SalesTechStar Interview with Sam Holding, Head of International at SparkPost
It’s interesting to see how global businesses and teams have come together to improve performance despite today’s pandemic influenced challenges while leveraging data and tech to drive impactful transformations, Sam Holding, Head of International at SparkPost has a quick chat with us to dive deeper into this while taking us through his biggest career learnings and journey:
Hi Sam, welcome to SalesTechStar! Tell us a little about your journey through the years, we’d love to hear more about your role (and experience!) leading international expansion at SparkPost…
My name is Sam Holding, and I am Head of International at SparkPost, the world’s largest email analytics and sending platform. I lead SparkPost is international operations including sales, marketing and customer retention for SparkPost is email technology and analytics products.
Prior to SparkPost, I was Senior Director, EMEA at Oracle Data Cloud, where I led a team responsible for measurement, context and audience partnerships with publishers and platforms. I have over 20 years of experience in digital marketing, data products and ad technology, having worked at Trinity Mirror, France Telecom, Experian and Adform before joining Datalogix, which was later acquired by Oracle Data Cloud.
Throughout my career, I’ve held many senior management assignments, successfully recruiting and growing teams delivering exceptional commercial results on a consistent basis.
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Take us through the key highlights of SparkPost’s recent Email Benchmark Report; what are some of your own top thoughts and predictions for email and digital marketing in 2021 and beyond, globally?
We learned a lot from polling both marketing leaders and practitioners about how changes in 2020 have affected business and priorities moving forward. While it felt like things were imploding left and right, the silver lining is that there was opportunity to leverage technology relatively seamlessly to pivot business where needed. What was encouraging to see is that many businesses were investing in themselves; there was a flood of investment into digital marketing solutions — specifically email marketing. Those investments paid off — 58% of global leaders note email marketing efforts drive value and positive impact to their business and 59% of email practitioners believe email is a main source of revenue. I firmly believe that these investments have proven that continued resource in digital marketing — particularly in content and email marketing — will be a long-term commitment.
However, that shift also resulted in an unprecedented level of work for most people. With 72% of people feeling overworked, most took that in stride, and we saw businesses come together in new ways to support the shift. Doing so was a necessary part of weathering the storms of 2020. In 2020, we saw 61% of teams changed in size, with 49% of them growing to meet workload demand. The flurry of economical and environmental changes were tough on marketers and leaders alike, and the 5,000+ people surveyed shed light on the need for closer collaboration between the groups. It’s clear that in 2021 and beyond, it’d behoove leadership to better align with their teams about goals, measurement, strategic priorities and make an effort to better understand tactical processes.
Despite all of the changes, the good news is, the large majority of people still felt happy and satisfied at work: 88% say their teams have been successful despite changes brought on by COVID-19; and 83% of leaders and marketers say they’re happy at work. This illustrates how resilient people are in the face of challenges and uncertainty, and together, it’s possible to be successful.
Can you share a few thoughts on email marketing and digital marketing best practices that brands need to follow more of in today’s business climate?
Organizations don’t always realize that life is harder when you don’t start with good tools. They also don’t realize that good tools aren’t too far out of reach for growing companies. My best advice would be for companies to sort out their business goals and how they will try to get there, then determine which solutions belong in their tech stack and which ones don’t. From the digital marketing perspective, it’s important to use tools that are collaborative and integrate with each other. It not only saves time (and time is money), but it also allows consistency and stability for strategic efforts.
Email marketing fits under the digital marketing umbrella and has proven to be a low-cost, reliable, high-yield channel to connect with audiences. It’s evolved beyond being a one-way communication tool; now, email marketing experiences are dynamic, interactive, and have become a very important part of the entire customer experience. It’s there from the start — a welcome email for a recent purchase, for example — and can effectively nurture a brand-customer relationship through education, customer service and feedback, and ultimately, transactions. Highly critical areas that any email marketing program needs to have include trusted sending capabilities, targeting and segmentation flexibility, sound deliverability data and analytics, and a way to investigate (and avoid) SPAM-related bottlenecks. From a high level, it needs to integrate with a campaign management tool, so you can measure performance across campaigns to understand what works and what doesn’t.
Can you share a few thoughts on the key metrics, data and behaviors of email marketing and sends that both sales and marketing teams need to be aligned on as one unit?
Sadly, the survey data revealed that email marketing measurement was a key area for improvement – nearly half of marketing leaders (44%) report their organization hasn’t yet developed a way to estimate the value of an email address, with only 50% of them feeling that the accrued marketing cost of obtaining and nurturing an email address is “meaningful.” This translates into frustration for the email marketer, who is trying to effectively communicate the importance of measurement on a business critical function like email. We’re seeing that on a leadership level, it’s generally understood that email marketing is necessary and an important revenue driver, but the understanding of how it works is not taking much mindshare.
While that’s expected on some level, I believe that approach ultimately hurts the overall organization, and further widens the gap between marketers and leaders. According to our survey, 51% of leaders report they have changed the way they measure email marketing since the start of COVID-19. Data also shows 44% of practitioners say that they haven’t measured performance any differently than in years past. These statistics and gaps are somewhat alarming; showing us that, despite 2020’s dramatic environmental and business changes, measurement and expectations have not.
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Getting on the same page about processes and measurement makes it easier and more effective to communicate how email fits into the overall marketing ecosystem. It will strengthen the tie between effort and the bottom line. We asked marketers and leaders specifically how they’ve changed their views on measurement, and here’s what they had to say:
- 47% of people are looking at adding additional KPIs that expand beyond traditional KPIs of open rates, click through rates and unsubscribe rates
- 45% of people are looking at the same KPIs but having increased goals/metrics to reflect our industry’s heavier reliance on digital and email marketing (45%)
How organizations have changed is specific to individual businesses, of course, but the bigger picture here is that perspectives need to reflect the times.
Can you take us through your thoughts and observations on digital transformation in 2020 and the top technologies that will drive this in 2021?
It’s long been known that engagement is critical when developing a solid email marketing program. What’s often overlooked is how to do that effectively and how to best go about getting that valuable engagement from customers. 2020 was a year when driving retention and engagement became more important than ever – the cycle of repeatedly re-acquiring customers via costly advertising budgets no longer existed for many companies, so retention finally gained its rightful focus by CMOs everywhere.
As a result of this shift, in 2021 we’ll see more brands begin to right size their investment in channels like email. We’ll see this investment used to optimise for better experiences when it comes to frequency, personalisation and timing, because bombarding customers would be detrimental to this move toward retention.
A parting thought on your most memorable moment in tech or biggest goof-up and the learning that came from it!
It’s not easy to pick out what my most memorable moment would be however a ‘Futures’ event I attended whilst working for France Telecom was certainly impactful. This was pre the launch of the iPhone and when most people aspired to own a small flip device. It was fascinating and inspiring to hear the predictions for how, for what I perceived to be a simple dual purpose gadget, a mobile device could fundamentally change the way we could buy and pay for things, travel and ultimately connect with people. The summary for the keynote was – to succeed you need to: Get comfortable with change, Try new things and act swiftly. I do believe this very much resonates for the tech industry, even more so with the challenges COVID-19 has thrust upon us.
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SparkPost provides a data-driven platform that optimizes email performance and helps leading enterprises drive top-line results. The SparkPost Email Delivery Platform is built to help businesses deliver more value. It has a wide variety of features to choose from; powerful real-time analysis as well as personalized email templates.
Sam Holding is the Head of International Expansion at SparkPost