MarTech Edge Interview with Rowan Tonkin, Chief Marketing Officer, Planful | Martech Edge | Best News on Marketing and Technology
MarTech Edge Interview with Rowan Tonkin, Chief Marketing Officer, Planful


MarTech Edge Interview with Rowan Tonkin, Chief Marketing Officer, Planful


Published on 3rd Oct, 2023

Welcome, Rowan! Tell us about your background. How did you get into Marketing, and what was your path to Chief Marketing Officer like?

My marketing journey started from a rather unconventional point. I began my career working for a marketing technology company in customer support after completing my degree in computer science. I started helping out the professional services team in the background with their implementations, and as I got more involved in ensuring customer success and understanding their pain points, I moved into a customer-facing role, participating in professional services calls and managing implementation projects.

My experience working directly with customers sparked my interest in showcasing the value of our platform, leading me into a role in presales. I spent almost 10 years in presales, occasionally dabbling in sales and customer success roles throughout. This combination of roles focused on post-sale and presales activities helped me gain valuable experience working directly with customers and solving their current and future needs.

After years of talking with marketers as my customers, I joined a product marketing team tasked with launching a new marketing application. While my background had been deeply rooted in marketing concepts and practices, this was my first official role as a “marketer.”

During my time in product marketing, my accumulated knowledge gained working directly with customers and prospects helped us to successfully launch the new product. Over the next four years, I continued to expand my responsibilities within the wider marketing organization, taking on roles related to demand generation and serving as an evangelist for our products.

I finally moved on from that company and assumed leadership of the operations, design, and creative team at another startup, and later took on revenue operations there as well, effectively running all the shared services of the team. Again, these varied experiences dealing with customers from different perspectives gave me a well-rounded view of how marketing, sales, product, and other roles all need to align to make a company successful.

Ultimately, and, I believe, helped by my experiences across various roles supporting go-to-market strategy, I was appointed as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Planful. This role marked the culmination of my journey across customer support, presales, and product marketing, a combination of experiences that helped prepare me to be an effective leader of our company’s marketing efforts.

How does your vast experience in revenue operations help you better grasp the dynamics of marketing and business, leading to positive outcomes?

My background includes roles across customer success, sales, and marketing teams. This exposure has given me valuable insights into the unique challenges and perspectives of each of these departments, and understanding their intricacies and dependencies allows me to see the bigger picture and recognize how they are interconnected within an organization.

Revenue operations requires me to understand the expectations and objectives of all of these stakeholders and be able to sift through the data and operational drivers that direct their activities. If we can effectively align marketing strategies with what drives revenue, we can positively influence the commercial outcomes of the company, namely revenue but also profitability and growth.

Revenue operations also plays a crucial role in streamlining processes between marketing, sales, and customer success teams. It’s perceived as a technology-driven function, but it takes a collaborative approach to eliminate friction between the teams and make it easier to execute marketing campaigns and initiatives efficiently. Whether it’s running a customer marketing campaign, identifying target markets, or optimizing existing campaigns, teams need to be on a shared data platform that accelerates communication, improves collaboration, and aligns execution while reducing operational obstacles. Revenue operations is an important role and is really an unsung hero of business success.

As you learn how revenue operations impact commercial success, you start to get a better appreciation for how other critical success metrics, such as loyalty and retention, can make or break commercial success. When you can connect it all together, again on a shared data platform, it empowers you to be more effective with your marketing investments because you’re aligning marketing efforts where they matter most. When you can do that, you’re going to see better and more positive outcomes in commercial and financial terms.

How is the Marketing department helping Planful stay competitive in today’s market?

We take pride in how the Marketing department at Planful plays a crucial role in helping the company stay competitive. Here’s what we do that makes us stand out:

Continuous Evolution of Brand and Vision: We know the market is constantly changing, and Marketing leads the company to stay ahead of that change. This involves the obvious aspects of actively listening to our customers and prospects and monitoring industry trends to understand the future needs of our core buyers. But we’re also pulling in competitive, analyst, influencer, and other insights and working with our products and development teams to understand what’s possible and where we need to be next quarter, next year, and several years down the road. Marketing then defines and refines how we’re going to get there.

Messaging and Storytelling: Once we know where we’re going, Marketing builds messaging narratives and highlights customer success stories to demonstrate how Planful delivers value to customers. Our humanized, relatable storytelling approach emphasizes how Planful helps our customers – the companies, yes, but also the people doing the work – stay agile, resilient, and adaptable to whatever challenges they might face in the future. Saving time during the monthly close process saves a company money, for sure, but it also helps finance and accounting teams get home in time for dinner or attend their kid’s soccer game. It’s a combination of those personal and professional aspects that really make a difference to our customers.

Collaboration with the Product Team: Marketing collaborates closely with our product team to identify emerging trends that require us to invest in new products or enhance existing capabilities. This collaboration ensures that Planful’s product offerings align with market demands, our customers are getting the most value possible from the platform, and our product roadmap supports our short- and long-term visions for the brand.

Alignment with Our Customers: Every company says their customers are the top priority, but at Planful, it’s a key part of our culture. “We put our customers first” is the first phrase of our number-one company value. We put a lot of effort and time into actively listening to our customers and hearing what they want from these solutions. Marketing ensures that the company’s messages and product offerings are aligned with these needs but also that we’re delivering them in reality. It’s not just a marketing message; what we hear from customers enhances our competitiveness.

What everyday steps do you take to stay ahead of the emerging market trends and technologies to ensure your marketing initiatives remain innovative and competitive?

Technologies and trends move fast these days, and I use a variety of methods to stay current with what’s happening.

Actively participating in marketing communities helps me stay ahead of emerging trends. I am an active member of various marketing communities, such as The Next CMO, CMO Coffee Talks, and Exit Five. While I may not always post, I consistently engage by reading, observing, and consuming content within these communities. This helps me stay informed on the latest trends and emerging technologies in the field.

I also host our Being Planful podcast, where I interview finance, accounting, marketing, and business leaders & influencers to understand how the market is changing and how those changes impact their strategies. It really is a great forum where I get to learn as much as our listeners.

Utilizing LinkedIn is another way to stay in the know. LinkedIn is a significant platform for networking and staying up-to-speed on industry developments. I actively use it to connect with other professionals, share insights, and follow thought leaders in marketing and related fields.

Never underestimate the power of your personal network, too. Those friends and colleagues you gain along the way are the CMOs and business leaders of today and tomorrow. It’s critical to nurture that network, no matter where you see your career going. I maintain an ongoing dialogue with my peers, particularly other CMOs, to exchange ideas and discuss what strategies and tactics are working for them. It’s a two-way conversation that provides valuable insights into emerging trends and technologies.

A point of advice I’d give is to go beyond surface-level trend-spotting by analyzing the intention behind marketing strategies. I want to understand why certain tactics are effective and for which specific audiences. It’s crucial to determine the underlying business goals behind trends to avoid blindly copying them. Paying attention to whether a particular trend or technology aligns with my target audience’s preferences helps me avoid applying marketing strategies that might be popular but ineffective for our audience.

How does Planful help CMOs and marketing professionals manage their budgets efficiently?

In late 2022, Planful acquired a marketing planning software company called Plannuh, which is now Planful’s marketing solution. At most companies, marketing is typically the largest discretionary budget outside of headcount, and that spend is notoriously hard to tie back to company results. As a marketer myself, I know the value of providing marketing teams with a platform that can help them make better decisions in real-time and that can facilitate better connections and conversations between CFOs and CMOs. Planful enables teams to measure marketing at every level of the plan for full visibility and team efficiency.

Alignment of Spend with Goals: Planful connects all marketing spend across various tactics to specific goals. This alignment ensures that resources are allocated effectively, eliminating waste on marketing spend that doesn’t contribute to achieving those goals.

Automation of Expense and Budget Management: Planful automates many aspects of marketing expense and budget management. This automation streamlines processes within the marketing department, saving time that would otherwise be spent on manual tasks such as accruals adjustments and amortizations in a marketing budget.

Goal-Based Budgeting: Planful’s marketing solution supports goal-based planning, allowing marketers to create budgets directly tied to their objectives. This goal-oriented approach ensures that budgets are allocated to initiatives aligned with the desired outcomes.

Outcome Tracking and Analysis: Planful enables marketers to connect their automated and goal-based budgets to measurable outcomes. This capability allows marketers to avoid uncertainty and understand what strategies and tactics are working effectively. By identifying successful initiatives, marketers can allocate more investment to those areas, ultimately leading to improved performance and the ability to outperform targets and competitors.

How does Predict, Planful’s proprietary embedded AI/ML solution, empower organizations to make better decisions?

Planful Predict empowers organizations with intelligent recommendations, which enables them to make better, faster decisions. Predict: Signals alerts users to errors, while Predict: Projections creates smarter forecasts — all using proprietary algorithms built natively into the Planful platform.

In today’s business landscape, changes occur rapidly due to various factors — geopolitical events, supply chain disruptions, and internal developments. Predict recognizes the importance of frequent course corrections and enables organizations to make smaller adjustments to their plans throughout the year rather than relying on infrequent forecasting cycles.

Planful’s Budget Manager Experience makes it easy to collect forecasts and insights from non-finance people across the organization, and that data informs the AI engine behind Predict. This efficient data-gathering process ensures that valuable input is obtained from different teams, regions, and product segments, enabling AI to deliver a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the business’s financial performance.

Predict acts as another pair of eyes for error identification as budget managers input their data. It scans through the submissions to detect errors or anomalies in the data. This capability helps the finance team quickly identify trouble spots in forecasts and take corrective actions, doing in minutes what previously took hours.

Predict also makes it easy for the business to submit new and more frequent forecasts and updates by using AI to interpret historical data and offer baseline forecasts that match the cadence of the business. It also provides guardrails of upper and lower bounds to ensure forecasts are reasonable based on historical data. By speeding and easing forecast & budget creation, Predict allows organizations to forecast and plan more frequently and adapt & refine their strategies as needed.

By gathering insights from the entire business more frequently, executive teams gain a clearer understanding of market challenges and opportunities, and Predict uses AI to help make the entire planning process more accurate and effective. The enhanced visibility enables leaders to make informed decisions and respond rapidly to changing circumstances. Ultimately, this leads to better outcomes for the organization as a whole.