MarTech Interview with Justin Withers, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at ZoomInfo
Justin Withers, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at ZoomInfo shares a few data cleaning and marketing best practices while taking us through some of ZoomInfo’s latest enhancements:
Welcome to this MarTech Series chat, Justin, tell us more about your product marketing journey and your current role at ZoomInfo?
My journey into product, strategy, and product marketing was not a direct path, but I honestly couldn’t imagine a destination that is more fitting for me…
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an architect. I spent hours designing and drawing my dream homes. That confluence of structure and creativity, art and science, was something that I have always been really passionate about.
Through a series of twists and turns that no kid can foresee, I ended up studying management and finance in my university studies. During that time I became excited about new areas. My strategy class became one of my favorites. I loved how it broke down thought processes into structured, repeatable patterns for success. I participated in an investment banking internship where I evaluated the financials and the strategy of a particular company I was covering. I got introduced to pivot tables and no one could have imagined any kid would be as excited as I was about those.
I launched into my career as a financial analyst at a technology company, then evolved into a marketing analyst at another company, and eventually shifted into demand generation at another company where I leveraged my data-driven, architect mindset to differentiate from other marketing peers by starting with the big picture, the end goal and working backwards.
A chance networking encounter led me to eventually leave a comfortable position where I’d built much of my career to become the first product marketing hire at an unproven startup called DiscoverOrg – which would later acquire and become ZoomInfo. I remember in my interview at DiscoverOrg having to convince Founder and CEO Henry Schuck that product marketing was a function he really needed to hire for. At ZoomInfo, things really accelerated for me. For the first time since high school I felt like an architect, designing and shaping the future and leveraging a decade of experience supporting B2B marketing and sales. I ran product management through a number of key acquisitions that gave us the ability to build a “best-of-breed” solution based on multiple leading products. The combined solution was a tremendous success.
Around the time ZoomInfo was preparing to go public I was asked to run corporate strategy. This gave me the opportunity to evaluate where ZoomInfo operated in context to its many adjacencies in the sales and martech landscape. At the time we were still largely a sales and marketing data company, but I had built out a vision that had us expanding into new areas including data management, workflows, and engagement capabilities.
Last year, Henry asked me to take my vision for the future of ZoomInfo and work closely with our product team to develop and execute against our unified platform in how we position, launch, market, and enable the organization to win.
At ZoomInfo, I run what we call the product go-to-market team, which consists of teams that specialize in product marketing, market and competitive intelligence, product content and collateral, customer journey, and customer advocacy. Our vision for the team is to power every strategic decision we make at ZoomInfo by building cross-functional bridges and being experts in our products, customers, markets and message. We drive value in organizational readiness for the launch of products, the marketing and demand of products, the enablement of sales and other functions, customer onboarding, adoption, and usage, upsell, cross-sell, renewal, and ultimately advocacy of our customers. We view ourselves as the strategic pivot point between product, sales, marketing, support, customer onboarding and education, and the market (customers, prospects, partners, competitors, analysts, etc.).
My time at ZoomInfo has been a wild ride, but it has been so rewarding and has accelerated my growth and helped me to reach my potential in ways I never knew possible.
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As a product strategist, what are some of the top practices you swear by today?
- Zoom out: One of the biggest keys to success is zooming out and looking at the big picture, knowing where you want to go, what you have the potential to become, taking inventory of the adjacencies and the gaps, and plotting a course to close the gaps and arrive at your destination. It’s also about understanding the common image that runs across seemingly disparate pieces of the puzzle. When I look at the big picture, it includes four spheres for which I like to have as much context as possible: (1) our products, (2) our buyers and users, (3) market dynamics and trends across the categories in which we compete, and (4) our competitors.
- You can’t just set it and forget it: Developing a strategy is not a one-and-done event. For many years it was an uphill battle at ZoomInfo to establish strategy because our business is so adaptive to changes in the landscape, developing trends, potential roadblocks, and up-and-comers. The culture was resistant to being anchored to a static strategy. We pivot and change course often. That said, when you have a clear strategy in place, most of those pivots become subtle course corrections oriented toward the same end goal. If you don’t know where you’re going you cannot make course corrections, you can only make course changes and who knows where those lead? But, strategy is not static, it’s not an anchor. It’s a north star – it may be moving, but it’s far enough out there that you can easily adapt to how it moves. Strategy only remains valuable when it is frequently revisited and reflects the latest inputs.
- Stay close to your core: ZoomInfo has built a number of products and completed a number of acquisitions that have expanded us beyond who we are. But there are also many things we have chosen not to do – not because they don’t fit our long-term vision, but because they are less connected to and less dependent upon our core strength: a foundation of high-quality data and insights. While these opportunities might still make sense down the road, playing to our strengths has allowed us to expand, integrate, and communicate a “better together” story that is amplified by our core strength.
- Stay grounded: While being a strategist requires a big-picture perspective, you can’t get disconnected from the day-to-day challenges you are trying to solve. You have to stay plugged into the voice of the market. You have to know your customers and users intimately. Talk to them, listen to call recordings, run surveys (churn, win/loss, product feedback, product ideas, etc.), talk to your sales, support, and customer success teams. Leverage your teams to do this and expand coverage. At ZoomInfo, I have people on my team that will have upwards of 40 conversations with customers every few weeks and bring those insights back to me, to our leadership team, and to our product and sales teams.
- Strategy is like sales – relationships and persuasion are key: In my time at ZoomInfo, I’ve been an individual contributor, I’ve led small teams, and I’ve managed large teams, but no matter the size of the team, it’s always been a priority of mine to build strong relationships with peers, leaders, teammates, and colleagues, in, across, and outside of the business. Effective strategy is not developed in a vacuum. It requires input, participation, and buy-in from many sources and key stakeholders in order to be adopted and activated. A strong strategy is the precursor to organizational change. Change in how teams are organized, enabled, compensated, and focused. Businesses don’t introduce change and disruption without a compelling case and without broad-based buy-in. You have to develop relationships, forge alliances, and win hearts and minds. But, you can’t do it all. And you don’t have to. If you can win the hearts and minds of a few key evangelists and influencers, they will help carry the mission and vision forward. The virality of your strategy and how it catches on is a good measure of success.
ZoomInfo has always had exciting updates for its end users, we would love to hear about some of your most recent innovations and expected updates as well and what’s in store for end users!
Earlier this year we launched RevOS, the modern revenue operating system, which empowers businesses to seamlessly and consistently engage with the right people at the right companies at the right time with relevant messages. With RevOS came the introduction of MarketingOS, a first-of-its-kind operating system that helps demand generation and account-based marketing (ABM) teams target and convert leads into buyers all through insight-driven plays across all sorts of channels.
With ZoomInfo acquiring Comparably, the leading recruitment marketing and employer branding platform, we’re aiming to guide both employers and employees as the Great Resignation rages on. Comparably’s features are already being incorporated into our employee recruiting and retention platform, now called TalentOS.
We’re constantly looking for the next big move in revenue operations based on what our customers hope and expect, and we’re always discovering new ways to simplify their daily processes through automation.
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For marketing and sales people who still have a lot of challenges concerning data management and data cleaning practices: what top thoughts would you share with them?
The future of data management and instant access to continuously refreshed data is here. Companies which historically managed their databases and workflows internally have found how expensive and time consuming it is and, even then, find their data is inaccurate, incomplete, and quickly outdated. The companies finding success are now discovering that investing in tools to streamline their entire data management workflow saves significant time and money while enabling new revenue opportunities.
For example, ZoomInfo’s OperationsOS has a software called RingLead, which unifies different data sources from multiple vendors, enables users to verify records, manage a corporate hierarchy, build cascading enrichment flows, and standardize data values. And these tools are completely customizable to each individual business’s needs.
And we’re just seeing the dawn of these new tools. Business leaders no longer have to overwork their employees by tasking them with maintaining databases. There are untapped opportunities on the horizon, such as an ability to combine all of your first- and third-party data and have it available for your workflows and next-step activation. I think you’ll see more and more companies adopting these tools, leaping into the future, and asking: “how did we ever survive without this?”
For marketing and sales people in B2B: what are some of the base fundamentals they should work through, to implement better processes that help align their data, goals, output?
Start with the foundation and build your way up. You’ll need great company data to seed your system of record which, in turn, provides visibility of your targets. You’ll also need strong contact data enabling them to reach buyers and equally strong intent data and actionable insights to ensure data coming in from other sources is cleansed, enriched, and assigned at scale. On top of that, leveraging sales engagement to automate your go-to-market strategy extends your reach and allows you to track your activity. Add on a feature like conversation intelligence to listen, learn, adapt, and grow your team. And cap it off with account-based marketing to create awareness in your product or service.
Five thoughts on the future of B2B marketing and martech
- The number of solutions in the landscape will continue to grow: Technology is a lot like the plants in my garden beds. One gets planted in one place, and in a few years, I find new sprouts shooting up in new areas several feet away. The creation of new categories of software leads to new technologies sprouting up. Think about all the categories that have arisen just because CRM or marketing automation exist. Data enrichment solutions only exist because the CRM and marketing automation systems need to be cleaned. Marketing automation exists because some email systems weren’t great at one-to-many interactions, and sales engagement systems exist because marketing automation didn’t allow for personalized many-to-many interactions across phone, email, social, and text.
- The winning solution providers of the future will nail the consolidated technology experience: Assembling a tech stack is a lot of work. The amount of evaluation, purchasing, integration, enablement, management, and continued assessment is difficult for those responsible, but driving usage and value is equally challenging. With no “one size fits all” solution, the customer draw will be to the company that offers multiple best-in-class functions.
- Technology giveth and it taketh away – some jobs will disappear – others will be created: The person who used to be our Director of Demand Generation now runs a centralized Revenue Generation function where her job is to enable sales engagement at scale for our Sales Development team. Rather than leaving success up to the individual rep, she loads audiences into sales cadences on their behalf, creates sales cadences that can be deployed across the team, and runs a variety of plays that enable success at scale. Her role didn’t exist a few years ago. We now have CDRs, or Customer Development Reps, designed to book meetings with customers for CSMs. They didn’t exist a few years ago. Revenue Operations and Sales and Marketing Operations didn’t really exist in a big way prior to the explosion of technology. At least not in the same form. The evolution of the technology landscape will continue to create new jobs and probably kill others over time.
- Competitive differentiation will be less about the technology you use and more about how you use it: This used to be the case, but we’ve gone from a world where just having certain technologies gives you an advantage. In the future, nearly everyone will have these solutions, and differentiation will be determined by how they’re applied.
- Demand for great user experiences will increase: It used to be okay for B2B technology to have a subpar user experience at first. It might have been the first solution of its kind. Subpar user experiences were tolerated because the value a solution delivered exceeded the cost of the poor experience. That said, as the tech landscape becomes increasingly crowded, users are gravitating toward solutions that are intuitive, easy to use, and offer easy onboarding.
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ZoomInfo is a leader in modern go-to-market software, data, and intelligence for more than 25,000 companies worldwide. ZoomInfo’s revenue operating system, RevOS, empowers business-to-business sales, marketing, operations, and recruiting professionals to hit their number by pairing best-in-class technology with unrivaled data coverage, accuracy, and depth of company and contact information. With integrations embedded into workflows and technology stacks, including the leading CRM, Sales Engagement, Marketing Automation, and Talent Management applications, ZoomInfo drives more predictable, accelerated, and sustainable growth for its customers.
Justin Withers is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at ZoomInfo.
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