Ken Pratt-1Marketers. Love them or hate them, they serve a purpose and often are the backbone of growth within your organization. They have an innate ability to get down and dirty in understanding how and why people purchase products and services. By asking the right questions at the right time and providing the right tone and candor, they can take a relational conversational to transactional with ease. Marketers are creative problem solvers but often have a big problem - they struggle with communicating their value add and the impact on the pipeline. 

In this episode of AMP UP Your Digital Marketing we meet Ken Pratt, a former educator turned Vice President of Marketing for Frontline Education. He takes us through how he and his team learned how to deliver their value, while generating a marketing pipeline that actually aided in the closing of about 38% of their closed/won business. As an organization he got really comfortable with knowing what the company needed and the problems they were solving. This lead to their three solid elements that helped his department communicate overall value. 

Transcript:

Glenn: Welcome back to the show. Today we're speaking with Ken Pratt. Ken, welcome to the show.

Ken: Hey, Glenn, nice being here, thanks for having me.

Glenn: Ken, could you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Ken: So, I'm the Vice President of Marketing for an educational technology company called Frontline Education. I manage a pretty substantial team that focuses on digital marketing, content marketing, product marketing, event marketing, creative and design. And we are storming the education world.

Glenn: I always like to ask people who are in senior marketing positions, did you kind of grow up in a certain discipline within marketing or have you done the whole kit and caboodle?

Ken: I have a strange path into this world. So, I was a teacher, I studied history and then I taught English. And I will later say that I think my history degree was probably the greatest impact on my marketing interest because I had to think globally and historically about things. And it's actually what I do in the marketplace. I think in that same way. I sort of chunk things the way I chunk history. There are bits and pieces and there's the big picture and then there are the smaller pieces that make up the bigger picture. And I think my proclivity to marketing strategy probably follows that trajectory.

Glenn: Now, I know one of the things you and I talk about just before the podcast was a challenge that I certainly seen through my career and I think others have seen it is, sometimes that companies themselves, or at least marketing departments themselves, don't always know how to describe the value-add that they're providing to the company? Have you experienced that and how have you approached that?

Ken: Yeah, you bet. In many companies that I've worked with I was always often asking the question, you know, what is our value to the company? And how do we show that? And I think mostly that came from the fact that I was pretty sure that leadership didn't value us or they certainly didn't value my piece of the pie at the time. And yet, I started recognizing, in the early 2000s, as digital tools came along, that empowered marketers to do way more and to get way more personal with their prospects and their clients. That there started to sort of form this notion that there is an actual value proposition that companies recognize. 

And so, I've been toying with that thought for years now. And I don't think until this position that I'm in now, have I been able to actually crystalize it quite to the degree. I think at one point I crystalized as the value proposition as content marketing makes content or marketing makes pretty things. That's oftentimes where we default to. You know, marketing is creative, marketing is an agency and it provides things that no one else can do. It's got a skillset, that's its value proposition. But I think it's actually way bigger than that and that's where my interest sits today in defining that. And our team is actually now organized around what we consider to be the three value propositions that marketing brings to our company.

Glenn: You know it's interesting, my first marketing job, I remember I was talking to somebody and they said, well, welcome to marketing, you're in the department that gets cut first.

Ken: I hate laughing about that one. I mean, it's so true.

Glenn: And, you know, it tends to be true. And I think it's because the value isn't always communicated well. And, you know, shame on us as marketers, for not being able to communicate our own value when our job is to communicate the value of our products and services.

Ken: Yeah, it's interesting, my boss says all the time, hey, you guys are really good at selling yourselves to us. But I think what we really need to do is not sell ourselves to our leadership but actually show our value to the leadership. And that-

Glenn: So, walk us through how you do it, because I think people can learn from this?

Ken: So, in this role that I'm in today, we have been crafting and developing a lead-generation strategy. And so, I think we're four years into sort of a building program around lead-generation, lead-management, demand generation, pipeline generation, close one business, that whole pipeline and the role that marketing plays there. So, we have spent the bulk of our time really enhancing that, refining that, optimizing that, we're going to continue doing that for years to come. But we're at a place now where we feel comfortable about the skill set that we have and what we bring to the company. And as of this last year, marketing generated pipeline actually aided in the closing of about 38% of all our closed/won business. And so, we're measuring that, we enhance that with all the varying parts of our marketing team. 

But we know that we're way more than just pipeline. And, you know, you can't – when you think about this notion of measuring marketing, I like to think about it in, sort of, two ways, there's hard metrics, and those are the things that my CFO wants to see, and then there are soft metrics, and those are the things that our managers want to see. Those are the things that are really leading indicators to movement. But when you think about it, again, it's more than just lead-generation, it's substantially beyond that. 

When we think about the role that marketing plays, we want it to absolutely impact the success of the company, not just the pipeline. And so, we've really expanded our thinking to three primary areas. The first one is, in the notion of engagement. This idea that marketing really drives all aspects of how the company is perceived, we might call that brand, but it's not just brand, it's digital communication. We're doing a lot of reading now around this notion of conversational marketing, and what is that? Well, conversational marketing, again, isn't just simply transactional-ly processing a lead form, but it's really about creating engagement and the whole idea is, thinking about your prospects/clients in their total lifecycle. Well, that takes an engagement approach, that's a relational engagement. We talk in our company a lot about the difference between being relational and being transactional and how we want to begin to move our transactional interactions to relational interactions. 

And then the second thing besides engagement really is enablement, because marketing departments have phenomenal skill sets in messaging, in development, design, all of those things. And so, we look at our role as enabling our company to be successful. And that gets really specific around sales enablement particularly when we have a lot to offer our sales force, not everything of course. We're just a key cog in that wheel. 

And then our third key offering then is pipeline development. So, we're looking at those three elements as the value proposition that we bring and we are working diligently to ensure that we can actually measure all three in a way that shows upward trending and indication of success and growth.

Glenn: And how do you measure engagement? Are you measuring it just at the brand level, at the employee level, at customer level? What's your KPIs around some of those?

Ken: That's a great question. And I would say, can I do this podcast six months from now and I'll probably have some really good answers for you. So, we're right in the middle of asking that question and one of the things that we have done. So, we have a little bit of research behind this, but again, very early stages, but we have developed a multi-touch attribution model at Frontline. And so, we are able to see at least the beginnings of what we might call engagement, this notion of open rates and click to open rates and the notion of sort of consumption of content. And we see, at an attribution level, that certain content is a strong influencer and other contents are actually drivers of action. And so, we're making those distinctions. 

But what we're trying to do now is actually step in to all of those varying stages, if you will, and start to ask the question of actually tracking now sentiment. Could we add sentiment to that and could we see engagement and could we start to create this idea of dialogue as opposed to monologue in a way that enables us to map ourselves and to connect ourselves in a true one-to-one marketing kind of way. 

You know, people talk about the sort of the classic commentary around the pipeline, well the pipeline isn't linear, it's more circular or it's more like a jaunt through the park. But we want to make sure though that we're with that prospect, if you will, wherever they go. And that we can create that kind of one-to-one dialogue opportunity so that we are able to give them the next thing. It's that classic statement, the right content to the right person at the right time in the right way. And I don't know how you do any of that without actually thinking about it holistically, relationally from an engagement perspective.

Glenn: You know it's interesting, if you think about more of the traditional marketing, the one-to-many view of marketing, and then you start thinking about, well, what if somebody talks back, are you ready for that, you know? And so that inquiry I think is so powerful and so important because, you know, some companies will say, yeah, we want interactions, great, are you ready for them?

Ken: Yeah. Isn't that funny? And isn't it's almost always the first question that follows that, which is, what if you don't like what they say? Then what do you do? I don't know, shut them down, I don't – you know, disband them, I don't know, opt them out of your marketing program, you know? We're going to have to figure out. Again, I think that's the difference. People talk a lot about the notion. 

I don't remember the gentleman's name but the founder of Eloqua started using this terminology of a digital relationship. What in the world is a digital relationship? And I'm starting to think about what – okay, so that was, you know, ten years ago he wrote that and I'm thinking, what is conversational marketing now? Is that really in essence the next edge to that? And obviously AI and machine learning are going to play a role in some of those elements. And somewhere throughout there we're going to find some optimal balance between people and machines that actually craft and follow a journey – whether it's an information journey or a buyer's journey or a client's success journey – and we'll have to figure out – we have a lot to figure out actually.

Glenn: So, let me circle back now, because you're in this process and you're still investigation on a lot of this and my guess is, you're probably asking a lot of questions, which is the first step towards understanding, and half the battle is finding the right questions, right? If we circle back to what we started this conversation around, which is, identifying the value that can be communicated to the organization, is there a game plan that you either have already implemented or planning on implementing that communicates that and what's the frequency and what does it look like, is it just in the executive team meetings, are you doing something more broadly?

Ken: It's a great question. Here's the other sort of sidebar tension in marketing and I think it's been true in my marketing experience and maybe others as well, is this notion of the difference between authority and influence. And so, we talk a lot about that in our team because I don't think we're actually ever going to be handed all the authority that our skillset might merit. 

A perfect example, when we look at our company, we think about pre-purchase communication and post-purchase communication. The vast majority of our post-purchase communication is very transactional, which is so opposite of what it should be, it should be really relational, but it's not. And so, there's an opportunity for us, we did an entire research study around all of our varying client touchpoints and client communications. And one of the things that we learned is there's a pretty significant disconnect. I'm sure this is true in lots of places. 

And so, we started looking into that and thinking about, well, what's it – you know, what do we do about it? You know, what are our right next steps? And we're pretty clear that people aren't going to say, oh, you guys are better than this than we are, here, why don't you do it? They're going to want to hold on to their level of responsibility. So, we're working on figuring out how we can begin thinking about engagement really holistically from an influencer's perspective and in fact our first meeting about that is in about an hour-and-ten-minutes. So, pretty excited that we're starting to get some inroads into thinking that. Whether it ends up being something that we do or we provide guidance for or we just simply influence.

Glenn: How do you go about identifying the right questions to ask?

Ken: Wow! Gosh! That's a great, great question. I would say, fortunately, I've worked with some really, really, really brilliant people. And every single one of them asked questions all the time. We're constantly throwing out something that's just not clear, it's just not right. Something is not right here. And so, I think that drives us. 

I think one of the things that is key as well and often serves, I would say, as sort of empowerment to our questions is this grand desire that our communication and our treatment relationship to these prospects, soon to be clients is that we want to be about them and not as much about us. That if we follow that that notion that our products, if they're done well and crafted appropriately, really are solving problems that people have. And that's your business relationship. You know, our problem solution is better than someone else's problem solution, so let us help you solve that problem. And if we're really in that light and we're really framing ourselves that way, then our communication will be similar and will be them-focused. And if that's true, if we're really truly customer centered in that sense, then I think that then that gives us framework for which our questions are often, is it clear, does it really help them, does it really benefit them, are we simply noise? You know, what distinguishes us from being a vendor versus being a partner, those kinds of things, if that's the groundwork then I think the questions come easier.

Glenn: Yeah. The way that's resonating with me is does the brand have an ego?

Ken: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, that's great. I got to write that down.

Glenn: So, and I think in your case, what you're saying is the brand should not have an ego, the brand should be actively listening and responding rather than, you know, brand knows best?

Ken: And doesn't that – that just flows really well with the notion of servant leadership or level five leadership and all the great stuff. You know, the really best leadership is the one that gets out of people's way rather than needs to direct people's path.

Glenn: Yeah. No, it makes perfect sense. I think sometimes the brand itself – and depending on how long you've been in business and how successful you've been – it tends to build up an ego. And it's something to be mindful for.

Ken: Yeah. No, that's right. We struggle with that internally. As I said earlier, oftentimes my boss will say, yeah, you guys are really good at selling yourselves to us. So, we have to be careful that we're not selling ourselves but that we're solving their problems. So, we have to keep looking inward a little bit.

Glenn: Ken, this was really exciting, I think you're going to have an amazing journey over the next six months. And I certainly would love to have you back in the show so you can give us an update. Is there one thing that our listeners could put into action today that might have an impact on their digital marketing, what would that one thing be?

Ken: I would say get really comfortable with figuring out what your value proposition is? In our case, it was these three elements, these three elements are really what our company needed and that's where we're focusing. But I think it is getting really, really comfortable with knowing what the company needs and the problems you're solving by virtue of who you are in your department.

Glenn: Ken, thanks so much for being on the show.

Ken: Thanks, Glenn. I appreciate the opportunity.

Glenn: How can people get in touch with you?

Ken:  Well, as we talked about earlier, you could reach me through LinkedIn, please do note that you heard me on this program, otherwise I think you're one of the million sales people who's trying to sell me something, which is a funny thing for a marketing guy to say. But, yeah, please feel free to reach out to me at LinkedIn.

Glenn: Awesome. Thanks, Ken.

Ken’s Bio: Ken Pratt is the Vice President of Marketing for Frontline Education, an integrated insights partner that serves more than 12,000 education organizations and millions of educators, administrators, and support personnel. To reach Ken, you can find him on LinkedIn.

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