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Interview with nFusion Founder John Ellett

Jay Wilder

For this month’s “5 Questions” series, we sat down with John Ellett, CEO and founder of nFusion to discuss what makes successful data-driven demand generation strategies.

Based in Austin, Texas, nFusion has been a Datorama customer since 2016 and is a leader in modern demand generation, helping B2B and considered purchase B2C marketers leverage their customer insights, content, and performance media to generate demand and accelerate the sales cycle. nFusion was named Small Agency of the Year by AdAge in 2014. For more of John’s insight on marketing leadership, catch his opinions on Forbes’ CMO Network and nFusion Blog.

To get started, tell us a little about your background and how your agency nFusion is helping your clients.

My passion is helping marketing change agents disrupt the status quo and achieve remarkable outcomes for their organizations. This was fueled by my early career as an advertising leader for the original IBM PC and later as the North America marketing leader for Dell, during its rapid growth period of the late 80s and early 90s. In both experiences, I saw how game changing marketing ideas can drive the business in a bigger way than anyone had expected. Good leadership, scalable methodology and a strong team were all important ingredients in the scale of those successes.

As the founder and CEO of nFusion, I’m now helping marketing leaders of other companies have game changing impact on their business. Our group is a combination of a modern marketing agency, a CMO consultancy, and a content studio. We’re able to help our marketing clients create unique and relevant demand generation programs by taking a holistic and data driven approach to their customer journey. We know that customers expect relevant, personalized content at each touch point, regardless of time of day, device or location. It’s our job to help marketers and brands deliver on this promise by uncovering audience insights, mapping persona-based customer journeys, creating compelling content and delivering engaging digital programs that have measurable impact on their pipeline, sales and revenue.

How important is connecting the right data to your shared success with clients? What role does Datorama play?

All of the deliverables just mentioned are all supported by connecting the right data and stakeholders across the customer journey– from our team to the client’s side. It’s a true collaboration on both fronts. That’s where Datorama plays a very valuable role for us. As part of our holistic data strategy, we connect the data from all of the top of the funnel programs, performances and investments that we manage with the conversion and impacts our clients see within their pipeline, sales, and revenue.

In the old world, connecting all of this data was very manual and impacted our ability to analyze, optimize and make recommendations as quickly as we wanted. It also impacted our clients as they need to provide data each week for our impact analysis. Prep time and reaction time was slower than the pace we believed was possible, so we set out to find a better way. Now with Datorama, all of the data sources from across the journey, regardless of the different platforms client use, get integrated automatically– and our business users can manage it themselves without IT, which is important in today’s always-on world.

For any given client, we may be integrating data from display, paid search, social media, and webinars, plus the client’s web analytics, CRM and marketing automation systems. This unified data layer underpins the KPI frameworks we use to evaluate everything we do with the client– from top-level engagement metrics to attributable revenue. Datorama plays a very important role in in our shared success with clients. How Datorama accomplishes this, with its smart assistive technology, is a clear differentiator that raises our agility and customer satisfaction.

In past conversations together, you’ve mentioned the “4 A’s” at nFusion. What are they? And how do these concepts define modern marketing today?

I believe there are four attributes that are critical for marketers today: acumen, accountability, agility and alignment.

Acumen begins with how we think about our most important resources; the smart and talented team members that make up nFusion. We’ve made a concerted effort in our data driven approach to ensure our people have the right tools and bandwidth to apply their expertise on behalf of clients. In thinking about how to do this, one of the big parts of our own data discovery process was how we use our analysts’ time most wisely to benefit clients. We decided moving data from Excel rows to PowerPoint presentations for our meetings, for instance, is not a good use of time. We needed to rethink that process for a better client experience while reclaiming the prep time so it could be applied to analytics and insights. That discovery process was one of the drivers that led us to Datorama.

We also believe accountability and agility are two critical aspects of marketing in today’s world. With all with the data we have access to, there are now opportunities on a real time basis to continually optimize marketing performance and impact. But the ability to optimize more frequently requires faster access to information, connecting that information together and having more time to evaluate the information. This was another key driver towards a better technology approach. With the right approach, accountability and agility can be driven at every level. Our client success teams can make smart recommendations every week, evaluate their goal progress and respond quickly to the clients questions and suggestions. Our media team can continually optimize for the best performing campaigns, creative, and channel synergies and pass deeper strategic insights to the client success team. Our strategy team can apply learnings about which content and mediums work best for different audiences and different consideration stages to optimize the plan while in flight. And our clients can access all of their information in real time, share their impact and ROI with peers and be prepared for critical meetings and questions from their peers and leadership such as “where are we according to our plan?,” “what have we learned?,” and “where should we make our next investment?” In all of these situations stakeholders need the right information to be accountable and and they need agility to respond quickly to opportunities or issues to be most successful.

Having the first 3 A’s in place in turn creates an environment of trust and alignment– between us and the client and between the client’s team and their internal stakeholders. If everyone can make smart decisions at the day-to-day and strategic levels from a common plan and information set, you’re in a place where alignment can allow successful strategies to scale and produce big results.

As a data driven demand generation organization, you’re constantly measuring your success with clients using KPI frameworks that map to the customer journey. How do these work, and are there additional ways you measure success?

Our first priority is to ensure that our partnership with each client fully supports their goals at every KPI level, including impact on sales. To that end, we bring to bear experienced-based KPI frameworks that allow us to measure our success in a variety of different engagement and industry settings. These frameworks are a good marriage of consistency and a flexibility to be informed by new methods and best practices that evolve over time. What they make up is a essentially the business layer cross-journey KPIs on top of the data layer we discussed above. They guide all of our decision making, collaboration and goal monitoring. They create transparency and accountability across the strategy, performance and measurement cycles. They guide us to the desired outcomes predictably and inform our understanding of important opportunities. As a note, I’d like to add that Datorama’s Client Success team was extremely knowledgable and helpful to us as we transitioned our models to the platform. They showed the same kind of care and appreciation for our business as we do with our clients. So these models quantify success in a very predictable and transparent way for us and the client.

We do also regularly hear about additional types of benefits from clients. One is client satisfaction. A key driver of this is that our clients are able to access their data 24/7. When they meet with their client success team, they’re both on the same page with a consistent set of views. After or before their Monday meeting, they can preview, review and analyze the data at their convenience. With this level of transparency, access, alignment and agility grows for them. Best of all, they’re not required to constantly be on the hook for new data reports to make this happen. It all just flows into the views using the technology.

Another positive benefit we hear about is increased visibility for marketing. Our KPI reporting allows our clients to share how their day-to-day work drives measurable, goal-based impact on the pipeline, sales and revenue. This showcases marketing’s efforts and ROI within their organization. One of our clients recently shared how they’ve begun to take their marketing dashboards into their board-level meetings. This allows them to respond in real time to questions that impact marketing and the business. And the always-on format of Datorama is always ready to go. This is much better than trying to prepare a PowerPoint to cover every possible question, which isn’t necessarily productive. Instead they’re able to bring data to their conversation and build credibility that they’re on top of things– that they understand the data and can demonstrate accountability. This kind of marketing leadership can change the status quo, align stakeholders and create game changing results. So, yes, in addition to measuring our performance and client success according to our KPIs, there are also other important organizational benefits that well run data-driven marketing provides.

What do you like to do outside of data-driven marketing?

Since moving to Austin in 1987, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to get pretty involved with the community. In the process I’ve been able to found or co-found three not-for-profits, two of which are actively making a difference today. One is the The First Tee of Greater Austin. It’s an organization that helps thousands of young people develop critical life skills and healthy habits. The second is Austin Helps Honduras. We’ve started with building almost 100 homes in Juticalpa, Honduras for families displaced by Hurricane Mitch. Now we’re supporting continuing education for dozens of youths who just finished sixth grade in the school we built. I’ve tried to apply the leadership learnings from my experiences and working with many talented individuals in my work life to these causes to help them reach and affect as many people as possible. Additionally I’m a happy husband, proud father and a frustrated but dedicated golfer.

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