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Episode #183: Why Buyer-Driven is Better Than Customer-Centric, with Ardath Albee

Grad Conn

March 18, 202242 min read

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B2B buyers are overwhelmed. According to Gartner, 77% of B2B buyers said their latest purchase was complex or difficult. And, sadly, we’re not doing enough to make the process easier. B2B marketing strategist Ardath Albee joins me with insights on what we can do to improve the buying process, close more deals, and make our customers happier.

You can follow Ardath on LinkedIn.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad 
Running over the hills or running up the streets, whichever get played, jumping in helicopters, everyone’s running to listen to today’s episode of the Unified CXM Experience and as always, I’m your host, Grad Conn, CXO or Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr, and I’m really, really excited about today’s show. I have a guest, a special guest. Her name is Ardath Albee, and she is the CEO of Marketing Interactions, and she is a B2B marketing strategist. Now, if that sounds familiar, if you think, “Gee, that sounds so familiar to me”, that means you’re a loyal listener of the Unified CXM Experience, and you’ve just won a special prize. Come on by my house tomorrow, and I’ll give it to you. Good and badly. Anyway, so the reason that name sounds familiar, is that we did an episode not long ago, it was episode 172 where we talked about a fantastic article that Ardath had written, called The Blandscape of B2B Marketing ContentNeeds a Bit of Emotion. And she went through this for the nine ways that B2B could get more emotion. And I deconstructed that in a very loving way. And kind of like, just thought it was a great article. And I thought the way that she landed on emotion was great, but particularly what I loved about the article, and what I loved about Ardath’s perspective, was it had this gently contrarian point of view that poked at sort of the tropes of the category. So that’s what we did. I had never met her, I just read this article, I thought it was so amazing, I did a show on it. We were then reached out and somehow got connected to Ardath, and today she’s on the show. So hopefully, she’s not here to yell at me about what I said about her article, but we’re going to introduce her in a second. And then we’re going to actually talk, maybe touch on the article a little bit, but we’re really going to do is talk about some new topics that she’s got on her plate, which I’m super excited about as well. So welcome to the show, Ardath.

Ardath Albee 
Thanks so much, Grad. It’s a pleasure to be here. And no, I actually enjoyed your review of my article. So you did a great job.

Grad 
All right. Okay, good. I appreciate that. I appreciate it. You didn’t have to say that, but that’s good. So before we get going, because we’re going to get into some really good B2B content stuff here, some people may want to get in touch with you after. What’s the best way for them to connect with you, send you a message?

Ardath Albee 
Best way would either be through my website marketinginteractions.com, on LinkedIn, under Ardath Albee or you can email me directly at ardath@marketinginteractions.com.

Grad 
It’s great. That is a great thing about LinkedIn these days, I must say LinkedIn has become a spectacular social network. It’s just amazing how good it is. It can get to anybody now. I find LinkedIn is a much superior way of getting to people than any other method I have now. It’s amazing. Just even friends and stuff where people have lost touch and stuff, it’s just amazing. So okay, great. So that’s great. So now let’s talk a little bit about some new stuff. So before the show, we were talking a little bit about this concept of customer-centric, versus buyer-driven. And we’ve actually done a few shows, probably back about six months or so ago, around the concept of buyer enablement. And there’s a great quote from Gartner. It goes along the lines of, ‘the only thing harder than selling enterprise software is buying enterprise software’, which is a just such a great quote, because I have actually had the pleasure of buying a fair amount of enterprise software over the years. And it is really difficult, because there’s a combination of trying to sort of deconstruct the acronyms in the space and try to understand, there’s a lot of overlap between enterprise solutions, and then making a decision and then, most importantly, defending that decision internally sometimes with friendly peers, but sometimes with opposition peers, who want you to fail and want that to be a bad decision. And making sure you’re sort of skintight and ready to fight on those things is really tough. So let’s talk a little bit about the journey, buyers, just share some of that perspective and then let’s just kind of frick-a-frack on it.

Ardath Albee 
Yeah, well, just for a little bit of context, I guess it was a week before lockdown for COVID hit, I agreed to become the interim VP of Marketing for one of my clients called Modus and they have a sales enablement platform. So I spent the next year and a half, not really interim, I was kind of like, “let me out of here”.

Grad 
The average tenure of a CMO, just for perspective.

Ardath Albee 
It was kind of like, “Okay guys, really, I’m a consultant”. For a year and a half, I worked on that and the first great thing that happened is I’ve been a consultant for a long time. And so a lot of times I go in and I create personas and strategies, and then I go away, and they execute. And the only way I know if it worked is because they come back for more. So getting my hands on the systems, getting to run programs all the way through and strategies and execute, that was great, proved that what I’m doing actually works if it’s executed well. But the thing that became the real query for me over that time that I’ve continued to think about is, with sales enablement what I saw, with a lot of the customers and even with our own salespeople is that we were focused on what we wanted, right? So it’s like, we’ve got to hit our number, at the end of the month, we’ve got to get so many people in the pipeline to convert enough revenue, we’ve got …. it was all about us. And the interest in learning about our buyers and customers was really so we could figure out how to manipulate them, if you will, into moving through our funnel, our process, without a whole lot of regard to what they wanted. And since the time that I left there, it was last summer, I guess, and went back to consulting, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and diving into this and looking at why is it so hard for us to be buyer-driven? Now we’ve heard customers or companies talk about customer-centricity for a long time, and they all claim to be customer-centric. That’s the new thing, right?

Grad 
I’ve never run into anyone in my entire career who hasn’t said, “We care about our customers”.  People have always said that. “Customer’s number one”, I think it was a Ford slogan in the 70s. Like I say, people always say that. I think the difference is whether they deliver on it. And this is your point, right? Like you can say one thing, but you can act a different way.

Ardath Albee 
So my latest article that’s out is titled Why customer centric doesn’t mean buyer driven. And what really got me on this roll was an article written by Augie Ray at Gartner, who talks about the fact that we’ve taken customer centricity and, you know, applied it in the way I said, focused on how do we drive more profit and growth for our companies, rather than how do we help our buyers and our customers, which is truly what customer centricity should be? And so I started really … Yeah, I mean, when you think about it …

Grad 
That is so profound. Wow, holy smokes. You’re right, because internal discussions in the company are always about what we want to do and how we want to grow and how big we want to be. What if the mission and vision of the company was what we want our customers to accomplish? And what we want our customers to do? Holy smokes? Well, that’s a big unlock.

Ardath Albee 
Well, yeah, when you think about it, how have we always talked about the buyers’ journey? Well, there’s awareness, and then they consider everything and then they buy something, you know. What buyer have you ever met that said, “Well, geez, right now, I think I’m about the cross over from awareness to consideration”. That means I need this kind of content. Nobody. The other thing, in doing a lot of exploration and talking with people like Sharon Drew Morgen, I don’t know if you know who she is, but she does a lot of work on buying facilitation. And what you discover is, buying is really change management, or change enablement, whatever you want to call it. And so the process of choosing to change, rather than stick with status quo is a huge lift, right, that has to take place before you can actually become a buyer. In fact, Hank Barnes from Gartner wrote recently about the one thing you need to know about your customer, or your buyer is their willingness to change. Otherwise, you don’t have a sale, you never have a sale. Because if they’re not going to change, they’re not going to buy. And there’s all of this stuff that has to happen before they can actually say, “Yes, we’re buyers”, and go out and buy something. We don’t help them with that. We assume that they’ve already decided to buy, which they have, because we don’t help them. And so, you know, the type of information we provide to them is based on our products, our features, our feeds, and speeds or whatever, who cares, you know, and it’s about what minimal amount of information or even let me dump all this information on you so you have enough to make this decision to buy. But it’s not actually about helping the buyer facilitate that process. We don’t allow them the ability to choose. And so if you look at further Gartner research, buyers are overwhelmed. 77% of them say, “My last buying experience sucked. Man, it was awful. It was frustrating. It took longer than it should have”. And, you know, we’re up to what, nearly half of all buying journeys end in no decision now.

Grad 
Really? I never heard that stat.

Ardath Albee 
Yeah, in fact, for the first time ever, a client called me up and said, “Hey, Ardath, we need a nurturing program for all of our opportunities that we’ve lost to no decision. They haven’t bought anything. But they’re not talking to us anymore, and they’re not moving forward. So we want this program to actually nurture these lost opportunities now and get them back into conversations about becoming our customers”. And so when you look at that, it’s a totally different proposition. Right? They already know you; they already know they have the problem. They have already been educated about the product. So what kind of information are we going to give them now? Where are the gaps? What were the gaps during their buying process that left them unable to choose to move forward? How are we going to facilitate that? It’s kind of an interesting project to work on and dive into that and look at. Okay, here’s all the stuff that they were given before, then they got into talks with their sales reps. And now they’ve chosen not to move forward. Well, how are we going to get them back? You know, how do we have them reverse that decision and give them whatever it is they didn’t get the first time to actually choose to move forward. And so, you know, it’s just an interesting exploration into, you know, as more and more, what is it like 77.7% of buyers now say, “We want to be self-reliant, we’re going to do our own research, we don’t want to talk to you people, all you care about is selling us stuff, we’re going to go do our own research and figure it out ourselves”. And they relegate very little time to vendors, and they don’t want to talk to salespeople. And so now as marketers, we have this huge opportunity to step up and say, “Okay, how do we make buying better for these people? How do we help them want to talk to us? How can we provide something so valuable they say, “Give me more”? And, you know, to me, that’s a huge step for marketing, where marketing has always been kind of looked at as this support function for sales. But during COVID, and everybody going online, that shifted, because how do they engage with their company online? Marketing provides content, the website, whatever, you know, the events, the webinars, all of that stuff. But how do we make it better? It’s still pretty much sucks. You know, a lot of content is so bad, and which is why I wrote the Blandscape article, right? It’s just awful. And so we need to talk to people like humans, for gosh sakes. But you know, so there’s all this stuff going on. And I’m in this big exploration of what do we have to do to actually become buyer-driven?

Grad 
Okay, so let me jump in on a couple of things. So we have a couple of themes on the unified CXM Experience that I kind of hammer on pretty repetitively. Hopefully not irritatingly, but just repetitively. And one is about this concept of the zero moment of truth. I’ll talk about that a second. And the other one is about the idea that there’s a Gartner stat that 60% is I think, supports what you’ve been saying over the last couple minutes, 60% of first time visitors to your B2B website, have already decided to buy. But what I really enjoy about talking to you, and reading your articles is that I kind of get into a track on these things. And I’ll explain my track in a second. But you’ve got a wonderful double click of like, “Yeah, yeah, but you got to go deeper, kid.” You know, I really like that. So I want you to help me go deeper on these things. So let’s do it to the first one. So the zero moment of truth is a concept that Google, probably more than 10 years ago, pioneered, they’ve been building out all sorts of zero amount of truth journeys for different industries. And if you go to the Think with Google zero moment of truth site, ZMOT, you’ll find them. And they’ve done I think, an extraordinary job. It’s been reasonably unrecognized, I think, considering the scope of the work. And I think the dramatic nature of it, it’s not talked about nearly enough across general marketing circles. I do run into people all the time that heard of it, but it’s not something that is as common as I think it should be. And what I do find though, that where I go with it is, I go, “Hey, everybody, you’re under-investing”. (This will be a B2B conversation right now because there’s a B2C point to this as well, but we’re going to ignore that for a minute). But on the B2B side, I’ll say, “You’re under investing in review sites like G2 Crowd and Capterra, TrustRadius, etc. You’re under-investing in analysts. You’re not doing enough tele-economic impact reports, you’re not doing enough briefings and policy, you’re not buying enough time with them, you’re not using them to help you understand the business, you’re under investing in the Gartners and Forresters and the Constellations and people like that”. I’d say Constellation, in particular, gets more under-invested in than it should be, and then “you’re also under-investing dramatically, in working with influencers, just companies ignore them. And these influencers are directing people to all sorts of different things and everything about chief martech.com that started basically as an influencer site has turned into a very important B2B information site”. But that’s, I think, where I stop. So because right now I find that people are so not doing those things, that I’m just kind of on a single click to like, we got to sort of focus this way as people doing the research. Go a little deeper with me here. Okay, so take me down the path of, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right, but you got to think about this, because you actually corrected me a little bit earlier, because I was kind of like, “Hey, the website doesn’t matter”. But you’re like, “No, no, the website matters”. So take me through, like how I should be thinking about ZMOT in a deeper way?

Ardath Albee 
Well, first of all, I think the website does matter. And, you know, research will show that it’s, you know, pretty much number two, number three resource for B2B buyers, and a lot of that, and remember, I’m focused on highly complex sales, most of my clients sell, you know, million-dollar solutions, or at least several 100,000. And there’s a lot to learn. You can’t learn that without visiting websites, and you’re going to be looking at solutions. And one of the biggest problems is you look at one solution, you think this is really great. Look at all the features, look at all the stuff it has. And then you look at another one, it’s like, “But this one has different features and different stuff. How do I reconcile that? What’s more important to me?” And so this is when buyers start getting overwhelmed with information. And it’s because we’re focused on the products themselves, instead of talking to people about what do they need to be able to accomplish? Right? What are the outcomes they need to get to? And once you get that, then it’s easy to say, well, if this is what you want, these are the things that will help you get there. So I don’t think buyers can buy without going to the website, I agree with you that influencers review sites, all of those things are hugely important. And I’ll tell you one of the struggles with the review sites is, think about how much we ask of our customers, right? We want them to do testimonials. We want them to speak at our user events. We want them to do case studies. We want them to be on webinars, whatever it is we want from them, and they’re busy. And so they get overwhelmed. And so I remember when I was our VP, running campaigns, trying to get customers to go to G2 or Gartner peer insights or whatever and leave a review. And it’s, you know, it gets to be overwhelming for them. They don’t know what to say, you know, but I agree review sites are important, more people are looking at them, and valuing the information because they don’t trust what vendors say anymore. vendors have their own agenda. It’s one of the reasons I talk about customer centricity and we’re using it for our own benefit, rather than for our buyers and customers. You know, we figured out it was a tool for us to get what we want, instead of helping them get what they want. So but I think …

Grad 
Another guest that I’ve had on the program before, Yoli Chisholm. She’s a CMO at a company called Venn, kind of a competitor to Citrix and, but local, so it’s faster than Citrix. And so Yoli had this concept called the consumerization of enterprise software, which is occurring in several modalities. One is on interface. And I’d say ServiceNow probably really innovated their …  ServiceNow created an incredibly easy-to-use interface that is part of the magic of ServiceNow and gave them the competitive edge they needed against BMC and SAP and HP and then that’s also happening in the buying space. So people are reading reviews like they read a review to see a movie, or they read a review to buy toilet paper or anything. Like I don’t buy anything without reading reviews now. So now people obviously want to read reviews on the software itself and they want to go through a not dissimilar buying process in enterprise software to what they’ve been trained to do on everything else. And I think that’s kind of where you’re going with this as well.

Ardath Albee 
Yeah, it is. But you know, I think, if we’re going to say websites are important, or if I’m going to say that I think we need to look at what our website presents. I don’t know where this top-down thing came where everybody has solutions, products, resources, whatever. We split everything up, across based on format, or what have you. So we are expecting our buyers to come out and do all this work to try and put the pieces together. So it’s like, when’s the last time you went to a website and said, “Well, I think I want to read a white paper about x today”. So you go to Resources, there’s their white paper section, let me go through and choose one. And then it’s like, oh, I want to learn more about this. Well, geez, would I find that under video? Or maybe on the blog? Or is there a case study about it? And they’re all in different places. Where’s the problem to solution journey represented on our websites? How are we creating these pathways for people to educate themselves, and drive their own experience, give them the information they need to put the pieces together? Instead, we expect them to figure it out. And all the while there’s this big request devil button flashing in their face, right? And so it’s just confusing to me. I can’t quite figure out why it’s become the standard, and why we can’t change it. I’m seeing some of it start to change. Sometimes you see areas for specific roles, and things like that. But it’s underlaying that main structure of what everybody has come to know. And I don’t know …

Grad 
We all copy each other, I think, is probably what’s going on a little bit. And then do you think anyone’s doing it really well? Have you seen one when finally someone’s nailed this?

Ardath Albee 
No.

Grad
No, that’s compelling. That’s a big opportunity there. So do you have enough clarity and if the answer is no, I would understand because this is not a non-trivial point you’re making, but do you have enough clarity that if I were to say, “What would be the three things I should do differently on my B2B website?” Are you able to sort of start to enunciate that yet? Are you still in that exploration stage of, I know we’re not doing it correctly because that’s not the way buyers work?

Ardath Albee 
Well, I think we could create content hubs, I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the talk nap, because you’d have to get an executive order from God to overwrite the VIPs that say, “No, you have to leave it this way”. I’ve been through this fight many times. There’s too many owners of a corporate website, all fighting for territorial reasons, and whatever. But I think there’s ways you can enable buyers and create experiences within your website that makes sense. The biggest thing, in my opinion, is could we just talk like humans? You know, I mean, why, and I made this point in the Blandscape article, why is it that we are so academic, that we’re using all this jargon and acronyms and fluff? And it’s tough to read, you know? Why can’t we talk like humans, and I think that would be a huge step forward, and just creating something that’s engaging and fun to experience. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time thinking about the last time I went to at least a technology vendor website and enjoyed the experience. You know, every once in a while, there’s some great content, you know, Gong in self disclosure as a client, but they have some, you know, engaging content because they don’t get too stuck on themselves. So what you see is this difference between the very mature companies like an IBM or even a Cisco, or whatever, versus these new-tech unicorn companies like Gong, and others that aren’t too stuck on themselves, and they’re kind of having a personality and putting a stake in the ground, to try and be more engaging and more human. And it makes a difference. But I was just participating in a conversation on LinkedIn yesterday, where a friend of mine had asked a bunch of us, “What’s the most unpopular opinion you have about content marketing?”, and a bunch of people weighed in on Ashley Zeckman’s post. And it was just interesting how much video stinks and is terrible. You know, somebody else weighed in on, they don’t buy into the advice that you should not build on rented land. Right? And said, we need to put content where our customers are, whether that’s our website, or whether it’s somewhere else, right? And I agree with that. You know, but a lot of people chimed in and said content marketing basically sucks. It’s terrible. It’s not worth reading, it insults our intelligence, you know, it’s just pumped out by somebody paid to produce a piece of content and there’s too much noise. And, you know, my biggest point was, most people don’t understand what content marketing is. It’s not a campaign, it doesn’t have a start stop date. You know, it’s ongoing and focused on what buyers need and this and that, and never leaves you hanging, there’s always what’s next, right? So you can continue moving on. And Michael Brenner popped up and said, It’s the difference between people think they’re doing content marketing, but actually what they’re doing is marketing with content. Think about that. Totally different, look at the contrast in that.

Grad 
Ooh, that’s a great one. I love that. That is awesome. Well, you know, one of my favorite, it’s going back a bit now, too but one of my favorite content marketing, maybe you could call it a campaign, but content marketing motions was the definitive guides for Marketo. And I was, in 2011, 2012, building out the beginnings of the MarTech stack at Microsoft. And we didn’t have any kind of marketing automation, we were just using exact target. And we were doing, you know, kind of like, automated email setups, but it was super-duper complex when you just did it in exact target, like 10,000 different strings, literally.

Ardath Albee
 
I remember those days.

Grad
Yeah. And so once you set them all up, and it was quite an effort to set them all up, but to edit them was impossible. So we started looking into marketing automation and it was hard to understand. There was a lot going on in the field at that time. And there was a lot of confusion. And those definitive guides that Marketo did were amazing, I actually had my team read each one of them. And they actually educated us as a team on modern marketing and where things were going, and it totally changed the game. And I have always been super grateful to Marketo for doing that because they were chunky useful but designed in a compelling and easy to read way. And I’m not sure why there’s not more like that. I think LinkedIn has done a good series too. There’s some really good stuff that LinkedIn has done. But it is a bit few and far between. And I think potentially because people job it out, sometimes to other countries, and right to your point, they just crank out stuff. I’m not going to say anything bad about HubSpot, because I think they’re doing some brilliant stuff. But I think HubSpot has promoted an ideology, that you turn your content into a honeypot. And if you create enough keywords and sort of jumble them up on your site, eventually what will happen is people will come to your site for free, because you’ve got this giant pot of content on it, which is true but I think that may have, like all good ideas that get dysfunctionally applied, I think it may have led to this sort of ideology where people just like, if I can just write enough and load it into my site, you know, I’ll get organic traffic, and not maybe paying any attention to the quality of it. So …

Ardath Albee 
51% of buyers told Gartner that the vendor content they’ve seen is totally useless. Think about that. 51%.

Grad 
Wow. 51%. So let’s come back to the website. So if you’re redoing the website, what are you doing differently? Let’s just say for a second God didn’t have anything else to do that day and did come down and say you can design the website any way you want. What would you do from scratch? If you just built, we’ll call it the ABC B2B company, how would ABC B2B company build its’ site?

Ardath Albee 
Hmm. I don’t know. That’s a challenge. I’ve built so many different ones, but I think it’s providing choice and pathways. And I think you have to do it that way. You know, I rebuilt Modus’s site and one of the things I did was, you know, we created capabilities, benefits, why choose Modus, pillar content. That was our top nav, right, we did it a little differently. And then when you landed on that top landing page, it presented you with different options like on capabilities, it was our benefits, it was divided up between the different roles, what they get, and then took you down a pathway to get information based on you know, whether you were in marketing ops, whether you’re a sales rep, whether you’re a sales leader, business operations, whatever marketing and what was in it for you with the platform. So we tried to create these different pathways, we tried to create stories within the website, so that it was interesting and give people places to go. And so I think there’s a lot you can do there. And we minimize the focus on the solution brief material. I mean, it’s there. But it’s not front and center, like you usually see on most corporate sites. And it must still be working, because it’s still up pretty much the way I built before I left, which is

Grad 
That’s a good sign – a year and a half later.

Ardath Albee 
But I think it’s interesting. Going back to your definitive guide thing, Jon Miller is excellent. I’ve known him forever. And when he started that whole thing, well, Demandbase, I don’t know if you saw it. Last week, I think it was either last week or the beginning of this week, I think it’s beginning of this week, just launched the re-brand, which Jon ran, and it’s all about ‘go to market’, smarter go to market, and they’re doing a new series of guides, right, based on the Demandbase story about ‘go to market’. So that’s the new version of this. It’s coming out and they’ve done some cool videos around it, they had a three- or four-hour event around it that I participated in, for a bit. Really well done. And so John was a mastermind behind the definitive guides that Marketo put out, you know, as co-founder and CMO, and, of course, Demandbase acquired his newer company Engagio. And now he’s CMO there. But anyway, so there’s new stuff coming out along those lines, that I would encourage people look at if they want to see what a good guide looks like. But now I forgot where else I was going.

Grad 
Well, while you’re thinking, I actually talked to him several years ago, now, when I was at Microsoft, he had started Engagio. And it was maybe a year old at the time. And we had built a pretty good relationship with Marketo. And in fact, I think, at that time, and I think maybe even still today, Microsoft is Marketo’s biggest customer and had actually spent a lot of time with Marketo’s engineering team to help scale their application to Microsoft scale. But we were talking to Jon, and we were in a meeting with a number of my peers, and they had just raised I can’t remember the number, but at the time, it seemed like a lot of money. It probably isn’t at this time. But at the time, it seemed like a lot of money. And I actually said, somewhat innocently, like I wasn’t trying to be challenging. But let’s say they just raised $100 million. It was something like that on an on a company that didn’t even have code yet. And I said to Jon, I legitimately asked, “How did you raise $100 million on a company that’s still building its first code”, and we were talking about, you know, being an early-stage partner? And he goes, “Well, you know, once you start Marketo, you can start other things”. Yeah. Okay, that’s an excellent answer. You’ve answered the question completely. But yeah, no, he’s a pretty amazing person. So yeah, I’ll check out Demandbase. That’s good. So let’s come back to this. I have tried. And it is hard because of all the many forces, but I have tried to always try to make the website a source of independent information. Right, like, you know, here’s a really interesting slide from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report that help you understand, or here’s the really …, I just try to help people frame the opportunity in the context of being able to defend to their peers the decision that they made. I mean, and one thing I’ve never done successfully, because it’s just it’s too heretical, I guess, I’ve always wanted to like, draw up a category map and say these are all the players in the category, quotation marks, competitors, and ourselves. This is how we all kind of fit together, where we overlap, and where we’re different. And this is why you’d want to buy us instead of one of them or buy us and them, because I think the monotheistic sort of approach, (I’m very religious today. I think you said God, and I’ve just been going down that path, I’ll be banging a proclamation on the front door like Martin Luther pretty soon). Anyway, so the monotheistic approach of most of these websites is such that they get confusing because, to your point, you made this point a few minutes ago, the buyer is forced to stitch together the story, so they lean more heavily, because that’s hard, they lean more heavily on the analysts so that kind of pulls them into sort of a third-party view. But even the analysts have got some confusion. And this is not meant as a criticism. But, you know, they do sure spin up a lot of magic quadrants and waves, right. And I really would love to see one sort of master MarTech, you know, quadrant, here’s the best stack, you could build, or, you know, here’s how to think about stacks. But no one’s really done that. Your chiefmartech.com sort of does the Stackies. And they talk a little bit about, you know, how many vendors there are. But that’s a little bit tongue in cheeky and not really recommendy, but I do think there’s an opportunity for vendors to be more helpful and enable the buyers to sort of choose, but how do you do that? How do you get people to agree to put competitors on your own website?

Ardath Albee 
It’s funny you should bring this up. I was listening to Brent Adamson talk, I don’t know, a month ago or so, he shared this case study about just that. And so there was this case study for this company they worked with. And they didn’t have a ton of resource, right? They couldn’t create tons and tons of content. What happened was one of their competitors put out this piece, let’s call it the definitive guide to something, right? It was really good. And what they decided was, we have no prayer in heck of reinventing this wheel. So we’re going to use our competitor’s piece. And what we’re going to do is say, this piece put out by so and so, our competitor, is really good. Here’s how our point of view differs from theirs.

Grad 
They annotated the competitor piece?

Ardath Albee 
Not on it. But what they did was they used in sales conversations. And what they said was, “Our point of view differs in these ways. We believe all this information is valid and very good for you to consider. But here’s how we’d look at it”. And they put a slight twist on it. And they used their competitor’s content that was professionally produced and probably cost a lot of money, a beautiful piece, and they put their spin on it. But what it did was: one of the things Gartner talks a lot about is overwhelming people because they have too much information, right? Buyers say there’s too much. We can’t deconflict it because we don’t understand which vendors should we believe. These guys tell us that out of the process and said, “Hey, our competitor created this really great piece. So we want you to read this, but when you do, we want you to consider this point of view, in contrast to their point of view, so the information I’ve given you is great, but just consider it with this twist”. And what they did was they were successfully stealing people from this competitor because their point of view resonated better. But they were actually using that competitor’s piece of information. And they didn’t have to pay for content creation or anything else. They came across as being extremely trustworthy because they’re saying, here’s this competitor’s piece of information, just think about it with a spin on it, you know, and they weren’t dissing their competitor, they were saying, “Hey, they have a really valid point too. Here’s how we’d look at it”. Right? And so, but they actually started using their competitor’s content, and then they then they found some other pieces that that competitor had written that they could speak to, and they just started using their competitor’s content. I think it’s brilliant.

Grad 
It’s brilliant. It is brilliant. Wow, I love that. Wouldn’t it be fun to actually take the competitor piece and then just basically write on top of it, kind of annotate and sort of draw circles and sort of make comments and agreed, agreed, agreed, but think about it this way, like almost take it as the base, and then add on top of it. What a great way to sort of contextualize.

Ardath Albee 
It helps buyers look at two solutions side by side, you know, you can flip that information where it’s like, which one should we believe or whatever, they can see them on top of each other. Right? And yes, we’re saying all this information is valid. So good point, but have you thought about this, and …

Grad 
… Almost doing the research for them. You know, these are the three things you should be looking at. Interesting. It reminds me, it’s slightly different but it reminds me of a technique that Salesforce used against us at Microsoft when we were selling Dynamics. Dynamics is the CRM, an engagement platform now for Microsoft, it’s changed a lot over the years. And in Salesforce, of course, you know, the CRM solution that kind of became famous was the Cloud CRM Solution. This is probably about 2000, like the kind of pre-Dynamics 365 world. So at the time, Microsoft was using Siemens as its back-end CRM system and selling Dynamics. And so, nice vulnerability there, right. And so what Salesforce would do, is they would into an account, and they would say, and this part was brilliant, I thought, they would say, “Let me show you how I got the meeting with you today”. And then they would go into Salesforce and show the prospect their record, like how they found them, you know, the whole thing, right there, and showed them how it all happened, and it all came together, and then talk through how they could do the same thing for their customers. But then they laid this one guile that was super powerful, and people had forgotten that Salesforce did this really well, for a long, long time, because Salesforce always ran on Salesforce. And, and then they started doing this other thing where they created this content production studio in India, where they could go in and show a demo of a customer, what the customer CRM implementation would look like, that was pretty robust. And they could crank those things out in two weeks. It was amazing to see what they did there. It made it so easy for the customer to visualize what their experience was going to be like, because they were shown exactly what it was going to be. They weren’t trying to think about what it would be like. They’re like, here it is this, this is what you’ll be using.

Ardath Albee 
It addresses their context, it simplifies, you know, all these imaginings about what it’s going to be like to implement or whatever. And it just is relevant to them. Those are three of the top things you need, you know.

Grad 
And then they laid this amazing trap for us. So they do this, you know, “let me show you how I got the meeting”. They use Salesforce to sell Salesforce. And they’d say, “When the Microsoft rep comes in, ask them to show you your record in Dynamics, knowing that the Microsoft rep couldn’t because they were using Siemens. Needless to say, this was a few years ago, Microsoft is now running on Dynamics. And that’s sort of gone away a little bit as a competitive advantage. But it’s still a quite a competitive advantage. I’m actually surprised on a regular basis, how often, especially some of these unicorns don’t use their own tech. And it’s always a little bit shocking to me, or even sort of follow their own advice, right. Like they’re in some space, but they’re using the tools of an older space to kind of do things. And so I think that, to me, is an interesting thing. But to your point, how do you make it as easy as possible for the buyer to imagine the scenario? How do you contextualize? How do you say, “You’re going to hear this in a minute? Let me tell you how to think about it this other way”. That, to me, is key to making this category tick a bit more.

Ardath Albee 
Yeah, well, but good luck convincing your executives to let you.

Grad 
Well, you did say God could get involved. So, you know, Ardath, I could go on all day with you. In fact, if you don’t mind, I think in the not-so-distant future, I’d love to do another show with you. And maybe, as you produce more content, on your end, we’ll follow you or you can let us know or whatever, and we’ll kind of keep bringing you back because I really love your perspective. And you get me thinking in new and different ways, which is very exciting for me, because I love to learn, and you’re helping me learn, which is fantastic. So thank you for that. So I’m going to kind of see if you got any last thoughts. And you know, just for anyone’s listening. Ardath is the CEO of marketing interactions, a B2B marketing strategist. And you can reach her on LinkedIn, or at her marketing interactions.com website. And so Ardath any last thoughts or any more sort of, you know, any last bit of contrarian advice for people as they think about how they can optimize their business? And I’ll give you kind of a lead in on this, which is one thing I hear consistently, from a lot of different companies is that their funnel isn’t working. Like there’s a general problem in the B2B space, that people are having trouble driving demand, and getting leads. And so I love the fact that you’re going down this different path, because I think it points to part of the reason why it’s difficult to get demand and drive leads. And a contrarian point of view is often one that wins. So anyway, so any last thoughts or any last bits of advice for people as they think about what they’re going to do in their own B2B marketing world?

Ardath Albee 
Well, one of the things that I do that I’ve been doing for years is build personas. buyer personas, customer personas, partner personas, advocacy personas, etc. But the thing that I’ve been watching year over year over year is one of the top challenges marketers have, is understanding their customers but they don’t use personas, or they build them, check the box, and throw them in a drawer and say, “Okay, we did that”. They don’t use them. Well, how can you expect to become buyer-driven or even customer-centric for that matter, if you don’t truly know and understand your buyers. The problem they have with driving demand is because if they do build personas, they build them based on a template without talking to their customers; they sit in a conference room, eating pizza and say, “Yeah, it’s Molly. She’s 42, and has two dogs and drives a Volvo and, you know, earns $100,000 a year and bla bla bla, and who cares? You know, you actually have to talk to them. And so but the things you can learn are amazing. And it will help you understand the questions they had, the steps they took, the push backs they experienced, all of those things that you need to be able to, you know, help people make it through the funnel, as it were, their buying process, and it will give you the insights to become buyer-driven, because you’ll understand what motivates them. What words they use, for example, is one of my favorite things, the questions they asked, right, that can just guide you right into your content strategy. Right? So how are you going to put your messaging together? Well, look at what all these people said. And when you talk to enough of them, like I’ll talk to 25 customers in a particular role to create a persona, you start hearing the same stuff again, and again and again. And you know, those are the commonalities that they’re all going to experience. And so if you really build those into your personas, it’s hard to miss. You know, I mean, I don’t I just don’t understand right now I’m working on a project for a company that doesn’t have personas, nor do they have the budget to create them. And they’re just kind of like, do this. It’s challenging. It goes against everything I believe in. Like, come on, give me some help here.

Grad 
No, I love that. I mean, you know, shocking as it is, talking to your customers can actually make sense.

Ardath Albee 
Who knew?

Grad

Who knew? Wow, that’s crazy. Well that can’t possibly work. Well, this has been so much fun. I have had so much fun getting to know you a bit better. And I’m looking forward to future interactions with you because I think this is the beginning of a journey for the two of us. I really look forward to working with you again. So, Ardath, thank you very much. I’m going to close the show and for the unified CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr, and today my special guest was Ardath Albee. She is the CEO of Marketing Interactions, and she is a B2B marketing strategist and a wonderful contrarian to the accepted ways of thinking which everyone knows aren’t working anymore. So, Ardath, thank you so much for coming on the show. For everyone else, we will see you … next time.

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