MarTech Interview with Steve Gershik, CMO at inRiver

MarTech Interview with Steve Gershik, CMO at inRiver
MarTech Interview with Steve Gershik, CMO at inRiver

“As organizations use AI and Data to stay relevant to their buyers in real-time, they need Automation to ensure they are being fully adaptive to meet those needs. “

Could you tell us about your role and journey into B2B Marketing Technology?

It’d be my pleasure. I’ve been in B2B Marketing for 21 years now. The last 15 of which have been in and around primarily SaaS companies. My journey into the miasma of Marketing Technology solutions started about 15 or 16 years ago with a company called Nuance Communications and in a Demand Generation role. Since then, I have found myself an interlock between Sales and Marketing in various roles in companies like SirusDecions, Eloqua/Oracle and a few others throughout the years.

What all of these companies have in common is that they help organizations understand and engage with buyers across digital channels. And, there is a whole set of enabling technologies which need to be stitched together and orchestrated to deliver exceptional customer experience at scale. My B2B Marketing journey started with a role in Demand Generation 15 or 16 years ago and I haven’t looked back.

As a global PIM company, how has the B2B ecosystem evolved in the last 2-3 years around Marketing, Sales and Customer Success tools and platforms? 

As you know, there have never been more solutions in Marketing Technology than there is today. Just look at Supergraphic assembled by Scott Brinker at ChiefMarTec with over 7,000 solutions and growing. It’s now viewable only with an electron microscope because of how many different vendors there are, not counting consolidation between vendors over time.

So, if the technology exists, then the real challenge is in integration with the people, the process, and the technology across the organization. I think that the companies that succeed are going to be the most adept at using relevant tools and processes to achieve their business outcomes.

How do you leverage AI, Data Science, and Automation to stay competitive and relevant to the current PIM industry? 

At inRiver, we are incorporating AI features like textual analysis, automated translation, and recommendations. We have worked to incorporate more sophisticated analytics within our iPMC platform because organizations need help to action the vast amounts of data that are now available to them.

As organizations use AI and data to stay relevant to their buyers in real-time, they need automation to ensure they are being fully adaptive to meet those needs. Teams cannot do things manually anymore because the rate of change and complexity is rapidly increasing. I like to say that we’re all bionic marketers now. We’re part human and part technology and AI is really what’s going to be the key to machine-assisted Marketing over time.

Could you tell us a unique use case scenario where your customers leveraged PIM platform to accurately analyze customer dis-satisfaction and control attrition? 

In order to do that, we have to acknowledge that our platform plugs into analysis analytics platforms to easily determine what products are driving ongoing revenue over time. However, what really controls customer satisfaction in e-commerce and B2B manufacturing comes down to meeting customer expectations. That hinges on complete and accurate product information across each and every channel and marketplace. An example is in how poor product information impacts returns or poor conversions. If buyers can’t find the details and product content to assure them they are buying the right product, they will find a solution elsewhere. In fact, it happens in under 10 seconds according to primary research we did with global consumers.

This now applies to things like supply chain information. We’re seeing more and more consumers looking for information that typically wasn’t provided for them in the past like sustainability information, source of ingredients, and how are these ingredients assembled.

They want to know fair trade practices and carbon footprint from manufacturing to delivery and what are the end effects of that? That sustainability and supply chain information is needed more and more, and customers that don’t get it will buy from manufacturers and B2B sellers that will provide it to them.

What kind of Product Information are customers more likely to search online? How does inRiver help fix the gap between what brands show and what the consumers truly want? 

That’s a great question. Buyers today searching for anything that helps them make the right buying decision and that can be anything from product reviews to descriptions, to demo videos, to technical specifications or even that sustainability information. inRiver makes it easy to quickly respond to changing needs and requirements from buyers – whatever they may be.

One use case of how inRiver or a PIM can help them is by getting seasonal merchandise to market quicker for more selling days. An example would be a holiday season or if you’re selling office supplies or back to school gear has a need to be to market quickly. It helps brands deliver the product information buyers require quickly to enable more selling days (because that’s key to driving revenue) and consumers can find exactly what they are looking for in a frictionless way.

Today’s teams need to use Adaptive Merchandising if they want to be successful. This means knowing how buyers are making purchasing decisions, adapting their needs, and merchandising product content so that they may make the most informed purchase decisions. Everything today is product content and the better we get at thinking this way, the better we can serve our buyers and customers.

What Marketing-related challenges do you meet every day? How does technology and collaboration tools help you to overcome these? 

Thank you for this question, it’s important to recognize Marketing challenges. With the proliferation of all these technologies and tools, the burden has shifted from can we solve the challenge to how can we solve the challenge. That involves change management and data management. We share these same challenges with all our customers. When I talk to customers, I ask, “What is the biggest headache of implementing a PIM system?” The answers are not related to features of functionality. They’re related to the people and processes within the company, and we have that too.

As a growth stage company, we look for ways in which we can keep all our people aligned. How can we adapt our processes and be agile enough in the way that we approach things to be responsive to the needs of our customers and the marketplace.

Which Marketing, Sales, and Customer Support technologies do you leverage at inRiver?

Well, nearly every growth stage company has an entire portfolio of technologies from account research and contact sourcing, to the main hub of our CRM system and Marketing Automation. We use Salesforce and Pardot as our Marketing Automation system for data hygiene and cleansing. We also use Conversational Marketing technology from Drift to engage with website visitors and Zoom for webinars and communications. In addition, we use Zendesk on the customer success side to help power our customer success and support portal. It’s a mix of best-of-breed technologies that enable us to stay aligned, measure performance, and optimize all we do.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a CMO of a PIM company? What are your predictions for 2020? 

Well, just because you can do something with a machine doesn’t mean you should. There are plenty of examples of that in the world. I think what’s key for any CMO to be successful with Artificial Intelligence is, to start with the intelligence angle. We say in Marketing that you can’t automate a process that doesn’t exist, and with Artificial Intelligence, you can’t expect a program or a machine to do what your human beings don’t already know how to do.

Focus on the intelligence, focus on accumulating best practices so that when it’s time to implement Artificial Intelligence, you’ve already got the intelligence part worked out and then a machine can augment what you already do well.

In a world that’s increasingly dominated by Amazon, where we have expectations for a personalized experience that anticipates our needs and is responsive over time, we must prepare for the future of customer experience. Using an Adaptive Merchandising™ mindset to deliver the best customer experience is really the best way to utilize future technologies and build success in 2010 and beyond.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology? 

Ah yes, I love these kinds of questions. Well, the people that I work with have no fear of technology. They know that they need technology to do their job. The inspiration is really thinking deeply about the use of that technology, not trying to do too much too quickly, and phasing the approach of adoption. I always advocate trying something new, testing effectiveness, and failing fast.

One word that best describes how you work. 

Adaptability. Having a plan, not being afraid to open the plan back up and adjust based on new knowledge, insight, or market conditions.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? 

Well, at work, I love working with Salesforce and Pardot. We also do a lot of Video Marketing at inRiver, so I use Camtasia a lot for those videos. I do use Microsoft Excel for my own analysis, and for data visualizations. We also do a lot of podcasts here, so it’s a necessity to use any kind of audio editing software. And, of course, to tie everything together, Google Chrome and Firefox. I think that’s it.

Which superhero character/movie do you most profoundly relate to?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a Superman fan. He’s been my all-time favorite superhero.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack? 

My smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack is scheduling time for myself on my own calendar and blocking it out. If not, then you’re subject to the whims and fancies of everybody else who wants your time. Give yourself that time first.

What are you currently reading?

It’s funny how you’ve brought up reading because we’re currently writing a book now! So, I’m doing a lot of reading about Change Management and Digital Transformation, because like I said before, change management and data management is a key concern of our customers. We’re really working on a book to help them with that. Other than the research I’ve been doing, there’s this great writer for Saturday Night Live named Simon Rich. I don’t know if he’s still at Saturday Night Live. He was their youngest writer ever. I’ve been reading some of his work along with my teenage kids.

I just re-read one of my favorite business books, which is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, who constantly reminds me of the six most important considerations for how to be persuasive in your arguments. I try to re-read that at least once a year.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 

Be a channel, not a dam. My good friend and mentor Ken Kramarz taught me that it’s always better to direct somebody’s energy and ideas rather than be a barrier and a barricade to them.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success? 

I think I am a very good storyteller; I think that comes from my background. My first job was working as a college English instructor teaching people how to structure composition to engage emotionally with their reader. I tell people that going into high tech marketing is just an extension of what I used to do, which was helping to tell engaging stories to people to inspire and to motivate them.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read: 

That’s a great question. Well, he’s probably been featured already, but I’d love for Brian Kardon to be featured. Brian’s a former colleague and one of the best assemblers of high-performing Marketing teams that I’ve ever worked with. I’m always interested in Brian’s wisdom, insight, and his saxophone playing.

Thank you, Steve! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

inriver logo

We redefine the way e-commerce product marketers and merchandisers work. By providing product information management (PIM) products and services that help create, update, refresh, maintain and distribute content about products globally, we help businesses to drive increased revenue, customer satisfaction and brand equity. More than 1000 brands and 400 customers across 19 countries rely on us to efficiently control the product flow for their globally recognized brands.

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.

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