Customer Experience is the Core of Big Data Marketing: Interview with Russell Glass

Glenn: Hi, everyone. I’m Glenn Gow, Founder & Advisor of Crimson Marketing. Welcome to Moneyball for Marketing where we talk about the incredible changes happening in marketing organizations around big data and marketing technology. We feature marketing technology insights from the top marketers in the world. The reference to Moneyball is from the story of how the Oakland A’s baseball team were able to win and win and win because they figured out how to use data and technology to their advantage. If you’d like to learn about how to use big data and marketing technology and marketing to help you win visit us at or email us at And now on to our podcast.
Today I am very pleased to welcome Russell Glass, Head of Products for Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn. Russell’s focus is to deliver industry leading products to help marketers get to the right professionals while improving the online experience of LinkedIn members. And I’m not going to even both describing LinkedIn to you guys because everybody knows who LinkedIn is. It’s a very well-known brand. Russell, it’s great to have you here.

Russell: Thanks, Glenn, I’m really excited to be here.

Glenn: So, you and I were talking earlier about how marketers have an amazing number of choices to help them with technology to make the most of big data. Tell us a little bit about your perspective on that.

Russell: Yeah so it’s true marketers have a ton of choices out there and I would say that for many marketers it’s bewildering and can cause people to kind of look like they’re deer in headlights and we actually wrote a book about this very concept where in this book and it’s called The Big Data-Driven Business, there’s this notion of certain marketers, about 10 percent of them that were doing things really well and they were using big data, they were using technologies to create incredible changes to the trajectories of their businesses. But then the other 90 percent it was a combination of the frozen, those marketers that wanted to do something but because of these bewildering choices they didn’t know where to start.

Glenn: Sure.

Russell: And then there were the denialists.

Glenn: Ah, that’s a new category for me.

Russell: Yeah, the denialists were the, “Big data this is a fad. We don’t really see how this can affect our business.” And what we did was basically say, “Well, what are the 10 percent doing right?” And what was really fascinating about it is that the 10 percent tended to start with the customer. They tended to look at the persona of the people they were going after, the types of companies they were going after, and they asked themselves a simple question, “What kind of experiences do I want to create for these customers?” And when you think of it this way it actually turns the entire equation on its head and I’ll give you a story.

Glenn: No, that’s great because this is unique. I don’t see very many companies doing this so I really want to hear this.

Russell: Yeah, so critically important the airlines, right? Everybody has sort of had an experience with the airlines and you call up when you need find out more information about your flight and you get these choices like press 1 for this, press 2 for that, these menu options have changed. This basically horrific experience.

Glenn: Right, right we’ve all experienced it.

Russell: We’ve all experienced. Well now if you call United Airlines and you’re in the Frequent Flyer Program you get a, “Hello, Mr. Glass. We recognize you by your phone number. Are you calling about your flight this afternoon? We notice it’s on time.” So think about how much better that experience is and this sort of game changing interaction that United has now created with their customer based compared to the way it used to be.
Glenn: Oh yeah, that’s like, “Oh my God they read my mind.”

Russell: Yeah, exactly! Right? And if you get down to how that happened you realize how complex this was for United to pull off. Somebody had to say, “Okay, I want to create this amazing experience,” because they had to pull databases from groups that were probably flown around the world, account databases, frequent flyer databases, flight information databases, information about my cell number. All this information had to be pulled together and there is no way an organization can get that kind of collaboration together unless somebody’s thinking experience first.

Glenn: That’s right, and most marketers are just not comfortable working in a data world and working with IT to pull all those systems together.

Russell: That’s exactly right. So now take this example explicitly to marketing and all of these choices and all the confusion out there. If you as a marketer can think, “Okay, here’s the United Airlines moment that I want to create for my customers.” Then things get simpler. Once you have designed what experience you want to create now it’s, “Okay, what are the pieces I need to pull together to create that experience?” And you don’t have this myriad of choices anymore you have, “What is it going to take to create this specific experience I care about?” That is the difference when you start customer experience first versus this morass of potential choices of what you could potentially invest in as a marketer.

Glenn: Right you can easily get wrapped around an axle and therefore you just don’t go anywhere.

Russell: Yeah, exactly. I’ll give you another quick analogy that we all have felt in our lives. So, house shopping, right?

Glenn: Sure.

Russell: If I said to you, “Glenn, I’m going out to buy a house,” and I had no idea what town I wanted to live in. I had no idea how the big the house is I wanted. I had no idea what my budget was it would be an intractable problem.

Glenn: Right.

Russell: I wouldn’t be able to narrow my focus down enough because it would seem like there’s too many choices out there.

Glenn: Exactly.

Russell: So what do we do? We say, “Oh, here’s my budget. Here’s the number of bedrooms I need. Here is what approximately what town I want to live in,” and all of a sudden it becomes a tractable problem. And that’s the same thing marketers need to do I think in their investments, in their systems, in their experiences they want to create.

Glenn: And narrow it down with the customer experience in mind.

Russell: Exactly.

Glenn: Right, and then you bite off what you can chew with a particular marketing objective. I like that a lot. So, you had also talked about predictive intelligence. Tell us a little bit about your thoughts there.

Russell: Yeah, I think one of the biggest trends that we’re starting to see and we’ll continue to see over the next number of years is the power of big data in helping us not only understand more about our customers, but understand more about our future customers. And a lot of people think of big data in this very technical way. This notion that it’s the increase of processing power and increase of storage that enables you to see things you couldn’t see before. Right? I would say an analogy that big data is simply the ability to see the needle in the haystack.

Glenn: Oh, interesting.

Russell: And when you talk about predictive intelligence basically what you’re doing is saying, “Okay, I want to look at the characteristics of all of my most successful customers and find the needles in the haystack that are predictive, they have in common across all those customers that I can then use to go out and find more best customers. And a lot of people are using it today to help score leads more effectively which is a great use case, but I think it’s actually the very beginnings of what’s possible by using predictive intelligence. When you think about the ability to predict things like not only who’s coming in your pipeline but who else should you be targeting so that your marketing spend is more efficient? You’re only reaching the best customers that when they do convert are going to go right into your pipeline.

Glenn: This is great. I love the concept of understanding who your most profitable customers are and therefore doing look-alike modeling to go find others like them and we use the phrase, “Bring fewer leads in,” but what we’re really talking about is bringing in the right leads, leads that are going to convert.

Russell: That’s right.

Glenn: And I think that’s what you’re talking about.

Russell: Well and you know it has another side effect which is if you bring fewer, more highly qualified leads in place the sales team pays more attention to each.

Glenn: That’s right. That’s huge because sales teams don’t pay attention to marketing leads more often than not.

Russell: It’s huge, right? The sales marketing alignment when you tie all this together effectively is another game changer, but when you can do this well, so now you’re targeting the right people, you’re bringing the right people into the pipeline and you then can create more of the right messages and back to what we talked about earlier, the right experiences.

Glenn: Right.

Russell: And this all leads to much more success. It leads to much more efficiency on the dollars you’re spending and ultimately outsize returns on those investments.

Glenn: Yeah and I guess I use the United example of when you call in. I like the example of customizing the web experience. If I have enough information about a visitor, whether they’re anonymous or not, if I can customize that web experience because I know what they’re interested in I’m going to be giving them the experience they’re looking for. I’m going to be helping them find the information they’re looking for. I love that application.

Russell: I totally agree. In some respects Amazon has trained us all that we need to experiences, right? My experience on Amazon is so totally different than everybody else’s because it’s paying attention to what I’ve bought in the past, it’s paying attention to what I’ve looked at but haven’t bought. It’s paying attention to what others who have bought the things I have bought in the past but haven’t bought are buying. And by using all of that data it’s creating these unique experiences that we all now, as marketers, have the ability to create for our customers.
Glenn: Oh it’s fantastic. Let’s use a B2B example in the SAAS world. You had talked to me earlier about how some of this thinking applied to churn. Tell us the story there.

Russell: Yeah, what’s interesting is often when we think of the world as marketers we’re thinking about new customer acquisition or even the notion of expansion of existing customers, but an important of business is renewals and how do you maintain the customers you have? And great, great case study Eloqua who ultimately went public and then was bought by Oracle, a very powerful marketing automation platform. In the early days they had a huge churn problem.
So they were losing well over 50 percent of the customers they signed up and they decided to instrument the platform with some analytics to see if they could predict certain characteristics of usage that lead to renewal. And low and behold what they found, again using this sort of needle in the haystack analogy. They found a couple of needles that predicted with 90 percent a renewal event. And so they took that data and they distributed it out to their account management team and said, “The companies that aren’t using these characteristics are the ones you need to focus on. Help them start to use the product in the way that these who are renewing are using it.”

Glenn: Because that’s where the customer is getting value using these parts of the product.

Russell: That’s exactly right. And fast forward they increase their absolute renewal rate by 3,000 basis points and completely changed not only the trajectory of the business but the viability of the business.

Glenn: Yeah because you can sustain 50 percent churn.

Russell: That’s exactly right and so this kind of predictive analytics could really be used across your entire customer ecosystem. In this case it’s still by the way a customer experience question. What they were trying to figure out is what experiences are customers having that lead them to renew? And in learning that what experiences do we need to create for certain customers that are likely not to renew if they aren’t experiencing it the way the best customers are?

Glenn: That’s a great way to look at it. I was initially looking at it as what product features are important but you’ve looked at it I think in a much better way which is what is the customer experience resulting from that product feature? That’s really why they’re using it.

Russell: Well, it’s why we all exist as businesses in a lot of ways. The notion of we exist to solve problems and those problems are going to be most acute in certain sets of customers and they’re going to have certain needs, they’re going to have certain ways that they solve the problems before we come along as businesses. So it’s kind of getting back to the roots of why do we exist in the first place? And when you can simplify and sort of dumb down the focus in that way it leads to great things because you don’t have all these complicated factors in-between this morass of technology, there’s a morass of products that get in the way of really solving for these core fundamental issues.

Glenn: Well, I really like the perspective, again, of focusing on the customer experience because it really puts the marketing technology into the tool bucket meaning these are tools to help to accomplish this goal, this goal of creating the right customer experience and I really think that’s how we should look at them.

Russell: Totally agree. And to you marketing technology vendors out there in the same vein I think that in order to differentiate yourself and separate yourself from the noise a piece of advice is talk about yourself in the way you can help marketers create those better experiences.

Glenn: Yeah, that’s great advice. We, as an industry, are not typically good at that.

Russell: Ha!

Glenn: So, Russell, we were talking about one of my favorite topics also and it’s mobile. Tell us a little bit about your perspective about the world of mobile.

Russell: Mobile is probably the single biggest change that we’ve seen in marketing over the last few years and will drive the most significant changes into the near future and the reason for that is just how quickly the world has shifted from a desktop centric one to a mobile centric one. LinkedIn, as an example, just passed 50 percent in terms of usage being on mobile devices versus desktop devices. And the shift to mobile I think represents both challenges as well as opportunities and there are a few reasons for that.
One is from a challenges perspective the mobile device is a very personal one. It is a—it’s very different than the desktop in that communication on mobile devices is personal. The wrong type of communication can be viewed as intrusive. An example is that—I’ll give you a little mind teaser here. Imagine for a second that right now during this interview you get a buzz on your mobile device and you pick it up and it’s an advertisement for a company that you don’t really know that is irrelevant to you as a consumer. How do you feel about that?

Glenn: They just messed up my little thought process, whatever I was working on, I can’t work on now.

Russell: Yeah, totally, right? So, it’s sort of a bummer. It’s intrusive, it kind of gets you out of your groove, and you’re not psyched about it. You’re pretty upset about it.

Glenn: It’s bad branding.

Russell: It’s a bad experience. It’s going to harm the brand. You know, if that same ad had happened on the desktop it would maybe be a little annoying, but it wouldn’t effect you in nearly the same way. Now imagine for a second that the same thing happens, we’re in this interview, you get a buzz on your phone, you glance down, and it says, “We know that you have lunch tomorrow at a certain restaurant because we looked on your calendar and there’s a garage next store, if you use your American Express card we will give you a 40 percent discount on parking at that garage.

Glenn: Oh, now I’m psyched.

Russell: Now you’re psyched, right? Now you’re kind of like, “I’m glad they found me,” right?

Glenn: Right.

Russell: Because that was hugely relevant, it was timely, it was valuable to you as a consumer, and so these are two, obviously, extreme examples, but trying to illustrate the point that the opportunity on mobile is so huge because it’s always on, you in all contexts have that device on you, and you can get right to the heart of location, relevance for a specific user, but if you screw that up you’re going to pay the price because it is a very personal device.
So, I see tremendous opportunities for marketers to do wonderful things from creating a great customer experience standpoint and really adding value to the customer, but I also see a future where you’re going to see a lot of marketers mess that up.
Glenn: Well, you mentioned the word, “Future,” so that brings me to my last question for you. Talk to me a little bit about what you see happening in the next year or so as it relates to one or several of these topics we just covered today.
Russell: So, to pull it all together I think the next few years is going to be all about this march towards creating relevance. I call it the relevance imperative.

Glenn: Mm-hm.

Russell: Years ago relevance was nice to have and increasingly has become an imperative as we’ve gotten more personal devices like these mobile devices, as we’ve come to expect great experiences from companies like Amazon, as we’ve come to expect instant information at our fingertips from companies like Google. The consumer perception of how we interact with them has changed and this relevance imperative helping marketers to create great experiences for customers, that’s where we’re going to see attention being paid in the next year or two.

Glenn: I really agree and this spans all marketing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s B2C or B2B because ultimately there’s a human being trying to gather information to make some decision, often a purchase decision, and if I can treat them in a relevant way, if I can provide exactly what they need because I have information about them, I start to make their life easier and that’s what we want.

Russell: I think that’s right although in some respects I think it’s even more important in the B2B world than B2C, and the reason I say that is the decision making that takes place in B2B is so much more complex and full of risk to the decision maker that it require the marketer to have more touchpoints with that person, you know? So, another analogy for you, let’s assume, a consumer example, you’re thirsty and you go to a store and you see DMG-Cola and you see Coca-Cola. You right for the Coke because you know what the experience is like, you know the brand and you’ve never heard of DMG-Cola before. Well, let’s say earlier that day you had seen an ad for DMG-Cola and it said, “Tastes like Coke, but entirely organic.”
You know, now when you walk into the store you might be prepared to make a different decision.

Glenn: Mm-hm.

Russell: And I’d say, “Oh, I saw that ad, DMG-Cola tastes like Coke.” I’ll give it a try. So, that is a consumer branding ad at work. It’s not asking you to click right there, it’s not asking you to make a decision right there, but it’s preparing you to make a different decision later. In the B2B world using the same analogy let’s say your boss came to you and said, “Hey, Glenn, I want you to throw a party for all of our best customers and you’re in charge of the soda.” Even if you had seen that ad, “DMG-Cola tastes like Coke, but entirely organic,” when you walk into the store what are you going to buy?

Glenn: I’m going Coke.

Russell: You’re going to buy the Coke. And the reason, instantly, you’re going to buy the Coke is because you don’t want to mess the party up.

Glenn: That’s right.

Russell: You don’t want to come back and be blamed for a party that wasn’t successful because you picked this DMG-Cola thing that nobody else had heard about, but you saw this ad for, and so what is a B2B marketer have to do? This is how decisions are made in B2B every day. What does a B2B marketer have to do to convince you to buy the DMG-Cola in this case?

Glenn: They’ve got to make me feel safe and smart.

Russell: That’s exactly right, they have to make you feel safe, they have to show you case studies for other people who have thrown parties that you respect that they said, “The rating of my party was higher by using DMG-Cola than using Coke.” They would have to show you reviews of DMG-Cola, they would have to show you content that makes you feel like a thought leader for choosing DMG-Cola. Basically, they have to reduce the risk of that decision for you and every day B2B marketers have to be thinking this way, “How do I create experiences for my prospects and customers that allow them to make different decisions than they would have made before?” Very different than B2C marketing, I think it implies much more focus on relevance and focus on the right experiences at the right time.

Glenn: That’s fantastic, Russell. And I’ve learned a lot especially from that last little section so I appreciate you sharing that. We are out of time so I just want to thank you very much for joining us. It’s been fantastic.

Russell: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Glenn.

Glenn: All right, talk to you soon.

Russell: Take care.

Glenn: If you like this podcast please subscribe and rate us on iTunes and tell your friends about us. You can also go to our website,, and sign up for our free monthly newsletter featuring the very best of our marketing insights, featured Moneyball for Marketing podcasts, and one of our favorite features called, “Bad Marketing,” or email me at Thanks for listening to Moneyball for Marketing from Crimson Marketing. Have a great week and let us know if we can help you in any way.