It’s been 25 years since align.me first came to fruition, from its humble beginnings as a one-man operation to this finely oiled machine of 30+ staff (and growing) based in multiple countries. But over all these years and changes, its sole purpose has always remained the same: to help make B2B marketing a respected management science around the globe.
All of this would not be possible without our CEO, Hugh Macfarlane, whose hard work and discipline to the craft have helped him create what align.me is today.
Without a degree, Hugh couldn’t get to first base when applying for marketing jobs but sales recruiters were more accommodating. When he landed a job in sales, despite having none of the skills under his belt, he absolutely nailed it. “None of that success came from any intrinsic ability. I had none. As the youngest and least-experienced member of the sales team, I just followed the process they taught me”. By pure good luck, Hugh had landed at a company which had a strong commitment to process and to training, and was under the watchful eye of a great sales manager.
Working in sales for a few years inspired him to revisit his education, so he applied to university to study marketing at night and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business, majoring in Marketing.
Looking to apply his new skills, Hugh found that marketing was full of “happy amateurs – people that drifted into marketing and floated along instead of treating it as a profession”. He didn’t know what ‘good’ looked like, but knew he’d not (yet) seen it, and he moved around different companies, gaining valuable practical skills that universities couldn’t teach.
These jobs not only grew his knowledge and skillset, they grew his network as well.
Working for former Hewlett Packard conglomerate gave him a network and a highly visible commercial success story (the team Hugh managed built a $35m business from scratch in 18 months), and he decided to start his own marketing firm called B2B. This strategic specialist group would help create B2B marketing strategies just for IT&T business all around the country.
This simple value proposition – that a specialist team of B2B marketing strategists could apply process, skills, and time to build better strategies than could be achieved in-house – allowed B2B to become dominant in its market, regularly beating branded consultancies like McKinsey, BCG and AT Kearney. For now, the promise stopped there, and while the strategies were great, they were not getting the traction Hugh knew they could.
The next phase of the business was to help companies make their strategies operational, to not only make great marketing strategies, but to also build the actionable plans that put them into motion so great marketing could come from it. Less strategy, more action.
Thus, MathMarketing was born. But this time, it was different. It was no longer just about strategy, but planning but the operational execution, too.
The company slowly expanded from three people to four. The small team got good at building and was finding success in this business space. The workshops were branded Funnel Camp™ and the resultant plans from those workshops Funnel Plan™. The brand hierarchy was emerging.
As an individual contributor, Hugh had profited from excellent sales training and had also seen that marketing education was wholly based on consumer marketing. Marketers In B2B were largely having to make it up as they went along. The gap was clear, and Funnel Academy™ was built and launched.
The idea around the Funnel Academy™ was to bring together the best of existing knowledge from leaders like Porter, Collins, Moore, and McKinsey, together with our own insights born from building operational plans for the combined efforts of Sales and Marketing, into a dedicated B2B marketing course. We wanted to help in-house and outsourced marketers train to be experts in their profession, and go forth, equipped with the tools and the knowledge to bring the best marketing advice they could.
With some 5000 students from 32 countries trained since, Funnel Academy™ was a hit.
Early iterations of Funnel Camp™ were built over a two-month period which allowed the contributors to fit the planning sessions into their busy calendars but co-ordinating calendars was messy, and the travel was a killer.
There was definitely room for improvement. Hugh teamed up with a former client turned sales trainer, Brett Bonser, and together, they collaborated to make Funnel Camp™ better, sharper, and crisper.
Early joint efforts in selling Funnel Camp™ as a productised service proved product-market-fit, and the two of them were in demand.
With the subsequent success of Funnel Camp™, and the early versions of Funnel Plan™ showing promise, Hugh invited Brett to join the company as a shareholder and co-director. In Hugh’s words, “Brett just made [the company] stronger.”
Brett continued to offer sales training to our clients and we thought we had it covered. Sales training (using the Miller Heiman methodologies), marketing training (using our own Funnel Academy™) and joint go-to-market planning for Sales and Marketing together via Funnel Camp™. The alignment between Sales and Marketing was attractive to the B2B companies we served and was supported by a thumping great Excel spreadsheet with thousands of lines of macro code, a simpler version of what is known as Funnel Plan™ today.
One step closer to execution
In 2008 the Global Financial Crisis hit, and changes started to happen – a spark that we now know would grow into align.me.
But at the time, the whole world was focused on the GFC, and so was MathMarketing. “We started to feel the cool winds before the hurricane”, said Hugh, and he knew they needed to find more repeatable work. “Planning is episodic, you hire [us] to write your marketing plan and then you don’t need [us] until you start at a new company”.
Luckily, when one window closes, a door opens. A client contacted Hugh and offered to share the costs of their marketing guy via a part-time contract to help save some costs. Hugh declined – but an idea had sparked. Sally, MathMarketing’s own marketing manager, was better than this guy; “why don’t we contract a little of her out to you?”. This is where the outsourced marketing business was born – a happy accident born in the GFC.
In 2009, in the wake of the GFC, jobs were scarce and grads didn’t stand a chance of getting a first job when more established marketers were in plentiful supply. MathMarketing started taking on interns to train them to be the best they could be and send them off into the world with the knowledge, skill and discipline that MathMarketing had built and that the universities couldn’t provide.
Some of those interns showed promise and were invited to stay in full-time roles with MathMarketing, serving our high-growth businesses. Outsourced marketing had proven to be a hit. Businesses that were big enough to need ‘proper’ marketing but not big enough to staff up, found the idea of fractionalised depth really attractive.
to excel at their craft, teach and grow them in ways not otherwise possible, and deliver a quality of marketing outcome for clients they’d not be able to achieve without building a larger team”
The engine of growth had been built: Bring in the best interns to give them practical experience, keep the best of them, teach them with Funnel Academy™ and great mentoring, and use their skills to deliver a quality of marketing for high-growth businesses they’d not achieve on their own.
The birth of a rebrand
As the business progressed, the team felt like they were out growing the name MathMarketing. The math of marketing was a part of the value proposition but not its strongest or more central element.
Then one fateful afternoon, during The Friday Experiment (where the team would get together for an afternoon of experiment design and upskilling, featuring wine and cheese) Liv Bradley, a Client Outcome Manager at the time, brought the teams attention to the domain name alignme.nt. “Get it? Alignment – that’s what we do” she effused.
MathMarketing had a reputation for its rare ability to align sales and marketing for a business, and the efforts of the Sales and Marketing teams, so it only seemed fitting to change the name.
Fuelled by wine and the prospect of such a clever name, the team jumped online to purchase the domain to find that the .nt top level domain did not exist anymore, instead, they found align.me. On a whim, it was purchased.
The name sat in the domain registry, unused, for almost a year until, in 2016, the name MathMarketing was offically dropped, and align.me was born.
The growth engine finds another gear
The gospel of the Funnel People™ came hard and fast as the software and structure matured as more and more marketers joined the Funnel Academy™. After 5000 marketers had been trained in classrooms around the world, it is now a featured online course for clients and (our) own staff to learn on-demand and has become a powerful resource for marketers.
Funnel Camp™ is still unmatched in the market. After 500 planning workshops around the world, Funnel Camp™ is now central to the growth of many businesses including industry leaders like SAP and Amazon Web Services. With over 150 professionals trained in its delivery, first in classrooms and now online, the Funnel Coach™ team is growing.
Funnel Plan™, which began life as an overly complex spreadsheet, is now a mature SaaS product with thousands of go-to-market plans in its belly and an in-house team of developers and external advisors busy right now modernising and evolving this as a critical piece of the marketing planning puzzle.
Hugh was proud of align.me’s ability to take ‘green’ marketers and produce mature, accomplished marketing professionals, but Brett became frustrated that they were just letting these incredible people and workers walk out the door.
An army started forming… an army that marched away from align.me.
So, we grew and restructured the team, and extended our B2B marketing services to include the provision of more-traditional B2B agency marketing services for enterprise clients along side our traditional fully-outsourced marketing for smaller businesses. This allowed us to offer our staff a career, not just a great start to one.
Sure, we still needed to help mould the perfect interns and hire them as full-time staff, and we still do. But we now have more-experienced players, a robust management structure, an industry-leading onboarding and development process, and career paths mapped out for all of our team members in Australia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.
Now, 25 years later, it’s align.me’s 25th anniversary, but it’s not without the learning and networks of its past life.
Some of align.me’s long-standing clients and partners are still working with us today, and team members who signed up for the mission many years ago are signing up to rejoin the team and our larger mission.
Today, align.me has a close-knit group of employees in three locations, many of whom have found their way to the HQ on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy in Melbourne’s inner-north, with the great location only sweetening the deal for the great work and culture that Hugh and Brett have instilled into the company.
Secondary (or as Hugh would argue, most importantly) to the history of align.me is the people who made it possible.
The fond memories, professional and life skills, and friendships made along the way prove to be the real journey.
A strong culture is built into the heart and the foundation of the business, and it’s a testament to the longevity of align.me that proves that the bricks were strong and true. Hugh attributes the great success to this, “[the biggest secret] lies in the interplay between the great humans who join us and the great companies who allow us to serve them.”
Sally Cameron, an early team member, says of the business,”personally, I think the most important thing align.me instilled in me was a belief in my own ability. I arrived a totally green, timid uni grad with no idea what I wanted to do and left with a deep-seated confidence that I could do whatever I set my mind to. How did align.me take me from A to B? A lot of learning by osmosis (a front row seat to Hugh and Brett doing their thing was priceless), intentional investment in my personal and professional development, and being thrown in the deep end over and over with just enough support to swim.”
While Nick Cowling enthused, “I loved it. I loved the experience, the people, the friendships, the clients and the community that Hugh and Brett built, and I’m forever grateful for the path it set me on.”
Brittany Shipton says, “On a more personal level, the people are what makes align.me so special. I made some incredible friends during my time there that I now consider to be some of my best friends and am certain that we will be friends for life.”
So what’s next?
Global domination, it sounds like. Having employees in Australia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and serving businesses in Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and Europe, it only seems logical that the next step would be to expand that net.
align.me already has 70 independent consultants that can deliver great go-to-market plans via Funnel Camp™ and a further 100 employees inside large businesses fuelled by the same Funnel Coach™ training. Why can’t those 100 people become 100,000? The horizons are broad and as we know, the drive is endless.
Reflecting on the past 25 years, Hugh’s most valuable lesson is this: follow the process if its right, change the process if it’s not, and to build it together. Marketing is a discipline that can be learned, applied, evolved and measured.