Carl Tsukahara CMO Birst

At DoubleDutch, we strive to unlock the business value of human connections by bringing the power of digital to live events. This is the latest in our CMO Perspective #PowerofLive series, where we interview progressive, innovative CMOs who are making live events a strategic part of their marketing approach.

Carl Tsukahara is a technologist turned marketer. After graduating college with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science and then starting his career as a programmer, Carl made the shift to marketing more than 20 years ago. He now refers to himself as a “veteran” with a resume that includes gigs and consulting at Oracle, Vitria, VMWare, WebEx, AppDynamics, and now Birst. With his background, it’s no surprise that he takes a data-driven approach to marketing strategy.

As CMO at Birst, Tsukahara is parlaying that data-driven approach to the company’s events and other programs.  And that starts with understanding that events often serve a different purpose than other marketing activities.

Keep reading for tips on how Carl uses events to diversify his marketing mix while ensuring events drive business results across the entire company.

Emily He, CMO of DoubleDutch: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Carl. Let’s start by talking about your role at Birst. What’s your main charter as CMO?

Carl Tsukahara, CMO of Birst: We like to measure our success by looking at the activities that we do and how they actually contribute to the revenue, bookings, and retention of customers. Even though I measure metrics like marketing-qualified leads and sales-accepted leads, the most important metrics tell what happens further down the funnel.

Anecdotal metrics are important, too. We look at our competitive positioning, our competitive win/loss rate, how are we doing in terms of funnel velocity in certain use cases — but ultimately it’s about making the sales and revenue teams more efficient.

Emily: That’s a very comprehensive answer, and I think that while marketing teams engage in a lot of different activities, there are usually one or two things they do really well that set the company apart.  What does Birst do really well from a marketing perspective?

Carl: Like a lot of tech companies, we’re in a very crowded category. So, one of the most important things we have done as a marketing organization is creating a strong, unique story in the market. When you have 25 or 30 companies in your magic quadrant, you need to get that story right so your sales organization can tell people what the company stands for. When you stick to one story, not everyone is going to like it. But when we find the right prospective customers, it really works.

Leads are nothing if they don’t lead to customer acquisition, and I think we are good at being introspective about what works and what doesn’t. We use data-driven decision making to optimize that process. We have improved our cost efficiency by 200 or 300 percent for every dollar we put into the pipeline.

Emily: I agree, there are so many canned metrics in marketing but it’s really about finding the ones that map directly back to your business model and ideal customer profile. The rest is just busy work.

Carl: Yes, and we have all coalesced as an entire company around what we call the “M7” which are 7 key reasons why a prospect likes Birst and converts. If you don’t have a fit with these key attributes, then your win probability shrinks by a lot. Our CEO often says that there are two winners in any deal: the company that wins and the company that loses fastest. The M7 help us get aligned to ensure we’re often one of the “winners.”

Emily: You’ve been in enterprise technology for a long time and have used various types of events to accomplish different goals — close sales, generate leads, build community. What are your main goals at Birst when it comes to events?

Carl: The pendulum swings around all the time but I think that in our current state of information overload companies are forced to make their event content far more useful to the customer than it has ever been before. If not, you risk them not listening anymore and you lose your audience. So we focus on peer-to-peer interactions and sessions at our events. Let’s get our customers talking to each other, and often we just get out of the way so they can share useful information.

Emily: Let’s get back to your data-driven approach to marketing decision-making. How do you quantify ROI from your event programs — which often have less tangible data to work with than other marketing practices — and how do you have this conversation with the CEO, CFO or the board?

Carl: You can’t look at the objectives of events the same as other marketing activities. If you think you’re going to get dollar-for-dollar ROI of going to a large tradeshow versus spending all that money interactively or in some other channel, you’re nuts. For instance, we’re going to a huge Gartner event next week and we’re a platinum sponsor. But we’re not expecting a billion new leads, since there just aren’t that many people there. It’s really to let our customers know we’re there and that we’re continuing to grow with a strong presence in the market. It’s for our brand and for 1:1 interactions with prospects, analysts and our current customers.

But I don’t measure the ROI the same way for such events. It’s not fair. We spend a ton of money on our user conference. Am I expecting leads? No. I’m happy when an executive from our clients or prospects comes up and says, ‘This is really great. I feel so much better about my understanding of the future of the business and I want to do more with you.”

Emily: That makes sense. What are some ways you use attendee data you capture from your events for marketing purposes using solutions such as DoubleDutch?

Carl: No matter what we do, at our scale we can’t have 100 percent account management coverage, so it’s really interesting for us to be able to capture the sessions our prospects and customers went to and drop that into Salesforce for everyone to see. Just having that data helps us better understand our accounts. Knowing, for example, that a customer went to a specific track on a topic we might not have know they were interested in can help us have much more meaningful conversations with our clients and prospects.

Emily: A lot of that type of information comes from attendees using their mobile device to engage with content and other attendees at the event. As a DoubleDutch customer, what advice do you have for companies that aren’t using mobile to augment their attendees’ event experience?

Carl: If you don’t do it, I feel like you’re being a dinosaur. My suggestion is a) use it, and b) personalize it to the experience your want your attendees to have. We ask our customer success team to help create customized agendas for our key customers and prospects based on their interests, or where they are in their deployment, or use cases that they’ve expressed interest in.

Emily: Stepping back and looking at events as a whole, what advice do you have for CMOs to enhance their marketing organization’s visibility and effectiveness through events?

Carl: The more you can involve other people throughout the company to make the event more valuable across the organization, the better. CMOs need to understand that events should help everybody in the company develop better relationships with customers — and find new opportunities. That’s what makes a CMO more valuable to the company, to the CEO, to the board — you don’t just think about your little corner of the world, like leads and number of attendees. You need to help others do their job, too.

Emily: At a lot of events, people I talk to are frustrated that they are seen only as a service provider. Many of them aspire to be a CMO but don’t feel like they are in a strategic role. What advice do you have for them?

Carl: It’s important that they understand the overall objectives of events and then make sure they are doing things that map back to those. Don’t just focus on making the lunch go well, if you act like an executor you’ll be treated like one. I’m not saying logistics aren’t important, but find goals you can set to make strategic things happen and make sure you report on them. You get a ton of forensics that happen, so find out what’s going on and report on it whether it’s customer meetings, on-premise contract signings, or making unhappy customers happy again.