ClickZ – For years, marketers have struggled to quantify the exact ROI of their efforts, but that’s no more — modern marketers have to prioritize the bottom line above all else. After all, if your strategy isn’t bringing in more revenue then what’s the point? But there’s hope yet. With the right tools and technologies at their disposal, marketers can accurately tie their own efforts to their organization’s wider financial outcomes. We were fortunate enough to speak about this issue and more with Greg Dolan, CEO of Keen Decision Systems — a martech disruptor looking to transform the way marketers make everyday marketing-investment decisions.

Q) Can you give us a brief insight into your professional journey so far?

Well, I have a background in both finance and marketing, and I’ve managed to bring those worlds together. I initially spent three years in investment banking, then went back to business school, and then I changed careers after business school — I really wanted to be on a CEO, senior executive track. I saw brand management as a great training ground for that; I would have the opportunity to manage a P&L, manage big budgets, lead a big team, and be responsible for core assets within an organization.

So I did that for 10 years, managing big brands and big marketing budgets, at Kraft Foods and then at the Campbell Soup company. That’s where I started to understand various pain points marketers have, such as assessing  marketing performance and being able to optimally deploy resources to drive lasting growth.

However, at the time, traditional marketing mix and marketing analytics technologies were generally too costly and couldn’t really help you make decisions in real time. So at that point I decided to leave corporate America, big company America, and start Keen — we wanted to build a tool that would help marketers understand performance in real time and, more importantly, really optimize spending going forward (from both a predictive and prescriptive standpoint). Then, the final piece of the puzzle was to link those marketing dollars directly to the organization’s overall financial success.

Q) Can you give us a brief introduction to Keen Decision Systems and how you stand out in an overly saturated martech space?

Keen have basically created a SaaS platform that sits in the cloud and compiles a brand’s marketing activity information, as well as their sales and financial information, before combining this with a normative database to understand cross-channel marketing performance in real time.

More importantly, it helps marketers optimize their cross-channel marketing spend against specific financial outcomes. For example, a marketer or an agency partner can build an optimized marketing plan to achieve a specific revenue target, maximize the impact of a fixed budget, understand the long-term profit from a marketing plan, and compare all of those against each other with a forecast and a very prescriptive weekly plan. So we’re really looking to disrupt the way marketers make decisions.

In the past, at least from my experience, marketers sometimes had to rely on old, often stale data. As a result they had to lean more on  their gut feeling when figuring out the best path forward. What we’re trying to do is to codify all of this in a very systematic and repeatable way: giving marketers a way to know that they’re making good decisions, decisions that are going to drive the financial performance they need.

Q) Obviously given the times we are going through right now, how are you helping companies react more effectively to the impact of COVID-19?

When Keen started to see the consumer behavior change associated with social-distancing measures across the globe, we worked with our customers to incorporate this data in their models. They were quickly able to identify and quantify the impact of this “market shock.”  More importantly, they were then able to make smart adjustments to their marketing plans and forecasts based on this information.

As an example, most of our CPG customers have seen significant surges in demand as the social-distance measures close restaurants and more people are eating at home.  In these cases, our system recommended ways to cut back on marketing in the short-term since external factors were driving increased demand. With this conserved cash, the system is helping them plan for the long-term which will provide them with a competitive advantage once the pandemic passes.

Q) Speaking of advice, what tips would you give to someone who is trying to incorporate your tools for the first time?

My advice to marketers is to first look at how they’re currently making their decisions. Are you making decisions in a predictive and prescriptive way? Are you appropriately leveraging your knowledge estate  to its fullest extent? If not, then you’re likely costing your company a significant amount of money, and you really need to get started on this journey — this is the wave of the future.

Q) A lot of the vendors I have spoken to think we’re moving toward an ‘open marketing ecosystem.’ What are your thoughts on that, is it the way forward?

I definitely think that’s the optimal way forward, and that’s actually how Keen have designed our system. We’re system-agnostic and data-agnostic — we want to leverage the information that’s available, and it doesn’t really matter where that information is coming from.

Such an approach is ultimately going to help create the flexibility and the agility to create genuinely useful platforms for marketers. Going forward, we need to focus on taking this well-organized data and making the most out of it.

Q) As a CEO, what are your expectations from your marketing team? How do you measure their success?

Well, as I like to put it, we eat our own dog food — internally, we rely heavily on our own technology system to guide our daily marketing efforts. In terms of measuring the team’s success, that ultimately comes down to whether or not their actions translate into long-term growth.

Q) What have been your biggest challenges as CEO of Keen and how did you deal with them?

When Keen started back in 2010/11, we were able to get some early wins — we were perhaps ahead of the market as most marketers were only just beginning to get their data house in order.

Now, however, other companies are more mature from a data collection/data management standpoint. The martech competitive landscape has grown so much, and it’s become so cluttered — we really have to focus on getting our message out there: highlighting what differentiates us and focusing on the quantifiable value we provide to our clients.

Going forward, it’s really important that we become increasingly agile, continue working hard to integrate with other platforms, and leverage all available data sources to the maximum effect.

Q) Based on that, what advice do you have for other CEOs/Co-Founders out there who are just starting their journey or experiencing similar issues as you?

First and foremost, be really specific about the job you’re going to do. What pain point are you addressing, and how are you doing that better than any other company in the market?

That’s something we really focused on early on — we didn’t want to be just another form of marketing analytics, we wanted to help marketers drive significant value in a short amount of time.

So that’s something that I think martech entrepreneurs need to really think about in detail before launching their companies. Another thing would be to try and continually stay on top of where the markets are going and how everything is evolving. Make sure you’ll continue to be relevant in the years to come, and that you’ll continue to provide tangible, lasting value.

Q) Can you give us an example that best shows how Keen benefits its clients?

That’s a great question. On average, we see about a 25% improvement in marketing’s financial contribution within the first few months. Investing in and using our system to build their plans, gives our clients the opportunity to unlock millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars of additional value.

For example, we worked with Perfetti Van Melle (the confectioners) on both their Airheads and Mentos businesses. After one year of using our system, they grew their marketing profit by 82%. In the Airheads business specifically, they realized over $20 million worth of increased revenue opportunity by utilizing our system.

It goes back to having a short time to value: showing clients a quantified approach that’s going to lead to better financial performance, not just a few years down the line, but even just weeks and months down the line.

Q) Looking ahead, what are your plans for Keen going forward?

Well, we’re actually in the midst of scaling our company. We’ve got some really lofty goals — we want to be a big player in this space, so we’re investing heavily in this overall growth initiative. Aside from that, we want to continue to work with marketers who are willing to try something new: putting technology at the heart of their own transformation.

Q) What are your predictions for the martech space in 2020?

I believe there’s going to be some consolidation in the space — I don’t think we’re going to see quite as much growth in the number of players as we’ve seen over the last several years. I also think that you’re going to start to see some big corporate or private-equity investments aimed at acquiring smaller players and rolling them up under one umbrella: developing more of an end-to-end, comprehensive tech stack for marketers.

Q) Can you tell us one piece of tech in your overall stack that you personally can’t do without?

Outside our own system (which we obviously can’t do without), I would probably say Salesforce, our CRM. Everything feeds into it — a huge amount of our data funnels through Salesforce, so it’s imperative that the information is organized, clean, and is able to be analyzed once it comes back out of the system.

Q) Great, thanks so much for this Greg — you breezed through all our questions. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

There’s a lot of talk about predictive analytics right now — it’s another big trend that keeps on cropping up. I feel that marketers are only beginning to understand quite how much of an impact it can have going forward.

Fortunately, this is an area where we feel like we’ve got a great competitive advantage. In fact, we won the ‘Best Predictive Analytic Platform’ award from ClickZ last year, and we took a lot of pride in that recognition.

However, as you might expect, it only really works if the predictions are accurate and you put them into action. We love it when companies follow our prescriptive recommendations to a tee — when they do that, and when those predictions come true, then you gain a ton of credibility and they quickly come to lean on the system for all their marketing planning. It’s really fun when that happens — and thankfully it’s been happening quite a lot for us recently!