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CMO Confessions Ep. 41: Pierre Custeau of MRP

April 22nd, 2021 Andrea Bartman

Welcome back to another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with marketing and sales’ top leaders. Today’s CMO Confessions features Pierre Custeau, Senior Vice President of Product at MRP.

In today’s episode, Pierre and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Pierre’s experience going from music producer to MarTech producer, the challenges facing CMOs today and how AI could enhance marketing.

As you know, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here and an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about Pierre and his background through his LinkedIn page here and Twitter here. 

If you’re interested in listening to additional episodes in our CMO Confessions podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here on Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Welcome to another CMO Confessions podcast!

Table of Contents:

From Music Producer to MarTech Producer
Getting Started with Digital Marketing
CMO Challenges
MarTech and Building Better Tools
Insight-Driven Marketers and Customer-Centricity
AI and the Winning Combination

Cheri Keith:

Hello, and welcome to CMO Confessions, the B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24.

For today’s episode, we have a really amazing guest with us here today. It’s Pierre Custeau, Senior Vice President of Product at MRP Prelytix. Pierre has spent his entire career building products, and a lot of his career has been spent building products for marketers. So, we are in for a treat today to hear what it means to deal with all of us when it comes to building out products. Pierre, thanks for coming on.

Pierre Custeau:

Thanks, Cheri, for what a great introduction. I’m so excited to be here, but amazing. Wow, you called me amazing. You set the bar really high there.

From Music Producer to MarTech Producer

Cheri Keith:

This is going to be great. I always like to start by asking more about your background. What’s led you to your current role since it is a newer position for you? And I’d like to hear more about what really excites you about this current leadership role that you’re in today?

Pierre Custeau:

Absolutely. Yeah, I was joking before this call that if you asked me about my career, it might turn into a three-episode broadcast, but essentially this is my third career, I would say. You’ll probably get a kick out of learning about the other two. I knew in this last episode, you talked to someone who was in the music business and that was actually my first career. I was a professional musician and a producer. I left college to join a rock band. It’s almost a string of a circus, right? We were touring. You can imagine me wearing a white blazer and probably more makeup than I would want my daughters to wear because this was the years of glam rock and the eighties.

And so, I did that for a few years and learned a great deal about interacting with people. I was earning a living with that. I was also a producer producing bands and I got into composing music for film and ad agencies. So, I’ve worked very early on in my career with ad agencies, which is something I still cherish to this day, learning about how they work, how they operate and so on and so forth.

I eventually moved from that into my second career, which was in broadcast television actually. So, I did pretty much any trade you can think of except in front of the camera. Everything was behind the camera. I started as an audio engineer because I had those affinities from my producing skills. But it really moved on to doing anything from field news reporting to camera to pretty much everything could do in broadcast television without being in front of a camera. The last few things I did there were essentially around editing. So, I was doing a documentary editing for the CBC, which is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is the equivalent of, I guess, the BBC in the UK. And again, I learned a great deal there about working under pressure. I did a lot of live broadcasts and worked with a lot of creative people who have big egos. They’re very exciting, very creative people.

Creativity is probably the thing that you’ll notice has always been prevalent in my career path. And finally, to meeting my wife who was a journalist at the time and a news anchor. We moved to the west coast of Canada, to Vancouver. At the time, believe it or not, I didn’t even speak English. I’m French Canadian, originally from around Montreal, Canada.

So essentially, I wanted to change my career. And I was like, “Hey, what can we use with the skills that I’ve learned so far?” I was doing a little programming. I’ve always been doing some software development on the side, kind of as more of a hobby than anything else. And I said, “Hey, I’d love to go into software.” And there were two big companies that actually offered me jobs, in Vancouver at the time. One was Electronic Arts and going to be doing game development. The other one was a CRM company called Pivotal CRM. It was very successful in those days in the late nineties.

So essentially, I went for CRM and got hooked on to CRM big time. Because if you remember, at the end of the nineties, you probably read Peppers and Rogers, and their theory about unifying the front office, right? The functions of marketing, sales and services, all being unified through the CRM tool to better engage with customers and to manage the relationship with customers. Which has become a misnomer, but really that was a promise originally, right? Unifying everyone around being customer-centric before the letter. And I completely bought into that immediately.

I started to do consulting in CRM. So, I was involved in probably 300 different deployments of CRM tools for customers as a consultant. And then I headed the consultancy and I kind of went through the ranks of being a consultant myself to managing teams of consultants. I was always drawn to marketing and I noticed this shift that happened at some point. I’m talking a lot here, but I’ll wrap this up in a minute.

CRM was predicated mostly on face-to-face conversations, right? It was a lot more phone conversations and really analog. And this is why I think CRM has been really well embraced by salespeople first and foremost, and not so much by marketers and services. It helped really manage those conversations. As things were moving over to digital, I felt it was a brand-new world out there, and I really felt that marketers in particular would be so well-served with the new technology that I needed to double down on that and say, “Hey, I want to build technology for marketers.” And that’s simply how I got into really understanding the needs of marketers and really being passionate about helping them.

Getting Started with Digital Marketing

Cheri Keith:

That’s great. But, how can you sit there today after the past year plus that we’ve had where face-to-face really went away, except for having your Zoom camera on. So, you saw very early on that digital engagement was going to be key for marketers.

So, what was it like trying to evangelize that before the world of digital marketing? I mean, of course it’s been a trend for a while, but a lot of it was automation, spam and emails. I think you did a lot of great work at Oracle talking about this idea of micro moments. So, where do you think it stands today?

Pierre Custeau:

Yeah, I think we’re going through such transformational times. It’s hard to even appreciate what’s going on. I’ve been fortunate in that for the past 16 years, I think, I’ve been leading a very nomadic life where I’ve met a lot of customers and I’ve been on the road quite a lot. I have more than a million miles flying. I’ve seen customers on all continents and of course I’m missing that in one way. And then the other, I’m glad to be with my family for a change.

But to answer your question, I think that it’s such a profound change that I don’t think anyone has appreciated it yet. It’s happened so fast, what’s happened in the last year. There’s a lot of positives to it. There’s a lot of negatives. There’s a lot of things that we need to relearn. I certainly miss the face-to-face conversations with customers and attending in-person events and whatnot. We need to find new ways and we’re finding them and that’s what’s exciting.

But going back to your question about the adoption of technology, I think by and large, we’re just getting started. As far as digital and leveraging all that technology has to offer the marketer today, we’re just getting started. I mean we’re nowhere near done.

CMO Challenges

Cheri Keith:

You mentioned logging a lot of miles and meeting with lots of clients, CMOs and marketing leaders. So, can you talk more about what you learned in those meetings? Obviously, ones that maybe stand out. Of course, keeping everything anonymous. We don’t want to get anyone in trouble here, but I think we both know as consultants, we know a lot of dirty laundry about the companies, at times.

Pierre Custeau:

Yeah, it’s interesting. What’s interesting when you’re a product person like me and you’re genuinely trying to find ways to help CMOs. If you care to ask the right questions, it gets really interesting. When you talk to users, they tend to talk to you in terms of their challenges with your product. When you talk to CMOs, they tend to talk to you about their challenges. You can get them to a point where they no longer think about the product that you kind of represent as the head of product for a company, but you can get them, oftentimes at dinner or whatnot, to actually confess a few things that they might not confess in front of their teams. So back to the title of this podcast, I was thinking of what were some of the CMO Confessions I got over the years? I promise to keep it PG 13.

But one of the biggest challenges I think CMOs have is not with their staff but getting to a point where they’re confident that their team uses the tools to the full extent, right. They buy a lot of technology. CMOs today are constantly buying technology because their teams come to them and say, “Hey, I was using this in my past job. I absolutely need that.” Right? “I need this tool to do my job,” or “I need this thing.” And, so they buy, and they buy, and they buy. But then, there’s very little confidence, oftentimes that those tools or those investments are actually bearing fruit. Because it’s hard to do real attribution and to really find out if people are using the tools correctly.

And then the other thing that I find out is there’s a lot of misconceptions. There’s a lot of misconceptions about what the tools actually do. Some of that, I’m sure, is on the fault of the vendors. Some of that fault is on the receiving end as well. But sometimes they have tools that they don’t know carry certain functions. So, they’re buying other tools to do that when there’s a perfectly capable tool that they have already in their market stack that does the job.

So oftentimes what I found through the years is some of the biggest challenges that CMOs have are more to do with human capital than anything else, right? And it’s become really even more acute over the years, I think as CMOs are onboarding new responsibilities. It’s not rare nowadays for CMOs to have the BDR function within their team. And now talk about human capital, a lot of people, a lot of turnover. It’s become a really challenging job. Sometimes I have to admit, as a CMO where all these vendors are promising to make your life easier, I think as vendors, we’re failing. We’re not really good at making the life of CMOs easier. It’s becoming increasingly difficult. We have new committees and new capabilities and whatnot, but I feel a deep sense of responsibility as a vendor to help them with that. To help CMOs make sure that their teams realize the full potential of the tools that they have. To make sure they leverage their data to its full extent et cetera, et cetera. So, that’s one of the things I found out. That was a long-winded answer, but really, human capital and making sure that people use the tools, are trained and have the right people on their team is probably top of mind for a lot of CMOs. That’s not what you intuitively expect as a vendor as you start to engage with CMOs at first.

Cheri Keith:

That really resonates. I know Gartner has this statistic that they’ll flash up and it’s a good one: Marketers only use 58% of the capabilities in their MarTech stack. That seems high even at times, right? When I meet with marketing leaders too, it’s rarely a failure in the technology. I mean, yes, technology has its days. There are system outages, but if you think about especially a marketing technology where it’s like, you might build something and put it out there for someone to engage with or create a campaign that needs to be running on an ongoing basis. Just going back and looking at the results, those little things are so often not done. But, it also comes down to training and that falls on the vendor, but it also falls on the CMO.

MarTech and Building Better Tools

Cheri Keith:

Do people have time in the day to invest in using these technologies? No one majors in marketing technology that I’ve met before. Most marketers don’t go to college to learn about marketing, even, as you and I both know. So how can we expect people to unlock the full value of these investments? I haven’t spent a lot of time on lynda.com lately. I think there are some good tools, give the power to the people, like the Domos of the world. People might be getting good at analytics and dashboards, but oftentimes people don’t have the time in the day or the access to the learning for them to be able to achieve more and I think that’s something that CMO can impact. What do you think of that?

Pierre Custeau:

Yeah, they can. They certainly can, and I think it goes down to so much about marketing reminds me of my days in broadcast, which were when you’re always ready just before things go to air. We always used to say, “Sit down and wait, and then hell happens.” Constantly as a marketer, I think you’re on the razor’s edge of, “How do I manage my time? Because I know someone’s going to come to me with an urgent request any minute now” and they do. So maybe that’s one part that CMOs can play in by making sure there’s a little bit more planning, but I think it’s futile to think things can be planned and not be last minute. I think real-time is the nature of the beast when it comes to marketing, right? We have to expect an amount of real time.

So, I don’t blame marketers for sometimes using formulas that they know that work and using their tools and not challenging themselves to do more with the tools that they have. Because if the tool doesn’t challenge them and doesn’t encourage that curiosity and that desire to experiment, I think it’s very easy to fall into a pattern where you say, “Hey, I’m going to do [blip] just the same way I did last time. Or I’m going to do this just the same way, because it worked, and it gave me good results and I’m not going to challenge it or stir the pot and I’m just going to do it.”

So, a big part of my strategy and my vision for the products that we create is to build that into the tools. To build that nudging of the user, to be curious, and to experiment into the tools that we build. Also, we’re all afraid to say it, but sometimes with predictive analytics and whatnot, we give users some indicators of what might happen, but we don’t give them a lot of prescription about what to do. So, we deliver a lot of bites, “Hey, here’s all the data, here’s the insight.” And now what? As a user, it’s like, “You’re giving me all of that. What do I do now?” This is like if you could go to the doctor and it would tell you everything that’s wrong with you, but then say, “Okay, see you next time.” No. Give me a pellet, give me something, give me a prescription, right? And so, as vendors, I think we have a role to play in that as well. So, I wouldn’t lay the blame on CMOs for not doing enough to make sure there’s adoption of technology. I think the vendors have a big, huge role to play, especially nowadays that machine learning and AI can actually help with those things as well.

Cheri Keith:

So, engaging the marketer at that moment of being in the system and giving them something to think about.

Pierre Custeau:

Yeah, essentially, yes. By the way, we’ll probably talk about that in my pet peeves, because I know you’re going to ask me about my pet peeves later, but I don’t think marketers are innately data-driven. They’re insights driven. I think marketers and people that studied marketing by and large don’t enjoy the aspects of organizing the data and trying to make sense of it and trying to extract insights out of it. I think they enjoy the insights and then the creative part of saying, “Hey, with that insight, what do I do? And I could do this, and I could do that. And I can create a very original tactic to go and get customers, or I can improve upon my current engagement.” But by and large, I think we want marketers to just skip the data part, get to the insight and then use our creativity to find new ways to engage customers and in a way that gets good results or prospects or what have you to get to the outcome that’s needed. So yeah, there’s a little bit of that which is not happening with tools is like taking the insight and then nudging them to act, and then as they act optimize what they’re trying to do. Tools can help them with that nowadays, right?

Insight-Driven Marketers and Customer-Centricity

Cheri Keith:

Well, you’ve already asked the next question. Tell me more about some of your pet peeves when it comes to marketing.

Pierre Custeau:

Yeah, it’s interesting. Over the past 10 years, we’ve started to talk about data-driven marketers and I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with that myself. I’m a scientist at heart. I mean, I’m a creative person, but I’ve got one foot in science and one foot in the clouds, as I sometimes say. But I think by and large, there’s been a little bit of a fallacy there with data. I don’t know that a lot of companies are approaching their data correctly where they create data-science departments and have quants and the analysts and people who really thrive when looking at data and building models and whatnot. I’ve observed that in a lot of companies, there’s a poor partnership between that department that looks at data and the marketing department, because they’re just speaking a different language oftentimes. Or it’s really hard to bridge the gap between the two departments.

So, one of my pet peeves is to say, “Let’s stop talking about data-driven marketers. Marketers are, by and large, just like sales people. They want the insight. They want help with getting the insight. Sometimes CMOs will have data analysts and data scientists within their team. That’s pretty rare. I’ve seen it separated oftentimes off to the side as this group that reports up to either a CIO or directly to the CEO. But I think there needs to be a better way to talk about this and to create a model that works for companies.

So, my pet peeves is that I think people forget oftentimes what does that really mean to be customer-centric? That’s my pet peeve is everyone talks about customer centricity. Few people actually embrace it or understand it correctly, right? And that’s frustrating because if you go back to the start of my career, the promise of all unifying around understanding our customers and servicing them and whatnot. I mean, that’s pretty foundational and the concept has been around since Peppers and Rogers. That’s what, 30 years ago now?

Cheri Keith:

Right! Yeah!

Pierre Custeau:

And I’ve seen so many companies who claim to do it and will try to do it. For instance, they do great things. Their marketers are super smart, and they do a lot of things. They understand their customers really well. They engage them really well, but then as a business, they’re still difficult to deal with. Your invoicing isn’t correct. Every time you call them to talk to your customer success manager, you can never get through to them. I mean, all sorts of things that happen where there’s this disconnect between the understanding that marketing has about the customer and what they need and whatnot, and what the rest of the organization is lining up to do, right? So, it’s as if that knowledge of the customer that the CMO stewarding is not being leveraged across the organization. And that’s what I think it means. That’s my definition of being customer-centric.

Once you have all that data and all that understanding of the customer as an organization, you all need to align. It’s hard enough to align between sales and marketing sometimes, but you see that if people embrace it really across the company, then you’d get full alignment across the entire organization. And that’s pretty rare. I know very few companies that really embrace this concept fully. I wouldn’t say it’s a frustration. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I kept asking a lot of customers, you think you’re customer-centric and then I would hear their definition of it, and that would lead to some very interesting conversations.

AI and the Winning Combination

Cheri Keith:

Very cool. All right. Well, you brought over the negative. I want to make sure that we end on a positive note. So, can you talk about a trend or two that is exciting you right now, or energizes you in your role in building out products for marketers?

Pierre Custeau:

Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of things that excite me right now. I think it’s a great time and I don’t think anything I talked about is a negative. I think it talks to the opportunity for me. I’m that kind of person that sees opportunity everywhere. I got into software because I saw a lot of opportunities. Not because it was the thing to do, the thing of the future for me, was like that’s a great way to use technology to make people’s lives better. I see a lot of opportunities in marketing to really enhance the relationship between companies and their customers and to get marketers to continue to market in ethical ways and in ways that are respectful of their audiences and so on, so forth.

I see a lot of potential and better use of data and AI and machine learning. I’ve been a big advocate of doing it in a way that is respectful of marketers as well. And what I mean by that is, I think when you start to think about all the possibilities and we hear about some of them seem far-fetched. It seemed far-fetched maybe two or three years ago to think that a robot could actually create content It’s still scary, but they actually can. It’s been proven, and I don’t think that’s good for marketing. Personally, I don’t think the use of AI in that way is positive. But I think if you think of ways to use AI to really compliment the creativity and the talent of marketers, that’s a winning combination. And that excites me tremendously.

Because I really think it’s about not removing the human element and some of the craziness and the chaos that goes with it. It’s all about keeping it. Brands need to have personalities and companies need to have a soul. And oftentimes that soul comes out through their engagement with customers and to a large extent but by marketing. And so, what can we do to just help with that? Not really get in the way and replace it, but really help to do it at scale and to do it better. That is really what excites me at the end of the day.

Cheri Keith:

That’s great. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Pierre, I know I’ve enjoyed our time together. Like I always do, and I know our audience will really love hearing more about how marketers are insight-driven rather than data-driven and then our conversation about MarTech usage and what vendors can be doing better in order to empower their users. So, thank you so much again, and thank you, CMO Confessions audience for tuning in.

Pierre Custeau:

It’s been a pleasure.