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Part 1: Your Leads Suck, My Sales Rep Told Me So!

kevin-interview

In this episode of Cybersecurity (Marketing) Unplugged, Kevin also discusses:

  • The current state of B2B lead generation and demand generation;
  • Intent data landscape for digital and content marketers;
  • Strategies for making use of both third-and first-party intent data;
  • Best practices for lead follow-up (hint: no one size fits all);
  • Where does A.I. fit into the marketing stack of the near future?;
  • And much more.

Kevin Flint’s mission is to help B2B agencies, clients and solutions providers identify, form and grow prosperous relationships. As a B2B Agency Executive and Digital Media expert, he’s spent the past two decades working with many of the most innovative B2B brands and marketers to evolve their marketing strategy and deliver superior ROI.

Kevin is joined by our host, Mike D’Agostino, General Manager of Information Security Media Group (ISMG) & CyberTheory

Kevin kicks this episode off with his insight on some of the current priorities when it comes to demand generation:

Across the board, budgets are lower. Coming into 2023 specifically, I think we’re at the starting stages and a lot of pressure is to come. Lower budgets mean CFOs have their finger hovering over the cancel button. They says “look, I’ll fund this as long as you can prove it’s working, but the minute it’s not we’re going to pull the plug,” so it’s a lot of pressure and uncertainty…

Full Transcript

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. 

Mike D’Agostino: 

Welcome everyone to our latest episode of Cybersecurity Marketing Unplugged, where we attempt to educate, inform and subtly entertain B2B marketing professionals. The title for today’s episode is, ‘Your Leads Suck, My Sales Rep Told Me So.’ This is a bit of a play on the notion that many B2B organizations, who utilize content syndication in some shape or form, put an extreme emphasis on what we refer to as single-touch leads. For example, a contact downloads a white paper. That person may match your ideal customer profile, but in essence, you are getting a single timestamp, one single point in time that the person engaged with your content. Many organizations will pass this lead direct to a sales or business development rep to follow up on, and when they cannot make contact with that lead, assume that the lead is bad in some way, shape or form. But everything we see, we hear and read these days – you can conduct your own research – points to the fact that prospects do not want to speak with sales reps, or they do, just not until they’re ready, and they’ve conducted voluminous research on their own. That should be a content marketer’s dream – the concept that prospects want content and information and education, in effect, moving themselves through the hypothetical buyers’ journey. But why do so many organizations take the former approach and equate a single touchpoint – one single timestamp – to mean that the prospect is ready for a sales conversation? I’d like to chip away at this conundrum with today’s episode. And that’s where our guest comes in. I personally first crossed paths with Kevin in the mid-2000 teens while he was at Just Media or now Just Global – very reputable worldwide B2B agency, who at the time was helping manage campaigns for IT vendors. ISMG was included in some of those campaigns and media. So Kevin, over to you, please provide a bit more insight into your background, your journey thus far, and what keeps you busy nowadays.

Kevin Flint: 

Sure. Thanks for having me, Mike. And it’s pleasure to be here. So, yeah, I’ve been in the B2B media and marketing space for about 20 years almost. Mixture of roles, some on the publishing side, most recently or not so recently, about 12 years I spent on the agency side, as you just said, in a variety of roles. Working with a lot of clients, enterprise tech space, in particular, and demand generation is a specialty. Recently, about four months ago, I began consulting, so I do a couple things. I’m a demand generation consultant for B2B companies. And I work with vendors on their go-to-market strategy in the space, but also on the client side with some of their in-house B2B demand generation strategies and in agencies as well. And I also work with a firm, I’m principal consultant at Tenx4, and we specialize in helping B2B companies find the right agency partner, so I got my hand in a few different areas, and just trying to help B2B marketing improve overall and do a good deed. So that’s what I do. And I’m happy to be talking to you guys today about some knowledge I’ve learned.

Mike D’Agostino: 

That’s great. And that’s why we invited you in. If I look at the cross section of B2B marketing, the vendor community, agencies and demand generation, you’re right in the nexus of everything. We’re glad to have you on. So just to kick things off, you get to speak with a lot of B2B solution providers, CMOs and cyber, B2B marketers in general, just at a high level, coming out of the pandemic and interesting economic situations here, a lot going on. What are you hearing nowadays, in terms of the current priorities when it comes to demand generation?


Kevin Flint: 

I’ll cover a few things just to give it a weather report and it’s probably no surprise to anybody listening, but across the board, budgets are lower. And there’s a lot coming in in 2023 specifically. I think we’re at the starting stages of a lot of pressure, there’s lower budgets, there’s a lot of CFOs with their finger hovering over the cancel button, saying, “I’ll fund this, as long as you can prove it’s working, but the minute it’s not, we’re going to pull the plug or cancel.” So a lot of pressure or uncertainty on how much support and investment will be happening long term. And so there’s some trepidation that comes with that. There’s certainly an increased pressure to show ROI from every dollar spent. So I think there’s just an increased emphasis on what the business outcomes are actually coming from all of this. “Don’t tell me about MQLs, and impressions and site visits, what is happening.” And that’s been threatened for years. But as the easy money dries up, the pressure to actually show those results comes in. In general, I think a desire for higher quality leads and just less noise and garbage in the pipe. Not having even more strapped sales team selling other leads that aren’t leads yet, or people that can’t contact or people that aren’t at the company they said they’re at, that kind of thing – just more than data integrity. Contact abilities is a problem. Anybody that’s trying to fulfill a sales function knows that people like me see the phone number. My phone tells me who’s calling me. It even tells me if it’s spam, or if it’s a sales call, and I ignore half of them. And I do this for a living. And so think about the IT decision maker or the CISOs on the other end of a call for a vendor. They’ll call you when they’re ready. And so that’s a bigger pressure on sales teams. Things like count-based marketing are in flux. And we’ll go deeper into some of these topics, I’m sure, but some companies are doubling down, some are abandoning their ABM or canceling it. We know the buyers have more control now of all of this and increasingly has been, and certainly as the younger generations going into Millennials now are the majority of decision teams, going into Gen Z, and even beyond, the buyer is going to control their journey. They’re going to be across all these different media channels, for example. So everybody’s trying to figure out how to change their playbook. And the sales-first playbook of just, “Give me a name and an email, and I’ll sell them, I’ll create the brand awareness” doesn’t work. So there’s a lot of focus on how do we be relevant and helpful to the people we’re trying to reach that they want to talk to us, and how we’re going to show the result of that in a way that our business will continue to fund it. The conversations are, and there’s things like, “Do more with less,” and taglines like that, but it’s actually true. And so I’d say right now, it’s a lot of, “Let’s figure out how to do better than we did last year and year before, because we don’t have as much margin for error.”


Mike D’Agostino: 

You said it spot on. Great overview of the current landscape when it comes to marketing, in general, but specifically within demand and lead generation. And a couple of things we’re constantly hearing is – you touched on one of them right away – is this concept of – not that net new isn’t important, but driving those opportunities that are already in the pipeline to show immediate revenue generation, that is a high priority. The concept of – we mentioned upfront – the buyers’ journey and letting content marketing do its thing until people are ready to have that sales conversation, and extreme emphasis being put on that, I tend to think a lot of these things have been going on for a while, for a number of years now. But due to the pandemic and the remote nature of people working and also as we get into a cloudy economic environment, it’s just accelerated that line of thinking.

Kevin Flint:

Yeah, and it’s probably remiss in saying that just the buying cycle has lengthened. The number of questions asked, the time it takes, deals are being put on pause, or “I’ll get back to you in three months.” And so everybody is having to have their patience tested. And the question is, do you abandon that deal? It’s not moving fast enough, or do you stick with it? And then what is the opportunity cost from that, and these are all things that are naturally causing some stress to everybody. Because the same thing that may have been resolved in six months might now be 13 months. And if you lose at the end, it’s even doubly painful. And so it’s understandable that’s causing some heartburn, but it’s the reality that we’re in right now. And I think it just means you have to be that much more thoughtful and effective in what you’re doing. It’s not going to work right now.

Mike D’Agostino: 

Oh, great. Referring back to the snarky title of this episode, ‘Your Leads Suck, My Sales Rep Told Me So,’ during our planning call for this episode, you made an interesting comment that stuck with me and I think I have it right here. I believe the comment was, “When a measure becomes a goal, it’s not a good measure any longer.” So first of all, correct me if I’m wrong, that’s the statement. And if so, can you elaborate that on a bit? What does that mean with regards to B2B lead and demand generation?

Kevin Flint: 

Yeah, it’s a concept, I’ll give credit where it’s due. It’s called ‘Good Hearts Law.’ If you Google it, when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. And I’ve always liked that, because it essentially speaks to something that I’ve always talked about with clients, which is, if you engage in activities where you’re essentially gaming the system a little bit, you’re not achieving the results you want. If you think about demand generation, it’ll go way back to the origins of digital demand gen, the lead or the marketing qualified lead, or however you want to phrase it, was a way to say, “The activity we did yielded a beneficial result. It was an actual measure of the outcome.” But then we all got smart and said, “Let’s just buy leads on a cost per lead, let’s guarantee the outcome.” But what that does is it skips all the hard work of establishing brand awareness, getting interest from the audience. And basically, it cuts right to the end, which says, “Give me your information for this white paper, and I’m going to call you later.” And naturally, if you look at that one example, and then writ large across all the different things that we do, a lot of marketing organizations have been set up to check the box and fill the bucket with what they’re assigned to do, which is activity-based.” I need to deliver X thousands of leads, and then sales gets them and goes, “Now we have to convert 2% of those.” And this is all, to me, bad habits that are compounded over time, when the idea is we need to be engaging with relevant prospects, from the moment we didn’t even know who we are yet, all the way through to when the right to make a decision. And at each stage of those, there’s ways to measure that. And so, to me, one of the things that I hope is a side effect of this hopefully temporary blip in economic downturn is that we revisit for marketing and for sales and how they work together, how to work toward and measure outcomes that matter and not just for one of those teams. Because marketing just stands up and say, “We did our job” is not effective. If the leads, just because you have 10,000 leads doesn’t mean that that’s what sales needed. Maybe they needed air cover, maybe they needed support, and a particular set of accounts, maybe didn’t handle the prioritization correctly, whatever it’s going to be, that’s when the goodness comes. And so I think a lot of the checking-of-the-box activities will get routed out by virtue of necessity this year that maybe happened before. And that’s a good thing overall. Because it’s not about marketing doing their job, it’s about the organization doing their job to drive revenue. And that’s where I think some of the companies that have adopted the concept of revenue teams and revenue ops, I think they have it right because they’re both thinking about it in the same way, in the same terminology and they are goaled similarly. Marketing and sales should both be thinking about what they’ve done to contribute to the revenue on an account level. And I think that is a movement that will gain more steam, because again, those CFOs that don’t get the budget, they’re looking for outcomes. Does that mean number of leads at the top of the funnel or 2% lives inside traffic or anything like that, it’s going to be what actually happened, that’s going to drive revenue for the business and increase retention rates and upsells and all that stuff. So anyway, I could go on for days with that. But I just think it’s hopefully a time for us now to find the right metrics that matter to the business.

Mike D’Agostino: 

Yeah, when business is good, you can focus on the 2% brand uplifts. But now you need revenue, you need to close business. And it’s amazing to me, because we’ve been doing this for almost two decades now. And when we first started, I know not many people would have practiced it, but if you would have mentioned to someone about purchasing a list of names, that was maybe illegal, like that was the thinking around it. And nowadays, it’s just, “What do you mean, I use LinkedIn, I’ve got Zoom info, I can dip into any number of databases and extract contacts at my heart’s desire.” It’s almost the norm these days. So totally agreed. The concept of acquiring contact information – I don’t want to say it’s easy, but that shouldn’t be the focus, the focus should be on creating demand, not creating lead contacts.

Kevin Flint: 

Getting contacts – and I’ve done content syndication for 20 years. I believe it serves a purpose. But it’s the first step. It’s not the end step. If I have got somebody’s business card info in exchange for a white paper, that now is an opportunity to start a conversation. It’s not an opportunity to hit sales, I got a hot lead for it. No, it’s not. It’s now somebody you now have legal ability to send a follow up to, maybe some other content that’s helpful. Ask them a question, see what they need. And I think that is what the best-in-class marketers already get that, they’re on that journey. Some are having to rejigger their marketing practices so that they aren’t goaled on the wrong things. I’ll give one quick example. I had a client years ago that had this, they brought in my agency, and we were going to be the new agency. And it was a lot about account-based marketing. That was the big shift that we’re going to make, account-based marketing for everything. And after three or four months of planning, we got to almost ready to push launch. And somebody said, “Wait a minute, marketing isn’t goaled for account-based measurements, they are only goaled for net new logos. Scrap everything that’s ABM. Oh, and by the way, ABM is just this guy’s job over here.” And so because of how they were set up to measure their people in their teams, they had to build up their own strategy, because they didn’t assess from the top down. How are you scoring sales, how are you scoring marketing, individuals and their performance has to roll up to that. And so, if you’re in an organization for the audience, in an organization where you’re still in some of those situations, that’s the need from the top down to reshuffle everything and organize in a way that everybody’s working toward the right outcomes and being measured on the things that matter. And hopefully less of the checking of the box. We hit our quota, we hit our volume goals. Ultimately, that is directionally only interesting. What matters is what happened in terms of pipeline opportunity, deal velocity, client retention, all those things that business cares about.

Mike D’Agostino: 

Well said. Perfect segue into the next topic here, which is account-based marketing (ABM). You made another interesting statement here. And I’ve seen this notion a couple of times, and it’s piqued my interest. I’m of the mind that account-based marketing that’s been around since the beginning of times, and in a B2B ecosystem. I don’t know any other way, I mean, you’re selling, you’re trying to get a company to purchase your product. If a particular contact leaves that company, you better hope that they retain your product or service. I get it that there’s something to be said about targeting individuals and who has the authority and that sort of thing. But the fact that maybe it’s just the term, account-based marketing, or ABM, has risen to the forefront. That seems to be like the natural way to do things. But you made the comment that ABM budgets in some cases are being cut. What does that mean?

Kevin Flint: 

I’ll unpack that a little bit. So I agree with you, first of all, that ABM is how you do B2B marketing. And I’ve had this debate with some of my client side people, where ABM is still in a silo. It’s still Susan’s job, because fundamentally, ABM is an overarching strategy. It’s the fact that you care about the account and not the individual contact level. What happened is that – a couple things of why it got off kilter. First is that the term ABM was largely marketed and built as a brand name or as a terminology by ABM platform vendors. And so they positioned ABM as, “Once you buy this piece of software, you’re doing ABM.” ABM is not a platform, platforms are part of ABM. So with apologies to demand base, ABM does not come in a box or as a subscription, you have to do lots of things. It’s how your organization behaves. That being said, companies are at different levels of maturity in their ABM approach to things. Some have only dabbled in it. Some with all in, but maybe they just bought ABM in a box and it failed. In a lot of cases, companies were burned by spending lots of money on a platform. They didn’t roll it out properly. They didn’t have the right strategy behind it. The support maybe wasn’t there. And then ABM was branded as a “failure” by the executive team. So right now what I see is that companies are all different opinions on ABM, some are doubling down and saying we are all in. “Everything’s account based, we’re going to just do it better.” Others are saying we’re cutting back on our ABM because it “didn’t work”. Now, I can debate those all day long. But the reality is, that’s what’s happening. I was surprised at first, when I started to see data points that were last fall. That said that 2023, there was projections of lower ABM budgets among TV marketers. And then I saw it again and again. And then I’ve heard it from actual clients. And so it is a reality. So what I’ve seen is in some organizations, you just have to stop calling it ABM. It’s just marketing. When you do that, it’s not on the chopping block anymore. Now, it’s just how we do marketing. So, to me, ABM can’t go away because it’s just common sense. This is how you do things. Again, scoring measures have shifted a lot of cases from being contacted-leads-based to be an account-based. In some companies, we’ll keep going in that direction. Others have a bit reverted to lead-based measurements to contact-based measurements. I do think it’s a bit backward. In my own opinion, I will go that far. But I also understand that changing that mindset is a big lift. And if you feel like you have to retreat to a safe space and just drive a bunch of leads and measure lead-based stuff, I get it. But, to me, what I hope you get across is that it’s not ABM that maybe you did wrong, it’s that you thought ABM was one subscription, or just display, like throwing banners to companies is not ABM, it’s a part of it. It can be an important part of it. But have you done a targeted content-based approach to a set of five super premium accounts for you? Have you done verticalized approach? Do you have personalized content on a landing page is designed for that, are your sales involved in this? These are all questions that can come with ABM and some companies just haven’t gotten that right yet. And so, this will be a big year to sort out, “Okay, you tried it, you had a false start, how do we do it now properly.” And everybody’s coming at it from a different pain point and experience. And likewise, the vendors are trying to reimagine their relevance as well. Because the ABM in a box thing means some subscriptions have been cancelled too, were then taken off the books. And so we’ve seen success, for example, repeat a few times and clarify what they can do. And I know folks like DemandBase is great. We might need to emphasize some different things. And it feels like going anywhere, it’s just a matter of how you view it, or how you define it. And unfortunately, that’s still a big debate among many companies I talk to.

Mike D’Agostino:

Yeah, all the fantastic comments, Kevin. And I think, to me, we look at account-based marketing almost like a concept. It’s with the modern tool set that we have available as digital marketers, we look at as orchestrating, a variety of media tactics to surround your personas at ideal customers, at your target accounts, and that could be through a lot of the tactics that you just mentioned, whether it be targeted programmatic and retargeting display, it could be targeted content syndication. We even didn’t tend to think of, given that many entities are implementing the six senses of the world and other technologies that can attempt to de-anonymize your website traffic, even something as general as a PPC program. If you’re driving contacts, even if it’s at the top of the funnel, to your website with something that they’re interested in, and you have some technology that can de-anonymize that and then serve them ads, if they happen to leave your site. That can even be part of it. You’re hitting them right at the beginning of their research. So it’s more of an orchestration of a variety of different media tactics to surround those accounts. At the heart of it, though, I think that many of these platforms are implementing, though, it does boil down to intent data. Because that’s how many of these platforms are generating those account lists that they say you should be targeting is based on their intent data. So if you could talk for a moment, like I’ve heard terms, like third-party intent data and first-party intent data, what’s the difference?

Kevin Flint: 

Yeah, sure. Now, I want to talk about that. I had to study the term, fourth-term or fourth-party data to their day, I looked that one up, and it’s the data of your vendors. Data is nothing super new at this point. But it’s always been a topic of discussion, particularly for me in the paid media space, you end up using intent data all the time. And the best way to organize it first would be you’ve got first-party data and usually third-party data. First-party data is your data. Think of it as the people that are filling out forms on your website that have given their actual personal information for something, they’ve given you permission to have it for some exchange. That’s the known first-party data. And that’s the goal. That’s the most important data you have. It’s data on your actual customers or people that are engaging with you and our potential customers. Then you have anonymous first-party data and that’s typically like using IP tracking to see where your web traffic is coming from at the account level. You’re not seeing names and phone numbers and things like that. But it’s still strong indicators. And those are companies you want to be understanding what their behaviors are, and that sort of thing. And one of the big goals of marketing in general, and paid media certainly is to try to get more first-party data. Because the more first-party data you own, the more folks you can engage with, and then more permission to do more things with. It’s not accurate data. Third-party data comes from an outside source. And it could be something like Bombora, for example, which is scraping tons of websites on the open web to see what types of content topics you’ve been looking at, and then anonymously categorizing your interest level in different topics, platforms like Dun & Bradstreet. On specific sites, you’ve got target priority engine. ISMG probably has some stuff like that for your own website, perhaps you can utilize. But there’s a plethora of third-party sources that you can, at scale, use to infer that a particular account is more likely interested in whatever product or service you have to offer. And that is not perfect, it’s not magical, but it is certainly better than guessing on the general universe of people that are out there. If companies are showing some “intent” directionally, it’s a much better bet to spend your money talking to them, than to the world at large. So that’s like the concept that is used to power things like paid display or video, certainly in content syndication. If you’ve identified that certain accounts are more likely in market, you can target them with your lead gen campaigns and all this stuff. And so, there’s many use cases for it. But some of the best practices are that you can use these data sources essentially to help prioritize who you are trying to advertise to, or reach out to. Account identification or prioritization, like, which ones do we want to spend the most on or spend the most time on, and what’s not ready for this yet. Second would be like segmentation. So maybe there’s a group of accounts that are intensely active, and maybe our best marketing and sales energy goes there. And we spend more, we produce content just for them, we invite them to a dinner at BlackHat or RSA, whatever it is. They might get a special program versus the other end of the spectrum, maybe companies that are just starting to do some research. You might give them a different experience because they’re not quite as ready. The example I gave you, when I was on the agency side is there were times when we would use intent data to identify that a company was looking for an agency, “Let’s call them up, see what’s going on,” or that one of our clients is looking for an agency. That’s bad news. Now, that comes down to retention, so don’t just use this data to find what’s new, figure out, what your actual customers are doing as well. If you work with publishers, you say, “Either help me get this intent data or use the intent data already gathered to target your work, ISMG for example, to these 3000 accounts or 400 accounts, whatever it might be.” So there’s various ways you can do it. But the idea is, let’s make sure that we invest our time and our resources in a smarter way, in general, in a more organized fashion, but also in a way that’s going to prioritize based on some known data. And it tends to make a significant difference overall in the effectiveness of the advertising. And so it’s a best practice. And typically, that data is cost-effective overall to use. And you just have to remember that everybody else is using that data too. And so when you go after the most intense accounts in terms of intense, so are your competitors. And so you got to be smart about how you do it. But I think it’s much better than just doing a spray and pray and hope that the right accounts see it. But like I said, it’s not perfect. It’s not magical. It doesn’t solve everything for you. But better to use it than not is my advice always.