Interview with Alberto Sutton, SVP, Marketing, Onvia
On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us a little bit about your role at Onvia and how you got here?
I joined Onvia as Senior Vice President of Marketing in February 2016. I was attracted by the company’s unique position to resolve the friction in the vital yet complex business-to-government marketplace and, in turn, create mutual value for business, government, taxpayers, and society, at large. Onvia does this by equipping businesses of all sizes with sales intelligence and leads data to help them grow their sales in the public sector.
I’m in charge of accelerating brand awareness and demand pipeline for both new business and subscription renewals. I lead the team responsible for digital, social, and air cover communications, as well as vertical campaigns, content, market research, and customer engagement programs.
Prior to leading marketing at Onvia, I held marketing, product management and channel alliance roles in fast-growing technology companies in the areas of business intelligence, workflow automation, data infrastructure, systems integration, and collaboration platforms. My degrees are in industrial engineering (Politécnica, University of São Paolo) and marketing (Wharton MBA, UPenn).
MTS: What the main challenges in digital marketing, specific to the public sector?
I will answer from the points of view of both the vendors, selling goods and services to public sector, as well as the buyers in procurement teams of government agencies. These are the two sides of this vital business-to-government (B2G) ecosystem that Onvia serves.
On the vendor side, businesses of all sizes look for simplified ways to navigate the vast amount of data generated by the hundreds of thousands of agencies and data sources. Sales, marketing, and business development leaders are challenged to proactively reach target buyers, track projects awarded to competitors and distribute leads through their partner channels. Our flagship product, Onvia 8, helps them address these challenges and grow their pipelines by giving access to both current project leads in the form of published bids and RFPs, as well as the future leads identified in term contracts and spending plans. Onvia also provides profiles of agencies, including buyer and decision-maker contact information, to help companies create conquest and prospecting lists, helping marketers drive the equivalent of account based marketing (ABM) – which in the case of B2G could even be called ‘agency based marketing’.
On the buyer side, government procurement professionals are challenged to attract a greater number of well-suited bidders to their solicitations. They also want to increase procurement efficiency by improving their planning for the future, engaging the business community in pre-bid research, and finally just simply writing better bids and RFPs. They find answers to those challenges in our product for government, Onvia Exchange.
MTS: Could you give a brief overview of the Onvia 8 platform?
Onvia 8 is a sales intelligence platform that enables companies of all sizes to grow their business by selling more to the public sector. With Onvia 8, sales and marketing teams can discover more leads, pursue deals faster and plan strategically to get ahead of the bid.
For this major launch of Onvia 8, our team delivered innovations on these key fronts:
- New interface and mobile interactivity: Creates a more engaging, elegant and productive user experience – anywhere, on any device.
- Streamlined lead management features: Allows sales and marketing teams to work faster and more efficiently as they identify, qualify, track and share leads.
- Introduction of viewer licenses: Helps expand the reach of lead distribution across organizations and channel partners.
- Accessible future leads view: Scans expiring contracts and future spend in order to fill pipelines, influence bids and plan ahead.
Onvia 8 helps businesses wade through a fragmented, competitive and complex B2G contracting marketplace by equipping them with accessible data government bids and RFPs, agency and buyer profiles, award records, contact lists and competitive information. Sales and marketing teams can then track and share opportunities with their sales force, channel partners and distributors.
MTS: How does Onvia look to leverage marketing technology for its B2G clients?
Onvia 8 is in itself a sales intelligence and marketing technology. Our clients and users are professionals and leaders in sales, marketing and business development. They put Onvia 8 and our On Demand Reports – Contact Lists and Winning Proposals – to work in their companies in order to fulfill key marketing strategies and tactics:
- Discover more and more relevant leads
- Identify target agencies, their profiles and buyers contact information
- Create prospecting and conquest lists, for current and future opportunities
- Distribute and track leads to their sales field and channel partners
- Track competition, their bids and awards
- Make strategic decisions about geographic market expansion
MTS: How does Winning Proposals ease the burden of FOIA requests?
Let’s set the context for what FOIA requests are. The acronym stands for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Its relevance to B2G is that it allows companies to request that government agencies respond with details about contract awards, the winners and the decision criteria. That can be powerful information to refine pricing strategy and inform future bids. The problem is that companies will not always have time, resources or experience to trigger and follow up on such requests. They also hesitate to repeatedly contact agencies, assuming this could negatively impact their working relationship.
Onvia’s Winning Proposals solve these problems by removing the mystery around winning or losing public sector bids. Each time a new or existing Onvia client requests a Winning Proposals package on a given government solicitation, Onvia will identify agency contacts and policies, initiate requests under the agency’s defined procedures and follow up accordingly in order to obtain the proposal materials and related documents. Onvia’s years of expertise requesting such information from agencies, coupled with established agency relationships, ensures a high success rate and makes it easy for companies to execute on these often complex requests. Essentially, Onvia does the heavy lifting while vendors gain a competitive advantage.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
There are two main categories that I track: a) the sales intelligence and martech space (especially where AI is being introduced); b) software and services that help facilitate go-to-market execution in B2G.
The sales intelligence and martech space is hot and growing. Established players and startups are devising practical ways to apply AI and predictive analytics. There has been a huge proliferation of offers and players, but they are still focused on horizontal processes or functionality. Here at Onvia, our platform delivers on the fronts of sales intelligence, martech and innovations in data science – all helping companies in the wide variety of industries that sell to government.
The other front that I monitor actively is companies that focus on helping businesses execute their go-to-market in the public sector. In particular there are services, consultants and marketplaces providing help to companies after the point when they find leads in Onvia and move on to actually pursue government contracts. Our clients appreciate working with our partners with the capabilities of helping write and manage their proposals.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
Across our mix of marketing programs and go-to-market approaches, we prioritize and get the best ROMI on content marketing and email marketing. In turn, our MarTech stack is optimized for those programs.
Here’s our stack, including our own Onvia platform:
- Sales Intelligence: Data from Onvia platform (yes, we use the same platform our clients use to leverage the millions of records and identify companies to market to and grow our own business)
- CRM: SFDC
- Marketing automation: Marketo, Ringlead, Tout
- Email: Marketo, Clickback, Siftrock, ZoomInfo
- Web, SEO: Drupal, SEM Rush, Google Analytics, Alexa, Google Optimize
- Video: Wistia
- Social: Hootsuite
- PR: MuckRack
- Collaboration: Trello, Basecamp, Slack
MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?
I will call out our content marketing engine that feeds our promotions via email, traditional and social media, SEO and digital advertising. Having the data that we have – bids and RFPs, future spending, awards results and agency contacts – puts us in an excellent position to create data-driven content to help our demand gen in every stage of the funnel. We have data analysts publishing periodic market research reports. They include industry hotspots, growth trends, our contractor confidence index and even surveys of government procurement professionals. We use those reports to engage our core audiences in sales, marketing and business development, in all levels of their organizations, from individual contributors to mid-management to senior executives.
Our database also helps us identify clients with accelerated growth and ROI, which we turn into conversion types of materials. When we crunched the numbers about government contract awards to businesses, we compared the results achieved by our own clients and by the overall market. The data revealed that Onvia clients average 69% higher sales to the government, the median cost per lead for our clients is just $49 (and can be even less than $20 per lead), and that our clients are accelerating their sales up to 8x faster than the rest of the market.
Another example of a stand-out campaign is actually now in progress. I’m excited about the ongoing campaigns promoting the recent Onvia 8 launch, including our 10-city roadshow called “Onvia On Tour“. We are hosting great sessions featuring our clients and their success connecting with government. The real highlight of the events has been the panels with government officials and procurement leaders. They advise businesses about better connecting with government by engaging early ahead of the bids. They also talk about the civic impact and motivation behind their projects and their goals to engage small and minority owned businesses.
With regards to how we measure the impact of all these great campaigns, we are accountable to our bookings numbers. Of course we also measure activity, campaign performance, digital engagement and top-of-funnel lead volume, but the ultimate goal is our commitment to bookings and the bottom line. Our internal marketing dashboards have demonstrated our success in terms of increased contribution to bookings, while managing our cost of acquisition.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?
Curious story – I have an engineering and computing background and even coded an AI app in the ‘80s. In those days, programming AI meant predicting as many possible outputs and linking some response or action to each. It was not all that intelligence-like.
Nowadays the paradigm has shifted to programming of neural networks, where the machine learns over time through the exposure to data, patterns and events. But how to prepare for this and apply it to marketing?
I’ve been reading and attending seminars to hear about the most practical applications of AI, but my best source of insight has been from our own engineers at Onvia. We are ourselves applying machine learning to improve how we match how vendors search for leads to how governments describe their solicitations. It turns out to be an interesting and important natural language search problem to solve. Vendors want to see only the most relevant leads appear in their searches, so we help reduce noise, increase relevance and drive more matching of opportunities.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
“Curiosity.” That is the foundation to finding new solutions, innovating products, improving processes, applying analytics and improving a team’s overall performance. It’s much easier to achieve success when your teams are driven by curiosity. And if I’m allowed to pick another word, that would be “accountability.” Teams that can work inspired by curiosity and are driven by accountability end up succeeding by becoming teams that “get it and get it done.”
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
On the personal productivity front, I have a pretty good system using Outlook and OneNote. Excel still plays a key role in analytics. Then when it comes to collaborating across teams I rely on a variety of project management and BI tools. I used to prefer the homogeneous use of those types of apps but got used to so many of those – it ultimately depends on what makes the project owners and information analysts more productive and successful. I also use a variety of traffic and commuter apps to save time on the road.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
The hours I choose to be awake during the day, and how I use those hours. I used to be a night owl, but I’ve switched my “inner time zone.” I start my day early, tackling projects requiring quiet concentration. I rarely check emails during the day and dedicate the core of the day to meetings, as long as they have purpose, mainly to align key stakeholders, accelerate decisions and coach teams. Then I try to use the last few hours in the office to address emails, provide reviews and address approvals requiring my attention. It gives me the evening to dedicate quality time with family. Work life balance, done with intensity.
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I’m now reading this book “El Método Monchi.” Monchi is a sports director with a successful stint at Sevilla. The soccer club achieved success at the level of continental tournaments having to compete against clubs with much deeper pockets, like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United. Monchi’s method was to predict, attract and manage talent before they called attention of the big brands. That was an engine for competitiveness and profitability, as he would later sell his players at much higher values to those bigger teams. Great lessons about leadership in the process of managing talent and when it’s time to refresh your team’s talents, either because they are aiming for a new career level they can’t achieve in their current team or simply because the team needs new skills for new circumstances.
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Always ask for and act towards what you want. You increase your chances to get what you want. As a matter of fact those chances go from near zero (by not asking or acting) to something just dramatically higher than that. Do it. Don’t settle, don’t rely on just luck.
MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
Can I answer “parallel parking”? I’m really good at it, but I recognize that skill might become obsolete soon with the evolution of autonomous cars. Ok, with my hat of SVP of Marketing on, I will mention one thing that has consistently led to success is to praise my team members. Sharing credit, acting as their talent agent, shedding light on their accomplishments. That will not become obsolete. Most people will appreciate their managers doing that rather than themselves. It will contribute to their motivation, curiosity and accountability – there are those two words again!
MTS: Tag the one person (from the Martech space) whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
I would like to tag Michael King, from King Recruiting. Michael has been placing top CMOs and demand gen leaders in hot innovative companies in Greater Seattle and Bay Area. He can share his perspectives about desired marketers’ skills, how much of AI is already reality or still buzz, and the most popular martech vendors in the radar of his client companies and placed leaders.
MTS: Thank you Alberto! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Also Read: Interview with Jim Kaskade, CEO, Janrain
Instrumental and versatile executive with 20 years of multidisciplinary background in business technology & services – engineering degree, MBA, management consulting, system integration, sales operations, marketing, product management, channel strategy Tenacity to inject: results urgency, customer centricity, business- relevant messages, cross-functional work, and teams that “get it and get it done”. Influnetial to grow company by 7-10X (valuation, bookings, headcount). Know-how to introduce mobile-enabled, cloud-based software and driving SaaS subscriptions
Onvia is the leader in B2G sales intelligence and acceleration. We provide enterprise, mid-market and small business customers with the most comprehensive set of federal, state and local government contracting leads. Clients grow their sales pipeline with access to bids, RFPs and future spending data, along with agency contacts, competitor information and market analytics – all backed by our smart search technology, CRM integration and expert support. Resolving the friction in this $2 trillion market, Onvia creates mutual value for public and private sectors, taxpayers and society at large.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.