Tag Archives: b2b marketing

Weeks 3 & 4: The Search for the Truth

or: How I became Sherlock Holmes and found all the bodies

I had a total of 6 business days in weeks 3 and 4 combined, so I decided to group them into one post. I call it efficiency, you can call me lazy. These weeks can be titled: “The Search for What is True.”

There’s always a gap between what you learn during an interview process and what’s real. You hope that the gap is not too big, and that the fantasies and dreams you were sold to, are not nightmares but simply an embellishment. In the first few weeks you should be on a hunt for the truth and finding where all the bodies are buried. It’s best if you have someone who knows where they are and can show you the way, but usually, it’s a task you will need to take on your own.

I deploy several methods for finding the truth. I categorized them for simplicity.

  1. People (listening — in the company)
  2. People (listening — outside the company)
  3. Data (analyzing)
  4. Documents (reading)
  5. Projects (doing)
  6. Presentation (talking)

People (in the company)

This method is the fastest and easiest, but also has the lowest level of credibility since people are extremely biased (as you will become too in a few weeks), want to make a good impression on you, or have an agenda. However, they hold the keys and knowledge to thing you will never find out without them. For example, you will not find the history and context of certain decisions without the people who were there. You can’t learn the truth about the culture without seeing it in action. You won’t find the truth about skills, competencies, gaps and issues, without observing your people and talking to them. They are your first and most important path to uncovering the truth. But remember, it’s their truth; you need to find yours.

When it comes to people, I set 1:1s, join meetings, set meetings, go to informal events (happy hour, lunches, etc.), ask questions and conduct interviews. I also like to be direct and ask them about issues as well as ask them to surface EVERYTHING to me. It can be, and it is, a lot, so you need to be prepared to capture a lot of information, categorize it and also communicate the fact that you are just listening at this point. But if you listen carefully enough, the truth will start to emerge. Just remember, the truth is in the eye of the beholder, so just make sure you talk to a lot of holders.

People (not in the company)

A few years ago @ScottFallon told me that “the truth is not in the building” and I love that sentiment. If you want to know what people think about your company and your product, you need to go outside the company to find out. There are several ways and methods for doing it, which is not as important as simply doing it. You can talk to customers about their experience; ask random people, family and friends about the category and product; join sales calls and demos to listen to leads and how they react to the sale pitch; connect with partners to learn about how they see the company and the market; reach out to ex-customers or lost opportunities to learn about their experience and what made them go with the alternative. There are many ways to learn the truth about your company, product and market that is not by listening to the people in the company. Even if you don’t do all of these, at least do one.

Data

Personally, diving into the data is one of my favorite ways to learn the truth about performance, challenges, opportunities, and deficiencies. It’s relatively easy to do, it provides an objective* picture of the situation, and when presented back to stakeholders, it usually draws reactions that help you find more truth. The funny thing, though, is that in the last few companies I joined, as well as the companies I interviewed at, I found that the data was flawed in many ways, or simply didn’t exist. However, that’s also a truth that needs to be uncovered and documented.

Even with flawed or missing data, there’s always some data you can use. As a B2B marketer, I try to figure out the funnel (or micro-funnels) and construct it using the available data. It helps me identify the key areas of breakage and establish a baseline performance. I also look for customer data like revenue, churn and retention, upgrades, CSAT (customer satisfaction scores) and any other data about customers. I research online to find data about the market to understand market size, market trends and market projections. I ask for other marketing data like website data, landing page data, email performance data, budget and paid campaign costs. Finally, if there’s any HR data, I tend to look for it as well. Internal surveys, employee satisfaction, peer reviews, and other information that can help me paint a better picture of the team and culture.

I surround myself with data that helps me identify some of the core issues and corroborate or debunk some of the truths I heard so far. But the biggest benefit of searching for the truth in the data, is the journey to get the data. I uncover more hard truths about the business when I ask for the data, then what I can actually find in it.

*philosophically, true objectivity doesn’t exist. Data can be misleading and whoever entered it as well as the person who’s reading it, bring their own biases. So while it’s more objective than people’s opinions, it’s definitely not pure of bias.

Documents

This method is not for everyone, and I know people who can’t follow this tip and do just fine without it. But I’m a reader and a process-enthusiast (the least offensive term I can use for my obsession with finding processes that work), so for me, it’s one of the most effective ways to find the truth or at least uncover where it might hide. I like to ask and see all the documents people can share with me. Planning documents, research papers, presentations, briefs, debriefs, summaries, and any other company document. I don’t necessarily read in details all of them, some I skim and some I ignore, but I do read a lot of them. It helps me identify themes, tribal truths that need to be challenged, logic and rationale (or the lack thereof) in planning and analysis, existing processes and areas that will benefit from appropriate process. It also gives me an impression of how people approach projects and challenges, and a sense of the culture in the company and my team.

My biggest challenge with documents is finding the right way to categorize and “index” them so I can find them later. I have not found a good method yet, and find myself asking for the same documents again and again. I still ask for more documents though.

Projects

I know this is the preferred method by most people, and I highly recommend it as well, just don’t use it exclusively.

Starting with a project allows you to put to test a lot of the stories you heard from people and get close and personal with the truth. Projects that force you to work with many people, preferably cross-functionally, are the best, but you want to choose a relatively contained, short-term project since the purpose is to learn the truth and not get involved in a major project (you will have enough opportunities to do so soon). You want a project that will allow you to learn about the organization, people, product, culture and market, and find the truth about them. If there’s no project available, you can make one up or join one that is ongoing. It’s important though, that you take an active role in the project and not just join it as an observer. If you’re not leading the project, take a role that forces you to get something done. It will stress-test all your assumptions and shed better light on what you think is true.

Presentation

At some point, you will need to stand in front of your stakeholders and present what you found. You need to confront them with what you think is the truth, and let them poke holes, support or debunk it. You might find out that your truth is missing context or information; you might surprise them with your findings; you might realize that you are way off or dead on; more than likely, it will be a mix of all of these and some other realizations. In any case, your truth needs to be discussed and tested, and more importantly publicized so it can become the truth of the organization and not just yours.

It’s your job to be the Sherlock Holmes of your on-boarding, no one will do it for you, and if you don’t do it intentionally, you will be surprised when the truth smacks you in the head.

Week 2

This is the second entry in my journal documenting my first 90 days as a VP of Marketing at Mindspace. You can find the first entry here.

Week 2 — Frameworks and Research

September in Israel has only 13 business days, and my week-2 included only two business days due to Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). However, I spent most of it reading and thinking. My goal for the week was to finalize the framework for how to approach the marketing audit and how to organize my on-boarding process. Following the playbook outlined in the First 90 Days, my goal for the first few weeks is to evaluate and ensure the alignment (or lack thereof) among five components on the marketing team.

Strategy -> Structure -> Systems -> Skills -> Culture.

For the team to operate efficiently, these elements need to be in concert. In case they are not (and that’s usually the case), I will need to define and align them, simultaneously. For the evaluation part, I needed a framework that can help me organize my findings and then communicate them to the team and the rest of the leadership team.

I considered two options: a functional rundown framework, and a strategic overview framework. The functional rundown framework is a fancy name I gave a simple process — I meet, learn and audit each existing marketing function and I summarize my observations, findings and recommendations based on those functions. It’s easier to follow and explain, and it’s much easier to coordinate since you don’t need to bother people multiple times. The downside of this framework is that it’s reliant on what exists and not what should be in place. But it’s faster than the other framework I evaluated.

The strategic overview framework is another fancy name I came up with to describe a framework that takes a more holistic/strategic approach to the audit. It evaluates the marketing functions through the lens of what components should be in place. The challenges with this framework are that it takes longer to complete and it assumes that there are some universal principle to marketing. It’s also more theoretical and pseudo-academic which can cause some people an allergic reaction.

Obviously, I went with the pseudo-academic and much harder one.


Why Framework?

First of all, because I love frameworks. They help, well, frame your work, and when you’re dealing with a lot of information, frameworks help you organize the information and place it where it makes the most sense. Additionally, the right framework helps with “sense making” both for you and for your audience, and creates a common language that increases efficiency and speed. Finally, it helps define not only what is in, but even more importantly, what is not relevant. Since we’re wired to think and look for patterns, we use frameworks all the time. For example, in demand generation we use the funnel as the most acceptable framework to describe movement of customers through stages in their buying process. You can’t have two demand gen marketers meet without the funnel being mentioned at least once.

However, a common mistake is to try to force reality into your framework. Frameworks are designed to help you make sense of the world around you, not to make it fit your framework. So flexibility in choosing the right framework and in how you use it is important.


The Strategic Overview Framework

This framework comes all the way from my marketing professor who taught us this framework in my first marketing class. And when I say taught, I mean brainwashed. This framework simplifies all of marketing theory into these concepts, which makes it both powerful and memorable (the brainwashing also helped). I since have used it in various formats and versions in almost every marketing role I had.

(I apologize in advance for the poor design on this slide. My professor was a great teacher and marketer, but an awful designer.)

On the left side we have the Situation Analysis, also known as the 5 C’s. You start with analyzing the 5 component that will help define your objectives and later the strategy and go to market — Context (that’s the market and market forces), Customers (market size, addressable market, serviceable market, market share and other customer characteristics), Company (your current situation, employees, assets, etc.), Collaborators and Competitors. The output of this analysis can be summarized in the form of SOWT, yet another famous framework, that covers your Strengths, Opportunities, Weakness and Threats.

The middle part of this framework is the audience analysis in which you research and evaluate the Segments in the market, choose (or evaluate) your Target audience, and define your positioning and the value proposition. This work should lead to your Go To Market (GTM) strategy as represented on the right side of the framework by the 4 P’s (feel free to read more about 4 P’s and the new additional P’s here and everywhere else you can Google).

The GTM review should focus on all the P’s, but in my case, it will focus primarily on Promotion and Places — where do we sell our product and how we promote it. This should include the channels, tactics, process, measurement and optimization, and other factors of the tactical work the team is doing in launches and day-to-day.

Finally, and possibly the most important for me in the next few weeks, the framework asserts that the entire marketing strategy and GTM should adhere and be inline with the brand, as the umbrella that covers the entire framework. Auditing the brand and the work on the brand will include answering questions such as what is the current brand recognition and awareness in our market? What are the key brand attributes? What should they be? What are the current brand assets? What should they be? What is the approach to building the brand?

Another terribly designed slide, but it serves its purpose.

From Framework to Activities

Having the framework in place also allows me to outline my on-boarding process better and plan the next few weeks of learning. While it seems very clean and organized, learning is not as linear and my process feels more like osmosis than following a recipe . I like to immerse myself in the information and let it “flow” through me. Having the framework in place will allow me to categorize the information and place it where it makes the most sense and will be easier to recall and find when it’s needed.

I spent the last week reading, I have a lot more reading to do in the coming weeks. Since Yom Kippur is next week, I will have enough time to catch up on a lot of it.

Here’s another picture of one of our beautiful offices.

The Marketing Equilibrium

I’ve been toying with the idea of Marketing Equilibrium for quite some time now. I remember my economics professor talking about supply and demand while trying to instil in our minds the concept of the crossing trend-lines of supply and demand with grand hand gestures that felt to me like an awkward scene in “The Wave.”

I loved these classes. Recently, every time I have a discussion about marketing channels, budgets, new tactics and new vendors, all I see in front of me is Professor Ed Rice signaling an X sign with his hands.

For those of you who never studied economics, or are unfamiliar with the concept of Economic Equilibrium, the simple explanation is that in perfect market conditions, when quantity supplied and quantity demanded are equal, the price for those goods will stabilized at a point of equilibrium. In other words, prices will change (go up or down) until the market move to equilibrium where supply and demand are equal.

Price equilibrium

As a B2B marketer, the “goods” I’m trying to buy are leads, so the concept of a price equilibrium, a set price in which demand and supply of leads are equal, seems very appealing to me. Knowing the “magic” price I can expect leads to be “sold” at, will allow me to do two main things:

  1. Project the number of leads I can expect given a certain budget (or require a certain budget for a given lead goal)
  2. Find programs/channels in which prices are lower due to imperfect conditions (arbitrage) and exploit them until the market returns to equilibrium

The big question is how do I figure out the equilibrium price of leads? Is it a function of the industry? Does it vary based on the channel? Does quality has anything to do with it? Does volume play a part in the price I’m getting?

Unfortunately, there is no magic answer to this question (as far as I know) and the answer to the above questions is usually “Yes, it depends on all these factors and possibly more.” So like in other ambiguous situations in marketing, you will need to start from some point, collect data as you go along and try to figure it out over time.

But let’s assume that I do know what the price equilibrium is for my leads – let’s say it’s $25/lead – is that enough for me to project performance and find arbitrages?

It’s a good starting point for sure, but as I’ve been finding out over the last few years, leads are only “raw material” for what really matters for B2B organizations – opportunities. More so than with leads, knowing the price equilibrium of your opportunities is the sauce that makes your marketing-machine magical and it turns out that no matter how much your leads cost, when they get to be opportunities, they all cost the same.

Let’s assume you have only two channels – organic search and social media. They both drive leads at different volumes and have different cost structures. After much analysis, you figured that social media leads cost you $15/lead and organic search leads cost you $25/lead (after you calculated the cost of the SEO work that goes into optimizing your content and website). On the surface, it seems like you should double down on social media since it has a lower CPL. But if you continue to track these leads throughout their journey in the marketing-sales funnel, you realize that social media leads have a 5% conversion rate to opportunities and organic search leads have a 10% conversion rate. Using these numbers to compute the cost per opportunity you find out that social media has an average cost per opportunity of $300 while organic search is $250, the obvious choice here is to get more organic search leads since they actually cost less.

In this somewhat imaginary scenario the opportunities from these two channels are not at a price equilibrium, but as I continue to consider the concept of marketing equilibrium, I’m more convinced that one does exist, now it’s just a matter of finding it.