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Let's Talk Gameplan: Behind the Software with Bulldog Solutions CEO Darin Hicks

Let’s Talk Gameplan: Behind the Software with Bulldog Solutions CEO Darin Hicks

In today’s corporate world, marketing departments are more complex than ever before, requiring individuals to fulfill myriad tasks from content creation and outbound marketing to social interactions and beyond — and who are juggling an unprecedented number of software platforms. Luckily, the relatively new concept of marketing planning software — which aims to centralize and better organize all marketing efforts and spending — is making waves in the marketplace.

We went behind the software with Darin Hicks, CEO of Bulldog Solutions, to talk about the company’s revolutionary marketing planning solution Gameplan and the industry’s incredible need for a CMO-utilized tool to oversee and better account for corporate marketing activities.

To get started, can you tell us a bit about how Bulldog Solutions came about? How did you come up with the concept behind the Gameplan software platform?

About the Company




Bulldogs Solutions was a demand-generation agency for about 10 years, and we made the pivot to build enterprise software starting just about two years ago. Our experience as an agency partner for top B2B brands like Motorola, EMC, Humana and others was that even when we were doing large programs for them, we were only a slice of what they were doing in marketing. [Their marketing activities were] often so uncoordinated across geographies, across product groups and across the rest of their organization that the right hand really didn’t know what the left hand was doing. [We realized] there was an opportunity for marketing to better coordinate — which would drive better marketing results.

How Gameplan came about was we went around to a group of CMOs and asked them, “Where is your marketing plan?” And we were stunned by the results — the most common answer was “I don’t know,” which was typically followed up by “It’s spread out all over the place.” Our follow-up to [that question] was, “How much do you believe in your plan? Is it world-class? Does it need to be improved at the edges, or do you really need help?” When they were honest, everyone admitted that it needed to be improved.

That was the origin of Gameplan. We built a central repository for people to visualize their plans and look at them in ways that they’d never considered before. Then we linked their plans to business results — to pipeline and revenue — intelligently in software and built an optimization layer on top. The optimization layer deals with the incremental marketing dollar: where you should focus your spend to get the most out of it.

According to your company page, Bulldog takes a unique approach to marketing, one that you call ‘Marketing in HD’. Can you elaborate on this concept and explain how your software embodies the principles of being disciplined, data-driven and disruptive?

My marketing department came up with the term ‘marketing in HD,’ because it seems like even though we have all of these marketing technologies and some really neat tools for targeting, nurturing and all these other activities, we are still fuzzy in terms of actual results and clarity. Since our founding, we’ve been trying to have that right balance between the art of marketing and the science, and we’ve really positioned ourselves on the more scientific end.

Disciplined marketers have a planning methodology, and they can view their plans all in the same way. For instance, SiriusDecisions has a good planning methodology that separates brand activity from inbound and outbound channels and so on. That’s one way of adding a discipline to your plan that may or may not exist today. Our marketers struggle because they don’t have a system where all of their marketers are actually collaborating to help one another to improve. For example, a new CMO might come in and know that he or she wants to drive change in the way they do marketing, but what are the tools at his or her disposal? The tool that we’ve built brings discipline — we call it collaboration with control — in that you want to tap into the very smart people you have in your organization, but you want to do it in a way that is directed.

“Even though we have all of these marketing technologies…we are still fuzzy in terms of actual results.”

The data-driven point is very important in that your planning is not a once-a-year activity. Things change so rapidly that you want to be able to shift marketing dollars to things that are working and away from those that are not. So the data-driven part of Gameplan is to connect to marketing automation and CRM and have this always-on view of actuals versus your plan.

The disruptive part of it is the edge that can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. For one, we like to talk about the predictive model. With [the marketing department] having pressure to accept a number, many are very uncomfortable doing that, and they don’t have the data foundation to be able to. We empower them to run different scenarios and say, “I got that conversion rate, and I shrunk this time in a certain stage. Could we achieve this marketing continued revenue next year? Yeah, I feel like we can.” The second part of disruptive is the optimization layer. We’re really proud of having the technology to compare a company’s existing waterfall with a best-in-class demand waterfall. We’ll actually do all of the math behind the scenes to recommend what a marketing organization should consider doing based upon how much budget they have and what they’re doing.

Tell us more about the Gameplan platform – how would implementing this software benefit a B2B company? Can you highlight some of the standout features in Gameplan 1.5, which you recently released?

Implementing Gameplan starts with putting all of your marketing activities in one place — and that has several benefits. Number one is that you have this collaborative environment where marketers in the U.S. can see what their counterparts in Europe are doing and actually have a dialogue — the sort of back-and-forth that’s not always happening in large marketing organizations today. The other benefit is that once this information is all in one place, you can look at it in different ways. You can look at your marketing plan not just by industry or by product group, but you can look at it by audience or by waterfall stage. Those have big benefits because marketers struggle today with things such as over-communicating to certain audiences, for instance.

On the marketing stage view, you get benefits like the balance of your budget across top-of-funnel activity (driving new inquiries), middle funnel activity (to move them along in the consideration cycle) and bottom-of-the-funnel sales enablement. Getting the plan in one place is step one, and step two is then linking everything you’re doing to business outcomes. The start of that is being able to plan in a way that marketers can set goals for themselves on what they’re doing, and the results tie to a revenue model that looks forward. And finally, our reporting connects to other systems and is always on — as opposed to having a lot of people extract information from Eloqua and Salesforce, put that data in a big spreadsheet and do a lot of work on it and then transfer it to a report.

The feature I would highlight in Gameplan 1.5 is our advanced budgeting. In the original version we were tracking costs on campaigns, programs and tactics — but we didn’t have a full budgeting capability to allocate budgets from the top down and build them from the bottom up, where you could over-allocate and prioritize what marketing organizations should do.

That’s one of the key features of 1.5 where the end goal for some of our customers was to take a look at a current quarter and say, “what have I spent, and what do I know is committed? And therefore, what is remaining that I can actually repurpose?” It’s kind of the CMO’s chessboard, if you will. They can look at [budgeting] by channel and by campaign to see what’s working and what’s not and have some decision capability there. Since it’s budgeting season (as we get closer to the end of the year), the budgeting features are important to facilitate that process, get it out of spreadsheets and have a system that makes budgeting much easier.

Gameplan is all about revolutionizing marketing planning – why do you believe that marketing software needs to be revolutionized?

One way the industry illustrates [the need for marketing planning is with] Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Infographic, which shows 950 marketing vendors in different categories. In the latest version they overlaid the billions of dollars that have been invested in all of those marketing companies.

To expect a marketing organization first of all to understand all of that [information] is a tall order. What we’ve done with the image is we’ve built on it and drawn boxes around it, because in reality you don’t have one plan; you probably have 15 plans. So even if your SEO plan is world-class, it may or may not be pointed in the strategic direction of the business. We think that all of that chaos — the increase in the sort of tactical marketing activities and vendors and technologies — has really created the need for a new type of software that we call enterprise planning and performance measurement. [The goal of this software is] to close the loop on performance of all those experiments and all those vendors that you’re running.

Modern-day marketers require a vastly different approach to marketing than their predecessors since they’re juggling more elements than ever before. Plus, marketers have an insane amount of software choices. How does Gameplan help satisfy the increasingly complex needs of the modern marketer without becoming just another marketing tool on the pile?

As opposed to a marketing organization running a lot of disparate tactics not connected to a strategy across products and geographies, what if you looked at that differently? What if you coordinated all of your demand generation activity with your brand spending and measured it in such a way that you can differentiate the effectiveness of one event versus another? That’s something we’re experiencing now with clients who who are connecting separate organizations together in their planning to drive better results.

“You can more scientifically design your marketing plan to address specific gaps in your waterfall.”

At the industry level, there are a few trends coming together [that make planning a greater need]. One is the aforementioned 950 vendors in the marketing technology space and the confusion that brings of having executives feel disconnected from their plans. Another trend is that B2B marketing is becoming more sophisticated with Sirious Decisions thought leadership and real advocacy of demand waterfall measurement. Large companies are saying, “We don’t just have one waterfall; we have 10 or 15 different sales cycles that we’re rigorously measuring.”

That introduces another dimension to the need to plan, because each of those waterfalls represents both the good things about [your marketing strategy] and the things you need to improve. You can more scientifically design your marketing plan to address specific gaps in your waterfall. Software can help identify these opportunities, and from our combination of demand generation experience and enterprise software expertise, the opportunity is really exciting. It shouldn’t be that hard for marketers to have a system that helps them along no matter where they are in the maturity cycle.

Though the marketplace for marketing software tools continues to multiply, marketing planning software seems to be a relatively small and undeveloped segment within this space. Why do you think marketing planning tools have not been as popular as other marketing platforms?

There were some attempts at it with early Marketing Resource Management (MRM) days, and I think that MRM got a bad rap for being expensive and difficult to deploy. The difference now is with the technology available and [the ease of] SaaS. The approach we took with Gameplan is that you can launch this system in a week, have marketers collaborating and have your plan in one place. That’s really different than the old enterprise software days.

Transitioning back to Bulldog, can you share any information about where Gameplan will be headed in the coming year? Are there any new capabilities you’re working on or would like to see developed at some point down the line?

Yes, there are a couple of dimensions that we’re excited about for our product roadmap. One is much more advanced optimization features for the part of the application where we help decide where incremental marketing dollars should be spent. There’s a lot of sophistication possible in this area, and we’re working with thought leaders in the space to make the planning software smarter.

Another dimension is what we call Bulldog Measure, which is a sister application to Gameplan. Gameplan powers reporting for actuals versus plan. Measure powers an always-on B2B marketing intelligence dashboard, combining engagement metrics with waterfall performance, campaign performance and media performance to help B2B marketers decide where they should invest and where they should not.
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