The Keys to Making the Commercial Model More Digital, Data-Driven, and Accountable

jaime punishill, cmo of lionbridge

Our team of experts from the Revenue Enablement Institute studies how leading organizations are transforming their commercial models to accelerate revenue growth.  We profile growth leaders – CXOs – who are at the forefront of defining, enabling, and leading the execution of the 21st Century Commercial Model.

Jaime Punishill, the CMO of Lionbridge a global leader in translation and localization – has been at the forefront of digital transformation his entire career.  Below, I asked Jaime about the progress he and his peers at Lionbridge have made transforming their commercial model to become more digital, data-driven, and accountable.

Stephen Diorio:  You have somewhat of a non-traditional background for a CMO. By your own admission you’re a technologists first, a marketer second.  How has that skill set and bias helped you become a more effective growth leader?

Jaime Punishill: Yes. I’m a bit of an odd duck in corporate marketing circles. I spent the early part of my career experimenting with and building digital channels. I built online brokerage portals, digital distribution, mobile touch points, social media, and content management. All these things were new at the time and I took a “hands on” approach to deploying them at places like Citibank, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Reuters.  Over time as these channels became a bigger part of the go to market formula, I guess I grew with them and moved into digital channel management. I think my move to become a CMO is more of a reflection of how much the growth investment mix has changed, vs. my linear career trajectory through the marketing ranks.  Lionbridge leadership was early in recognizing the degree to which the commercial model had transformed, and I was lucky enough to join a leadership team that was motivated to lead that transformation instead of reacting to it.

For modern selling to work you really need to understand how to configure a complex technology portfolio in ways that create value from the top down. That takes a deep understanding of how that technology works.  While I’m slightly older than most digital natives, I think the key to my success – and the success for the modern CMO – is to really have that deep understanding. You can’t ask your people or partners to do anything you cannot do or fully understand. And you can’t outsource that kind of expertise.

Diorio:  One of the biggest forces driving the 21st Century Commercial model is the massive change in the sales and marketing mix. Most growth investment has shifted from media to owned digital infrastructure and the content, data, analytics, and people needed to support them. How have you adapted to this new mix?

Punishill:  The perception remains that the marketing mix is dominated by media. And most of the efforts to use analytics to improve marketing performance revolve around media optimization. But the reality is the vast majority of growth resources are spent on building, manning and fueling owned digital selling channels.  Building digital touch points. Staffing them with teams that have analytics, campaign, and digital skill sets. And fueling them with content that is relevant, effective, and drives conversion. That can be more than half of the spend at most B2B companies like Lionbridge. This makes media almost a secondary consideration in the bigger picture. We recognize the modern marketing mix for what it is and have shifted our focus from marketing and media to building a digital infrastructure to support measurable sales growth. My whole management focus is working with the sales team to generate more measurable revenue growth from the digital channels and selling assets we’ve built. Most of that is through effort and “earned” engagement. Media plays the role of amplification in our model.

Diorio:  By our count, most growth budgets are allocated to what we call growth assets – content, digital infrastructure, data, advanced analytics, and the people with the skills to manage them. But the reality is these assets are severely underutilized and underperform at most companies. From a financial perspective the return on these growth assets is very low relative to what it could be. How were you so successful at measuring and improving the return Lionbridge got from its growth assets?

Punishill:  We suffered from the same problem when I first started.  Marketing invested millions of dollars to generate thousands of leads – which in my view are corporate growth assets. Yet we were not able to move those leads to the sales force using Saleforce.com so they could be monetized. Nor did we measure and manage whether they generated new sales or cross sell downstream. We had zero percent attribution for all our marketing investment. The same goes for all the content the marketing team created. We were creating content without having any way to systematically and empirically determine if it was the right content or if it was being utilized to its full effect across our channels. Attribution is fundamental to improving the return on growth assets.

I’m not saying we were doing the wrong things or had the wrong people. We had some foundational marketing automation, ABM and lead scoring initiatives under way that made a lot of sense. The real problem was we were disconnected from sales and as a direct consequence were not impacting the only metric that really matters to the business – profitable revenue growth. We had a marketing orientation but not a revenue orientation.

In our case, we had fallen into the trap that you can’t hold front of the funnel marketing activity accountable for financial returns the same way you measure everything else in the business. That’s antithetical to growth because your job as the CMO is to get the CEO, CFO and CRO to understand and believe marketing is part of the growth equation. Financial returns are the only vocabulary you can use to create a common purpose at that level. I always say to CMOs who complain they can’t convince the CEO or CFO about the value of brand, it’s a marketing communications problem not a management understanding problem.

Over the years we shifted our focus to understanding, measuring, and improving the contribution of these growth assets – digital technology, data, content, leads and brainpower – to growth, profits, and firm financial performance. Over the past three years the percentage of revenues attributable to marketing investment has grown from zero to 60%. And marketing contributes 25% of all net new logos our sales team acquires. Our return on selling content has grown significantly as we have become more scientific about what content to build, and why. We further leverage and reuse that content using systems that deploy it across digital marketing, web site, sales, and service channels. Today we are driving five times the sales outcomes with thirty percent less marketing budget.

Diorio: What was the secret to measuring and improving the return on growth assets?

Punishill:  I can’t take full credit.  It’s really a team effort across sales, marketing, and service. We didn’t really start to move the needle until the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) saw things the same way and partnered with marketing to generate more measurable sales outcomes. What is essential to the partnership is that we both agree our primary job is to generate revenue and pipeline growth. To that end, the CRO and I share the same incentives, leadership dashboards, and participate in a daily stand up meeting to synchronize on key execution priorities and go to market adjustments.

Another aspect is accountability. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And until the leadership team commits to measuring the financial impact of every dollar of spend, you can’t truly get more revenue from that spend. A lot of marketing teams I’ve worked for have preferred to hide behind the power of the brand, faith, or what I call the “Kabuki theatre” of marketing.  I believe it was our focus on proving the value of every marketing action and asset is what really got us working as a team and elevated our return on selling assets to best in class.

Diorio: On your last point, what are some of the ways Lionbridge has deployed digital technology and AI as a force multiplier to make that partnership work?

Jaime Punishill:  We’ve done that across several funded initiatives that use AI and advanced analytics as the connective tissue that enables that partnership by linking front-end engagement to downstream account development.

But to get there we had to strip down and reimagine the sales and marketing technology stack from the top down. It was the equivalent of remodeling a house by taking it down to the studs and floor joists. But it was necessary. We rebuilt the stack around clean and well-organized customer data. Then we reconfigured the technology portfolio to better support an integrated sales and marketing go-to-market motion that reflects they way our customers buy, and our revenue teams engage them. For example, we have highly productive Account Based Marketing (ABM), digital lead flow, attribution, sales enablement, and content optimization initiatives under way.

Diorio: So, after three years, which is old age for a CMO these days – what have you learned about leading and enabling a 21st Century Commercial model?

Punishill:  I’d say I’ve learned several things on this journey.  To effectively lead the modern sales organization or the 21st Century Commercial model a growth leader must embrace three things:

First, you need to have a revenue orientation if you want to have a common purpose across sales, marketing, and service.  A revenue orientation means you acknowledge and prioritize revenue growth as the top goal of the business and recognize the role of marketing to achieve that end.

Second, you must be competent in both brand and demand, and understand how they work together to generate leads, conversions, preference, and sales outcomes. Too often the CMO is focused on the brand as the largest growth asset in the business and ignores the first point – having a revenue orientation.

Finally, you need to be digital-first or a digital native to be effective in the new buying reality. The post Covid stock market paints the importance of this. Companies that embraced digital before the pandemic have generally been successful. Those that rely on traditional channels and media have been less so. That gap is only going to grow over time.

You can learn more about the new generation of growth leaders and the state-of-the-art management tools, skills, capabilities, and practices they are using to accelerate revenue growth at the Revenue Enablement Institute Web Site.  You can nominate growth leaders for our CXO 100 list at this link or by contacting us directly at 203.912.8172

CXO100 Project

Jaime Punishill is CMO at Lionbridge, overseeing marketing, pricing, and the growth technology portfolio worldwide.

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