Standing out in a sea of MarTech vendors

The MarTech conference this past week at Hynes Convention Center in Boston acted as the live, in-person experience of Scott Brinker’s now famous MarTech infographic. 

After walking the vendor hall and seeing lots and lots of overlapping messages and value propositions, you can only be left thinking “Wow, there’s a lot of noise out there.” To witness:

Which begs the question – what’s a MarTech vendor to do to stand out from the pack?

Don't read on for best practices. Don't read on for secrets to success. Don't read on for guarantees to drive XXX ROI. 

These are just the things that I've found are key to giving yourself the best shot at meaningful market impact and the illusive "predictable growth engine" the 5,000+ MarTech vendors should all be after. 

#1 - Find your movement

Find the rallying cry that has an emotional connection that your target audience can relate and rally around. This is easier said than done. A good way to get to this raison d'etre will be intense customer interviews to get inside the mind of your target audience.

The ultimate example of this is HubSpot creating the Inbound movement (which, interestingly, was how I spent last week in this fall season of marketing technology Boston events). Other recent examples are Drift building a rallying cry around marketing automation vendors having lost their way (and specifically #NoForms), and Terminus with Flip My Funnel.

The criteria for the movement are it needs:

  • An emotional underpinning
  • Something that audience hears about and “gets them nodding” (see Andy Raskin’s approach for 'the Story is the Strategy' and this Never Split the Difference anecdote from former FBI negotiator Chris Voss) 
  • Aligns in some way with your product and problems it solves

Finding this movement creates the connection between your marketing programs and your ability to generate demand. It provides a brand foundation that helps you stand out from the crowd. It aligns your content and marketing programs around a purpose.

#2 - Eat your own g*d d*mn dogfood

The first point above is incredibly hard to discover and get right. Few do. The ones who do, will crush it. 

Number two though is something that every company must do – it’s essential. And there's no excuse for missing it. 

Invest your time and resources in using your own product, and proving out what you do. There’s no more convincing an experience for a prospect than being impacted by a company’s marketing, and then realizing they are practicing what they preach.

On the flipside, the “cobbler’s children have no shoes” argument no longer works – you need to demonstrate the value of your tool yourself.

If you are a targeted account advertising solution, then you better have the #1 targeted account advertising program.

If you are a content marketing resource center, you better have the #1 content marketing resource center.

Many things contributed to HubSpot’s growth (and as I write this today $3.15B market cap), but the tipping point came when Mike Volpe’s marketing team worked with David Cancel’s product team to ensure that HubSpot was using its very own product to the max to drive results.

#3 - Know your customer (talk to them, a lot!)

I have covered this separately here – Arms Tied Behind My Back, If I Could Do Only One Marketing Activity, It Would be This.

These customer interviews are not only going to provide the key insights around identifying your movement, but they are also going to provide the foundational pieces for a content program that can scale.

#4 - Build the right content in the right way

Content is key, we all know that. The differentiator comes in building the right content across the entire buying process, in the right way. Some key points here:

  • Podcasts can be a great way to bring your brand personality to life, and communicate it to a wide audience. The best podcasts are going to tap into the Movement from #1 so that they can 1) Step outside of your product story but at the same time and 2) Connect back, emotionally, to what you do. For more on this check out the great Jay Acunzo’s Unthinkable.

  • Use case driven content can simultaneously fuel SEO and the sales team, while helping your buyer
  • Customer stories (in multiple formats, and increasingly audio & video) can authentically help your buyers while continuously reinforcing the value of what you do, and your product’s credibility for having done it
  • Build late stage content that answers specific buyer questions. The format here can be as simple as blog posts. The ultimate measure for this content: is it helping your sales team to close deals?
  • Apply your content production at scale – transcribed webinars, repurpose to blog posts, package blog posts to longer form content, etc.

#5 - Be as targeted as possible to reach your audience

If there’s one lesson from Account Based Marketing (which I may sometimes poke fun at), it’s to be as targeted as possible to relate to and stand out for your audience.  For some, that will be a vertical strategy. For others, technographics is increasingly an effective technique if you can identify other tech communities that you want to spawn off of.

Work with sales to identify the right accounts and the right approach for reaching those accounts with an integrated approach.  See my Stop debating Inbound vs. ABM and start integrating your marketing (& that means with sales too) for five specific techniques for doing this that I shared at last month's Engagio user group meeting.

#6 - Affiliate yourself with great brands or partners to scale demand more quickly

This could mean co-marketing programs with larger partners whose users are your target audience. Or if that’s not possible, it could mean featuring those companies or people as part of your content - in depth stories on how they became successful, interviews with influential team members.

#7 - Experiment, measure & continuously improve

The aforementioned Drift team, Jay Acunzo and Mike Volpe are all excellent at reminders at a few key points: there is no silver bullet; the techniques that are effective for you are going to be based on your business, not someone else; and there are no true best practices because you want to do things that are unique and stand out and work for you, not what “everyone else is doing”.

Take a moment to hear it from Mike:

So the real takeaway is – you need to experiment and figure out what works for you. Experiment, measure (so you can identify what has potential, and make bigger bets) and continuously improve.

The pic to start this article was a busy hallway shot to kickoff the show, but there’s also gonna be quiet times like this one here at the morning of Day 3. The vendors that stand out from the crowd are going to do so because they are different and not the same.

Arms tied behind my back, if I could do only one marketing activity it'd be this

If I was allowed just one marketing activity – it would be customer interviews.

Not just any customer interview - a customer interview process whereby you leverage those interviews as content across all stages of the buying process. 

Here’s how I approach these:

Step 1 – Work with customer success team to identify customers to interview – could be as soon as when customers have completed successful on-boarding

Step 2 – Interview the customer over the phone (usually 30-45 mins). Questions go back to how the customer knew they had a problem they needed to solve, who did they involve in the decision, how did they talk about the problem, how did they find your company – straight through to how they implemented it, and what benefits they are seeing or expecting to see.

Step 3 – Edit into a conversation style interview, provide to customer to edit/approve, publish & promote (about an hr, plus promotion).

So in less than 2 hours you have quality content, in the customer's language, authentically speaking to all stages of the buying process.

These are some recent examples from Bedrock Data:

Now why would I choose this as the one and only?  It just does so many positive things.  Here are eight ways these help you:

#1 – Credibility content for sales

Great content for sales team to use to build credibility around specific use cases – in Bedrock Data’s case you are trying to integrate say, HubSpot and NetSuite – here’s an interview we did with our customer talking about how they approached the project, some of the challenges they faced and how they got around it.

Providing prospects with content that is relevant to specific to their situation – both in the problem they are trying to solve and the types of questions they would like to answer –is the best way to deliver value to your prospect while also overcoming the natural, and ever growing, lack of trust for vendor written content.

#2 – Conversational content to help prospects move through buying process

To that point of mistrust for vendor content, I find prospects are much more likely relate to the conversational style Q&A format of these articles, then overproduced case study templates. There is a true authenticity to the content which helps to break through the skepticism towards vendor content. And, ironically, it’s much faster to pump out these Q&A style articles then it would be to format into “traditional” case studies.

#3 – Proof points for website

These interviews cover every stage of the buying process, including questions around how the company helped the customer. These quotes become great proof point quotes to sprinkle into a website. You get them as a byproduct of conducting the interview and producing the content.

#4 – Quality SEO content

Each of these articles is keyword rich content, speaking to the problems your company solves. Using that word authentic again, they are an authentic way build out quality content as part of your SEO strategy.

#5 – Long form content to mine from / repurpose

Since the articles themselves are approved, published interviews – they create an asset for you for your marketing team to mine and pull from over time. As you add more team members, even interns, they can easily repurpose fro the topics covered in these articles – e.g. a composite piece on a specific topic, or a specific pull quote to address a specific prospect’s question down the road.

#6 – Helps create customer advocates

I’ve found the customers really appreciate the process of being interviewed, and then seeing their experience packaged up into an article. Oftentimes it gives something they can share internally with colleagues as a way to demonstrate the success they have had in the engagement.

Nearly all of the people I’ve interviewed have been happy to serve as reference accounts for Bedrock Data, and have helped to spread positive word about the company through word of mouth – references, webinars, events and social media.

#7 – Build out your buying journey map and customer specific semantics

The interviews also serve as continuous, first-party research to keep your pulse on the customer buying journey, Whether formal or informal, you can continuously evolve your understanding of the buyer journey. This interviews also serve as launching points for keyword ideas, customer stories for sales conversations and topics for other marketing programs.

#8 – It’s fun and rewarding

Lastly this work has been tremendously fun and rewarding. It comes across as a major win-win for everyone involved.

Bedrock Data benefits from the customer stories and customer advocates.

And every time I’ve felt that the customer gets a lot out of it, including as I already mentioned a testimonial of sorts for their own project for them to share.  I’ve been thrilled to see customers being so engaged by the experience that, without solicitation, they continued to spread the word about Bedrock Data. =

For example Luque Wang repurposed his article in this LinkedIn post, and Amanda Daume packaged her interview into an article on her own blog here

Not too shabby for less than two hours of work, right?

How HubSpot can improve its tele-program through the principles of inbound marketing (they did invent it after all)

I didn’t appreciate the interruption on my cell phone – especially when I found out WHO had interrupted me.

On the other end of the line was HubSpot – the company who literally wrote the book defining Inbound Marketing and trashing interruption tactics such as cold calling. Yes, it was a HubSpot tele rep calling me on my cell phone on this Friday afternoon – to me, the epitome of disruption.

I pointed out the irony to the rep – “Is this really representative of the HubSpot brand, the company that Brian and Dharmesh built?” I asked.

The conversation drove  me to Tweet this –  when HubSpot chooses to interrupt me on my cell phone, I hold them to a higher standard:

True story: @HubSpot tele rep interrupts me with call to my cell phone, I said this isn't #inboundmarketing is it?

The funny thing is that it wasn’t the disruption that bothered me the most  - it was the low quality of the touch from HubSpot.

HubSpot, with all of their means and resources – and content – and all the rep had to offer in terms of conversation was: “It would be great to take you through how we compare to Marketo.”

A feature / function comparison – no thank you.

The issue cuts deep – the principles of inbound marketing upon which HubSpot has built its business (and a $100 million IPO and now near-$1 billion valuation) – should not be limited to the lead acquisition phase upon which HubSpot initially brought their focus.

These are five ways HubSpot can improve its teleprospecting program – through applying its very own principles of inbound marketing to the middle stages of the buying process.

#1 - Lead with insight

The same principles of inbound marketing apply to touches from teleprospecting – insight is the currency. Reps should establish credibility and earn the right for deeper conversation through sharing insight that establishes they have a subject expertise in an area of importance to their prospect.

#2 - Appeal to problems/issues/pain

The feature/function proposition from the HubSpot rep was not something that I had interest in going deep into. If he had focused the conversation on solving issues that were of high priority to me, that would have been a much better way to start a conversation and convince me that further conversation could be of value to me.

#3 - Be relevant based on content consumed

Perhaps most striking – I’ve been consuming HubSpot content for years – so there should be some strong clues around topics of interest to me – but there was no attempt from the rep to make such connections. That tells me either the HubSpot product isn’t oriented around that, or the company’s thinking around helping buyers doesn’t naturally extend from an inbound lead to a tele lead. 

#4 - Incorporate social media research

If you are reading this you know that I’m not a hard person to find on social media. The best teleprospecting reps incorporate social media intelligence to their conversation. This can either be done on a 1:1 basis, or part of where the predictive lead scoring vendors are going is doing this at scale by helping customers incorporate social intelligence into their lead scoring and the data passed to sales as part of a lead handoff.

#5 - Add value by organizing content for your buyers

HubSpot has contributed to building a world overloaded with digital content – and most buyers are challenged by how to organize that content for themselves and their buying teams.  Teleprospecters can add value through personal pages organized around content as they reach out to customers (see more on this in example #2 in this article), or offer to help a prospect to organize content based on a specific issue – and the content that they then deliver and how they organize it can then help them earn the right for the next conversation, the next positive touch. Tools such as Postwire are worth looking at to help reps deliver content to buying teams – and in fact a HubSpot or Marketo or Pardot would benefit from adding that functionality to their repertoire as it sits at the intersection of content marketing and sales enablement which is where the marketing automation vendors should be headed next.

For more resources on how to create a winning teleprospecting program:

When is a Blog More Than a Blog, Let's Count the Ways

The value of a company's blog in delivering a steady stream of topical, keyword-rich content for a company’s website to support its inbound marketing strategy (and inbound web traffic) has been well documented and is generally well understood.

But it may not be the most significant benefit a business gets from its blog, especially in the early going.

The blog as a vehicle for low friction, high volume content creation is potentially even more valuable, especially in the first 1-2 years where the blogging program will likely not cause a significant spike in web traffic.

TechValidate has done multiple studies on the challenges of content marketing, and top challenges for the creation of content include “takes too much time” and “too labor intensive.” By providing a medium for more “bite size” content without as heavy an approval process, many business have proven they can produce blog content at a much faster pace than other types of content deliverables such as white papers.

So the true value of the blog extends beyond the incremental inbound web traffic to leveraging the blog as a feeder to other content deliverables. These are 4 Ways to Leverage your Blog, Outside of your Blog that you may not be doing today.

1.       Create a monthly “Top 5 Blog articles” for customers or prospects

Instead of investing time in e-newsletters, you can link to “best of your blog” via email and tailor the articles you choose based on the audience. Apply the time spent creating a newsletter to other content creation activities while generating more audience for the blog.

2.       Create a quarterly Journal or Complication of Articles

Although blogs tend to be short form as standalone articles, if you combine 4-8 articles on related topics (e.g. by topic, vertical) you should end up with an impressive overview looking at a core topic from multiple vantage points. Lay this out into a document and then this can become a higher value asset you leverage for demand generation – content syndication, email offer, website resources – that otherwise might take you several months to produce.

Packaging it as a journal or compilation should also raise the perceived value of the content from “just a blog” for part of your audience.

3.       Lead Nurturing Content

Don’t overthink your content requirements for lead nurturing. If you have a blog on a specific topic, that is a great asset type to include as part of your lead nurturing. With the high volume of content required for lead nurturing, leveraging blog articles is a great way to feed the content beast.

4.       Package for Sales

Mine your blog for articles that sales can leverage… e.g. articles that speak to a specific customer objection, or perhaps those that tell the ROI story. The blog can be a great forum for sales to deliver credible content without as high a formality bar… maybe you don’t have a formal ROI model but you have a blog article with an Analyst discussing approach to ROI.

Sales can get immense value from blog articles but they will need to be “spoon fed” to the sales team with clear direction on when to use them.


So where are you reading this article about ways to leverage your blog, outside of your blog?  If it’s not on-page via an inbound search, now that would be very meta, wouldn’t it?

Introducing Moneyball Marketing

In January 2010 I moved from LiveTechnology, a growth startup with funding from Omnicom Group that for nearly a decade gave me amazing access to the top integrated marketing talent in the world to Avitage, a B2B marketing specialist firm outside of Boston. The timing could not have been better. Over those next few months I became deeply engrained in a fast moving, rapidly evolving B2B marketing landscape that had three emerging concepts.

Inbound MarketingHubSpot defined and took ownership of this concept, stating that the new age of marketing was one not led by outbound, disruption tactics, but fueled by a content driven web presence that attracted prospects. HubSpot became the technology of choice, particularly for small businesses aiming to drive top of the funnel lead generation through their websites.

Content Marketing – I started following Joe Pulizzi who espoused the virtues of content marketing. Some came to say “All marketing is content marketing” (to dismiss the notion of content marketing as a new insight), but the point regardless was that the value of thinking like a publisher and creating content to serve the needs of your audience was going to be a key driver for marketing success more than ever before. And I noted in this interview with Aberdeen Group, Content Marketing is essential to Inbound Marketing success and is in fact bigger in scope than Inbound Marketing as it fuels interactions with buyers at all stages including existing customers.

Revenue Marketing - The momentum of Revenue Marketing trailed a bit from the other two concepts, I seem to remember both Marketo and Eloqua stepping into that theme around early 2011. To me, Revenue Marketing meant that the marketer could now impact and measure all the way through to opportunity/pipeline and wins in connecting marketing investments and programs to business impact.

Interestingly, as I Google search these phrases today, we can see how they compare in terms of broad appeal:

  • 117,000 results for Revenue Marketing
  • 1,140,000 results for Inbound Marketing (10X Revenue Marketing)
  • 5,570,000 results for Content Marketing (48X Revenue Marketing)

So the Revenue Marketers are a more concentrated bunch, you might say, while the other concepts have more a broader following. Which is interesting because it's Revenue Marketing that drives sustained growth, through a variety of strategies, of which one will be Content Marketing. So you can make the case that Revenue Marketing is a much broader concept than Content Marketing in spite of only having 1/50th the buzz.

Which gets us to, the compilation of all three of these -- Moneyball Marketing. Moneyball Marketing is Revenue Marketing with a focus on data-driven business growth. Moneyball makes the mainstream connection to say we will do to Marketing what Billy Beane did to Baseball.... an analytics driven approach to building success. 

Moneyball Marketing requires a systematic and programmatic approach to scaling revenue through a marketing-to-sales end to end process.

Within this space we’ll discuss how to drive Moneyball Marketing including areas such as the Closed Loop Marketing process and systems required to power this and all the aspects of Demand Generation required to maximize the impact including digital marketing, marketing programs such as webinars,  customer marketing, influencer marketing, teleprospecting and sales prospecting programs.

I’ll get us started in the next post by defining three key behaviors of the Moneyball Marketer.