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EPISODE 081: Marketer of the Month Podcast with Scott Brinker

Hey there! Welcome to the Marketer Of The Month blog!

Marketer of the Month

We recently interviewed Scott Brinker for our monthly podcast – ‘Marketer of the Month’! We had some amazing insightful conversations with Scott and here’s what we discussed about –

1. Martech Trends and the Great App Explosion

2. Picking the right tools for your martech stack

3. Identifying which sources to integrate with the Customer Data Platform

4. The role of intuition in data driven decision making

5. How to design a scaling integration strategy that works

6. Adapting your business model to the current macroeconomic environment

About our host:

Dr. Saksham Sharda is the Chief Information Officer at Outgrow.co. He specializes in data collection, analysis, filtering, and transfer by the means of widgets and applets. Interactive, cultural, and trending widgets designed by him have been featured on TrendHunter, Alibaba,  ProductHunt, New York Marketing Association, FactoryBerlin, Digimarcon Silicon Valley, and at The European Affiliate Summit.

About our guest:

Scott Brinker is the VP of Platform Ecosystem and HubSpot as well as the founder and editor of Chiefmartec.com, the most popular blog on the internet devoted solely to the nexus of marketing and technology. Scott has been regarded as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders in the field of marketing technology.

Navigating the Martech Landscape in 2022 and Catalyzing Growth With Deeper Integrations

The Intro!

Saksham Sharda: Hi everyone, welcome to another episode of Outgrow’s Marketer of the Month. I’m your host, Dr. Saksham Sharda, I’m the creative director at Outgrow.co. And for this month we’re going to interview Scott Brinker, who is the VP of Platform Ecosystems at HubSpot. Thanks for joining us, Scott.

Scott Brinker: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Don’t have time to read? No problem, just watch the Podcast!

Or you can just listen to it on Spotify!

The Rapid Fire Round!

rapid fire

Saksham Sharda: So Scott, we’re going to start with a rapid-fire round just to break the ice. You get three passes in case you don’t want to answer the question, you can just say pass. But try to keep your answers to one word or one sentence only. Okay?

Scott Brinker: All right, fire away.

Saksham Sharda: All right, so the first one is at what age do you want to retire?

Scott Brinker: 80

Saksham Sharda: How long does it take you to get ready in the mornings?

Scott Brinker: Two hours with exercise.

Saksham Sharda: The most embarrassing moment of your life?

Scott Brinker: Big presentation, huge audience, entire slide deck goes blank.

Saksham Sharda: Favorite color?

Scott Brinker: Blue.

Saksham Sharda: What time of day are you most inspired?

Scott Brinker: Morning

Saksham Sharda: Fill in the blank. An upcoming marketing trend is ______.

Scott Brinker: Data Integration.

Saksham Sharda: How many hours of sleep do you need?

Scott Brinker: Eight.

Saksham Sharda: The city in which the best kiss of your life happened?

Scott Brinker: New York.

Saksham Sharda: Pick one – Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey?

Scott Brinker: Jack Dorsey.

Saksham Sharda: How do you relax?

Scott Brinker: Gardening

Saksham Sharda: How many cups of coffee do you drink per day?

Scott Brinker: One

Saksham Sharda: A habit of yours that you hate?

Scott Brinker: Too many cheeseburgers.

Saksham Sharda: The most valuable skill you have learned in life?

Scott Brinker: Appreciating the incredible diversity of different people’s thinking.

Saksham Sharda: The one movie that comes to your mind when I say the word ambition?

Scott Brinker: Contact.

Saksham Sharda: And the last one is your favorite Netflix show?

Scott Brinker: Stranger Things.

Saksham Sharda: That was amazing. You answered all the questions. So you get a 10/10. And you win a car. Just kidding.

The Big Questions!

Big Questions

Saksham Sharda: All right, so the long-form questions and you can take as much time as you’d like to answer these. The first one is, that you’ve talked about the great app explosion and predicted that the demand for innovative marketing sales and customer experience apps will continue to attract entrepreneurs. So what trends are you seeing capital providers gravitating toward the most?

Scott Brinker: It’s an interesting time right now in the capital markets. Because you’ve got this combination of both – concern about the current macroeconomic situation. But at the same time, this recognition that just digital business in general, is still very early in its transformation. And then you’ve got a lot of capital that’s looking to go somewhere, the company itself, productively to use. I would say the most interesting sources in the mar-tech world we see right now, where people were directing capital is I think the broader integration across the business, like for this past decade or so marketing kind of build its castle, with the mar-tech stack frankly, because the rest of the business wasn’t ready to do what marketing was looking to do from a digital engagement perspective. I think that’s changed, I think the pandemic dramatically accelerated, that change. And so now you see a lot of really interesting technologies about like, how do we think about it, not just marketing in its bubble, but marketing as an integrated capability across the entire business.

Saksham Sharda: And so what exactly was marketing looking to do? And what is it looking to do now according to you?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. Well, like we could start even just looking at the data layer, like marketing sort of had its own little isolated space of data, which is fine, but now what we’re seeing is bidirectionally marketing being able to feed that data into more corporate-wide systems and environments, this whole explosion of like the data ops world and everything around like the common Cloud Data Warehouse but marketing has all this incredible insight of audiences and people of different stages, particularly earlier before they become a customer, and feeding that into systems that then make it accessible to, whether it’s from executive leadership or people in products who are trying to understand their markets better. And then vice versa by getting all these other departments who are connecting their data into that common environment, data of what’s happening in sales, what’s happening in customer support and success, what’s happening in product usage, whole product lead growth, ultimately this is about all this data of different kinds of interactions we’re having with customers coming into a common layer where now marketers have access to like, all sorts of incredible insights into these cohorts and segments, the actual behaviors of people, not just in marketing touchpoints, but touchpoints across the business. So I mean, even we could spend a whole session just talking about what’s happening in that domain. I think it’s an incredible Renaissance.

Saksham Sharda: And are there any examples of companies who you can give us that a handle like this renaissance well enough already?

Scott Brinker: Wow, I mean pretty much any like, digital native business at this point, right?  You talk about everything from that the C’s to any company that you’re going to hold up as, like a great example of product lead growth, companies that are leveraging tools like Pendo, Amplitude, and Appsflyer, not purely from a product development perspective, or product insights perspective, but is integrating that into like, how does actually marketing think about its mission and sort of what tools does it have available to it?

Saksham Sharda: So speaking of those tools then marketers now have access to more technology and tools than ever before, because there are simply so many options for each category of marketing technology. But it can be challenging to identify the technologies that your business needs. So how, in your opinion, might this issue be resolved?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, I do feel it’s a very Dickens-like story here “ the best of times, the worst of times”,  so I always find like 90% of the focus needs to be on the capabilities you’re looking to create for how you need to grow your business, how you need to implement your strategy. And when I say capabilities, I see the technology piece of that, frankly, the smallest piece of it, a lot of this comes down to like, “Okay, if we had certain technology to do X, Y, and Z, do we have the talent for it? Is there a sort of process in the way we run things? Does it allow us to take advantage of this? Do we have the right sort of organizational alignment?” Because very few things that happen in mar-tec, happen in isolation, they’re usually a step somewhere along a journey. And you need to make sure that the things that are happening earlier in that journey, and the things that happened later in that journey, like all align and so just getting really good clarity about as a business, what are the capabilities you’re looking to have to engage your customers in your industry? And then sort of step back from there and like, “Okay, do we have the necessary technologies to be able to implement those capabilities?” And if you don’t,  look at a set of options, with a really clear set of use cases in mind, which changes the game, right? If you just like sort of look at things, “Just tell me, what do you have today?” of course all these wonderful, innovative,  mar-tech, vendors can dazzle you with amazing demos. But if you’re able to drive those conversations of like, “Okay, these are the use cases we’re trying to achieve,  show me how that works with your product.” It just sort of help keep your focus. And I said that was 90% of it. Because technology, not just for marketers, but like consumer technology and consumer behaviors are just going through a period of such rapid evolution. I do think it’s worth taking a little bit of time, a little sliver where you’re just sort of seeing what’s out there not even with a specific capability in mind. I’m just trying to, keep a certain level of awareness, of what’s even possible out there, because that might feed into how I think about oh, what are the capabilities and strategies we could implement?

Saksham Sharda: So when do you think this rapid period of transformation will slow down possibly? Or do you think it’s just going to get exponentially more and more, this is going to be the thing going forward?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, I think predictions are hard, especially about the future, Yogi Berra, or someone there. But I think it’s safe to say that this decade is still going to have a tremendous amount of evolution and innovation ahead. I mean you already see these big things that people were talking through about, like how is the next wave of mobile technology you’re gonna change, the bandwidth of how we engage, this leads us to things around the metaverse. All the stuff about blockchain and web 3 which again I think we’re still really early in that space. But I think there are some really interesting patterns there that, as they start to mature, are also going to create creative disruption of “well, how do we engage with people? And what are their preferences? And what are their channels?” And then he just got all of the software developers, I mean, the world is full of software developers with things like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud and all these open source frameworks. I mean, it’s a bonanza of things that are available for software. And that’s not even like getting into no code, which is, low code and no code, helping expand the pool of people who can create things where they have ideas without having to be expert software engineers themselves. I mean, you just add all this together, you just realize that yeah, this great app explosion, it just doesn’t seem like any short-term barriers are going to slow it down. But yeah, let’s get to the next decade and see how the world changes from there.

Saksham Sharda: So when it comes to data itself then, organizations cannot implement piecemeal strategies, right? So data readiness is a critical component of data mapping. So how can brands identify them with sources to integrate with the CDP (customer data platform), when there are enormous amounts that you’re saying, have available?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, again, I think it’s a variation of the technology evaluation, which is, there are infinite data, and you just can’t do all of it. Partly because it’s also changing too. It’s a matter of prioritization, and again I think if you go back to the capabilities, and you look at use cases that you’re trying to achieve with customers and then you map backward from there to like, okay, it’s not just the technologies, I need to execute that, but what’s the data? And where are the different sources that are feeding into either the completeness or the accuracy of that data? And then one of the things you almost always find right, this is the current stage of data ops, is yes, it turns out the data is here and it’s available, and it’s in our warehouse, but the definitions are not quite perfectly aligned. And this field combines things this way. And this one has a different set of definitions. And so like this process of data readiness or metadata management, or all that like where there’s all this innovation happening right now, both in the technology, but also just in the practice, because we’ve never had to deal with this amount of like, interconnected data before. So it’s, as you look at either a big challenge or a big adventure.

Saksham Sharda: So what room would you say does all this leave for intuition itself? And there’s so much data available which is empowering, so many strategies. So what role will intuition have to play going forward?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, I’ve joked before that sometimes. People say data-driven means driving around to find the data I want that supports my predetermined hypothesis. Because yeah, there is just so much data there that if you go in with a predetermined outcome you’re looking to support, it’s just so easy to even fool yourself into like, somewhere finding some data that,  basically correlates with that plan. And so I think it’s very dangerous to go in with predetermined conclusions. But at the same time, if you just don’t have any like framework whatsoever, and you’re simply going in and saying, like, what is there in the data today? Yeah, I mean, the book “Fooled By Randomness” comes to mind. I mean, like yeah there are infinite patterns that you could certainly look at. I think in between those two extremes is quite frankly the scientific method. It’s about having a hypothesis and being relatively rigorous in the discipline by saying, “Okay, we’re gonna test this hypothesis, but we’re going to be careful not to go out of our way to, again try to reach a predetermined conclusion”. And as in science, I think it’s the same thing. Yeah, in marketing, which is intuition, creativity usually comes in first of all, what are the hypotheses?  Because now you’re starting to synthesize a lot of different things today, the machines aren’t quite good enough to give us broad-reaching hypotheses. And then the second thing, the place where you get creative is very often when you have a hypothesis, you have to get kind of creative about like, Okay, how are we going to test this? And particularly if we’re looking at historical data, and we’re getting some sort of pattern that seems to support the hypothesis, very often you can’t just conclude like, “Oh yes, okay, perfect, done”.  What you need to do is say, like, “okay, that’s supporting this hypothesis, can we run an experiment? Is there something we can try that will validate,  and perhaps try and eliminate some of the other confounding variables that, I mean again tested, marketing is infinite confounding variables?” But you’re trying to like fewer additional variables that you can try and isolate out the better. And that just takes enormous creativity to figure out like, how do we do that?

Saksham Sharda: Yeah, well, speaking of like it being the best of times, and worst of times, so even the customer journey is no longer linear, right? So in the digital age, customers go to different channels for more information. So how can CDPs help marketers deal with a multitude of touchpoints and turn customer data into actionable insights?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, I mean, again, I have mixed feelings on the CDP side of things, like, I’ll just be very honest, there’s kind of three pieces right, there’s this underlying data layer for the company. And this is essentially now where I mean snowflake and data bricks, and these massive ecosystems like this are trying to universalize how we manage data across the organization. There’s the other end of the spectrum, which is very operational systems, this is the things that are guiding the way, our salespeople, or marketing teams, like doing engagements, with the customers, whether they’re one-off or, automated or digital, and so we think of like, the data warehouse is on the one end of that spectrum, and we think about things more like, frankly CRM platforms, marketing, automation platforms, things like that, on the right. And the CDs are kind of this weird thing in the middle, where some of them look a lot like a CRM or marketing automation platform, just under another name, and others, the closer they get to be a very integrated data warehouse I guess I’m just not entirely sure if that category, as a middle category between those two extremes will continue to be strong on its own, or if it was almost a bridge into this future where, “hey, we just need the total data ops infrastructure in our company to be much stronger.” So anyways, all that is to say, I think the whole point of that data ops infrastructure across the company is you need to make it accessible for any frontline apps or operations or any sort of digital capabilities like that, to be able to both feed the new data that from touch points they have into that centralized infrastructure, but even more importantly, arguably, right be able to leverage that. So again, they’re not ending up in these isolated silos, but they’re part of a much broader connected, data universe.

Saksham Sharda: So how can one make it more accessible and leverage it best?

Scott Brinker: This is on both sides of the equation, you have to be looking to open products, integrated products. I’m biased in this is what I do for a living is champion this, but basically, when you buy a product now very often one of the first class questions you need to be asking is not just what are its internal capabilities, like what’s inherent to the capability that it’s giving you? But also, how does it integrate with the rest of my stack and frankly not just my Mar-tech stack anymore, but kind of my broader business tech stack like because if it doesn’t integrate, it’s like, that thing about the tree falls in the forest.

Saksham Sharda: Yeah. Okay, so moving a small amount of data from one API to another isn’t that hard, but doing it at scale is. So how would you advise SaaS companies with a growing number of integrations to create a successful scaling integration strategy and partnership program?

Scott Brinker: Yeah I guess it depends on where you are in the broad tech ecosystem, if you squint, you kind of look at it as like “okay, there are platforms, that tend to have many products that integrate to them. And so they kind of almost become like a hub.” And again, I think the broadest example that you could look at are things like the data warehouses, like their whole existence, rides, on the assumption that brings us “you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re for data from wherever it comes from.”  So, there’s that. But then there’s if you’re in more of an app inside this environment, where it’s maybe less about all these other products that integrate to you, but it’s making sure that you integrate with whatever it is 1-2-3-4-5, but usually, a relatively small number of the most important ecosystems have to support to go to the market, to support your customers like, “Okay well, what are the core platforms our customers are using? Let’s make sure we integrate well with those.” And I think again, like from managing a whole bunch of integrations gets challenging, which is again why I think if you’re an app more than a platform, you need to be strategic about like, “Okay, well, which are the ones that are most valuable to us in what we’re doing.” And for the ones that are sort of on the long tail, you start to look to things like these integration platforms as service tools, Automate, Sappy, Workato, Trade, or things like that, just because they sort of allow that long tail. But you want your core native integrations to be great and smooth from that you don’t want your customers to have to rely on some other third-party solution to be able to like get full value out of your product inside the platform ecosystems that the customers are relying on.

Saksham Sharda: So HubSpot’s approach and the app ecosystem that you guys have built has been like, it’s grown in the past couple of years. So what is HubSpot’s strategy here?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, I think it’s just recognizing like a CRM is one of those kinds of platform centerpieces into a stack. And it relies on other apps being able to contribute data, and other apps being able to pull data. So yeah, our view has been to be incredibly open. Like, we made the strategic decision, we’re not trying to directly monetize our ecosystem, no offense to those companies who do but from our perspective, the value is when these apps that customers want to use integrate with the CRM, and there are just no barriers to that. And, it’s not just that it’s also like competitive things like HubSpot has in our app marketplace, like dozens and dozens, probably hundreds of this point of different products that compete with different aspects of what HubSpot does. And we’re cool with that dude, that’s like come on in the water’s fine, because all this comes down to like, ultimately letting customers have as easy as a time as possible of getting the stack that they want that stack that they love working together easily. And so like if you know us as a platform, and our partners who we work with who are building these apps if we do that work to make those integrations, good. Everybody benefits.

Saksham Sharda: They are platforms that were charging for having integrations on them, but I think a lot of them have now moved to what was like the first year is free. And then we will see the model, what do you think of that model?

Scott Brinker: I mean, again, different companies have different business models. I think HubSpot’s strategy at this point is just really clear the value of as open of an ecosystem that encourages as much innovation and experimentation and doesn’t try and put barriers like, “well, why don’t we let you do it if you fit this category?”, or “Yeah, you either have to pay us this or we’ll give you a year free”, then like you owe us 30% of your income forever. It’s just, again, different companies have different business models, if it works for them. It’s great. I think for us, we just see so much value in the openness of that ecosystem. And then ultimately that translates to value for HubSpot by just making our CRM platform a preferred platform for customers.

Saksham Sharda: And so have you seen instances of apps that have just been developed to get on ecosystems and they were like not, and that is the primary strategy?

Scott Brinker: I think there are a couple of variations there. So some apps are built specifically for one particular platform, for instance, one of the apps in the HubSpot ecosystem is Oregon shared hub, which has come up with a brilliant way of sort of visualizing and managing the account, sales, and marketing strategies. And so they built that. And now several other products, specifically for HubSpot which is great, we love them. And because they’re so focused on just HubSpot, they’re able to build things that feel native to the platform. And we’ve got other companies that look at HubSpot as kind of like a bootstrapping ecosystem, it’s like it goes back to this thing. Like, again, there’s so much competition out there in the SaaS world at large, that when you’re just getting going as a startup, usually the most challenging part of the go-to-market is finding a focal point where you can say, like, “Okay, here’s a narrow enough audience that we can target, we can delight. And if we win those, and we make that successful, then we take the next step of where do we expand audiences, more broadly from there.” And I think for a lot of startups, picking an ecosystem and focusing on succeeding within that particular ecosystem can be a great way. Because again, you just sort of narrow your targeting, you can be much more efficient with your spending, you can understand who those customers are, you can make the product tweaks that make those customers delighted, and then again, once you’ve got that momentum and your growth, by all means, move to the second ecosystem and the third ecosystem. But yeah, that sort of ecosystem is a bootstrapping, in-product market fit. I’ve now seen that quite a few times, too.

Saksham Sharda: And so you’ve also pointed out before that after more than a decade of exponential market growth, the industry is currently going through its first truly difficult economic environment. So what advice do you have for early-stage Mar-tech companies looking to either restructure their business models or to find a willing exquisite?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, it is gonna be a challenging time.  I think so from a business perspective, the most powerful thing you can do is either find a lever that is truly going to be able to keep your growth curve incredibly robust, because we’re still in a state where we, again, we were talking earlier, like there is investment capital to invest in this sector. But investors are getting more discriminating on like okay, who’s you’re going to take them, deliver that sort of 10x impact to the capital. And so if you’re one of those companies where you’ve got a strategy and a mechanism for achieving that curve, I say, Yeah, full steam ahead. For a lot of companies, just the nature of distributions is you, they won’t be that at this stage. And I think, for them to then tack more in the direction of, quite frankly, profitability. SaaS can be an incredibly profitable model. And so yeah, I think adapting into that and then being in a position where like, “Okay, if you’ve got a growth strategy for your customers, and you’re winning them, and you’re delighting them, and you’re doing it profitably,  that might be sort of a slower growth curve, but it’s also a more stable one.” And if you just play this game, they will hate business cycles and we will make it through the other side of this contraction, and there will be another big wave of growth. And I think the folks can come out of this contraction period and say, like, “Hey, we’ve got strong solid businesses, we have customers who love what we do. Oh, all right now things are accelerating again, like yeah, here let’s pour on the gas.”

Saksham Sharda: So we talked to Jay McBain as well, who was also at the ecosystem conference. And, he said that Tech has always pulled the rest of the industry from every recession, and this is something that might happen again. What do you think of that?

Scott Brinker: I think I agree with that. Again, it’s hard to find a dimension of the modern economy that isn’t impacted by tech. I mean even if you say there’s going to be, like, the green energy, we’re going to say like, “well, that’s going to be this next way, the pools. Okay well, that’s technology.” I know we’re talking more SaaS, but there are going to be whole ecosystems, like how the software manages that infrastructure and capability, and how that plug into how all sorts of businesses from manufacturing and supply chains for further downstream business. Yeah, I guess I’d be curious what the counter my positive. Like, what else would bring us out of that fair?

Saksham Sharda: Okay, so the last question is a little personal, and keeping everything aside then it is, what would you be doing in your life right now if not this?

Scott Brinker: It’s hard to say. I would say one of the things I love about what I’m able to do today is this combination of being able to study these things myself and just be in a constant mode of learning, but then try and find ways to synthesize that and help share it and teach it and explain it to others. Yeah, I take a lot of joy in that process. And so I guess that would mean I’d probably be a teacher or some sort of curmudgeon college professor or something like that.

Saksham Sharda: Okay, all right, so meanwhile in some alternate universe, that’s what’s happening. But we have you here today. So that’s great. That was the last question.

Let’s Conclude! 

Saksham Sharda: Thanks everyone for joining us for this month’s episode of Outcrow’s Marketer of the Month. That was Scott Brinker who’s the VP of platform ecosystem at HubSpot. Thanks for joining us, Scott.

Scott Brinker: Thank you for having me. Take care.

Saksham Sharda: Check out their website for more details and we’ll see you once again next month with another Marketer of the month.

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