CMO Confessions Ep. 17: Higher Logic’s Hunter Montgomery

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions, a bi-weekly podcast series discussing how sales and marketing really operates. In this episode, we talk to Hunter Montgomery, CMO at Higher Logic, a community management solution based out of the East Coast.

Hunter has more than 20 years of experience in the marketing sector, weaving his way through a variety of organizations. In July 2007, he joined Verizon Business before moving onto Vocus and, finally, Higher Logic.

Hunter has a sharp eye on cutting through the puff that’s common in B2B marketing. As we discuss in this episode, he has a learned preference for impactful action and content. I think that theme of taking the time to think things through carries well throughout this episode and I hope you all enjoy.

If you’re interested in diving into Hunter’s career as a rocket scientist, you can find his LinkedIn profile here. If you’re interested in his insights and expertise, you can find his Twitter here.

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

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Transcription:

Joe Hyland:        

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of CMO Confessions. I am really excited to welcome Hunter Montgomery, CMO of Higher Logic to today’s show. Hunter, how are you doing?

H. Montgomery:

Good. Joe, how are you doing?

Joe Hyland:

I am doing great. Just, year-end wind-down, which I love. So, we’ll get into that and how you look at the end of the year versus starting the year shortly. Just to start things off, talk to our audience about what you guys are up to at Higher Logic and what you’re all about.

H. Montgomery:

Alright, great. Thanks. So, Higher Logic, we are a community engagement platform. It started off about 11, 12 years ago as a professional association based here in DC. Obviously, there are people who say there’s an association for everything and everyone, which is pretty much true. So we built in a kind of idea of community, right? You have lawyers and accountants and scientists and they’re part of an association — they want to talk and interact. And so we built this online community platform, which is perfect for them. About four or five years ago, we really started to expand out more in the corporate space — software user groups, right? B2B software. And then at last, a little over a year ago, we bought two marketing automation platforms to really expand what we do. And now we kind of talked more about engagement, right? It’s about how do you engage with your customers, your members.

H. Montgomery:

They don’t care if you’re sending an email from a platform or a daily digest from the community or a request from somebody else. They just want to know that you care about them interacting with them and you’re giving them value. And so what we’ve sort of rolled out is combining the ideas of community and really the market automation part to give this personalized, customized interaction between a company and their customers or an association and their members, which is very similar, right? If you really think about an association member is just this SaaS user, right? Every year they get to renew their membership and they want to see value in it. If they don’t see a value, they’ll go somewhere else. So we’re all about that?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, that’s great. I think a lot of marketing mirrors politics. I was a political science major so maybe that’s just my own leaning, but I think all things in life really are local — even as we’re moving to everything being global, I get it. I think people feel more comfortable with small intimate communities and I think a lot of marketing has — and we can talk more about this — but has leaned too heavily on all quantity and just blasting out as much as possible to as big of a group as humanly possible. But it’s all about how about engagement and quality. So talk more about how your company’s philosophy on this community engagement model, how your marketing mirrors that.

H. Montgomery:

So immediate it fits very well, right? It’s all about personalization. It’s about giving your prospect if you will — or your member or your customer — the information that they need that valuable to them. It’s to your point, it’s not blasting out. “Hey, here is a webinar on a topic and I’m going to send it to my entire database where we know not everybody cares about it fit their schedule.” So we’re similar in terms of how the community works, the idea of basically with the market automation platform we added. But what we had it in there also was looking at how people interact and then give them that content that matters to them. If it’s a product they use, if it’s a community, a subcommittee they’re part of, you know, it’s how they interact with it. Like we’re doing a lot now more with AI.

H. Montgomery:

We start to learn about the people in the community and in the marketing side, what they read, what they click on, what they replied to, what questions they ask, all those things. I’m kind of starting to build kind of a digital fingerprint if you will, of what that person’s doing. And then you want to give them what’s valuable to them. That’s when marketing automation came up. “Oh, don’t send a blast to everybody,” but for marketing automation, for a long time, it was firmographic. I know what title you are, I know how big your company is, an industry it’s in, so I have a good sense of what you want to read and look at, but if I all of a sudden learned that you’re the chief customer officer, but you tend to read and interact in a different community, I can actually really show you information and content that matters to you. Not just a generic eBook of what a chief customer officer needs to know about x, y, z, right? Which is great, but maybe I have specific areas of like customer support. That’s my focus. That’s my target. All the sudden I’m getting content around that. So that’s kind of how we’re built the platform. And then obviously that’s how kind of the modern marketing person tries to look at things and every time you get more data you can do more with it.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Love it. I mean, the more relevant we can make our message and our delivery, the more successful we’ll be, right? So, I think people conceptually agree with that. It’s like breaking a bad habit. It’s easy to just flash your whole database with one message and I urge marketers to avoid that temptation.

H. Montgomery:

Part of it too is like what we’re trying to do, I mentioned the AI before, and I was talking to another guy I know, he’s writing a book about marketing in AI, and he had an example. I think it’s like BMW one of those companies, they’re basically creating 10,000 personas. Now, usually, if you have five personas of a buyer persona. That’s not a build-on and they’re great and they’re helpful. They’re good. What have you can create make 10,000? Everybody’s slightly different. The machines can learn more than you can and they can react to it. Not to scare people that marketers aren’t going to be important because you still have to understand who that buyer is, what they want, what they need, create content for them. But if you can just target that much more to somebody and that helps that much more of your click rate, you know, conversion rate — all the rates that you’re trying to track, then you can go focus on other things and stop worrying about the daily tasks. A lot of promises there. We’ll see how it comes out.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That’s powerful. I love walking into a marketer’s office and seeing the five or six personas on the wall with a picture and their tendencies. Like, I’d love to see this 10,000 version.

H. Montgomery:

That’d be pretty cool.

Joe Hyland:        

Okay, well, that makes to me and makes me think about things we love about marketing and things we perhaps don’t. So, I’ll start with the positive side. What do you love about today’s marketing opportunities versus five or 10 years ago?

H. Montgomery:        

I like math, which sounds kind of crazy. I’m not a quant guy, I’m not math major, a history major and undergrad. But it’s made it so marketers can go to the CFO, CEO, whoever, maybe the head of sales and say, “Here is what I’m actually impacting on your sales. I can show you, I can draw a direct line from these people to your bookings, closings, revenue. I can show, I can draw a dotted line to this group saying, ‘Hey, I got them in front of your guys, somehow'” they know I’m not trying to take credit,” but when you can start to look at the math that — a company before called Vocus, we are a PR software company, but a lot of that was built on: you bring a lead-in, they convert to a demo — it was a little old school now — and then they close for win and there are rates each way, there’s your ASP. IT becomes math.

H. Montgomery:        

And if you get on the understanding of math, I mean it shouldn’t cloud everything you do. But at least you can go and say, here’s what I’m doing and if you give me more money I’ll get more of these for you. If you reduce my budget, I’m going to get fewer of those for you. So the math part and the connection with the finance side and really being able to trust it and it’s not “we think we influenced.” And obviously it’s different companies, B2B fits very well in. But that’s the one thing I do like because it gets to be cut and dry and you’re not sort of trying to have to talk smart. You can actually show some numbers.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I love it. I think that’s a fantastic point. I love that in doing a compare and contrast to now to a decade ago when we were doing these models — it was a lot of assumptions. Your right, now like for us, we’re doing this right now actually. We have our plan for next year for revenue, and then we, based off of historical win rates, a conversion from inquiry to MQL, MQL to sales accepted, lead all the way through. We’re pretty granular. And what you said is dead on — there’s give and take. So, great, you don’t want to give us that budget. “Oh, okay. No worries. Like, you know, here’s what the marketing can contribute. It will be less than we had planned in and we do.” And then, so ON24, we then do check-ins every quarter to see how accurate we are. And, for us, a decade ago it was a little different. That’s interesting. I’ll get to the things that aren’t great in a moment, but you raised, you raised a great point.

Joe Hyland:        

I think there’s also … So if we’re going to be more quantifiable, there’s more modeling — there’s truthfully a lot more math in marketing today in data then there was a decade ago — in a lot of ways, I see geeks taking over marketing teams. You have more and more people who focus on data. I’m curious on your team if you’ve seen that shift or if the marketing personas are a little more traditional.

H. Montgomery:        

I think it kind of … there’s a few people who fit it well. They’re not quants or Geeks, but they understand the business side of it because really the numbers are about the business side. It’s one thing to understand the different conversion rates along the waterfall, but it’s why? Why is it important? Why is a booking today more valuable than the booking three months from now? And why is the ASP .. and all those things that the CFO cares about. You got to know what the CFO cares about. So we haven’t got there, I also have a younger team, so it’s almost like we’re helping them understand what marketing is going to be. I want to do email marketing or I want to do content and that’s great and they can. But Now let’s see: Did your content actually get downloads? We love that. Did it then convert — to your point — MQL, SAL, win? What do we see, how are you contributing?

H. Montgomery:

And then now they feel like, okay, I understand I got to be part of the business. I can’t just do content for the sake of content. And they’re not an indicator of that it was successful. It’s the first step So, it’s I have not brought in people and I’ve actually moved, kind of bringing an ops role. We didn’t have an obstacle here before. I’m like from an ops background, so I get the whole marketing ops and what it means and so kind of bringing people in, that’s a hard one to find. I mean, maybe, I think probably out on the West Coast it’s probably a little easier here on the East Coast. It’s still more traditional marketing people.

Joe Hyland:        

Out here, out here, everyone wants to call themselves the growth hacker, but which is really a demand gen person with a new name.

H. Montgomery:

Right, revenue, right? Revenue. What is it, what’s the new one? I can’t remember. It was like basically had of revenue or somebody in the marketing department, you know.

Joe Hyland:

Oh, you see some pretty … our office is right next door to LinkedIn’s. We see some pretty creative titles on LinkedIn.

H. Montgomery:

I’m sure.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I think that’s interesting. We had a similar understanding of the why for a business is really important, particularly for young marketers. We have a lot of the younger marketers earlier in their career who listened to this show. It’s critical to my opinion. One, always tie yourself to revenue wherever possible and then, two, you’re dead-on like understanding why we’re doing all of this is so critical. We had someone who was running our social media a few years ago and was quite successful with it, but it was a bit of a learning curve to get to the why social influencers mattered. And, for webinars, I think ultimately where we landed was they don’t. Which is fine, we just had to change our social media strategy, but it was like, “Oh, wait, all of these people like this tweet.” Like, okay, cool. Like, what do we think that means to the business? So yeah, it’s an evolution.

H. Montgomery:        

We had one of the companies we acquired in the last couple of years, they had a really good blog. And they came over and I looked at it — like, three times as many as our blog in terms of people that subscribed to it. And you know, my CEO is like, “Oh my God, the blog is great. You got to look at it.” And we dug into it and there are no leads there. I mean, it’s not our audience. It’s great. I appreciate it. And one of their sales guys came over with that because he’s like, we got to do like we did before. I said, do you ever see that the leads at the blog generated? I like activity but not activity for the sake of activity. It does not bring any value to what we’re trying to do. And they did keywords. It was optimized for SEO, I guess. Optimized for SEO drives me crazy. I’m sure there are markets there are companies that need to do it and it’s very valuable. But when you look at it and you realize that there’s nothing there for you. You know, we had a lot of homeowners associations. That’s not a professional association. They’re not buying our software.

H. Montgomery:        

So yeah, it’s got to connect the dots for people and understand that’s what it is. Not saying that it’s bad. It’s not our business.

Joe Hyland:        

Focus is a powerful and beautiful thing in life, right? And understanding markets you were going to play in and double and triple down in versus those that are just a distraction I think is, man, that can save so much time and energy and money. Okay, cool. Let’s get back to the original question. Okay. We went over things you love. What about things that frustrate you or you just, you just hate about the marketing landscape?

H. Montgomery:        

Well, I think I kind of jumped the gun. I think that last one I kind of overstated. So, I think you mentioned a little bit about, for a long time social, right? Social’s gonna be the greatest thing ever; you can’t scale it, you can’t track it, to your point. That kind of helped with the SEO. I think SEO was way overplayed in my, in the companies I have been part of. Again, I’m sure there are businesses were they very important. I think the other thing is, and you alluded to, we talked about a little before we got on the call and that is kind of the tech stack. Six or 7,000 tech solutions now in the Martech one, you know, Scott Brinker’s thing, which is great. And it was 150 in 2011. I mean the sheer number that these little point solutions can solve all your problems or you’ve got to put them all together yourself, is crazy.

H. Montgomery:        

And I love the tech side. As I said, I was the op side. I liked for efficiencies. I like to find an advantage you can have. But there’s, I don’t know if there’s really 7,000 advantages out there.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And we talked about this for a second before we started. It’s 10 times worse out here in San Francisco. Scott was on the show a couple of months back, great guy. What a gargantuan effort this has become. He’s got a research team behind it now because I think the last one was like 67, 6,700 companies or something crazy. But yeah, you’re right. It was 150 in year one. So in year one it was just him doing it was like pretty easy, right? Yeah. Everyone and their brother has a little kind of B2B marketing company right now out here. It’s like, you know, two guys in a cat and their garage.

Joe Hyland:        

I think what’s interesting about it, and quite, quite, quite dangerous, is so many of these companies have received funding from these venture capital firms. They have money that they need to deploy. They’re placing bets, if you will. If three or four out of 10 bets work, they’re successful. That’s generally their model. So, you have a lot of these companies who have raised one or two million and so it feels like a quasi-legitimate organization and it doesn’t solve enough of a business need to justify their existence. And so yeah, it’s out of control in ,y opinion.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah, it really is. That and it makes it hard to find things out there. And how do you sift through it all?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And it’s all in. You alluded to this just a moment ago, anyone thinking that technology will be a silver bullet or, you know, kind of this one-size-fits-all solution and then they’re like, they’re really missing the boat. It’s all gonna work together. So a lot of these techs, it becomes your problem to now implement it, which is not how this needs to work. If it doesn’t connect to your marketing automation or your CRM, I mean forget it. So, and we’re both technologists, we work for technology companies, but I will always advise people to be considerate before they bring in tech to their org.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah. And then, all of a sudden, you get a bloated budget potentially. You know, you add this thing here and that thing. All of a sudden, someone looks, you said you have a hundred thousand dollars for the software in marketing and what are you doing? And because, it’s SaaS, a lot of times you don’t have to get into. It doesn’t go through it. Right. And you just need somebody to hook it into Salesforce or hook it into your market automation or, to your point, it just gets a little bit out of control and then you become an IT guy.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s true. I mean it happens fast. I think it was Gartner, four or five years ago, who predicted that you know, it was probably around now 20, 18, 2019 CMOs would have a higher budget than CIOs. I think that I think they were right. It’s occurred.

H. Montgomery:        

They were right because it’s gotten easier because now these things do work better together. And out of the box, they work your marketing automation and out of the box they work with Salesforce. That’s always sort of the sticking point: How do I integrate it? But now it’s easy.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, it’s easy. Yeah. Last word on this for me: focus on things that will solve your use case if your use case. If your use case is Demand generation. Great. Double down on what will yield a greater return. I’m buying things because they’re nice to have. I mean, you’re just being irresponsible.

H. Montgomery:        

Absolutely right.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s like a PSA from you and I. Okay. So you guys are big in the engagement space, particularly on the community side. I’m curious to get your take on this move for marketers to own more of customer engagement. Again, if we do a compare and contrast to five or 10 years ago, I felt five or 10 years ago, it was rare for marketers — particularly in the B2B world — to own kind of post-sale. Oftentimes marketers said, “Hey, once someone becomes a customer, like, our job is done.” But I’m seeing more and more marketers really care about the customer experience and that customer engagement. So I’d love to get your take on, on this movement and kind of how you guys feel about it.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah, I completely agree with you. We’ve seen it on our end. I’ve been in companies where marketing didn’t even touch the customer. One of the things I’ve seen, at least the customer side is, it has become a bigger deal, right? “Customer, customer, customer,” last couple of years, right? Everyone’s talk about it. There’s so many different places where the customer could sit. There’s renewal. There’s upsell if that’s your model. And then there’s having the whole, “Oh, we’re now we’re going to bring a Chief Customer Officer In” And where do they fit? Do they fit under the CEO? Do they fit under operations? Do they fit under sales? So the customer kind of gets lost. But the one group is sort of a neutral arbiter the whole thing that kind of a neutral friend, if you will, is marketing. Because it’s getting good content.

H. Montgomery:        

Hey, you know, here’s a webinar, here’s content. Yes, it’s, we’re using for a prospect. It’s about the same problem that you had before or issue or topic. So, by default we kind of accepted it and we went out and said, hey, you know what, we’re gonna shifted a woman on my team to just do customer marketing. We weren’t doing it before and she helped the upsell team, right? That was an easy traditional generate leads for them. We do a soft, very, a kind of relationship way. Did a monthly newsletter from the customer success people, but we generated it, but you still have that, “Okay, well who really owns their renewal rate, who really owns how are we going to support them in the right way they need?”

So it’s a little bit in a flux in all honesty. But as I said, it was a great opportunity for marketing to come and say, look we just want to make sure they’re happy. And can provide content and help and if they want to learn more about other products we will be able to give them the opportunity to raise their hand. That’s all we say. But it’s such an important thing now for organizations that they all have to figure it out. And we’ve gone through a transition internally here and I think we figured out, but it took a little time, you know? And there’s a lot of History of people doing this for the last 15 years in a new way. People think that it really needs to be done and for B2B, obviously, B2B is a different model than, obviously, a B2C or manufacturing or you know, whatever.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And you reference the SaaS model a little bit ago and, you know, 10 or 15 years ago when you were selling an on-prem, bigger upfront cost. And then there was just a small maintenance component. It kind of mattered less. It matters a lot more now.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah. It does impact. And back to your point, there’s tools now for it, right? You have the customer success platforms like Turn Zero, To-Tango, Gainsight. They’re leveraging that. Everyone’s jumping in. Everyone wants to be helping the customer.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s a big space. It’s actually kind of funny because your business, my business would not exist without our customers. I mean, I know that’s such an obvious point, but like, man, do we lose sight of obvious points in business? And so I had a friend of mine who works for another company here in the city, a pretty big role and he said, “Well. Listen, the only thing that matters is, is our upsell numbers for our customers.” And I said, “I don’t know what if, what if your customers are happy? Like where does that fit in there?” And he was like, “Well, yeah, yeah, that too.” I’m like, “Oh, okay. I don’t know if this should just be like assumed.” And I love it when, when the business strategy gets in the way of what’s actually best for the customer.

So, I think you’re right: marketing can play a pivotal role because we have no revenue targets, we really just want to make sure the customers are getting the best content, what’s, what’s best for them. So I strongly feel marketers should play a bigger and bigger role. Because if this sits on the sales side, and I mean to throw no stones here, sales will naturally lean into upsells. Great. You want them to. But I don’t think they should be the arbiter of ensuring that customers are in fact happy.

H. Montgomery:        

Right, right. Or really no… it’s trying to be a consultative approach where I look at the customer and say, “Wow, they’re struggling with this. I think it’d be a good opportunity.” Yeah. Maybe there’s an upsell versus recommending the wrong thing because they’re just trying to get through their upsell. Like, propagate, versus B or, where b really would fit them. But A is maybe on the spiff list. Someone has to have, truly have the customer’s best interest in mind and it pays off long-term. It’s that balance. Short-term, long-term retention, long-term revenue. You get somebody to buy another product or upsell for three more years versus the wrong one. And they canceled it after a year.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That’s not good for the business. You mentioned ToTango and Gainsight and kind of this industry which has sprung up over the last 10 years for customer success. Love to get your take on this. Another thing I think that is interesting for companies is, and I think a lot of companies are getting it wrong, is CSMs didn’t exist eight or 10 years ago. Now every organization has at least who cares about the renewal basis, has a pretty big team of CSMs. Most CSMs though, how do I say this in an eloquent way? Most CSMs come from the client side and they want to ensure people are, you know, the clients are happy, which is great. But I don’t think they were necessary — they may have struggled to see the connection between happy customers and how a business is fully successful. I feel like a lot of companies have thrown a lot of bodies on the customer success side, which is great, but there’s not necessarily a strategy for how we holistically communicate with our customers. It’s almost like you have, if you have 50 CSMs, you have 50 communication strategies. There’s no like centralized plan.

H. Montgomery:        

Right, right. Yeah. I mean I think because, to your point, they all can have different even metrics. Is it NPS? Is it renewal rate? Is it upselling? They do, but I think that I do think it’s maturing. I do think that the idea of CSMs and having … you know, we have a woman here who manages all our CSMs and she also managed all our community managers. We’d have to have them for our professional services and our customers can use us for their community management services. So she comes from that. It’s all about engagement, interacting and making these … it’s one of our best services because it’s running a community is not a light lift. That’s her background. And I think that’s how she approaches she almost his approach to CSMs as community managers, even if they don’t have any community.

H. Montgomery:        

So I think, to your point, you kinda need the right person leading that group. So everyone sort of understands it. It’s, “Here’s how you’re going to communicate, here’s the outcome that we care about. And, but at the same time, you still ask how do you balance the upsell number if you have a strong retention number?” We have a very strong retention number, right? So everyone’s like, “Okay, what do we do?” Do we need fewer of them because our retention number is not an issue and then? No one, I think has solved it yet. I mean that’s the good thing is there’s an opportunity for people to get it right.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I agree. And when you, you said it. Well, it’s, it’s understanding the why, right? As long as the, as long as that side of the organization understands what the real metric is and what we’re trying to accomplish. I think you’re on the right path to success. Right? So Listen, Hunter, this has been fantastic. I could do this for multiple hours, but I’m going to be true to our format and stop at half an hour. I really enjoyed the discussion. Thank you so much.

H. Montgomery:        

No, thank you. I love the opportunity and good luck with everything.

Joe Hyland:        

Awesome. Thanks, man. Thanks.