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Podcast: How to Run Your Marketing Organization Like A Business

Marketers Count Podcast

Episode 1: How to Run Your Marketing Organization Like A Business

Our CMO James Thomas recently sat down with Palo Alto Networks‘ David Cohen to talk about how marketers can shift their thinking and run their organizations like business units.

The goal? Driving revenue – and making marketers count.

David and James discuss:

  • What are the first steps a marketing org should take to shift focus from being purely tactical to driving ROI?
  • What are some common challenges of large, disparate marketing teams and solutions for overcoming these?
  • How exactly can every marketer on the team make a difference to the bottom line?

…or check out the podcast transcript below:

James Thomas: Welcome to Marketers Count, a podcast by Allocadia. I’m James Thomas, CMO of Allocadia. At Allocadia, we help CMOs and marketers allocate their investments thoughtfully, plan strategically and make decisions with confidence – making marketing organizations revenue driven. Our Marketers Count podcast series highlights modern marketers and thought leaders who we believe are radically transforming the way that organizations do business and changing the way we think about marketing in 2015 and beyond.

Our guest today is David Cohen, Director of Business Planning at Palo Alto Networks. I’m really excited for a couple reasons today to have David join us. First, I actually worked with RenéBonvanie who is the CMO of Palo Alto Networks. Rene was one of the most passionate people I know, looking at how marketers can make an impact on the organization. David is a great person to talk about because in his role he has really unique perspective that encompasses both the needs of the marketing organization and the needs of the business as a whole.

One thing we keep talking about here at Allocadia is how marketers need to put their business hats on and think more like CEOs. At the end of the day the job of a marketer is to drive revenue. We’re really glad today to talk about this angle with David. David thanks for joining us today.

David Cohen: Hi James, thanks for letting me join. I’m happy to be here.

James Thomas: You have a really interesting background in your career and we were excited to talk to you quite a while ago when we first started talking to Palo Alto Networks, but we really wanted to talk a bit about you today. Tell us a little bit about your background, your professional career and how you got to where you are today.

David Cohen: Great, high-level I basically have a background in finance. I kind of grew my career through the corporate FPNA route, doing planning, analysis and all those things. I was lucky enough to join Palo Alto Networks about 5 1/2 years ago. More recently, I started to find that I love being in the strategic side of things; looking beyond the financials into what’s going on in the business. That kind of transitioned me over to marketing, and now working with our CMO.

James Thomas: So you’re not a marketer by trade or by experience, but looking at this as an area of the business where you thought you could make a big impact. That sounds about right?

David Cohen: Exactly. I felt like the direction of the company was driven in a lot of ways by marketing.

Marketing is a lot about strategy, about looking how do we brand ourselves? What messages do we send? What do we know about the business, about our customers and how do we use that and leverage that to grow?

To me, it felt like the right fit.

James Thomas: Your title today is Director of Business Planning. Can you tell us a bit more about what that role means to you?

David Cohen: Sure. Overall, I would say there are three areas. The first area, one most relevant to this conversation, is the marketing planning aspect. Doing things from setting the financial targets and the strategic targets in terms of what metrics we’re driving to. Then, really helping the marketing organization, as a business, drive for those. Make sure we’re doing it fiscally responsibly, right? So that we’re making our targets and we’re doing so by spending the appropriate amounts, by not over spending.

Secondly, there’s a big aspect of what we call strategic business analysis or customer analysis. That’s where we look at our data, what our customers are doing, what is their buying behavior, what have they done with us over time? We look at that, to both project out where we’re going but also where we might have some issues, or where we might go back and re-visit a lot of customers and try to help drive more growth and valuation out of them.

Third, is really the market sizing and what we could call customer segmentation. Understanding what markets we’re in, what the size of those markets are, how are they growing, what are individual industries doing, what are individual customers doing, how would we segment those customers so we can resource them appropriately on the sales side? This is an area where I get go beyond the marketing view and actually work with other parts of the organization to really help us grow.

James Thomas:I think it’s fascinating to hear you talk about these three areas around planning and customer analytics and segmentation. It’s not often what people think about, when they think of marketers who haven’t done this job before. They think about a lot of the different activities we do, trade shows and events and the advertisement we do. You really are looking at driving the business from the ground up. At Allocadia, we talk about the concept of being customer obsessed – really understanding what the customer is trying to do – and being revenue driven. I know when we talked to René, quite a while ago, it was really about the drivers of growth. It must be great for you to be in this situation, where you’re actually in that area where you’re supporting both the CMO but also supporting marketers. I think we’ll talk more about that later.

David Cohen: Absolutely.

James Thomas:Maybe, just before we jump too much deeper, can you tell us a bit more about Palo Alto Networks; what do you do and who your customers are, how do you work with different types of customers?

David Cohen: We’re a cyber security company and we develop the only enterprise security platform that safely enables applications and users. We’re focused on prevention – no breaches, we don’t want to see breaches. Our goal, at the end of the day, is to successfully prevent breaches from happening in the digital age. When I say the digital age, it’s what you and I and everybody else that could listen to this, that talks, that goes out to a consumer, as a business person; everything that they engage with. Credit cards with financial data, customer data, all of those things. We’re trying to prevent that information from being stolen and used inappropriately.

James Thomas:What type of organizations do you typically work with? It sounds like a pretty broad range of companies have these challenges. Where’s your sweet spot from a Palo Alto Networks perspective?

David Cohen: I would put it into three areas. I would actually say we focus primarily with enterprises, government organizations and service providers. I think that gives us a broad spectrum to basically touch every single consumer, business person, out there. We are B2B but once again the B2B that we approach are going to protect the consumers at the end of the day.

James Thomas:Lots of different markets but are really heavily enterprise focused and B2B. Can you tell us a bit more about your marketing organization? How many people you have? What are some of the major functions within your marketing team?

David Cohen: We have way more than a 100 people in marketing across the globe. We’re doing all sorts of things, from advertising to brand to demand generation to communications, events. It’s a typical marketing organization that we are continuing to grow and scale as a company because we know how important it is to have our message out there and to really help drive the business with that, to help support the sales team.

James Thomas:It’s that thing, when we do talk about B2B marketing, we think about cyber security and things that are sometimes under the radar. Sometimes, those topics get a lot of attention out there. How much do you engage in things like social media marketing and other types of activities, more modern types of digital marketing? Not deep into your mix, but how do you think about some of the modern technologies and how they impact what you do at Palo Alto Networks?

David Cohen: Great question, well really when you think about it, we have to focus on a lot of those technologies. We have to use them if we’re going to protect them, right? We actually spend a lot of time doing social media, doing digital advertising, all sorts of things across the globe. You can be very targeted in that approach and to grow in scale, the generic marketing of the past, of just doing certain types of events, blasting the entire world, it’s not going to work for everybody. People want a very tailored message and so using these different tools and using these different types of systems we can actually hit the right types of customers. Really focus the message, there are plenty of messages to send out there. If we know exactly what we want to speak to, to the specific set of people, we have a better chance at being successful.

James Thomas:Yeah, it’s fascinating the technologies we have available to us and the ways that people communicate have really changed. One of the things you talked about earlier is your job is about telling a story behind the numbers, there’s so many different types of data that you get inundated with today. Talk to us a little bit about what your role within the organization to take all the activities that marketing is doing and roll that up with a story that makes sense for your organization.

David Cohen:

The first thing is to step out of the marketing hat and really understand the business. How is it working? How do the different pieces come together? How do we interact with our customers? What are our business processes? By understanding all those different aspects, I now can use the data from all of these different sources and come back and answer that question.

Generally speaking, when I answer a question like this, I have to be able to do it in one slide or three or less bullet points. Taking a lot of data and simplifying it down, that’s really the art of it, right? All kinds of things we look at, could be for instance which is a topic you guys might have as well: When does a customer refresh on what they have? When do they renew? Or when do they do this? What do we do to make sure that that customer is up to date? When does that happening? How often? That’s one of those questions that comes back and we have to say, what percentage of our customers are going to refresh at what point in time? What do we have to offer to them to keep them up to date?

James Thomas:We do a lot of work on really understanding customers but also prospects, looking at a much more scientific approach to things like lead scoring and understanding that there are buying behaviors that show up throughout the sale cycle. Early stage, through mid-funnel to end of funnel. We did a lot of guessing in the past and we did a lot of grunt work and just lots of hardcore switching marketing messages. Now, I know in our company and I know in many other companies, that just can’t afford to do that anymore. We’ve put some real science behind it, both from the lead scoring side and understanding the budgeting and the planning and the metrics and the return on investment that drives.

That kind of leads us to our next question; you’re a high growth organization, I know, working with Rene in the past that there is a huge passion for growth and where growth comes from. It also has a lot of challenges, when you’re trying to grow a marketing organization. You mention marketing has changed more in the last few years than they have in the last 50 years. Can you talk about some of the challenges you have and how you specifically have dealt with them over at Palo Alto?

David Cohen: I think the way to start it off is, we have one rule in marketing: go big or go home. That’s the follow-up for everything we do, like we want to be there, we want our presence to be known, we want to be unique. We have to do that in many ways, but what really sets us apart is our focus on data and systems. The data and the systems we use to leverage that data can really help us make the best decision. It’s all about making sure that we understand every little aspect of the business, of the customer, of the prospect and being able to put that into something that is deliverable. Something that’s effective to them, individually. You could end up with a 100 different messages you need to send, because you need a 100 different customers with all different interests. Understanding who they are, where they come from, what they are interested in; that’s just all one part. Our challenge is really to make sure that we grow by being effective in our approach and to be effective you have to be very targeted. I think that’s the best way I can summarize it.

James Thomas:There’s lots of different ways that you’re engaging with customers through the process. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the processes and systems you’ve used … more of the back office to understand how much you’re spending, what’s working, what’s not and some of the return on investment that you’ve needed to have to show and prove the growth of your organization?

David Cohen: I think that’s a great lead-in to what we want to talk about, right? Which is: we had a very interesting process before… in the last two yearswe had a lot of disjointed systems. We kind of had an idea what we were spending, we had an idea where our money was going, but we weren’t able to connect it back to what the results were.

That’s actually why we wanted to talk with Allocadia. We really felt, and we had very high hopes for what Allocadia may be able to provide us to connect our financial data to our ROI or our performance data. We have since then gone down a path of implementing Allocadia to do just that. To basically tell us, to basically be the process. From a budget, to an activity, to a final spend in invoice. Connecting that all back so that we can answer the question; what’s working and what’s not? We have very high hopes that Allocadia can be that tool, be that system that delivers.

James Thomas:We’ve been working with you a fair while to understand your business processes, how you want to do things. Tell us a little more how you were managing the budget before you looked at Allocadia? How that process was working? What some of the challenges were? What some of the opportunities you saw were?

David Cohen: I think I can say one word and that one word will make everyone cringe; that’s spreadsheet.

We were managing all of our stuff in spreadsheets and things like Google Docs which great when you need that flexibility and you just need something up and running quick. The fact is, spreadsheets don’t really connect to a lot of things. You have a budget and a spreadsheet, then you have your activities and your campaigns and sales force. Then you have your financial data sitting in the RP system. The issue is: how do you connect all those?

When I started talking to Allocadia, that was my goal. My goal was basically to say, I need to understand budget to actual and both on the financial side and on the performance side. What we’ve been able to do, which is also a connection of all these things;we’ve been able to talk to Allocadia and work collectively to develop something that actually connects it.

Where we’re headed with it is: budgets go into Allocadia, they send data straight from Allocadia into Salesforce to create campaigns and purchase requests. After that stuff is processed through, we can reconnect the purchase request and the associated invoices and other actuals like credit card information back in Allocadia, where we can now see what we budgeted, what we spent and eventually we’ll be able to see what we got for that – in terms of leads, pipelines, and potential bookings and sales. That’s the goal.

James Thomas:If you think about this concept, many of our customers are looking for this idea of a single system of record for marketing data and performance. If you thought about your ideal marketing system from a business planning perspective, what would be the one thing you’d want to see? What do you think you CMO would want to see out of that data, that you think you can start to provide with a system like Allocadia?

David Cohen: I would say that as best as possible, real-time answers to how are we tracking against the budget? That is the one question that I get from Rene all the time. How are we tracking against our budget? Once you’re there, that leads you to the next question, which is: what are we getting for that? If Allocadia can answer those two questions, then it’s a success.

James Thomas:We have a methodology we have here called the Path to Performance. The whole idea is, let’s stop trying to do everything at once, but know that budgeting is really that means to an end. I think that you’re one of those ideal customers that can look at the problem and not try and solve all of this but say, “If I can answer the question, how much have I spent? How much do I have left?”, it gives you then, the credibility of any organization to say “Now let’s go further and let’s look at how our results are performing.” ROI is such a complicated topic. Can you talk, just quickly, about how you look at return on investment and what that means to you at Palo Alto?

David Cohen:

We want to know the dollars we’re spending are generating pipeline. For us, it’s all about being able to connect that in terms of understanding: who are the people we are reaching? What are they doing? Are we actually getting pipeline and eventually sales from them? What are those things that we are doing that are working? What are the things that we are doing that are not so effective? That’s where you want to spend the time with ROI – understanding where you’re spending money that is not getting you anything.

I’m going to add to that and say there are things that you still have to do that don’t get you those results but there are things that you know that you have to do. Either you have to be present at certain industry-based events, because that’s where people get that first view of you. You have to do certain types of customer appreciation things that may not lead to a single dollar more of spend in any connectable way. You have to keep people engaged, so you have to understand what’s that mix because you’re going to spend things that are going to directly generate ROI, you’re going to spend other things that are going to eventually do that.

Then there’s a third bucket of things that you’re going to spend on that you just need to reduce and stop because they’re not getting you something and you’re losing out on potential revenue by doing that.

James Thomas:If people take nothing more out of this podcast, I would love people to get that many times people come up and say, “I want to prove the value of this trade show” or this email campaign, or other activities, this digital marketing ad. It makes no sense in modern marketing because we all know that there are multiple touch points along the way.

There’s this big talk in our industry about attribution and everybody really defines it differently. This is where I think there’s an art and science to marketing that sometimes you just have to do things, you have to get creative and you have to put your creative hats on. You have to be thinking about those events that may not drive direct revenue. That’s why progressive marketing organizations look at a tool like Allocadia as a great way to understand some of those metrics. But they also make sure that they are not just managing their spend but they’re actually looking at what are the activities that are working to drive revenue and growth by analyzing their marketing automation data in conjunction with their revenue data. I think you put it really well, so thanks for that.

One other area I wanted to highlight, and I know it’s something that you’ve been pretty passionate about and we have as well at Allocadia is the core belief that every marketer counts. This isn’t just a marketing operations problem; every marketer, every person on the marketing team has an impact and should be thinking like the CMO. I know you’ve talked a lot about the different teams within your organization as being really important to you. Can you talk about the different people and different teams and different objectives that you want to build the system for that makes the most sense for your organization?

David Cohen: Yeah, I think the biggest piece for me is really focusing on something that is easier for the field marketers. They’re the people that are in front of everything, they’re the people that are the last point of contact. The actual physical point of contact for all of the prospects and the customers. They’re out there, they’re the ones doing the activity, they’re the ones that are delivering the message through all of the different things that we can do. They’re also very demanding, because not only is their customer the sales team but it’s also the customer. We want to make them happy and part of the way to make them happy is to provide them the right types of tools. Particularly, one system that allows them to track their transactional information and have it streamline all the way through. Point of entry – how many times you put something into a system or into multiple systems. Can you reduce that?

That’s my biggest area; I want to make sure that they [field marketers] can spend more time actually being out there doing marketing and less time sitting in a system trying to update stuff and trying to match things and trying to say, “I have this spreadsheet here and I have this spreadsheet here, how do I connect them so I know what’s going on?” That’s not useful.

James Thomas: We both know René [Bonvanie] and some of his objectives, talk to me about how René looks at this type of a problem as a CMO, from a growth perspective. What is he looking for, from you?

David Cohen: He’s looking to answer that one question: how much did I spend against my budget? That’s what he’s looking for, out of everything I’m doing relating to this topic. For him, we have our finance stakeholders, we’re stakeholders in the company, and we all have that same goal of ROI. To me, one of the high hopes for Allocadia, is that it’s that tool we can use as marketing, and finance can use it on their end, and it connects us. It connects us in a way to tell our story and to support why we’re spending the money we’re spending and why it makes sense from time to time to give us more. As well as, what is the impact of taking away? For us, it’s all about understanding where we’re are to our number and helping finance understand what we’re doing so that they know what they’re getting for it. A lot of times, what we do in marketing is more about … it’s not something that you can easily measure. We want to make sure we can measure everything we do.

James Thomas: I love that. I know I was a Allocadia customer before I joined and the two reasons as a CMO that I was most interested in was to make sure that I felt confident we were spending money correctly. When anytime there was a risk of a budget cut I could say, “Yep, we can do that, but here’s the impact on the revenue of the organization.” Not that I’ll get less leads, but make a difference, and have an intellectual conversation because not everything we do works. Marketing is hard, there’s lots of different things that go well and some that don’t, have an intellectual versus an emotional conversation, which is I think the one we all want to have.

David Cohen: Things change. What you did yesterday, may not work today. You have to be able to continue to evolve.

James Thomas:It’s incredible the changes that we’ve seen in the past few years. We used to do webinars with a 1,000 and now get a 100. We used to write white papers and now we write tweets. Thinking about the massive changes in marketing and being able to adapt along with it, and have the visibility. Kind of leads to the final question. Now that you can see clearly how spend is performing, how do you think that these changes and uses of different technology and systems will impact the marketing organization but also the company as a whole?

David Cohen: Yeah, I can break that down into many different points. Going back to what I was saying about field marketers out there: reducing the amount of times they spend in systems so they can spend more time in the field actually doing what they’re supposed to do. That’s a huge benefit. Additionally, as we continue to grow as a company, the more efficient we can be with every dollar, the better off we’re going to be. We’re going to be forced to anyway, so we have to be on top of that, we have to know where we can scale back, and where we can accelerate.

Once again, at a leadership level, it’s all about having the intelligent ROI conversation. Not only managing our money, but also where we should be spending our money. That way, we can make better strategic decisions.

It’s about exceeding targets, not making targets at the end of the day. Then, bigger picture at the end of the day; competitive advantage. We want to know that what we’re doing is effective because that’s going to set us ahead of everyone else who may not know what they’re doing. They’re spending money on things that might not be as efficient, might not be as effective. If we can actually be efficient with every dollar we spend, we stay ahead of the game.

James Thomas:Thanks so much David, I couldn’t have wrapped it up better myself. That’s a great way to look at what the challenge of modern marketing is all about. We spend so much time in marketing thinking about all our systems and processes but really this goal, as marketers, that we all need to have is about how we drive revenue. How we bring together all the different data from our different systems together to really look at how we impact the growth of the organization, the effectiveness of marketing and also to make marketing more fun to do. I really appreciate you joining us today David, really appreciate your insight. Thanks for joining us.

David Cohen: Thanks again for having me, I was a lot of fun. I really appreciate it.

James Thomas:Marketers count, and if you’re a marketer that means you. To our listeners, thank you for joining us today and we hope you learned a lot today. I know I did and got some really valuable nuggets of information on how we need to think about our jobs in 2015 and beyond.

If you’d like to learn more about Palo Alto Networks, you can visit them at or find David Cohen on LinkedIn. If you’d like to learn a little more about getting your budgeting and planning off of spreadsheets and into a centralized system, like Palo Alto has done, and like over 150 customers who have also invested in our technology, check us out at Thanks again, and we’ll talk to you soon.

The post Podcast: How to Run Your Marketing Organization Like A Business appeared first on Allocadia.