Five Minutes With: John Reese, Senior VP of Marketing at Mavenlink

What are your biggest opportunities and challenges for the next 12-24 months?

We work with hundreds of marketing agencies today, and this is clearly an exciting time for the industry. Big, macro trends in the economy are driving a tremendous amount of demand and new business opportunities. Agencies are competing outside of traditional swimlanes, and winning bigger and bigger pieces of the pie. However with growth, comes the need for scale. And scale can bring inherent complications.

The most frequent challenges we hear from our clients include: knowing when it’s the right time to hire, difficulty maintaining quality of work as new staff and contractors are brought into the mix, knowing if they have the right skills on the bench to map against new projects, whether current systems and processes will be able to support continued growth… and the list goes on. It’s arguably the best “good problem to have,” but a problem nonetheless.

What keeps your customers up at night?

Most of our clients have one standout challenge — keeping up with their potential for growth. An agency never wants to be in the position where they have to say no to work, but it happens. Managing supply and demand in a growing agency business, where your people are your product, is a constant struggle. If you have too many people on staff, margins suffer; too few and you can’t take on new work. It’s a real dilemma. You want to be able to say “yes” with confidence when opportunity knocks, because you know precisely what resources you’ll have available or can easily procure, to deliver the work at your desired margins.

What’s the hardest thing to educate customers about?

Probably the power of distributed accountability. So many agencies keep margin visibility to a few at the top of the organization, and program everyone else to think only about billable hours and deadlines. Too often, project managers and contributors are far removed from the financial implications of their decisions related to a project, and yet those very decisions affect margins every day. We recently had a client agency rave about how they have turned their internal team discussions from “hours” to “dollars” by enabling their project managers to manage every project as a P&L. They did this by exposing their project managers to the margin goals and live progress against those goals as projects are delivered. That kind of mindset shift in a business is transformational.

What are some unmet needs in the marketing technology landscape?

The last so many years have been characterized by a flood of sharper, more capable, specialized tools for marketers. The number and variety of apps available has become so great, it’s really overwhelming. The great news for marketers is that you can do and know more than you ever could in the past. The challenge is in bringing all of the right tools together for the specific needs of your organization and integrating them in a way that creates optimal value and fewer silos. To the latter point, as you naturally see overlap in application capabilities, consolidating apps becomes an important step to make the business more manageable.

Centralizing critical data is so important to gaining business visibility and insights, yet it’s not talked about enough in marketing circles and often overlooked by businesses overall. If you’re a marketing agency, it can be crippling if you lack a central view of the data that drives margins and hiring decisions. The opportunity for most of us is to think about our broader business needs in relation to our goals, then determine how we can leverage the best technology and data to meet those goals.

What social network do you anticipate accelerating growth in 2016?

It’s not a specific network, but a trend I do expect to see more of is the emergence of business or “market networks.” These are more singular or narrow purpose-based networks designed to accomplish specific things. AngelList, Honeybook, and Houzz are good examples. These networks usually reflect the natural business ecosystems that already exist, often better exposing what’s been historically hidden in the market environment, more easily connecting buyers, sellers, and the seller’s supply chain. For agencies, an app like Mavenlink can provide a similar venue to connect, conduct, and simplify business with their clients and subcontractors, essentially establishing their own, boundless, digital business network.

–John Reese is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Mavenlink

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