MarTech Interview with Jeff Veis, Chief Marketing Officer at Actian

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work at Actian

In my role at Actian, I oversee our global marketing initiatives for products & solutions, partnerships, overall branding and digital efforts. As CMO, I led Actian through a rebrand, launching the company’s new strategic positioning in January 2020. Additionally, my team and I have implemented major campaigns for launching new products and solutions across the Actian portfolio, such as our flagship Avalanche Cloud Data Warehouse solution. 

Before taking on my role at Actian, I worked for a wide range of high-tech organizations, from early-stage startups to Fortune 500 companies, including BEA, Business Objects and SAP. While I was at Sun Microsystems, I conceived and founded the Liberty Alliance, a global business-led consortium of over 200 companies with the mission of creating a multi-industry standard for federated identity-based web services.

How do you differentiate between Data management and ‘Analytics’ at Actian? 

Data analytics is a strategic discipline focused on extracting actionable insights from data. Its role has greatly evolved from primarily a reporting function to understand past operational and business performance to one increasingly focused on providing persona-based insight that can be harnessed in the business moment. Data management provides the critical foundation to enable analytics and other data-driven operations. Data management covers a wide spectrum of activities including aggregating, enriching, storing, governing and organizing data, which is often siloed across an enterprise, customer and partner ecosystem.

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Actian recently launched a new Customer 360 Solution – we’d love to hear more about it and what you were seeing in the marketplace that showed the need for this kind of solution.

Our new Customer 360 solution is built on the Actian Avalanche hybrid data warehouse and is designed to simplify and accelerate the delivery of customer insights with the use of real-time data analytics. Following the events of 2020, customer behavior continues to rapidly change in ways we hadn’t expected just over a year ago. Differentiating offerings and engaging effectively with customers, both existing and potential, have risen drastically in importance.

Today, businesses must create an experience that draws customers in, reflects a deep understanding of their history with the organization, their preferences and needs, and motivates them to stay. The ability to create this experience depends on the insights you have into those preferences, needs, and historical touchpoints, which in turn depends on your ability to access and pull meaning from different data points. Our Customer 360 solution offers organizations a complete, digestible viewpoint of their data, enabling them to dynamically shape the customer experience while saving costs and advancing their journey to becoming a successful, data-driven business.

Could you tell us which set of customers / industries would benefit the most from the adoption of Customer 360? How is it different from the other customer intelligence platforms already available in the marketplace?

The pandemic forced nearly every industry to reimagine its market approach, but there are a few industries that would specifically benefit from a 360-degree of their customers, considering today’s landscape – namely retail, healthcare, communications and manufacturing.

These have all been ripe for digital disruption for years. While most progressive data-driven companies operate go to market and customer support systems it is commonplace to find that these systems and the data they create are siloed. This can foster tremendous barriers to extracting persona-based insight to both the planning and operational function within organizations. We almost universally see this phenomenon across customer touchpoints regardless of industry or company size.

One common use case can be seen within the retailing market segment. Due to the pandemic, retailers increasingly need to rely on continuous updates regarding consumer behavior in order to remain agile through store closures, phased re-openings, and shifts to a largely increasing online presence. They require insight into even more detailed metrics than before. In order to maintain customer loyalty, businesses need to hone in on the customer experience by accessing a full, yet easily digestible view of company data.

Our Avalanche Customer 360 solution provides a more simplified process for gleaning actionable insights from data, regardless of source, to deliver personalized insights faster than other traditional solutions can. Combining one of the industry’s fastest hybrid-cloud data warehouses with built-in, easy to use, self-service data integration in the cloud enables us to create superior customer insights that are cost-effective and help companies gain a competitive advantage.

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What are the key benefits of this solution and how is it helping companies improve the customer experience?

Actian’s Avalanche Customer 360 solution allows organizations to apply real-time analytics to build a complete customer profile by incorporating data from any and all customer touchpoints. The solution offers drag-n-drop integration to rapidly aggregate customer profiles, micro-segmentation to personalize the customer experience, next best action, revenue optimization and market basket analysis. All of these features combine to enhance customer acquisition and retention while also improving customer experience, engagement and loyalty.  

As consumer behavior has changed dramatically throughout 2020 and into 2021, are there any trends you have seen that you think are particularly affecting business outcomes right now? How are businesses responding to these changes?

Following the start of the pandemic in early 2020, it is estimated that 60% of commerce moved online. Customers are testing out new brands and new ways of shopping, with significant upticks in online purchases. Businesses are learning that, in addition to having a functional and user-friendly online shopping experience, they need to develop the ability to anticipate and respond to each customer’s needs, preferences and history. At the same time, companies are trying to recover from losses in revenue and staff from the past year. They are looking for ways to take control of their customer data while making better use of tools, such as CRM systems, they already rely on in order to reduce costs, improve ROI and deliver superior customer outcomes. 

Putting together a holistic view of the customer can be a challenging task. What are some of those challenges companies and marketers face and how can they overcome them?

Oftentimes, the data comprising an individual customer profile resides across many disparate systems and companies are faced with the challenge of working across data silos. Individual customers use several different devices and interact through different channels, which makes it difficult to collect important data in one all-encompassing interface. There are also privacy regulations in place, such as GDPR, that constrain what information you can collect, retain, and reuse. As more customer engagements move online, a company’s CRM system is unlikely to contain all the data needed to create a complete picture of a given customer’s needs, desires, experiences and preferences.

Organizations can overcome these barriers by constructing new models based on fresh data and reconciling multiple identities and personas from different systems. A true 360-degree view of a customer can’t be sourced exclusively from internal data, let alone from a single system or department. The necessary insights that can drive improved customer acquisition and retention will arise only from an ongoing effort to aggregate data sources and to analyze data and signals in real-time across operational ERP and CRM systems, social channels, selling tools and transaction systems.

Oftentimes, companies have so much data on hand that they don’t know what to do with it. What can they do to pull better insights for more effective action in enhancing customer profiles?

Consumers are using multiple channels before they make a purchase, and using multiple devices interchangeably make it exponentially more difficult to monitor and predict consumer behavior. Resolving a customer’s identity across multiple channels under various personas, historical transactional relationships and profile data stored in CRM, ERP, and operational systems to build an effective customer profile becomes a top priority. These derived insights must be delivered in the business moment and must be contextually based for the right persona. A business development representative needs different insights as compared to a customer support engineer.

What role does data hygiene play in developing useful customer insights?

As companies evolve and become more data-driven, they are looking for insights to inform important business decisions. Having high-quality, real-time data is crucial to truly offer an advantage in today’s landscape. Considering how rapidly customer behavior is changing, businesses must pull in-the-moment insights to develop an accurate customer profile. Many customer marketing systems were never designed for this level of agility given their monolithic architectures were created to deliver passive after-the-fact reporting rather than real-time insights.

Companies will benefit the most from having good data hygiene from a data quality and timeliness perspective which in turn should be able to power the freshest analytics to effectively tailor the customer experience. Organizations are faced with a seemingly endless stream of data that they collect from diverse sources, such as cloud, on-premise and mobile devices; however, they need to ensure that this data is consistent and accurate, and without any errors, in order to ensure good data hygiene. “Dirty data” is a term used to describe duplicate information, incomplete or outdated data. Regularly cleaning data and collecting insights in real-time provides businesses with the most accurate information at the moment they need it.

Finally, do you have any other insights you’d like to share with tech leaders looking to improve customer acquisition and retention?

In many cases organizations have made significant investment in their sales, marketing and operational systems. These are critical systems which power an organization’s operation. While these systems are vital to core operations, they often create unintended data silos that become a systematic barrier to gaining the actionable insight needed to compete and win. A real-time hybrid cloud data warehouse system that embraces integration with data sources can address the “missing link” necessary to deliver the data-driven competitive advantage needed in today’s marketplace. It’s not about monolithic platform adoption or simply moving to the cloud, what is needed in most cases is a solution that can complement and extend your existing investments. So, look within and across your organization before your build out your customer IT proficiency. And when you do look for a solution that is easy to use, look for one that delivers real-time results that can be utilized directly across a broad community of personas within your organization.

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Actian enables some of the most data-Intensive enterprises on earth to run their most mission-critical analytics and data management workloads.

Jeff is the CMO at Actian