For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed our very own Alex Devine, President of VSG Marketing.
In this interview, Alex talks about something that is at the very core of VSG Marketing – MarTech. Check out the video above to hear her discuss how leveraging technology can improve your digital marketing strategy.
Beyond MarTech, Alex touches on a broad range of topics.
To learn more about Alex’s host, Ranmay Rath, check out Digital Web Solutions!
Are you interested in learning how your company can benefit from leveraging technology? Click below!
Ranmay: Hi, everyone, this is Ranmay here. Back with your show, E-coffee with Experts. Today, we have a very special guest with us, Ms Alexandra Devine, the president of VSG Marketing, a Digital Marketing Agency, headquartered out of Tacoma, Washington. We are really honored to have you on our show today, Alex.
Alex: Thanks for having me.
Ranmay: So, before we move forward, I would request you to introduce yourself to our audience today, so that they know more about you before we start discussing our topic for tonight.
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. Great to be here, everyone. My name is Alex Devine. Alexandra. But I go by Alex, which is less formal. I’m the president of VSG Marketing. We’ve been an agency for 20 years, as mentioned in Tacoma, Seattle. But we work with partners across the globe and recently, about 32 days ago, on January 1st, 2023, we’ve been acquired by a larger agency by the name of Spindustry. So, together Spindustry and VSG marketing provide digital tech stack creation, and all services under the sun agency-wise. We Are about 48 to 50 people and I am kind of navigating that right now. My background is really in traditional marketing strategy with a strong tilt toward tech. So, I’ve built hundreds of websites with web teams and am really entrenched in marketing technology and CRM consultants on several of the biggest CRMs used across the nation anyway, and have a strong affinity for sales teams and supporting them. So, something that VSG does often, and what I’m passionate about is creating a bridge and a productive relationship between sales teams and marketing teams and how they can use data to have the best results.
Ranmay: Great. Thank you, Alex, for the wonderful introduction. It was quite a detailed one. So, moving on our topic for tonight is going to be MarTech and how you leverage technology to improve digital marketing overall. We have none other than Alex on the show today in order to throw some light in terms of how it can be leveraged. So, before we actually move on to the main topic, Alex would like to understand a bit more in terms of how would your university professors described you as a student back in the day.
Alex: Oh, that is a great question. I do keep in touch with several of them. I’m sure they would be happy to be guests and tell you themselves. So, I was raised by small business owners that worked seven days a week and at the dinner table we talked about business. So, I’ve always kind of considered myself a business owner in that way and I thought like one too. I was going to school to get a job. I did a job shadow when I was 16 at a marketing agency, actually, and decided I wanted to be an account manager. A crazy person at 16, I wanted to be an account manager at a marketing agency. So, I went to college, I got done in four years, I got a marketing degree and I got a job as an account manager at VSG Marketing. Actually, I started as an intern, so I would say my path is not normal, but I was very determined and kind of knew where I wanted to end up. So, my marketing professors would talk to me and encourage me a great deal, they felt that I had leadership skills early on and could present well to a team. They had a huge hand in teaching me the fundamentals of marketing and the psychological aspect of sending these messages through technology, but really, it’s a person who’s receiving them. So, we have to consider that audience first.
Ranmay: Absolutely. That’s some clarity as a teenager. In terms of the role and the industry where you wanted to get in and if you were to talk in terms of achieving what you set out to achieve back then when you were 16. So, that’s quite an achievement. Just to continue from that, we see a lot of female entrepreneurs today. It’s been quite some time, actually and my last couple of bosses were females and fantastic leaders. So, what is the piece of advice you want to give to the budding female entrepreneurs, or leaders going through the grind to make that mark?
Alex: Yeah, I love that question. I’m seeing more and more female leaders, which is wonderful. I’m part of many mentorship programs too, where I executive coach women both older than me and mentors younger than me, and I have the same advice for all of them. It comes down to making sure that you are undeniable. Regardless of background or gender or race or any of these constructs that exist and are real, you have a responsibility to yourself to get results, and that stuff kind of fades away and doesn’t matter as much in a business scenario. So great, great kind of tangible example here I have an executive coach that I work with over here in Gig Harbor. His name is Rick McGarry, and he sent me a list of really tangible takeaways, especially for female entrepreneurs in leadership discussions. When you’re discussing what makes a great leader, and how you’re going to leave your mark. It all comes down to a couple of factors, EQ stands for emotional quotient, can you make tough decisions? Can you chat with people? Can you make connections with them and lead? Do you have financial acumen, right? Can you understand and interpret what’s necessary for business success and understand how to make that happen? Do you have a bias for action? Can you make tough calls? Can you look at a situation and not be frustrated by it at the moment but think about what are we going to do about it? You know, solution-oriented and then just unwaveringly focused on customer success. If you have all of those qualities and women often do, especially in the EQ department, it’s something they’re naturally gifted at in most areas, they can be a leader. The only thing that stands in your way is your belief that you can be or not. So, my advice in a nutshell to women looking to lead in business is to become undeniable and it doesn’t matter where you came from, what you look like, or any of that.
Ranmay: Brilliant. Very nice to hear that from you. I’m sure the audience out here, especially the female youngsters who are trying to make a mark are going to benefit a lot from this advice. I think that EQ at the same time, having that decision-making, plus having that financial equation into the entire scheme of things in order to make your business more profitable as well because that is something that has to be achieved at the end of the day.
Alex: At the end of the day, that’s what they care about. On your executive board, ladies put up results and it won’t matter.
Ranmay: Absolutely. What inspires you most, Alex, about modern-day marketing? We would love to hear about your own marketing journey. You did mention that you are quite clear in terms of the path that you wanted to choose, but how has the journey so far over the years, from being an intern to becoming the president at VSG marketing?
Alex: Yeah, great question. I think the reason I initially wanted to become an account manager is a very weird thing to want to become. It’s a tough job. Going back I don’t know why but I’m grateful for that foundation, but I don’t know if I’d advise many people to go into that role as it’s tough. So, the reason that was attractive to me is that I felt like a very creative person. I was into music and I liked art and I loved the idea of producing art professionally. That was interesting to me. I also had a psychology background, so why things were attractive to people or what motivated them to make a purchase from a young age is very interesting. The problem is in my body I’m not very good at producing art. Like, I’m kind of right in the middle. I can speak with people. I have good business acumen and I understand creativity, but I’m not one to sit at my computer and create art myself. So, account management is a perfect position right in the middle where I get to work with really talented creatives on the web and design side. But then I get to interpret and sell and pitch their ideas in a creative way and that was symbiotic. So, marketing in general has always inspired me because it is using art for commerce. I like commerce and I like art. So, perfect marriage, but more so the more I learned about marketing data and how it can affect those decisions, is what inspires me every single day. If I spend hours, hours this week fixing a Salesforce stinking issue between a marketing automation platform. I love that because of what the data is going to allow this company to do in its marketing. So, good mix of granular, how do we get this data in? And it’s very much like a logistical side of your brain, but we need to understand on a larger picture what is this data going to allow us to do from a creative standpoint, that’s pretty cool because not everyone is wired that way, but I think marketers are, in general.
Ranmay: Very true because as we were discussing when I was in the CRM, the CTOs, and the CXOs of these enterprise-level giants. So, making them understand the value of data and how you can drive home the results, in terms of revenue, in terms of efficiency, in terms of your resources being more productive, and all of that. You act as a bridge in terms of what product your team is wanting to deliver and what your client is getting. You are kind of bridging that gap. So, I can completely relate to it from that perspective as someone who is leading the show at VSG Marketing, what are the key fundamental processes or strategies that you rely upon specifically when you were promoted as the president of VSG marketing, in order to drive home the marketing output?
Alex: Yeah, it’s a great question and I wonder if it’s different for others. I would say this to my clients and we certainly practice it internally. It’s the same concept. Data is king so I need to have all of the metrics in front of me for business success, like predefined, and then I have to have a dashboard or some mechanism that I’m tracking all of that because otherwise, I don’t know if I’m successful or I can’t course correct when I’m not trending correctly. And so for us, that’s always a very symbiotic relationship between sales and marketing, and we share that transparently with the company. So, I think where people go wrong is at a C-suite level. They make decisions about what their sales goals are, and even if they’re great sales goals, if we don’t educate everyone underneath us, about why we have those sales goals, where we’re going as a company vision setting, and then what the metrics are for success for that. Great example, in ten years, I want VSG to be a $15 million agency. Pie in the sky ten years from now. My goal in three years is to be a $10 million agency and that means this year I need to be a $3 million agency. What is it going to take to do that and what is a metric of success for a $3 million agency? What else about it is successful? So, it probably means that they have, you know, 70% recurring revenue probably means they’re retaining their staff, probably means they’re selling to the perfect client. I don’t know. You can come up with scorecard categories. So, the way that we do that at VSG where you work with a lot of agencies is EOS, an Entrepreneurial operating system, and that is a great way to build metrics and then keep the metrics in front of you and keep your entire staff motivated towards those goals. Transparency is key in all of that. So, if you have the best goals in the world and it’s only in front of leadership, the people doing the work don’t have the context that they need to actively contribute to those goals. So, if we’re all on the same page about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, it tends to happen. The long-winded answer there, but I think you have to set goals and metrics for hitting them and then track every day how you’re achieving those things. Data is a big part of that and that could be data coming into your website. How many sales leads are you generating? What type of leads are those? Who’s your target market? Or it could be financial information. What are we bringing in? In what income categories? Who’s watching expenses? This can be overwhelming for just one person. So, you’ve got to bring the team into it. We’ve got to be on the same page.
Ranmay: Absolutely. One thing which you mentioned, which we also kind of follow religiously in our organization is that in terms of customer retention, you cannot have a leaking bucket.
Ranmay: You know, if X is your target, you do 2X, but out of that little 1.5 is going out and there is no point. So, it’s more important than a fresh acquisition, I would say.
Alex: Absolutely it is.
Ranmay: Great. And coming from a MarTech perspective. What are some of the most efficient ways to kind of collect or analyze data in order to improve sales? How do you look at it when you do marketing?
Alex: I’m passionate about this topic. I talk about it at conferences. I love it. So, I think the biggest mistake people make when they gather marketing data and sales data is that they’re siloed and don’t talk to one another. So, if you’re going to do anything else, make sure that your CRM and your marketing automation platform can at least link together so that both teams have accurate information because marketing support, sales, and the insights that sales have and give to marketing make it all better. It’s a very, very close relationship and if you’re working in different systems, it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s working or plot the customer journey. So, I have a couple of tools that we use. There are many out there but we are a HubSpot agency and then we’re also a SharpSpring agency. The reason we like those two platforms for marketing and sales data is exactly as I mentioned, the CRM and the marketing automation and lead scoring portion of that are together and you cannot separate them. So, my sales team can look at their pipeline and their contacts and see every single marketing, touchpoint, or engagement that that person has had so they can have better sales conversations because they have more information and more context. And then as a whole, the marketing team can look at, okay, what sales did we close this month? Are there any patterns? Can we draw any conclusions from that? What were the most visited pages by our prospects? We should probably make it more like we got to be having conversations together as a team and it starts with technology and data gathering. So, when we do audits for people, the number one thing we find is they either don’t have marketing automation at all or they’re just using a CRM like Salesforce, for example. So, they don’t have a way to send messages out or they’re using a CRM like MailChimp or IMA or something like that. Great platforms. It’s not marketing automation; it’s not connected with your sales data and that’s key. I’m sure you would agree and your CRM knowledge makes all the difference in the world to having data together.
Ranmay: Yeah, absolutely. From my experience as well, if they’re operating in silos, then the journey, if not stitched together, will not make sense. While we sit with CXOs, we help them understand that and when I was in CRM, I used to tell them that only CRM is not going to help you serve the entire purpose. It’s never going to be. So, probably then start using my product today, but let’s say in six months, one year, eight months down the line, you are going to call me back and say, Ranmay it’s not doing the job that I expected it to do because it’s not only about CRM, you have to stitch the entire journey together, in that case, you might have to use all five tools and we must be talking to each other in order to derive results. Alone a particular product might not help you achieve what you’ve set out to achieve. So, that’s a very valid point, coming from the CRM space I can completely relate to it.
Alex: It’s huge. Yeah, for sure. We operate on what we call a concept that single source of truth. We fully realize that technology is not going to be able to keep your PNL and send invoices out, do your marketing, and be a sales CRM. It can’t operate every portion of your business. You’re going to have multiple technologies. Completely understand that all you have to talk to one another or you have to be able to pull comprehensive reports so that you can make sound business decisions exactly like we were just talking about. So, in an audit situation, we go in and say, okay, what are all your technologies? Can they talk with one another? If not, what do we do about that? It’s like the most foundational place you can start. Especially in times of economic uncertainty, I think people are trying to do more with less. Well, your tech spend is a really, really good place to start. Do you have too many technologies that overlap? Can we condense them? Can we get smarter about this? That’s a great place to start.
Ranmay: Correct. Talking about platforms. What platforms do you feel any business should be using in order to track and analyze the marketing data?
Alex: Yeah, Tough one. There are lots of good technologies out there. As I said, we’re a HubSpot and SharpSpring agency. Those are kind of our preferences. But the way that they’re set up and they have so many API integrations, you can really do a ton with them. I would say the non-negotiables would be GA4 like you need to be tracking your conversions and your traffic and, and what people are doing online as far as your brand GA4 for overall tracking like that. So, marketing data specifically, I think we have to think about forms on your website and digital listings, what are all your channels, get your arms around where people can interact with you and then where are they coming into? Do you have a repository where they live and can be nurtured and grow? I’m open on the platform. There are so many different options. I think it’s more important to say like, does it fit your budget and does it do what you need to do and does it integrate with your larger tech stack in general? Do you have any favorites in this area?
Ranmay: Would not like to name them.
Alex: Kind of tool-agnostic, I would say.
Ranmay: Yeah. So yeah, for me any particular product has to be misdiagnosed that it cannot be, you know, something, something like suiting a BFSI also suit manufacturing, let’s say banking, any even product in their own space or verticals, industry agnostic, there should be open APIs to kind of a very degraded to whatever other side product that particular client must be using, for example, in a BFSI or a bank, you know, multiple products which are being used. So, you cannot only let’s say have one SFDC and say you’re good to go. No.
Ranmay: There can be multiple ranges of products and those have to be industry agnostic, the same product should have those capabilities which can be used across verticals, across industries, across multiple use cases for that matter in a given organization. So yeah, that’s my take on it. But you know SFDC, HubSpot, and all these major giants which are there, they’re quite good products, to be honest. That’s what I have used so far.
Alex: Yeah. Kind of the best that’s out there and then you adapted to your use case, exactly as you said. I think the other important thing to consider in your tools is how supported they are. Do they have a development team behind them? Are they making updates? And probably most important right now, how are they treating customer data right with GDPR and all of these changes going on in marketing as far as what can be tracked, how is the leadership at these companies? Are these tools you’re using? How are they planning to address that? Because as soon as that becomes law in the US, we’re going to be in trouble if we’re not proactively thinking about it. So, any tool that you pick, make sure they’re thinking about that. It started two years ago. You know that’s something I appreciate about the platforms we use is that they’ve been GDPR compliant for years and so we don’t have to scramble as these changes come out on the IOS and all that stuff.
Ranmay: Right. You know, very specific things in terms of your customer data reciting the cloud centers for that particular product or application one more important thing is, any particular product or application software, you know, them having that app developer platform wherein if any particular organization have a specific need, their developers can interact with the platform and do some sort of customization based of their requirements as well. So, that’s a lot of flexibility, if any particular product is provided, then why not? That’s something that one might want to look at. You never know. Right?
Alex: Well said.
Ranmay: And we have seen so many new innovations, Alex, you know, in terms of AI, ChatGPT, they will talk about AIML being there for some time now. How do you see these innovations? The AI-based filter analysis has changed the game for marketing teams, given this dynamic. How do you see that happening or that space evolving in particular?
Alex: Yeah, it’s been fascinating to watch and I think marketing teams are starting to pick up on how AI can help them and will continue to do so. So, I see AI becoming more and more prevalent in the marketing space certainly and what I hope will happen is that sales teams will start using it as well and it comes down to hours in the daytime. Like if we can identify trends and we understand our customers well enough user data to give them warm, personal but valuable, and relevant answers, a human being doesn’t have to type out that answer. That saves us time to do more and bigger thinking. So, why not use it? I know some people are a little adverse to AI because they want to keep careful track of the customer experience, which I completely agree with but if we would shift our mindset to say AI if used properly, maps the customer success formula and can actually exponentially scale your boots on the ground efforts. We’re just bringing ourselves up to do more and more and better things. So, I think AI is a key component in how your marketing team and your sales team will scale in the future and we need to start collecting data right now because it takes quite a while for the AI algorithms to truly learn your customers and you’re going to have to make adjustments for your business. So, if that’s something you’re thinking about. I would say start now, plot that out and use it because it’s only going to get better, especially with development, knowledge, enhancement and just more data being entered into the system every single day. The insights they give are incredible. So, I’m a big pro of AI when used correctly. Humans need to use AI and train it to do what it needs to do. It can’t be left to its own devices but I’m a pro. In general.
Ranmay: There is quite a lot of talk, not that positive over the place about ChatGPT and there are other tools as well. In terms of tracking consumer behavior, what are data points which can be accessed, making it humanly very impossible or you need to have that kind of resources put in those man-hours. You’re not going to get a lot of information, which AI does for you just like that. So, there are pros to it as well. Before we kind of wrap this up, Alex, what is that one big takeaway you would want our listeners to get from this particular episode?
Alex: So many different things. I would say in the MarTech space, specifically, my takeaway that I want everyone to know is if you haven’t really evaluated your MarTech stack or just have maybe the business owners haven’t considered that they have a Martech stack, they use technology, but I don’t think many people consider how all those technologies work together and support the business function. So, my biggest takeaway would be if you haven’t thought about that, start just looking at your technology side by side. What do they do for you? Are you happy with it? What are you spending on them? Write it down on a sheet of paper and look to see if you can make improvements because data is going to be king in the next year on a business. I think it kind of always has but certainly now if you’re looking for an edge on competitors or you’re looking to improve your sales or maybe even just be as efficient as possible, as we face uncertainty in the market, data is going to allow you to make factual data-driven decisions and not guess and kind of take some of the emotion out of what can be a really stressful time. So, you gotta have tools in place to track. You don’t know where to start. I can help you, but it’s time. If you’re not treating data as the most important business asset that you have besides your people and your talent, time starts.
Ranmay: Great, you know, we have a lot of business owners. We have not decided upon listening to us tonight. How do they connect with you?
Alex: You can find me at vsgmarketing.io which is our website. You can learn all about what we do, including tech stack audits, something we’re really passionate about, setting people up for success. On social, you can find us at VSG marketing and then our parent company is Spindustry.com. They provide custom e-commerce solutions and have quite a background in SharePoint development and training. So, when I say tech stack, I’m talking marketing, I’m talking sales, I’m talking brand management, digital asset management, like truly every technology for your business or your people. VSG Marketing.IO
Ranmay: Great, great, Alex. And before I let you go, we got to play a quick, rapid fire. Okay?
Alex: I’m ready.
Ranmay: All right. What did you do with your first salary?
Alex: Paid rent.
Ranmay: An honest one. Your favorite music?
Alex: Oh, goodness. Probably fifties. Frank Sinatra, that category.
Ranmay: Oh, okay. Last vacation?
Alex: I went to a hydrotherapy spa in Leavenworth, Washington – The Post Hotel was wonderful.
Ranmay: Nice. Friday evening. What are your preferences? Where do we find you?
Alex: I am either at home, I’m a homebody, I love to be at home and nest, or I like to support the local theater. So, I’m at a play.
Ranmay: Okay, great. Thank you. I thank you for being such a support. And I’m sure that our audiences tonight would have gathered a lot of information about MarTech and if they required anything further, you’ve already given all the necessary details they can reach out to you and your organization, and you can guide them further if that is a need.
Alex: I’d love to.
Ranmay: So, once again, thank you so much for taking the time. It has been a real pleasure hosting you. And yeah, we would love to have another session with you sometime down the line.
Alex: That was good. Thanks for having me. Wonderful to talk with you.
Ranmay: Sure. Thank you so much. Pleasure.