On Tuesday, May 17, the Chief Marketing Officer Institute will reveal the winners of its "CMO of the Year" award for leadership excellence. As we did last year, CMO.com is publishing exclusive interviews with each of the nine finalists, who discussed with the CMO Journal the strategies and tactics they employed to achieve marketing success at their respective organizations.
>> Category: Small To Midsize Organization
>> Company Description: Rimini Street is the leading third-party provider of enterprise software support services. The company is redefining enterprise support services with an innovative, award-winning program that enables Oracle and SAP licensees to save at least 50 percent in annual support fees and up to 90 percent in total support costs over a decade. Clients can remain on their current software release without any required upgrades or migrations for at least ten years. Hundreds of global, Fortune 500, midmarket, and public sector organizations from virtually all industries have selected Rimini Street as their trusted, independent support provider.
>> Highlights: Rimini Street achieved record results in 2010, growing revenue to an all-time high with 44 percent year-over-year growth, finishing 2010 with the largest sales quarter in company history, and increasing customer renewals to an all-time high at over 95 percent. The company won awards for fastest-growing technology company, hottest software-related company, and one of the best places to work in the Bay Area.
>> The Conversation:
CMOJ: In 2010 you led the marketing team to develop and deliver several innovative improvements for lead nurturing and sales enablement that drove marked improvements in lead-to-sales yields. Among those improvements, which would you recommend most to fellow marketers similarly interested in improving their conversion ratios?
DR: First, success in the lead-to-sales pipeline only happens if sales and marketing are tightly aligned and synchronized. For sales and marketing to get any closer at Rimini Street, I'd have to get down on one knee and propose. There are just too many interdependencies to have it any other way.
To this end, the marketing team is constantly mining for new sales tool ideas from the sales team and from analysis of the sales pipeline data. We even have the sales team vote to help prioritize the development of key sales tools. This led to the development of several innovative tools that helped the sales team increase yields by 55 percent last year, which is a lot easier and more efficient than trying to create enough new leads to achieve the same increase in sales. For example, we created an interactive, Web-based return-on-investment scenario planner that helps the prospect visualize their potential savings from third-party support and enables the sales person to create a formal savings proposal based on the prospect's own data, all online.
We have also developed and deployed advanced lead-nurturing strategies through our marketing automation tool. Our demand generation team developed a multi-phase, multi-level, and multi-stage lead education and nurturing program that drips specific messages to targeted prospects based on attributes such as their role in the organization, industry, activity on our website, and several other factors. Through this effective use of lead nurturing via marketing automation, we have seen a marked improvement in our ability to move early-stage leads into sales-ready prospects, in addition to an overall increase in leads, without any increase in headcount.
CMOJ: You've used "bleeding edge automation" to facilitate reasonably dramatic gains in productivity -- but that success can't be faultless. What's the most painful lesson you've learned in the realm of marketing automation during your tenure at Rimini Street, and what advice would you provide fellow CMOs to help them avoid such pitfalls?
DR: With the deployment of marketing automation tools, much like reading a great novel, if you try to skip to the end you miss all the lessons of the story.
The best advice I can share is to develop and follow a step-by-step implementation plan for your marketing automation toolset and not try to implement the perfect "whiz-bang" lead-nurturing system all in one step. I am a big fan of technology and push to leverage as much as possible as quickly as possible, but with marketing automation this can result in a suboptimal deployment. The reason is that in each stage of a typical marketing automation rollout, you extend the tool to new lead-nurturing levels, which offer exciting opportunities to learn in real time how your prospects react to new offers and messages. If you bypass all these stages, you lose the chance to gain vital knowledge along the way. After an initial false start, we learned to deploy one stage at a time, testing and measuring results and identifying best practices along the way. It may be more work than skimming the CliffsNotes, but much of the value from marketing automation is gained by what you learn as each chapter of the story unfolds.
Our team learned many other lessons along the way, including the dramatic need for content to feed the increased lead nurturing, the need for ongoing management of the automation program, how staff resourcing requirements shift between job functions with the deployment of automation, and how automation can be threatening to the very people that will ultimately benefit from it. However, none of these would have been gleaned if we had not ultimately chosen to follow each step of the process.
CMOJ: You've led Rimini Street's marketing efforts since 2006, when the company had only 6 customers and 12 employees. Today the company has 400 customers, including 38 of the Fortune 500 and 11 of the Global 100, and services client operations in more than 60 countries. What words of advice would you share with marketing leaders who are -- or hope to be -- on a similar corporate growth trajectory?
DR: Let's set aside a few obvious recommendations that are of great importance but we all know well, including hire great people, be passionate, and think creatively, among others, and highlight three that I believe many marketers often overlook.
First, be strategic. Yes, we marketers have to expertly deliver on what seems like hundreds of deliverables a day. But don't forget to take a step back and ensure that your marketing team and the entire company is on the right strategic track. Lots of marketers can manage the marketing production line. It's the vision and strategic decisions that ensure all that hard work pays off.
Second, sweat the small stuff. The small details matter, from that last phrase in the last line of your press release to how you train tradeshow staff to greet booth visitors with a smile, eye contact, and a friendly hello. Your brand is a promise that should be reinforced in all that you do, down to the very last detail. It's so easy to throw in the towel on that last sentence in the press release with deadlines looming and revert to mindless "marketing speak" -- don't do it. Make that sentence matter because your prospects will spot the fluff a mile away.
Last and most importantly, remember that everything you do should relate to the customer and prospect. At Rimini Street, the customer and the prospect are the center of our business, and we evaluate every deliverable and program on the basic question, "What's in it for them?" Identify the three key messages your customer/prospect should take away from every program, and your focus, content, and results will improve immensely.
CMOJ: Describe the relationship you have with your CEO, Seth Ravin. What are his expectations of you and your team, and how are those expectations measured?
DR: Seth is well known in the industry as a great marketing mind, and he expects nothing less than excellence in all facets of marketing. This can be intimidating for some, but ultimately, it's the same expectation we should all have for ourselves anyway.
At the most basic level, the marketing team is measured by the volume of leads we deliver and the revenue we help the sales team close. However, as we all know, there is a lot more to marketing than just the top-level metrics, and this is where it gets interesting working with Seth.
Rimini Street is in the middle game of a strategic chess match as we work to completely open the traditionally closed market for enterprise software annual support. Fortunately, Seth isn't afraid to make an atypical move or to test a new approach, even if the results will be hard or impossible to measure. We spend hours and hours discussing marketing strategy and brainstorming how to play our next moves. The level of collaboration between Seth and me far exceeds what I have seen at any other company, and our belief is that for marketing to be successful throughout the company, it has to be tightly linked and integrated with the business strategy as well as every other function within the organization. He recognizes the importance of innovative ideas and strategies and expects marketing, and our entire executive team, to think this way as well.
How are these strategic expectations measured? As a team, when we win the match.