A growth mindset leader and the CEO of Refine Labs. He’s originally from a science and engineering background and currently runs the demand generation podcast. Below is the adapted transcript from our podcast interview with Chris Walker.
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How have you taken to podcasting during lockdown?
We mash together a lot of different audio clips. So sometimes it pulls from things that weren’t designed to be a podcast:
- Film an event that we host,
- A fireside chat
- A live Q&A
- 10 minute consulting session
Then we rip the audio from that, and it becomes a podcast. These are great ways to hack high quality production without needing to dedicate resources to do it.
How has your Science and Engineering Background influenced the Marketer that you've become?
Primarily it helps with:
- Understanding products and the marketplaces
- Discussing technical detail
- Engaging with engineers
- Selling and communicating
And lastly, I used to code firmware for microprocessors. Although on a small scale, you are working with inputs and outputs, I like to look at things on the level of the entire system. It’s the same with Marketing, I think that people get too focussed on one specific channel as opposed to marketing as a whole system.
Which is more important for Marketing Creativity or Analytical Process?
To lead a company you need both, but those types of people are rare. To lead a demand gen function I lean toward analytical, but I respect, and I've taken a lot of time to understand, the creative side, and how much it matters.
What type of picture you put inside of a Facebook Ad matters deeply to whether or not it works. The way I look at it is; if you're running 20 different creative pieces, you start to get insights, and those insights then feed the creative process.
At the high level and obviously in the micro level if you're running performance marketing you want someone that's super analytical, if you're building a new website site, you probably want someone that can write good copy, design well, and also think about it from a CRO perspective.
What’s the most challenging thing about running a business and leading a business like Refine Labs?
The most important thing as you start to scale is having the right people.
The marketing, sales, customer acquisition and actually performing the work is all pretty straightforward to me. We have a good process, we have a good, differentiated unique offering. We have a unique go-to-market approach.
We don't have any people in sales, we've never made one single cold call and we've never sent one cold email. We've never run a dollar in ads and we've managed to grow pretty dramatically on the back of organic content marketing done well.
I believe that most early stage startup companies face that exact same question and 99.9% of them build the outbound sales team… I think they would grow much faster, if they did it the other way. They would also run more efficiently, and not need to raise as much money with much less pressure to grow in order to raise the next round of funding. That initial decision creates a lot of short term bad behavior downstream.
How does Demand Generation differ from Lead Generation?
Typically, when you're running lead generation you capture someone so that you can go outbound and sell to them.
I flip it around and do a lot of different things to create inbound opportunity. And when you have people coming inbound that are trying to buy from you, they're usually a much better fit and they close faster.
I've used a lot of different communication strategies in order to create awareness about myself, my company, and the people inside of our company and the good work that we do. This then leads to people having the opportunity to understand how we might be able to help them.
The first step is getting someone's attention. Most people skip that step and just try and convert and sell them something which leads to the low percentages in the sales funnel.
How can the science industry learn from the SaaS model?
When I worked at a medical device company, I studied SaaS companies, and I studied B2C E-commerce marketing and made that work in a medical device model.
We work with SAS companies that have a similar length sales cycle of 30-180 days.
Ask about Marketing Strategy
Distributors have become order takers. It no longer makes sense to create the demand, and then pay a distributor 40% to deliver and install the product. They should control the entire customer journey and all the data behind it.
Control the customer success, the implementation, and recoup 40% margin on top of that.
Also, we see that the main line item variable for Marketing is trade show booths. This hasn’t changed in 25 years. Whilst trade shows are still a great place to meet your customers all in one place and develop those relationships, nobody is coming to your trade show booth to discover your product or company. We can go into Facebook ads or LinkedIn campaign manager, search the job titles, in whilst being industry specific, and you’d hit 90% of your market with content every day.
How do you record value from a trade show in the CRM?
You look at a few things.
Net new acquisition of people
Not active pipeline, upselling or renewing current customers, but actually net new - that's the only reason you would need a booth, otherwise, you could just send an email and connect with the person or set a meeting at a coffee shop and get the exact same thing done.
Key Account Management
I also went to the dinners that the sales team was having, and I saw how much value was being created by bringing one of your best customers to have dinner with a couple people that were prospects,
The value is happening with existing customers and active pipeline, you should go and have your sales team set up meetings with existing customers and prospects.
Marketing should go to create great content with a videographer because everybody is there: All the best thought leaders and biggest customers, everyone! Build a little station and film 20 long form interviews and podcasts and have content for six months. The real value happens in the amplification of the content after the event online.
Say the booth cost $50,000, (20x20 all in, travel and planning etc.) Then you get 100 conversations that happen, that's $500 per conversation.
What actually happened in the conversation? Did you just show them product for three minutes?
Marketing should go with a vidoegrapher to create content because everybody is there - All the best thought leaders and customers
If you think about that, I could create a video and run them on Facebook ads for $100.
And we just spent $50,000 for the booth.
With $500 I've just educated my entire market more than the 100 people that I talked to at a trade show booth.
How have you seen uptake of virtual events?
You could have 10 really good well-known speakers, come and speak at your virtual events, for less than the cost of a trade show booth. Consistency, repetition and quality, over a long period of time actually gets the results.
I’d see more value, in having 20 events with one speaker each instead of one event with 20 speakers.
But how do we make value out of a live event? We need active audience participation, we've been doing live Q&As on a weekly basis. At the cost of an hour of someone's time, with a little bit of effort, you get 30 to 50 people there for 90 minutes every week. Over time, that creates depth and value and again most of the value happens in the post-production and distribution elsewhere after the event.
At what point does data cede to gut feel?
I typically look at data, to confirm things that I'm already seeing.
When we start working with a company, I fill out a demo request form on their website and see what happens. Few firms come back immediately to book a time, if they can’t get you on the first try, it can take weeks to get that first demonstration. That’s lousy CX!
If it takes 18 days to get that first demo, your problem isn't in Marketing!
When we implement our demand generation marketing, we usually see the inbound overtaking any outbound channels. If that doesn’t happen, I have seen this before at 10 other companies, but I’ll use data to confirm to the CMO that it takes 18 days to get that first demo. No wonder why we're not winning. We have a separate problem to address on follow up.
You feel it, you see it qualitatively, you empathetically put yourself in your buyer shoes. And when you need to prove it, it helps to bring data from customers.
How do you reach people using Facebook and Instagram?
I've heard, hundreds of times, "Oh my audience doesn't use Facebook." Facebook is a B2B or a B2C only platform we need to use LinkedIn, or my audience is too professional to use Facebook; they're doctors.
5 minutes in Facebook Ads manager and you can find the audience. Type in the job titles, industries, interests, professional associations or what they studied in college and it will spit out how many of those people use the platform every month.
People don’t understand it and use it as an excuse not to try something new. They'd rather continue to go to their trade show booths, make brochures and send spam emails to people that don't get results.
The time that I figured this out, I was in a pediatric intensive care unit at 2am. It was really quiet while I was in there and I looked around at the nurses, respiratory therapists and the physicians… almost everyone was doing one of a couple of things, they were:
- Watching videos on YouTube,
- Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram or they were using Snapchat at that time
Then I thought to myself: “What would we need to do for them to be scrolling through their feed and then read something that would be interesting about us?”
It doesn't matter whether the nurse is in the pediatric intensive care unit, she's walking to yoga or if she’s at the grocery store. She's the same person and we're trying to deliver information. And so I don't care to be honest whether or not they're using it while at work because it's about delivering messaging at any point.
What process do you go through when you create a new piece of content?
Understand your audience
How many marketers actually spend time visiting and interacting with their customers or prospects without trying to sell them something?
Step one is to understand the audience. As a marketer, when was the last time you went and visited someone that doesn't use your product and talked to them for an hour without trying to sell them something?
What’s the objective?
What am I trying to accomplish with this communication? It's a very simple communication framework. I deliver messaging and I educate people, so that they will know where to find me when they're ready to buy something.
This is straight up demand gen, not lead gen.
And so I want them to know:
- that a new feature came out.
- …3 days later I want them to know we integrated this new tool that I know that they use.
- …and then I want them to see that a different company that's like them, increased their revenue by 35% by using this new tool.
- …and then I want them to know that we just partnered with this really large company, that's rolling our product out to 50 of their locations.
- …And then I want them to know that we're hosting a webinar about something that they care about not a webinar to pitch our product, which is what most people do.
You execute, then you repeat. If you simplify it, what I'm doing is communication. I'm just trying to communicate things and I think that that has been something that marketers did a long time ago which for some reason we have since lost.
What do you mean by brand versus performance?
Performance Marketing is putting a certain amount of dollars in and getting a certain amount of results which you can prove.
Build a PDF, run adverts on it, hope people click on the ad and download the PDF. These marketers actually don't even care if they read the PDF, they just care that they filled out the form, so they can have their metric to take to their boss.
And then on the other side Brand Marketing is the educational side. It's how am I going to educate or create value for someone, without the reciprocal expectation of getting a specific lead metric for me… so I can show my boss!
Performance marketing is often based on a leading metric like leads – they may get a hundred leads at $50 a lead. They don't even care about whether or not those converted to revenue. They weren't properly educated or they didn't have a need.
How do you measure the impact that your marketing is having on your brand?
Say, I want to tell my audience about a new feature release I’m going to run a Facebook or LinkedIn ad – Let’s say I'm targeting emergency room nurses: I know that I can hit 90% of them if I combine Facebook and LinkedIn together.
Then I'm going to track CPC and time on page in Google Analytics to know whether they read it. And then I'm going to figure out, okay, how much is it costing me to have someone read that and then I make a choice as to whether that is worth the cost.
The first one I think is interesting when you target emergency room nurses with good content and then those nurses tag the E.R. medical director in the post. That doesn't show up in a CRM or Google Analytics but it’s probably the most impactful metric you can look at.
How much does it cost to acquire a customer? How much revenue are inbound sales conversions generating and how much money are we spending to make it happen?
I know that the CFO is probably not going to buy into that, but does it work better? Yes it does.
We will buy branded search on Google AdWords. Mainly because it's worth the cost. If someone's searching our brand, I’ll pay 90 cents for them to click on that ad, instead of one of our competitors trying to bid above us, it's worth 90 cents to me, so that's one.
Secondly, if you're bidding and you're number one Google with 100% impression share, you can actually track the exact volume of branded search that's happening in Google. Now we see, if we run heavy Facebook targeted campaigns, we drive more organic branded search traffic.
And the reason that people don't do a lot of these things is because they don't understand how to measure it. I just broke down how difficult it is, if you brought that to your CFO, I know that the CFO is probably not going to buy into that, but does it work better? Yes it does.
How important is multi-touchpoint attribution?
I don't make people jump through hoops which most people do in order to measure something that shouldn't be measured. Can we measure Google ads direct response and website form fills? Yeah we'd be able to measure that.
But what is wrong with multi-touch attribution is that it can only measure what the system can measure. And so you design your marketing in ways that aren’t smart, like making someone download an e-book, when you should just give them the content.
They design their marketing executions in ways that accommodate the tech more so than the customer. It misses all the things that matter.
The idea of doing it, is driven by tech vendors pushing their products. It often drives marketers to do the wrong things. It drives them to do the things that they can measure not the things that work the best.
How does gating affect lead quality?
I don't gate anything, I try and remove all friction because in content marketing, you have to decide what your goal is.
Is your goal to collect a lead so that you can either measure their future activities, send them nurturing emails or have a salesperson call them? That's why people gate content, or is it so that they can actually consume the content, which then leads them to maybe considering your product as a solution?
My goal, when I create content is to help people understand me, feel an affinity toward me and my business and learn something new.
When you put a form in front of your e-book, a couple things happen. One, because your intent is to collect the lead for your sales team not to actually create good content that people want to read, you end up not creating very good content.
Originally, when I was gating the e-books, I recognized:
- What the conversion rate around the form was.
- You see how many people you're preventing from reading the content by putting the form up.
- The conversion rate can be anywhere between 10 and 50%.
- At 10% do you want 90% of the people that actually click the link and wanted to read the content not read it, by putting a form there?
- If you're running it through a form, then running an automated email back through for someone to click on, to actually get the content, look at the click through rates on those emails, it's less than 10%. You’re getting in your own way!
And then if you actually set up the system to look at how long people read even the people that do click, are skimming through and leaving. You just put all this time creating an e-book and no one actually even read it.
How do you align Sales and Marketing?
This ends up coming back to the top two or three people in a company, how they act, what they measure and what they do.
Most companies measure their marketing team as if their marketing team was sitting there doing 100 cold calls every day and wondering how many leads they were going to get.
We need this many leads.
Then, the marketers do the wrong things to force that many leads because it's unrealistic. In time, those low quality leads don't close to revenue, and then the sales team comes back and says, "Your leads suck." That is how mis-alignment is created. But if you look at it at the core it's because of the top two or three leaders and how they set the expectations of the company.
How important is culture when setting your business up?
Again, this ultimately falls on the CEO, what they prioritize, how they act and what they do.
I see this all the time when a V.P. of sales and marketing was actually just a V.P. of sales. Therefore they will drive their marketing team to do things that they think are the right things in pursuit of sales, not actually marketing or wider company goals.
I see a lot of tech companies that have built two sales teams. They don't actually even have a marketing team because their marketing team is doing everything that a sales team should be doing.
It just comes down to what is important, take venture backed companies that have raised money. They need to continue to raise money in order to raise the next round of funding, they are sales driven, financial driven companies that do the wrong things, in pursuit of short term metrics to continue to be in business.
How do you see the next 3-5 years for market leaders particularly in marketing?
Most companies allocate far too much budget to sales to make up for the lack of proper marketing execution and results.
A lot of companies are recognizing maybe we need a better way to communicate with our customers?
Companies will just figure out how to do marketing in a better way and propel themselves to have potentially a different go-to-market model. I think for a lot of people sadly, as we come out of lockdown, they'll go back to doing the same stuff they were doing before as if not much changed.
Maybe we were just growing at the rate of the market?
There are business problems that have been there for a long time but have been hidden because of the economic situation. The past five years has been a fantastic global economic climate allowing companies to grow at 10-40%. However, as wallets tighten up and things change, they recognize that maybe we were just growing at the rate of the market?
Ask about Digital Marketing
The core of it is how you're doing marketing. Companies have run the same go-to-market model since 1997; hired a lot of sales people and gone outbound.
Changing the way that you do marketing then relieves the pressure on the sales team.
Which then opens up a lot of other opportunities:
- Build better products
- Invest more in customer success
- Change your distribution model
Lots of companies can't do those things because they have so much money tied up in a sales channel to continue to grow at the rate that they're supposed to.
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