In this exclusive interview with ValiantCEO Magazine, Matt Harper, CEO of The Marketing Practice, shares his unique journey as a young CEO in the tech industry and his passion for driving growth and creating a diverse and inclusive business.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Matt Harper: A Brit’s least favorite question – talk about yourself!
Well – I’m a Brit. I became a CEO in my 20s, right at the start of the pandemic (April 1, 2020 – not an April Fool’s joke), having lived in Seattle for many years leading the US arm of our company. I’m passionate about what we do as a company, and I’m also passionate about the type of business we’re trying to create. I’m a strong advocate for DEIB in our space, particularly as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Our company, The Marketing Practice, has combined the best B2B marketing specialists from across the globe in one business with capabilities that stretch through the sales funnel, from brand to demand, data to media, and positioning to ABM.
With over 500 dedicated B2B tech specialists globally, we work in partnership with the tech leaders of today and tomorrow to turbocharge their growth. In the last 18 months, we’ve acquired five other businesses, and my job has been to drive the strategy behind that and lead the integration for the benefit of our clients, people, and business.
In my non-work life – I’m a big foodie – I bake and love traveling. I’m fortunate that my job helps me combine some of those passions.
If you were in an elevator with Warren Buffett, how would you describe your company, services, or products? What makes your company different from others? What is your company’s biggest strength?
Matt Harper: The Marketing Practice fuels the growth of B2B tech companies, some of the biggest innovators in the world. By helping them to engage their customers and navigate the deep complexity of B2B buying decisions.
We’re a bunch of marketing geeks who love understanding how our clients’ customers tick, how they make decisions (which often involves more than 20 decision-makers!), what channels they consume, where to find them, and how to influence them. It’s a unique blend of research, analysis, creativity, and old-fashioned “knocking the door down.” We live and breathe complexity, and we cut through it to create growth outcomes.
In the past year, what is the greatest business achievement you’d like to celebrate with your team? Please share the details of that success.
Matt Harper: We’ve brought together six separate businesses that are now starting to unite as one. We’re re-branding the company in a bold, stand-out way that reflects our ambition.
It hasn’t been easy. Our teams have had to be resilient, patient, hard-working, and brilliant during an economic downturn when risk-taking is harder. Our clients have brought together all this capability to innovate and try new things that have had a lasting impact.
It’s been working. Through a combination of acquisition and organic growth, we’ve grown from 200 to 500 people globally, grown revenue from $25m to $75m, and increased our margins.
More importantly, our clients see the benefit. Our recent analysis saw us maintain very strong NPS scores, supported by the results we’ve helped create (e.g., $29 revenue growth for every $1 spent by Virgin Media O2) and the awards we’ve won.
Quiet quitting, The Great Resignation, are an ongoing trend causing many businesses to struggle keeping talent engaged and motivated. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. In your experience, what keeps employees happy? And how are adapting to the current shift we see?
Matt Harper: You’re correct to say it’s a big issue. We’ve found that when you add in the complexity of mergers and acquisitions, uncertainty increases even more, and it needs even more focus.
I identified organizational design (OD) as one of my priorities as the teams came together. OD isn’t about org charts and structures; it’s also about how the company works, workflows, and the relationship between employer and employee. My goal was to create an agency where everyone feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and supported to do their best.
Inspired by one of the businesses we acquired, we launched a program to redesign the company’s Ways of Working: TMP 2.0. We use a two-pronged transformation, incorporating a new way of operating that brings together small, agile teams with an intense focus on the customer. In addition, we provide an organization-wide training and development program on ways of being and working to be more inclusive and promote psychological safety.
We appointed a Chief Organization Designer, and, to date, we invested over $500,000 and 1,000 hours in a structured program designed with individual human concerns in mind, not just organizational ones.
Ultimately, this comes down to providing an environment for people to connect with one another and their work, allowing them to be themselves and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own growth and development.
A mentor once told me that as CEO, it isn’t your job to make people happy – it’s to create an environment where they can find their own happiness. So that’s what we’ve prioritized doing.
What advice do you wish you received when you started your business journey and what do you intend on improving in the next quarter?
Matt Harper: I wish someone had told me to trust ‘emergence.’ I’ve learned over time that if you do the right things, if you’re patient, if you can step back and watch and listen, the right paths and opportunities emerge. Forcing it rarely helps – it just results in the hustle and busy work, and your outputs and progress don’t match your effort.
In the next quarter, I’m taking my own medicine. It’s an uncertain economic environment, and we need to be agile with our clients to support them in making suitable investments to help their business through it. It’s a time for calm, measured, thoughtful approaches – not hustle.
Online business keeps on surging higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for the year to come and how are you capitalizing on the tidal wave?
Matt Harper: We must understand how B2B buyers use digital platforms to engage with brands. Two focus areas give us: data and experience. Argus is underpinning our growth teams, our purpose-built demand orchestration and account intelligence tool for B2B sales and marketing teams.
This year we’ve invested over $1M in the platform to provide clients with unprecedented campaign visibility and control. We’ll keep investing in that to help us understand how our clients’ customers are behaving online and to help target the right people at the right time with the proper communication.
From an experience perspective, we’re investing in new tools and ways to engage online. We developed an interactive digital story platform for clients, with over 250 stories created to date.
We also made our webpage-creation tool, Vertex, which allows clients to create relevant digital experiences at speed and scale (we’ve created 100 variations in a few days for a single client). It is key to online experiences – customers demand personalization but control over their knowledge, which can be costly and time-consuming to develop. Agile solutions are critical.
Here is a two fold question: What is the book that influenced you the most and how? Please share some life lessons you learned. Now what book have you gifted the most and why?
Matt Harper: Earlier this year, my coach introduced me to Jerry Colonna’s “Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up.” It’s had a bigger impact on my approach (both at work and personally) than any other book I’ve read.
Essentially, it’s about learning to take accountability for your emotions, stories, and reactions, seeing the patterns that play out in your life and understanding how those patterns cross work, family, friends, and more. Not to control them – but to understand them and be able to work through them to see more clearly how you can build a healthier relationship with yourself and others.
It might sound kooky to some. But to me, being a good leader requires you to be fully connected with and trusting of yourself before you can connect with and trust others. It’s like the airplane safety procedure says – put your mask on first, then you can help others.
Christopher Hitchens, an American journalist, is quoted as saying that “everyone has a book in them” Have you written a book? If so, please share with us details about it. If you haven’t, what book would you like to write and how would you like it to benefit the readers?
Matt Harper: I’ve got quite the library of dry, technical articles about B2B marketing best practices behind me – but no books yet!
If I were to write a book, it would be to share stories about the different ways people experience the world of work, to help readers better understand diversity.
As humans, we can’t help but see the world through our lenses, no matter how hard we try to empathize. I’d want to write something to help people see the same world through someone else’s eyes. Doing so would allow them to see biases and influences that create experiences that don’t feel inclusive or don’t engender belonging, from how we run meetings to how we do marketing to how we communicate in general.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as THE real challenge right now?
Matt Harper: We’re at a point where the ‘future of work’ is being defined. What that means is – how companies work and their relationship with their employees is changing hugely. Employees need more connection, trust, transparency, and flexibility, and employers also need more trust, responsibility, and self-determination from their employees.
To use an obvious example – look at what’s happening at Twitter now. The erratic behavior of a CEO acting on emotion and personal interest doesn’t build trust and will not help that company thrive.
The businesses that will thrive in ten years can embrace this and find ways of working that allow teams to thrive and reset the relationship with employees (and customers) to one of mutual accountability.
Sounds easy, but that’s hard. It requires companies to rethink what they know and do today – from hierarchy to the ‘operating system’ (things like pay, promotions, policies, and so on).
In your experience, what tends to be the most underestimated part of running a company? Can you share an example?.
Matt Harper: Relationships. It doesn’t matter whether you are a company driven by product, sales, people, or anything else. Relationships are critical among leadership, customers, teams and managers, or the company and its people.
Many businesses design themselves around processes and systems that don’t reflect the need for relationships and reduce work to transactional procedures. In some cases, that’s needed (I would never say the process is irrelevant) – but it often results in a lack of innovation, creativity, and flow, particularly in people’s businesses.
If I were starting a new company – I would prioritize how I help create an environment that supports healthy relationships and accountability over the procedure.
2020, 2021, 2022 threw a lot of curve balls into businesses on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past years, how can businesses thrive in 2023? What lessons have you learned and what advice would you share?
Matt Harper: I would go back to this idea of emergence. Over the last three years, we’ve learned not to pretend we know what the future holds and to stop trying to engineer uncertainty out of the world of work. We can hold strategy loosely, make small moves, and adapt as we learn.
That takes a lot of patience and trust. But if you can achieve it, it’s also remarkably reassuring and reduces the pressure you put on yourself as a leader, a leadership team, or a company. It doesn’t mean you don’t plan and don’t try to mitigate risks – it just means accepting that you can’t control everything and doing your best.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Matt Harper: The superpower I’d pick is teleportation – beneficial for business and personal use!
Connection and relationships are so important. I’d love to instantly hop around the world to different companies, customer offices, or even people’s home offices (when invited) to chat or have a coffee – or, after a long day of meetings, popping to the Costa Brava for a Sangria and dinner by the beach to relax. I’d feel less guilty about my carbon footprint!
What does “success” in the year to come mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Matt Harper: As a company, we’re deep into the integration of multiple businesses. Success for me is seeing that happen and our teams feeling a connection with the company and workflow that supports excellent client outcomes.
Of course, growth and profitability are also significant – but I trust that comes from doing the right things by our clients and our people, particularly in a challenging economy where our clients are rightly putting effectiveness and performance above all else.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Matt Harper for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Matt Harper or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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