MarTech Interview with Paul Ross, VP of Marketing at Affinity

CRMs seem to have failed the relationship economy shares Paul Ross, VP of Marketing at Affinity as he chats about how Relationship intelligence and automation can now make a bigger difference to how deal makers find, manage, and close business deals. Catch the complete Q&A:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Paul, tell us about your marketing journey over the years: how have you seen marketing team structures and internal processes change in the B2B marketplace during this time?

I’m a product marketer who learned how to turn that experience into GTM strategy and opportunity creation-focused marketing. Going on that journey has made me realize how lucky we are to be in B2B marketing right now. The technology we have at our disposal, the channels to engage with our audience, and the data we have to drive activity are all better than ever. But the biggest change I’ve seen is the shift in marketing being focused on quality pipeline generation as a primary function. This has completely changed how we set up team structures and processes. Having the growth market mindset in every member of the team and their incentives tied to real revenue impact creates an alignment we didn’t use to see when even the teams within marketing were just focused on their functional area.

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Closer home, we’d love to hear about Affinity marketing structure and what a typical day in marketing at Affinity is like?

We provide a relationship intelligence platform to dealmakers in relationship-driven industries like Venture Capital, Investment Banking, and Consulting. This means we are a very industry-focused marketing team. I have a fairly traditional organizational structure with Demand Generation, Product Marketing, Content Marketing, and Corporate Communications teams. However, each member of those teams is focused on a specific industry so I have a mini full function marketing team for each industry. This gives us focus, builds expertise in the industry, and gives us consistent relationships with our audience, internally and externally.

Our typical day starts with a team standup where we review activity and progress on projects, pipeline goals, etc. We are remote and scattered across the US and Canada, so I try to find time for us all to connect each day. After that, the team is typically focused on executing our campaign plans for each of our industries and keeping our audience engaged with product or thought leadership content. So there’s a lot of building content, engaging with third parties for demand generation, and creating digital experiences. We’ll also meet with each of our sales teams to discuss pipeline generation, get feedback on leads and activity, and brief them on what we have coming up. We’re scaling our ABM activity so this takes a lot of work to get alignment, data, and activity in place. 

Right now we are also expanding the team rapidly so we spend a lot of time making sure we bring great people into the team. We have a great culture at Affinity and high standards so that investment in time is incredibly important to us all.

Tell us more about Affinity platform and how that’s evolved over the years?

We help dealmakers to find, manage, and close the most important deals. Our primary product built on our Relationship Intelligence platform is the Affinity CRM. We provide dealmakers with relationship intelligence that closes deals, frees them from the data drudgery of manual data entry, and enables teams to collaborate in confidence because they have the full history of all their interactions. We’ve processed over 18 Trillion emails and calendar events to automatically generate contact and company profiles and enable over half a million warm introductions each month. 

Our initial strategy was to focus on the Venture Capital market, where potential users have some of the biggest professional networks and the deals are often the most relationship-driven of any industry. VCs typically track over 290 deals each month using Affinity. Recently, we’ve expanded into new industries like Investment Banking and Consulting, driven by the same user needs, while expanding our product capabilities to include deeper analytics that are unique to our product to help teams to improve their deal sourcing and closing efforts.

From here we’re working on how to get our relationship insights into all the apps that a dealmaker uses – from our current integrations with productivity tools to a wider range of communication and engagement platforms.

How are you seeing CRM adoption patterns and trends change in today’s market?

The relationship-driven economy has really suffered from a lack of tools and platforms to support it. Transactional sales CRMs like Salesforce or Dealcloud really don’t address the needs of the relationship-driven dealmaker. We see a lot of deployments of CRMs in our market but not a lot of usage. Dealmakers are often very senior people in these organizations and have zero interest in using a CRM that is unpleasant to use, requires a ton of manual data entry, and doesn’t add much value to how they build relationships or deals. 

We are seeing a step change in this with new platforms, like Affinity, enabling these dealmakers. We see industry-leading usage rates for platforms like ours because we automate getting accurate contact and company profile information, provide a great user experience, and add value to their job by providing relationship insights. These modern platforms also don’t require months to deploy. That really matters when adopting new technologies and processes.

As marketing and sales teams acknowledge the growing importance of CRMs in everyday marketing-sales processes, there are still coordination lags that are commonly faced with regards to data input and maintenance: what best practices would you share?

A simple answer to this: automation! Why would a dealmaker at an investment bank spend up to 180 hours each year manually inputting data? Affinity plugs into the data exhaust of every email and calendar event across a dealmaking team to automatically create contact and company profiles, to enrich them, and keep them up to date. Data input and maintenance can’t be the barrier to success anymore and doesn’t need to be.

As AI-powered features strengthen CRM and martech capabilities, how do you feel platforms of the future will be built to ease CRM processes?

Beyond automation of data and enrichment, we see the major opportunity for AI is to provide better insights into the relationships and dynamics of deal-making. When is the right time to engage a founder to discuss investment opportunities, how does a relationship graph help to build a pipeline of deals with a higher propensity to close, who are the most important people to build relationships with. In the CRM industry we are sitting on this huge bank of data about how people relate to one another but do very little with. That will change.

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Affinity’s patented technology structures and analyzes millions of data points across emails, calendars, and third-party sources to offer users the tools they need to automatically manage their most valuable relationships, prioritize important connections, and discover untapped opportunities. Affinity uses artificial intelligence to analyze relationship strength and illuminate the best paths to warm introductions. The platform also offers a holistic view of users’ networks in a centralized, automatically updated database without any manual upkeep. Founded in 2014, Affinity is headquartered in San Francisco and backed by leading investors including Advance Venture Partners, 8VC, MassMutual Ventures, Sway Ventures, Pear Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Western Technology Investment. 

Paul Ross is vice president of marketing for Affinity. Mr. Ross joined Affinity after serving in a number of marketing and product leadership roles, most recently as the senior vice president of marketing at Sentieo, a financial and corporate research platform. Previously he led multiple marketing functions at Alteryx in its journey from Series A to pre-IPO. He also served as vice president for technology companies such as Kespry and Bugcrowd, and in marketing leadership roles at Microsoft and Business Objects. Mr. Ross graduated with honors from the University of Stirling in Scotland. 

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