ROI of Everything: The Playbook of a 4-time Tech CMO Ep. 28

In this week’s episode of the Demand Gen Visionaries podcast, we’re joined by Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse.

ROI of Everything: The Playbook of a 4-time Tech CMO Ep. 28
Corinne Pearce
Corinne Pearce
January 21, 2021
min read
Apple Podcast LinkGoogle Podcast LinkSpotify Podcast Link
Apple Podcast LinkGoogle Podcast LinkSpotify Podcast Link

This episode features an interview with Grant Johnson, CMO of Emburse. Grant is a four-time tech CMO with 20+ years of success in scaling marketing operations and building profitable global businesses. He was brought in last year to lead the group of six travel and expense management software vendors that came together as Emburse to challenge the industry incumbent. 

On this episode, Grant discusses his holistic view of marketing, encompassing the four key levers and how they work together in an integrated marketing framework, as well as why the best strategies are customer-focused, how to be adaptable in applying your playbook, and much more. 

Tune in to the episode to hear Grant reveal his demand gen strategies, including:
  • How to market tailored solutions to specific personas
  • How he decides allocates budget to events vs digital campaigns
  • What a customer-centric marketing operation means to him 

Want to skip ahead to the highlights? Check out these can’t-miss moments:

Episode Highlights

(2:00) Grant’s Career Path

  • His first demand gen adventure was having global responsibility for the Norton brand, creating demand for everything from individuals to large enterprises 
  • A $10 million budget to create demand with, through advertising specifically, was a lot of fun.
  • Now he runs global marketing at Emburse, fueling growth for the company, which has been growing in double digits the past few years
  • Emburse is a B2B company that automates expenses, invoices, and accounts payable, as well as helps manage, spend for businesses. 

(5:48) What Grant’s Demand Gen Strategy Looks Like

  • To Grant, demand gen needs to have four primary levers all working together: brand communications, product marketing and demand gen, all part of an integrated marketing framework.
  • His best practices start with the customer in focus
  • It’s foundational to understand the pain points and the buyer personas, and align content and communications to the buyer's journey
  • He believes templates, tools and frameworks are useful but not as critical as setting a high level roadmap for where you want to go, which can be agile
  • Events like Covid require you to be agile and not too reliant on frameworks

(9:33) Emburse’s Go-to-market Approach

  • Emburse offering is different - it’s based on a tailored approach, where their solutions can be customized to fit the unique needs of a customer
  • So his team doesn’t create holistic demand, they create specific demand
  • This specific demand is often developed for a specific persona, like the controller or CFO at a mid-sized business, or the accounts payable supervisor at an enterprise
  • Additional personas include office managers for medium-sized businesses or owners for small businesses
  • HR sometimes is part of the customer journey
  • They work on understanding a day in the life for each of them
  • So the business development team must figure out the personas’ budget, timeframe and whether certain value propositions work towards them
  • With a highly customer-centric approach, his demand gen tactics have worked better 
  • Emburse has won many awards, including with G2
  • They have over 14K customers, most in North America but quite a few in Europe and Asia

(15:15) Managing a Portfolio of Brands

  • Emburse is made up of many nimble smaller companies that had started to grow, and they were successful by being highly customer-centric, so they keep that ethos today
  • For Grant, it was an interesting challenge to enter into because before this, he had focused on building brands from scratch, brands that reached billion dollar valuations
  • With Emburse, he took on the task of creating something that was more than the sum of its parts, with the family of brands that included Certify, Chrome River, Nexonia, Abacus Captio
  • Their brand proposition is to humanize work, to automate the painful, manual, time-consuming tasks to give people time back, to have better work-life balance
  • He can’t try to build all brands and solutions equally, or the whole will be less than the sum of its parts, so his focus is to make their demand gen targets and building up the Emburse brand

(20:59) Grant’s Uncuttable Budget Items

  • Promotions on G2 and Capterra
  • Paid search, which has been successful for him since back in the early dot com days
  • Paid social, which has driven a lot of the conversion traffic

(26:13) His Take on Events

  • A cuttable tactic: in-person events; he had already cut budget to those before the pandemic
  • His philosophy is the ROI of everything; if you can project what a return is, that dollar can’t be spent. 
  • When Covid hit, he put the brakes on in-person stuff, and immediately redeployed those dollars into digital channels
  • He doesn’t believe in feel good events, which many in the past have been
  • He does see that success can come from smaller, more specifically targeted events

(32:05) Healthy Tension

  • Grant believes in having some healthy tension between sales and marketing
  • Good conversations and productive changes in demand gen have come from addressing the tension with Head of Sales to figure out how to tweak the demand gen approach to focus on leads that convert

(35:17) Trends He’s Excited About

  • AI and ML are going to continue to help inform decision making
  • Maturation of business intelligence will accelerate the ability to move fast, fail and learn
  • Visualization of business intelligence will be a big one, that will grow

(35:58) Biggest Recent Learning Experience

  • Many martech companies have made promises on ABM that are hard to keep
  • They had to reassess their basic assumptions
  • They tried piloting programs with just 4 salespeople instead of the whole team, to have fewer uncontrollable variables, and found success this way
  • Took more time to adopt this strategy towards enterprises, with the buying cycles being very different with more people involved

(39:31) Quick Hits: Getting to Know Grant

  • First thing he’ll do after shelter-in-place is lifted is go to Maui
  • A hobby he enhanced in quarantine is tennis: he purchased a tennis ball machine. So between meetings, he goes over to his neighborhood court to bash balls by himself and shake out the day’s Zoom meetings

(40:33) Advice to a New CMO

  • Don’t just set the strategy, but stay close to the action
  • Join regular team huddles a couple times a week, keep a pulse on the pace
  • Keep learning all the time
  • Develop a personal relationship with the CEO

“My philosophy is the ROI of everything. If you can't project what a return is, I'm not spending that dollar…Pre-COVID, I cut between a half million and a million dollars out of events because they were harder to measure and they didn't prove to deliver the ROI. When COVID hit and I put the brakes on in-person events, it took me about five seconds to redeploy those dollars into digital channels.”
“I tend to look at marketing very holistically. I don't think I can talk about demand gen without talking about what I consider the four primary levers, all working together to help demand gen work optimally. The levers are brand, communications, product marketing, and demand gen, and they really should ideally be part of an integrated marketing framework…those are the levers that really drive a company's positioning, opportunity, and ultimately its success.”
“For me, the best practices and strategies start with a customer focus…As a head of marketing, that's where I've had the most success. What I consider the foundational work is if we understand the pain points, the buyer personas, and we align our content and our communications to the buyer's journey, we're more likely to engage successfully, create opportunities, nurture and progress those opportunities, and win that business.”
“We have a high level of complexity because of our tailored solutions; my team is not creating holistic demand, we're creating specific demand…so we really have to understand a day in their life, what their watering holes are, what they're going to respond to…Is the value proposition resonating? Is the messaging resonating? By taking that very customer-centric, persona-specific approach, we’ve found that our demand gen tactics have worked better.”

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