, measure results. 

But we also need to balance that with the more creative aspects of marketing. We have the perfect guest to discuss this topic with today. Chris Lindsay, who is VP of EMEA marketing at Tableau. Tableau was acquired by Salesforce a couple of years ago and is in the business of analytics and data and business intelligence. 

Chris has extensive experience in B2B tech marketing having worked at BT as Head of Global Marketing and Digital, and now leads a team of about 45 marketers in EMEA for Tableau. We’ll discuss how B2B tech marketers can be data literate, and the rising importance of data as a scale to both inform and measure creativity in marketing. I hope you enjoy.


FINITE (01:01):

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Alex (01:20):

Hello Chris, and welcome to the FINITE Podcast. Thank you for joining.


Chris (01:23):

Thanks Alex. It’s great to be here.


Alex (01:25):

Looking forward to talking with you, all things, data. I think being at Tableau, there’s no better person to be talking to about data literacy for marketers. Before we dive into the topic, I’ll let you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and current role and those kinds of things.


About Chris and his role at Tableau 

Chris (01:41):

Sure. So I have been a B2B marketeer for 20 something years. I don’t want to go too far into how many of those 20 years. And I’ve worked across all different sectors in that time. So from SMB through to government and public sector, global multinationals, always in tech, software, so on and so forth. But certainly I’ve had fun along the way, working out how to create and articulate value to customers in the B2B world.


Alex (02:15):

And tell us a little bit about the current role at Tableau and your team and all that kind of stuff.


Chris (02:20):

Yeah. So I’ve been at Tableau now for just over a year, nearly a year and a half coming up. And it’s a great company to be part of, obviously acquired by Salesforce a couple of years back. Our mission is to help people see and understand data. And we spend a lot of our time every day within the team working out what does that mean? 

What does that look like? Who are we talking to? How do we make sure that our message really resonates and gets across in terms of the team we have? So I have the field teams to look after each of the territories. We have a digital marketing, partner marketing, we have brand communications, community, PR and campaigns. So there’s a lot of people across the team.


Alex (03:02):

Nice. And how big is that marketing team roughly?


Chris (03:05):

So directly in-region, we have about 45 people in the team and we are part of, if I look at the rest of my colleagues across the world, we sit as part of the Tableau marketing with about three, just over 300 marketeers. And within Salesforce about 3000 marketeers, so we’re part of a bigger family as we go through the organisation.


Alex (03:27):

Cool. Interesting. And how much of a chance do you get to tap into the wider Salesforce? Obviously you’re your own business unit and brand and everything else, but I’m sure Salesforce brings everyone together at various points.


Chris (03:40):

I often talk to people about different acquisition strategies for companies, right? And there are acquisition strategies where people buy the customer base and effectively strip everything down and put it into the mothership and take the cost as soon as they can. And that’s just one end of the scale. 

At the other end of the scale is the sort of thing you’ve seen that Dell and EMC and VMware, where actually it’s a portfolio of companies, but they’re all left pretty much to their own. So it’s a financial vehicle. I think Salesforce overall has a really sensible approach to acquisitions, which is it’s buying the acquisitions for value.

And therefore what it’s trying to do is work out well, the bits that are really important in terms of how he goes to market and that value that’s created into those brands and those propositions. And absolutely protect those fundamentally and other things where we can all be more efficient and more effective. 

So it’s a really good balance of let’s be customer focused, make sure we understand what really matters to customers and then make decisions about what we do, and together which bits we do apart, which bits we do as a Tableau brand, which bits we do as a Salesforce brand. It’s really exciting actually.


Alex (04:57):

Cool. Yeah, sounds good. And so you joined just after the acquisition?


Chris (05:01):

The acquisition had taken place and it was one of the things that was part of the attractive nature of the role, was actually working through the wonders of that. I’ve done some acquisition work in my past. I’d have to say though, primarily my primary reason for joining actually was the people. 

We were gonna have fantastic people and a great culture across both organisations actually. And that really shone through during the process of thinking about what was next and I really enjoyed it.


What is data literacy in B2B tech marketing? 

Alex (05:31):

Cool. Let’s dive into the topic. We’re talking about all things data literacy. I feel like we talk a lot about data and performance marketing and the data side of marketing these days. It tends to lead everything, which is I’m sure a debate that we can go into a little bit. I guess we have lots of other conversations in parallel, which are balancing brand and performance marketing, or even brand versus performance marketing, as if it’s got to be one or the other. 

But at its core, I think zooming out we’re in a data-driven world, and you’re obviously a very data-driven business and the nature of what you do at Tableau. So I’m looking forward to getting your perspectives on this. I guess it is always nice to set the scene and maybe start with almost a definition of when we talk about data literacy, what it is? What we’re actually saying that means.


Chris (06:20):

Sure. As you say, it’s probably a good idea to get something in terms of ground rules. I guess the way I think about it is we increasingly need everybody in an organisation to understand, to be able to see and understand, abusing our mission for a minute, but to see and understand that data and what it’s telling you, right? So that you can make really sound business decisions as to what to do. 

And the traditional model has been a reporting thing, which is really clever people sit in a small centre of excellence, create some charts for everybody to look at, send it out to the world, and hopefully people understand what it means. But data is far more powerful than that in terms of helping us to make decisions, helping us to have quality conversations. 

And the point is to get that data into the hands of the people who are closest to making the decisions, people who understand that business best. So when I talk about data literacy, it’s how do I get… the way I think about it as how do I get everybody in an organisation to be able to actually look at data to a certain extent, interrogate data? But in reality, make decisions based on data? That’s the bit that really makes the difference. 

And if you look at, we did a survey actually with students as they were coming out of university, and they’d identified that they did literacy skill as one of the key things you need in your rucksack of life, moving forward. They also felt under-prepared for it, but more and more as people are entering the workforce, they’re seeing that the need to have that as a core skill, just like writing or understanding, understanding the basics of finance, you need to have something that actually allows you to understand the data.


How can data literacy help guide strategic discussion? 

Alex (08:20):

Do you think that data literacy is fundamental to having business focused commercial conversations, particularly at that kind of exact level C-suite conversations? I think as marketers, we all struggle with, as I made reference earlier, the big bang creative brand led ideas versus the, I think we know that the marketer armed with the spreadsheet is probably always going to beat the marketer armed with the big crazy idea. 

And fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective and what the idea is, do you think data helps to guide the discussion? Have conversations, which everybody can understand?


Chris (08:59):

Well, it certainly does help. But I have a hypothesis that all marketing is about some sort of science, actually these days. So it is either about psychology and how would you build memory structures? How would you build neural collections and so on and so forth… Or it’s about data, right? 

Because you know, the creative idea is absolutely essential. We are, as human beings, we have evolved with storytelling being the core of our being. We understand, we remember stories much more than we do any facts and figures. It’s just a fact. So you have to be creative enough to create the story, to sell the vision, to sell the idea, whatever that is, but then you also need the data behind it to actually back you up and then get it.

I don’t know whether anybody’s seen Mark Randolph talk. So he was the first CEO of Netflix. And what he talks about is the cost of making a decision. So he was saying, when they started with Netflix, every decision they took, it would take them around about six months and around about half a million dollars to work out whether they’d made the right decision. And what he’s saying, he said the more and more data that you do you use, and it doubles every three months at the moment, right? It’s a huge proportion of expansion. 

But if you use that data, actually you can start to smell was the word he used. You could start to smell whether or not you’re making the right decision. Cause you can start to see some very leading indicators within a day, within two days. And therefore the cost of your mistake becomes a lot less. So back to your question, do you need to have data? Absolutely. 

To help convince senior stakeholders what’s going on? Do you need information? Do you need facts? Do you need spreadsheets? Of course you do, but you’d still need the great idea and the great storytelling. And I think perhaps we’re a little bit like plumbers as marketers. 

There’s this thing about if you’re a plumber, then actually the plumbing in your own house doesn’t look quite as good as it does in all of your customers’ houses that you go and deal with. I think as marketers, sometimes we’re guilty of not applying the robust processes that we think of with customers, to our internal audiences in terms of trying to market and sell ideas.


Which comes first, ideas or data? 

Alex (11:26):

It feels like a bit of a chicken and egg situation sometimes whereby, is it the data informing the creative idea? Or is the creative idea backed up by data or made better by data? And Netflix were actually the Kings of using the data to almost… I mean, they decide what to produce and what types of some invested in stuff based on the data, right? 

They say, actually this actor is really popular and appears in lots of our most watched content. Why don’t we hire him to do a remake of this show? And it’s literally informed by the data which comes first. I guess the obvious answer is it can work both ways round probably.


Chris (12:00):

It can come both ways round and data will often help you to find the problem. Sometimes it will help you to find the answer to an insight, but it doesn’t replace human judgment. It doesn’t replace that at the end of the day, you then have to make it make a judgment. 

So I’ll give you an example in mind. We were looking at our share of voice data a little while back and discovered some things in there we were very happy with. But that led to, that’s a problem in a particular area that we were trying to deal with. And we thought that we had solved it, but we didn’t, which led to a whole set of creative projects running in order to actually help solve that problem. 

But our business case was based on this data’s telling us something that we haven’t got sorted now. We need to find a creative solution to solve it.


Alex (12:59):

Interesting. And actually that’s a perfect example of, when we talk about this brand and performance stuff, and I think this is maybe a challenge for maybe smaller businesses who are measuring share of voice, even as an activity in itself is just difficult generally. 

So there’s just not enough volume of data out there to even use a lot of these tools that bigger enterprises do use, but that’s still a nice example of where data and brand fit hand in hand and one’s helping to inform the other and there’s a natural Yin and Yan between them, if you like, rather than it being one or the other.


Chris (13:32):

Yeah. And I was speaking to somebody today and I have stolen this and I have no copyright over it and I give full credit to the marketing society for coming up with it. So just full disclosure though, but I do believe that marketing is about the creation of future value for customers and for the business. 

And future value, I think in a B2B world particularly, we can be pending quite hard to have a demand gen world. Because there’s a strong alignment with sales. But actually we need to get the balance right. Is demand gen really important? Of course it’s really important. 

That’s what pays our salaries and makes things happen in the business, in terms of growth. But actually if you want to take a more strategic view of that, you need the balance across brand, across advertising of whatever description best suits your business, right? The way through to that demand gen.


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How does emotion come into play in data literacy? 

Alex (14:52):

You referenced a little while ago, the theory that marketing is always a science of some kind. Even with the psychological aspects of it. Where do you think emotion and it’s in its simplest and purist and least logical and measurable sense may fit into the equation?


Chris (15:10):

Well, our emotions are right at the centre, right? I’m quite a fan of the Thinking Fast and Slow book, right? Which for those that haven’t read it basically says, we make all of our decisions immediately using our emotions and then use the front part of our brain, which is evolved over time, to justify why we’ve decided what we’ve just decided. 

But we also have a very lazy part of the brain that needs to be jolted out of its comfort zone. And then that’s what emotion does. So emotion is really important in that sort of fast thinking brain. Now that’s exactly the part of the brain that it triggers. And if you want to kick, what they talk about as the lazy part, this part of the brain that has to do the analysis and thinks things through logically, so on and so forth, into life, then you still need emotion.


Chris (15:58):

So, we’ve seen too much, again, particularly in B2B marketing of lots of people, lots of stock shots with smiley people, shaking hands in a meeting room somewhere outside of the building. That doesn’t create any emotion in anybody. 

I think we’ve got a challenge in the B2B world, at least of making sure that we create emotion and emotional response, whether that’s laughter or it could be all ranges of responses. But if you don’t get it, you’re not really cutting through. You’re not really building those neural networks that you’re trying to create.


Can a marketing team become too data-centric? 

Alex (16:36):

Makes sense. I’m interested, particularly at Tableau, with the nature of what you do. You are in the very business of analytics and business intelligence data. Is your day-to-day and your everything, is there a risk that as a marketing team, you almost become too data focused too analytical? 

Not to go fully into what you reference as falling into the short-term demand gen way of thinking. But I guess you’re generally a fairly analytical bunch of people and as a marketing team.


Chris (17:09):

We do love our data. So let’s start there. And we absolutely, and it’s probably the way that I’d think about it is, it’s probably our touchstone. So it’s where we go first. When we’re trying to think about something, when we’re trying to solve something, when something doesn’t make sense, we go to data first. That’s absolutely true. 

And yeah, being the type of company that we are, we have data and stats and all sorts, probably more things than you can shake a stick at. But we’d go there first and say, what often you wouldn’t hear, what does the data tell us? We think about what the data tells us, we’re not sure about this. 

I think it is important though, that the conversation rarely stops there. We do go and find out from the data. We do see what the trend is. Then we are having a quality conversation about, so what? Because whilst you can see the trend or you can see a dip, or you can see some correlation, it doesn’t always tell you why that’s happening. 

You don’t always get to why you actually still need human intelligence on top of the line. So you can see what, or why is that happening? And then what to do about it. You know, we’re getting smarter and smarter, more and more AI built into some of these tools, which actually starts to say, perhaps you should do this, or here’s some thinking. 

But back to my point, you still need a human at the end of it. And at the end of the day, I have a team of true marketeers, right? People are fundamentally grown up, being trained to be, and have experience in being marketeers. So all of the conversations we have still revolve around customers, values, optimisation of the processes that we have, the other ways that they’re going to market.


Alex (19:05):

I’d love to see some of your marketing dashboards. I reckon if there’s any company that’s got some pretty cool marketing dashboards sorted out, it must be you guys.


Chris (19:12):

We do have some pretty cool dashboards.


How to build a B2B marketing team that accounts for data literacy and creativity? 

Alex (19:15):

That’s one for another episode. And that leads nicely to what you were just saying on to, thinking about your team, thinking about hiring people, even giving people advice, you mentioned graduates talking about data. Let’s say if you’re a young marketer thinking about your career path, how important are data skills and how do you think about the spirit of more creative marketers and more data driven marketers amongst your team?


Chris (19:41):

I think the easy way to answer that question is what do you want? Ideally somebody who can be creative led, but they need to understand data to a reasonable degree, or they can be data led, but they need to be creative to some degree. I think what we’re not looking for in marketing is a bunch of data engineers or a bunch of artists. 

We’re looking for people who’ve got a blend of those skills and it’s okay across the team that people have different weights in those skills. That is great. As long as everybody has enough of an understanding of each other, to be able to have, back to this quality conversation, to be able to challenge you to be able to think critically with each other. 

To be able to build on ideas with each other, rather than going, I don’t really know what you’re talking about. So I’ll either just shut up or not engage in the conversation or on the other hand kind of go, my way is right. And therefore, whatever you say doesn’t matter. 

So if you can get that balance, that’s where actually real magic starts to happen between the teams. So if I was going to give advice to anybody starting off, I would say regardless of which one you’re more interested in, if you are interested in one versus the other, at least get some experience on the other sides and learning on the other side too so you can appreciate what your other colleagues are talking about at one front or another. 

So I definitely say that. I think the other thing I’d say more generically though, is move around early on, try as many different disciplines as you can in marketing before you decide what you want to be when you grow up. I’m not sure I’ve decided what I want to be when I grow up yet. 

If somebody asked me the question, I’m not sure I could ever answer them. But I would say there’s a huge range of skills involved in marketing. There’s a whole huge range of roles involved in marketing, and don’t be afraid to step from one to the other to try and seek out those opportunities. 

If you’ve got a personal development plan of some description, think about what you can do just to extend yourself, push your comfort zone and try something else before you settle down into one niche, right? And that’ll give you the broadest career in marketing and we’ll help you to rise to the top on many occasions. Because you’re going to need a broad experience under your belt in order to get the higher positions.


Alex (22:19):

Do you think it’s important to then specialise at a certain point and go a little bit deeper into certain areas having started more generalist?


Chris (22:25):

Yeah. I have to be able to prove that you can stick at something as well. So there are some people in my team who are absolutely brilliant. I’d call them world-class in their particular area. And that’s what they do and that’s what they love. And that is absolutely fantastic. But part of their development is to say, we know that as long as they’re happy in what they’re doing, that’s fine. 

We’re obviously getting value out of that. But if somebody comes to me and says, I want to be the next CMO and they’ve only done one track, then I’m going to say, it’s time to move and find other parts of the marketing mix to get involved in. Because you’re going to need that broad base. 

So you want to be able to show that you haven’t just flitted like a butterfly from one thing to another every year, but on the other hand you need enough experience in a few things. But on the other hand, if you narrow yourself too quickly then actually it becomes harder as you get a little bit older to break out of one silo into another. So spread your wings as much as you can early on is my lifelong lesson. If that’s of any use to anybody.


Alex (23:38):

I think it was making me think about the, I’m sure you’re familiar with the kind of left brain right brain and some of the more analytical side. I think the idea is that if you’re left brained your more analytical and methodical and if you’re right brained you’re more creative.


Chris (23:53):

Although they’ve proven that it actually doesn’t work as in left and right. So the study of psychology, it’s not left and right but it is all green and new greens. The bit that’s right at the top of your spinal cord, the big stuff in the front of your head, that’s the difference. But actually, because they’ve proven there’s something in there around diversity. 

We tend to have this thing going around that women are more right brained and creative in general and men are more left brain and logical in general. And the reality is actually where they’ve looked at the brain scans, that’s just not true. Both sides of the brain can do both things. 

And actually just sticking on the diversity point, some of the best people that I have on the logical data and engineering side are definitely women and they are blinking brilliant at it. So I want to be careful of stereotypes, both left and right, female and so on and so forth.


How to avoid silos between data driven and creative marketers within a team? 

Alex (24:56):

Yep. Makes sense. I think a lot of marketers may recognise because teams get bigger and marketing teams grow that there can sometimes be silos between what you described earlier as the creative end and the data driven end. 

And you gave the example, if you don’t want a team of data engineers and a team of artists, and that is obviously quite apparently a silo of some kind, but do you think it’s still possible for those silos to form and for those sides of marketing teams to be a bit too separate?


Chris (25:27):

Yeah, and there’s a famous Peter Drucker quote. I think I will get it wrong, but it basically says the only thing that organisations are good at doing is falling apart and everything else is leadership and management. And it basically, so it’s very easy as humans to think about this is my team, that’s their team, this is us. It’s easy to fall into some of those traps. So can you have silos in marketing teams? Of course you can. 

All the time in all sorts of different directions. But it is a leadership and management job to show the connections. And the commonality is much bigger on one than any of the differences are. And our common goals are actually common, that’s the point, right? 

So whilst we’re coming at it from slightly different angles or we’ve got a slightly different role to play in getting there, that communication task of going, this is what we’re all here for, the common problems that we’re all trying to solve, that’s how you help to break down silos. 

So there’s a bit of human nature in there that you need to work out to overcome. And as I say, a bit of empathy, a bit understanding, a bit of curiosity, there are some good ingredients for helping to make sure that actually the silo walls don’t get too big.


How can you work with big data without getting intimidated? 

Alex (26:52):

Great advice. We talked a bit about, in broad terms, understanding of data. But I wonder if there are any specific data scales that you think is important for specifically marketers to understand that. Is it enough of an understanding to almost look at any data set or graph or something, and then be able to work with it without feeling intimidated? Or are there particular niches or very specific skills that you think are valuable for marketers to have in their armories?


Chris (27:23):

I think as marketers we’ve got a blessing and a curse when it comes to data, right? So we are blessed with actually more data than we can handle. But how do we make sense of it all? You can quite often end up by you look at one source of data, you think it’s telling you one thing, and it’s really hard to unless you’ve got the right things in place to correlate it with all the other things that you know should affect it, but you can’t pull that data together. 

So, baseline absolutely. Skill 101 is, can I look at a graph? Can I look at some representation of data and understand what it means? Or understand what that piece is trying to tell me? Really critical to be able to spot trends, patterns. What does that mean? 

But more importantly is to think critically about it. To go well, what is that telling me? Which actually, if I look at it another way, will I see the same thing? Or will I see something that, you know, well, I will see something that backs that up triangulate and says, yes, that’s, that’s real. Or will I see something that actually contradicts that somehow, because now I’m looking at it slightly different. 

So it’s that, it’s almost, it’s one understanding, but it is the second piece is that critical thinking around that data and being aware of the different sources of data that you may be able to look at. And just checking that when you look at it that way or this way or up or down, does it still hold true method does? It’s probably right. But just be careful not to spot one data point and then think that defines the whole world, because it rarely does.


Resources marketers can use to become more data literate

Alex (29:20):

I guess we’re nearly out of time, but to wrap up, any thoughts or resources marketers can use to upscale in any of these areas? Any kind of courses, books, specific areas that you might direct your team to? If someone came along and said, I’d really like to improve my data literacy skills?


Chris (29:39):

I will start with this shameless plug. But actually there’s free training available on our website, actually data literacy training, just to get people past the past 101 stage. And that’s not necessarily Tableau specific, but it is kind of data literacy and 101 and things there. So that’s my shameless plug out of the way. 

And when I look at Google, it’s obviously a great source of data that people use and they have some data literacy courses, Google academies and things. LinkedIn certainly provides great information, articles to read. And then if you want to become more formal, CIM has a number of modules on digital marketing and so on and so forth. 

Which include a good slug of data and a number of universities are definitely, more and more universities are offering analytical MBAs and other courses, executive education courses. So it depends how deep you want to go, right? So the good news is there’s no lack of content or opportunity along the way, but we don’t all need to be the next data scientists, but we all need that base level understanding and to take our skills to probably level two, level three along the way. 

So plenty of opportunity out there, plenty of resources to get going and just take it in a bite-sized manner. You don’t need to do everything all in one go.


Alex (31:13):

Good advice. Well, we are pretty much out of time, that half hour has flown by. I don’t know how we got through that so quickly, but there was lots of that you’ve shared that has got me thinking and lots of good advice. So thank you for sharing everything, not just on the data side. But I think some great points around wider management and leadership and career progression and other things. So, yeah. Thanks again for joining.


Chris (31:33):

Thank you Alex, it’s been a pleasure.


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