Paul Barsch, Marketing Director at Teradata, the business intelligence and data warehousing firm, is responsible for coordinating services engineering teams to define, build, and bring new offers to market.
A self-described "information junkie" with over 15 years in marketing for information technology and consulting firms, Paul challenges all marketers to bring value to their organizations by taking the analytical path to understanding customers.
As his frequent posts on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog and this interview make clear, he holds himself to that same high standard.
Roy Young: To what do you attribute your success in marketing?
Paul Barsch: Constant learning and continuous improvement. I hate to admit it, but I'm an information junkie. There's so much to learn and absorb, that frankly most days I cannot keep up with everything that's going on.
RY: How have you had to transform as a marketing professional to continue to be effective?
PB: I've worked in three Fortune 500 companies and collaborated with some extremely talented marketers. Some of my best campaigns were a result of input from a fellow marketer or an idea that I've taken from one company and implemented at another.
I tend to learn a lot by observing others, discovering their best practices and seeing if there's applicability to what I'm doing in my sphere of influence. If there's not applicability on this particular day, I keep an active database of best practices that may come in handy down the road.
RY: What has been your most satisfying marketing achievement?
PB: There are few things better than being on a multi-disciplinary team (sales, finance, operations, marketing) and helping land a multimillion-dollar deal.
When I was at EDS, a typical deal ranged from six to ten million dollars, and some "mega-deals," as we called them, were $100 million and above. I wouldn't target my entire marketing budget on those opportunities, but I would do whatever I could to help push the deal through the last mile and drive those deals to close. So that means if a particular deal has an identified business need, we might develop thought-leadership materials around that need and case studies that showcase our expertise. Marketing dollars might also go to funding a private hosted reception at a business conference where a key decision-maker is speaking, and then of course inviting that speaker to attend.
Working with account teams, I would strategize on the best marketing activities that would help push the ball forward. Now, obviously, from a cause and effect perspective, there are many diverse variables that influence a sale. That said, we would tag and track sales opportunities to marketing campaigns so that we could show that marketing had influence on a particular deal.
RY: Please describe one marketing initiative you are working on now that you find particularly exciting.
PB: Recently our company acquired a small consulting firm to help us in some key verticals where we had some gaps in coverage. So we had two weeks to identify where this company fit in our services portfolio and create a new value proposition for this company now that they were part of a much larger firm.
Working with another team in the company, we created sales proposals, sales materials, updated our Web site and built an internal training presentation within a two-week time-span. It was intense, but I think the end work product was fantastic. As a result, we now have over 100 new proposals to customers with "opportunity" in the millions of dollars.
RY: Considering the marketers you have respected most, what made them effective?
PB: You might expect me to list key marketing gurus like Seth Godin and Philip Kotler. And while I deeply respect and read those folks on occasion, I'm more influenced by people like Ted Minnini, Lewis Green, and Stephen Denny. Ted, Lewis and Stephen are all bloggers on the MarketingProfs DailyFix and each is president of their own marketing consultancy.
Ted Minnini is an expert on packaging and design. I love his perspectives on the importance of good design and the impact of design on consumer decision-making. Lewis Green is an influential marketing consultant who understands social media and marketing return on investment. And one word for Stephen Denny: brilliant.
RY: What is the greatest challenge you and your marketing colleagues face today?
PB: One of the greatest challenges that marketers face today is the perception of relevance by the C-suite. As marketers, we know we're moving the ball forward on deals, helping create better customer experiences, and building powerful brands. But for some reason, the C-suite of executives isn't making that same connection.
For the most part our measurement systems are terrible, and we often lack the ability to toot our own horn because our measurement systems are terrible. I wrote an article for MarketingProfs earlier in 2008 that details a panacea for this situation.
RY: What do you think is the single-biggest constraint facing corporate marketing departments today?
PB: The marketing function is not getting enough people, budget, or tools to do the job properly. If marketing were seen as a critical component of the organization, something where the CEO would rather lose his or her left arm before cutting the marketing budget, we'd actually have the resources to effectively do our jobs properly.
There's a bucket in the mind of every CEO called "the customer." You, Roy, have said that marketers need to show the CEO how we are reducing customer churn, increasing wallet share, and adding new customers. We need a data-driven approach so that marketing can tell a CEO all about "the customer"—who they are, what and when they buy, what they'll buy in the future, whether they're profitable, etc. Then and only then will we have the proper resources allocated to our departments.
RY: In your experience, what has made marketing influential and powerful in an organization?
PB: Working closely with the CIO, the marketing function needs to take the lead in championing and building an analytical infrastructure to better understand customers. If marketing is leveraging data to understand customer behavior, developing customer strategies that improve cash flows, driving richer and more personal customer communications, and establishing our department as the "voice of the customer," we'll be much more influential and valuable to our organizations.
RY: What changes do you expect to face in your work over the next 3 years?
PB: Will we see robots taking over marketing functions in the near future? No, but I've previously written for MarketingProfs that technology is going to drastically change marketing in the next five years.
Moore's Law and the fact that data is doubling every three years for most organizations means that marketers must take advantage of new technologies to capture and analyze available data and distribute intelligence to employees in strategic and operational functions. Intelligence in the hands of those who need it most—when they need it—will lead to better service, increased loyalty, and more profits.
RY: What do you like most about your work now?
PB: I love the subject matter. Business intelligence and data warehousing are changing the way companies market and sell to and service customers. Better than that, these technologies can help improve the entire value chain—both demand and supply.
If you examine my writing over the past three years, you'll see that I've been profoundly impacted by the field of analytics. I've also learned a new way of thinking—the need for deep and probing analysis and how to tear apart a problem to discover many viable options.
Unlike a multiple-choice test, I'm discovering, there is usually more than one right answer to dealing with a business challenge.
RY: What do you look for in people you hire and promote?
PB: One of the most difficult things to discover about a candidate is "do they know the value of a dollar?" A candidate may be brilliant, but if their work ethic is shoddy or they aren't constantly improving and acquiring new information and skills, then they'll probably be left behind by employees who are aggressive in these areas.
Woody Allen once said 80% of success is just showing up. That's bunk. Showing up is table stakes. An employee who puts in an honest and productive day of work and one who is constantly getting better at his or her job is worth their weight in gold.
RY: What was the first hard lesson you learned in business?
PB: It's often hard to predict the next big thing. When I was a divisional manager for a regional telecommunications company, I made a bet on a product I was sure would be a hit. I bought a lot of it, and unfortunately the product was ahead of its time. So, I had to unload it at a pretty steep loss. I had been in the telecommunications business for five years and thought I had stumbled onto a winner—but I was two years too early in the adoption cycle. Sometimes there is a big difference between a customer saying "that sounds like something I would buy" and the actual opening of his or her wallet.
RY: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their career in marketing?
PB: Interestingly enough, I wrote a post on that very topic titled "Desperately Seeking Distinction."
RY: What are your final thoughts?
PB: Life, including business, is a series of choices. Read much, ask questions, and spend the time to do the analysis. Then choose wisely. Flying by the seat of your pants and making choices haphazardly without the facts or reviewing all the angles is a recipe for much heartache.
Pay special attention to outliers and don't be so quick to dismiss them. Those "once in a hundred years" events, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb reminds us, often have a way of happening every 5-10 years!