Zak Pines is the Vice President of Marketing at Bedrock Data, a Boston based software company that connects, cleans, and synchronizes SaaS systems. I caught up with Zak to discuss systems integrations, closed loop reporting, and the importance of “a single view of the customer.”
Geoff Roberts (GR): Zak, why don’t you start by giving us a brief introduction to Bedrock Data.
Zak Pines (ZP): At Bedrock Data we help sales, marketing and operations teams connect disparate sales and marketing systems, without code or complexity. Marketing and sales systems are exploding, and as you add more and more systems, to get the most out of those systems they need to be connected and have aligned data.
It typically starts by ensuring you have a strong, multi-directional integration between your marketing automation and CRM system, and then layering on additional sales and marketing systems.
Some of the typical systems we connect are HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, and Eloqua (on the marketing automation side) and then Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite, ConnectWise, SugarCRM, Zoho, Insightly, Base CRM and Salesforce (on the CRM side), to name some.
GR: What’s the profile of your typical client?
ZP: Our clients tend to be small to mid-sized companies that are looking to grow and are reliant on sales and marketing to do that. They are looking to get technical projects done quickly without time consuming IT projects. Our customers come from all industries; many of them are SaaS, B2B companies themselves.
GR: Zak, you’ve been at Bedrock Data for about a year now. What led you to join the company?
ZP: Bedrock Data is solving a problem that I had first hand experience with. What’s unique about how we are solving this problem is we are looking to allow business users to connect and integrate systems in a turn key fashion, avoiding development, avoiding IT projects, avoiding long time lags. These were challenges I faced in the past and there’s huge value to businesses to operating in an agile manner. It was a compelling problem I had experience with and I was very motivated to help broaden the adoption of Bedrock Data.
GR: I had similar reasons for deciding to start building Outseta. I had spent a lot of time with early stage SaaS companies, both in operational and consulting roles. In both circumstances a common occurrence was the company’s VP of Engineering was spending a good chunk of their time integrating or maintaining the software integrations the business relied upon. These were highly skilled, expensive employees who had other competing priorities. For a start-up with limited runway, there is a very real opportunity cost associated with this work.
ZP: Geoff, to build on that I have a customer at Bedrock Data, a very progressive, bright President of a company who said something very similar about integration. He needed to connect Marketo and Zoho as his marketing automation and CRM systems and he said “I have a room full of developers, I have a CTO, I could have thrown this project to them but why would I do that? They have other priorities they are working on. The last thing I want to do is pull them off of those essential priorities to deal with system integrations when we could instead leverage a best-in-class pre-built connector."
GR: You’re a marketer Zak - what is the value proposition that Bedrock works to deliver to your clients?
ZP: We get your systems integrated faster, so that it’s not an IT project but something that can get done for sales, marketing, and operations teams. We get it done quickly and done well, leveraging best practices and expertise. Then on an ongoing basis, as needs evolve, you’re able to adjust your systems so they connect at the speed of the business. The value is therefore teams being well aligned, increased velocity around sales and marketing processes, and a better experience for customers.
GR: You just mentioned how systems integrations impact the customer experience. Can you talk me through that?
ZP: Integrated data has a direct impact on customer experience. I’ll give you several examples. As a customer, more and more companies are trying to leverage customer data to communicate effectively with their customers. It could be personalizing an offer to them when they visit your website. It could be personalizing an offer to them through email communications. If I have the wrong data about you, if you’re a customer but I think you’re a prospect because I’ve got duplicate data for you that’s not aligned, it’s actually going to result in a negative customer experience.
Another example is say a customer wants to change their email preferences - they want to communicate with you on certain topics but not others. If you have duplicate data that doesn’t get properly updated to that customer’s email address, that’s another negative customer experience. As a customer engaging with sales or support people, if those folks have the right visibility into my interests, how I’ve engaged with the website, past customer support tickets, that’s going to allow for a more relevant customer experience. It’s both automated, digital processes as well as more personal 1-on-1 interactions where this can personify itself.
GR: When do your customers typically come to you in search of your services - is there a particular stage in their lifecycle or a frequent trigger event that results in customers coming your way?
ZP: Yes, getting ready to add a key system like a HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot or Eloqua is one trigger. Alternatively companies come to us when they have been using those systems for a little while and begin to realize how important it is for those systems to connect across all their systems.
GR: Bedrock’s website speaks to “deep systems integrations without code or complexity.” How does your team deliver on that?
ZP: It all starts with a product that automates integrations. We index data, map fields, de-duplicate data, and control business rules for when data syncs. All of this is managed through a web interface.
It’s more than product though - it’s product plus process. We employ a rapid onboarding process, to help customers make key decisions around setting up the best possible integration. Bedrock Data integrates these systems, meaning data is passing between these systems. By that I mean it’s not an i-frame, and the reason that’s important is data needs to transfer between these systems in order to enable workflows in those systems, in order to show up on field records in those systems, in order to show up in reporting in those systems.
For example, when we’re passing marketing data into a CRM, when salespeople are using that CRM they want to see that information right there on the lead or contact or account record that they’re working with every single day. In order to do that, some work needs to be done in those systems to prepare for an integration. If I want to connect my marketing automation and CRM systems I need to have the right fields set up in those systems, and those fields need to be the same type, so I’m mapping a number to a number or a picklist to a picklist, and those picklists will need to match too. This is work that during rapid onboarding we can knock out in the course of an hour web meeting. We can help customers get all of this pre-work done, which might take them weeks or months to figure out without that expertise.
The rapid onboarding allows the systems to be connected much more quickly than a system integration project would have taken in the past. Our customers tell us they’re really getting two things from Bedrock Data - they’re getting the integration platform and they’re getting the expertise around how you connect these systems and get them working together most effectively.
GR: Across sales, marketing, and support how many point solutions are your customers typically using?
ZP: Many. 3-12 different systems is the norm.
GR: How do you see businesses quantify the cost of evaluating, integrating, and supporting so many SaaS systems?
ZP: When it comes to evaluating software, I think that’s a challenge in marketing technology today. There’s just such a crowded set of products with over 4,000 different marketing technology vendors. There are so many different options and it’s typically hard to understand the differences between them. I think evaluating software is a challenge for many companies, therefore they tend to rely on their network, rely on referrals, rely on input from people. That’s the evaluation piece.
As for integration - the traditional paradigm for integration is it’s a professional services or consulting engagement, so in terms of cost, that’s typically how people think about that. “What would someone charge me to do this integration? What would this cost me in terms of my own resources to hire a developer or hire consultants?” Bedrock Data is disrupting that by saying you don’t need to pay for the integration, we can help you get that done quickly, but you’ll pay more so for the ongoing management of those integrations. And the cost you pay ongoing will be less than what it would cost in terms of internal or external resources to manage your integration, and you’ll get the flexibility to make changes yourself, immediately.
Supporting integrations is an area most people overlook and it’s an area where Bedrock Data provides some education. Things like troubleshooting an API, having error reporting, or having the ability to easily add a new field or adjust a business rule, these are things that companies don’t typically appreciate heading into a project, that there will be resources required whether they are internal or external to maintain those integrations.
GR: Interesting. From my own experience - again with mostly early stage start-ups - I’d say most companies don’t associate much in the way of cost or pain when it comes to the evaluation stage. They tend to go with what they know, so it’s “I’ve used Mailchimp before,” or “I’ve used Hubspot CRM before.” I think the other factor at play is people, whether they are marketers or not, simply like to buy stuff. They don’t perceive software evaluation as painful as a result.
From there I tend to see start-ups underestimate the work required at the integration stage. There’s often this mindset of “I’m throwing my VP of Engineering at this, it should be a piece of cake.” It’s not so much that the work is terribly difficult, but the devil’s in the details and with poor documentation this often takes longer than expected. Or the company chooses to use a pre-built integration that simply doesn’t work as well as expected. But it’s really the maintenance of these integrations where I think the primary pain lies - these are simply not one-off projects.
ZP: Yep, totally agree with that.
GR: Switching gears a little bit now… I’ve come across many business leaders who speak to the value of well integrated technology that provides a unified view of the customer and enables data driven customer acquisition and success programs. That said, one of my own observations is most businesses underestimate what it’s actually going to take to deliver on this promise - whether it’s working with a company like Bedrock or just making the case for a full-time sales or marketing ops professional. Why do you think that is?
ZP: I don’t know that I have that opinion as strongly as you do, saying there are folks out there with that vision but not executing on it. What I’d say is it’s one thing to have a vision for closed-loop reporting, but to execute on that takes a lot of ongoing work. The devil’s in the details. It’s one thing to have a vision but you need to have methodologies for tagging data, for reporting on that data, so there’s a lot of work involved and that’s where the disconnect can occur between vision and implementation.
Also on this topic, something I’ve been advocating for is moving away from the structure of siloed marketing ops or sales ops, and instead having a unified role if you’re a relatively small business. I’ll be talking to James Carbary about this at the Aligned Virtual Summit. Really what I'm advocating for is having one operations person who’s capable in your marketing, sales, and customer success systems. Don’t think of it as a siloed or specialized role, think of it as a person who is going to support closed-loop operations across your entire business.
GR: What would you call that person in title?
ZP: Business Operations. Biz Ops. Or longer form could be something like Sales, Marketing, and Customer Support Operations.
GR: What is your advice for sales and marketing leaders who are trying to make a compelling case for further investments in this area? How can they best speak to the ROI that well integrated SaaS systems deliver?
ZP: First of all, Bedrock Data has relatively low price point so we’re typically not getting into ROI conversations; it’s more use case conversations to reinforce “what could this do for you?” The first thing is often speed of execution within your sales and marketing teams. One of the stats I like to go back to is an old study from insidesales.com, which is the great drop off that occurs in conversion rates as time passes when engaging with a prospect once they’ve reached out to you. So speed of execution, moving data from a marketing system to a sales system to a customer support system, this has real impact in terms of success rates for those various aspects of your business. Enabling sales and customer support people to have the most effective conversations impacts conversion and success rates. Enabling your marketing team to segment your database in a real-time fashion and communicate in real-time has an impact on conversion rates for customer marketing programs, and marketing programs in general.
Another key to this is closed-loop marketing. What’s emerging as a best practice is you integrate your systems so that you can directly connect your marketing investments and your dollars to the sales results and make data driven decisions on what’s working, what’s not working, and how you’re going to grow your business. The case for integration should center around driving growth.
GR: Cheers to that! Last but not least the question we’ve gotten dozens of different perspectives on… How important is or isn’t a “single view of the customer?” What’s your take?
ZP: I think there’s massive value in it for all of the reasons and use cases we’ve talked about in this conversation. What’s interesting to me about Outseta is you’re going to be marketing to smaller companies, start-up companies that don’t already have these systems in place, and that’s the right time to address the issue. As you layer on more and more systems, it becomes more and more challenging. If you can start your business with that integrated view, you’re going to be in a much stronger position to deliver on closed-loop reporting, ensure a really great customer experience, and keep your teams aligned from the start.