Strategic Marketing: Business Generation in 2015

With today being the third Tuesday of the month, it was time once again for Communitech’s Strategic Marketing P2P group to meet up. Today, we were privileged to hear from three local tech execs on trends they see approaching and what the strategies they’re taking to drive business in 2015:

It was a frigid morning, but it was worth the drive to Kitchener.

Laura Martin – VP, Marketing at Axonify

Of the three speakers, I was most excited to hear from Laura, as I’ve worked in the past with several of her current peers on the company’s management team.

Formerly known as 17 Muscles (the number that it takes to smile), Axonify sells an eLearning solution for businesses. Unlike most course- or academy-style platforms, theirs combines daily bite-sized learning tidbits with gamification (a word, incidentally, that causes me to cringe).

Since Axonify sells to businesses, they play in a world of long sales cycles and large deals (much as I do in my day job), so I was eager to hear what Laura had to say.

Laura introduced herself as coming from the demand generation side of marketing, and as a process-oriented marketing person; she added that her love of process was so great that, “I almost became an accountant.”

In this session, she shared with us the demand generation process she has spent 20 years building and tuning. She’s a firm believer, as marketers probably should be, that the point of marketing is ultimately to drive sales. Perhaps this sounds silly to say, but it really is worth saying – too many marketers believe that their job is to generate Facebook likes or Twitter followers, and that sales will just step in and turn those into revenue. But that’s not how the world works.

Too many marketers believe that their job is to generate Facebook likes or Twitter followers, and that sales will just step in and turn those into revenue. But that’s not how the world works.

Laura made it clear that when she arrives at a new company, “The first thing I do is build the engine.” Only then can a company start building the lead generation and nurturing momentum that will turn into money at some point in the future.

Echoing comments I’ve heard so many times that I’ve lost count (for instance, on two separate occasions today), she echoed that, “There’s a shortage of demand-generation oriented marketing professionals in this town.”

Anyway, getting back to specifics…

Axonify, like many companies, uses marketing automation software integrated into a CRM (customer relationship management) tool. Leads come in from a number of sources (e.g., website, media, tradeshows, webinars), and spawn opportunities that are nurtured by a separate team.

These “Opportunity Development Reps” are part of marketing, but functionally they bridge the gap between traditional marketing and sales; that is, the follow-up with opportunities, qualify, and nurture, and when certain conditions/criteria are met (and the conditions are quite strict) they then hand things over to the sales reps.

Interestingly, the ODRs have target accounts and territories, so this is an example of precisely targeted marketing tactics, bordering on inside sales. I’ve never seen this approach before, but for all I know it could be quite common.

Laura said that when a company is starting out under this model (or similar ones), about 90% of leads will come from reaching out directly (e.g., via email lists, cold calls, etc.), and only 10% from inbound sources. Then comes a transition period where things even out. Finally, once things are humming along in a nice steady state, the numbers are flipped: 90% of leads will come from sources including webinars, the website, and tradeshows, and only 10% will come from outreach.

…and with that, Laura’s time was up.

What really struck me is that companies who build these processes from scratch, from the ground up, with people who’ve got limited experience, are insane. A polished lead and demand generation and nurturing funnel could well make the difference of millions of dollars, so why on Earth wouldn’t you want to pay for a professional (and for the tools) who can just step in and show you how it’s done?

A polished lead and demand generation and nurturing funnel could well make the difference of millions of dollars, so why on Earth wouldn’t you want to pay for a professional who can just step in and show you how it’s done?

Willem Galle – CEO at Big Road

Big Road is one of those local tech companies that I’ve never heard of, until today. They’re using technology to solve a paperwork problem: the reams and mountains of paper logs that must be kept by long-haul truck drivers and companies. In fact, these logs are the second-largest source of paperwork for the United States government to process, behind only tax filings.

Did you know that? Neither did I. Daaamn.

Big Road are well-positioned to take advantage of two converging trends:

  • Truckers have smartphones
  • The US government is trying to mandate some form of digital tracking within the next few years

Big Road offers a mobile app for drivers to capture driver and vehicle logs, to provide live views to back-office staff, and to improve fleet communications. By doing so, they hope to relieve or eliminate the pains that come with maintaining regulatory compliance.

Willem showed us the figures around the number of downloads of the free app and how many users went on to become (and stay as) paying customers.

He also advised us all to “build your marketing automation at the same time as you’re building your product,” and to integrate as best as possible with the product itself (e.g., usage habits) so you know how people are using the product.

Hongwei Liu – CEO at MappedIn

I’ve heard Hongwei speak before, and found him to be charming and genuine.

MappedIn began with a focus on indoor navigation, but have now embraced the adjacent and much larger and more lucrative market of providing and managing “indoor spacial data”. Ultimately, they are trying to de-fragment the management of indoor information (think of all the separate collections of information maintained by IT, facilities, HR, etc.).

To the horror of the crowd and his own embarrassment, Hongwei described MappedIn as being “very much a sales focused organization.” Half of their team is engineering and none are in marketing.

Hongwei takes care of marketing when he can make the time for it, and he seems genuinely torn – he recognizes intellectually the strategic need for marketing, but is preoccupied with so many other tasks (ah, entrepreneurship) that marketing comes last.

This approach causes me genuine concern for MappedIn. They certainly seem to have a market-leading product, but if they keep on taking years to figure out marketing, then the market will move on without them and competitors will catch up.

I implore the engineering- and sales-driven start-ups of the world: do not forsake marketing. You will regret it years later as you hand over equity for another round of financing because you have insufficient revenue and no momentum!

I implore the engineering- and sales-driven start-ups of the world: do not forsake marketing. You will regret it

And while I’m imploring: don’t try to just figure out marketing on the fly! It isn’t some fluffy thing. It is a real, rare, and critical skill.

For instance, Hongwei admitted that “we were wasting our time getting likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter.” These things do not translate magically into revenue.

Now, after a few years of figuring things out, they now understand their prospects very well, just as their target market is shifting from the early adopters to the early majority. Good timing, and I hope they’ve got the marketing to take advantage. As one tactic, they’re using LinkedIn quite extensively (and with good results so far) to share thought leadership.

Q&A

There was enough time for a handful of questions. I’ve just kinda jotted them down and paraphrased as accurately as I could, below:

  • “From a marketing standpoint and sales, do you use benchmarks to determine appropriate focus and spend?”
    • Laura: “I start with our revenue target, and I back it up to determine this many deals, this many opportunities, this many leads, this much activity to drive those leads. In year one, you’re sorta just guessing, but with experience you can make better decisions.”
  • “Do you care about cost per lead?”
    • Laura: “No…because the flow through the funnel isn’t linear. Your customers have hit 4, 5, 6, lead sources. What I’m looking at now is campaign influence software that sits on top of our CRM to attach a value to a particular campaign for a particular deal.”
    • Hongwei: “We spend as little as possible.”
    • Willem: “You need to develop metrics, because you need to have an idea of whether or not you have a sustainable business; from there you can course correct.”
    • Laura: “But until you get momentum, at the very beginning you need to invest in marketing…build momentum, and your cycle might be long. Marketing today might drive business in 3-4 years. If I’m at a new company and they don’t have a customer yet, then I buy a customer – that’s marketing dollars.”
  • To Laura: “You mentioned you don’t need to find the decision maker until later, can you explain?”
    • Laura: “We use the solution selling model. You can’t necessarily get to power early on, so that’s where ODR and sales reps do the learning and navigation, then the sales rep can ultimately find the power.”
    • Willem: “Getting the timing right is important…you want to find the decision maker when everything’s ripe.”
    • Laura: “We use the pain chain method”
  • “What changes have you seen over the years?”
    • Laura: “In the past (and at early companies), it’s 90% reaching out, but nowadays (with lead gen, SEO, webinars, etc.) it’s 90% inbound.”
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