Fast-Tracking Secrets to Digital Marketing Success

Q&A with Former Dun & Bradstreet Chief Marketing Officer Josh Mueller

Meeting and getting to know smart digital marketers is easily one of my favorite things about working in the marketing industry. I first met Josh Mueller when he was a director of digital marketing at Dell and I was presenting an integrated approach to search, social and content marketing. There was a palpable enthusiasm in the air for inbound marketing and it was exciting to see that kind of reception from a large company.

Fast forward to today and Josh is former Chief Marketing Officer at Dun & Bradstreet. He is definitely one of those people you want on your digital marketing team or, more specifically, leading your team. He always seems to be two steps ahead, is results-focused and a genuinely nice human being.

In this interview, Josh talks about everything from career advice for fast-tracking digital marketing executives to the impressive digital marketing initiatives he’s led at Dun & Bradstreet. He also talks about lessons learned, prioritizing for 2017 and examples of B2B brands doing it right.

Your career from an MBA intern at Dell to SVP at a major B2B brand in under 10 years is truly impressive. What best prepared you for that journey and what advice do you have for talented, aspiring marketing executives with eyes on a similar prize?  

Looking back, I’m not sure if I was ever fully prepared, but my journey thus far certainly would not have been possible without focusing on a couple of fundamental things from the beginning.

Personalization is such a powerful customer experience and conversion optimization tool. Most ecommerce companies have fully adopted it, but very few demand-generation-driven B2Bs are doing it well.
Josh Mueller, Former Chief Marketing Officer, Dun & Bradstreet

First, invest heavily in building, nurturing and leveraging real relationships. Success is impossible in a vacuum. The people you surround yourself with will have a significant impact on the trajectory of your career. You’ll know you’re doing this well when you realize you’re consistently willing to put more into a relationship than what you ask for in return.


Second, never take a break from learning. I read as much as possible and do so on a daily basis. If you can become a little more knowledgeable every single day, you’ll build a huge competitive advantage over time. This simple but powerful habit not only equips you to become a world-class expert within your discipline, but also allows you to see big picture trends, apply your expertise across disciplines and prepare for the future.

I was really impressed with the Dun & Bradstreet website redesign earlier this year and what went into the real-time personalization experience. Can you share some context for the project and your expectations for such an ambitious undertaking?

This was so much fun and continues to pay dividends. What started as a traditional redesign project quickly transformed into a complete re-imagination of our brand’s digital experience. We wanted to ensure that the site truly represented the overall transformation of Dun & Bradstreet that has been progressing since our former CEO, Bob Carrigan, joined the company in 2013.

To accomplish this, we needed to expand our primary online focus on SMB customers to include enterprise customers across five new lines of business, our partners and our worldwide network. From a KPI perspective, we initially wanted to maintain parity at launch and then improve from there. Fortunately, metrics were up from the very first week and continue to climb.

Now that the new website has gone through some iterations, what have been some of your key lessons and best practices? What is on the roadmap for going into 2017 when it comes to personalization?

It’s very typical when you launch a major redesign to experience drops in some of your primary KPIs, and that risk was even greater when we set out to completely transform our digital experience. Despite taking a data-driven approach and performing a lot of user testing, we were completely prepared for this drop. We formed cross-functional teams to meet daily to review the latest metrics, form hypotheses and quickly deploy tests targeted at getting everything back to parity and beyond. Fortunately, we never experienced this dip. Our metrics were up from the very first day. Because we had prepared ahead of time, we still followed the same approach, but instead of getting back to parity, we were able to increase conversion rates to all-time highs.

Personalization is such a powerful customer experience and conversion optimization tool. Most ecommerce companies have fully adopted it, but very few demand-generation-driven B2Bs are doing it well. Currently, we’re personalizing based on company size and persona. Late this year and in 2017, we plan to expand this by personalizing for specific strategic accounts as well as extending and coordinating personalization across other offline and online touchpoints.

What do the lessons you've learned tell you about how other B2B companies should be thinking in terms of digital strategy in 2017? What are some key areas to focus on and things to avoid?

Too many companies still treat their digital strategy as something separate from their overall marketing strategy. I believe Marc Mathieu from Unilever was one of the first to talk about moving away from the mindset of digital marketing as a standalone function to concentrate instead on increasing marketing effectiveness in a digital world. Making this shift is absolutely critical, but it doesn’t mean organizations should move away from hiring and training digital specialists with deep expertise. Those skills are more important than ever.

At Dun & Bradstreet, we’ve succeeded in modernizing our marketing mindset by formalizing cross-functional teams around each of our personas. Each team has experts across all the core functions, such as messaging, content marketing, site strategy, outbound demand gen, SEO, communications, social media, etc. Organizationally, this expertise is aligned by function, but the cross-functional team operates as one on behalf of the customer with shared KPIs. This model ensures that digital strategy is always a core component of everything we do.

Today's marketers are faced with a cornucopia of options and challenges from continued emphasis on data and martech to creative opportunities with more visual and interactive content, working with influencers and investing in deeper content. What advice do you have for other senior marketing execs on prioritizing marketing tactics?

It can become overwhelming when the cornucopia of options becomes the focus without first implementing a framework to properly manage everything. This starts by getting back to the basics – using quality data and analytics to determine which customers or accounts to pursue, which personas to target within these accounts and which solutions best fulfill their needs. Once these basic building blocks are in place, it’s easy to map out the customer journeys within that universe and set clear KPIs for each stage. The ultimate goal may be conversion and revenue, but the KPIs in the early stages are just as critical and allow marketers to track the progression of individuals and accounts throughout the journey.

Using this framework as a reference, it becomes easy to see where an organization is having success and where change is needed. Will new marketing technology or a creative strategy overhaul have a bigger impact? The answer comes more easily when you can clearly see which KPI you’re trying to impact with the decision. This guides prioritization, not only for senior executives setting overall strategy and making resource decisions, but also for the teams executing the tactics.

Few marketing departments can execute well on all things they have planned. How do you balance hiring more marketing staff vs. using outside vendors and agencies? What trends do you see in terms of outsourcing vs. insourcing marketing talent?

Capacity is almost always our biggest challenge. The model I prefer – and one that I continue to see gaining traction – is to insource expertise across critical functions without making teams too large. Once you achieve this, you can leverage partnerships with agencies that bring an outside-in approach and act as an extension of your team over time. This hybrid model allows you to maintain a steady state across critical functions while maintaining the ability to dial up or dial down capacity based on current priorities.

As we get closer to fourth quarter and planning for the coming year, what are some of your top digital marketing priorities for 2017?

Our first priority is all about scale. We’ve built an amazing foundation that has enabled us to hit critical KPIs much faster than we anticipated. Now we are very focused on continuing to bend the curve and pushing the limits on how far we can take things.

The second is to continue drinking our own champagne and pushing the envelope in modern B2B marketing. I’m fortunate to work for the company that maintains the world’s largest commercial database that we continue to leverage for new use cases. We often get our hands on the latest and greatest marketing solutions before they’re widely available, which gives us a first-mover advantage in predictive targeting, personalization approaches and sales acceleration techniques. Great marketing is always fun. Doing things for the first time can be even more fun.

What B2B brands' marketing do you admire most? Any examples?

Dell is definitely on the list, and I’m excited to see how its marketing team leverages the EMC acquisition. It’s amazing, looking at the amount of marketing talent that has worked at Dell at some point over the last decade, and how many individuals have gone on to become senior marketing executives or CMOs at other big brands. I certainly stay closely connected and follow those brands as well.

There are so many other great B2B brands to admire across industries for different reasons. A few that come to mind immediately are Adobe, LinkedIn, Salesforce, GE, Workday, Cisco, American Express and Accenture.  

Now let’s play a little social network word association. After each platform, share the first thing or short reaction that comes to mind.

Facebook – changing the open web

Vine – initially interesting

LinkedIn – making all the right moves  

Periscope – first mover advantage wasn’t enough

Twitter – one of the best, but time to evolve

Google+ – will its failures lead to success?   

Snapchat – raising the bar on growth 

YouTube – well positioned

Instagram – so simple yet so brilliant  

Flickr – will it survive?

This article first appeared on the TopRank Marketing Blog.