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The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022

Free Guide:

The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
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The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
Free Inbound Marketing Playbook
View The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022

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How marketing helped Planful thrive during COVID, ft. Rowan Tonkin (Inbound Success, Ep. 206)

Planful CMO Rowan Tonkin explains how a rebrand, plus a shift in marketing tactics, set Planful up to successfully navigate changing market dynamics brought on by the pandemic.

By Kathleen Booth

Kathleen Booth also recommends this free guide: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022.

How marketing helped Planful thrive during COVID, ft. Rowan Tonkin (Inbound Success, Ep. 206) Blog Feature

What happens when you take on a new role as CMO and develop a new marketing strategy, only to have a pandemic hit just months later?

Free Guide: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022

Rowan Tonkin

This week on the Inbound Success podcast, Planful CMO Rowan Tonkin talks about his experience since taking on the role of head of marketing at Planful. It all started with a complete rebrand (including a company name change) that was rolled out at a company meeting in January 2020, just prior to the onset of COVID.

Rowan explains how a focus on the customer – and their needs and pain points – helped his team determine how and when to shift their marketing strategy, and he talks about what it means to create a new category (including why it's so important that your competitors embrace it). 

Planful's ability to remain nimble and adapt to their customers' changing needs helped fuel significant increases in pipeline and revenue, much of which was driven by organic and branded search.

Check out the full episode to get the details. (Transcript has been edited for clarity.)

Resources from this episode:


Rowan Tonkin and Kathleen Booth
Rowan and Kathleen recording this episode.


Kathleen (00:00): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week, my guest is Rowan Tonkin, who is the CMO, or chief marketing officer, at Planful. Welcome to the podcast, Rowan.

Rowan (00:27): Thanks Kathleen for having me. Really excited to be here. I've listened to lots of episodes of inbound, and I'm really glad that I can actually be on the show.

Kathleen (00:35): I'm really excited to have you here. I think you have such an interesting story, especially in the last few years, and I can't wait to dig into it for listeners. Before we do that, maybe take a moment, introduce yourself, tell us who you are and your background, and also what Planful is.

Rowan (00:52): So firstly, you may notice from my accent, I'm not American. I grew up in Australia in a little place called Woolongong, which is about an hour south of Sydney. And I actually started my career in technology in Australia, working in customer support for a marketing company. Back then we would provide services to agencies and white goods and brown goods manufacturers to basically get the best images for catalogs for the things that we all receive in our letterbox. And that turned into an MRM space where I worked in pre-sales. So for those that are not familiar with MRM, it's kind of like the old Asana and, helping marketers do all that project management, budget management, things like that. I moved to London for 10 years selling MRM software, working with lots of marketers over there.

Rowan (01:44): My role was increased to sales and customer success and doing actual implementation work as well. And I managed to convince myself that product marketing was actually where I had most fun. So I joined product marketing and have been in the marketing space ever since. I'm now at Planful. Planful is a financial planning and analysis platform for finance and accounting professionals. We basically help finance professionals basically become super agile in the way that they work by getting them out of spreadsheets and getting them into a connected and collaborative platform. And you know, my background in marketing planning, if you will, helping marketers manage their budgets, has kind of translated into me telling the stories of those finance professionals and how they do their work for all of us, right? If you think about the team of finance, there's the accounting team that are recording everything that happened, and there's fantastic FP and A teams that are kind of helping us trying to figure out what will happen in future.

Kathleen (02:47): Yeah. And speaking of what has happened and what will happen, you joined the company, was it in 2019? Is that right?

Rowan (02:54): In September of 2019. Yeah.

Kathleen (02:56): Yeah. So, you know, at an interesting time, and I know that you came on board and there was a lot of change already happening in the company. And you proceeded to make some really significant changes on the marketing side, and this is all happening, like on the eve of COVID. It's crazy. I say 2019 and that feels like a really long time ago, but it really wasn't, and a lot has happened since then. So let's actually rewind the clock and start when you came in and what were you setting out to do and what was the scenario when you joined?

Rowan (03:31): Yeah, sure. So Planful had been actually called Host Analytics before that. And many of your listeners may know of Host Analytics. And we were acquired by a private equity firm in December of 2018 and they went on the search to find a new CEO and they found someone that I'd worked with before: Grant Halloran. And Grant joined as CEO, I believe like the 1st of July or something like that. And in 2019, three months later, he brings me in and had devised a lot of the strategy. And the strategy that we were going to execute upon was to really focus on segments, specific segments. So what we call the lower mid-market and the upper mid-market, and selectively play in the enterprise, right? And traditionally, you know, Host played across all of those segments. So we really wanted to focus.

Rowan (04:24): The second thing that we wanted to do was reposition the company. The world of FP and A, and the space that we play in has a category definition called “enterprise performance management,” or “corporate performance management.” The funny thing is only analysts talk about that. Buyers don't call it that. They call it FP and A software, or planning, budgeting, and forecasting. They don't call it CPM or EPM. And so then unfortunately for Host Analytics, created by Jim Eblen back in 2001, the word Host and Analytics has changed a lot in that time, right? And so [it was] really important to us that as we repositioned, we decided to change the company name. And when you think about doing that, that's a really intense exercise. So we decided to just put the guard rail of, let's do it in 12 weeks.

Kathleen (05:17): Ripping the bandaid off.

Rowan (05:20): Correct. Yeah. And so actually we did that at our company kickoff. Everyone walked into the company kickoff in January at San Diego — all of the swag and everything was branded Host Analytics. Everyone got their gifts as Host Analytics in the keynote, we dropped the big reveal, switched to Planful, and all the signage and everything had been changed outside the room. And everyone had new swag bags and everything like that. And at the time we repositioned the company from enterprise performance management to what we call continuous planning. And that's now the kind of category that we have tried to define if you will. Now as you do that, you want to create new campaigns and new things to go to market with. And we did a lot of that, and continuous planning sounds great now, after everyone's been planning for the last 18 months, but back then it was a new concept.

Rowan (06:20): And we were trying to evangelize that concept and created lots of great top-of-funnel campaigns, ready-to-launch posts. That event had them live for six weeks, and then the pandemic hits. And we're sitting there with this fantastic campaign that was beautiful for the moment. Beautiful for the time, very positive, very uplifting, very empowering for our audience. But as soon as the pandemic hit, that's not what they want to hear. Then like they're in — we call it the ambush — they're in the ambush mode. If you think about what your finance team may have been doing in the middle of March, it was trying to figure out, are we going to thrive, survive cash flow?

Kathleen (07:03): It went from, I imagine, continuous planning to crisis planning.

Rowan (07:06): Effectively yeah. Cashflow forecasting became, you know, scenario planning. What if analysis became the top use cases, if you will, or the top things that finance professionals wanted to care about — right? — and capital management, liquidity, all of those things. And so we're sitting there with this fantastic campaign that we've spent lots of money and worked with some amazing agencies on. And the other thing is our audience. We're just in a bunker trying to figure out what's going on. They didn't want to talk to us. So, like many companies, we went very much into support mode, right? How can we help our audience through this? What can we do? And did a lot of those things, built communities, hold weekly meetings, you know? How can we support? You tried to educate them on different ways that they could use the platform.

Rowan (07:59): And internally I converted my product marketing team to a research analyst firm, who will survive, who will thrive, and how can we go and target those people and educate them on what we do? But the message just wasn't right. Selling and telling the story about continuous planning in the middle of that environment wasn't what people wanted to hear. And so we spent probably too long trying to continue to evangelize that the commitment and consistency of like, “Oh, we put this great thing together. Let's just keep doing our work.”

Kathleen (08:39): Gosh darn it, we planted our flag in the sand.

Rowan (08:42): Exactly. And so I had a conversation with Grant one day and I said, “I just don't think this is the time or this is the place to be pushing this message.” And we thought back to kind of core marketing principles, and many of your audience will know about the five stages of awareness from sports, right? And so we looked at that and we said, “well, where [does] continuous planning fit here, right? Well, it fits for the most aware people — our customers, or people that have bought this technology before — and they really understand it.” So we can keep pushing it to that audience. For the completely unaware person, it actually makes sense as a thought leadership play, as a play around storytelling, and actually evangelizing that.

Rowan (09:30): But for the people in the middle, right, the people that we're actually trying to get to buy, or get into our final, or convince them to buy versus a competitor, it didn't work, because they were trying to figure out, “well, actually my pain point is not continuous planning. I kind of — you haven't really even explained what that means, what that is, how that works, you know, where am I on that journey?” They want to know, “How can I do scenario management? How can I do cash flow forecasting? Can I do direct method, cash flow, forecasting, or indirect method? Where are we with our what-if scenario analysis and those types of things?” So what we did was we stepped right back and said, “all right, let's create a use-case strategy, very tactical, very much at the pain point level of what our audience is going through.”

Rowan (10:22): And so,  as all businesses where we're going through what's going to happen for us, and actually coming out in the back of that first initial ambush, we were hitting record pipeline numbers in kind of Q3, right? Amazingly everything was going well. We had this use-case campaign. It was going well. What we did tactically for that campaign was create landing pages all around. Those specific use cases, I actually used the pandemic. One of my strategies as I was planning to come to, to plan for, we'd been very much a lead acquisition company. And I wanted to use the reposition and that mode to move the market into demand-creation mode, as opposed to lead-acquisition mode. Now it was kind of good because everyone was just so focused on how many opportunities are we getting every day into our funnel?

Rowan (11:23): And so effectively, I was able to turn off every MQL report that we ever had, which is great. And now no one really asks me about MQL. They're always asking me about opportunities. So I was able to use that time to transition away from classic sales and marketing, talking about MQL calls. Well, now we're talking about pipeline creation and what we call stage one opportunities, S1s. So during that period, I was also trying to shift our strategy away from very much purchase-nurture leads, right? And then hopefully that they convert over time. I wanted us to move to build a brand, build awareness in the market, and bring them to us. And over that time that sort of started to happen, which was great.

Rowan (12:18): And we saw the results of that in Q3. And then, as the second wave of the pandemic came again in Q4 and Q4, for those that don't know, every finance professional is about to enter their either favorite or their worst time of the year — planning season. And so again, you know, these people had been planning for so long, Q3 was pent up demand, and then Q4 became a really hard time for us as well, because you're starting to see people get back into their planning season. And now we're back into that mode of just really accelerated growth. I mean, we've hit all of the records that we would want to be hitting as a software company this year, so far [we’re] growing like crazy, which is really fun. And a lot of that is off the back of the fact that we really just stepped back to basics and created these use-case plays. And so, as I was saying before, it's a landing page. It's an ungated demo on that landing page. It's having case studies on each of those landing pages. It's the social proof inside of that. It's telling a story about how you go from use case to use case and the value chain that is associated with that for someone when they buy a platform, right? Because like most technology, we're a platform. You can do lots of things with it.

Kathleen (13:40): So I have so many questions for you. Going back to the beginning, you talked about coming in and the company being founded in the early 2000s and being called Host Analytics. And what had changed in the time from when it was founded to when the PE firm bought the company. And it was funny, you said something along the lines of the meaning of Host had changed. And the first thing that popped into my head was, was it that Airbnb happened and everybody thought, you know, is your company about analytics for like hosts who rent their houses out? Or like, what were you alluding to there?

Rowan (14:18): Yeah, actually we'll say … let me start. So Host Analytics and the name was … so Jim Eblen founded the company, created the name. Back then we were taking a box into someone's office and hosting their financial analytics for it, right? So very literal, and Host actually means army of angels. And so that was another reason for the name. The army of angels are coming to help you with your finance department. Now fast forward to 2020, where hosting is now all about service providers, right? Or in your mind, Airbnb?

Kathleen (14:59): Well, certainly not on-prem software.

Rowan (15:01): Correct. And actually, host was the first FP and A platform, EPM platform to move to the cloud. So I think we did that in 2011, 2012. And then there was a race for cloud financial planning platforms, you know, Anaplan and Adaptive Insights and some other companies came along.

Rowan (15:25): And so there was this a big race for people to move to the cloud from the on-prem world.  So Host was a big part of that race and that shift from on-prem to the cloud. And unfortunately though, if you sit back in the middle of 2019, and you're calling someone in finance, and you say I'm from Host Analytics, the first thing that I think of is maybe Airbnb analytics, depending on their industry, or most of the time it was, “What? You're going to analyze my cloud service usage or something like that?” Actually, there was this cognitive dissonance that people would have, and ultimately they wanted us to …, they're like, “Oh, you should speak to IT. This is not for me, I'm in finance. Why are you trying to talk to me about hosting and analytics?” Like so that was the major trigger there. In terms of what had changed is frankly, just cloud, on-premise, all of that had changed, and the term “hosting” had become synonymous with cloud platforms, cloud software, cloud.

Kathleen (16:38): That makes a lot of sense. When I hear you talk about this, you know, the CEO was new, you came in, you were new, the company had just been acquired, and it's the first big meeting of everyone, and you introduce a new brand, and you start, like I said earlier, you rip the bandaid off, right? I feel like that could go in two directions. As somebody who's been a head of marketing, has navigated rebrands, being the new people. If you don't play it right, it can definitely I think exacerbate friction, fear, frustration, et cetera, amongst people who've been around for a while. If they think, “Oh, this new person's coming in and they're changing everything, and they haven't taken the time to really understand us, and, you know, kind of build consensus, blah, blah, blah,” all that stuff. Or it could, or if you navigate it correctly, it could really engender a lot of excitement and breathe new life, and et cetera. So I'm curious, how did you navigate that in a way that it built excitement and trust and momentum and didn't cause friction?

Rowan (17:45): I don't think you can do a rebrand without causing friction. This is my second one that I've led. And you're going to have naysayers. I think for anyone listening, that's contemplating a rebrand, you're going to have those people that basically say, “I don't like the new name. I don't like why you're changing it, what's wrong with the current name?” you're going to get all of that. But most importantly, you've really got to focus on what's the intention and why are we changing it? We weren't changing the name for our employees. We were changing it for our audience, for our customers. They deserve a name that is more befitting of what they actually do. And so for us, I think a couple of things helped us.

Rowan (18:40): So firstly, Grant and myself had come from this space before and we had created, Grant was the CMO at one of our competitors and had created a category over there. And that company is doing very well and had gone public. And so there was a perception that, okay this new CEO is coming and he knows what he's doing. I'd also led rebrands before. So, [I was] able to sit there and say, “Hey, I also know what I'm doing as part of this process.” So we were able to create some trust, because it wasn't the first time category creating, it, wasn't the first time rebranding. Secondly, we anchored the rebrand very intentionally on our customer. And at the same time we were going through things like a rebrand at a culture level, we had a new chief people officer and she's out building new company values, right?

Rowan (19:40): For the new company and our number-one value is customers. So as you think about that, we're able to anchor on, “okay, well, we now have our new values and isn't it befitting for our customers to have a name that recognizes them.” And if we think about financial planning and analysis folks, they are Planful. It's a real word. It means to be rich and methodical and full of plans. And that's what our buyers and our audience and our customers are. They espouse that every day. So that was really the way that we tried to overcome a lot of that, by intentionally making it about other people, other than us. It wasn't us trying to rebrand the company cause we like rebranding companies. It's very expensive to do. It's very hard to do, and it creates lots of friction, and lots of people believe and perceive that there's lots of brand equity as well.

Rowan (20:40): And so lots of people had those questions: “Well, what about, you know, we're an 18-year-old company. What about all the brand equity that we've built up?” And those types of questions are really important that you have answers, which is okay. That is true, yes. But actually, psychologically people move on for a rebrand really quickly. They adapt. We humans, we adapt really well to things, and also we wanted to espouse the new vision for the company. And having a name that fits that new vision was also really important.

Kathleen (21:15): Now you have mentioned a phrase a couple of times that I want to ask you about, because it's a phrase that gets thrown about a lot these days in the world of marketing, and that is category creation. And I feel like it's almost become this very generic term that people use for a lot of different things. So can you just explain a little bit about when you think about category creation, how do you think about it? Why did you think it made sense to do that? Because, it's something I've looked at, and I know it's quite an undertaking, and you have to go in with your eyes open and be realistic about what you're going to be able to achieve. And then, can you just talk a little bit about your strategy for doing that in this case?

Rowan (21:59): I may be quite simplistic in my view of category creation, but I think you need to just think of it from your audience's perspective. Your audience needs to quickly recognize what do you do and where do you play in the ecosystem? And your definition of that category, if you will, whether that's creating a subcategory if you've read those books from the 22 immutable laws, right? If you can't create a category, create a subcategory. That's the simple way I look at it, right? And we had been playing in the enterprise performance management category, and when buyers are searching for products, they're not looking for that. They're looking for planning software. So the first thing that we wanted to do as we were going through this category creation and reposition, rebranding, the company reinvigorating, you know, changing the way that the company operated, new segmentation, things like that, where it's to make sure that people could find us really easily.

Rowan (23:08): And so if you think about that, it's “OK, well, what do you do?” “Well, we're in the planning space. And you know, we also have capabilities in our platform for accountancies and things like that.” But the majority of people are looking for a planning platform. So we wanted to create a category inside the planning space that plays to our strengths. And so when you think about planning, what we have is some capability in our product that allows us to do that more frequently than other competitors. So that's continuous, right? And that had already been coined by other analysts. So we were able to basically co-opt from them and then use it as our position. And so when I think of category creation, I think we just simply think of it as, how do I want my buyer to perceive me, what ecosystem do they want to think about me in? And then, can they find our USP inside of my category description of that?

Kathleen (24:11): I like it. So it's funny that you phrased it that way because one of my questions was going to be when you set out to do this, were you hoping that analyst firms would build a quadrant around you? But I really didn't hear you say that. I heard you say analysts have used the term, but it sounds like success for you. Are customers using the term not so much, is like Gartner using the term? Is that accurate?

Rowan (24:34): Yeah, that's accurate. I mean Gartner has changed in our category, right? So they have gone from FP and A to what's called XP and A, and they're going to have now two quadrants for us. Other analyst firms call it the enterprise performance management category still. Now we want them to change away from that whole term because that's pretty old. Now it's about 30 years old as a category. And our perception is buyers just don't use it. Consultants use it, you know, us in the industry. We use it. Buyers don't use it. They don't know what it means. So we want them to change it, but I don't necessarily mind what they call it. And yes, we do care about being in those quadrants, those waves, yes, absolutely.

Rowan (25:28): But it's not about naming, like trying to define the category for an analyst. I think it's a more mature market as well. So the analysts already have their perspectives of what's in the market. And so our positioning should never really have been about trying to do that for us at our stage, at our maturity of market. I think if I was at an early-stage company, where there was no quadrant, yeah, you'd absolutely be trying to get them to redefine or create a quadrant around you. The other thing you have to do though is you have to go and get your competition to also call it the same thing. So that becomes interesting.

Kathleen (26:13): There's no such thing as a category of one.

Rowan (26:16): Yeah, correct.

Kathleen (26:17): Yeah. So one of the other things I wanted to dig into [is] you talked about [how] you joined shortly before COVID hit. You did the rebrand, you had all these plans. Then the pandemic hits and the customers’ priorities started to change, and their immediate pain points started to change. Talk a little bit about how that changed, how you approached your strategy.

Rowan (26:43): So the first thing I think, it's really important to recognize is, prior to that customers had gone through their annual planning cycle, right? And they were in the midst of rolling out and trying to operationalize their 2020 plans. Some of them hadn't even closed Q1 yet. And normally we all joke, you know, every annual plan is dead on arrival. Well, that is even more true of 2020. Everyone's plans had been thrown out the window. From a finance team's perspective though, their first thought was, “how do we make it through?” Firstly, a lot of customers just delay payments, right? Cash flow becomes super important. So rather than have a net 15 on invoices, my new standard is net 60, net 90, and you're trying to hold all the cash inside of your business.

Rowan (27:45): Everyone's doing it to each other. And so cash becomes king. And so one of the use cases that we can operationalize with our customers is cash-flow forecasting. So firstly, we wanted to make sure that customers of ours that had an implemented use case realized that they could do that. And the other thing that became really important was speed became super important. You know customers and prospects aren't going to want to go through a big finance transformation in the middle of a situation like that. They want things to happen fast. So we created a package of implementation services. We call Planful now, get up and running in less than 30 days, make the folks that do want to buy or can buy, make them realize that it's not a 12 month ERP implementation or CRM transformation or anything like that.

Rowan (28:43): So very much focused on, “OK, what can we do for people? What can we do for them right now? If it's an existing customer, how can we help them with those key priority use cases, which were cash-flow forecasting for them and scenario, on what-if analysis?” You can imagine the what-if analysis that folks needed to do in kind of March and April of last year. That's all many companies were doing was trying to figure out what if, what if, what if, and looking at it from all sorts of lenses.

Kathleen (29:14): Yeah. And then I also loved the thing that really stood out from what you said to me. Cause I really believe this so strongly is about really focusing on brand and knowing that if you — it is very much a kind of a longer play — but knowing that if you build a really strong brand, the demand is going to follow, right? People love working with brands that they love and it functions like a magnet to pull in the right leads. A lot of times though — and I've talked to other marketers who've experienced this — you can, as the head of marketing, strongly believe in the power of brand, but unless you work for a CEO and you are a part of a leadership team that also believes in the power of brand, you can get a lot of pushback because it can be very tempting for those people to say, no, we just need [to] keep the MQL flow going. And sometimes during that pivot, when you're really shifting your focus, sometimes things can slow down as you do that, but you have to kind of like do it, knowing that you're slowing down to speed up if you will. So I'd love to hear just what your experience was with that.

Rowan (30:32): So firstly, I think your key point there was having a CEO that understands the power of brand. And I'm thankful that Grant was a CMO. That is a blessing and a curse for those that ever want to go work for a CEO who has been a CMO. They can get right into the weeds as well. And that can be not as enjoyable as you want it to be. But it does mean that they understand the power of the marketing machine, and you know, Grant has very similar philosophies to me on that. He's done rebrands before. He's done brand refreshes, really cares about the power of brand. And that's a lot of what we talk about, position brand, narrative, things like that. We talk about that a lot.

Rowan (31:23): And so as I think about going through that exercise, it was much easier, right? It was part of why I came, was I knew that we were going to get to build a brand and rebrand the company. So that was part of the excitement of joining the company was, “oh, wow, we're going to do this. This is going to be fun.” Now I wish the timing had been different because as I said, we had a great campaign ready to go. It was really fun. And we had all this spend that we wanted to put behind it. Well, in the middle of a pandemic, you're not going to get the same return for that dollar. As I said, our audience was ambushed. So we pared back a little bit, responsible thing to do, make sure that we hit our growth goals in an economical way.

Rowan (32:14): I think the second part about brand that you mentioned is the leadership team actually also valuing that. And I think that's something that I was lucky to have. Here were people that understood that this is a transformation, and to do the transformation we needed the power of a brand behind it, as well as the flexibility to really go through that change. Now, I guess the benefit of doing that through the middle of a year like 2020, is no one knows what the numbers would have been like before. We talk about this a lot internally, like never compare to 2020 cause who knows what those numbers should have been or could have looked like. So we always do a lot of year over year, but year over 2019 as well. 

Rowan (33:07): Because that was a more normalized year. So I did get the challenge of doing that through a pandemic. And that meant that no one knew what the numbers would have been anyway. So I was able to focus on what we wanted to do, right? The intentionality of, you know, the power of that brand. And so there was no, “well, we're expecting this many MQL this week, this month, and you're not getting them,” because we weren't expecting a normal period at that time. So that was actually, I won't say luxury.

Kathleen (33:44): It sounds like take advantage of those black Swan events when they happen.

Rowan (33:49): Take advantage of a crisis. And so frankly, that's what we were able to do. And actually, that's also, when you think about how you want to build that brand, we want to do it in the most economical way possible, right? Like when I worked for a PE company, I don't just have billions and billions of dollars to spend on brand. So we're able to focus on the places where building a brand actually makes sense. So I have a podcast like you have a podcast, right? We very much focused on organic social and doing that in a way that is really powerful for us. We focused on being more creative than our competition. So as you look at our advertising, you look at our color scheme, it's very different to what's out there, and that's all intentional to kind of be a pattern interrupt for our audience. And so those things allowed us to, I believe, build faster. You know, a lot of our competition use blue, right? What's a safe, trusted finance color, right? Blue, everything's good, no red. We're able to use color and creativity in a way that our competitors aren't using. And so that's how we're trying to stand out to our audience.

Kathleen (35:03): I love all of that. I'm a huge fan of the pattern interrupt. And it's funny because I've always worked in B2B tech and my dream has been to work for a company where I can have the primary color and our brand be purple just because nobody ever picks it. And I'm like, the fact that no one picks it is why we need to do it. Like, let's pick crazy colors and go with that. But I’m still working on that, the dream of purple someday.

Rowan (35:29): Well, I'm getting to live the dream of purple and for those that ever want to know why purple: Well purple actually has association with royalty, rich and richness, and wealth. So it's actually a great color for a finance company.

Kathleen (35:43): Yeah. And sometimes, honestly, there doesn't need to be a reason, like just the fact that it's different is a great reason. Right? Well, we're coming close to the end of our time. And so I want to sort of wrap up this segment of the interview by just asking, are there any results that you can speak to? Like we talked about the journey coming in and changing things up and then having to grapple with the pandemic hitting and your customers’ priorities suddenly shifting. What's been the outcome of all of this so far?

Rowan (36:18): Well, so I think in a couple of key things … so firstly, right now in 2021, our pipeline creation to one ratio has increased by 5%. = Well, not by 5%. It's probably by like 150%, or something silly like that, but it's a five percentage point increase if you compare the two numbers. And so that means we're getting high intent buyers coming to us. And that means our deal velocity is much faster. So that cycle of what we're trying to create with a brand, people come to us giving us that momentum, has absolutely worked. Our website traffic is up and it was 180% year over year, and it's like 140% year over 2019. And that is all organic. So not the paid stuff. It's not paid that's driving all the website visits.

Rowan (37:16): That's organic traffic. Branded search terms are up, right? So people are looking for the words like “continuous planning” or “Planful.” And so that's really important to us. Ultimately for me, it's about revenue, and that's up. We're about to have a press release soon. And Our revenue numbers, sales, bookings numbers are drastically up year over year, but also again, you're over 2019. And so that changes significantly, that marketing shift, that fundamental shift is starting to have the realization now. And a funny blessing is that now also lots of other organizations are using continuous planning, and I suspect that's because everyone planned continuously last year. So we were lucky in the fact that we kind of coined it and owned it prior to everyone realizing that that's actually, it's the new normal.

Rowan (38:19): So everyone is planning all the time and it's going to be an interesting for us planning season because for those folks listening in marketing, go and give your finance professional, a hug, please, because they have been going through a really, really tough time, consistently planning, planning, planning, re-planning. And now they're about to go into planning season again, which means sleepless nights for them. And we really want to make sure that we can alleviate that. And I think burnout and finance teams is something that's going to really appear soon. And we're hoping to alleviate that for organizations.

Kathleen (38:56): Amen to that, because I work with an amazing CFO, Josh Shenker, at my company, and he has been continuously planning for, since I've met him, and we are already in planning for next year. So everything you just said is absolutely spot on. So shout out to Josh. All right. Shifting gears. I have two questions that I always ask my guests at the end of every interview, and I'd love to hear your answers to them. The first being I — and you just really gave me the perfect segue, which is that things change so quickly in every industry, marketing certainly being one of them. You know, in marketing, we have the added elements of platform changes, algorithm changes, regulatory changes, et cetera, all of which affect how we do our jobs. And I think most of the marketers I talk to say that staying on top of all that is one of their biggest challenges. And so I'm curious how you do that. How do you keep yourself educated and are there certain sources you turn to, to stay on the cutting edge?

Rowan (40:00): I would actually counter that and say you've heard me talk today. It's been a lot about brand. It's been a lot about fundamentals. And so you know, I started my career very much in the tech side, always being a very big fan of Scott Brinker's MarTech slide, and always priding myself on knowing who was what and who was who and how it was all going. And then I couldn't keep up. You know, I don't think even Scott could probably keep up. And so what I found myself gravitating back to is actually more of the fundamentals, more of the psychology, more of behavioral, you know, behavioral understanding of buyers, psychology of things like color and words, and coming back to basics of things like copywriting. Now I have a great team, thankfully that stay on top of all of the technology aspects, but I also see the trends going away from more relying on that technology now, you know, with all of Apple's privacy changes and impending Google privacy changes and things like that. I actually think coming back to basics is what more of us should be doing. And so I've been doing a lot more of that, like rereading the classics and going in a lot of kind of persuasion and reading a lot of psychology books, which has been interesting, but that's what I've been doing.

Kathleen (41:20): Well, I think that's so smart and I agree with that. You know, if you solve for people, you will always win. If you try to solve for machines, the machines are trying to solve for people. So you'll just be one step behind the machines, right? So, solve for the people. It works every time. Second question, is, in terms of this podcast is all about inbound marketing. Is there a particular person or company that you think is really setting the bar for what it means to be a great inbound marketer these days?

Rowan (41:56): So I work with Eddie Schreiner at Very Good Copy. And I think Eddie …  I look forward to Eddie's email every week, right? So if I think about inbound marketing, right? That's outbound, but I'm excited to get his email all the time. And so, I think someone like Eddie is out there creating demand for his services, but doing it in a way where he's consistently educating me and my team and I'm sure his audience. The other folks that I really admire right now is the team at Metadata. Some of their advertising captures my attention. We talked about pattern disrupts. They're doing things that other companies aren't doing. And even though it's MarTech and it's one of the things that I'm not keeping up to date with. They're using more of the core principles to actually get my attention. And so I would say the folks there at Metadata are doing really good.

Kathleen (42:55): Awesome, well, we'll have to check those out. And I also love Very Good Copy. I get that newsletter and I'm a huge fan of it. So check that out if you haven't done that already. And if you are listening and you want to get in touch with Rowan, Rowan, what is the best way for somebody to do that? Where can they find you online?

Rowan (43:15): So definitely my LinkedIn is the best for business chat. My Twitter, which is @RowanTonkin, is mostly golf and rugby. So unless you're in that golf, rugby, and marketing cohort, I would go to my LinkedIn and simply just Rowan Tonkin. You'll find a picture of a man behind a porpoise.

Kathleen (43:34): All right, fantastic. Well, I'll put those links in the show notes and if you are listening and you enjoyed this episode, please consider heading to Apple Podcasts or the platform of your choice and leaving the podcast a review. And if you know somebody else who's doing amazing inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork, because I would love for them to be my next guest. That is it for this week. Thanks so much for joining me, Rowan. This was a ton of fun.

Rowan (43:57): Well, my pleasure. Thanks so much, Kathleen.

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Published on August 2, 2021

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