Joe Staples | Crain's Utah

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Joe Staples


For 10 years, Joe Staples split his time between a home in Utah and his office in Indianapolis, where he was marketing head for Interactive Intelligence, a leader in software and cloud services for customer engagement, communications and collaboration. Since August of 2014, he’s been chief marketing officer at Workfront, an enterprise work management SaaS company that is privately held and has 750 employees.

The Mistake:

I didn’t always combine the “art” of marketing with the science of data.

We created a campaign at Interactive Intelligence, at a time when we were working very hard to sell to larger businesses. We came up with a creative campaign where we targeted the Fortune 100 and did it in some very expensive, very creative ways. We spent $400,000 on this campaign, and it was a flop.

Creatively, we looked at it, we had sketches and rough copy. Everybody looked at it and said, this was a winner. I [later] realized I didn’t have any data up front. Were we targeting the right individuals? Did they convert at a rate that was successful?

When [the campaign] flopped, I didn’t have any good data to show why. The only data I had was, did somebody hit our website from the promotion? That was pretty pitiful as far as data goes.

The data should support good, solid business decisions, intuition, understanding customer buying behavior.

The Lesson:

This experience put me into a position where I had to adapt. I became much more data savvy. I dug in, understood what those numbers meant, and how to spot ‘hot spots.' I employed data geeks, people who look at spreadsheets over the weekend for the fun of it. I won’t ever be that person, but I had to get to a level of comfort with that data. 

I do believe the ‘science’ side can become a bit of a crutch. People can turn and say, ‘What does that data say?’ The data should support good, solid business decisions, intuition, understanding customer buying behavior. If you swing this pendulum too far and extract the more creative side, you’ll end up with a stale business that won’t resonate with customers.

The biggest one that comes to mind is the impact that it has had on the way we manage people, the way we manage employees. Before, you could look at somebody, they work hard, they do a good job. There are now certain aspects of our business that are driven by numbers. We have people who are responsible for generating a certain number of sales opportunities. We can look and factually know who’s performing well, and who’s not. It might show a mismatch in the job, and we might need to manage the person out. Data that kind of shows it. Otherwise, you’re dealing much more subjectively.

Another is the ability to test things much more rapidly than we ever could before. Now, in a digital environment, we can spin up two different campaigns and in a matter of days come back and say this one outperforms the other one significantly. It’s driven a lot of the decisions we make, from people, to the way we spend our money, to the type of creative that’s effective.

Follow Joe Staples on Twitter at @jstaples21.

Photo courtesy of Joe Staples.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Utah.