HomeAuthor InterviewsInterview with Gregory Gifford

Interview with Gregory Gifford

Gregory Gifford is the author of Automating Salesforce Marketing Cloud; we got the chance to sit down with him and find out more about his experience of writing with Packt.

Q: What are your specialist tech areas?
Greg : Most anything involving Salesforce Marketing Cloud. As with most people, I started my technical forray into SFMC via AMPscript. Having that ability to go beyond just personalization and simple substitution strings was very addicting. From there, I moved into SQL Queries inside of SFMC. This was such a powerful capability to make data do such amazing and wonderful things you cannot do in the use interface. As I developed as a developer, I found my new love language – SFMC Server-side JavaScript. The capabilities and customization options inside of it are unparalleled. There is no where else that offers the same capabilities of utilizing both SFMC REST and SOAP API, while also interacting with the corresponding headers/cookies in Request and Response and so much more! I do have some experience in javascript as well as HTML and CSS for both email and front-end development, but they are definitely not my focus of late. Outside of this, I mostly focus on problem-solving and solutioning around optimization, automation, strategic integrations and more.

Q: How did you become an author for Packt? Tell us about your journey. What was your motivation for writing this book?
Greg : In all honesty, I never had thought of or intended to write a book. I came up and gained notoriety mostly, at first, through participation inside of Salesforce Stack Exchange where I would be a high contributor for answering open questions. From there, I switched my career to join DEG along with Adam Spriggs. From there I got even more involved in the community and became a Salesforce MVP. From there, I just kept getting further and further involved, including creating my own blog, getting more involved in user groups and speaking sessions and so on. Through this, I wound up making a lot of contacts and eventually one day, a wonderful person from Packt reached out to me about the potential of me writing a book for them. I realized this might just be the next step to contributing to the community and took them up on the offer after a bit of discussion on what the topic should be.

Q: What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?
Greg : I think the better question is what kind of research did I not do? Over the years, my constant goal has been to try and automate as much of Marketing Cloud as I could. Honestly, for no other reason than a desire to make my life easier because…well…because I am a bit lazy ha ha. I always wanted to find a way to do the things I could already do quicker and easier so I had more time and effort to spend learning new things. Through this, I was diving in deep to all things automation. After getting fairly well recognized for my skill here, I thought it was time to get some knowledge outside just self learned lessons. I started taking some online classes and reading books as well as studying other platforms to understand the possibilities there. I would say that with a focus on writing a book I spent nearly a year in research before writing it, but in all honesty, I would say I have been preparing and researching this book my whole career.

Q: Did you face any challenges during the writing process? How did you overcome them?
Greg : Oh so many. I started writing this book right before everything started going really crazy. We were almost a year into the pandemic, everything looked like it was going to get better and easier and I would have plenty of time to spend on the book. Then instead of getting better, things started getting even crazier. Then the job market for Salesforce Marketing Cloud blew up, which is great, but it made my life as a manager so much harder. This is not only because the volume of work coming in was much more than the resources we had, but also because the market opened many new opportunities for people to take new career moves and advancements that just normally aren’t there – creating instability as people shift around from opportunity to opportunity. This tied in with a company merger or two and a promotion and more teams to oversee led to a very busy and very heavy workload. On top of that, I then had to find time to be able to write out the chapters in a thorough and comprehensive way. And let me tell you that writing is no easy feat. You may be good at writing blog posts or documentation or similar – but none of that compares to a book. There is so much that needs to go into planning it and writing so that each chapter is not only informative, engaging and accurate, but that it ties in and makes sense with the other chapters of the books and creates a strong flow. Many times you will find yourself going back to the previous chapters and rewriting them because you found a better turn of phrase or format or style and need to adjust them to match with it. It really is a fun experience and one I highly recommend – but it is no easy feat for sure. It takes a lot of time, effort, patience and help.

Q: What’s your take on the technologies discussed in the book? Where do you see these technologies heading in the future?
Greg : Salesforce Marketing Cloud is not going anywhere. It is and has been a market leader in the industry for many years and is constantly growing. I see Marketing Cloud adapting more to integrations with CDP and other data platforms to allow for better data flow and segmentation, etc. I will say that I am hopeful that it seems like although a major focus of Marketing Cloud is on ‘Clicks not Code’ it seems that is not universal as lately there have been a lot of effort towards assisting and interacting with the developer community – which gives me hope that there will be more development oriented updates and releases in the future.

Q: Why should readers choose this book over others already on the market? How would you differentiate your book from its competition?
Greg: Honestly, I think everyone should do their homework on the books in the market and see which would help them most. To that extent, if you are looking for a way to become a power user both inside and outside of Marketing Cloud, with a focus on automation of tasks and capabilities, then I think there is no other book out there that can get you the same value as this one. Jason and myself have worked tirelessly to try and get as much information and insights shoved into these pages as possible and I feel very proud of what the result is.

Q: What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?
Greg : The key takeaways would be to be a lifelong learner, think in an automation mindset and to always reach for and try to take each and every opportunity that makes sense for you. The book is about setting you up for success and making your own decisions and creating your own scripts and solutions – not handing you an answer that you copy and paste into Marketing Cloud.

Q: What advice would you give to readers learning tech? Do you have any top tips?
Greg: I would tell them that you need to get used to getting it wrong. No matter how good you are or how many years of experience, you will always miss something. It is not how few mistakes you make that is important, it is how well you catch them and fix them that is important. Proper documentation, QA and monitoring is the most important thing in technology. Everything is changing and growing too fast for anyone to ever master anything, so being able to be flexible and solve problems is a much better skill to focus on.

Q. Do you have a blog that readers can follow?
Greg : I do have a personal blog that I post to, gortonington, which has a lot of tips around Marketing Cloud. I also frequent Salesforce Stack Exchange to give answers and help there. The best place to reach me though is on howtosfmc.com slack channel. Its a growing community of Marketing Cloud users designed to help grow and support other Marketing Cloud users.

Q. Can you share any blogs, websites and forums to help readers gain a holistic view of the tech they are learning?
Greg :  The best references I can give are on the howtosfmc.com resources page or on my personal blog. Some strong examples would be Mateusz Dabrowski’s blog , Adam Spriggs blog, Eliot Harper’s video series or his posts on Cloud Kettle’s blog. And also Ivan Razine and Zuzanna Jarcynska’s blog are amazing resources. There are a ton more, too many to name, so feel free to visit the resources pages above to find those as well.

Q. How would you describe your author journey with Packt? Would you recommend Packt to aspiring authors?
Greg : The people at Packt are quite nice and considerate. We had many roadblocks over the months we worked together and they were very open to finding solutions to the problems instead of just saying “sounds like a you problem” or similar which I have heard many other publishers are like. The kind words and nurturing attitude was great, especially for a first time author and really helped to make the process easier to navigate.

Q. Do you belong to any tech community groups?
Greg : I belong to a few. EmailGeeks Slack channel is a great place not just for Salesforce Marketing Cloud, but email marketing in general. Another is HowToSFMC, which is a Marketing Cloud focused community group made by SFMC users, for SFMC users. I also am a major participant in Salesforce Stack Exchange, remaining a major contributor in relation to Marketing Cloud. I also am a member of great groups like SFMC Developers Group, a Trailblazer Community Group that is based out of Australia, but has many virtual events to include an international audience. I also participate in the Marketing Champions community and many other Salesforce led groups.

Q.What are your favorite tech journals? How do you keep yourself up to date on tech?
Greg : Most of what I do to stay up to date is reading blogs, interacting on social media, reading the release notes and in general discussions on the many forums or communities I am part of. I do have the advantage of being an employee of one of the top partners with Salesforce, giving me many great opportunities to interact with Salesforce that others might not have. Also as an MVP and Marketing Champion, I have an elite collective of individuals I can work with and interact with as well as even more exposure to Salesforce Ohana to discuss and chat with.

Q. How did you organize, plan, and prioritize your work and write the book?
Greg:  As is true of anyone that is not a professional author, the day job always had to come first. I mostly had to do late nights and early mornings to do my writing. Which, honestly, I liked. Having a very quiet solitude completely uninterrupted (except for my very needy cat) was a great environment for me to get a lot done. Now, to prevent burnout, I had to make sure to plan in a day off or two and write in measured bits and not try to cram the night before. The hardest part was that writing was taking place during one of the busiest and craziest months I have ever been part of in my career so there were a lot of times I would have to work 60 or more hours a week for work and then still try to find time to write in a thorough and detailed way.

Q. What is that one writing tip that you found most crucial and would like to share with aspiring authors?
Greg : Planning and organization is the most important thing. If you try to rush or cram anything, it is going to come out bad. You need to methodically write and include in that plan a lookback to previous chapters to ensure that as you grow as a writer, that you bring that new capabilities and eye to the previous chapters to ensure the same voice, format, style and professionalism that your new chapters have.

Automating Salesforce Marketing Cloud – available on Amazon.com