My mission has always been to find how to apply innovation at scale, and at the speed demanded by the marketing and sales sectors.
Hi Vance, could you tell us about your journey as a Tech Entrepreneur in the Marketing and Sales industry?
I started in this sector when website were new, and truly just a static brochure. Then I worked in introducing online banking, online government services, online education, ecommerce and now AI/ML. What’s common to it all is that every time we advance we posit more “power” to our end customer, allowing them to directly influence how we organize, function and prioritize. Where we succeeded we were able to transform internally to meet those demands, and where we failed we were stymied in our needs to restructure in time or to the expectations of the customer.
My journey has always been defined by seeking to build a bridge between the transformational opportunity of new technologies and how to apply, adopt and achieve impact in the marketing and sales sectors.
These sectors are complex, and have so many variables, both internal and external, that it makes it a very complex and difficult challenge. We don’t have years to adapt to a new channel!
My mission has always been to find how to apply innovation at scale, and at the speed demanded by the marketing and sales sectors. I’ve always sought out opportunities, and people to work with, that seek to experiment, and yes sometime fail, but in every case learn, and iterate.
What challenges did the COVID-19 pandemic pose for you and your team?
To be honest, it really had almost no impact to me and my team. Junction AI was not really affected by it greatly, we had already been working remotely mostly for many years, so we already had the infrastructure and processes well established and practiced. And as a team that has lived and breathed Agile as a methodology for many years, it was perfectly suited to the sudden impact of COVID.
COVID was a great wake up call to all in our sector. It proved once and for all we can’t rely on planning that requires years to transform our internal work practices, we had to change overnight. Once again the customer needed services, goods etc. and in a wholly new way, scaled instantly.
And generally speaking we did all did pretty good!
What sets Junction AI apart from the competition?
Junction AI‘s experience and relentless focus on the user – everyone talks this, but in the tech sector there is too often a real lack of understanding the use case from the business user, or customer, angle. We call this the “business sense”. Look, all the great engineering in the world is not going to help if you can’t define a use case that has material impact and reflects the “hair on fire” problem the business user has. That is where the ROI comes from.
How, according to you, has technology in the Marketing and Sales landscape evolved and will evolve in the coming years?
This is a great question. Marketing and sales have become the drivers of a huge portion of the tech budget now, they own the customer, and they drive product. This means the technology needs to give the business users the agility to address the issues and challenges they need to in the time frames that reflect their KPIs.
I see two key influences at play.
1 – What we are seeing intensely at the moment is a wholesale change from the vast adoption of countless single purpose SaaS tools, largely uncustomized to the actual need of the organization or unreflective of the way work really gets done. They end up with siloed data and have very limited material impact at scale in an organization as they really do one thing great, or somewhat well.
2 – Figuring out how to achieve success with AI/ML. We are seeing so much failure, up to 85% of projects fail to get to production or deliver ROI. There are lots of reasons like poorly defined use cases, use cases that dont have material impact, not addressing hair on fire problems, and especially, not recognizing that in most cases the initial best opportunity is simply automation of basic things the human shouldn’t be doing or can’t do at scale.
I think everyone has rushed to hire data scientists, most agencies and marketing departments have done this. Sure this can be very useful, but it is not providing ability at scale, this is only a single piece of the skills and infrastructure needed to succeed in adopting AI/ML.
So combined I am seeing renewed interest in software solutions that are customizable to the competitive needs of a brand, specific to their use case, while at the same time, demand for specialist partners who are experts in AI/ML and all the skills and infrastructure needed for success.
How do you envisage AI technology evolving, in the years to come?
Fine tuning the last mile of the supply chain. Look, marketing and sales has little impact on the time it takes to manufacture, or ship from Vietnam, but we have all the ability at our disposable to fine tune this last mile as it is all about getting product where it is needed when, the right amount (not too much or too little and protect strategic accounts and locations. This matters, its what marketing and sales promotions need to succeed! Its what connects marketing and the supply chain, and can only be done with the help of an AI. The channel mix is complex now, and the sheer volume of stores and items means it can’t be done manually anymore, especially given demanding local personalization expectations by customers for certain brands, styles, flavors, availability etc.
This is the space marketing, sales and product managers own. Connecting across these functions is critical to ensuring promotions deliver ROI. The technology challenge is huge here, as is the internal organizational alignment. You simply can’t have marketing hived off separately to supply chain operations. Customers get pissed off when inventory is not available when there are promotions, and CFOs need to see the real ROI of promotions, not vanity metrics.
I see the evolution underway now very positively. Many companies are recognizing this is a challenge they need to address, they need to connect these functions, the data and the technology systems. And to do that they need to rely on expert partners who are specialists in this type of transformative technology. This is not something you simply program up with some outsourced devs. You don’t just flip a switch. An experienced AI/ML partner that knows the tech and the business is the best advantage a brand can have right now, someone they can work with directly, daily and experiment with.
How, according to you, do innovative technology solutions impact the traditional Sales and Marketing funnels?
The traditional funnel approaches need to be thrown out – never more so since the supply chain crisis of the past year or so. The need for integration across the marketing, sales and product management teams is what will define the best performing brands in the years to come. If they can’t connect and adopt shared technology solutions that help them all achieve shared KPIs then there is no hope. Its just simply too complex now, the multiple customer channels, in store, ecom, and pop up or curbside pick up, returns at any location etc. Look this can’t be done on spreadsheets anymore or my disconnected teams. The most successful and innovative new brands in the market right now get this and have what seems to be almost a predictive advantage in acting on customer desire. Look at On, the running shoe company, wow… experimentation, prototypes, and hit after hit. I seems as soon as I wish I had something for “x”, they are in the market.
Could you name the Top 5 apps/platforms that you use for marketing?
No not really, as we are an AI/ML provider that designs, builds and operates AI/ML solutions for product managers and marketers. So our top platform or app is listening to potential customers or customers and their challenges.
Aside from some basic social media and bit of advertising to be honest we don’t do any outbound promotions, maybe we should start!
Could you name one other Tech Entrepreneur or CEO that you would like to see featured here?
I think there are many that should be featured that are in the product merchandising and product management space. On like I mentioned above, or Xero shoes too, I am a runner so I pay a lot of attention to this sector.
I think marketers, especially agencies, need to better understand and integrate with these functions to be far more effective. I mean look at how many brands are now fully outsourcing their ecom operations to specialist agencies who fully manage the ecom marketing, sales and fulfillment! The traditional creative agencies and marketing departments missed this opportunity for the most part, how important organic ecom marketing has become. I mean look at how many brands have fully separate ecom teams, outside their marketing and physical product management teams. Perhaps that’s who I suggest, talk with, some of the CEOs of the Amazon aggregators or others like that who have demonstrated how critical it is to run all three of these functions together.
Your top pick for a book on Artificial Intelligence (for marketing) that everyone should read?
I love this question, as there is a book I recommend to all. Its a book about AI/ML but it is written from a business user perspective, not engineering. If you want to really understand the power of AI and the transformative impact it is having and will continue to have, in an easily explainable way, read this: Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence. It should be mandatory.
Trust me, I have shared this with colleagues and friends of every age and every specialization. They have all found it transformational to read and help them comprehend the change underway, and the opportunity it presents.
As a Tech Leader and Entrepreneur, what is the one piece of advice you would give to those who wish to enter the MarTech world?
Learn about AI/ML, not from an engineering point of view, although getting a better technology base is really important for marketing and sales people as right now most are hopelessly unprepared. Its already here, you are already using AI/ML everyday. If you don’t get a handle on what this means for you and your career you will be left behind, or consigned to lower paying, less interesting work, you’ll be churning through jobs or stuck in brands or companies that get left behind.
Remember, this is a journey, not a destination. Be ready to experiment, fail and learn, then iterate again and again. And if your brand or agency isn’t able to or willing to take that journey, find one that is. I’ve heard way to many creatives tell me again and again that AI can’t replace them. They are missing the point entirely and that alone is because they haven’t grasped the change underway. AI/Ml is a tool to assist them to be even better, more creative, and more impactful. That’s why we use the line “Free Your Mind”. We truly believe the power of AI/ML is to free your mind from the daily churn activity so you get to focus on the high value activity that is truly interesting, dynamic and demands a human experience!