Laying the data out on the Tableau

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Chief marketing officer at Tableau, Elissa Fink, has two parts to her job - she spreads the word globally about the data visualisation platform and also helps the company’s clients to understand how to use the platform in their own marketing efforts.

In an interview with DataIQ, she said that she co-ordinates its marketing campaigns worldwide, starting from a core marketing platform, then tailors the message appropriately. To do this, she gets feedback from the marketing team in each region, something that she values very highly.

Fink also said that she communicates directly with Tableau customers, especially their marketing teams. Tableau salespeople will often tell her if they have a customer with a query about an issue such as social media marketing. The CMO said that she or another member of her team will happily arrange a call or web meeting with that customer to elaborate on the issue. “We totally love doing that,” she exclaimed.

Elissa Fink, Tableau chief marketing officerShe and her team create a lot of content that assists the marketing teams of Tableau’s clients. In July, despite being based in Seattle, Fink spent a week in London delivering a seminar to 100 people on data-driven marketing and connecting with her British-based team. While she was here, she said she gave her card to four people who asked about attribution marketing so they could set up a call and discuss it further.

According to Fink, the communication between her team and Tableau’s clients is beneficial on all sides as her team learns what can be done to improve the product and the service. She said that Tableau staff can understand and empathise with its customers because they all use the platform themselves.

“We love data, we care about data and we want to track data."

“We love data, we care about data and we want to track data so we have a huge amount of data for the size of company that we are,” she said. As such, she explained they can look at data at a macro level and then drill down deeply. For example, the marketing department might look at digital advertising, then at spend specifically with Google, then at display network, and then at specific campaigns.

It is not just the marketing team that is able to access data about the company: Tableau has 3,200 staff and everyone - trade show manager, graphic designer or digital advertising analyst - is encouraged to use data at the point at which they need it. “Some people are better at it and others are just asking basic questions and that’s OK,” said Fink.

What is interesting about Tableau is that the data scientists within the organisation, who are known as “marketing performance analysts,” are a resource that anyone in the company, especially those asking those aforementioned “basic questions”, can go to with an advanced query. Fink said that the marketing performance analysts can help other members of staff to bring the data sources together, create calculations or check work. “It’s not on or off, that you’re either an analyst or you’re not. Everyone uses data a little, or more, or a lot,” she said.

Fink said that everyone in the company is able to use the Tableau product because ease-of-use is a unique selling point of the platform. She explained that this is because the company was founded by an analyst, a professor and a data programmer to tackle business intelligence from a fresh approach. “Our co-founders brought this simplicity and ease to it that made what we do different. We’ve got this ability to be simple and easy and increasingly serve more sophisticated data needs,” she said.

Fink has been working at Tableau for a decade, four years as VP of marketing and six in her current role. During that time, the company has gone through rapid growth - in 2011, it was ranked by Gartner as the fastest-growing technology company - but more recently has hit troubled times. In 2014 and 2016 the company saw sharp falls in its share price. Fink put this down to Tableau becoming mainstream and now that it is a “decent size,” fast growth is very hard to achieve. She said that company has since shifted its focus to retaining its mission and serving that mission to customers at scale.

Despite the abundance of data at the company, there is still information that Fink does not have, but would like, particularly customer behaviour. “We’d like more insight into how they actually use the product and what do they do day-to-day because, if we could understand that, we could understand where to optimise the product,” she said.

Fink pointed out that, as Tableau moves toward a SaaS-based product and does more telemetry, it will get a tremendous amount of data from which to learn and better understand the customer experience and she can’t wait to get her hands on it. “It’s amazing how data about something you’re interested in is easier work. If you’re interested in it, if there are questions that you have and you want them answered, it's fun," she said.